The annual pop culture convention Fan Days brings together fans of all genres and media and gives them a forum to discuss and celebrate the TV shows, movies and comics they've loved for most of their lives. So it provides a natural segue to meet someone who shares similar passions, says Jamie Buckley who regularly attends the conventions with her fiancé, Travis Hawvermale. They call themselves avid "Whovians," or fans of the British sci-fi series Doctor Who.
"I guess it's just one thing we really go into equally," she says. "We both watched Doctor Who when we met but we made a point of watching it from the beginning again together. Our love for the show together grew while we watched it."
So when it came time for Hawvermale to pop the question, he knew that taking his beloved to a fancy restaurant and hiding the ring in a chocolate soufflé like other unimaginative couples just wouldn't do. He set up the moment at the convention in front of a TARDIS, the device that the Doctor uses to travel through time, to create a truly timeless memory for his future wife.
"It's all kind of a blur because there's a crowd of people hanging around and then I go down on my knees and people are cheering and clapping," he says. "It was amazing. People at the Con are from all different walks of life but it's all still family."
Hawvermale and Buckley are just one of many couples who have connected at comic conventions. So it shouldn't sound all that surprising that this year's con is being held at the Irving Convention Center on Valentine's Day weekend.
"I find it would be easier to meet someone at a comic book convention than in the real world, in a regular setting, because you have people who have things in common with you with that stuff at the con," says comic book fan and Fan Days attendee Danielle Blankenship. "You already know you have something in common with the other people and can go from there and base a friendship or a relationship from that."
Blankenship says she didn't think she would meet someone she would fall in love with at a comic book convention but that's what happened to her last year at Fan Days when she first met her boyfriend Lee Smith at the Sci-Fi Speed Dating session, an event that will also be on the schedule this weekend.
"I'm kind of an introvert," she says. "I didn't really like putting myself out there and I wasn't expecting to find anyone but it was a new thing and I'm not opposed to trying new things."
Ben and Lynnaya Saunders first met through a mutual friend at the Dallas Comic Con in 2014 and regularly attended the local conventions as avid cosplayers. The first time they met, Ben says he just started his costuming hobby and saw his future wife dressed as Deadpool, the wisecracking mercenary who will make his big debut on the big screen later today.
"It's just a mutual passion," Lynnaya says. "The ability to have fun and dress up and pretend to be someone else and have someone else enjoy that with you. It's enjoyable to bring smiles to other people's faces."
So when Ben decided to pop the question the following year, he decided to do it at the convention, while both were dressed as a post-apocalyptic version of Ariel and Eric from Disney's The Little Mermaid. They are returning to the Fan Days convention this weekend as husband and wife, or more accurately, as Spider-Man and Spider-Woman, since Spider-Woman is "super pregnant right now in the comic books and I'm super pregnant."
"Since Comic-Con was such an important thing to us and it was the year anniversary of the Con where I started talking to her," Ben says, "I knew early on that's when and where I wanted to propose to her."
Other couples met outside of the convention and decided to use it as the setting for their wedding, like Jeff and Lori Parks, who got married dressed as Captain America and Batgirl at last year's Dallas Comic Con, sharing the moment with fellow fans and showing the world that even two rival factions like DC and Marvel can achieve peace and harmony.
The couple met online through a dating website after Jeff reached out to Lori because she mentioned that she was a Comic Con attendee in her profile. The two seem like a perfect match since Jeff also attends the convention as an exhibitor for his custom prop lightsaber business.
"We decided to have our wedding at the Comic Con because we were just going to do one through a Justice of the Peace and do a quiet, simple thing, but Jeff was the one who proposed it and said, 'Don't you think we have a really unique relationship and shouldn't we join together in a way that epitomizes our relationship?'" Lori says. "So I thought about it and thought it just suited us. When I talked about it to my friends, they were just totally all on board."
They hired professional comics artist Lawrence Reynolds to draw the invitation featuring Capt. America and Batgirl kissing in the same pose made famous by a Navy sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945. A friend also got ordained as a minister so he could officiate the wedding dressed as a Jedi. They even tried to get Batman's Adam West to serve as the witness for their wedding, but he was unable to attend the convention.
The two even got to tie the knot on the same red carpet used to open the convention.
"Everybody at the Con bent over backwards to make this happen," she says. "We've been married over a year-and-a-half now and we have people come by all the time and say, 'Hey, so glad to see you guys here. We were at your wedding.' It's such a close-knit community and it's always nice for them to come by and say they were there when we got married."
Hawvermale says some people who have never been to a comic book convention might be surprised to see so many couples and even families that started because of a mutual love for the artwork of Jack Kirby or The Walking Dead.
"When you go to conventions, it's not uncommon at all to see a family and [they've] got a little baby dressed as an Ewok in a stroller," he says, "or even older kids and the family dressed in a certain theme. We went to watch the costume contest and there was an entire family dressed as Klingons."
Parks says conventions like Fan Days make it easier to meet someone because unlike meeting someone for drinks in a bar or fighting for attention at a concert, everyone is there to celebrate the things that they love.
"Everybody accepts you," Parks says. "Everybody encourages you. It's a very tight knit, very respecting community. Everybody respects everybody else. It's the only place where we could have gone to get the acceptance and respect for what the experience meant to us as a couple."