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Steel City Con returns for its December show

| Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
In this file photo from 2016, superfan Chuck Gilbert poses with  Burt Ward (Robin), Adam West (Batman) and Julie Newmar (Catwoman).
In this file photo from 2016, superfan Chuck Gilbert poses with Burt Ward (Robin), Adam West (Batman) and Julie Newmar (Catwoman).
Artist Heather Kreiter
Artist Heather Kreiter
Artwork by Heather Kreiter
Heather Kreiter
Artwork by Heather Kreiter

Pop-culture junkies, wrestling fans, cosplayers, gamers, geeks, fanboys and girls will be descending upon the Monroeville Convention Center this weekend as the Steel City Con returns for its December show.

The convention, which takes place three times a year, has rapidly grown into Western Pennsylvania's premiere pop-culture convention — bringing in big-name stars from a range of genres and mediums.

This week's convention taps into the popularity of the zombie phenomenon, which has its roots in the locally produced George Romero 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead.”

What began as late-night television film fodder has grown into a cottage industry of comic books, video games, movies, TV shows and more.

The undead genre is well represented at this year's con with cast members from AMC's “The Walking Dead” and HBO's “Ash vs. Evil Dead” in attendance. “Walking Dead” stars Khary Payton (King Ezekiel), Michael Cudlitz (Abraham Ford) and Josh McDermitt (Eugene Porter) are among the celebrities slated to appear. All three will be a part of a special panel and Q&A session Dec. 10.

“Ash Vs. Evil Dead” stars Dana Delorenzo (Kelly Maxwell), Ray Santiago (Pablo) and Jill Marie Jones (Amanda Fisher) also will be at the con.

The 1985 film “Fright Night” will have a reunion of sorts on stage with cast members Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse, William Ragsdale and Stephen Geoffreys.

Sarandon pulls double duty for the weekend: He provided the voice for Jack Skellington in the animated holiday classic “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and will be joined by Oogie Boogie actor Ken Page who will have his own Q&A session Dec. 11.

Fans have been flocking to the convention for three decades.

Chuck Gilbert, 54, of Scott is a comic geek, super fan and regular Steel City Con attendee. “I've gone to almost everyone one they have had,” Gilbert says.

Last year was a highlight for the self-professed Batman fanatic. “They had Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar!” All three signed his prized limited-edition Blu-ray box set of the 1960s “Batman” series. He also got to take a photo with the three icons. He's looking forward to meeting another one of his favorite TV stars this year: “The one coming up, I want to meet Mitch Pileggi (Walter Skinner on ‘The X-Files'). I'm a big ‘X-Files' fan.”

And while celebrities are the big draw, the December showcase has become a popular destination for shoppers looking for unique collectible holiday gifts.

“I like the variety of items for sale. Not just comic books. I find toys, clothes, even sports and music items I've wanted.” Gilbert says.

More than 700 vendors will be in attendance this year, including artist Heather V. Kreiter, 43, of Hermitage. Kreiter, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon, has been exhibiting at Steel City for the past seven years. She attends about 25 shows a year nationwide.

Her popular “My Little Demon” figures have developed a following among the con community.

“Many of the conventions that I go to, I've been attending for five, 10-plus years. So I've been able to build a nice fan base,” Kreiter says. “I'm always trying to think of new items and characters to expand my brand. Customers are always asking, ‘So, what's new this time?' ”

New this time are zippered tote bags featuring her “My Little Demons.” The characters started out as a parody of “My Little Pony” and began to take on a life of their own. She has expanded the line to include adorable demonic plush toys. Next year marks her 10-year anniversary making the lovable monsters. Her secret to success in the comic-con industry: “I never give up, and I create what makes me happy! I discovered a long time ago that people respond well to your work when they can tell you've had fun with it.”

After you've done all your shopping and met your heroes, there still will be plenty to do at the Steel City Con. More than a dozen programs, panels and contests will be taking place. The festivities will conclude Dec. 11 with the popular costume contest where more than $3,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded to Western Pennsylvania's most creative superheroes, villains, cartoon characters and, of course, zombies … lots and lots of zombies.

Joe Wos is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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