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Tampa Bay Comic Con draws capacity crowd

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Published:   |   Updated: April 8, 2013 at 05:48 AM
TAMPA -

Lisa Szarleta gave an important piece of information to St. Petersburg artist Nigel Williams.

In a small corner inside the Westshore DoubleTree on Sunday, she told Williams that a caricature of her 13-year-old daughter Hannah should be in the form of a zombie.

“I love little girl zombies,” Williams said, throwing his head back, clapping his hands, and laughing. “They’re so gruesome!”

That was Tampa Bay Comic Con, a place where anyone could be anything. The two-day event, which began on Saturday, is in its 13th year of celebrating comic books, Star Wars and action figures and turnout was as strong as ever, organizers said.

About 2,500 came on Saturday and between 4,000 and 5,000 attended Sunday, said Stephen Solomon, part owner of Orlando-based Action3 Events and Promotions, which runs Comic Con.

Ticket sales had to be halted Sunday afternoon by order of Tampa’s Fire Marshal due to the overflow crowd.

“It’s a success because obviously the market is there and people want to attend conventions like this,” Solomon said as actors from AMC’s “Walking Dead” television series were shuffled into an adjoining, standing-room-only ballroom. “But in this particular instance, there were too many people who wanted to attend and that led to unhappy people (being turned away) which is the opposite of what we want.”

A similar event scheduled for Aug. 24-25, was to be held at the DoubleTree, but Solomon now hopes they can change to a larger venue, such as the Tampa Convention Center.

Once she had her completed zombie caricature, Hannah Szarleta’s goal was to get “Walking Dead” cast members Lauren Cohan and Emily Kinney, who were at the event, to sign it.

“He started drawing the brains flying out of the side and I’m watching thinking, ‘OK, what is this going to look like,’” Lisa Szarleta said. “And as I’m watching, I’m like, this is awesome. He’s got some really good talent.”

Jason and Melanie Cartwright had a small crowd of their own as they sauntered through the halls of the hotel.

The couple, their three daughters, Serenity, A’Lyana, Bella, and their son, Jason Luke, came to the festival in full Star Wars regalia. As the family neared the ballrooms, they were asked to stop for photos.

“This is an event the kids and all of us can enjoy as a family,” Cartwright said. “As you can see, they love it. They love the attention, they love dressing up. We’re all Star Wars fans.

“It’s a time that we can share together and just have a good time.”

The Brandon family has attended Comic Con the past two years and have also been participants in Disney’s Star Wars Weekends, marching as Storm Troopers.

Joe Jusko has worked as an artist for nearly every comic book publisher from Marvel to DC Comics during his three decades in the business. This weekend was his first at Tampa Bay Comic Con.

“It’s definitely bigger than I anticipated,” Jusko said. “There are a lot of first-time convention goers who aren’t quite sure of how things work and it’s nice to see that there are new people coming in. … It’s attracting a new fan base, which is nice.”

Smattering the last portions of red and purple on Hannah Szarleta’s zombie caricature, Williams said it was his first time at Comic Con. The lifelong comic book fan usually plies his trade at Clearwater Beach.

“The part about doing caricatures, to me, is that it doesn’t matter if you’re another caricature artist or whatever, you can take it wherever you want,” said Williams, a Gibbs High graduate who began doing caricatures at Busch Gardens at 17. “There’s no holds barred. That’s best part of the art. The only limitation is whatever’s in your mind.”


edaniels@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1860

Twitter: @EDanielsTBO

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