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Wizard World Brings Its Comic Convention Back to Cleveland This Weekend 

For years it was just a dream: a large-scale convention celebrating comics and pop culture in Cleveland. Last year, Wizard World finally came to town, and Cleveland responded with a mind-boggling turnout. In fact, the first Wizard World Cleveland was so successful that by the time the convention floor closed on Sunday, organizers had already confirmed dates for 2016. With Cleveland's second Wizard World just days away, we're happy to report that this year's line-up of celebrities, artists, programming and more is shaping up even better than last year.

Wizard World is a nationwide, 22-city touring celebration of comics/graphic novels, movies, television, video games, toys, gaming, anime/manga, collectibles, horror, wrestling and more. Of course, no convention is complete without cosplay. Fans young and old are encouraged to dress as their favorite character, especially on Saturday for the famed Wizard World Costume Contest.

This year's celebrities are headlined by Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers), Matt Smith and Karen Gillan (Doctor Who), Frank Grillo (Captain America: Winter Soldier) directors Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: Winter Soldier and Civil War, Community, Welcome to Collinwood), Jason Mewes (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks), Henry Winkler (Happy Days, Arrested Development), Eliza Dushku (Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse), Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), Brent Spiner (Star Trek), Tara Reid (American Pie), WWE's Rusev and Lana, Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead) and more.

This year's roster of artists, writers and creators boasts numerous local favorites, as well as the likes of Shawn Cross (creator, Cyanide & Happiness), Michael Golden (artist, Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Star Wars), Phil Ortiz (animator, The Simpsons, He-Man, Smurfs), and many more.

"We're excited to be back for our second year in Cleveland after a huge success in 2015," says Wizard World Cleveland's Jerry Milani. "We'll have 80-plus hours of programming, panels in several rooms, dozens of interactive exhibits, some of the most well-known comics artists in the world and the famed Wizard World Costume Contest on Saturday night. Kids 10 and under are free every day, and Sunday is Kids Day, with special programming, free goodies and a costume contest just for them."

Prior to the convention on Thursday, the Hard Rock Cafe (230 Huron Rd.) hosts the Kickoff the Con' Party from 7 to 11 p.m. This preview event includes a Q&A with Jason David Frank (Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers) and Cas Anvar (Assassin's Creed Revelations). Admission is $25 and includes appetizers and a non-alcoholic drink. (Tickets are available at wizardworld.ticketleap.com/clevelandkickoff.)

While previewing last year's inaugural Wizard World in Cleveland, we shared the concerns of Carol & John's Comic Book Shop owner John Dudas over the convention's disconnection with the local community. Thankfully, the organizers at Wizard World have responded by working with Dudas to offer a number of exclusive opportunities for local comic fans.

First, Wizard World has allowed Carol & John's to award three families ticket packages to the convention. Additionally, use the code CNJCOMICS16 to get 20 percent off your online order. From Feb. 12 to 23, Carol & John's hosted an art competition themed around the comic shop's official mascot, Winston. The shop awarded six pairs of tickets to the winners. Carol & John's also set up an online gallery of submissions, and are creating a guide to local participants for this year's Wizard World. For those who can't make it to the convention, Carol & John's promises an extensive in-store sale.

"This year it was refreshing to see Wizard World put down some legs into our community by using a grassroots coordinator," Dudas says. "We do feel the need to support Wizard World's efforts if they lead to positive results in the community, which really is the goal of any grassroots campaign: to make the individual matter in a larger system."

The convention takes place from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Advance tickets are $35 for Friday, $45 for Saturday and $40 for Sunday. At the door, those tickets will cost you $45, $55 and $50, respectively. Three-day admission is $75 in advance or $85 at the door. Up to two children (ages 10 and under) get in free with each paid adult admission.

Fees for celebrity autographs and photos vary. A number of VIP and meet & greet packages are available as well. For complete details, see Wizard World's website.

Wizard World

Cleveland Convention Center, 300 Lakeside Ave., 216-928-1600,

wizardworld.com

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