SAN JOSE — Stormtrooopers, superheroes, wizards and princesses came in droves to downtown San Jose on Saturday morning, called by the siren song of Silicon Valley Comic Con — which may turn out to be Steve Wozniak’s most popular creation since the Apple II.
The second year of the pop culture and technology festival promised to be bigger than the first, and the lines of people waiting to get into the doors of the San Jose McEnery Convention Center attested to that. Attendance numbers weren’t yet available, but organizers expected to draw between 75,000 and 100,000 people over the course of the weekend.
Woz and co-founder Rick White rode Segways into the convention center to welcome the crowd Saturday, flanked by a half-dozen R2-D2 replicas. Wozniak said he hoped people could leave the weekend with “a memory of your lifetime, like a huge concert.” The fun factor, he said, was evident in all the fans who had shown up in costume.
“You know what? When you’re here, be yourself,” Wozniak said. “You can be anything you want to be. You can be a different character. What goes on in here stays in here. And on the internet.”
Fans roamed around the convention hall, where hundreds of vendors were selling toys, high-end comics, memorabilia and hand-crafted tributes to the TV shows, movies and characters they love. Celebrities like Nichelle Nichols of “Star Trek” fame and Sam Jones, star of the 1980s “Flash Gordon,” signed autographs on the floor, while the convention center’s big ballroom had been converted in a veritable autograph farm — where big names like “Batman” stars Adam West and Burt Ward — and John Cusack, Pam Grier and William Shatner — posed for photos for fans who paid for the privilege.
Thousands of more fans were expected to flock all day and night to the convention’s outdoor festival at Plaza de Cesar Chavez.
Silicon Valley Comic Con CEO Trip Hunter said the outdoor event — which included live music, a science fair for kids, a costume masquerade preview, movie screenings and even a dog costume contest — was one of this year’s innovations to spread out the massive crowds. And since it was free and open to the public, it gave fans a chance to get a taste of Silicon Valley Comic Con without buying the $50 day pass.
The convention continues Sunday, with a day of panels kicking off with “The Flash” stars Grant Gustin and Tom Felton in the morning. For tickets, go to www.svcomiccon.com.
Saturday’s two biggest draws, though, captured both science fiction and science fact. Shatner, who held court at his own solo event Friday night, hosted a panel of stars from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Cast members Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Denise Crosby and Robert O’Reilly had a jovial time on stage at the City National Civic Auditorium, answering questions from Trek fans over every generation and occasionally poking fun at absent co-stars Patrick Stewart, Michael Dorn and LeVar Burton.
Kevin Gaunt, a radiation therapist at Palo Alto Medical Foundation, summed up the fan sentiment well with a comment to the assembled cast. “All of these wonderful people on stage right now changed our lives,” he said. “No one ever says, ‘You guys inspired me, you made me who I am.’ The characters you’ve portrayed, the lines you have delivered, changed my life.”
Of course, as life-changing moments go, it’s hard to top Saturday’s other huge guest, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin. One of a dozen men to walk on the moon, his afternoon session at the City National Civic was to advocate for real-life space travel to Mars — and he was, appropriately introduced by Andy Weir, author of “The Martian.”
“Do we have any geeks in the house?” Aldrin asked, peering out into the cheering audience. “I’m sure I could be considered a geek. Maybe a space geek. And I’m shooting for the moon again, this time to lead us to Mars. And to do that we’re going to have to do it with other nations. The world does a better job when we work together.”
Wozniak says that adding the science and technology aspect to the convention — whether through Aldrin’s appearance, having a NASA presence or SETI scientists talking about life on other worlds — was one thing that sets San Jose’s convention apart from the others.
But for some fans, it was just about the fun.
Ariela Brodbeck, dressed in a replica of Melissa Benoist’s costume from TV’s “Supergirl,” traveled to San Jose from Citrus Heights. “I love it, and I go to as many cons as possible,” she said. “I love to see the costumes. There’s so much variety.”
It was less of a trek for Ariana Hernandez, who lives close enough in San Jose to walk to the convention center, meaning she avoided the traffic and parking headaches that others had.
“This has grown so much since last year, but they’ve been very smart about it,” said Hernandez, who was dressed in Ravenclaw robes from the “Harry Potter” movies. “It’s amazing to have a con so close to home, and it’s all thanks to Steve Wozniak. He built all of this, and San Jose deserves the love.”