Gadgets and Gizmos aplenty will be infiltrating Saturday’s Cedar Rapids Comic Con, when movie stars, memorabilia, artists, gamers and geeks take over the DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids Convention Center.
Among the special guests is actor Zach Galligan, who starred in the 1984 megahit movie “Gremlins” and its 1990 sequel, “Gremlins 2: The New Batch.” Galligan found instant fame at age 19, and more than 30 years later, has found a new batch of fame through meet-and-greets like comic book conventions.
He’ll be making his first trip to Iowa for the fourth annual Cedar Rapids event, which like his cuddly co-star Gizmo, has created a population explosion. An innocent little creature known as a mogwai, Gizmo spawned aggressive mutants when he was exposed to water. They kept mutating and wreaking havoc on their town.
Comic Con has spawned a much friendlier population explosion. The event that first drew nearly 3,500 people to NewBo City Market in 2015 now draws more than 10,000 fans to the much larger convention center downtown.
The “one inescapable reason” for that popularity explosion is the internet, Galligan said by phone from his home in Atlanta. “It’s a global phenomenon that’s pretty mind-blowing really,” he said.
Call it revenge of the nerds.
“In the last 12 years, the nerdy people have taken over the internet, the internet has taken over the world, and therefore, the culture, by default, has become nerd culture,” he said.“ , “because the so-called ‘cool kids’ aren’t really on the internet talking about geeky stuff like ‘Firefly,’ ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ ‘Star Wars’ ... and ‘Harry Potter.” So the nerds control the culture.”
They also have fueled the resurgence of comic books. “That’s why you have ‘The Walking Dead,’ which is based on a comic book,” Galligan said.
Everything that’s nerdy — old TV shows being rebooted — anything that a 15-year-old guy or girl geek would like — is now the dominant form of culture. I just happen to be lucky enough to be in a beloved movie from the ’80s. So if you’re in one of those movies from the ’80s that stands the test of time, you are sitting pretty.”
He loves meeting fans at conventions, and through them, has come to realize the impact actors and their films can have on their viewers. It’s a source of pride and satisfaction for this Manhattan native who attended prep school with the late John Kennedy Jr. and “X-Files” star David Duchovny. Galligan was bitten by the acting bug around age 6 or 7, and performed in amateur productions the next 10 years, until a casting director saw him in a play. That led to film auditions in the early ’80s for “Taps,” where he lost to Sean Penn, and “Tempest,” where the role went to Sam Robards. Shortly thereafter, Galligan landed roles in “Nothing Lasts Forever” and his breakout film, “Gremlins.” He has continued making films and guest-starring in television series at home and in England. He recently returned from appearing on “The Keith & Paddy Picture Show,” a British comedy that spoofs classic films.
But the proliferation of conventions allows him to connect with fans face-to-face, sign their “Gremlins” action figures and lunchboxes, and hear their stories. He gets “quite a lot” of personal satisfaction from those events, calling the reception “mind-blowing,” especially in the past 10 years. “When you’re an actor and you do a movie, you do your part, and then a year later it comes out and you just send it out into the culture, and put it out in theaters, and it goes out all over the world,” he said, “and it affects people, or it doesn’t. But if it does, you don’t really understand the depth of it until the people tell you.”
He’s been surprised by the fans who hug him and break down crying, explaining that watching “Gremlins” was their form of escape growing up, so that meeting him became “a therapeutic experience.”
“I had no idea this movie acted as some kind of a balm or a salve for some people who were suffering,” he said. “The role that entertainment plays in people’s lives I guess I really underestimated. I thought it was a fun movie and you watch it, but like a Kleenex, you throw it away after you use it.”
He’s also receive letters from people who were touched by “Surviving,” the 1985 television movie he made with Molly Ringwald, which focused on teen suicide. “People have told me that movie pushed them back from the brink,” he said.
“I’m not trying to paint myself as the savior of the world or anything like that, I’m just saying people have told me personal experiences about stuff I’ve done that affected them very deeply ... To me, I just thought I was doing entertainment, then what you realize, is that for some people, it’s way more than entertainment”
“What’s really interesting is that oftentimes when I’m at conventions, I’ll be sitting next to other people like Edward James Olmos from ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ and I’ll hear the people who are at their table tell them the exact same thing. ... So you realize that it’s not about me — I’m just part of this entertainment thing that really brings a lot of joy into people’s lives and distracts them and gets them through bad times and keeps them afloat. ...
“It’s amazing to be part of something that brings people so much joy, because I never really realized it until I did these shows.”
WHAT: Cedar Rapids Comic Con
WHERE: DoubleTree by Hilton Cedar Rapids Convention Complex, 350 First Ave. NE
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday (2/3)
TICKETS: $10 general admission for access to vendor hall and first-floor common areas; $15 level 2 for access to first-floor vendor hall, panel rooms, video game room and tabletop gaming rooms; VIP admission sold out;to $15, free ages 12 and under with adult (limit three kids per adult); at the door or Cedarrapidscomiccon.com/shop/
FEATURES: Comic artists and writers; vendors selling collectibles; experts in fields relating to the comic book, sci-fi, fantasy and gaming worlds GUESTS: Media guests: Zach Galligan, star of “Gremlins” films; Christy Carlson Romano, Enmy-nominated voice of “Kim Possible”; Kerrigan Mahan, stage, screen and voice actor, known for Goldar from “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” series and movie; Barbara Goodson, “Princess Leia” for “Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and Red Fraggle in “Fraggle Rock”; leading the comic book guests is Jason Aaron, writer for “Scalped,” female version of “Thor” and the new “Star Wars” series; featured artist: Ant Lucia, of “DC Bombshells” line and created the “Iowa Bombshell” as the official Cedar Rapids Comic Con art
AFFILIATED EVENTS: today (2/1), discussion and signing by William Jones, author and founder of the Afrofuturism Network, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., African American Museum of Iowa, 55 12th Ave. SE; Marvel & DC Comics Trivia Night, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., Quarter Barrel Arcade & Brewery, 616 Second Ave. SE, $5; Friday (2/2), Gene Ha, who writes and draws “Mae,” 2 to 3 p.m., Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE; Saturday (2/3): after party, 6 p.m. to 2 p.m., Quarter Barrel Arcade & Brewery, 616 Second Ave. SE