'Walking Dead' stars to draw hordes at C2E2

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If you're really excited about meeting “The Walking Dead” cast members Laurie Holden, Chandler Riggs and Chad Coleman — and attending Coleman's Q&A — at this weekend's C2E2 convention at McCormick Place, get in line.

More than likely a really long one.

The AMC network's comic book-adapted zombie drama has become one of, if not the biggest, draw at conventions, where superheroes and “Star Trek” have long ruled. In fact, “The Walking Dead” TV show was a hit on the convention scene before the first episode even aired on Halloween 2010.

“We also run New York Comic Con and were the first ones to have ‘Walking Dead' at our event in 2010,” said Kim Mueller, director of content and talent for ReedPOP, which runs C2E2. “The show hadn't premiered yet, and we had a packed room in a 3,000-seat theater. We had to turn people away. We knew right off the bat that it was going to be big.”

Mueller singled out “The Walking Dead” TV show as the attraction that has drawn the biggest crowds the last few years. Holden and Coleman, who will sign autographs Friday and Saturday at C2E2, and Riggs, who will do the same Saturday and Sunday, are the latest to attend the convention. C2E2 booked co-stars Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan and ex-cast member Jon Bernthal in past years.

“When it comes to TV, there haven't been many shows that have been as consistently popular (at conventions),” Mueller said. “‘Lost' had a strong following, and, obviously, ‘Star Trek' and ‘Stargate' have an intense following, but ‘The Walking Dead' is the one that seems to be on everyone's mind. It isn't just a part of geek culture. It's expanded into the mainstream.”

In August, Bernthal and “Walking Dead” cast members Norman Reedus and Sarah Wayne Callies are scheduled to appear at Wizard World Chicago Comic Con at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. But Wizard World CEO John Macaluso, who lists “Walking Dead” as one of its biggest draws, along with comic book legend Stan Lee, hesitated as he talked about the AMC show's popularity at his conventions. He carefully chose his words, repeatedly using the phrase “The characters of ‘The Walking Dead'” rather than saying just the show's name.

That could be because the actors book these appearances independently. Dave Hagan, president of Monster-Mania Con, which takes place in various East Coast cities, said AMC has placed certain restrictions on how conventions market “Walking Dead” cast members and make money off the show.

“We have been asked by AMC to notify the fans ‘that no one can autograph any photos/images that belong to AMC or the Series, since AMC is not a licensee of the convention,'” Hagan posted on Monster-Mania's Facebook page in March. He later deleted the message and wrote, “Please disregard any posts that were made from us over the weekend. Business as usual.”

Or was it? Monster-Mania promoted its collection of “Walking Dead” appearances last month as “Zombie Killers Reunion.” Interestingly enough, Coleman's Q&A on Saturday at C2E2 is being promoted as “Zombie Talk With Chad Coleman” (unlike Friday's “‘Being Human' With Sam Huntington” and Sunday's “‘Game of Thrones' Q&A With James Cosmo & Natalie Dormer” panels, which reference the shows by name).

Hagan said Tuesday that he signed a contract preventing him from speaking publicly about his behind-the-scenes negotiations with AMC. He does claim, however, that future conventions that book “Walking Dead” cast members will benefit from those discussions.

“I can say that I do believe the way my (convention) and our lawyer negotiated things … have set the precedent for the way AMC now handles the (convention) appearances of the ‘WD' stars,” Hagan said by email. “I really feel Monster-Mania stood up for fandom when the agreement was finally reached.”

Asked about marketing restrictions, AMC spokeswoman Olivia Dupuis instead gave a statement she had previously released in response to rumors that the network was pulling “Walking Dead” cast members from conventions: “AMC is fully supportive of ‘The Walking Dead' cast engaging with its loyal and dedicated fans. We would not cancel events, and understand that cast members, who independently book these events through their representatives, would only do so if their production schedules conflict.”

Has “The Walking Dead” considered starting its own convention? “Nothing of that nature is planned or confirmed right now,” Dupuis said in a separate email.

A “Walking Dead” convention would seem to make sense. Shows with a passionate but smaller following, like The CW's “The Vampire Diaries” and “Supernatural,” have them.

“It probably could have a stand-alone (convention),” Mueller said. “But I think it's nice for people to go to a big pop culture event where there are other things going on as well, and not just ‘Walking Dead.' AMC also has other properties that make sense for our audience. Last year in New York, they were there with ‘Comic Book Men.' It makes sense for them to be part of a broader pop culture event.”

The great news for “Walking Dead” fans and cast members is that they likely can count on steady convention appearances for years to come, even if the characters become zombie food or the show unexpectedly tanks in the ratings. And if you're wondering just how long an actor can ride this sort of fame at a convention, look no further than “Batman” co-stars Burt Ward and Julie Newmar, who played Robin and Catwoman, respectively, on the campy TV show 45 years ago and will appear at C2E2 this weekend.

lgomez@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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