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Comic Con turnout overwhelms Tampa event's planners

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Published:   |   Updated: August 25, 2013 at 09:29 AM

TAMPA — Nathan Logsdon pre-ordered his tickets for the Tampa Bay Comic Con and was surprised on Saturday when he had to wait in line for one hour to reach the entrance.

Then he waited another hour to get to the main exhibition hall where comic book creators met fans, and actors from popular science fiction and fantasy television shows signed autographs.

“This is not organized well,” said Logsdon as he stood outside the Tampa Bay Convention Center. “We already had our tickets, so we thought we were good to go. There's not a lot of direction here.”

There was, however, a line stretching from inside one of the ballrooms, out the doors of the convention center's Franklin Street entrance, around the block and over the Harbour Island Bridge.

Some fans, many of whom attend such conventions dressed as their favorite comic book, movie or video game characters, stood outdoors in the midday heat for about an hour.

Stephen Solomon, one of the convention organizers, said he expected 20,000 people during the three-day weekend event.

“We got more than 20,000 in one day,” said Solomon, a managing member of Orlando-based Action3 Events and Promotions, which runs the Tampa Bay Comic Con.

Solomon said Saturday's enormous turnout probably was due to the mainstream appeal of having actors from popular television shows such as “Game of Thrones” and “Walking Dead” signing autographs.

The event moved to the convention center this year to accommodate larger crowds, he said. Organizers last year had to turn away people from the convention, which was held in a hotel ballroom, because of a lack of space, he said.

“We had an overcrowding situation last year and we have the same problems this year,” Solomon said. “But I do think it's a success. It shows an interest in the convention. Obviously, there's still some problems we have to work out.”

Josh Chittick and Anna Steadham, dressed up as characters from “Game of Thrones,” said they were waiting in a line for nearly an hour to retrieve their tickets for an autograph session with their favorite characters from the show.

Chittick, 35, said he is a veteran of Tampa Bay Comic Con and was pleased with its relocation to the convention center's 75,000 square feet of space.

“It's a huge improvement, but it's still a bit disorganized,” he said. “Last year it was in a really small venue. It was crowded. It took us almost 30 minutes to get out of the convention.”

Stacy Bonilla, 26, said she didn't mind the crowds. Bonilla flew to Tampa from Hawaii to see actor Jason Momoa, a fellow Hawaiian who starred in “Stargate: Atlantis,” “Game of Thrones” and “Conan the Barbarian.”

Bonilla met Momoa and got his autograph.

“I almost cried,” she said. “He was extremely nice.”

Momoa said he enjoyed meeting fans Saturday morning and being in Tampa.

“I've been here for an hour and a half and it's been amazing,” he said.

Comic book fan Michael Crouse said he was impressed with the convention's turnout.

“Usually when people talk about comic book conventions, they mention Orlando and Las Vegas, never here,” Crouse, 28, said. “I can't see this convention not growing.”

Outside the exhibition area, people were getting photographs taken with Ronald Seaman, a retired Army soldier who was attending his first comic book convention. Seaman, 52, had crafted his own faux suit of futuristic armor and blended the design with his wheelchair to make him appear like a miniature tank.

“This armor is from the video game 'Gears of War,' which I have never seen,” Seaman said. “This is my first build. It's fun. I feel like a kid again.”

The Tampa Bay Comic Con runs until 6 p.m. today at the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S. Franklin Street. The event continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For information, visit www.tampabaycomiccon.com.

rreyes@tampatrib.com

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