DragonCon 2016 Con Report!


Overheard on an Atlanta street corner:


“Look at that person with blue hair.”

“Over there?”

“No, over there.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Cool, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. What other place can you say, ‘No, the other person with blue hair.”

The “place,” of course, was DragonCon. September 2-5. I have been for the last six years, but this year was special: the 30th anniversary. It started in two downtown hotels, Hyatt and Marriott. The Hilton was added later, then the Sheraton and Westin. When five hotels were not enough space, the vendors were moved into the AmericasMart, a four-building, seven-million-square-foot trade show monolith. This year, AmericasMart became the new home of two other DragonCon mainstays, tabletop gaming (formerly in the Hilton) and Comic and Pop Artist Alley (neé the Hyatt)—evidence that DragonCon, despite its venerability, is still figuring things out. Perhaps that is how it became venerable: refusing to be complacent.

And more growth is on the way. Some programming was held on Thursday this year, and according to media director Dan Carroll, we will see Thursday “full-time real soon.” My colleague Michaela McPherson has written about shifts in the Saturday morning parade. This was the inaugural year for the Dragon Awards, a fan-driven awards program to “recognize the creators of science fiction and fantasy in books, comic books, games and filmed entertainment,” according to a press release. (Awards results are located here.) Attendance grew this year as it does every year, with over 77,000 showing up–and, in some cases, suiting up–for the weekend. These attendees walked (Walk to End Lupus Now), gave blood (about 6,000 units), raised money ($98,000 for the Atlanta Center for Self-Sufficiency through auctions, karaoke, a lip-synch battle, and other events), and enjoyed the 400+ actors, artists, writers, and other guests who formed the convention’s foundation.

I was excited about one guest I had never seen at DragonCon, or any convention: Christopher Paolini, author of the four-volume Inheritance Cycle. Paolini wrote the first volume, Eragon, the story of a farm boy who protects a dragon egg from an evil king, when he was a teenager. His parents self-published the book, and for a year, Paolini promoted it himself at libraries, book shows, and other events. In 2002, the book came to the attention of the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, which re-released the book a year later. This led to three other books, the last one appearing in 2011.

On Friday night, Paolini was one of several panelists for a discussion of self-publishing. The other panelists were freelance writer/editor Jaym Gates, editor Dayna Linton, Baen Books publisher Toni Weisskopf, writer Chris Kennedy, and Todd McCaffrey, son of Anne McCaffrey and custodian of her Pern universe, to which he has contributed several volumes. Some highlights from the panel:

  • McCaffrey: The biggest mistake in self-publishing is to “think you can do everything yourself.”
  • Eragon was a family project. Paolini’s father, who had press experience, designed the book. Paolini drew the cover and the maps. They borrowed money to finance the printing (the first 50 copies were cut wrong). He dressed in medieval costume and made presentations to schools, libraries, and bookstores. Sold maybe 15 books at a time. Two chain bookstores rejected him, saying the novel was “not commercially viable.”
  • Gates: “Readers and writers have different ideas of what works.” This led to a vigorous discussion of the value of editing. It’s the biggest difference between professional publishing and self-publishing (a view echoed by this Slate article). Writers know their own story, but editors are storehouses of stories. They understand the market, and what will appeal to readers. Thus, they can guide the author, helping to bring out his/her voice. As Gates said, “it is the editor’s job to help the writer say what he/she wants to say in the best way.”
  • Paolini was skeptical of the wisdom of a beginning writer paying for editorial services, but the other panelists–I won’t say they shouted him down, but they were unified in saying that it would be money well spent. Paolini did agree on the worth of an editor, saying an editor “can fix bad writing. They can’t fix a bad story.” Bottom line: the author has a job, and the editor has a job. Good books result when each person does their job.
  • McCaffrey talked about “hybrid authors”–authors who write for traditional publishers and do some self-publishing. Here is a good discussion of this type of writer. The panel agreed that the hybrid approach is the best, blending the advantages of self-publishing (speed; flexibility; more profit per sale) with the comfort of traditional publishing (editorial, design, and marketing services; bulk sales; multi-book deals; advances against royalties). More authors are taking this approach, which is new in the history of publishing. According to Weisskopf, the “received wisdom” used to be that, if you self-publish, you’ve “tainted the waters and will never get a traditional contract.” The panel agreed that this is no longer the case.
  • On traditional contracts: beware the predators. Gates brought up two blog posts by John Scalzi (here and here), who has always been an advocate of authorial self-interest, about Hydra, an imprint of Random House with shockingly bad contract terms. The panel’s message: don’t be so desperate to publish that you’ll sign anything.

All the growth in DragonCon has brought some irritation. At 2:30 on Friday afternoon, the vendor room in the AmericasMart reached capacity and was shut down. I have never experienced that at a convention (I read about it happening a couple of years ago at the Rhode Island Comic-Con). The room was open an hour or so later, I think–I didn’t wait around to find out–so it wasn’t a disastrous inconvenience. But I did find myself wondering, is there no building in Atlanta large enough to handle DragonCon?

The lines in the hotels were certainly longer than ever. I waited nearly two hours to buy Saturday-only badges for members of my party. (It is useless to buy these in advance because DragonCon mails you a card that you have to redeem on-site for a badge.) There may be no space to do this, but I would love to see registration expanded. Or split into two buildings. Why do one-day badges have to be claimed on site? Why can’t they be mailed? One thing is for sure: a single ballroom in the basement of the Sheraton is inadequate for the thousands upon thousands of people who opt for one-day badges.

DragonCon is a study in lines. Walking around the sidewalks, you’ll often see a line with no discernible beginning snaking into an unmarked side door. It’s like a speakeasy line. If you ask someone what they’re waiting for, they respond without confusion, but what if they’re wrong? What if the real purpose of the queue has been miscommunicated all the way down, so that someone who thinks they’re waiting for William Shatner’s photo op is actually in line for the blood bank?

It isn’t that hard to form a line, after all. My wife and I did it for Chris Paolini’s Sunday autograph session, which was scheduled for 2:30. Jim Butcher had started signing in the same room at 1:00. His line was capped at 1:30, and we knew that people looking for Paolini would start showing up soon. So we stood a few feet behind the last person for Jim Butcher and declared it the Start of the Line. Within minutes, a hundred people were standing behind us, and when a DragonCon staffer came along and legitimized us, I felt like Saul Alinsky.

If you have never been to DragonCon, you need to go. It is not the largest convention in the U.S., but it is unique, being spread across five Atlanta hotels. I have often wondered why it doesn’t move to the Georgia International Convention Center or the Georgia World Congress Center. It may need to, especially when attendance reaches 100,000, as I believe it will. But I hope DragonCon doesn’t move. I love the atmosphere of hotel-based conventions. There are other hotels in downtown Atlanta, and maybe DragonCon will incorporate those. Whatever happens, I look forward to many more years of attending this convention, which was my first and will always be one of the best.


So THIS is the horse of a different color I've heard tell of.

So THIS is the horse of a different color I’ve heard tell of.

The official store is the place to get your swag on.

The official store is the place to get your swag on.

No, Storm Shadow isn't wearing a hat. Some pirate photo bombed us.

No, Storm Shadow isn’t wearing a hat. Some pirate photo bombed us.

Pikachu takes some pictures with fans.

Pikachu takes some pictures with fans.

Recognize the guy in the middle? Here's a hint: it rhymes with Bash Jordan.

Recognize the guy in the middle? Here’s a hint: it rhymes with Bash Jordan.

Christopher Paolini pauses for a pic during his (only!) book signing of the weekend.

Christopher Paolini pauses for a pic during his (only!) book signing of the weekend.

I want a suit like that, but my wife probably wouldn't let me wear it.

I want a suit like that, but my wife probably wouldn’t let me wear it.

The dealer room was closed on Friday afternoon due to overcrowding. I can't imagine why.

The dealer room was closed on Friday afternoon due to overcrowding. I can’t imagine why.

Peter, meet Victor. Victor, Peter.

Peter, meet Victor. Victor, Peter.

This guy had been to 44 Weird Al concerts in 2016, with plans to attend several more. Check him out on Facebook at Mandatory Fun Al.

This guy had been to 44 Weird Al concerts in 2016, with plans to attend several more. Check him out on Facebook at Mandatory Fun Al.

Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia . . . or a George R.R. Martin autograph, whichever.

Bring me the head of Alfredo Garcia . . . or a George R.R. Martin autograph, whichever.

This cosplay (yes, a person is inside) was made using 318 ballons!

This cosplay (yes, a person is inside) was made using 318 ballons!

Ran into this couple at the convention. They're crazy for each other.

Ran into this couple at the convention. They’re crazy for each other.

DragonCon is a place to spare no expense.

DragonCon is a place to spare no expense.

Mr. Roper doesn't know how good he has it.

Mr. Roper doesn’t know how good he has it.

Scene and Reviewed: 6 Plots

October 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Everything Else, Horror, Movies


I want to play a game. The game is to count how many classic horror films were mimicked in the making of the Australian thriller 6 Plots. Right on the DVD cover you see references to Saw and Buried. Another review mentioned Hostel. You could make arguments for Cube, Vile, and The Hills Have Eyes. But the greatest debt owed by this movie is to an older film, one that helped originate the slasher genre despite itself being a suspense thriller (and a nonpareil one at that): Halloween.


Seven students at Oak Bay High School plan a Friday night bash. There will be music. Booze. Sex. Hijinks. The party will take place in a “borrowed” (read: they broke in) house on the beach. We see the kids doing what kids do at parties, every jiffy of which they intend to livestream on the Internet because–well, you’ve seen American Pie. Anyway, everybody passes out, and when one of the kids, Brie, wakes up, she notices the others have skedaddled.

As Brie gathers her stuff to head home, she gets a phone message from this guy.


The message tells her to play a game, no parents, no authorities. The game: find her friends. All are locked in boxes and stashed around town. All can communicate with her via their phones. She is also sent video updates of their predicaments via the cameras installed in each box. Inevitably, parents get involved, as do the cops, so a few kids have to die. One is burned (she kept saying she was “covered in petrol”). Another is buried alive. A saw mill blade provides the most gruesome killing. Brie and the cops manage to save the other three, and a few weeks later, they are all back at school, cracking wise and calling one other “bitches.” Then they run into a creepy guy we saw for five seconds at the beginning of the film who makes some cryptic remarks in a basso profundo voice and walks away with the above emoticon on his skateboard. I guess he was the bad guy.

Did you catch all the Halloween analogs?

  1. Teenagers plan a gathering.
  2. They lie to their parents about it (in one geek-gasmic scene, a guy’s father calls home to check on him, and his buddy sitting in a different house answers the home phone using his cell phone and an “automated Skype message faker”).
  3. They use someone else’s house without permission.
  4. The girl with no boyfriend (Brie) becomes the savior.
  5. One victim’s father is the police chief.
  6. The whole thing is broadcast online (as in Halloween: Resurrection).

Now let me tell you what is not like Halloween: there isn’t one bit of menace in this movie. When there is a movie involving a villain, that villain is the film’s strength. Michael Myers’s mix of childlike wonder and unholy force is established from the first moment of Halloween, and it twists through all the films in the series. You can’t take your eyes off him. Ditto for John Kramer (aka, Jigsaw), Fred Krueger, Dracula, and all the great horror villains. Their personalities–Kramer’s cold logic, Krueger’s impishness, Dracula’s smug ferocity–make them compelling, while their motives make them scary.

What of the villain in 6 Plots? Other reviews call him The Emoticon, but I don’t recall anyone saying that in the film, and for good reason: it sounds like a lame Charlton Comics superhero. So he’s nameless, and until the final scene, he’s invisible. This is another mistake by the filmmakers. It isn’t necessary for the protagonists to meet the villain until the end–the Die Hard movies have mastered this approach–but it is necessary for the audience. How can we be afraid of someone we can’t connect with? As for motive, think of John Kramer’s aim: “to test the fabric of human existence.” It’s an unusual goal, lofty and sinister. The guy behind The Emoticon? His motive seems dull as driftwood.

The opening credits of 6 Plots include the line “Based on a concept by Leigh Sheehan and Tim C. Patterson.” Because these are the film’s director and writer, I wondered why they were credited this way, since “concept” seems an integral part of writing and directing. The unfortunate answer is that concept is most of this movie’s appeal. The non-villain characters are relatable, and the actors are good–so good I wanted to see interviews with them in the making-of documentary that forms the DVD’s sole special feature (I was disappointed). It is an interesting concept, though maybe too ambitious. With six victims to keep up with, I found myself getting confused.

Maybe 6 Plots should have stuck to one plot this time around.



Year of Production: 2012

Type: Home Entertainment Premiere

Rating: R for Language, Some Violence/Terror and Teen Partying/Drug Material

Genre: Horror

Closed Captioned: English

Subtitles: English and Spanish

Feature Run Time: 87 minutes

DVD Format: 16×9 Widescreen (2:35:1)

DVD Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio


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2016 Florida Supercon Con Report (Including an Interview with John Stover)!


I know many of you are asking: who in the name of J. Jonah Jameson’s sideburns is John Stover? In fact, you have met him before. He introduced me to DragonCon in 2011. In 2014, he was my boon companion in Mouse-town for Spooky Empire. In 2015, we took a break from Florida to stay a few miles from the oldest Baptist church in America (founded in 1638) for Rhode Island Comic Con. This year, over the July 4 weekend, we were back in the Sunshine State for another convention new to me: Florida Supercon

John and I have been tight since eleventh grade, when he transferred to my high school midyear, walked into my Spanish class, and took the only available seat—next to me. Twenty-eight years later, we have seen each other through four divorces (two each), five weddings (I lead 3-2), a knot of children (my 2 step, his 3 bio), the near death of his first son, new jobs, new homes, graduate degrees, and a Playboy bunny ex-girlfriend (his, wouldn’t you know). Spooky Empire and Rhode Island were new to me, and I’m glad I could experience them with John.

Held in Miami, Supercon is the largest comic book, anime, cosplay, sci-fi, fantasy, video gaming & pop culture convention in South Florida, according to Instagram. Over 51,000 people attended in 2015, and it seemed this year’s total would surpass that. Four-day passes had sold out weeks before, and Saturday-only passes were gone by Friday afternoon. Unlike smaller conventions, which tend to be held in hotels, this one was at the Miami Beach Convention Center. I am biased toward hotels for their intimacy (Michaela McPherson discusses this in her Anime Fan Fest article), but except for DragonCon, which is unique, shows of 50,000+ people need the vastness of a convention center.

They need this vastness for, among other things, effective line operation. There were some major celebrities at this convention: William Shatner, Henry Winkler, Ben McKenzie, and some members of the Deadpool cast. Lines were long, but they never felt crowded or unruly. (For line management, it doesn’t get much worse than the George R.R. Martin debacle at ConCarolinas 2014.) I don’t mind the waiting part of being in line. You learn a lot by talking to other attendees. One couple talked about how accessible the mega-celebrities are at San Diego Comic-Con. The year they went, they were waiting to get into a panel when Ian McKellan showed up and started mingling. Another guy said he waited in Stan Lee’s signing line at Mega Con for five hours. Why? Stan was a no-show for the morning session—his M.O., according to the guy.

And sometimes cool things happen in line. Henry Winkler stood in front of his signing table, and he occasionally walked to the end of the line, shaking hands and thanking people for their patience. (Of course, if he didn’t take these breaks, there wouldn’t be such a need for patience.) Once, he stopped to perform a magic trick for a group of kids. John and I went to Henry’s Q&A, which was held in an honest-to-goodness theater next to the convention center. From the moment Henry stepped on stage, he owned it. I had read before that Henry was dyslexic, but I didn’t realize how problematic that was for him. He said that, academically, he was in the bottom 3% of the United States. He can’t spell and isn’t good at math. In high school, he took geometry four times, finally passing with a D.

But he had wanted to act since he was seven years old, and he found a way to do it. How? Tenacity and gratitude: “two words I live by.” Both traits power his lifelong advocacy for literacy and education. “If you have trouble in school,” he said, “it has nothing to do with how smart you are”—good advice from a man who overcame his obstacles. He has a new show coming out on August 23 called Better Late Than Never. He lauded the cast and writing of Arrested Development, and of course, he talked about being the Fonz, whom he based on Sylvester Stallone’s character from Lords of Flatbush. “One of the things I brought to the Fonz,” he said, “was loyalty to my friends,” which was why Fonz was always watching out for Richie, Ralph, and Potsie. Fonz was the anti-bully, at a time when bullying was becoming an epidemic. And when someone asked him about working with the late Robin Williams on Happy Days, he gushed for five minutes about Williams’s brilliance. The next person asked about Ron Howard and got this response: “Ron Howard looks like a loaf of Wonder Bread.” He didn’t say “Ayyyyyy” after that line, but it was implied.

The Fonz signs something for me. Whoa!

The Fonz signs something for me. Whoa!

What else can I tell you about Supercon? Actually, I’ll let John Stover tell you in his words. John and I have been to a lot of conventions together, and he tends to give thoughtful feedback on things.

Me: Tell me about a couple of the panels you attended.

John: Okay. I attended a tap dance show which was based on video games such as The Legend of Zelda. Link was the lead, and there were about 6-7 other tap dancers.

Me: Were they children performers?

John: No, I’d say late teens or early 20s. It was set to music inspired by video games. I watched about 15 minutes of the hour and decided that was enough. Then I went to watch a short film which was part of the short film festival. It was okay. You know how those are. Some of them are good, some are mediocre.

Me: The one I watched with you, Attack of the Killer Donuts, was worse than mediocre.

John: Cheesiness.

Me: Thirty minutes of my life I won’t get back.

John: I stuck my head into one session that had something to do with light saber technology [actual title: The Lightsaber Combat Global Movement and How to Participate]. That was a little over my head.

Me: It turned up the nerd factor. That’s like the people who teach themselves to speak Klingon or Elvish. They are immersed.

John: Yes. That is one reason why I liked this convention more than any of the others we’ve attended. I like the breakout sessions. Those to me give it a more local feel. They are organized by local fans, and I feel like there is more enthusiasm and more energy in the convention when that happens.

Me: As opposed to, say, Wizard World conventions, which are more commercial.

John: Yes. This is not a bunch of experts. It’s local fans volunteering their time for the thing they love.

Me: So you would recommend Florida Supercon?

John: Yes!

Me: What does someone need to know before coming here?

John: Don’t be a fuddy-duddy. At least buy a nerd-related T-shirt at Target or something. We made that mistake for the first few years. I was looking this weekend at all the people not dressed up or even wearing a T-shirt, and I thought, get some enthusiasm. I would also recommend wearing comfortable shoes. But that’s what I liked about the panels. Whenever you get tired of walking, just find one that interests you or that you want to learn about.

Me: I liked the eating choices. Often, in conventions held in a convention center, there is only one restaurant, the convention center snack bar. This one had several food courts with Papa John’s Pizza, a Chinese place, a taco place, a French place, gyros, barbecue. There were lots of options for dining—all overpriced but lots of options.

John: The biggest food court could have had more tables, though. Did you see that?

Me: Yeah. It had a huge open floor with nothing on it where they could have put in more tables.

John: I liked how, at the photo op area, there was a schedule of all the photo ops for each day with prices. There was a big screen monitor with a spreadsheet listing them all. Too often, it is hard to know when the photo ops are scheduled and how much they cost. It might be printed in the program, but then you have to dig that out and flip through it. Here, the information was right up on the screen, so I appreciated the organization.

The whole convention was well organized, in fact. I saw few signs rescheduling things, and as far as I know, only three guests cancelled: Jerry Lawler, Karl Urban, and Arthur Darvill. I liked the extended dealer room hours: until 8:00pm on Friday and Saturday. And the cosplays were among the best I’ve seen. I guess my only disappointment was the schedule on the web site, which was not a single printable sheet. Each day had its own web site page. There was a convention app, but my antediluvian Android is not app-friendly, meaning I had to rely on the web site—not good for a place where 50,000+ were soaking up the Wi-Fi.

I agree with John: Florida Supercon is terrific, well-organized and fun. Despite its size, it is not unwieldy. We’ve all attended conventions that were too much for their staff, but this is not one of them. Check out the pix below for more fun!

I see the Scarecrow, but I don't think either of the other two is Mrs. King.

I see the Scarecrow, but I don’t think either of the other two is Mrs. King.


The site of wonderful cosplayers fills you with determination.

The site of wonderful cosplayers fills me with determination.


Now that's a good idea: homemade wings to fly to the front of autograph lines.

Now that’s a good idea: homemade wings to fly to the front of autograph lines.


I see Link, so I guess that means he isn't missing.

I see Link, so I guess that means he isn’t missing.


You, robot.

You, robot.


John and Lady D sittin' in a tree, K-I-L-L-I-N-G.

John and Lady Deadpool sittin’ in a tree, K-I-L-L-I-N-G.


Springfield awaits!

Springfield awaits!


If I leave John alone too long, he ends up with some unsavory characters.

If I leave John alone too long, he ends up with some unsavory characters.


Greg Capullo signs a book for me.

Greg Capullo signs a book for me.


Why is no one in this guy's autograph line?

Why is no one in this guy’s autograph line?


Cool tats, bro.

Cool tats, bro.


Best. Cosplay. Ever.

Best. Cosplay. Ever. The frame is PVC pipe, the wheels are spray foam, and the seat is an overturned mop bucket with wheels on it.

Scene and Reviewed: The Witch

June 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Everything Else, Horror, Movies

The Witch

Remember high school, when we had to read several “classics” of literature? The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, A Tale of Two Cities—you know the ones. These books were classics because they broke new ground, doing things that had not been done before.

God, were they boring! They were books only a professor could love. I was reminded of such books when I watched The Witch, Robert Eggers’s tale of an unlucky girl suspected of witchcraft. Critics have loved the film, giving it 91%, 83 out of 100, 3½ stars, etc. Stephen King tweeted the movie “scared the hell out of” him. It did well at the box office, grossing nearly $40 million on a $1 million budget, but that may be because audiences were expecting The Blair Witch Project redux. I suspect that DVD and Blu-ray sales will be more modest. Film students may study this movie for years to come—it is visually gorgeous and technically advanced—but I doubt it will maintain a larger following.

The movie starts promisingly. Set in New England in 1630, it is the story of a farming family, William and Katherine and their five children. (Other reviews of The Witch call them Puritans, an assumption that may not be true. They are clearly pious, but piety was not limited to any one religious group. Besides, the Great Migration, as it is called, of Puritans to New England began in earnest in 1630, the year this movie was set.) After a tiff with other settlers, William moves his family to the edge of forbidding-looking woods. Immediately, the youngest child, an infant, disappears. The family’s search for the missing boy, and its descent into anger, finger-pointing, and suspicion of demonic involvement, forms the plot for the rest of the film.

So who is the witch of the movie’s title? That would be the oldest daughter, Thomasin. We are never told her age, though she is clearly a teenager. The family first thinks a wolf took the child, but as tensions mount, this becomes a polite fiction. Thomasin was looking after her brother when he vanished, so naturally, she is doing the work of the devil. It isn’t clear what prompted the family to think Thomasin a witch, or why. We tend to imagine people of this era attributing every odd occurrence to dark magic, but surely they had a deeper cosmology than that. Not once does anyone lash out at God for allowing such tragedy, a reaction that seems at least as normal as “because witches.”

Robert Eggers, a former production and costume designer who somehow leapfrogged all other roles to direct The Witch, has been praised for the historical accuracy of the film. A note at the end states that many of the details, including dialogue, come “directly from period journals, diaries, and court records.” No doubt the scenes and wardrobes are spot-on. I wonder also whether Eggers consulted a little book called The New England Primer. Published in 1727, but no doubt circulating in oral form long before, it includes a section called “A Dialogue between Christ, a Youth, and the Devil” whose lines are similar to a prayer uttered several times in the movie: “Oh God my Lord I now begin. Oh help me and I’ll leave my sin,” etc. Whether inspired or made up, it is an excellent detail (you can hear Thomasin reciting it around the 1:55 mark of this trailer).

One thing I could have done without is the decision to have the actors speak in the archaic tongue of the early 1600s. The film is full of “thee” and “thou,” with the occasional “prithee.” One character says, “Speak, if this be pretense,” and other announces, “I’ll to the wood.” Early Modern English, which is what linguists call this time period, can feel like a different language. I had to turn on subtitles to make sure I didn’t miss stuff, a practice I hate. (Diction wasn’t the only reason. Despite setting the volume on my TV at 50, I strained to hear anything softer than a shout.) Many period pieces have not suffered from contemporary speech—Shakespeare in Love won seven Oscars without a single “thou”—so I don’t understand Eggers’s compulsion here.

Another thing I struggled to grasp was what constitutes a “witch” in Eggers’s world. Toward the end of the film, Thomasin talks to Black Phillip, the family goat. Goats have long been associated with Satan, so does that mean a witch is someone who can talk to possessed animals? No, because two of the other children claim they’ve heard the goat talk. Thomasin kills her mother, so does that mean a witch is someone who commits murder? No, it was self-defense: her mother attacked her. Thomasin seems uninterested in magic and incurious about dark forces, so it must be that she is a witch because weird things are happening. There is that limited cosmology again. Black Phillip asks Thomasin if she wants to live “deliciously,” and as far as I can tell, this vague invocation is the crux of Eggers’s witchery. What does it mean to live deliciously? Kidnap babies, I guess.

The best horror films rely on suspense, not gore, and in that way, The Witch scores big. As I watched Katherine go insane with grief, Thomasin struggle with guilt, and William become Job-like (in addition to the baby, his crops died, his wife didn’t trust him, and he watched another son die), I thought, all this plus witchcraft? But for a horror story, the evil force needs more definition. Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Fred Krueger—these are great horror villains because we can see them, and we know what they’re about. The Blair Witch never appears in person, but we see her stalking the three filmmakers. We hear locals talk about kids being abducted and killed. Then Josh disappears. Problems are clearly supernatural in origin. In The Witch, I never felt that William’s struggles couldn’t be explained by his living arrangements: the American wilderness in the 17th century.

In terms of extras, this Blu-ray is not packed, but it does have a few nice elements. The audio commentary features Eggers alone. I am used to commentaries featuring several cast members in an improvised dialogue, but these quickly wear thin. A director-only commentary can be more focused and insightful, which this one certainly is. There is a short (eight minutes) making-of featurette, The Witch: A Primal Folklore, that should be a bit more in-depth. Much better is the Q&A mixing cast members with a pair of experts, novelist Brunonia Barry (The Lace Reader, The Map of True Places) and historian Richard Trask. The group discusses witchcraft in American history, especially the Salem witch trials, on which Trask has a unique perspective: two of his ancestors were hanged as witches.

Interesting as these features are, I will suggest one that should have been added: digital images of the “period journals, diaries, and court records” that Eggers drew on to make the film. I would have enjoyed seeing how those print sources were transformed into a cinematic narrative.

The Witch is an entertaining and though-provoking film. It works as a historical drama as well as a thriller. I wouldn’t call it scary, and the filmmakers outsmarted themselves in a few places, making an intellectual choice when something simpler would have worked better. Still, it is an important film, one that makes an original and significant contribution to the horror genre.


Year of Production: 2015

Type: Theatrical Release

Rating: R for Disturbing Violent Content and Graphic Nudity

Genre: Horror, Suspense

Closed Captioned: N/A

Subtitles: Spanish, English SDH

Feature Run Time: 92 minutes

BD Format: 1080p High Definition 16×9 Widescreen (1.66:1)

DVD Format: 16×9 Widescreen (1:66:1)

BD Audio: English 5.1 DTS HD-MA

DVD Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio


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Its feature film business has been fueled by such successes as the blockbuster Hunger Games franchise, the first two installments of the Divergent franchise, Sicario, The Age of Adaline, CBS/Lionsgate’s The DUFF, John Wick, Now You See Me, Roadside Attractions’ Love & Mercy and Mr. Holmes, Lionsgate/Codeblack Films’ Addicted and Pantelion Films’ Instructions Not Included, the highest-grossing Spanish-language film ever released in the U.S.

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Rhode Island Comic-Con 2015 Report (with an interview with Chris Claremont)!


I went to Rhode Island to see John and Chris. John is my best friend of 25 years. We have been through it all: four divorces (two each), five marriages (he can make it six), new careers, new houses, and the almost-death of his first son, Jonathan, back in 2000. John and I have been to a number of conventions together (see here, for example), and it was time to add the Rhode Island Comic-Con to our roll.

Chris is Chris Claremont. I love John like a brother, but let’s be clear: Chris is what drew me, a lifelong Southerner, to New England on the cusp of winter (November 5-8). I have been a fan of Chris since high school, when my friend Margot introduced me to a pretty cool comic called The Uncanny X-Men. The first issue I bought was #216. I read it, was hooked, and started buying it each month. My father noticed my zeal, and realizing he could teach investment skills while doing something fun with his soon-to-be-too-old-for-him son, he started advancing me allowances to buy back issues. I learned to grade comics and spot value, and within a year, I owned issues as far back as #12, the first appearance of Juggernaut.

I just realized: that was when Stan Lee was still writing the series.

Eventually, I let my collection stagnate, and then I sold it in 1999 for a couple thousand bucks so I could marry wife #2. (Now I don’t have her or the comics, and guess which I miss more?) But I never forgot my adoration of Chris Claremont. Then I saw he would be in Rhode Island, and I called John, with whom I hadn’t planned a trip all year. John said, “I’m in,” and I thought, You better be.

Rhode Island Comic-Con isn’t as large as San Diego or C2E2, and it isn’t as venerable as, say, DragonCon. But it is on the rise. I had this brought home to me when I talked to Susan Soares, the director of media. She told me she was expecting 60,000 attendees. In 2012, there were 16,000. This is an increase of 275%—in only three years! It is the “largest and most income-generating event in the state,” according to Susan, who expects the convention to keep growing because (1) Rhode Island is not a saturated market, (2) the staff is professional and easy-going, and (3) they advertise the heck out of it.

The growth hasn’t been easy to manage, however. In 2014, the convention made headlines for the wrong reasons, overselling and getting shut down for half a day by the Providence fire marshal (see this link for the full story). I asked Susan how that contretemps would be avoided this year, and she outlined a three-part strategy:

Expansion. Last year’s event was confined to the convention center in downtown Providence. This year, they planned to situate some elements (like the dealer room) in the adjacent Dunkin Donuts Center.

Day 3. Instead of being Saturday and Sunday only, this year’s convention would start on Friday.

Scanned badges. Using the New York Comic-Con model, convention employees would scan badges as people enter and exit. This would allow them to track how many people are in the convention center at any time, thereby not exceeding capacity and getting shut down.

Overall, the strategy was a success. They had sold out of Saturday one-day tickets by 11:00am on Saturday, but I heard no other accounts of people being turned away. There were, however, navigation problems. In a convention spread across two buildings, I was surprised by the dearth of directional signs. Plus there were no printed maps—the only map was on the mobile app—so all weekend, I heard people murmuring “Where is the dealer room?” or “I can’t find Vic Mignogna’s table!”

After two circumnavigations of artist alley, I found Chris Claremont, who had been gracious enough to agree to an interview.

Me: Chris, I want you to know: you are the reason I am at this convention. I wanted to see you. Princess Leia? Pssssh. Besides, she cancelled.

Chris: Oh, really? She cancelled?

Me: Yeah. [And she wasn’t the only one. Nearly a dozen celebrities were quietly flensed from the web site as of Friday morning. I’m used to one or two no-shows, but double digits?]

Chris: The funniest thing I’ve heard is the projected opening weekend gross for that film global is one billion. I saw the very first show of Star Wars at the Astor Plaza in New York, and it was empty. It gradually filled up, but there were empty seats, and we figured, nice movie when it started, but when it finished, it was like, holy shit. We walked out the door, and the line was four-deep around the block, and it didn’t go away for about three months.

Me: Speaking of movies, what do you think about Marvel’s movies, especially X-Men?

Chris: So far, Marvel has done very, very well. Kevin Feige is a brilliant film exec. Lauren Shuler-Donner is a brilliant film exec. Between the two of them, they have nailed the Marvel pantheon. The X-Men movies maybe aren’t as financially lucrative as The Avengers. On the other hand, the casting of them is breathtaking, from the first X-Men to Days of Future Past—and, from all accounts, Apocalypse. Kevin, by the same token, starting with Iron Man, it’s been an incredible ride. I mean, Ant-Man? Who would have thought Ant-Man?

Me: Ant-Man was good.

Chris: That’s the point. It was good. And, more importantly, the actors playing the roles seem to enjoy the experience. They want to come back for more.

Me: Did you have any involvement in the X-Men movies?

Chris: Well, I helped crystallize the deal that got it all started back in the beginning, when I was briefly an executive at Marvel. I provided north of 80 percent of the source material for the characters. I mean, they’re all my guys and gals. And two-thirds of them are pretty much straight adaptations of my work. I suppose you could honestly say it was all my fault.

Me: And we’re very grateful.

Chris: Actually, the funny part is, every so often I sneak into the Marvel movies. Scarlett Johannson’s secret identity in Iron Man 2, when she walks into Tony’s house and is introduced as Natalie Rushman . . . well, Natalie Rushman is a secret identity that I invented for the Black Widow when she did a four-part team-up where she had lost her memory as the Black Widow and thought she was a schoolteacher from Boston named Natalie Rushman [this takes place in Marvel Team-Up #82-85, and the alias is actually Nancy Rushman].

Me: Cool. Switching gears a little, you’ve written comic books, and you’ve written prose novels. What’s the difference in writing the two?

Chris: When you’re writing comics, the writer’s job is to tell the story to the visual artist. All the work that goes into writing a novel goes into describing the scene. [He opens a copy of Marada the She-Wolf. A Red Sonja-like character, Marada was created by Chris and the English artist John Bolton.] So it’s describing this scene so that John Bolton could bring it to life brilliantly. Which he does. It’s giving him the sequence of events and allowing him to do what he does best, which is draw a picture that makes you go, wow! When I first drafted this scene, there was going to be lots of dialogue about how she lost her father, lost her mother, yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah. But when I got to the scene, when you see the images, when you get to this image, you don’t need any words. I mean, if you can’t figure out what’s going on, if you can’t figure out the emotional relationships just from looking at it, then neither of us is doing our job. John did his job brilliantly, unlike me talking now. The key to being a writer in comics is to know when to shut the hell up and let the artist do the work.

Me: So would your instructions for that panel be “Have someone lying on the bed,” or would you describe exactly how it should look?

Chris: Well, depends on the scene. Marvel did a 9/11 remembrance book [Heroes, released December 2001] where a writer and an artist would team up to do a poster commemorating what happened and how they felt about it, and when my page came around, I spent about 2,000 words describing the scene, and Salvador [Larocca] just drew this brilliant, brilliant picture, and as far as I was concerned, it didn’t need anything more from me. I had done my work, he had done his work, and the end result was brilliant.

Me: Very good. So you were inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame earlier this year. What was that like?

Chris: A lot of fun. One of the more unexpected things in my life. It’s way too cool for the likes of me.

Me: It doesn’t surprise me at all.

Chris: Well, you can think that. I’m not supposed to because I’m supposed to be shy and modest. But it’s way cool.

Me: When did you start doing conventions?

Chris: When they started asking me. How else can you meet the fans? In the old days, it was more fun because people would write letters, and the nice thing about them is it tells you what they were thinking of and how they were reacting to specific issues. Now it’s all posted online, and you seriously have to go looking for it. There aren’t that many hours in a day. But conventions are a really nice way of putting a face on the readership.

Me: What are a couple of your more memorable convention experiences?

Chris: Just meeting people. It’s a weird sensation when you run into creators, actors, people you’ve respected, and they tell you how cool you are, and you go, “No no no, that’s my line.”

Me: Do fans ever just go to pieces meeting you? Do they cry? Hyperventilate?

Chris: Oh yeah. But the cool thing is that now I’m starting to see a lot more young kids coming, which leads one to believe there’s hope.

Me: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Chris: Get a day job [laughs]. Being a writer is like being an artist: if you’ve got the bug, you do it. You don’t argue. You can’t argue. Then it’s just a matter of kicking at the wall until something sells. And then, once you make the first sell, you go for the second, then the third, then the fourth, and so on. There’s no real secret to being a writer. There’s just having an idea and then having the madcap determination to see it through to fruition.

You might assume this is an excerpt from the interview. It is not. This short conversation lasted over 20 minutes because we were sitting at Chris’s table in artist alley, and he was signing books all the while. My recording of the interview is peppered with crowd noise, his sidebars with other fans, and announcements blasted over the PA system. Chris had trouble getting into the convention—apparently, his vendor badge could not be located—and the interview started late, when he already had more people waiting for him than a Soviet bread line. Yet it was one of my best interviews ever. Chris is articulate and witty, and he cares a lot for his fans. Though I didn’t hyperventilate, meeting Chris Claremont is one of the highlights of my life. And it happened at Rhode Island Comic-Con.

The rest of the convention was as you might expect. Dunkin Donuts Center is a basketball arena, which makes it an odd venue for a convention. The dealer room was on the court, which was roomy, but some of the celebrities were tucked away in what looked like janitor closets. Know who had the longest signing lines that I saw? Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke—you know, SpongeBob and Patrick, which confirms my theory that the next growth market for collectors is 1990s memorabilia.

There were few fan-led panels, which disappointed John. Such panels were the seed of conventions back in the 1970s, but they are in danger of disappearing in this bigger-is-better era. John likes the panels. He considers himself a fan but not a super-fan. The super-fan award goes to the girl I saw at Jim Beaver’s table. Tears streaked her teenaged face, and after she and her mother walked away, they stopped and hugged as though a dog had died.

Friends, that is fandom. That is love. Wil Wheaton says that the defining characteristic of being a nerd is that “we love things. Some of us love Firefly and some of us love Game of Thrones, or Star Trek, or Star Wars, or anime, or games, or fantasy, or science fiction. Some of us love completely different things. But we all love those things SO much that we travel for thousands of miles … we come from all over the world, so that we can be around people who love the things the way that we love them.”

Rhode Island was a great place to go for love. The convention is young, so I have no doubt they will work out the problems of limited space and no maps and unreliable celebs. Every staff member I saw, every volunteer I talked to, was a delight, which confirms what Susan Soares told me in the beginning.

So if you have the chance, go to Rhode Island Comic-Con next November. Buy your badge early. Study the schedule. Stay hydrated. It will be one of your best shows all year.


karen line

John and I weren’t the only attendees.


This guy was also there. Wait, he’s at every convention!


Due to the no-weapons policy, this guy wasn’t allowed to be armed.


Chris Claremont signs my comic.


The Fonz tells me to leave the convention.


Whoops! This isn’t the way to the men’s room.


An angel just below my shoulder.


Various winners from Saturday night’s costume contest, which had 70-80 total entries.


“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”


Jim Beaver asked me where I am from. “North Carolina,” I said. He nodded and said, “That explains it.” I wanted to say, “Right. Like Bobby Singer doesn’t have a rural accent!”


John and Groot, not seeing eye-to-eye.


“Uh, Doctor? I think you regenerated a little too far back.”


This gal is a great little Kidder.

cosplay repair

Not something you see at most conventions, but a good idea.


This guy also shows up at every convention. It’s like he has a time machine or something.

DragonCon 2015 Report (with an Interview with Caroll Spinney)!

DragonCon log
It started with my friend John, whom you may remember as my sometime convention companion. He was with me at Minneapolis Wizard World and at Spooky Empire in Orlando, where we discussed the popularity of horror movies while waiting to meet Tobin Bell.

Back in 2011, John sent me an email that read, “Son, look at this.” John and I have called each other “son” for twenty years. It’s our oldest invention, the stone tools of our friendship. His email included a link to a convention called DragonCon, which I was unfamiliar with. “We should go to this to watch all the freaks,” he went on. “We’d have the time of our lives!”

We went to DragonCon that year, plus the next two. In 2014, John was unavailable, so I took my wife and daughter, who went with me again this year, marking my fifth Labor Day weekend spent in Atlanta, Georgia.

* * *

DragonCon has been held in the Dogwood City since 1986, when it was started by a science fiction and gaming group, the Dragon Alliance of Gamers and Role-Players (DAGR). From the outset, it was different. In an era when most conventions focused on a single universe (Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who) or medium (comics, games, science fiction), DragonCon was founded as a multi-genre convention, and it has remained one ever since.

That first gathering drew 1,400 fans and featured some surprisingly renowned guests: Robert Asprin, Lynn Abbey, Michael Moorcock, and the band Blue Öyster Cult. Attendance grew every year, doubling in some years. By 1995, it was at 14,000. It topped 40,000 in 2010, and in 2015, just five years later, over 65,000 were expected. Heck, there are now more volunteers (2,300+) than inaugural attendees!

Most gatherings of that size take place in convention centers, but DragonCon is still hotel-based. Initially confined to the Piedmont Plaza, it now swamps five four-star venues: the Hilton, Hyatt Regency, Marriott Marquis, Sheraton, and Westin. Vendor booths are located in a sixth building, the AmericasMart. Over 3,000 hours of programming are spread among those hotels, divided into fortysomething tracks. Tracks such as comics and Tolkien are the DNA of DragonCon. Others like podcasting, Whedon Universe, and filking are newer. The curriculum is always changing, always improving, according to Dan Carroll, DragonCon’s director of media. The alternate history track, for example, was added seven years ago when a panel on the topic was planned for 400 people. Over 3,000 showed up.

I went to one panel this year. Cacophonously titled “Legendary SW Authors Talk Mythos,” it featured four writers—Rebecca Moesta, Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole, and Kevin J. Anderson—who have totaled no fewer than 50 Star Wars novels. To call these authors “legendary” carries a double meaning, as their works, like others of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, are no longer canon thanks to a 2014 Lucasfilm decree. (This article describes the new continuity in detail.)

The authors talked about this decision, not to bellyache but to explain that it isn’t the degradation most fans seem to think. They knew from the start that they were scribblers, hired to tell tales from someone else’s world. They didn’t feel betrayed; they felt lucky for the opportunities. After all, it isn’t just any world—it is Star Wars, one of the best worlds in this, or any, universe. Besides, there is nothing to stop Lucasfilm from taking their work—say, Michael Stackpole’s X-Wing books—and turning it into a separate movie or TV series, a possibility hinted at during last year’s San Diego Comic-Con.

The panelists discussed other topics, including their tastes in stories (westerns, Doc Savage, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and fortuitously, romances like Gone with the Wind), what influenced them as writers, and how they collaborate. It was a fascinating colloquy despite the feebleness of the moderator, a supposed Star Wars blogger whose questions were rambling and confused the panelists. One question had already been answered by Stackpole, and after the moderator asked it, Kevin J. Anderson said, “Mike, you want to run through that again?” The moderator smiled, turned to the audience, and said, “Never mind. We’ll take your questions now.”

* * *

One of the biggest attractions of DragonCon is the Walk of Fame, where all the TV, movie, gaming, and other guests interact with fans. Over 400 guests attended this year, a few of them household names: Stephen Amell, John Barrowman, Katie Cassidy, Karen Gillan, Nichelle Nichols, and Edward James Olmos. I wanted to interview some guests, a process DragonCon manages better than most conventions. Reporters who are granted press passes must be separately approved for interviews. These approvals are based on the size of their media outlets. Once I got my approval, I could request interviews with up to ten guests.

With over 500 interview requests for 114 slots (according to Samantha Douglas, the interview coordinator), not every reporter approved for interviews actually gets one. Imagine my surprise when I was offered two: one with Sylvester McCoy, who played the Seventh Doctor on Dr. Who, and one with Caroll Spinney, who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. The interviews were actually press conferences held in one of the Marriott meeting rooms. About twelve reporters were at each one. Most represented nerd-news sites like ConventionScene, though I also saw CNN and Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Through no fault of DragonCon, the press conferences were disasters. After we waited thirty minutes for Sylvester McCoy, someone came in to say that he was cancelling. His panel had run long, and because he was leaving that afternoon, there was no time to reschedule. Carol Spinney was over an hour late (he simply forgot) and stayed only about ten minutes. Here is a bit of what he had to say:

Reporter: I heard in other interviews that you based Big Bird on a four-year-old child. Over the years, have you had to adjust your characterization of that four-year-old child version of Big Bird based on the generations?

Spinney: Actually, initially, since I decided Big Bird could not read or write, he was four-and-a-half. Then I had to go up to six. And now he has been six for years. He is a precocious child of six. He travels by himself with a dog. And he went to China, somehow. I don’t know how he got tickets. I think it’s just fun playing him as a kind of wide-eyed child. I get letters all the time from children saying, “Big Bird, you’re my best friend. Please come and play with me.” One said, “How about next Thursday?”

Reporter: When the movie [Follow That Bird, 1985] came out, Big Bird had already been around for a while, and a whole generation of children had been watching him and relating to him as a friend, and kids really felt that their friend had been kidnapped. Were you expecting Big Bird to connect to a whole country of children at that deep of a level?

Spinney: I didn’t really know what to expect. When Jim Henson hired me, we were both puppeteers. I would do whatever characters needed performing, but by the third year, with Big Bird, I was so busy. They tried to have me continue doing the incidental stuff too, but one day, Big Bird was in almost all the scenes, and I had to keep taking a taxi up and down Broadway [performing as different characters in different scenes], so one day I said, “Let’s not play this game anymore.” On the fourth year, I said I was busy enough that we needed more puppeteers. So we got some more.

Reporter: I saw that you visited the Center for Puppetry Arts yesterday. Can you talk about what you saw and did there?

Spinney: Well, the museum is going to open by November. They have so many things to display. I saw the place where they are building and repairing puppets, a lot of the Henson puppets that are worn-out. Some of the material has decayed. It has turned to powder. The only puppet I ever created myself is one that has gone to pieces. It was Bruno, who carried Oscar’s trash can around. There were fake arms going to Bruno’s shoulders, and my hands were inside. Oscar would come up and try to boss him around, but Bruno would not be bossed. I designed Bruno so that my head was in his head. I could see out through where the bags under his eyes would be. He looked like a Bert-type puppet. That way, we could get Oscar out on stage for concert tours. I asked a couple of years ago why we don’t use Bruno in shows anymore. He doesn’t exist. He has turned to powder. I asked why they don’t make a new one. It would cost $20,000, so good-bye, Bruno.

Reporter: You are an animator as well. Are you planning on making any future animations?

Spinney: Not really. After four years of doing it in Boston, I kind of got tired of it. I was glad it didn’t have to be my permanent career. I was hired by Disney Studios to be an animator, though I didn’t take the job. This was 1957, and the pay was only $56 a week for the first two years. I decided I’d try for something different, so I did. Walt [Disney] actually walked into the room during my interview. I never actually got to speak to him. I had always had a bucket list of three people I would like to meet: Andrew Wyeth, who I spent an afternoon with once and his son Jamie; Walt Disney—at least I was in the same room with him, and I turned his company down; and the other one was Jim Henson, who personally hired me. So I guess I accomplished all those.

Caroll Spinney in the interview room

* * *

Suppose you are thinking of going to DragonCon in 2016, which will be its 30th anniversary. What do you need to know?

  •  Book early. Tickets are plentiful, but the hotels fill up fast. The marketing manager at the Hyatt told me that it takes fifteen minutes to sell his 1,250 guest rooms for DragonCon weekend.
  • Prepare to wait. You will wait for autographs. You will wait for panels. You will wait for the Heroes & Villains ball or the DragonCon Burlesque or panels with the biggest celebrities. Heck, you will wait for an elevator or a restroom. Get used to it.
  • Pay in cash. I have a dream that someday the DragonCon decision-makers will realize they need to mail pre-paid badges. What’s the point of buying online when you have to pick them up in-person? This means 65,000 people standing in line. Yes, registration starts on Thursday, but this benefits only those who buy a weekend pass. Those who want a one-day pass on Saturday can only buy it on Saturday and must pick it up on-site, even if they paid online. You may as well pay for a one-day on-site, and if you do, pay cash. The cash line is terribly shorter and faster than the credit card line.
  •  Account for the parade. A highlight of the weekend is the Saturday parade, which starts at 10:00am and stretches through downtown. Over 80,000 people show up to watch, making it the second largest parade in the state of Georgia (the first is the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade). Along the parade route, every inch of sidewalk bears a geeky gawker. It’s like a Marvel mosh pit, so plan accordingly. I heard one woman complaining that she had missed her Saturday morning photo op (which she had paid for) because she could not reach the hotel through the throng.
  •  Schedules are bunk. The program you are handed at registration contains a detailed schedule for the entire weekend. It is outdated the moment it is printed. There is a smartphone app that is kept current, but even it is not omniscient. For example, when I entered the Walk of Fame on Saturday, I saw a handwritten sign taped above Karen Gillan’s booth announcing that she would arrive on Sunday. DC Comics luminary George Perez left at 1:00pm on Saturday, and that was announced only when his signing line was cut off at noon. And I’ve already mentioned the press conference bloopers. Bottom line: No one can manage a convention of this heft flawlessly, so be flexible. Don’t have a meltdown when something goes awry.
  • Take care of yourself. Dan Carroll calls DragonCon an “immersive experience.” This can be dreadful if you don’t manage it. He told me about an attendee some years back, a diabetic, who fainted during a session in the gaming room. She told the EMT who restored her that she hadn’t eaten in two hours. “When did you last eat?” the EMT asked. “Around 2:00,” the woman answered. The EMT looked at her and said, “Honey, it’s now 11:00.”

Six buildings. 65,000 attendees. 2,400 volunteers. A $55 million economic impact. You may have attended conventions in the past, but none compares to DragonCon, one of the United States’ largest and most venerable. Nowhere is this more evident than in the cosplays, which are more sumptuous than those you’ll see anywhere. Check them out for yourself below. Maybe I’ll see you there next year, when I plan to be dressed like this.

* * *

twenties DC

Gotham City’s underworld, circa 1925

Big Trouble

I didn’t want trouble, but these guys brought it. Big trouble.

Star Wars

George Lucas’s first casting attempt


Here’s Sam. Where’s Dean?


It’s always hot in Georgia in early September. Some people respond by practically going nude.

Scooby gang

Who you gonna call? Sorry, wrong ghostbusters.

scooby villains

Maybe Mystery Inc. was looking for these guys. I found them instead.


I went to DragonCon looking for a life-size Barbie doll. Here it is.

Steampunk ood

This was a ood cosplay . . . I mean, a good cosplay.

Kermit & Piggy

An impromptu Muppet Show breaks out.


I found a baby once. Then this guy took him from me.


Preach it, Deadpool. Preach it.


Want to know what 3,000+ cosplayers in a parade look like? Here’s a glimpse.

Wife and daughter

Want to know what happens when my wife and daughter spend an entire weekend together? Here’s a glimpse.

Wizard World Adds Comic Con Orlando in August 2016


Press Release:

Wizard World Comic Con Orlando Added To Largest Pop Culture Convention Schedule, August 5-7, 2016

Inaugural Event Set For Orange County Convention Center

ORLANDO, Fla., June 3, 2015 – Wizard World, Inc. (OTCBB: WIZD) today announced the addition of Wizard World Comic Con Orlando to its 2016 schedule. The inaugural event will be held August 5-7 at the Orange County Convention Center.

Celebrity and comics creator guests and other details about the event will be announced as they are confirmed..

Wizard World has 26 events scheduled on its 2015 calendar. Confirmed events for 2015 and 2016 are available at www.wizardworld.com/wizcon.html. Along with Albuquerque, N.M., and Greenville, S.C., Orlando is one of three inaugural shows to date scheduled for 2016 Wizard World debuts.

Wizard World Comic Con events bring together thousands of fans of all ages to celebrate the best in pop-fi, pop culture, movies, graphic novels, cosplay, comics, television, sci-fi, toys, video gaming, gaming, original art, collectibles, contests and more. Wizard World Comic Con Orlando show hours are tentatively set for Friday, August 5, 2016, 3-8 p.m.; Saturday, August 6, 2016, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Sunday, August 7, 2016, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Wizard World Comic Con Orlando is also the place for cosplay, with fans young and old showing off their best costumes throughout the event. Fans dressed as every imaginable character – and some never before dreamed – will roam the convention floor.

For more on the 2016 Wizard World Comic Con Orlando, visit www.wizardworld.com/home-orlando.html.

Ryan Stegman to Appear at Grand Rapids Comic-Con in October 2015


Press Release:

“The Amazing Spider-Man” Artist Ryan Stegman To Appear at Grand Rapids Comic-Con

The Amazing Spider-Man artist Ryan Stegman will be at the Grand Rapids Comic-Con on October 16-18 at the DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Ryan’s first art job was to do covers for Markosia including Starship Troopers and Midnight Kiss. He then found himself at Marvel working as the penciller and inker for the series Magician Apprentice in which he contributed from 2006-2009.

Ryan signed an exclusivity agreement with Marvel in 2010. Ryan did various work for Marvel for titles such as Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Sif, and X-23 before his memorable work on the “Man Hunt” series for She-Hulks.

In 2011, Ryan did work on the Fear Itself: Deadpool series before becoming an artist for The Amazing Spider-Man series as well as assorted off-shoots. Ryan also drew for Superior Spider-Man and Scarlet Spider series during that time, both of which having direct ties to the death of Peter Parker.

Ryan has also contributed to numerous other Marvel series, including Fantastic Four, Avengers Vs. X-Men, and Moon Knight. His most recent work is included in the “Rogue Logan” series for Wolverine.

Ryan is also regular cover artist for both Zenescope Entertainment and BOOM Studios.

“Ryan Stegman is one of the best known artists in the field today,” said event director Mark Hodges. “Ryan unfortunately had to cancel on us last year due to the weather, and we are more than happy to have him back.”

The third Grand Rapids Comic-Con will be held on October 16-18, 2015, at the DeVios Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Other artist guests include Green Lantern scribe Ethan Van Sciver, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic writer Katie Cook, and Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters artist Mike Grell. For more information go to www.grcomiccon.com.

Wizard World Comic Con Albuquerque Rescheduled To June 2016

Wizard World

Press Release:

Wizard World Comic Con Albuquerque To Be Rescheduled To June 24-26, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., May 22, 2015 – Wizard World, Inc. (OTCBB: WIZD) today announced that Wizard World Comic Con Albuquerque will be postponed until June 24-26, 2016. A timing conflict with the concurrent Wizard World Comic Con Sacramento, June 19-21, 2015, and late introduction of the show just last month are the primary reasons cited for the rescheduling of the 2015 event.

Refunds will be automatically issued to those who had already purchased admissions, photo ops and autographs. In addition, those individuals will receive free admission to the 2016 event.

Wizard World regrets the inconvenience and looks forward to providing the full Wizard World experience for its Albuquerque show next year. The company is appreciative of the cooperation of the Albuquerque Convention Center, area hotels and other partners in accommodating the new schedule.

About Wizard World, Inc. (OTCBB: WIZD)
Wizard World, Inc. (http://www.wizardworld.com) produces Comic Cons and pop culture conventions across North America that celebrate the best in pop-fi, pop culture, movies, television, cosplay, comics, graphic novels, toys, video gaming, sci-fi, gaming, original art, collectibles, contests and more. A first-class lineup of topical programming takes place at each event, with celebrity Q&A’s, comics-themed sessions, costume contests, movie screenings, evening parties and more. Wizard World has also launched CONtv, a digital media channel in partnership with leading independent content distributor Cinedigm™ (NASDAQ: CIDM), and ComicConBox™, a premium subscription-based monthly box service. Fans can interact with Wizard World on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and other social media services.

The 2015 Wizard World Comic Con schedule is available at www.wizardworld.com/wizcon.html.

Wizard World Comic Con Raleigh 2015 Report! (Including an Interview with Kevin Sorbo)

Back in the fall of 2014, when I saw that Wizard World, that latter-day arbiter of pop culture sensibilities, was having its first-ever convention in Raleigh, North Carolina on March 13-15, I thought, Cool. I had been to the Minneapolis and Chicago shows, traveling hundreds of miles to write about each (see here and here, respectively). Raleigh is only 45 minutes from my house.

When I later saw that William Shatner would be at Raleigh Wizard World, I thought, Sweet. Who better than the Captain to explore this strange, new world? I watched as more excellent guests were announced—Sean Astin, John Schneider, Kevin Sorbo. And when I saw Rob Liefeld, the creator of Deadpool, added to the list, I thought, Awesome! Liefeld is one of the hottest comic artists of the last twenty years. I need some more stuff signed by him.

And when I received an email on February 24 from Wizard World’s PR person telling me that Doctor Who’s David Tennant would be in Raleigh, I thought, Oh. My. God.

David Tennant! No offense to other guests, but this was huge. Poll after poll shows him as the most popular Doctor among Whovians (see here, here, and here). Tennant’s Doctor is charming, funny, and passionate. Christopher Eccleston, the Ninth Doctor, did the hard work of rebooting the twenty-year-dead series in 2005; Tennant presided over its expansion both in the UK and across the pond. Plus he is a rarity on the convention circuit. Raleigh would be, in fact, his Wizard World debut (his second appearance will be in Philadelphia this May).

I am a middling Doctor Who fan. My wife and daughter? Rabid. And their favorite, of course, is David Tennant. My wife makes and sells fandom-related jewelry, and she had another convention that weekend in Winston-Salem, about two hours away. Urban Dictionary defines fandom as “a cult that will destroy your life”; I prefer to think of it as the impetus for restructuring your life on the fly. Thus, after much wrangling and a pair of David Tennant VIP tickets ($399 each!), we settled on the following schedule:

Friday: My wife and me at Wizard World, our daughter at the Winston-Salem convention

Saturday: All of us at the Winston convention

Sunday: My wife and my daughter at Wizard World to see David Tennant, me at the Winston convention

Actually, my weekend started on Thursday, at the Wizard World launch party. It was held at the Marbles Kids Museum in downtown Raleigh.


Advertisements for the party indicated that celebrities (plural) would be in attendance, though the only one I saw was Kevin Sorbo, star of the 90s hit series Hercules. Still, we had a nice chat:

Me: You have been in several faith-based movies [What If . . . and God’s Not Dead]. What is it about these movies that speaks to people?

Kevin: There are a lot of people who have faith. All the polls show like 80% of people believe in God. We tend to skim over that, and Hollywood doesn’t put out movies that deal with that. And when they do, they sort of bastardize it. Look what they did with Exodus. Look what they did with Noah, for crying out loud. Why would you hire atheist directors to do something out of the Old Testament? It’s weird to me.

Me: The emphasis there seems to be more on special effects.

Kevin: Yeah. We went to a private screening of Noah, and my wife said, “This is like Transformers meets Water World.” Visually, it’s beautiful, but you’re like, does the Bible talk about Noah being schizophrenic, alcoholic, and hell-bent on killing his own family at the end?

Me: You’ve had a varied career, but of course you’re most known for Hercules . . .

Kevin: Yeah, that and Andromeda.

Me: Right. How did your role in Hercules come about?

Kevin: It was a typical audition through Hollywood. My agent called me up and said, “They’re casting five Hercules movies, and they want to see you.” I said, “I’m a big guy, but don’t they want some steroid dude with no neck or some bodybuilder who weighs 280 pounds?” He said, “No, they’re looking for an athletic-looking, sort-of decathlon, Joe Namath-type quarterback.” So I went and read. They called me back and called me back. Seven times they called me back. I was up in Vancouver, Canada filming an episode of The Commish, and they called me and said, “You’re Hercules.” I thought it was going to be five two-hour movies. Then, boom! It became a series, and it passed Baywatch to become the most-watched show in the world.

Me: Before filming, how did you get into the role? How did you prepare yourself to play a mythical hero?

Kevin: It was all in the writing. They made the character very 90s. It was a very Malibu sort of Hercules. He was very hip and accessible and approachable, very self-effacing. There was a lot of humor. The fight scenes were never very violent. Our spin-off show, Xena, was a much more violent show, killing guys. We never killed a guy.

Me: Speaking of writing, you did a book a couple of years ago. What was that like?

Kevin: It’s been great because of the number of speaking appearances I get. I did a dozen last year, and I’ve already got about eleven more lined up this year. It’s been amazing to get out there and do all the talking I’ve been doing about the book, which is about a health scare I suffered. I was the healthiest-looking guy in the world in the 90s, and I had three strokes and almost died. It took me out of the show [Hercules] for four months. We had to re-write everything.

Me: Which is harder, writing or acting?

Kevin [laughs]: I think writing is much harder. Writers take much of the blame for everything in Hollywood, so God bless them. It’s the toughest job around.

Me: How did you get started doing conventions?

Kevin: You know, conventions really didn’t kick off until about fifteen years ago. The growth has been astronomical. In the 90s, comic cons weren’t that big. They were around, but there wasn’t the publicity and the push and the hype. I got invited during the 90s, but I could do only one or two a year because I was in New Zealand ten months out of the year [filming Hercules]. Now, I go to a lot around the world. I’m doing two in April in Australia. I have one coming up in Belgium. I get invited to about five a month, and I go to six or seven a year.

Me: Are there things you won’t do for fans? Are there lines fans try to get you to cross that you push back against?

Kevin: Not really. Women have not exposed their breasts to me, but they have wanted me to sign the top of their chests. Some people get very nervous because they know you from TV, and now they’re seeing you in the flesh. It’s a surreal moment for them, and I get that because when I first moved to L.A., I started meeting some of the celebrities I used to watch on TV, and I was like, “Wow. That’s really him standing there.” For me, it was Anthony Quinn [who played Zeus in Hercules]. Meeting him blew me away.


The next night, Friday, was my night at Wizard World. It is often said that Wizard World, with its deep pockets and runaway costs, delights in squeezing out local conventions. See, for example, this article decrying “William Shatner at $199 an autograph,” which is ludicrously inflated. Shatner charges less than half that amount, and he has charged it for years.

What has changed, and not for the better, is the number of comic book artists who now charge for an autograph. Michael Golden charged $10. Dean Haspiel (who?) charged $10. Tom DeFalco gave one or two free signatures, but he charged after that due to, as the sign on his table exhorted, the miserable capitalists who sell his stuff on eBay.

And Rob Liefeld. When I saw him in 2012, he charged $20 to sign copies of New Mutants #87 (first appearance of Cable) or #98 (first appearance of Deadpool). Everything else was free. Now he charges $30 for any Deadpool item, $20 for any New Mutants or X-Force issue, and $20 for any book being witnessed by CGC. He’s still a cool guy, though, and he did not charge me for this picture.


I get that writers and artists are trying to make a living. A market exists for their autographs that they did not create and are merely tapping into. But their judgment—or is jealousy?—of collectors feels wrong-headed. eBay does not lower payments to creators (a buyer’s market does that) nor deprive them of ownership of their work (publishers retain this). Besides, CGC’s fees are rich enough. To pay an extra $20 for the signature hurts.

Perhaps it was this increase in signing fees that was responsible for the small crowd.


Or the fact that few celebrities showed up for opening night (aside from Tony Stark).


The dealer’s room was livelier, but what struck me most there was the dearth of comic book dealers. I counted two. The rest had toys, decals, T-shirts, etc. Curiously, there were also the Lasik Vision Institute and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, giving the dealer’s room a festival-in-the-park feel. I left without buying anything (or scheduling eye surgery).

I tried to buy a third David Tennant autograph ticket for Sunday, the day my wife and daughter would be there, for my daughter’s friend. But they were not selling any more tickets until Sunday morning—possibly (as it turned out, they didn’t have more then, either). “It’s the first time we’ve worked with him,” said the apologetic young woman, “and we’re not sure what to expect.” Translation: they had under-prepared. Wizard World has remedied this (sort of) for Philadelphia, making David Tennant photos and autographs available only to VIP ticket buyers. It’s an imperfect solution: a limited quantity of tickets at a cost that prices a lot of people out of contention. But at least they won’t run out by the first day of the con.

So my daughter’s friend lost out. My wife and daughter, however, racked up, each of them receiving (1) any item autographed, (2) a professional photo-op, (3) a David Tennant collector’s card, (4) other Doctor Who stuff, and (5) a limited edition Walking Dead comic book with a black-and-white sketch cover by Dean Haspiel (so that’s who he is!). And they got into the Tennant Q&A, which, we found out, was open only to VIPs because the room was so small. (My question: why didn’t they rearrange the rooms? It’s David Tennant. You can bump the Harry Potter fan fiction panel to a snack bar table.)

If the crowd was meager on Friday, it had Hulked up by Sunday. There were 500 VIP ticket holders that day (600 on Saturday), plus who knows how many who managed to get a one-day autograph or photo ticket before they were sold out. My wife took over 100 pictures during the Q&A, enough to allow us to play a game called The Many Faces of David Tennant.


David ponders why the TARDIS isn’t cleaner on the inside.


David does his Gilbert Gottfried impression.


David whistles “Dixie,” because he’s in the South.


David tries to hypnotize the crowd but puts himself to sleep.


This is David Tennant, not David Bowie.


“Blimey, Rose! I told you to close the TARDIS door before take-off!”

Tennant is surprised at how popular Doctor Who has become in the United States—surprised but pleased. Asked about his acting career, he said he likes the variety of roles (in his new drama, Broadchurch, he plays a character as far from the Doctor as you can imagine). Whom would he cosplay as at a convention? “Someone with a mask, so I could enjoy the convention.” One questioner recommended that he try the barbecue before leaving North Carolina. This apparently led to a discussion of food in which he dissed American bacon (too dry and crunchy).  Another asked him who he fanboys over. Answer: Marvel Comics, which he had recently toured.

After the Q&A came photos, and about an hour after that, the signing line started. When my daughter reached the table, she asked Tennant if she could record him saying hello to her friend (the one who got gypped on the autograph). Most celebs won’t do this, but in the absence of an advertised prohibition, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Astonishingly, he agreed! Then a Wizard World staffer stepped in and put a stop to it. Normally, I would rail against this, but the staffer had a point. If Tennant did that for my daughter, he would have to do it for everyone, which would slow the line to a crawl. The lesson for convention goers is this: guests aren’t being rude or aloof when they refuse some of your requests. The refusal may simply be a matter of convention policy.

So the inaugural Wizard World Raleigh was a success. Great city, great guests, friendly service—and the Doctor. One woman my wife talked to had driven eight hours from Alabama with her two kids to see him. On top of the arm-and-leg-ness of VIP tickets, this struck me as insanely devoted. “Would you do that?” I asked my wife on Monday as she stared out the kitchen window, a melancholy smile on her face. “Yes,” she said without hesitation. “Yes I would.”

Well-played, Wizard World. Well-played.


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