Here in Pensacola, the month of February marks the start of one of the most anticipated events of the year—Pensacon! This annual comic convention has become a fan-favorite, and it’s returning February 23 through 25 for its eleventh year.
Pensacon lets everyone unleash their inner geek and take over the downtown streets while decked out in elaborate costumes dedicated to their favorite characters. Nerds and pop culture enthusiasts from across the country will flock to the Pensacola Bay Center to join in on the Pensacon fun.
Eleven years ago, Pensacon was simply a dream for Pensacola local Mike Ensley. As a lover of all things nerdy and wacky, Ensley began thinking of different ways that he could share this appreciation with fellow fans throughout the community. Upon analyzing the state of pop culture at the time, he felt as though Pensacolians would likely embrace an official gathering to celebrate all things weird, wacky and wonderful.
“Looking around at how pervasive nerd culture—comics, Sci-Fi, etcetera—had become, I just realized the time was right. Marvel was ruling the movies. The Big Bang Theory was the most popular show on TV. There was just an appreciation of nerdiness at that time,” Ensley said.
Little did he know he would create one of the largest and most spectacular events in the region. Since then, Pensacon has grown to become one of the most popular comic conventions along the Gulf Coast. More than 30,000 people attend the convention each year.
The annual convention offers an abundance of activities hosted as part of the three-day event. Pensacon attendees have the opportunity to enjoy live entertainment, participate in gaming competitions, meet and greet with their favorite celebrities and writers, shop at a variety of vendor booths packed with memorabilia and unique merchandise, attend panel discussions and more. Whether you are a super fan or a casual pop-culture enthusiast, Pensacon offers a little something for every type of fan.
The event is held each February at the Pensacola Bay Center, which is where most of the action takes place. The Bay Center floor is flooded with vendors selling a variety of pop culture-themed merchandise.
The second floor of the Bay Center houses various celebrity guests and serves as a space for fans to attend exclusive meet and greets, get autographs and take photos with their favorite celebs.
The third-floor ring of the Bay Center is home to the Artist Alley and Writer’s Row portions of the convention, where artists and writers of different genres will showcase their work and meet and greet with attendees.
Outside of the Bay Center is Poseidon’s Bay—an outdoor area filled with food trucks, activities, a stage for live performances and more. Poseidon’s Bay opens one hour before the main doors each day.
In addition to the Bay Center, numerous Pensacon events will be hosted throughout the downtown area. “The biggest change [this year] is that we will be utilizing more of the venues at the Wright Place and First United Methodist Church to house panels and events,” Ensley explained.
In addition to expanding its presence throughout the downtown area, this year’s Pensacon will bring a large number of highly anticipated celebrity guests.
“More than 100 actors, artists, musicians, etcetera, will be at Pensacon,” Ensley said. “We’re lucky in that we’ve been around for 11 years now, so we are approached by agents offering us their clients. We do a lot of reunions, so we often work with multiple agents to pull those together.”
A variety of fandoms are also celebrating reunions at this year’s convention including, but not limited to, Star Wars, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Walking Dead, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Death Note.
More than 10 actors and actresses from the Star Wars franchise will be Sonic the Hedgehog animated series and video game will be present—Jason Griffith, Lisa Ortiz and Pete Capella. Fans of AMC’s hit show, The Walking Dead, will be happy to see Chandler Riggs, Ross Marquand and Seth Gilliam at the convention as well.
Celebrating more than 36 years since first debuting on-screen, the original voice actors for the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series will also be in attendance—Cam Clarke who voiced Leonardo, Barry Gordon who voiced Donatello, Rob Paulsen who voiced Raphael and Townsend Coleman who voiced Michaelangelo.
There will also be a variety of popular anime voice actors in attendance, including Alessandro Juliani, Brad Swaile, Brian Drummond and Shannon Chan-Kent, all of whom played a role in the popular manga series, Death Note. Attendees can also expect to meet other notable actors from films like The Rocky Horror Picture Show and An American Werewolf in London.
“I’m excited about all the guests! They all bring something special to the event— be it a legend like Vicki Lawrence or Lou Gossett Jr., a respected actor like Ron Perlman, or a first-time convention appearance like Faizon Love,” Ensley said. “There are beloved genre stars like Mark Sheppard or Diane Franklin, incredible cartoon voice actors like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reuniting, anime stars in our Death Note reunion, respected film historians like David J. Skal and director Joe Dante and iconic gaming voices like Troy Baker.”
Ensley explained that research from Visit Pensacola showed that Pensacon’s economic impact each year is more than $3 million to the local economy. “We’ve already started planning for 2025. We never stop working towards the next year,” he said.
With more than 30,000 attendees each year, the logistical aspect of Pensacon requires careful attention to detail and is a year-long planning process. To accommodate the mass swarm of convention goers filling the downtown streets, Ensley works closely with city officials to prepare for the weekend.
“We mainly work with permitting and traffic control with the city. We partner with the Pensacola Police Department to assist with traffic control and to keep folks safe crossing streets, and we also utilize Winterfest’s trolley system,” Ensley explained.
With many visiting Pensacola from out of town, Pensacon partners with the Pensacola International Airport each year to deck out the airport in pop culture imagery. “The airport has been a partner for 10 years now. Before the convention, they rebrand the entire airport. Guests and attendees who fly in are very happily surprised when they arrive and see all the changes,” Ensley said.
Tickets to this year’s Pensacon are on sale now and a variety of ticket options are available. The standard weekend pass is $99.99 and includes entry for all three days of the convention. The VIP Experience is $194.99 and includes early entry, access to fast pass lines, a VIP exclusive shirt and more. Single-day passes are also available for purchase starting at $50.
For tickets and event details, including the full schedule of official Pensacon 2024 events, visit pensacon.com. To keep up with Pensacon on social media, follow @pensacon on Facebook and @pensacolapensacon on Instagram.