Bruce Campbell drawn to Comic Con

'Evil Dead' actor, who lives in Oregon, one of many celebrities on tap for fan event

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

Wizard World Portland Comic Con

• What: Comic book, TV show, video game and pop culture convention with a host of celebrity guests.

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

• When: 3 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26.

• Cost: $85 for a three-day pass, one-day passes range from $45 to $55 at the door. Tickets are $10 less when ordered in advance online, although there's a $4.87 handling charge. Each ticket includes up to two free child tickets for ages 10 and younger.

• Information: www.wizardworld.com/home-portland

As a lifelong science fiction enthusiast, Bruce Campbell said he really appreciates the way conventions like this weekend's Wizard World Portland Comic Con have opened up fan access to celebrities.

It really wasn't like that when the well-known actor, who lives in Oregon, would sit glued to the TV with his brother in the late 1960s watching William Shatner on the original "Star Trek."

"When I was a kid, I didn't have anyplace to go to meet my heroes," Campbell said. "Baseball did some of that early on (with signing and card trading events) but the comic con and pop culture stuff, that came later."

Campbell, who starred as "Ash" in the "Evil Dead" films and had a seven-year run on the show "Burn Notice" before it ended in 2013, is a big draw on the pop culture convention scene. He's well-known for his so called "panel discussions," which are really more of a stand-up comedy act where he engages with the audience.

"(The panels) can get very snarky," Campbell said with a laugh. "I don't really like the word 'panel' because it's more of a fan interaction thing where they pay to see you. People, they pile in cars, they sleep eight to a room and they pile their cash down. They came to talk to you, so I want to give them that."

Autograph signing, panels, cosplay, exclusive meetings with celebrities and merchandise sales are all key parts of the convention experience. Campbell said he really likes chatting with fans, especially during the signing sessions.

"I get fun takeaway things from it, like one thing I like to do is take pictures of everybody's tattoos," Campbell said. "I have a collection of about 80 right now. I Tweet them when I get new ones."

Tattoos range from various roles he's played. He's seen a lot of "Ash" tattoos, but also some from his film "Bubba Ho-Tep" and TV show "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.," he said.

Asked how it feels to have his face tattooed on people's bodies, he said he's cool with that.

"My dad was an ad man in Michigan, and he would be very proud," Campbell said. "He's like 'Son, that's a walking billboard'"

And while fans get a little tongue-tied around him, Campbell said he's not immune to turning fanboy himself — especially when Shatner is around.

"Shatner is very big — to meet him? He's the man," Campbell said. "You run into pretty much everybody at these things."

Shatner will be at this weekend's convention. Campbell has gotten to talk to him behind the scenes a few times, and has become a very big fan of the actor's '80s TV show "T.J. Hooker" in the process.

"I tape that show religiously," Campbell said. "I love watching my fellow actors ply their trade."

This weekend's show spans far beyond a lineup of well-known actors that includes Norman Reedus, Michael Rooker, Laurie Holden, Ron Perlman, Linda Blair, Summer Glau and Nicholas Brendon.

A host of comic book, graphic novel and other artists and creative types will be on hand for signings and events, too.

Jason Raines, who was born in Vancouver and lived here off and on for many years, will also have a booth at the event. A comic book artist, animator and designer, Raines also used to own an Orchards store called Goblin Comics in the early 1990s.

"Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, that was a really fun time for comics," said Raines, 41. "That was when all these independent comics started to take off. Before that, it was mostly Marvel, superheroes, that sort of thing."

Putting together comics was very different before personal computers became relatively advanced. It was a somewhat painstaking process to put together his first comic, "Joe Psycho & Moofrog," Raines said.

"When we started out in Vancouver, our comics, we'd go down to Kinkos and we'd spend 12 hours there, cutting and pasting and putting things together so we could copy them," Raines said. "Now there's so much you can do on the computer, it's really opened things up."

Raines has been to his share of conventions over the years, although he hasn't shown his work at one since about 2008. That's not to say he hasn't been busy. He's working on a new comic called "Capes & Heels" with Single Edge Studios and is also about to release a new graphic novel called "AxeCrack Jack."

He said that like many fans, he's eager to meet some of his heroes at the convention — especially if it's legendary comic and pop culture icon Stan Lee.

"He's why I decided to become a comic artist," Raines said. "I remember I was working in a post office in Vancouver, and it was the middle of the night and they were playing an interview on the radio with Stan Lee. It was about how to become a comic artist. It's like I was meant to hear it."

Raines said he also hopes to run into some of his old artist friends from Vancouver with whom he's lost touch over the years. He spent about 10 years living in Hollywood, working in animation on such projects as National Lampoon's "Jake's Booty Call" and "Spaceballs: The Animated Series."

"I expect to see Vancouver well-represented this weekend," Raines said.

Since it first came to Portland last year, Wizard World has grown significantly. It had eight conventions across the United States in 2013 and the company now has 16 events, said John Macaluso, the CEO.

"We've doubled in size," Macaluso said. "We've also increased the size of each event. The level of celebrities we're bringing in is unparalleled. It really is a great show."

Thousands of people showed up for the February 2013 Portland show, and Macaluso said he's expecting this year's to sell out.

Improving the show is an ongoing process, and Macaluso said he's always open to feedback. He's already had some great input from some pretty big names.

"Bruce (Campbell) is really one of the sensational gentlemen coming to the show, and his input, Bill Shatner's input, they've had a real influence on us," Macaluso said. "We tweak and fine tune every day so we can give our fans the best possible experience."

Campbell agrees with that.

"They really do listen, and it shows," Campbell said. "Besides, when Shatner tells you to do something, you do it."Even over the past decade, the nature of comic conventions has changed and grown quite a bit. The San Diego Comic Con, the largest one, draws top Hollywood stars and exclusive movie premieres, he said.

"Things are much more immediate now," Campbell said. "You're on (a big network show) and you go to conventions now to promote that. It used to be only people who were out of work or at the later stages of their careers. Now it's people who are big names and working."

And it's great that fans can have that sort of access to the people involved in their favorite shows, comics or films — and that he can have fun interacting with them in his tongue-in-cheek, snarky way, Campbell said.

"I don't do politics and I don't do religion, but I do like to make fun of people," Campbell said. "I don't really go after people, because I don't want them really going after me. But I do like having a good time with them."