The herculean task of coordinating this year’s Cincinnati Comic Expo (CCE) didn’t begin immediately after the conclusion of last year’s expo. Like nearly every year since the CCE began eight years ago, planning for the following year’s event started well before the current year’s expo even occurred.
“The expo is a 14-month job,” says administrator Matt Bredestege from his Springfield, Miss. home. “We meet with Duke (Energy Convention Center) to see what’s available and get that secured because we want to tell fans and exhibitors at the 2018 show, ‘Here’s where we are in 2019.’”
The CCE is the only area event of its kind, making it an attractive destination for anyone unwilling to traverse the country for other big conventions. It began in 2010 when Bredestege’s childhood friend Andrew Satterfield — tired of traveling to distant events — actualized his frequent threat to start his own comic con.
“I was working for Channel 5 on the assignment desk at the time and I said, ‘You start the show and I’ll do the PR,’ ” Bredestege says. “Of course, as soon as we moved out of Cincinnati, he called and said, ‘I’m starting a show.’ And I was like, ‘Dammit, we just moved.’ But if you’ve got a phone and an internet connection, you can do pretty much everything without being there in person.”
Like previous events, 2018’s CCE, which takes place this weekend at the Duke Energy Convention Center, features celebrities from the varied entertainment realms the expo represents: actors, artists, writers and designers from film, television, comics and gaming. Two big 2018 appearances are Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, best known as Jaime Lannister from the nearly-concluded Game of Thrones, and Peter Mayhew, made supernaturally famous as Chewbacca in the Star Wars franchise. But with a few cancellations already, fingers are perpetually crossed.
“Nikolaj was supposed to be in the United States three times this year, and he had things come up where he canceled the first two appearances,” he says. “Right now, we’re going to be Nikolaj’s only U.S. appearance this year and his first U.S. show in five years. And Peter Mayhew just had back surgery, and we’re told that everything is on schedule for his physical therapy, but until his plane’s on the ground, nothing is certain.”
Regardless, there’s plenty of star power over the expo’s three-day stretch, including Summer Glau (Firefly/Serenity), Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulsen from ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D./The Avengers film franchise), Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Stranger Things) and show newbie Benedict Wong (Dr. Strange, Avengers: Infinity War). As Bredestege explains, the expo’s guest-booking strategy exists in the Venn diagram of celebrities that draw well, based on the broad expertise of Bredestege (the TV/film buff), Satterfield (the comic book geek), their friend/comic con aficionado/security pro David Wray and the expo’s advisory committee. They also evaluate who is available, affordable or promoting a project or anniversary.
He notes that they love celebs like the aforementioned Elwes, who are open and engaging in the show atmosphere, and also have a broad fan demographic of both comedy and drama on film and television.
“We’re not all fanboys putting our personal fandoms forward,” Bredestege says. “We’re looking at what fans want, because if the fans don’t come, we don’t have a show. Fans might want a certain guest and we know they’re filming or have requirements we cannot meet. We read fan surveys, and the biggest thing they want is super hero stuff. We’re always looking at the Marvel Universe; that just gets larger and larger. There’s also hundreds of other shows across the country and we’re competing with that.”
CCE’s celebrity appearances — check the expo’s website for the full slate of guests, pricing for autographs and photo-ops, as well as a packed lineup for comic book artists and writers, including famed UK artist John Bolton, who will make a rare U.S. appearance — are complemented by dozens of vendor booths, a cosplay element, costume competition, workshops and panels, the longstanding Geek Prom (this year is Midwest Muggle Fest, an extension of last year’s Harry Potter prom theme), and even speed dating and an annual blood drive. Creating the expo annually is an incredible undertaking for people who juggle full-time work schedules; Bredestege has become the point person for daytime needs.
“When we left Cincinnati, I became a house husband,” he says. “If we need an agreement discussed, or there’s a call they can’t make from work, they assign me that task. That can entail the convention center, or the decorator, and I oversee the communications, our social media, how we’re getting the word out. I proofread and make sure everything’s perfect. My name and one of my best friends’ names is attached to this. I’m going to make sure we put the best product out there.”
The Cincinnati Comic Expo runs Sept. 14-16 at the Duke Energy Convention Center (525 Elm St., Downtown). More info: cincinnaticomicexpo.com.