The surreal events of the last 18 months, practically ripped from the pages of an apocalyptic novel, have left Denver’s pop-culture fan base with whiplash.

The passionate group of comics-and-cosplay lovers has been without a major gathering since summer 2019, with Denver Pop Culture Con pulling out of its planned 2020 show at the Colorado Convention Center due to the space’s use as a COVID-19 backup hospital (fortunately it’s never been needed).

Since then, there have been huge changes for the formerly nonprofit convention — in name and ownership — but fans can at last celebrate the return of the big event. Now called Denver Fan Expo, it takes place Oct. 29-31 at the Colorado Convention Center.

Single-day tickets are $45-$65 for adults; $35-$50 for kids 13-17; and $10 for kids aged 6-12, via fanexpohq.com/fanexpodenver.

“This year is a special-edition event, so some of the exciting new features will be limited,” said Andrew Moyes, vice president of Toronto-based Fan Expo HQ, which bought out Denver Pop Culture Con in March. “It’s being presented on a little bit of a smaller scale because our big event will be in July 2022.”

This special edition event will be about 75% of its planned, 2022 showing, when it returns on Halloween weekend, Moyes said.

While producers of Denver’s former pop-culture con never struggled for impressive guests, the TV and movie celebrities this year feel bigger: William Shatner (a veteran of the event); Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos (“Battlestar Galactica”); Giancarlo Esposito (“The Mandalorian,” “Breaking Bad”); Michael Rooker (“The Walking Dead,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”); Ray Fisher (“Justice League”); Zachary Quinto (J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek”); Jon Lovitz (“Saturday Night Live”); Aimee Garcia (“Lucifer”); Katie Cassidy (“Arrow”) and many more.

“Are you done announcing guests?” wrote Peter Winstead on the event’s Facebook page. “Because there (are) already plenty I’m excited to meet.”

Of course, “celebrity” is defined variously in the pop-culture world, so here the term also includes authors, comics artists, voice actors and filmmakers. One of the biggest commercial aspects of the con — or “shopping madness,” as organizers dubbed it — will take over 400,000 square feet of space with vendors and exhibitors galore, while panels, seminars and workshops fill in slots outside the main attractions.

Pop Culture Classroom also will return with family-friendly events and educational programming, Moyes said, and there’s a new emphasis on cosplay this year with “red carpet” and other Instagram-friendly features.

With an average total attendance of 100,000 people over its three-day weekends, Denver’s event was attractive to Fan Expo HQ for numerous reasons, Moyes said.

“The Denver show has been a top 10 event on the circuit within the pop-culture convention universe for a number of years now, so having that legacy within the market and industry is very important,” Moyes said. “When we come into a market, we look at whether it can support our show but also other events.”

 

Fans would be forgiven for losing track of the event’s myriad changes. Founded in 2012 as Denver Comic Con by the nonprofit Pop Culture Classroom (then Comic Book Classroom), the event quickly became the region’s biggest gathering for fans of comic books, speculative fiction, genre films, tabletop gaming and cosplay. It also was its nonprofit producer’s biggest annual fundraiser, which also made it vulnerable to attempted buyouts from larger, commercial companies.

In 2018, producers were forced to change the name of the event to Denver Pop Culture Con after San Diego’s Comic-Con International brought the legal smackdown to any convention using the “comic con” moniker.

“So we are absolutely committed to comic-book culture, and we’re not backing away from that at all,” former executive director Sam Fuqua told The Denver Post at the time, claiming the name-change was already under discussion. “We just want our name to represent better all the things that happen here.”

After a successful 2019 event, Denver Pop Culture Con in January 2020 announced guests for its summer convention, but was swiftly forced to postpone and ultimately cancel last year’s showing due to the coronavirus pandemic. In March, organizers announced they had sold their business to Fan Expo HQ.

The Toronto-based company runs events across North America and bills itself as the world’s largest producer of fan-event. A month or so after acquiring the Denver convention, the company bought out a half-dozen of its rival Wizard World’s largest shows, including events in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans. The pace of the consolidation is breathtaking for an industry that has gone mainstream over the last decade and a half.

Moyes promises the event will increasingly reflect the city’s character as it establishes itself, creating partnerships with locals and expanding programming. Until then, it’s up to fans to decide if it’s up to their standards.

“Ticket sales have been strong so far, but some people may also be holding off until the last minute,” Moyes said, declining to provide numbers (the event has about 75,000 followers on Facebook). “This will just be an appetizer before the main course next year.”

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