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Used with permission from Jared Whitley
Columnist Jared Whitley (left) at the Middle East Film & Comic Con held in Dubai in April 2017.

The first comic convention I went to was in 1991 in Salt Lake City. The keynote event featured legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont. I stood in a short line to meet him, got some books signed and got to visit with him and other comic book creators face to face.

The experience was small and cozy and novel … and of course absolutely nothing like what fans experience nowadays. If Claremont attended the Salt Lake City Comic Con, his name would probably be well below Richard Dean Anderson’s and John Cusack’s, two people who have nothing to do with comic books.

As niche, nerd culture has gone mainstream, comic book conventions have become huge business.

My theory is this breakthrough happened mainly because of the Harry Potter, Star Wars prequel and Lord of the Rings movies. Those turn-of-the-millennium franchises proved there was more money in this genre than anyone had realized and a fan experience on the horizon of which 26-years-younger Jared would have dared not dream.

It's left me a little over-comic-conned, to be honest.

See, I had a stretch there where I went on a bender. Not only was I flying back to the Salt Lake Comic Con at least once a year, but I was also attending the convention in Washington, D.C. (where I lived at the time). I was going, as well, to the annual Las Vegas Star Trek convention for a week with my Star Trek friends, and at least one board game convention per year (Dice Tower Con in 2013, Board Game Geek Con in 2014, Origins in 2015).

Gosh, this kind of reads like my introduction at an AA meeting, doesn’t it?

I overdid it, so now I’m taking this comic con off. This year, my only dalliance into the fan world was one afternoon at the comic con in Dubai (where I live now). There the novelty is seeing both a) how geeks are alike the world over and b) the local spin on familiar themes, like, say, a couple of Deadpools wearing traditional Arab garb.

I also met a girl from Kuwait in a hijab wearing a T-shirt of Princess Peach as Rosie the Riveter. That might have been the best example of American cultural diplomacy I’ve ever seen.

While I’ll always love the chance to meet up with like-minded folks at conventions like this, where the substance is involved, it takes a lot nowadays for them to interest me. Panels, cosplay and even celebrity speakers can’t really say anything new when you’ve done this as much as I have.

But there are still surprising moments that remind me why I go. Last year, that moment came at the "Dukes of Hazzard" panel, featuring stars Tom Wopat, John Schneider and Catherine Bach.

I was too young when the show was on the air, and I believe I’ve never even seen a rerun, so everything they had to say was new to me. When someone asked the trio what they thought of the 2005 movie, Schneider grabbed a huge laugh by saying, “It would have had to have gotten significantly better to have sucked.” Bach reflected on getting an entire style of shorts (very short cutoff jeans) named after her. I whispered to my brother at the time, “People will still call those shorts ‘Daisy Dukes’ 50 years after she’s died. That’s a heckuva legacy.”

1 comment on this story

This mainstreaming of the fan experience has really opened things up for lazy cosplayers like myself. My go-to costume is Prison Mike, Michael Scott’s persona to scare his staff straight from “The Convict” episode of "The Office." I just wear a suit and put on a purple bandanna.

So with the desire for non-nerd nerd stuff at nerd cons, the thing I really missed out on this year was not seeing “Weird Al" Yankovic in April or Dick Van Dyke this week. OK, “Weird Al" has plenty of nerd street cred, with “Yoda,” “The Saga Begins” and “White and Nerdy,” but Dick Van Dyke? How did a mainstream acting legend of the 1960s become the guest of honor at a convention about nerd culture?

The answer is, of course, that nerd culture became mainstream a long time ago.