Fandom is an interesting driver. It drives some people to permanently paint their bodies with portraits of their favorite characters or spend scads of money and effort on elaborate costumes and disguises to express their love for their favorite TV shows, movies and comic books.
Seeing someone in a full Gouki costume outside of Halloween or Mardi Gras may sound unusual if you aren't a convention regular, but for the stars of this year's Dallas Comic-Con, dedicated cosplayers are reminders of how deeply their work can touch their audience.
Michael Rooker, Manu Bennett and Stan Lee have been to countless comic conventions and have made the days of an untold number of fans who wait in long lines to spend less than two minutes getting something autographed, snapping a selfie or pressing the flesh.
"From an outsider looking in, all of it is weird," said Rooker who played Merle Dixon on AMC's The Walking Dead, "but for someone who's been in theater and show business as long as I have, the con and how it's grown over the years has been really joyous to see. You get people who dress up and get to come and hangout in line and meet actors from star wars and some of my favorites, and even the newer things like my show The Walking Dead."
Actor Sean Maher, who was in town as part of the con's full Firefly cast, hasn't done as many conventions as the other celebrities along autograph row but Firefly's hardcore fan base has given him some unique memories that are actually quite humbling.
"I always find it weird when I'm hugging them and they're trembling," Maher said. "Then I try and rub their back and tell them to take a deep breath and it's OK. I don't get that way. I'm think I'm just missing the gene. I certainly do admire people, and I get star struck, and I get a little tongue tied when I meet people I admire, but just in terms of the fan gene, it's just not in my DNA. I would never go to a sports arena and take my shirt off and paint myself in the colors of the team. I appreciate it though, and I love it."
Manu Bennett, an actor with credits on three massive pop culture fan franchises including The CW's Arrow, Starz's Spartacus and Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies, has been guests at conventions on just about every hemisphere. He said he's always blown away by the global reach his work has on fans living on different patches of soil.
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"On a regular occasion, I'll go to conventions and some guy will get up and say that while they were at a fort in Afghanistan or Iraq that watching Spartacus was an inspiration to him and his troops," Bennett said. "I've heard that on many occasions and as a result of that, we've ended up going over to visit Kuwait and visited camps and ports where soldiers came in and out, and it was to incredible to think that just like music can enthuse, TV can enthuse as well.
"On the flip side, I've gone to the Middle East and gone to cons there and had women in burkas come up saying 'We really like Crixus as a warrior," Bennett added. "That's where popular culture becomes global. One thing that we think of as a big hit in America, it will be a big hit in Japan, a hit in Europe and a hit in the Middle East."
Lee, the legendary Marvel Comics writer who even makes non-comic book readers tongue tied and remove their hats, easily has the most and best stories about meeting fans at conventions. His is more personal and easily the sweetest because his encounter came from a young, budding fan who we hope was a young Robert Downey Jr.
"I was with my wife at a convention and we were rushing because I was late for a panel and some little kid who must have been 4 or 5 years old says 'Mr. Lee? Mr. Lee? Can I ask you a question?' and I said 'Oh, I don't have time now,'" Lee said. "My wife grabbed me and said, 'You certainly do have time to answer that little boy's question.' I said, 'Honey, I'm late for the panel.' 'It doesn't matter. He's a fan! You answer the question,' and I had to stop and talk to that kid for five minutes but I realized what a real sweet woman my wife was because she didn't want to offend anybody."