After a decade of success, many event organizers would rest on their laurels and operate on autopilot. For Bakersfield Comic-Con, though, its organizer takes on the heroic effort of topping the bigger and better every year.
Like the Incredible Hulk growing bigger and stronger — and outgrowing his clothes — Bakersfield Comic-Con has continued to add more guests, more vendors and more activities, moving from one venue to another to fit its growing attendance. For its 10th annual event this weekend, the convention will return to the Kern County Fairgrounds with all things nerdy, including its first-ever mini Fantasy Faire.
"I've never had a single show like this go this long and be this successful," said Steve Wyatt, who organizes this and other conventions locally and in the state throughout the year. "This is my hometown (show). This one gets all the effort."
The smaller Fantasy Faire is a test run for what could become a full fair added to the annual Comic-Con next year, if guests like it. For now, it will include an archery range and vendors selling items like swords, jewelry and meat pies. If it becomes a full-scale fair, it will still be part of Bakersfield Comic-Con.
"I love renaissance fairs," Wyatt said. "They're a lot of fun, and they really do mix with what we do. There's some cross-pollination there."
But the con will never lose focus of what's made it successful so far: artists, vendors and great guests from TV, movies and comics.
From TV and movies, this year's guests include Pat Priest (Marilyn Munster, "The Munsters,"), Lisa Loring (Wednesday Addams, "The Addams Family"), Connor Trinneer (Commander Trip Tucker, "Star Trek Enterprise"), Patrick Labyorteaux (of "JAG" and "Little House on the Prairie"), Brennan Mejia (Red Ranger, "Power Rangers Dino Charge") and C. Andrew Nelson (who played Darth Vader in the rereleased trilogy and in video games).
"Munsters" fans take note: Priest's appearance at Bakersfield Comic-Con will be her last, as the actress has decided to retire from conventions. During Sunday's event, Priest and Loring will do a "Munsters meet Addams Family" panel together, Wyatt said.
Comic guests include Sergio Aragones (Mad magazine contributor), Scott Shaw (known for comics like "The Flintstones" and "The Simpsons") Daniel Brereton ("Nocturnals" and "Legends of the Dark Knight"), Tomm Coker (Marvel and DC illustrator who has worked on "Avengers" titles), Mike Kazaleh (animator and comic artist who has worked for "Ren and Stimpy" and "The Simpsons"), Derek Fridolfs ("Batman Li'l Gotham"), Pamela Lovas ("Adventure Time" comics) and Dennis Mallonee (of Marvel and Heroic Publishing).
"Prince Valiant" artist Thomas Yeates is not only appearing at the convention as a special guest but is contributing his art for one of the con's three giveaway prints. His King Kong piece will also be on the convention's T-shirts.
"To do 'Prince Valiant,' you have to be the best," Wyatt said. "He's a pretty impressive artist, and he's also a nice guy."
Yeates won't be the only "nice guy" at the con. Wyatt said the way guests treat attendees is of huge importance when deciding who to invite.
"The thing about our show is, every guest we have walk through our doors is a good person," Wyatt said, adding that he doesn't deal with jerks when it comes to celebrity guests or vendors. "The whole point is it's a family-friendly show."
There will be 100 vendor booths at the convention, selling everything from vintage comic books to toys, artwork and more. Many vendors are from California, but some are coming from Arizona and Washington.
"There's a mix of everything fun and collectible in our world," Wyatt said.
For gamers, there will also be an area dedicated to video games, board games and more. There will be tournaments as well as demos. Food vendors like Ben & Jerry's, Sweeny's Weenies and Papa John's will also be there.
Convention-goers who get there early (or who have already bought their tickets online) will take home a free print. In addition to Yeates' piece, there will also be one of Marilyn Munster and Wednesday Adams by local artist Ed Gragg and another of Cyborg from "Justice League" by local artist Nate Watson, who will also be selling prints of the upcoming film's other superheroes.
After starting at the DoubleTree, Bakersfield Comic-Con has grown each year. Wyatt said it got a little help from a unique source: "The Big Bang Theory." In one episode, the characters are on their way from Pasadena to the Bakersfield Comic-Con, and despite the characters never actually getting there (their car breaks down, forcing them to walk for help in full "Star Trek" costumes), the actual Bakersfield Comic-Con got a huge boost in attendance at the next event.
At another convention, Wyatt got the chance to tell writers just what that episode did for the convention, whose existence the writers had learned about from a flier they saw at a convention in Long Beach.
"I was able to tell the writers, 'I'm the owner of Bakersfield Comic-Con. Thank you for over doubling my (show's attendance) in one year,'" Wyatt recalled, adding that turnout went from 1,000 to 2,500.
But that's not the only thing to which Wyatt attributes the convention's success. Keeping admission affordable while having interesting guests, panels and vendors has been a winning formula for the convention, but adding something new keeps people coming back.
"When you walk out that door, you got your $8 worth," he said. "The goal is to put on a quality show so next time they come back and bring a friend."
People should come to the event this weekend, Wyatt said, "to have a lot of fun, to experience Comic-Con and not go broke, to meet Marilyn Munster for the last time, to meet Wednesday Addams ... there's a million reasons to come."