Whether you know him as the black-leather-jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding Fonzie from Happy Days, the author of the Hank Zipzer series of children’s books or the bumbling and perverted family lawyer from Arrested Development, Henry Winkler’s career spans almost four decades. As a guest at this weekend’s Wizard World Atlanta Comic Con, Winkler joins a who’s who of comic book creators, professional wrestlers, actors and other pop culture icons for a weekend of interactive fun. In addition to signing autographs, he will also be doing a Q&A at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. Here, he talks about his favorite things about Atlanta, comic cons and his career.
This is Wizard World’s Atlanta debut. Several members of the Happy Days cast were at Dragon*Con a few years ago, but this will be your first Atlanta convention appearance, right?
This will be my very first one. There are three good reasons to come to Atlanta. One, the people are amazing. Two, you’ve got one of the greatest Italian restaurants in the East – Antica Posta in Buckhead. And it is an amazing thing to spend two days in a city and meet so many people that you just wouldn’t normally meet being stuck on a sound stage or working on a set somewhere, or living in another state.
Is this the first time you’ve ever done a convention like this?
Yes, it is. Well, you know what? I have done them before, but they are usually associated with car shows. But I’ve been all over the United States and Canada and it just is an incredible way to say hello to people. I’ll have my children’s books with me and, depending on their age, people talk to me about my entire career.
Sure. You have people that know you as the Fonz from Happy Days all he way up to your more recent stuff like Arrested Development.
That’s right. And also now Royal Pains, which comes back on the air Jan. 20 on USA. And now there’s a new network called the Hub, which is for children, and they are showing Happy Days again. So, kids are finding it 33, 34 years later. It’s pretty amazing. Then, of course, there’s the Adam Sandler period, the Scream period, the Heroes and The One and Only period, the Night Shift period…
You definitely haven’t gone without work at any point.
No. But what is fabulous is to meet everybody and listen to why a particular project is there favorite. A lot of people talk to me about the Christmas Carol movie I did in 1979 and tell me that was the best Scrooge they’ve ever seen. It’s very rewarding, it’s gratifying. And now, Royal Pains is one of the most successful shows on all of cable. I’m unbelievably happy. I watched it the first year, I was on it the second year and now we’re coming back for a third.
One thing that’s interesting to me about this convention, and others like it, is that it’s called the Atlanta Comic Con. Even though comics are the main focus, there’s so much more to it and there are guests like you who don’t really have much to do with comic books at all. Why do you think there is so much crossover appeal there?
You know what has happened – especially at San Diego Comic-Con – is it is all of a sudden a place that has attracted people to come and launch their new projects. Every major star goes to the comic conventions in California in order to launch their new movies. Every major studio and television station is represented. We were doing a wonderful show with the creator of Arrested Development called Sit Down, Shut Up, which was an animated show for adults, and we launched it at a comic convention in San Francisco. So they have become very important in the entertainment world.
They almost should be relabeled as pop culture conventions.
You know what? It’s true, because that’s really what it is. Plus, everybody dresses up as their favorite character from some kind of graphic novel or Japanese cartoon or comic book. It’s amazing to see. It’s also really interesting to be at the beginning of something new like this and see what it’s like. I think that’s very exciting.
Aside from signing autographs and doing panels, what else will you be doing at this convention?
Just meeting everybody and walking around and seeing people I have never met before and meet everybody that lives in and around Atlanta that has come to see us. That is a great compliment. People have told me they’ve driven for hours to come and say hello because they never thought they’d be able to. What an amazing thing that is that you have a dream when you’re 7, you get to live your dream, then people are affected by what you’ve decided to do with your life. But my favorite thing is that I don’t sit behind my table. I stand in front of the table so I get to see everybody face to face. It is much more personal.