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.
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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.”
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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.
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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.
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Gotham City’s underworld, circa 1925
I didn’t want trouble, but these guys brought it. Big trouble.
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.
Who you gonna call? Sorry, wrong ghostbusters.
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.
This was a ood cosplay . . . I mean, a good cosplay.
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.
Want to know what happens when my wife and daughter spend an entire weekend together? Here’s a glimpse.
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.
“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 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.
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:
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.
Dexter’s Laboratory. Johnny Bravo. The Powerpuff Girls. Cow and Chicken. Ben 10. Samurai Jack. Ed, Edd n Eddy. Camp Lazlo. For over twenty years, Cartoon Network has provided original programs that are now considered classics. Young adults look back fondly on the series. Kids cosplay as the characters. Every time I take my daughter into Hot Topic (with a hat pulled over my eyes, not to keep from being recognized, but because, to the target audience, I don’t belong), I see familiar faces adorning shirts, shoes, notebooks, lunch boxes, lip balm, and lots of other stuff. Now the network has released DVDs of two new series, Clarence and Steven Universe. Will they, too, become part of the national zeitgeist?
Previewed at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con and debuting the following year, Clarence tells the story of Clarence Wendell, a fourth-grade boy with an unusual trait in these postmodern times: he sees the good in everybody. His best friends are Jeff Randell and Ryan “Sumo” Sumozski. Jeff is brainy and aloof (hence, the square-shaped head), while Sumo is the spaz of the trio. Series creator Skyler Page worked on the industry juggernaut Adventure Time, and Clarence sports a similar style and absurd humor. Critics like the show, which will appeal more to younger kids than teens. Adult viewers may be disappointed with this DVD, however, which has only 12 episodes, less than half of the 29 that have aired. The pilot episode is present, but there are few special features–no commentary or deleted scenes, and no creator interview (which makes sense: Page was fired from the show back in July). Still, the episodes are entertaining, if not clever, and at roughly 13 minutes each, you can watch one while cooking Kraft Mac & Cheese. Always a plus.
Steven Universe is a little older, premiering on November 4, 2013. Created by Rebecca Sugar (another Adventure Time alum!), the show has a more action-oriented plot than Clarence. Steven is the youngest member of a group of warriors called the Crystal Gems. Drawing their power from four mystical gemstones–garnet, amethyst, pearl, and rose quartz–the team hangs around the town of Beach City, racking up one cool adventure after another. Occasionally, they do something heroic, such as using a laser to destroy a giant, menacing red eye, but more often, Steven’s troubles are, beneath their sci-fi veneer, pretty typical. In one episode, he forms a magic bubble to protect a would-be girlfriend, Connie, from a falling rock, but then he can’t make the bubble disappear. This is just like childhood: getting in over your head with no real plan how to get out. Perhaps it is this universality of theme that has made Steven Universe a hit with critics and viewers alike. One quibble: the 12 episodes on the DVD are not episodes 1-12 but a random assortment. Because each episode builds on the next, watching them out of order is not the ideal way to experience this highly enjoyable show.
1. Fun Dungeon Face Off
2. Pretty Great Day with a Girl
3. Lost in the Supermarket
4. Clarence’s Millions
5. Jeff’s New Toy
7. Rise ‘n’ Shine
8. Average Jeff
9. Slumber Party
10. Dream Boat
11. Too Gross for Comfort
12. Neighborhood Grill
Steven Universe episodes
1. Laser Light Cannon (originally episode 2)
2. Gem Glow (originally episode 1)
3. Cat Fingers (originally episode 6)
4. Bubble Buddies (originally episode 7)
5. Tiger Millionaire (originally episode 9)
6. Steven’s Lion (originally episode 10)
7. Onion Trade (originally episode 15)
8. Giant Woman (originally episode 12)
9. Lars and the Cool Kids (originally episode 14)
10. Rose’s Room (originally episode 19)
11. Beach Party (originally episode 18)
12. Steven and the Steven (originally episode 22)
About Cartoon Network
Cartoon Network (CartoonNetwork.com) is regularly the #1 U.S. television network in prime among boys 6-11 and 9-14. Currently seen in 97 million U.S. homes and 194 countries around the world, Cartoon Network is Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.’s ad-supported cable service now available in HD offering the best in original, acquired and classic entertainment for kids and families. In addition to Emmy-winning original programming and industry-leading digital apps and online games, Cartoon Network embraces key social issues affecting families with solution-oriented initiatives such as Stop Bullying: Speak Up and Move it Movement.
Turning Broadcasting System, Inc., a Time Warner company, creates and programs branded news, entertainment, animation and young adult media environments on television and other platforms for consumers around the world.
POP CULTURE ICON BRUCE CAMPBELL TO HOST NEW ORIGINAL SERIES “LAST FAN STANDING” FOR UPCOMING DIGITAL NETWORK CONTV
Cinedigm And Wizard World’s New Network To Launch This February With Fan-Favorite Film, TV And Original Entertainment Geared Towards the Comic Con Community
JANUARY 9, 2015, LOS ANGELES, CA – The forthcoming digital streaming service CONtv has announced it will be kicking off production for a new original series, “LAST FAN STANDING,” a game show hosted and produced by fan-favorite actor Bruce Campbell (The Evil Dead, Army Of Darkness). Created in partnership with Pop Quiz Entertainment, the series will be filmed live on the ground at Comic Con conventions nationwide with first show taping on Saturday, January 10 at New Orleans Comic Con. “LAST FAN STANDING” engages event attendees through a proprietary audience response system, where all patrons play along, competing for cash and prizes. The show culminates with the top four players vying for the coveted title as Campbell hunts for the “LAST FAN STANDING.”
Scheduled to launch next month, CONtv is a joint venture between Cinedigm, a leading independent content distributor, and Wizard World, a leading producer of live pop culture multimedia conventions. “LAST FAN STANDING” will be shot throughout various Wizard World events throughout 2015, and will premiere on CONtv later this year.
Wonder how much Thor’s hammer weighs? Or how much damage the Vorpal blade would inflict on a 5th-Level Cleric? Fans finally find vindication in their hours studying comics, films, movies and more with host and horror icon Campbell in this outrageous new quiz show. A collaboration between his own production entity and Pop Quiz Entertainment, this will be Campbell’s first digital series.
“At a live preview during Wizard World’s Chicago Comic Con last August, six hundred screaming fans could barely hold their seats! It was obvious to us that this would be a hit,” said Chris McGurk, CEO of Cinedigm Entertainment. “With a host as beloved in the fan community as Bruce, there’s no better fit for CONtv than ‘LAST FAN STANDING.’ We think of this series as a celebration of the pop culture obsession and fan engagement that makes the CONtv audience so special.”
“The audience went crazy for ‘LAST FAN STANDING’ when we debuted the game at Chicago Comic Con this summer! CONtv is the perfect place to reach true fans, and we can’t wait to challenge our audiences to find out who is the ultimate pop culture guru,” said Campbell.
“We love that CONtv will be bringing the excitement and action of our conventions to fans across the country,” says John Macaluso, CEO of Wizard World. “By shooting ‘LAST FAN STANDING’ on location, CONtv viewers will be able to join in on the fan experience even when they aren’t able to be at the convention in person.”
Steve Sellery, CEO of Pop Quiz Entertainment commented, “We created ‘LAST FAN STANDING’ to celebrate the excitement and the fandom of each audience member, while providing them the chance to compete in a live game show. This truly is a unique and highly experiential platform that we trust will become a ‘fan favorite’ well into the future.”
The new series joins the recently announced “FIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD,” a horror-competition series from Alpine Labs, BlackBoxTV and Revolver Picture Company. An unprecedented mash-up of the reality and scripted genres, “FIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD” follows a collection of online celebrities including Joey Graceffa, Jesse and Jeana (PrankvsPrank), Justine Ezarik (iJustine), and more, as they face challenges in an attempt to survive the undead’s relentlessly grisly, and frighteningly realistic onslaught.
Additionally, CONtv also recently announced an expansive portfolio of acquired film and television content available on the new digital network. Carefully selected for the passionate fans that make up the CONtv audience, the new partnerships enable the network to carry a deep catalogue of the best in pop culture obsession from pulse-pounding horror, to short-lived TV series, to cult classic films.
Upon its launch in February 2015, the digital service will be offered as a free ad-supported platform as well as a low-cost monthly subscription of $6.99/month with content exclusives, audience rewards, a dynamic second-screen experience, and ticketing bundle opportunities for Wizard World conventions. CONtv plans to launch across a wide spectrum of devices including Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox, PlayStation, Android, Samsung Smart TV, Windows, Mac OS, mobile, and tablet devices.
CONtv is a new digital entertainment network exclusively dedicated to the fanspace. Launching in early 2015, CONtv will offer audiences access to thousands of hours of original programming, elusive cult films and television shows, celebrated genre movies, and exclusive live coverage of Comic Con events nationwide. From quirky original series to an eclectic catalog of 1200 must-watch titles, CONtv’s seemingly endless stream of animé, fantasy, grindhouse, horror, martial arts, sci-fi, and superhero content will be available on demand through a free, ad-supported format or a low-cost, subscription-based model of $6.99 a month for premium content. CONtv is a partnership of Cinedigm Entertainment Group, the nation’s largest independent distributor of digital entertainment, and Wizard World, producers of the largest chain of Comic Con and pop culture conventions in the U.S. Together, they provide an unrivalled experiential hub of content, community, and conventions across the broad spectrum of platforms including Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, Mac OS, PlayStation, Roku, Samsung Smart TV, Windows, Xbox, mobile and tablet devices.
Cinedigm (NASDAQ: CIDM) is a leading independent content distributor in the United States, with direct relationships with over 60,000 physical retail storefronts and digital platforms, including Wal-Mart, Target, iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon, as well as the national Video on Demand platform on cable television. The company’s library of over 52,000 films and TV episodes encompasses award-winning documentaries from Docurama Films®, next-gen Indies from Flatiron Film Company®, acclaimed independent films and festival picks through partnerships with the Sundance Institute and Tribeca Films and a wide range of content from brand name suppliers, including National Geographic, Discovery, Scholastic, NFL, Shout Factory, Hallmark, The Jim Henson Company and more.
About Wizard World
Wizard World (OTCBB: WIZD) 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, the Wizard World Film Festival, comics-themed sessions, costume contests, movie screenings, evening parties and more. Wizard World also produces socialcon featuring social media stars and will be launching CONtv, a digital media channel in partnership with leading independent content distributor Cinedigm™.
About Pop Quiz Entertainment
Pop Quiz Entertainment develops and produces experiential events and branded entertainment platforms for network, cable, syndicated and online distribution, as well as live audiences across the nation. Pop Quiz Entertainment is the media and production division of Rising Tide Sports & Entertainment Group, with offices in Greenville, South Carolina and Delray Beach, Florida. Pop Quiz Entertainment is currently producing several shows, for live and broadcast audiences, including: “Last Fan Standing,” “Quest ForThe Best: The Armed Forces Trivia Challenge”, “Hasbro Live,” and “Match Play.”
The 2015 Wizard World schedule is available at: wizd.me/PRSchedule2015.
MICHAEL GOLDEN MEETS THE TRAIL BLAZERS!
(A Comic Con Night to Remember)
PORTLAND, OR – Call it a little “February” Madness, but with the Wizard Portland Comic Con approaching like a full court press, the area’s leading pop culture show isn’t letting any lead up time idle, tapping slam dunk artist Michael Golden (“Fantastic Four,” “Deadpool”) as the shooter creating an amazing art piece featuring five of the Portland Trail Blazers most recognizable players.
This combination of the all star talent turned into a great promotion for both Wizard and the Trail Blazers, with 20,000 copies of the Golden poster printed and given to all attendees of the Miami Heat vs. Portland Trail Blazers game Thursday 1/8/15!
The five players dominating the Portland skyline are: holding the W, Nicolas Batum; holding the moon, Wesley Matthews; holding Rip City, Robin Lopez; holding the Earth, LaMarcus Aldridge; holding Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard.
It was all part of Comic Con Night at the Trail Blazers game, as professional cosplayers were roaming the stands and cheering the Trail Blazers on with the fans, as they went on to beat the Heat 99-83.
But the shot clock hasn’t timed out on the fun!
Along with the artist of this exclusive piece, Michael Golden—who will be at the Wizard Portland show to sign the poster for those 20K fans who received one—all those attending Wizard Portland Comic Con can meet a variety of amazing talent, including Punisher artist Mike Zeck, writer/editor Renee Witterstaetter (of “She-Hulk” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” comics), actors such as Stephen Amell from “Arrow,” Bruce Campbell from “Evil Dead,” and a number of “The Walking Dead” cast members including Michael Rooker (also in the film, “Guardians of the Galaxy”).
In addition, fans can also meet some of the Trail Blazers at Wizard World Comic Con Portland. And again, get those posters signed!
Now that’s a scoring opportunity!
The show takes place January 23-25. For more details visit: http://www.wizardworld.com/portland.html
“Why do you think horror movies are so popular?” asked my friend John. It was Friday evening, October 24, and we were standing in Tobin Bell’s autograph line at Spooky Empire, the semiannual fright fest held in sunny Orlando. I have known John since 1990, when he, a transfer student from Massachusetts, walked into my high school Spanish class and took the only available seat–the one next to me. After high school, we worked together at McDonald’s, and when he moved to Tennessee for college, and then Florida to work in the nursing home industry, we remained friends. He was with me at the Minneapolis Wizard World, as a matter of fact.
And this is what our friendship is like: deep thoughts. Why are horror movies popular? “Fear is primal,” I answered. “We like being scared because it is a release, especially when the object scaring us is revealed to be harmless, like a man in a mask.” (The Atlantic magazine ran a great article on exactly this topic; I’ll recommend it here.) We talked about it more, stepping forward every so often as the incredibly slow-moving line moved forward (with incredible slowness). This is not because the line was mismanaged; there were simply a lot of people in it.
I have seen all the Saw movies, and Tobin Bell was the one person I wanted to see at my inaugural Spooky Empire, which calls itself “one of the largest horror cons in the US.” Horror cons tend to be peopled by B- and C-list celebs, but this one had some moneymakers: Tara Reid, David Guintoli and Bitsie Tulloch (from TV’s Grimm), Derek Mears, Chris Sarandon, some of The Walking Dead cast, most of Rob Zombie’s Halloween cast, and, of course, Tobin Bell. He was very gracious with his time, talking and laughing with attendees. The person in front of me had a Tobin Bell mask for him to sign, and I wanted to ask Tobin how it felt to hold his own face in his hands, but I was afraid it’d be weird. Instead, I handed him my still-in-the-box figure of Billy, Jigsaw’s creepy puppet (which I had already had Cary Elwes sign at DragonCon). Below is the result.
Want a close-up of Billy? Here it is.
Sadly, the household-name-ness did not extend to the authors. I am a writer, an English professor, and a sometime bookseller. In other words, I know literature. As a 25-year fan of horror fiction, I know horror literature. But I did not know a single writer in attendance. (Full disclosure: Carrie Harris was there. She seems pretty big in YA circles, and she got the big-author-convention treatment, meaning she got a panel of her own and her picture was the biggest in the program.) I seem to remember Clive Barker attending a couple of years ago, so I know Spooky Empire can attract true literary stars. I was disappointed that they hadn’t done so this year.
The good thing is that the writers who were there stayed paneled-up. They led not just author talks but actual seminars on writing and publishing, some of which were tailored to specific interests, such as Friday night’s “Writing for Screen and Other Mediums.” Though the name should have been “media” (sorry, writerly tic), it was a good seminar.
Halloween is a cold weather holiday, so it seemed strange to attend a horror convention in a T-shirt and no jacket. Yet I enjoyed the experience. The dealer room seemed small for “one of the largest horror cons in the US,” but some cool merchandise was available. I talked to one dealer who had a collection of vintage costumes, most still in the boxes. Had he had those costumes for 40 years, or did he buy them like that? “I assemble them,” he said, buying a mask here, pants there, the box from some other source. How long does it take him to put together a costume? Over 10 years, for some. He also had an assortment of stuff like we used to order from the ad pages in 70s-era comics and magazines–stuff like X-ray glasses, monster teeth, fake blood, all still in packages, most in mint condition.
These are the dealers I like. Others had mostly new stuff, some of which I see over and over at conventions. This, however, I had never seen.
One suggestion I have for Spooky Empire: better signage. John and I went through the hotel main entrance (Doubletree at Universal), followed the crowd of ghouls and zombies and normal-looking people (who could be homicidal maniacs because, as Wednesday Addams reminds us, “they look like everyone else”), and got all the way to what turned out to be a side entrance to the convention, where a guard pointed back the way we had come and said, “The convention entrance is that way.” A sign to that effect would have kept us from going in the wrong way. Also, a hotel employee was standing out front, directing drivers to the convention parking lot, up the street from the hotel parking lot. I think a sign could have done that job as well.
These complaints are trifles, though. Spooky Empire is as well-run as it is well-known, and I look forward to going again. I won’t get another weekend pass–there isn’t enough for multiple days–but the one-day pass is worth the money. John, who isn’t a horror guy, concurs, saying he enjoyed seeing the celebs and cosplayers. Where will we go next? Dunno. But when we figure it out, you–or, since I’m from North Carolina, y’all–will be the first to know.
See below for a few more Spooky Empire pics.
Look at that disgusting blob! And Slimer, too.
With guests like this, who needs security?
“There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”
Word to the wise: don’t photo bomb guys who have actual bombs.
Abraham Lincoln, convention goer
Chris Sarandon (Jack Skellington) signs a Nightmare Before Christmas picture for my daughter.
Ken Page (Oogie Boogie) signs the same picture.
Fans chat up Tara Reid.
I’m guessing this is a teacher from the Black Lagoon.
I wonder what Tobin Bell thought of HER.