Supanova gives geeks their moment in the sun
GREG BURCHALLApril 16, 2010
IT'S THE invasion of the pop-culture creatures, strange beings who will converse in a shorthand geekspeak, don weird attire and beam themselves into a landscape usually inhabited by bulls, sheep and chooks.
This weekend, around 10,000 science fiction and fantasy aficionados will roam the Melbourne Showgrounds to hunt out rare collectables, celebrity autographs and role play sessions.
Not that it ever needed much help as far as diehard devotees were concerned, but the genre has gone through something of a recent reboot since Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ruled. Now Heroes, Firefly, Torchwood, Smallville and teen-girl hunkfest Twilight are the latest incarnations.
James Marsters knows the intoxicating madness that can befall an actor when a character part achieves full-blown "cult" status. His cockney, blond-locked punk vampire Spike was supposed to be dispatched after only a few episodes on the first season of Buffy in 1997 but became so popular that he played the bloodsucker for seven years, including being transferred to spin-off series Angel.
"All I really wanted was a good body count and a good death, but lo and behold, I got a career," says Marsters.
Consequently, the 48-year-old Californian has a lot of time for the fans and the expos. "I've met so many smart, funny, intelligent people at conventions," he says. "Great conversations, sense of humour, fascinating jobs - not your Starbucks crowd at all.
"You'll be talking to someone, they'll be in a wig or holding some sort of sword and you ask, 'What do you do?' and they'll tell you they're in jet propulsion research, or with NASA or the CIA. It's amazing."
Then there are others who just want Marsters to take off his shirt: "Nobody was interested until the episode when I kissed Buffy, then wham!"
Even those who aren't so easily recognisable can become the object of strange devotion.
Voice actor Yuri Lowenthal puts words and thoughts into an outrageous array of cartoon, anime and video game characters, including Ben 10 and Iceman from X-Men. "It's an odd sort of fame," he says. "I can walk around a festival and nobody knows who I am because nobody knows what I look like. But once I have done my first panel session or Q&A, I get rushed for autographs and photos."
Lowenthal knows the scene. A self-confessed geek, he hit the conventions in his youth and has the autograph of every Doctor Who (except William Hartnell, who crossed to that other dimension in 1975) and the original cast of Star Trek (aside from William Shatner, who was never much of a convention-venturer).
"I know fans, I've been in their shoes," he says.
"I was the geek, into sci-fi and horror - and now I get to play the geek's ultimate dream role: Superman (in Legion of Superheroes)."
For the organiser of Australia's annual, multi-city Supanova Expo, Daniel Zachariou, it's the fans that create the heart of the gathering.
"It's a wide-ranging event, all over the place, a snapshot of me when I was 15 and day-dreaming, not attending school," he says.
"I loved sci-fi movies, reading Lord of the Rings and Stephen Donaldson, had action figurines, went to video arcades, was into Dungeons and Dragons.
The exposure and the expos are new to Mex-American dancer and painter Alex Meraz, 25, who hadn't been exposed to Stephenie Meyer's take on the night stalkers before he was talked into auditioning for a role in Twilight, in which he now plays rabid-tempered (and often-shirtless) werewolf Paul.
But despite the fansites, wiki-entries, hype and teen-screamers, Meraz is more than happy to leave the hysteria frontline action to Twilight's pasty Brit heart throb Robert Pattinson, who plays the 104-year-old Edward Cullen.
"Rob's much better at it than I am," says Meraz. "While it's all very flattering, it's not something that I'd like to experience every day."
James Marsters, Yuri Lowenthal and Alex Meraz will be among the guests at the 2010 Supanova Pop Culture Expo at the Melbourne Showgrounds (April 17-18). Marsters will play a one-hour acoustic set at 7pm on Saturday at the Exhibition Hall.