Word has only recently begun to circulate about the Dec. 25 death of Dallas Fantasy Fair founder Larry Lankford, a prominent figure in both the Texas and national convention scenes of the 1980s and early '90s. He was 53.
"I will always remember him as a pioneer of the Texas convention scene," Arlington retailer Cole Houston wrote on the funeral home's memorial page, "someone who got me started as a convention vendor, inspired the tiny conventions I produced, and brought me and other attendees of the Fantasy Fairs memories that will last a lifetime."
A veteran of the D-Con sci-fi/comics events held sporadically throughout the 1970s, Lankford launched the Dallas Fantasy Fair in 1982, attracting such guests as Frank Miller, John Byrne and Gil Kane to the inaugural show. By 1988, the convention had become so successful that he spun off three smaller two-day events in Austin, Houston and San Antonio. Those were followed in 1992 and 1993 by a series of well-remembered Dallas Minicons, one-day expos that drew about 500 attendees each.
According to some sources, at its height the Dallas Fantasy Fair was the third-largest comics convention in the country, behind only San Diego Comic-Con and Chicago Comicon. In addition to featuring such marquee names as Harvey Kurtzman, Neil Gaiman, Will Eisner, Jim Lee and Julius Schwartz, the show also played host to the fledgling Harvey Awards from 1989 until the Dallas Fantasy Fair's end in 1996.
That end, attributed to major financial problems, came suddenly, just two weeks before its scheduled dates. However, dealers quickly organized another event at a smaller site, salvaging what vendors and guests that they could (there was, however, no Harvey ceremony that year; winners were simply mailed their awards).
On his blog, writer and podcaster Christopher Gronlund remembered Lankford for his generosity, saying the organizer "didn’t care if you only had an ashcan preview and a dream to be published — if you made comic books on some level and you presented yourself even reasonably well, he gave you a table."
"It’s easy to look back and say that Larry was ahead of others, realizing there were independent fans … so why not let independent creators in for free to draw those fans?" he continued. "Savvy marketers get that, now, but even today, the thought of even a well known independent creator being allowed into a large convention for free is crazy talk. It never seemed like a move to get more fans in with Lankford, though — he really seemed to take serious creating a place where all creators, regardless of where they were in their careers, had a shot."