Last year, the massively popular Denver Comic Con changed its name. This year, it’s back as Denver Pop Culture Con, a moniker that was both legally advisable and perhaps better suited for the fan gathering that the con has grown to be over the years. Said fans are of mixed minds about the new name; comments online range from surprise to shrugs, from complaints about the lineup for 2019 to excitement about what’s new.
We talked with two of Denver Pop Culture Con’s organizers, convention director Christina Angel and programming director Bruce MacIntosh, about fan feedback and all things nerdalicious coming up in the Mile High over the weekend of May 31 through June 2.
Westword: This is the first year for Denver Pop Culture Con after last year’s name change. What can faithful fans expect to see in terms of changes to the convention for 2019?
Christina Angel: It’s important to highlight that the name change was not a philosophical change. While there were legal reasons to change our name, this had been in the works for some time. We have long felt that “comic con” doesn’t entirely describe what we do, and it never really did. Since inception, our event has been about inclusivity and bringing different fandoms together for a weekend-long celebration. Comics culture has always been a key component, but not the entire focus, and the show has not changed any more from last year than it normally does from year to year. So fans and first-timers can all expect the same level of awesome with a little something for everyone, no matter their age or fandom.
The name change seems to embrace a little more closely the important underpinnings of the convention to the Pop Culture Classroom that’s been such a vital part of the event, especially in terms of the year-round efforts. Can you talk about PCC and how its mission dovetails with that of Denver Pop Culture Con?
CA: Pop Culture Classroom and Denver Pop Culture Con are one and the same in terms of mission. The con is a literal, physical manifestation of our mission on display. The work we do year-round in the classroom is supported by the event, but the event itself is also educational. We encourage fun — wearing your costume, meeting a celebrity, getting your comics or books signed by your favorite creators and authors — but more than this, we also hope you learn something in any one of our 800-plus hours of curated programming designed to be thoughtful and engaging. We believe that pop culture is a means to better critical thinking and engagement with the world, so we try to include that in every aspect of the event in enjoyable ways.
Word is out in cosplay culture that your signature Saturday cosplay contest is seeing some adaptations this year in the interests of inclusivity. Can you talk about the new plans for the evening event?
Bruce MacIntosh: The changes in our celebration of costuming are not that radical from past years, but “inclusivity” is the key word here: Prior to this year’s event, a great deal of focus has been placed on the hard-core cosplayer who devotes a full year to their planning and preparation and looks to advance to professional cosplayer status. We love these folks, and that devotion is always welcome, but we also want to respect those cosplayers who don’t have that kind of time or money to devote to their creations, or are more casual costumers. We want to give all varieties of people a place to express themselves — which is what DPCC is all about — and the official Cosplay Celebration event reflects that goal. We want everyone to have a place to show off their “alter ego” — [from] the little kids who have lived in their Halloween costumes for the last seven months, to the family who fancies themselves the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the weekend, to the pro-level cosplayer.
Most important, the term “Costume Celebration” is quite intentional: The “celebration” is all weekend long, because we know that more than half our attendees dress up in one geeky form or another. (And the other half are unsure if they are expected to prepare something elaborate. They aren’t.) The Celebration event is Saturday night — and our philosophy of inclusion has expanded the number of potential entrants to almost 100 kids and almost 200 adults (or groups). The advance sign-ups are full, but on Friday and Saturday before the show, we will be signing up people at a show near the Bellco Theater in the Colorado Convention Center; that way, as many people as possible have the opportunity to sign up. We are proudest of the prizes that every kid entrant will receive. You’ll have to come to watch the celebration — but it’s a swag bag of special kid merch, graphic novels, etc. This will be a celebration they’ll never forget!
Speaking of cosplay, that part of the hobby is becoming more and more popular with each passing year. At the same time, restrictions on costuming and accessories are getting necessarily tighter for both safety and family audiences. Can you touch on the rules for cosplay, so there are no surprises at security?
CA: I’ll be honest; this is no one’s favorite topic, and one we wish didn’t need to be a topic at all. Having said that, it is an important safety issue that attendees should be prepared for. The short version of our policy is that we do not allow replica guns of any kind, or anything that could be used to hurt another person easily. The policy hasn’t meaningfully changed from the last couple of years, but attendees should check out our website and all of the details.
DPCC has seen some criticism online — mainly on Facebook, which, granted, is a natural troll habitat — for expanding its guest list to include more authors, and, supposedly, for the guest list not being as extensive or impressive as it has been in the past. Fair beef, or way off the mark?
BM: Any negativity on social media is unfortunate, because any complaint seems to boil down to the fact that we’re providing more value to a wider audience and charging nothing extra. Scores of guests — whether the dozens of the hottest comics creators to authors, past and present TV and film stars, filmmakers or game developers — are all included in the price. More authors, for instance, means that more people can see their favorite writers or meet and try out the books of similar authors. And no matter who the guest, all panels and workshops are all included in your ticket price, just like our evening events like the Costume Celebration and Opening Night. Even getting an author’s signature on a book is free. Fans can meet all our guests on the show floor — or in 800 hours of programming — for no extra cost. You can buy their latest release at the Tattered Cover Pavilion on the show floor and turn around and get it signed, or you can bring your own dog-eared treasure, and while they sign it tell them how they’ve impacted your life. Either way, it’s no charge to meet, converse or get an autograph. Same for most comics guests, and certainly Reel Heroes filmmakers and everything for kids and teens in The Lab: It’s all included!
There does seem to be a more literary leaning this time around — which must be a huge boon to fans who also read books of the non-comic variety. What prompted the increase in author invitations this year?
BM: Colorado fans have proven to publishers that DPCC is the show to send their top authors, so we’ve been lucky enough to have an increased number of literary guests. But this is just a bonus. We still have just as many comics and celebrity guests as in previous years, if not more; having more authors is simply improving the value of the show for more fans in a wider variety of fandoms — and this does not reduce the number of guests in any other category. In fact, Denver Pop Culture Con has the largest collection of artists, comics creators, filmmakers and even romance authors — more than every other event west of the Hudson River.
Finally, don’t forget that DPCC is a program of the Pop Culture Classroom’s literacy nonprofit, so it only makes sense that we have a huge guest list of people in the “literary” fields. So don’t get too distracted by a guest’s snazzy “author” graphic on the DPCC website. Many of them are graphic novelists, filmmakers and educators who are coming to participate in our prestigious Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards Ceremony on Saturday. Or to present to the more than 1,000 kids, teens and educators we bring in for free to learn about what books, graphic novels and comics they should be reading. Or how those kids and teens can become comics creators themselves.
What special celebrity guests are fans most excited for? Is DPCC planning to announce any more special guests, or is the roster more or less complete at this point?
CA: Some exciting folks are joining us this year, and I find it challenging to name only a couple of them, because everyone is excited about different guests in their own way. I’m personally excited to bring the cast of Critical Role to the show, because it’s a unique fandom and something attendees overwhelmingly told us they wanted. George Takei, of course, is a legend, and I’m happy to be seeing him again. Zachary Levi and some of his Shazam! cohorts are pretty exciting, too. But that’s really the tip of the iceberg. We host 35 to 40 celebrities, dozens of comics guests and authors, and Artist Valley is one of the largest in the country at over 400 tables. As for announcing more guests, all I can say is: You never know what can happen in a couple of weeks’ time. [Note: Since this interview, another big special guest has been announced: actor Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride, etc.]
Does DPCC have any new plans involving line management this year? With the crowds getting larger with each passing year, crowd control must be an always-evolving issue.
CA: We don’t discuss line management in detail because it’s part of security, but we do strive to make the process smoother and more streamlined every year. We feel that last year we found a stride and had people in the doors pretty efficiently and even opened the event a bit early on Saturday, which up to that point was unheard of. Improving the fan experience is something we obsess over year-round.
Just curious: What happened to DPCC being held on Father’s Day weekend? Is that a thing of the past? There must have been plusses and minuses to holding it on that weekend, but I know a lot of Dads who loved spending their day that way.
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CA: In our eight years, we have actually only been on Father’s Day weekend about four times, and it landed on Father’s Day the first time due to happenstance. We, like every other large group who uses the Colorado Convention Center, are at the mercy of what’s available and when. Because of the growing popularity of our city, I understand that to be a rather large and challenging Tetris game.
What does the future look like for Denver Pop Culture Con?
CA: The future is bright! We love that DPCC changes and adds new things every year, and that we have continued plans to expand the event, bring new people into our community, and keep providing great educational programming during the con and year-round. Later in 2019, we will be debuting our new event called Reno Pop Culture Con, and we look forward to growing our geek family in a new city.
Denver Pop Culture Con takes flight at the Colorado Convention Center May 31 through June 2. Tickets are still available for single day and three-day passes; kids three to twelve get passes for $8.25 with the purchase of an adult ticket.