A Saturday in Smallville: My Experience at Smallville Comic-Con 

by S.V. Brosius 

We arrived at the Kansas State Fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kansas, a few minutes before the doors opened. An impressive line of people stood patiently waiting. Some were in costume. Some wore their favorite superhero T-shirt. A replica of the 1960s Batmobile was parked nearby.

Once Smallville Comic-Con was underway, we paid our admission and eagerly looked around at the dealer room that I expected to be much smaller. Toy vendors, artists, authors and apparel shops filled the building. Before moving forward, I noticed a map and happily discovered this convention spanned three buildings! We wandered through the aisles and stopped to gander at the variety of geeky goodness.

Toward the back, there were tables for celebrity guests. Each of them offered autograph opportunities for the plethora of fans. An afternoon schedule for photo ops was also available. As I strolled through the impressive rows of vendors, I spotted some handmade scrunchies. One featured little Grogu from The Mandalorian. I had to have it. It was 3 dollars well spent!

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The second building housed the larger displays of many hours of hard work. The Batmobile I saw outside was now parked inside. A second Batmobile was fashioned after Batman: The Brave and the Bold. A giant replica of Jabba the Hutt’s throne room rested against one wall, surrounded by the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers. On the opposite side of the room, a small set of risers was set up for a panel. I soon realized this was for the “B” panels.

J.J. Cohen sitting on a stage during a panel at Smallville Comic-Con.

Pictured: J.J. Cohen at Smallville Comic-Con

The third building featured several sets of risers facing a large stage. A black armchair and two curved white chairs faced the audience, with giant speakers on either side of the stage. We spent the next few hours engrossed in Hollywood stories of movie and television history.

J.J. Cohen was the first guest on stage. His most notable role was one of Biff’s goons in Back to the Future. He discussed his observance of the different acting styles of Eric Stoltz, the first actor cast as Marty McFly, and Michael J. Fox, who replaced him. Using the café scene where Marty punches Biff, he imitated what each actor did. Both were excellent actors, but he pointed out that Fox added that pained shake of his hand after the punch, illustrating his understanding of the character of Marty.

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When it was time for the audience to ask questions, I asked him about his experience on V: The Series. He spoke admirably about Robert Englund, who played Willie. J.J. also mentioned being good friends with Marc McClure (Dave McFly in Back to the Future and Jimmy Olsen in the Superman movies) and how he has tried many times to convince him to attend conventions with him.

According to J.J., Marc feels as if he doesn’t remember enough about his experiences to answer fan questions. Two other actors J.J. became very fond of were Crispin Glover (George McFly in Back to the Future) and Dermot Mulroney, who he starred with in the TV movie Daddy. Mr. Cohen described his experiences with rehab, bankruptcy and caring for his mom for 10 years, eventually moving to Las Vegas with her.

2018 was the year J.J. Cohen began attending conventions and has enjoyed it so much that he plans to start hosting his own. I look forward to seeing what he can do! (Unfortunately, technical difficulties made it difficult to hear parts of his interview due to a loud popping from the speakers.)

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John Wesley Shipp was the second guest to take the stage. He is best known for The Flash. Mr. Shipp did not sit for long, moving around on the stage and into the audience. Starting his career as a waiter, he stated he still has nightmares about not remembering which table the food went to. He became recognizable on the streets in the 1980s when he became a daytime soap opera star, giving him his first taste of success.

John Wesley Shipp sitting on a stage during a panel at Smallville Comic-Con.

Pictured: John Wesley Shipp at Smallville Comic-Con

When he landed the role of Barry Allen in The Flash television series in 1990, he mentioned how hot the suit was because it was made of foam latex, blocking in his sweat. Working on the new The Flash series as Henry Allen saw an improvement in the way the suit was made, allowing for perspiration and cool air to be filtered in toward the actor’s body. John spoke of his close relationship with Grant Gustin and how he admired the writing in the final Barry scene of “Crisis on Infinite Earths.”

Jack O’Halloran, a boxer-turned-actor, was the third guest to take the stage. He rode on a motorized scooter across the convention area at almost 80. I couldn’t help but notice how tall he was (6’6″ according to IMDb). Once seated for the interview, Mr. O’Halloran did not disappoint with his memories of filmmaking with the biggest names in Hollywood. His most famous role is Non from the Superman movies, which he stated was supposed to be a 10-film series.

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He mentioned that he created the character of Non to be childlike in a way to combat Zod and Ursa’s evil. Gene Hackman, Jack observed, was highly professional and expected those he worked with to be the same. Especially the director. If Mr. Hackman felt the director had not done his homework, he would tell him something like, “when you have your stuff together, come and get me. I’ll be in my trailer.”

Jack O'Halloran sitting on a stage during a panel at Smallville Comic-Con.

Pictured: Jack O’Halloran at Smallville Comic-Con

As an aspiring actor, Mr. O’Halloran was told that being a star is about presence. Either you have it, or you don’t. Richard Donner was his favorite director because he molded his actors into the roles and did it well. When asked which movie most accurately portrayed the sport of boxing, Jack replied, “Raging Bull.” He felt his best acting role was in Farewell, My Lovely. The highlights of his career were working with Robert Mitchum and Marlon Brando. Mr. O’Halloran was asked about movies today.

He said he felt that people want movies to return to creating a memorable escape: the kind of experience where one leaves the theater wanting to emulate the characters they just saw. (More sound issues with the interview, mainly due to Jack speaking at a low volume, and I don’t believe they adjusted his microphone. There was also a group behind the bleachers being very loud.)

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Needing a break from the celebrity panels, we decided to head back to the second building and watch a 30-minute Bob Ross painting lesson. The certified instructor detailed every step. A palette of familiar oil paints created a beautiful seascape, and it felt like I could do just as good a job as the instructor. I haven’t tried it yet, so we will see!

The final guest to take the main stage was Diane Salinger, most famous for her role as Simone in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Wearing her pink waitress uniform, Diane was delightful and charismatic. A Pee-Wee Herman doll sat on her lap. She also enjoyed walking around the stage and mingling with the audience. She described Tim Burton as a talented painter who got lucky and is a very humble and sweet man.

Diane Salinger sitting on stage during a panel at Smallville Comic-Con.

Pictured: Diane Salinger at Smallville Comic-Con

Diane and Paul Rubens (Pee-Wee Herman) reunited as The Penguin’s parents in Batman Returns, thanks to Mr. Burton. Ms. Salinger stated she prefers live acting versus television and movies because it is a different experience every time. She mentioned her role on Carnivale (2003-2005 HBO TV series) and spoke highly of the show. Diane visited an asylum to research her role as Apollonia, recreating patient habits she observed.

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The final questions came from the audience, and we learned that her favorite foods are lobster, artichokes, chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream. Her favorite animal is the slug. Her advice is to follow your dream, and the environment will naturally support you.

Smallville Comic-Con is an event I will gladly attend in the future. The convention was well-organized and offered enough entertainment and shopping opportunities to fill our day. A food truck was conveniently located between two buildings and offered a nice variety of menu items. There was also a food area inside the dealer room. I feel I got my money’s worth at only 25 dollars for Saturday admission per person.

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