Gary Baker couldn’t believe his luck.
Baker is a self-proclaimed “drunk geek” and grabbed a front-and-center spot during the Power Rangers guest panel at this year’s Monroe Pop Fest. Last year, those seats were reserved for people who paid for VIP tickets, Baker said, so he never expected to sit so close to his idols.
Decked out in his light blue ranger shirt, Baker could hardly contain his excitement as he fired question after question at the three actors at the front of the room.
Once upon a time, actors Kevin Duhaney, Jeffrey Parazzo and Jessica Rey all made a living fighting the forces of evil on the small screen. Duhaney and Parazzo worked together on the 2004 series “Power Rangers Dino Thunder,” and Rey preceded them on 2002’s “Power Rangers Wild Force.”
Baker said he grew up on the show, and thanks to DVDs and streaming services, has been able to watch most of the more than 30 iterations of the popular franchise to date. “Mighty Morphin”, “Zeo”, “Turbo”, “Lost Galaxy”, “Lightspeed Rescue”, “Time Force”, “Ninja Storm” and “Dino Thunder” are some of his favorites.
“This was amazing,” Baker said. “I’ve been a Power Rangers fan for 30 years. They are my heroes and I will love them until the day I die.”
It was the second time Baker made the trip from his home in Farmington Hills to attend the Monroe Pop Fest, which also featured a Power Rangers panel last year. It was just one of the many events sprinkled throughout the weekend of this year’s 11th annual convention.
Over 3,000 people attended this year’s event, held on 15-16 September at the First Merchants Bank Expo Center at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. It was one of the most successful weekends in the history of the event, said Gary Pillette, who co-owns and operates the convention with his wife, Dawn.
“It was one of the best years we’ve ever had,” Pillette said. “It was a good crowd. They seemed to stay for a long time. We had a lot of events that they had to fit into their day, and they were able to stay, enjoy themselves, eat food, watch panels, go play in games. area and check out the external events.”
Attendees also had access to more than 30 celebrity guests spanning the spectrum of pop culture fandom. It included actors, artists, graphic designers, animators, podcasters, writers, professional wrestlers and more. Former Detroit Red Wing Darren McCarty was also on hand to interact with fans.
“This is a great opportunity for us to meet fans and meet the people who enjoy the stuff we put out,” said artist Bill Morrison. “When you’re an artist, you tend to work in solitude, and a lot of times what you put out there, what gets printed and published, you don’t get a lot of feedback.”
Morrison is famous for his work as an illustrator and writer on the television show “The Simpsons”. He was also an illustrator for Disney, was an executive editor for Mad Magazine and co-founded his own comic book company.
It was his third time at the Monroe Pop Fest, which is just a short drive from his home in St. Clair Shores. He grew up in Lincoln Park before venturing on his career in California. In addition to his work as a freelance artist, Morrison said he now travels to conventions all over Michigan. He will also perform at shows later this year in Mexico and Europe.
“Hometown shows are a lot of fun,” Morrison said. “Growing up in Lincoln Park, Monroe is a place I visited. My sister lives here, I have friends here, I know the people. That makes it special.”
The large crowd inside the convention center thinned out briefly Saturday for Pop Fest’s annual cosplay contest, with separate sections for children and adults.
Southgate resident Eli Ingram won the top prize for the second year in a row. Last year, Ingram won for his performance as a yellow spaceship from the popular board game Warhammer 40,000. Staying in the same universe for this year’s winner, he created an intricate tech priest costume.
It took him about three months to put the design together, Ingram said. The costume features a red robe encased in silver and chains, a 5-foot axe, four mechanical spider-like legs and a full mask complete with LED lights, voice speaker and cooling fans.
“I bent an insurmountable amount of foam to my will to make it look like what I wanted it to look like,” he said. “Most of it is foam with some wood and a few 3-D printed bits. … There are some plastic bits and PVC that hold the leg structure.
“The backpack is all foam and holds the electronics. There are eight battery packs in here and that adds quite a bit of weight.”
Ingram also spent three months on a cosplay for his fiancée, Melissa Acord, although it took him until the night before the competition to add the finishing touches. She was dressed as a Warhammer 40K battle sister.
The couple participates in several rallies each year. Ingram said his tech priest design also won cosplay contests this summer at Fantasticon Toledo and Astronomicon in Livonia.
But Monroe is one of his favorites.
“I really like this convention because it has a hometown street fair feel with food trucks and vendors outside,” Ingram said. “I like that it’s partially outside. You don’t have to be inside all the time and you don’t have to stay outside. It’s nicer, better people, less crowded.”
That has been the goal, Pillette said, to create a convention that finds its niche for the local community to enjoy without compromising on quality.
“We’ve been trying to add more and more every year,” Pillette said. “Every year we get better and fine-tune everything.”