Yes, Virginia, there is a Bakersfield Comic Con. And although Santa is not expected among the cosplayers, the 12th annual event still aims to impress this weekend with special guests, plenty of vendors, a Fantasy Faire and even a wedding.
Since its start in 2008, the annual convention has continued to expand, outgrowing its former homes at the DoubleTree and Marriott until settling in at the Kern County Fairgrounds, taking over buildings 3 and 4 along with the space in between for the Fantasy Faire (more on that later).
"I want everyone to be able to show up and be happy and have a good time," organizer Steve Wyatt said of the event that drew about 6,600 people over two days last year. "Our progression is perfect. With each step you go a little bit bigger."
This year's growth factored into the lineup of special guests, which is led by actor John Wesley Shipp. Shipp played Barry Allen on the original "The Flash" series on CBS from 1990-91 and played Barry's father, Henry, as well as Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-2, on the current series on The CW. He also reprised the role of his original CBS version of the character for last year's "Elseworlds" crossover event for The CW, and is expected to return in the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover next month.
Those less in the comic book know might recognize Shipp from his roles on "Dawson's Creek," as Mitch Leery, the title character's father; or soap operas including "Guiding Light" and "As the World Turns."
"I called John and said, 'I think Bakersfield is ready for you.'"
Wyatt said he knew he wanted to bring Shipp to the show but wanted to build it to the right level.
"Where people fail is they try to start and get too big too quick," he said "It just took a little time. People are very happy he’s coming."
And Shipp is not the only special guest. Other performers include:
● "Happy Days" actors Anson Williams and Donny Most, who played, respectively, Potsie and Ralph on the ABC series that ran from 1974-84.
● "Shazam!" stars Michael Gray and John Davey. Gray played teenager Billy Batson who could turn into superhero Captain Marvel, played by Davey, on the 1970s CBS series.
● Actress Renae Jacobs, who provided the voice for TV reporter April O'Neil for the original animated series "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" that ran from 1987-96 and Mrs. O'Neil in the 2012-17 animated series.
● Academy Award-nominated actor Dennis Christopher, known for roles in "Breaking Away," "Face to Black" and "Django Unchained." He also played the adult Eddie in the 1990 TV miniseries "It."
● Actor Fred Williamson, known for his roles in "From Dusk Till Dawn" and "Black Caesar."
The convention will also feature artists including Sergio Aragones (Mad Magazine, “Groo” ), Drew Johnson (“Wonder Woman,” “Spider-Man”), Tone Rodriguez ("The Simpsons,” “Conan”), Mark Bode (“TMNT,” “Cobalt 60”), Joe Weems (“X-Men,” “Hulk”), Jason Johnson (“Flash,” “Wetworks”), Ethan Beavers (“Star Wars,” “Teen Titans Go”) and Gus Vazquez (“Big Hero 6,” “Flash”).
Back to that wedding, Wyatt said a 20-something couple who met in an autograph line at a convention, then had their first date at a later one and got engaged at Bak-Anime, which Wyatt also puts on, are back to tie the knot. He offered to officiate — this is neither his first convention nor his first wedding — for the 4 p.m. ceremony on Saturday.
Guests venturing outside the buildings can also check out the Fantasy Faire, which offers a sort of mini-Renaissance fair.
The fair will have 22 vendors, horsemen and pirate performing groups as well as "full Renaissance entertainment": belly dancers, fire eaters, sword swallowers and more.
Regardless of your interests, Wyatt hopes you stop by the show.
"Come out and have some fun, support the community. That’s my whole thing — just to get people out here. That's the hardest part to get the word out."
And Wyatt is ready to spread the word about what's coming down to the road for this event planning.
On Jan. 26, he will bring his Mouse Con to Bakersfield. The event, which he also hosts in Concord in the Bay Area, is focused on Disney. He said he's planning to bring Karen Dotrice, who played Jane Banks in the original 1964 "Mary Poppins," and Mary Gibbs, who was the voice of Boo in the 2001 film "Monsters Inc.," as well as other guests.
And next year he will expand the comic convention further, including Building 2, which will allow them to include more vendors ("We had to turn away 40 this year") and set up the kids zone along with other guests.
Wyatt did note that growth has its (ever-slight) cost: "I will have to raise admission all the way to $10."