(Council Bluffs) -- Comic book and science fiction fans young and old made Council Bluffs a destination this weekend.
For three days, the MidAmerican Center resembled something out of another world--one full of superheroes and heroines, super villains, characters from outer space, and video game icons brought to life. O Comic Con brought the cosplay genre to southwest Iowa. The third annual festival celebrating pop culture drew fans from all over the region--many of who dressed in elaborate costumes depicting their favorite comic book, TV, movie or video game character.
Convention attendees went to great lengths to make their costumes special. Leon Kilmer of Lincoln spent 2 1/2 hours becoming Kratos, a character from the "God of War" video game. Kilmer says convention cosplay channels his inner geek.
"I'm a true nerd," said Kilmer. "I love the whole nerd culture. I play 'Dungeons and Dragons' twice a week. I'm a 'Star Wars' fanatic. I have the Sith Code tattooed on my side. It's part of the nerd culture. I love the way that people express themselves--the confidence that they can express that they may not be able to express elsewhere."
Wearing costumes comes naturally for Shenandoah resident Jessica Jones (not to be confused with the Marvel Comics character of the same name). A veteran Southwest Iowa Theatre Group actress, Jessica appeared as Batgirl Saturday. Why Batgirl?
"I've been dressing up as Batgirl for about eight years now," said Jones. "And, it's my favorite costume to wear. She's just a strong character. All of the little girls love it. Even the little boys love it--it's just lots of fun."
Jessica brought along Shenandoah High freshman-to-be Alexa Munsinger for her first comic convention experience. Portraying Tauriel from "the Hobbit" book and movie series, Alexa enjoyed being with others who love fantasy-based media.
"I've always liked this type of stuff," said Munsinger. "It's just that I finally got to experience getting to know people who have the same interest as me, and seeing so many people who are like me. It's a good feeling know that I'm not alone."
Cybermen, storm troopers and Klingons--oh my!--packed the center's main arena--who served as a shopping center for comic books, clothing and other sci-fi related paraphernalia--and the exhibition hall--where various fan clubs and sci-fi social media buffs set up booths. By day, Jim Arrowood is a music teacher in the Kearney, Nebraska School District. At night, he becomes Ja'jim, a member of a local organization of Klingons--sort of an Elks Lodge for lovers of "Star Trek" villains. Arrowood enjoys the cosplay phenomenon.
"It is amazing the elaborate costumes you see," said Arrowood, "and the detail and attention to it to be authentic. Then, there are the ones that are made up from whatever--somebody's imagination. It's really nice to see. It also gives us a chance to have an alter ego, and step outside of ourselves, and have a lot of fun."
Another convention highlight entailed special guest appearances by comic book artists, and movie and TV personalities conducting autograph and question-and-answer sessions. Council Bluffs native David Yost, who played Billy, the blue Power Ranger for 200 episodes on the 1990's TV series, "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," conducted one such session. Allison Arngrim, who played Laura Ingall's archenemy Nellie Oleson on "Little House on the Prairie," was another O Comic Con guest star. For Arngrim, the convention offers her a chance to connect with fans following her for more than 40 years.
"All of us from the show realize this is who we work for," said Arngrim. "Michael Landon (who played Charles Ingalls) was very good with the fans. Michael used to say, 'that's who you work for. You don't work for me, you don't work for NBC. That's who you work for. So, any chance I have to go out and commiserate with the fans, and meet people, and talk to them about what they like, and what they thought about the show, and what I should put in my next book--absolutely, I take it."
Naomi Grossman, who portrays "Pepper the pinhead" on the hit FX TV series, "American Horror Story" occupied another autograph table. Grossman believes the one-to-one engagement at conventions is an extension of her profession.
"Obviously, being tattooed on fans' limbs is awesome," said Grossman. "Having your IMDb star meter reach one is wonderful. But, at the end of the day, yeah, I'm about the craft. And without an audience, what's the point?"
Convention organizers hope for a bigger and better event next year. And Klingon follower Jim Arrowood had this word of advice for anyone in KMAland thinking about becoming a cosplayer.
"'Quapla'--which means success," he said.