Nerd-vana at Portland Comic Con

Stars of 'Walking Dead,' 'Evil Dead,' 'Buffy,' plus comic book legend Stan Lee highlight weekend event

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

Portland Wizard World Comic Con

What: Comic book, TV show, video game and pop culture convention with several celebrity guests.

Where: Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Portland.

When: 3 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24.

Cost: $70 at the door for a three-day pass, one-day passes range from $40 to $50 at the door. Each ticket includes up to two free child tickets for ages 10 and younger.

Information: Portland Wizard World Comic Con

Guests:

Stan Lee, comic book author

Bruce Campbell, actor

Morena Baccarin, actress

Mike "The Miz" Mizanin, wrestler

Nicole and Brianna Garcia, wrestling divas

Sara Jean Underwood, actress, show host

Henry Winkler, actor

Dean Cain, actor

Michael Rooker, actor

Norman Reedus, actor

James Marsters, actor

Juliet Landau, actress

James Hong, actor

David Della Rocco, actor

Sean Patrick Flanery, actor

Jason David Frank, actor

Lou Ferrigno, actor

Chris Claremont, writer

Gail Simone, writer

Mike Deodato Jr., artist

Kurt Busiek, writer

Carlos Pacheco, artist

Kaare Andrews, artist

Scott Lobdell, writer

Arthur Suydam, cover artist

Mike Grell, artist

Brett Weldele, artist

Greg Horn, artist

Michael Golden, comic book author

If the zombie apocalypse starts during this weekend's Wizard World Comic Con, find Michael Rooker, fast.

Rooker, who plays Merle Dixon on AMC's "The Walking Dead," is old hat at fighting zombies, both on screen and in video games. And there's no doubt the actor would come in handy during a brain-eating bonanza.

"Zombies have been very, very good to me," Rooker said with a laugh by telephone from his home in Los Angeles. "And the characters I've played so far have been quite good at killing them."

Rooker and Norman Reedus, who plays Merle's brother, Daryl Dixon, on the TV show, are coming to Portland for the convention, which runs through Sunday.

The Portland event isn't quite as big as Comic-Con International in San Diego, which is sort of the Super Bowl of the comic convention world, but it has drawn some big names to our region, Rooker and Reedus among them.

"I know I'm not overstating that this is the largest con that the Portland area or Oregon has ever seen," said Chris Simons, owner of Vancouver's I Like Comics. "I've never seen a conference with this much buzz about it. They've drawn some huge names to the area."

The store, at 2101 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., plans to have a few booths at the event, which is expected to draw upwards of 20,000 attendees. For his part, Simons said he's really looking forward to seeing comic book legend Stan Lee, who will be signing items there.

"Stan Lee, he's the father of modern comic books, and he's 90 years old," Simons said. "He has a pacemaker. He's been cutting back on his shows and there won't be many more chances to see him and get things signed by him. We were lucky enough to get a private signing session with him."

As a fan of "The Walking Dead," he also hopes to meet Rooker and Reedus, he said.

So does Dan Wyatt, owner of The Kiggins Theatre in downtown Vancouver.

"I'm very excited," Wyatt said "I'm kind of a big nerd and I'm really looking forward to Comic Con."

Kiggins airs episodes of "The Walking Dead" to near capacity audiences on Sunday nights during the season. Wyatt loves the series and said he hopes to get a chance to meet Rooker and Reedus at the Portland event.

"The show always draws a crowd," Wyatt said.

Participating in Wizard World conventions across the country has been a fun way to meet fans, Rooker said, and it's something he enjoys.

"I think it's awesome," Rooker said. "If it weren't for the fans, 'The Walking Dead' wouldn't be on the map. If it weren't for the fans, why would we even be out there doing this job we do as actors?"

This will be his first time ever visiting the Portland area, he added.

"It's going to be a lot of fun," he said.

John Macaluso, CEO of Wizard World, which runs eight conventions a year in various cities around the country, said "The Walking Dead" actors are always immensely popular.

Considering the Pacific Northwest is well known for counterculture and a creative art and film scene, Macaluso said he was surprised to learn that Wizard World's show would be the first big comic con in the area.

"There were no comic shows in Portland, no science fiction (convention) shows," Macaluso said. "And there are a lot of TV shows filmed in Portland. It's got a great comic book base."

There has been a smaller comic book-only convention in the city for more than 30 years, but it covers one day and draws about 2,000 people, Simons said.

"That's nothing against the Portland Comic Con, it's a great event, but Wizard World is on a whole other scale," Simons said.

Other guests at Wizard World Portland include actress Morena Baccarin, actor Dean Cain, WWE wrestler The Miz, and old-school stars Henry Winkler and Lou Ferrigno.

The show will feature discussions, meet and greets, signings, sales of a variety of items and video presentations.

Heading back to the zombie world, actor Bruce Campbell of "Evil Dead" and "Army of Darkness" fame will also talk to fans on Saturday. Campbell, who lives in Oregon, stars on the USA show "Burn Notice."

"Bruce is one of the all-time great guests," Macaluso said. "He's really the epitome of what a great guest can be."

Zombies — or zombie fighters like Campbell, Rooker and Reedus — are just plain hot right now. If you look at theater offerings in 2013, you'll find a host of films, including "Warm Bodies," "World War Z" and a remake of "Evil Dead."

And fans of the zombie genre, along with other horror works, will find a lot to enjoy at the convention, said Rooker, who began his career as a star in the horror classic "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" in 1986.

"There's always been a niche for horror, always a niche for zombies since George Romero," Rooker said. "I think there's something about the genre and the prospect of the dead coming back to life that is just really (bleeping) scary."

Rooker is no stranger to big screen productions. He has also been featured in "Tombstone" and "Jumper," to name a couple.

He's also had a lot of success on the small screen with "The Walking Dead" and in guest appearances on other shows such as "Criminal Minds," "Law and Order" and "Burn Notice."

But recently Rooker discovered an entirely new venue for his acting skills.

In the past year, the 57-year-old has worked on three zombie-related games: "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," "Lollipop Chainsaw" and "The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct."

And he loves it.

Playing characters in video games has been an interesting challenge as an actor, he said.

"The gaming probably has almost more acting involved (than film or TV)," Rooker said. "You don't get any of the high-end props. You're in an empty room with tape on the floor and you've got all these cameras around you."

Setups usually include somewhere between 185 and 200 cameras from floor to ceiling — and there are no big props. Just a few platforms and perhaps a stick for a gun, he said.

"You really have to act, dude!" Rooker said. "You really have to remember all that stuff you did in acting 101. It's awesome. That's the difference. Motion capture forces you to go back to your beginnings as an actor."

Still, just because you appear in video games doesn't mean you're any good at them, Rooker added with a laugh.

"I play but I suck," he said. "I'm the worst gamer."

Rooker is also having fun exploring his character Merle Dixon's development in the new season of "The Walking Dead." Merle began Season One as a drug addict and in Season Three, out of necessity, he's gone sober, Rooker said.

"The first part of the third season, you see Merle getting smarter, not as crazy out-there," Rooker said. "My thought was what kind of person would Merle be if he's not high."

He also likes playing around with the prop guys and coming up with new attachments for Merle's arm, which was sawed off in the first season and replaced with a prosthetic with a knife at the end of it.

"I've been having the prop guys build me all sorts of things," he said. "I want to take off the knife and add a bazooka. Some of the fans' ideas were a mace, a chain with a mace on it so you could knock people's heads off. A longer blade, a shorter blade. Some suggested a big Swiss army knife or a spatula."

Whatever the tool, Merle is "a tough cookie" and will be ready to take on the next round of zombies, Rooker said.

And so will the actor, who loves working in the genre, no matter what scary creatures he has to fight.

"I'm freaked out every time I'm on set," Rooker said. "I can't believe I'm there. What a beautiful job. I get to pretend like I'm a cop, a robber, an Air Force pilot, a kickass redneck. It's just a joy to get out there and play."