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Pop culture and the wizarding world of Comic Con 

Wizard World Comic Con returns to New Orleans Jan. 6-8

click to enlarge comiccon-2015.jpg

PHOTO COURTESY WIZARD WORLD

2016 underlined pop culture as a dominant communication tool, played out in memes, reaction GIFs and countless essays comparing one fictional universe of good and evil to the very real one as a substitute for smart cultural criticism. The highest-grossing films of the year were largely from the massive Disney triumvirate: Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars. Now, everyone gets to be a "nerd." But the comic book convention is the last refuge for the real freaks and geeks.

  Wizard magazine closed in 2011 to focus on its ever-expanding convention circuit, a traveling roadshow of celebrity meet and greets, towers of obscure merchandise and immersive catwalks for dedicated fans in detailed costumes. It's become a temple for all pop culture, including hyperspecific comic characters, '70s B-movie stars, professional wrestling and the most successful film and TV franchises of all time. Wizard World returns to New Orleans Jan. 6-8.

  Among its guests are stars of The X-Files, whose characters have gone on to live second and third lives not just with a one-off return season in 2016 but in the crevices of the internet, where Mulder is a moody sex symbol and Scully is a feminist meme, all framed with alien and crystal ball emoji. (David Duchovny double-dips into the millennial cultural zeitgeist as a Twin Peaks alumnus.) Duchovny is joined by X-Files co-star Mitch Pileggi, aka FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner.

  Other celebrity sci-fi and fantasy stars at this year's convention include the stars of Guardians of the Galaxy, Back to the Future, Harry Potter and Star Wars, among others, including dozens of artists and comic creators in the rows of colorful tables under character-filled banners and supersized comic book panels. Here are some of the panel highlights:

For Star Wars fans

Experts debate whether the latest saga is in good hands and forecast their impact in Star Wars fandom ("Is this the 'Golden Age' of Star Wars?," 6 p.m. Friday, Room 238). Immediately following that panel is "Star Wars Psychology: Jedi Mind Tricks," inviting actual psychologists and university professors to discuss the brain science of the galaxy far, far away, and consider the larger social psychology at play in its popularity.

  Aspiring screenwriters may be interested in "Writing Plot Using Star Wars," looking into Episode IV's construction with author Sean Hoade (11:30 a.m. Saturday, Room 343). And Chewbaccas Joonas Swotamo (12:30 p.m. Saturday, Room 243) and Peter Mayhew (1:30 p.m., Room 243) discuss their roles in the franchise.

For single fans

Since 2010, Sci-Fi Speed Dating has hooked up several dozen engagements and marriages. Come in your finest, cleanest cosplay outfits and maybe meet the next Mr. or Mrs. Impressive LaserDisc Collection. Events are 6:30 p.m.-7:15 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m.-2:45 p.m., 4:30 p.m.-5:15 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.-7:15 p.m. Saturday; and noon-12:45 p.m. Sunday. LGBT dating events are 11 a.m.-11:45 a.m. Saturday-Sunday. All are in Room 232 and for ages 18 and up.

For fans of the classics

There are panels on pop culture history and theory ("The Evolution of the Strong Female Protagonist," 11 a.m. Saturday, Room 238; "A History of Censorship in Comic Books," 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Room 240; an exhaustive, illustrated tour of Marvel at 3 p.m. Saturday, Room 238), dipping even further into the obscure with a panel on zines and counterculture publishing (12:30 p.m. Sunday, Room 240), hosted by the New Orleans Public Library.

For "I'm here to see celebrities"

Guardians of the Galaxy stars Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker and Sean Gunn sit on a panel at 1 p.m. Saturday on the mainstage. The X-Files' Duchovny and Pileggi follow at 2 p.m. And Back to the Future's Christopher Lloyd and Tom Wilson appear on the mainstage at 2 p.m. Sunday.

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