Stay in character
Paul ChaiJune 17, 2011
Costume drama ... fans embrace their inner-and outer-sci-fi geek at Supanovas past. Photo: Steven Yee
A star-studded homage to all things sci-fi is about to descend on Sydney, writes Paul Chai.
If you're in the western suburbs of Sydney this weekend and start seeing aliens, superheroes and cartoon characters roaming about, don't worry.
OK, worry a little but not overly. What you are looking at is just the thousands of Sydneysiders who will be getting their geek on at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo, when sci-fi stars, illustrators, writers and fans trek to Homebush to celebrate all things superheroic.
What started out a decade ago as a celebration of comic books known as Comic-Fest! is now a multi-denominational church of anime, comics, sci-fi, fantasy and gaming.
It's a bird, it's a plane ... it's fans at Supanova. Photo: Steven Yee
The legion of fans roaming the convention in Vulcan ears and handcrafted Stormtrooper outfits can see new product launches, buy the latest collectable or chat to visiting celebrities. But event organiser Daniel Zachariou says it is not just about the nostalgia.
This year, Supanova will host the team behind new indie horror The Tunnel and in the past it has promoted the soon-to-be released Iron Sky - about a secret Nazi base on the dark side of the moon - and the Spierig brothers (Daybreakers).
''We like to be on top of what is coming out and what we think is worth celebrating,'' Zachariou says.
Zachariou is a lifelong fan who thinks ''we all have that youthful and very enthusiastic child in us'' and he was raised on a diet of action figures and Monkey DVDs. So, while they love the new, he acknowledges Supanova still has a retro element, supplied this year by the coup of reuniting the cast of I Dream of Jeannie, Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman and Bill Daily, as well as more familiar convention guests such as James Marsters, who played Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Marsters attends four or five conferences a year and has travelled to Germany, Britain, Holland and Canada to hang out with fans. He relishes the role of visiting celebrity but says it really is not about him, despite the fact a hardcore set of fans is known to follow him to conferences all around the world.
''At some point the so-called celebrities really aren't the point, we're the excuse,'' he says. ''The real point is to get people in the same room talking to each other. I'm like a poor man's Grateful Dead - it was accepted that [Deadheads] have heard the songs before and they're really there for the people.''
Marsters says he spent years in the theatre trying to create a similar sense of community and he has no time for the suggestion that schlepping to fan events and conventions is a trying gig.
''You're sitting on your butt and everyone is being nice to you, I mean, how hard can it be?'' he says. ''I used to wait tables, now that's hard.''
Nor is he worried that too many convention appearances may further typecast him after roles in sci-fi staples Torchwood and Smallville.
''I love sci-fi, I embrace the typecasting. I'm like Nicolas Cage, only cheaper,'' he says with a laugh. ''When I was growing up, all we had was Planet of the Apes, Star Trek and old Twilight Zones; it was nothing like today - it's like we won, all the sci-fi nerds won the day and now we control Hollywood.''
As one of the more enthusiastic genre stars, Marsters offers a range of experiences for convention-goers (at a price, see below) to better feed this sense of community.
Twenty-four-year-old butcher Kat Dockrill says that for her, Supanova is about ''being around like-minded people, where there's no judgment and I can be myself''.
Dockrill now has a group of travelling friends she sees year round at these fan-based events. She is set to head to the US next year to attend the Lucasfilm-backed Celebration VI convention held in Orange County in August.
Her pick for this year's Supanova is seeing sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson, but she is also keen to see the other stars.
Tom Felton, from the Harry Potter movie series, will be there, while Marsters's stablemate from the Buffy spin-off show Angel, Amy Acker, is coming down, as is conference newcomer Julie White, who plays Judy Witwicky in the Transformers movie series. ''I have no idea what to expect; all I can think is who would want to visit with me?'' White says.
''But I will go, give motherly advice and sign whatever they give to me to sign.''
Better known as a stage actress, White finds her place in the sci-fi universe a bit perplexing.
''When the last Transformers movie opened, I was also appearing in Twelfth Night,'' she says. ''So I was doing Shakespeare in the Park the same day I was in this big movie with robots. I get a little bit of cultural whiplash in my career but it's fun.''
SUPANOVA SYDNEY - POP CULTURE EXPO
Until Sunday, The Dome,
Sydney Olympic Park, supanova.com.au, 13 28 49, daily $23.80/three-day pass $39.50.
Fans get their three wishes
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, celebs just turned up and signed autographs, but today's convention-goers are used to a more interactive experience. Veteran James Marsters has done everything from bog-standard Q&As to producing a two-handed version of Macbeth. While at ComicCon in New York this year, he recited sonnets and attended a play with fans, returning the following morning to discuss it over coffee.
Marsters says he does ''whatever he is ready to do'' to keep it interesting for fans.
''Usually it's music; it's easiest to bring a guitar and play that but if I could juggle chainsaws, man, I would try that,'' he says. ''I saw a guy juggle raw fish once, that was cool.''
At Supanova, in addition to a standard signed photograph (about $20), fans get to see an acoustic performance from Marsters ($30) or have cocktails with him and Torchwood's Gareth David-Lloyd ($150) at the Post-Nova Party.
Then there are deluxe experiences, such as Dreaming of Jeannie ($400), which gets you entry plus VIP status (priority queuing, premium seating and photo opportunities) at all I Dream of Jeannie events, and the Whedonverse Experience ($400), where you can have a photo taken between three stars of Joss Whedon's television shows, enjoy access to special panels, signature photos and entry to Marsters's acoustic show.
The Supanova VIP passes, at $650, may sound steep but they are sold out.