Comicon attracts zombies, other characters
Dan Kellaway of Arnold has his picture taken with Chewbacca by his friend Andrew Gardone at the Pittsburgh Comicon.
Jason Yee waits for customers at his booth at the Comicon Convention at the Monroeville Convention Center.
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Like the zombie itself, a zombie's career never really dies.
The living/walking/autograph-signing dead were out in force Sunday at the Monroeville Convention Center, wrapping up three days of the annual Pittsburgh Comicon.
" 'Nurse Zombie' -- one of my favorite zombies!" exclaimed a fan as he approached Sharon Ceccatti. For some of the "lead zombies" in director George Romero's 1978 classic horrorfest, "Dawn of the Dead," appearing at shows around the country has become somewhat of a cottage industry.
Back in the day, Ms. Ceccatti and her husband, the late Clayton Hill, were local actors doing "Of Three I Sing" at the Pittsburgh Playhouse when they heard about a call for zombies at the Monroeville Mall.
The Burgettstown resident would wind up playing a nurse in five films, some by Mr. Romero. On a fanfest visit to Germany, a promoter gave the couple T-shirts bearing the slogan "Ich bin ein Zombie." They brought them to a signing in Maryland and the response was huge.
The bright red, black and white shirts were displayed at her booth, along with photos from the movie and other memorabilia. Next door, Nick Tallo, the "motorcycle" guy from "DOTD" who also worked as a grip on the movies, was just happy to talk to fans about his experiences.
Mr. Tallo seemed amused that so many still recognize him from "Dawn of the Dead," much of which was filmed at night.
His day job? He was in production for 31 years on WQED's "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."
"So I'd work with Mr. Rogers in the neighborhood, with the puppets and everything during the day. I'd go home, sleep for a couple of hours, then go to the mall and kill zombies," he said.
Others from various Pittsburgh zombie movies were on hand, including Lenny Lies, "machete" poster boy from "Dawn of the Dead." Pittsburgh, it seems, cannot get enough of zombies.
Event organizers estimate up to 10,000 visitors, some dressed as the heros and villains from graphic novels, movies and television, drifted through the convention center over the weekend. There were question-and-answer events, crafts for kids, meet-and-greets with artists and writers. Two events also raised more than $18,000 for the local Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The biggest draw of the weekend were the big-name artists, such as George Prez and Phil Jimenez of DC's Wonder Woman series, as well as television's Sam Witwer and Sarah Allen of Syfy's "Being Human" and young Chandler Riggs of AMC's zombie hit, "The Walking Dead."
Sitting near an elaborate LEGO display featuring Darth Vader and Spider-Man, Chandler and his mother, Gina Ann Riggs, said they were enjoying what has been the start of the 'Con circuit after events in their native Atlanta and in Toronto.
An extremely poised 11-year-old, Chandler has seen every minute of the series, even the really gruesome parts.
"He read all the scripts. He knows it's make-believe," his mom added.
There were a good number of adults playing make-believe on Sunday. Perhaps most impressive among the homemade costumed icons was Martin Miller of Wernersville, Pa., who in real life is a 6-foot-tall professional photographer.
Thanks to stilt-like lifts and an outfit crafted of brown and gray fake fur, he was the howling, 7-feet-9-inch-tall incarnation of Chewbacca from "Star Wars."
He was accompanied by his friend, Andrew Parmette, of Allentown. Mr. Parmette, looking somewhat like a big bug, was the embodiment of Zuckuss, a "Star Wars" bounty hunter.
"It's just fun to do," said Mr. Miller, a member of the "501st Legion" of the local Garrison Carida, a costume organization featuring "Star Wars" figures. They left home at 5:30 a.m. in order to be in Pittsburgh before 10.
Princess Leia was also was in attendance at the 'Con. Several versions of Leia, in fact, although Jennifer Opferman's "slave girl" was probably the only one whose husband showed up as Spider-Man.
Billed as "The Garment Goddess," the Whitehall woman began sewing exotic costumes two years ago, when the women in her belly-dancing class lamented that you just can't find a well-fitting harem outfit online.
Besides costumes, Ms. Opferman was selling brightly colored synthetic hair falls for $10 a pair, and fake horns and such for $5 to $12.
There were traditional action figures for sale, plus DVDs and T-shirts. But the largest merch bonanza were the comic books, table after table, indexed and beckoning to readers.
One of the most imaginative merchandise booths was run by artist Donovan Bicker of Cumberland, Md. His "Twisted Barbies" are everyday dolls melded, Borg-style, to cannibalized parts from sci-fi and fantasy toys.
Mr. Bicker picks up dolls from yard sales and, like Sid, the neighborhood terror from "Toy Story," gives them new life as something else entirely.
For the most part, these Barbies retain their original faces and curvaceous bodies, but now sport alien arms or robotic legs. They are also hand-painted in comic book-bright colors.
Waiting for the special paints to dry extends the process to three or four weeks, said Mr. Bicker, whose creations start at $10 each. More elaborate dolls, such as the one sporting the blue shell of an alien action figure from the movie "Independence Day" around its head, are trickier to build.
Both adults and children purchase the dolls, and a couple of days ago, a Barbie collector stopped by to choose one.
"It's funny, she could pick them out by what year they were [designed]. She knew all about them," Mr. Bicker said.
First Published April 18, 2011 12:00 am