Ninth annual ‘XCon’ showcases pop culture

By Steve Palisin


Gregory French of Myrtle Beach, who has spent several years as a zombie on AMC’s “The Walking Dead, is among the slew of special guests booked for “XCon World 9,” Friday-Sunday at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center,
Gregory French of Myrtle Beach, who has spent several years as a zombie on AMC’s “The Walking Dead, is among the slew of special guests booked for “XCon World 9,” Friday-Sunday at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, Courtesy photo

The catch phrase “We innovate; we don’t imitate” equals X marking the spot for this event.

Robin Roberts repeated those words last week in the lead-up to “XCon World 9,” which opens Friday for three days at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, at Oak Street and 21st Avenue North.

Coordinating this “pop culture” extravaganza with co-founder Steve Haines – and placing accents on fantasy, science fiction, anime/cartoons, comic books, and video games – Roverts said planning each annual event has become a year-round process, especially in lining up special guests, and in keeping every year as a totally different experience from the rest, without “the pitfall of recycling the same names.”

The timing of XCon in May has worked out in conjunction with “some blockbusters in our wheelhouse” on the silver screen, this year falling between releases of “Captain America: Civil War” on May 6 and “X-Men: Apocalypse” May 27, and ahead of network TV spots already are touting “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” out June 3.

The opening of “Star Trek into Darkness” coincided with the 2013 XCon, as did “Godzilla” the next year. Roberts said having an approved showing of the “Star Trek” sequel, with two cast members on hand seeing the final production for the first time – and seeing how many of their respective lines spoken might have been cut in the editing – made that event a treat, with their fielding questions from the audience.

Approaching a decade of XCons, Roberts said a “10-year-plan” overall “has been on target,” also “on track for” an estimated 8,000 attendees this weekend. He also credited a crew of volunteers who have become like “family,” and they get to be fans themselves at every XCon, mingling among many families who turn out, especially with admission rates staying unchanged from 2015 and free access for anyone 12 and younger.

Roberts voiced excitement for not only “Cosplay” special guests, but a Cosplay-Maggedon Costume Contest, for ages 16 and older, with more than $10,000 in cash and prizes, because of the respect such artists deserve and the need to “reward them for their hard work.”

Noting that “different people gravitate toward different things,” Roberts said scheduling such a variety of activities and personnel “for every age group,” such as the late lineup addition of Brian Krause, from “Charmed,” which drew “a lot of fans” in its tenure as a TV series. Kevin Grevioux, co-creator of “Underworld” provides what Roberts called the “out of the box guest,” who found this career after starting off as a scientist in microbiology.

‘Walking Dead’ make extra steps to ‘XCon’

Having four people from A&E’s Jeremy Ambler, Greg Crews, Gregory French and Don Teems, from “The Walking Dead” – which returns in October for a seventh season on AMC – gives another grand slam for XCon, especially when two actors hail from the Grand Strand.

Gregory French, an Air Force veteran from Operation Desert Storm, said he moved to Myrtle Beach to study marine science and geology at Coastal Carolina University, from where he graduated in 1996. He has played walkers on several seasons of the series, and filming began earlier this month on the set, near Atlanta, “out in the country.”

He said the caliber of makeup and just the way the zombies walk have evolved each season, too, with more detail.

“Before, it was a lot of makeup, and some blood and gore,” French said. “Now, it’s more detailed.”

He laughed, saying, “We’re not the main focus a lot of the time; we’re just a bunch of walkers,” but with the development of the art and motion, “It keeps getting more believable, I guess.”

French said makeup for “The Walking Dead” might take 2 1/2 hours while sitting, and another 30 minutes on location.

Asked when he first saw the classic “Night of the Living Dead,” French said he was a child watching “Chiller Theatre” on television, and that zombie movies in general “never really scared me.”

French said his 12-year-old just started watching “The Walking Dead,” although she had known of its existence and success. He also figures he averages a “comic con” visit somewhere once a month, but sometimes books two or three.

With other projects in play, French said with Southeast cities have found niches for filming, with Atlanta, Wilmington, and how “Charleston is kind of the new Wilmington for filming.”

He also said he keeps “his really nerd shows I have to watch,” such as Superhero stories.

‘Sea Urchins’ make renewed and new splash

Jason Whitley, who illustrated the “Sea Urchins” comic strip (seaurchins.net) written by Scott Eckelaert during its daily run 2001-04 in The Sun News, will attend “XCon” this weekend, to debut the “Sea Urchins Book II: In the Shadow of the Sea Apes,” after the return of the first volume, “The Trouble with Oddo,” to print.

The two books, resulting from a Kickstarter funding campaign last year, continues a quest in illustration begun when Whitley, was a new father. His daughter, Ava, 15, will accompany him to meet and greet XCon patrons.

“I sort of made it for her,” he said of drawing “Sea Urchins.” Relocating for a career step in his field of art, coupled with a lack of free time, put a stop on Whitley’s work for the series, but the urge never ebbed for continuing the quest to issue four books in all, which he said, down the road, “should complete the whole run of all the comic strips.”

A former illustrator for The Sun News, The Charlotte Observer and The Washington Post, Whitley oversees multimedia work at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy, in Chapel Hill. He said he used to make a family trip to Pawleys Island every year, and that XCon will mark his first Grand Strand getaway in several years.

A Greenville, N.C., native, who grew up a fan of comics such as “Popeye,” “The Little Rascals,” “L’il Abner,” and “Dick Tracy,” Whitley said such “really older classic ones are the real inspiration” for illustrating. He also recounted somebody more recently asking him about “what I do for fun,” and upon telling the questioner about “Sea Urchins” occupying a happy part of his life, that motivated him to turn “this thing around right away” with spreading the series into more book collections.

The reissuing of the first volume also let “Sea Urchins” splash into a renewal of life, with “a much better edition in print and quality,” Whitley said.

Contact STEVE PALISIN at 843-444-1764.

If you go

WHAT: “XCon World 9”

BY: Palmetto Studios Arts Alliance, based at 807 Main St., Myrtle Beach

BENEFITING: Local charities such as the Boys & Girls Club of the Grand Strand, based at 1404 Carver St., Myrtle Beach (843-712-1977 or www.bgclubgs.org)

WHEN: Noon-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Myrtle Beach Convention Center, at Oak Street and 21st Avenue North

HOW MUCH: Three-day badge, at door – $25 for ages 13 and older, and free for ages 12 and younger, and advance rates –

▪ Three-day badge, for ages 13 and older – $23 advance, with pickup at will-call window

▪ Three-day VIP – $150 advance.

SCHEDULED CELEBRITY GUESTS: Full schedule at www.xconworld.info/schedule.html

▪ Jeremy Ambler, Greg Crews, Gregory French and Don Teems, from “The Walking Dead.”

▪ Jeffrey Breslauer, from “Superboy.”

▪ Bob Camp, from “Ren & Stimpy.”

▪ Steve Cardenas, from “Mighty Morphin Power Ranger”s TV series.

▪ Nicole Chilelli, RJ Haddy and Roy Wooley, from Syfy’s “Face-Off.”

▪ Michael Copon, from “One Tree Hill.”

▪ C. Martin Croker, from “Space Ghost – Coast to Coast.”

▪ Kevin Grevioux, co-creator of “Underworld.”

▪ Brian Krause, from “Charmed.”

▪ Karlee Perez, from “Lucha Underground.”

SCHEDULED WRITERS/ARTISTS: G. Derek Adams, Dave Atwell, Bob Boan, Jeremy Clark, Paty Cockrum, John Dixon, Elisa Feliz, Tom Fleming, Guy Gilchrist, Paul Inman, Chrissy Lessey, Robert Midgett, Shane Moore, Richard O’Hara, Dr. David Powers, REAKT, Nigel Sade, Andy Smith, Kindra Sowder, Tattoo Bob, Steven Tibbs, and Gregbo Watson, and Sarah Wilkinson.

SCHEDULED “COSPLAY” ARTISTS: Bluesmobile, Lolita Bot, Carolina Ghostbusters, Cosplay Inc., The 501st Legion, K.I.T.T., Frank Puricelli, and Tow-Mater.


▪ Cosplay-Maggedon Costume Contest, for ages 16 and older, with more than $10,000 in cash and prizes. More details at www.xconworld.info/cosplay_contest.html.

▪ Cast members from Syfy’s “Face-Off” will give special “FX makeup workshops,” with group work on one model at 3:15 p.m. Saturday, and individual work at 1:15 p.m. Sunday – extra fees $13 and $43, respectively, with 60-person capacity for each – buy tickets at www.xconworld.info/tickets.html.

▪ “Kill U Ride Film Fest,” 1-5 p.m. Friday, noon-6 p.m. Saturday, and finalists 1-4 p.m. Sunday.

▪ Game tournaments, daily, including “Marvel Dice Masters” 5 p.m. Friday, “Star City Super IQ” 11 a.m. Saturday, and Warmachine/Hordes Steamroller 11 a.m. Sunday, and DoomTown and Mortal Kombat noon Sunday – with demonstrations all weekend of games such as D&D Attack Wing, X-Wing Miniatures, Imperial Assault, Pathfinder Card Game, DoomTown and Dice Masters.

▪ Watch “Nerd Bar Live,” 11 p.m. every other Sunday on WFXB-TV 43, with Robin Roberts and Steve Haines, co-hosts and “XCon” coordinators.

INFORMATION: 843-839-4840 or www.xconworld.com