Justin Cline (Master of Voodoo, Me/2) works every year to put together Planet Comicon, Kansas City's main comic book and pop culture convention. This year will be the biggest one yet, as the show moves to Bartle Hall in the heart of the city. Being a Kansas City native myself, I reached out to Cline to get the lowdown on Planet Comicon 2013. We talk about all the work it took to organize this year's event, the Kansas City comic scene, and what to look forward to when the doors open April 6, 2013.
ComicBookBin: Thanks for joining us at the Bin! Some of our readers may not be familiar with the work you do in Kansas City, so we'll start with some "baseball card" questions: who are you, what do you do for Planet Comicon, drink of choice, and guilty pleasure.
Justin Cline: My name is Justin Cline. I run the majority of the social media for the show, be it the website, Facebook, or Twitter. I dig a nice, cold Boulevard Wheat, and I must admit I get a kick out of celebrity followers on Twitter.
CBB: I am a big fan of Boulevard Beers too-- go Kansas City! How long have you been involved in the comic book community?
Justin Cline: I've been working with the show directly for the past six or seven years, but never in this large a capacity. We've been up and running on Facebook for the last three or four years, but interacting with the fans and trying to keep up with all the questions they might have has become a kind of extreme sport this year. If there's one thing Planet Comicon fans are always hungry for, it's more information, and we want to give it to them.
CBB: What else do you do outside of your work for Planet Comicon?
Justin Cline: I work for Barnes & Noble, and I write in my spare time. I've got four books on the market now, and I'm working on something longer format.
CBB: That's right, Master of Voodoo, Me/2, Monstrous, and Vampirium can be found on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or over at Justin's website (http://www.justin-cline.com). How did you end up becoming a part of organizing Planet Comicon?
Justin Cline: I've known William Binderup, the owner of Elite Comics, for several years now, and we partnered on experimenting with social media a few years back. I had also helped him at his booth at previous Planet shows. After that, it became a natural progression to try to help Chris Jackson, the promoter of Planet Comicon, reach a broader audience. It hasn't always been perfect on my end--there's been a lot of trial and error--, but I think at the end of the day the fans understand how much work goes into a show of this size and how much we want to make it as good as it possibly can be.
CBB: Right, every year is a learning experience and social media is a lot of trial and error. With what you've experienced so far, how would you describe the comic book community in Kansas City?
Justin Cline: Incredibly supportive. They've done a lot of our work for us this year by getting the word out about the show. Whether they're posting the latest flyer on their Facebook walls or tacking it to their cubicle wall at the office, we greatly appreciate how hard they work on our behalf to make sure we have great attendance. They understand the give and take, where when we're successful, we turn that success into bigger and better guests and events.
CBB: "Bigger" and "better" is how this year is starting to look. This is the first time Planet Comicon is going to be held at the much larger Bartle Hall in downtown KC instead of the usual convention center in Overland Park. What other factors do you think caused that growth?
Justin Cline: I'd like to believe that part of that growth is simply a new knowledge of the show. We're reaching more people. But it's also the fact that the comic book culture has shifted more into the mainstream, and that allows us to talk to a broader audience. It's this growth that moved us to Bartle Hall. After last year, we realized we had to make a change. Our only other options were to turn people away or wait for the fire marshal to shut us down. Hence the larger facility. And if there's any concern that we can't--or won't--fill it, all those fears will be alleviated by 10 AM on Saturday, April 6th.
CBB: It's interesting you mention the "broader audience." As you promote the event to the masses and try and tap into that broader scope of fans, what would you tell them separates Planet Comicon from other conventions around the country?
Justin Cline: I find it hard to imagine fans receiving the same kind of personal interaction from another show. Yes, we're a small crew, but many of the fans know us directly. If we score a great guest, the fans praise us by name. By the same token, if we make a misstep, they'll call us out on it. Despite the fact that we're moving to a larger facility and have the single best line-up we've ever managed to put together, we're still a hometown show, and no matter how big we get, we'll retain that quality.
CBB: You're right about the lineup. You've got George Takei (Star Trek), Will Wheaton (Star Trek), Ray Park (Star Wars), Peter Mayhew (Star Wars), Adam Baldin (Firefly), and so many more. Out of all the big names coming, who are you most excited to see?
Justin Cline: That's a tough one, but the writer in me is going to have to say Scott Snyder. In years past, I've been too busy to get out to the floor and meet some of our guests, but I'm definitely looking forward to meeting him.
CBB: It looks like the event schedule is jam packed as well. Do you have any recommendations of the panels or events to check out?
Justin Cline: I have to give big props to our panel coordinator, Kirk Chritton. He's the one-man army putting together the majority of what you're going to see panel-wise at the show, and I know he's been agonizing over it as last-minute guests get added. I'm of the opinion that any comic book fan would want to attend both the Marvel and DC panels, but the biggie's probably going to be Mr. George Takei. Based on a recent interview he did with Johnny Dare, it's clear the man has some fascinating stories to tell, and he won't disappoint the crowd.
CBB: I don't think George Takei is capable of disappointing anyone [laughs]. Chritton makes putting it all together look easy, it really displays the talent of the planning crew. What has been the biggest obstacle in organizing this year's event?
Justin Cline: There's an incredible learning curve that comes with uprooting the show from the venue it's called home for years and moving it to not only another city but another state. It had to be done, but we haven't accomplished it without some growing pains. Our goal is to make the transition as seamless as possible, so that it doesn't appear to be our first rodeo. If nothing else, we have some room to breathe this year which I think the fans will appreciate.
CBB: And hopefully the extra room lends itself to more growth in the future. As you look back on this year's planning, what has been the most surprising moment?
Justin Cline: It has to be the guest list. We've had huge celebrities in the past-- I'm specifically thinking of last year with Billy Dee Williams and Edward James Olmos-- but this year is unreal. We've really gone out of our way to make sure that all fanbases are represented here. From Star Wars to Star Trek, from Whedonverse to Whoniverse, there's somebody at the show for everyone. And that doesn't even mention the creator guests, including Neal Adams and Tony Moore and local favorite, Jason Aaron. It's going to be a chore to try to see everyone and everything in a single day.
CBB: True, and with the hefty number of guests coming in 2013, attendees may want to invest in time altering devices in order to see it all. So, what's next for Planet Comicon?
Justin Cline: First and foremost, this year will be a learning experience for us. We're taking notes all the time, regarding what works and what doesn't, and so far we feel there are more hashmarks in our win column than in the loss. From here, we start refining and improving, with the hopes that one day the show will be large enough to fill all of Bartle Hall.
CBB: Lastly, is there anything you would like to say to our readers at the Bin?
Justin Cline: If you've never attended a Planet Comicon before, you're in for a treat. If you have, then you're in for something bigger and better than we've ever been able to bring you before. All of us on staff are putting in long days and nights to make sure this is an experience you won't soon forget, so be sure to come out to the show on April 6th and 7th for what promises to be the Kansas City event of the year.
CBB: A big thanks again to Justin Cline for taking the time to fill us in. Planet Comicon opens its doors on April 6 at Bartle Hall in Kansas City, MO. For more information, tickets, and the full guest list, head on over to Planet Comicon's website (http://www.planetcomicon.com)