Fans! Fantasy! Family! MegaCon Fan Days are here
James Marsters, who played sarcastic vampire Spike on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," turns downright sunny about fan conventions.
"I find them to be really fun. I meet the most interesting people," Marsters says. "An interesting phenomenon happens when someone is watching an actor over a course of years and hasn't had a chance to applaud. There's a huge buildup."
Fans will have a chance to thank him at the first MegaCon Fan Days on Saturday and Sunday at the Orange County Convention Center.
"It's a much-condensed version of the larger event we put on in the spring," show director Christine Alger said. "These pop-culture events are what are hot now. We wanted to provide an additional experience."
MegaCon has become a Central Florida institution by catering to fans of comic books, sci-fi and fantasy. MegaCon 2016 will run four days, May 26-29. MegaCon this year drew roughly 97,000 fans, Alger said.
Fan Days should be more intimate with a projected crowd of 10,000 to 12,000.
"I love to see people come and feel like they belong," Alger said. "They like to go somewhere and feel they're part of something or that they're understood. They love to put costumes on. It's like Halloween year-round."
Julian Chambliss, an associate professor of history at Rollins College, credits the explosion of fan culture to the transition of comics into other media, such as TV, movies and games.
"Without question it's growing. These characters get so much cross-platform exposure," Chambliss said. He said those characters range from Batman supervillainess Harley Quinn ("an extremely popular character with women") to the figures in "Star Wars," which will be energized by a new movie, younger fans and more diverse characters.
The MegaCon Fan Days lineup reflects the TV and film influence. Other celebrities at Fan Days — the lineup is always subject to change — include Jason Isaacs of the Harry Potter films, Karen Allen and John Rhys-Davies of "Indiana Jones" fame, Paul McGann of "Doctor Who" and Sean Maher of "Firefly."
The gatherings also showcase illustrators such as Mike Perkins, who has worked on Captain America, Thor and X-Men.
"You can go to a comic convention every weekend if you choose to do so," said Perkins. "I choose to concentrate on my work. I'll do maybe three a year in the country."
The Tampa resident likes MegaCon for attending to artists' needs as they draw during a busy convention.
"People just come by to say thank you for what I do or they want their comic signed," Perkins said. "It's important to meet the fans. … It gives them a connection to the creator. For them it's a thrill to meet the creators behind the work on the page."
Those fans have inspired his art. "You're doing the work for yourself, but really it is in the back of your mind it's for the fans," he said. "You get a sense of what they like and what they're after when you speak to them."
Perkins has drawn new conclusions about the fans in the past decade. He considers the TV series "Big Bang Theory," featuring nerdy sci-fi followers, an outdated notion of the fan base. He sees a lot more families and female fans attending conventions.
"That's all for the better, more diversity of fans," Perkins said. "Long gone is the stereotypic guy going around escaping from his mother's basement. That will go the way of the dodo [bird] in the next few years, hopefully. It's a family affair, especially MegaCon. They aim toward the family."
Actor Marsters says fans most often ask about three series: "Buffy," "Torchwood" and "Smallville." He finds that many people are for the first time seeing "Buffy," which ran from 1997 to 2003 on network television.
"We get a lot of young people," Marsters said. "I would say the reaction is as intense as it was when it was first on the air. The writing is on such a high level and the denseness of the dialogue — the audience reacts to the quality of the writing."
Marsters gives all the credit to series creator Joss Whedon and the writers. "The writing was not safe at all," he said. "'Buffy' had a wonderful theme that was don't give up. It really is about getting through adolescence. You realize the world is severely messed up. How do you come to grips with that and don't give up?"
The actor turns blunt about Spike, saying the character put him on the map in film and television.
"I came to L.A. to whore myself out," Marsters said. "I did not come to try to get known as a good actor, I didn't come for awards or in search of good writing. I came down to make money. I was a poor but successful theater actor [in Seattle] who had just had a son. Poverty as a parent is not romantic. Until I was a father, poverty was fine. Once I became a father, everything changed. I told my agent I'll be the new Urkel."
Spike was galaxies away from dorky Steve Urkel of the sitcom "Family Matters." Marsters says he was lucky to land in "Buffy," a show that rivals the best theater writing these days. Because of that good luck, he is happy to meet the crowd at MegaCon Fan Days.
"People who watch 'Buffy' have a sense of humor and don't take themselves too seriously," he said. "I was in a show that touched a nerve of the world. It happens wherever I go. It's almost impossible to understand why. I felt like I did my small part in that. I don't fool myself that I did it on my own. I got to be helpful. I'm very happy to be part of something I think is worthwhile."
Where: Orange County Convention Center, West Concourse – Hall C, 9800 International Drive, Orlando 32819
MegaCon Fan Days
What: A pop-culture convention from the people behind MegaCon in the spring
When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Price: Saturday pass $25; Sunday pass $20; two-day pass $40; kid (6 to 12) pass $10; children 5 and younger free