In the realm of comic book conventions, Tampa Bay Comic Con is something else. Known both for its amazing lineup of celebrity guests and stifling crowds and lines, the convention continues to grow year by year, making it one that fans around the Bay Area can’t avoid even if they want to. Like flies to a light, fans will flock to the Tampa Bay Convention Center for this year’s comic con Friday through Sunday.
This year’s lineup is drool worthy. Ian McDiarmid (Emperor Palpatine) and Ray Park (Darth Maul) represent the “Star Wars” lineup; Jack Gleeson (Prince Joffrey) will join from “Game of Thrones”; Charlie Cox (Matt Murdock) and Elodie Yung (Elektra) of Netflix’s “Daredevil” will appear, too. Throw in “The Walking Dead” star Norman Reedus, “Doctor Who” companion Jenna Coleman, and “Lord of the Rings” buddy Sean Astin, and then imagine the crowds and security surrounding each fanbase. It’s a lot to handle.
It’s best to go into a convention like this with a game plan. If you’re obsessed with one of these guest stars, prioritize their events. Each actor will have photo opportunities, panels and autograph sessions. Prepare to spend up to three hours waiting in line for some of the most popular ones. Last year’s Tampa Bay Comic Con hosted Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), and waiting for her photo ops ate up five hours of my Saturday.
Here’s an example: Saturday’s “Star Wars” Q&A is set for 10 a.m. It’s immediately followed by Coleman’s Q&A at 11 a.m., which is immediately followed by the “Daredevil” team Q&A at noon. But McDiarmid’s photo ops are also set for noon, and the “Daredevil” photos are set for 12:50 p.m. When you factor in the hundreds of people also in line for these photos and panels, you simply can’t do them all. As a fan of both “Star Wars” and “Daredevil,” I will have some tough choices to make.
If you’re going for the whole weekend, I’d recommend spacing out activities and panels you want to attend. Focus on a panel one day, and a photo op or autograph the next. The full Tampa Bay Comic Con schedule is available online, along with guides on where to park (come very, very early if you want a spot in the convention center’s parking garage) links to buy tickets online, and a list of policies and rules. Photo ops and autographs are cash only, so hit up an ATM beforehand.
Celebrity panels aren’t the only thing you’ll want to check out. Tampa Bay Comic Con also has a massive dealers room, which sells a bunch of fan merchandise, both commercial and handmade fan items. The Tampa chapter of the professional “Star Wars” cosplay group, the 501st Legion, will be present on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Room 4. They always have some great replicas on display, as well as hosts in full “Star Wars” cosplay regalia. When celebrities aren’t at photos or panels, they’re usually hanging around their autograph tables, which is the best way to have more than a 30-second conversation with someone you admire.
This con is meant to be family-friendly and meant to be fun, but it can be a disaster if not planned correctly. It would be a shame to miss out on some of the improv events, movie screenings and discussion panels that are hosted in the evenings. Tampa Bay Comic Con definitely promises an action-packed weekend. Make sure you don’t get burned out early so you can enjoy it all.