Welcome to our second recap of ACE Comic Con – this article will hopefully give you a thorough recap of the shenanigans that happened on the Saturday of ACE Comic Con Midwest.
As everyone going to convention knows, Saturdays are always the busiest days of the weekend. And although we were already wading through the masses on Friday, it was nothing compared to what happened on Saturday. That is mainly because Saturday saw all the celebrity guests attending united on one day, ranging from the dominant Marvel fandom to Star Wars, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, there were stars from all around the nerdy universe to meet, take photos with and experience in a panel setting.
However, before we go into talking about some of these panels, something needs to be addressed first. ACE truly is a special convention organizer. I say this having attended multiple events of different sizes and with guests with varying celebrity status. Let’s get one thing straight: no one brings the kind of guests that ACE manages to bring to the convention. Just at this event, multiple guests had a.) never done a convention before or b.) rarely appear at events like these. So, what is important when dealing with celebrities of the status of Chris Hemsworth or Brie Larson, is that they are comfortable, safe and get to meet fans in a controlled environment — all of which happen at ACE events. Unlike other conventions, they don’t “oversell” their guests, meaning photo ops are limited in number and with that in time-frame, creating a unique experience for fans as well as a bearable workload for the attending guests.
Photo ops were managed by a company called CelebPhotoOps, who have worked with ACE for years and have the process perfected to a T. Queues are organized by numbers, screens will tell you where to line up and if there were any time conflicts, staff was happy to help out and accommodate any requests made as well as they could. And yet, some people complained about waiting times — even though everything was communicated well enough. Delays happen, but in this case, they happened because of that special environment ACE creates for the celebrities attending. Convention newbies like Brie Larson or Tessa Thompson were having a lot of fun taking pictures with fans, enjoying costumes and taking time to comment, take their pictures, or just make the experience special for every fan in autographs and photos. So while delays might be frustrating for some, it felt like they happened for good reasons. Every guest I met was enjoying themselves, relaxed and in a good mood, something that is not always the case in a convention setting where you meet a new fan every couple of seconds. Throughout the whole weekend, I never felt rushed, and I liked every single one of my photos — something that rarely happens. So as far as photo op (and autograph) experiences go, ACE wins.
Delving right into the amazing panels we saw this weekend, we’ll start with the woman mainly known as Brienne of Tarth in HBO’s Game of Thrones and Star War‘s Captain Phasma, Gwendoline Christie. All panels this weekend were moderated either by Angélique Roché or Karama Horne, both of whom are known for their extensive work in the nerd community and their podcast “The Radical Geeks.” No fan questions were allowed on site, but fans had been able to submit questions to the moderators beforehand via social media. All in all, this was some of the finest moderating I have seen at conventions. I have suffered through uninformed and IMDb-based questions every fan knows the answers to at several cons, but the questions Angélique and Karama asked showed dedication to the fandoms, knowledge of the canon and beyond and their personalities made it easy for the guests to relax, which showed clearly in the atmosphere in the panels. I now not only want them to host every panel ever, I also want to be their friend.
Gwendoline’s panel was almost an hour of pure inspiration and empowerment. She shared not only stories about her recent work on both Game of Thrones and Star Wars, but she also talked about the beginnings of her career and her struggle with body image, body positivity and female empowerment. Furthermore, she shared the joy about attending this convention (which was her first!) and meeting different fans throughout the weekend.
When asked about the similarities and challenges of playing characters like Brienne or Phasma, Gwendoline admitted that both of these characters spoke to her precisely because they stray from a typical and mainstream-represented “female”-coded image. Growing up and working in the industry, she had rarely seen herself represented and that is something that drew her to these characters, as they both show strength and present in a way that is not “typical” and challenges beauty standards. For her, seeing the uniform Phasma wore for the first time was described as an almost cathartic experience, as the uniform was gender non-conforming as well as “practical” in the sense of “there wouldn’t be the need for a breastplate that shows that this is ‘a woman.’” She loved the fact that people only learned about the character’s identity after they had taken off the helmet.
As the moderator wanted to know whether she finds it difficult finding joy and humor in these serious roles, Gwendoline said that her joy comes from the fact that these characters pave the way for more representation and will show people that these characters are just as valid as those who represent the “typical” beauty standards. And while we still have a long way to go, Gwendoline expressed that she has felt an “awakening” in society regarding representation in general, not just based on beauty standards. Listening to her not only talk about her experience in this industry but also her life, in general, was profoundly interesting. She made the impression of a thoughtful, highly intelligent woman who sees her craft as a means to give back and improve other peoples’ lives, making her a true pleasure to listen to.
Going from one popular television show actor to another, the next celebrity panel we had the privilege of enjoying was for Norman Reedus, aka Daryl Dixon of The Walking Dead. Norman plays one of only a few original characters still on The Walking Dead, going into his 10th season with the AMC show. Norman’s resume extends beyond his work as Daryl Dixon, however. He was a model when he was younger, an artist, a sculptor, and a motorcycle enthusiast — just watch his other AMC show, Ride With Norman Reedus. He has done voice-over work and is currently in the video game Death Stranding. Norman is also known for his work as Murphy McManus in The Boondock Saints films alongside one of his good friends, Sean Patrick Flanery. When asked if there would be another sequel to The Boondock Saints, Norman said there is talk about it every year, but so far nothing has come of it.
Norman’s evolution on The Walking Dead as Daryl was discussed, starting with how the character was specifically created for Norman and didn’t already exist in the graphic novels. Norman said he is most proud of playing that character and seeing his evolution over the past 10 years — going from someone with a chip on his shoulder to a leader and a friend. Norman told some fun stories from his show Ride, heading into its fourth season, and talked about his love of motorcycles. He told a wild motorcycle story from the set of TWD where he was shooting on Daryl’s bike in a storm, and he was suddenly picked up by a van and rushed to shelter because a tornado was literally heading right toward him.
A lot of the fan questions were regarding Daryl and his storylines with Carol, and other potential love interests. Norman addressed those questions by saying that this season there will be a lot of Daryl and Carol moments and things will get more complicated between them as the season progresses. As most TWD fans know, Carol has been through a lot and has suffered many losses through the years, and that will play into the storyline between her and Daryl this season. As for Connie, the other female character who could possibly be a love interest for Daryl, Norman discusses how he thinks her character is a badass and he really likes the relationship Connie and Daryl have formed. He thinks of her as an ally and a friend. Norman was asked why he thinks Daryl is a fan favorite and his simple answer was because Daryl is honest and he wears his heart on his sleeve. Norman wrapped his panel summing up the current season of TWD in one word: “Combustible.”
Next up was the first Marvel panel of the weekend with Brie Larson and Tessa Thompson, again, moderated by the brilliant Angélique Roche. First things first, I’m sorry Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie, but you are probably being dethroned as the best MCU actor mash-up in interviews because this was a panel for the ages. Ever since the Avengers: Endgame press tour, it has been clear that Tessa and Brie have a great friendship. From Brie’s opening sentence “We’re here to ship, y’all!” we knew we were in for a treat from the first second. Not only did this panel show the amazing chemistry between the two actresses, but it also gave us great insight into their perception of the MCU and their respective characters.
Like I mentioned in the paragraph about photo ops, these two were overwhelmed by the kindness, love, and support that came their way during this convention. They talked about how impressed they were with costumes, poses, and ideas, with the stories fans shared. Tessa specifically made a point to talk about the variety of pride-themed photos she had taken with fans, and since the panel took place one day after National Coming Out Day, she also made sure to mention how valued and loved the fans of the LGBTQ community are and how supportive she feels of them, which was a beautiful message to deliver in a panel by the actress playing the first LGBTQ character in the MCU. The interactions between Brie and Tessa clearly showed their shared passion for social issues and about the wish to work against them and use their platform to do so.
Both Brie and Tessa talked about how their previous work has influenced them as people, saying that strength as well as weaknesses in their characters have helped them develop as people. I experienced them both as empathetic and thoughtful, strong women who are superheroes on and off-screen. When Tessa said that being a superhero means confronting your fears and working against them, it meant so much more than just describing a character on screen, it describes actual coping mechanisms and encourages fans to do just the same.
Brie also talked about working as a director and mentioned that she enjoys the process of a project, meaning that acting and directing flow together for her. She loves working in teams on a project, and also mentioned the “Time’s Up” movement she and Tessa worked on, which focuses on letting people tell stories they might have not been able to tell otherwise.
Finally, both Brie and Tessa expressed the desire to have an all-female-lead movie in the MCU and other actresses have since echoed these sentiments. While that statement probably sent a certain area of the internet into a frenzy, a female-lead ensemble film is well overdue and with actresses like Brie and Tessa, it’ll hopefully happen sooner rather than later.
Just when we thought the day couldn’t get any more star-studded, Tom Holland and Jake Gyllenhaal hit the stage to round out the day’s panels. The moderator jumped right in with the hard-hitting questions by asking Tom if he was planning an encore of his now-famous Lip Sync Battle performance. Tom wondered if he could top that epic performance answering that a follow up may not be likely because the preparation was such hard work and teased, “It was the most stressful week of my life!” Then he clarified, tongue in cheek, that maybe “that whole Disney/Sony thing” was the most stressful week of his life. That garnered lots of cheers from fans who are quite excited and relieved that another Spider-Man will be happening.
The next few questions were about their experiences on set and what it was like to work together. Tom admitted that he was the most to break during a scene and Jake teased him about his “giggle fits” during long, tiring days of filming. Jake also reflected on their friendship and praised Tom for his kindness in welcoming him as a newcomer to the Spider-Man universe.
The guys went on to speak about their upcoming roles and projects outside the Marvel Universe. Tom shared that he is looking forward to his upcoming roles in Cherry, directed by the Russo brothers, and Devil All The Time, which happens to be produced by Jake. Tom shared that he is appreciative of the opportunity to play such diverse characters that are so different from both himself and his role as Spider-Man.
Jake talked about his love for theater and expressed anticipation for his work on both Broadway and the West End in London. He reflected on the differences between acting in films versus producing them and shared that he enjoys the opportunity to be more creatively involved in stories and actors that he feels strongly about.
Finally, the panel wrapped up with the guys expressing their thoughts on their definitions of a superhero. Both said they admired those people who give selflessly and strive to make positive changes in the world.
Our Ace Universe experience isn’t over because we still have one more day to go! Come back tomorrow for more recaps of the weekend’s events!