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.
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.
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?
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!
Check out all the great videos we saw coming out of the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con. More will be added here as we come across them.
The voice actors of Batman: The Killing Joke spoke to the media at San Diego Comic Con 2016, and Convention Scene’s own Richard Oh was there!
Inkwell Awards 2016 Winners Announced
(New Bedford, MA/USA—June 22, 2016) The Inkwell Awards has released the names of the winners of its ninth annual awards for excellence in the art form of comic book inking. As before, nominees were chosen by a separate and independent nomination committee. Voting via live ballot at the non-profit advocacy’s website ran from April 15-30. One winner was chosen in each of five categories based on American-based interior comic-book work cover-dated 2015.
Separately, the Inkwells selected internally the two recipients of the annual Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award and the Special Recognition Award (SRA) category. Winners were contacted and some invited guests were present to receive their trophies at North Carolina’s Heroes Con, the host show for the Inkwells, for the sixth live ceremony on Friday, June 17. Winners and nominees are listed below, along with the percentage of vote received, where applicable.
FAVORITE INKER: Joe Prado (24.5%)
(Batman ’66 The Lost Episode; Cyborg [DC Comics]). Other nominees: Wade von Grawbadger (23.7), Scott Hanna (22%), Danny Miki (20.4%) and Karl Kesel (9.4%).
MOST-ADAPTABLE INKER: Walden Wong (26.8%)
(Earth 2: World’s End; Justice League Dark [DC]; Wolverines; A-Force [Marvel]).Other nominees: Norm Rapmund (20.2%), Scott Hanna (18.3%), Jonathan Glapion (14.4%), Wade von Grawbadger (12.8%) and Jay Leisten (7.5%).
PROPS (inker deserving of more attention): Wade Von Grawbadger (22.6%)
(All-New Captain America; Spider-Man [Marvel]; Justice League of America; Legends of the Dark Knight [DC]; Astro City [Vertigo/DC]).
Other nominees: Eber Ferreira (20.5%), Danny Miki (13.5%), Juan Vlasco (10.8%), Mark Irwin (9.8%), Jonathan Glapion (9.4%), Stefano Gaudiano (8.4%) and Sean Parsons (5.1%).
S.P.A.M.I. (Small Press and Mainstream Independent): Stefano Gaudiano (37%)
(The Walking Dead, Manifest Destiny [Image]). Other nominees: Jordi Tarragona (17.6%), Cliff Rathburn (16.6%), Ryan Winn (16.6%) and Rich Koslowski (12.2%).
ALL-IN-ONE (pencilling and inking together): Jason Fabok (37%)
(Justice League[DC]). Other nominees: Fiona Staples (17.7%), Erik Larsen (13.7%), Franchesco Francavilla (9.6%), Terry Moore (8.2%), Paul Gulacy (8.0%) and Ben Dewey (5.8%).
THE SPECIAL RECOGNITION AWARD: Vince Colletta. Other nominees: Allen Milgrom, Jack Abel (tie for runner-up), Violet Barclay (aka Valerie Smith), Gary Martin and Dave Simons.
THE JOE SINNOTT HALL OF FAME: Frank Giacoia and Josef Rubenstein. Other nominees: Bob McLeod and Jerry Ordway (tie for runner-up), Dan Adkins, John Beatty and Ernie Chan (aka Chua).
Joe Sinnott, the award’s namesake and first recipient, made a statement in April regarding this year’s inductees:
“I was quite pleased to hear that the Inkwell Awards has selected two very deserving inkers into the Hall of Fame class of 2016: Frank Giacoia and Jose Rubinstein.
Frank was a fabulous inker and a good friend of mine, who left us much too soon. It was always a pleasure meeting up with Frank at shows and spending time with him. Frank’s smooth, thick line graced the pages of virtually every Marvel title. I really enjoyed Frank’s inking over Jack Kirby on Captain America. Like myself, we pretty much inked the Marvel Universe.
Joe is an outstanding inker and portrait artist as well.
I absolutely am honored by the great job he did in capturing my likeness for the cover of the 2nd Annual Joe Sinnott Inking Challenge. I once pencilled a piece that Joe inked for The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Index collection. At that time Joe was doing all these Marvel Universe books and he told me that he had actually worked on more Marvel characters than I had. Joe also did some great background inks on the Superman Vs. Spider-Man Treasury Edition that I inked over John Buscema.
It is wonderful that Frank and Joe are the recipients of the 2016 Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award. These two superb artists make the already great list of Hall of Famers even more elite.
Thank you to the Inkwell’s committee for electing them, and thanks to everyone for their continued support of the Inkwell Awards.
In cooperation with Special Inkwell Ambassador and award-winning author J. David Spurlock, the ceremony kicked off with a special appearance by industry legend Jim Steranko who discussed the artform of comic-book inking, his related experiences in the medium, and its artists, including Joe Sinnott and Frank Giacoia. Inkwell Awards founder and director Bob Almond acted as both ceremony host and presenter, joined by hostess “Ms. Inkwell,” as portrayed by Holly Black. Artist Breno Tamura accepted Joe Prado’s award as a pre-recorded video of Prado’s acceptance speech was played. Guest speaker, artist-writer Mike Grell, spoke for Rubinstein. Writer Todd Dezago spoke for Giacoia, and statements from their respective families, including for Vince Colletta, were read. Silver Inkwell trophies were presented to three nomination committee members who served five years: Michele Witchipoo, Bob Bretall and Johnny B. Gerardy. All acceptance statements from the winners can be found in the “Results” section of the Inkwell Awards’ website in the near future.
The Inkwell Awards is the only existing, official 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and promote the art form of comic-book inking, as well as annually recognize and award the best ink artists and their work. The organization is overseen by a committee of industry professionals and assisted by various professional ambassadors and contributors. They sponsor the Dave Simons Inkwell Memorial Scholarship Fund for the Kubert School and host the Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award.
Record Crowds Indulged Their Inner Geek at Puerto Rico Comic Con 2016
The Annual Event Showcased Top Names From Hollywood, Comics, Animation, Video Games, and Other Areas of the Entertainment World
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO–(May 24, 2016) – Well over 40,000 fans from all over the world indulged their passion for pop culture, entertainment and fun-under-the-Caribbean sun at Puerto Rico Comic Comic Con (PRCC) this past weekend, May 20-22 The three-day event, which just wrapped up its 14th year, featured a slate of entertainment industry guests, covering the gamut from television and film, to videogames, collectibles, anime, cosplay and more.
“Based on what we are hearing from our fans, special guests, exhibitors and retailers, this year’s Con was a success by all measures. We are extremely grateful to everyone for having helped Puerto Rico Comic Con become the region’s largest and most important entertainment event, and look forward to even bigger and better experiences in the years ahead,” said Ricardo Carrion, executive producer of PRCC.
Something for everyone. From science fiction and fantasy, to Japanese animation, independent art, videogame, TV, movies, and memorabilia, Puerto Rico Comic Con had something for everyone. Conventiongoers not only roamed the main exhibition hall of the Puerto Rico Convention Center decked out in their favorite cosplay, visiting the hundreds of exhibitor booths. They also took in engaging Q&A panels with their favorite artists, as well as photos and autographs, including Lana Parrilla, who is of Puerto Rican descent and best known for her portrayal of Regina Mills/Evil Queen in the ABC-TV series “Once Upon a Time”; and Lyndsy Fonseca, famous for her roles in both “Kick-Ass” movies and TV’s “Marvel’s Agent Carter” and “How I Met Your Mother”.
Fans also couldn’t get enough of Puerto Rico Comic Con’s other marquee guests, which included veteran comic book artist John Romita, Jr., PRCC’s first Guest of Honor; Jessica Nigri, international cosplayer and model; comic book artist and five-time Eisner Award winner Eric Powell, creator of “The Goon” series; voice actress Laura Bailey (“Silent Hill,” “Final Fantasy XIII”); voice actor Travis Willingham (“Fullmetal Alchemist”); Deborah Philips and Kerrigan Mahan (“Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”); international cosplayer LeeAnna Vamp, and official Star Wars novelist Claudia Gray.
A Con in Paradise. Each year people from all over the Americas come to Puerto Rico Comic Con, as the event stands out from other cons for its idyllic location. The island of Puerto Rico is a Caribbean paradise featuring a year-round tropical climate. As a U.S. territory, no passport is required for travel from the U.S. mainland. Couple that with entertainment geekdom over three days, and it’s a win-win situation for fans. Convention goers often turn their stay into a mini vacation, given Puerto Rico’s colorful culture, cuisine, history, natural wonders and beaches.
For more information: prcomiccon.com and PRComicCon on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snap Chat.
Conceived in 2002, Puerto Rico Comic Con has grown exponentially over the years, with 30% year-over-year growth during the past six years. It is one of the top 20 cons in North America.
I mentioned in my last article that a girl drove all the way down from New Jersey to North Carolina to Ichibancon meet Vic Mignogna, the star of Fullmetal Alchemist (he voices the main character, Edward Elric). This time, Anthony Aycock and I went to New Jersey from North Carolina to meet Aaron Dismuke, where Vic was also present. Aaron voices Edward Elric’s iron giant little brother, Alphonse. Aaron doesn’t do many conventions–mainly due to not being invited, he said–so I thought I would see him while I had the chance.
It was called Anime Fan Fest. With both Vic and Aaron as guests, plus other actors from Fullmetal Alchemist, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh, I expected it to be pretty big. However, it never seemed terribly crowded, even on Saturday afternoon. Then one of the dealers told me that this was the convention’s first year. I was immediately impressed.
The convention was held in one massive room at the Garden State Exhibition Center. Dealers (about 30), artist alley (about 10), cosplay registration, autograph sessions, and panels all took place in that one room. This layout had pros and cons. Everything was easy to find, but not everything was easy to hear. During Aaron’s Q&A, noise from the dealer area kept hitting me like Izumi Curtis’s fists.
I did hear a couple of things, though. One was Aaron talking about how his voice cracked during filming of the movie Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa. He asked to do the scene again, but director Mike McFarland told him, “No, we’ll keep that one. It shows the emotion of the character”–probably while stifling a laugh. I also heard Aaron talk about being recognized in public. Once was by a cashier at Kroger, who took a selfie with Aaron and his groceries. Another was someone who kept calling for Aaron at his parents’ house (he says he now lives off the grid). Still another was the guy in college who waited at a men’s room for Aaron to emerge and shake his hand. “You know my hands are wet,” Aaron said he told the guy. “You watched me wash them.” (Not creepy at all.)
After the Q&A, we had the pleasure of getting an interview with Aaron..
I have heard Vic talk about you falling in the booth a few times during Fullmetal Alchemist. Can you tell the story in your perspective?
Yeah, sure. Okay I was eleven whenever I started and so I was very absent minded and kind of
ADD acting, like I actually had been diagnosed. So I would like move around a lot, I had a stool and so I’d be in the booth, leaning back and picking at the walls because there’s soft soundproofing material. I destroyed those walls honestly. Like who am I kidding? It was bad. I might have even written on them at one point.
“Aaron was here”?
Yeah, I think that’s exactly what I wrote, honestly! Anyway, so yeah I was a little turd. And so I was leaning back and what I got into was this mode where I’d be leaning back and I would hear the beeps. You have three beeps and on the fourth imaginary beep is when you’d start recording your line. I was leaning back, and Mike said [Mike McFarland, director of Fullmetal Alchemist], “Alright let’s do this line.” It would go beep beep beep, and I’d go up real fast and I’d be like “Brother.” ‘Kay. And so this time I was leaning back and beep beep and I tried to lean forward but the stool like gives out. It goes the wrong way. It goes forward instead of backwards and I go backwards and it pushes me against the wall and the stool props up in the front of the booth. And so like I just end up with my legs sandwiched against my chest. And the stool like pinning me there. And the only way for me to get out myself would have been to like twist out and fall straight to the ground. And so I didn’t want to do that but I also didn’t want to admit what had happened and they had heard the sound of the stool and all the crash. That’s recorded somewhere. And so there’s this pause where Mike says “Aaron?” He looks up trying to see me but he can’t because I’m too far down. And I was just like – all I could think of – I finally realized I was going to need help. So I asked for it. A little “Help me.” He had to pull me out.
And they’ve never let you live it down.
You have mentioned before that you got into voice acting because you were related to someone who was a voice actor. Could you talk a little bit more about that?
Yeah, okay. Justin Cook is currently a director of production at Funimation, but at the time he was acting and directing a bit and he basically got the impression that I was a good reader because I was reading Lord of the Rings. I wasn’t really understanding it all, but I was reading it. And you know, I was like in third grade, I was like nine. So I was a bit above my reading level, and as a result he decided, “Why don’t I try using an actual boy who I know who I have a rapport with so he won’t be nervous for this little part of a little boy instead of using a woman. It’ll sound more authentic.” And so he did, and it ended up turning out pretty good. I felt pretty good about it. And he felt pretty good about it and so he had me do a larger part from the same show and then ultimately I started auditioning for other stuff and Alphonse was the first or second character I landed actually. And I think part of the reason they gave me that part was because there were no flaps [mouth movements for animated characters] so I didn’t have to focus too much on the mouth movements and they were able to do what they needed to to adjust. So I just had to do the acting. And I think that’s a big part of what allowed me to do that at such a young age. It wasn’t as hard as what all the other actors were having to do. So it was nice. It was like having training wheels on for my first part.
What sort of shows do you like that aren’t anime?
I like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones. I read Game of Thrones before the series came out so I was super excited about it. I’m a big fan of Peaky Blinders, it’s a British crime show. It’s on Netflix right now. I also like westerns: Bonanza. I’m also a big fan of M*A*S*H which is so good. It has some of the best comedy ever. I have almost every episode memorized, I’ve watched it so many times. That’s what I grew up on.
Which actors would you actually ‘fangirl’ over?
Alan Alda. He plays Hawkeye [in M*A*S*H]. I forget her name, but I recently started watching Jessica Jones, and that actress is fantastic.
I love Jessica Jones. I’ve actually met David Tennant.
Oh cool, yeah! He plays Kilgrave [in Jessica Jones]. That guy’s awesome.
You said you did some directing for Funimation. What sort of skillset do you need to be a successful director?
I think that the acting and writing are both important because there comes a point where you have to know whether an actor could give you the read for a certain line or whether between the way the line was written and the flaps and their personal cadence, whether they’re capable of doing that line or whether or not it needs to be rewritten. And once you know it needs to be rewritten, it needs to be able to. So you need the writing skill to alter the line if need be. And you also need the acting experience and also the ability to describe how you need a certain read. So I found I was able to mostly harness my acting experience and be able to like use – and also my acting experience with like hearing the different directors and the way that they would direct me. So you can either give someone the read you want and see how they respond to that and you can say “No, say it like this” and then say it. Like I was a good parrot when I was an early actor. As Al I could easily say something back exactly how you had said it to me. That was a good training wheels thing. And then slowly I was able to predict what it was they were going to want and do it in the first round. Other than that, sometimes I use like little analogies. I’d say something like “Could you say that as more of a languid predator? You know, a leopard stalking its prey?” Or “Make it sound more like you dipped your hand in what you thought was a crate of berries, but instead it was acid.” Things like that. Colorful things. That sort of idea that they were pretending that happened and then get a little more of the nuance of what the line is than from just hearing where the character is coming from.
What do you do if the actor just can’t get the line right?
You either settle for what they can do or you say “Okay good, thanks,” and then you get someone else to do it. I have never had to do that. But I’ve also never had the authority to do that even on the show that I was directing. That was always Tyler’s call. He was my producer. He did the casting for me because it was my first show. So he took care of the hard parts.
How did you get started on doing conventions?
My first convention was before – okay so Anizona, which was a first year con, had me and the entire cast of – It was me, Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, Vic Mignogna, I think Caitlin Glass – everybody was there. It was a tiny con, maybe like eight hundred people. That was my first real con. I don’t know if it’s even going anymore but I did it and I was super nervous and I was like “What am I supposed to say?” Because we were going through opening ceremonies and we were going through and everyone was like “Hey! I’m really glad to be here! My name is Travis Willingham and I play Roy Mustang.” And I didn’t even know what to say. They were all popping jokes and they were all like “What, you’re nervous?” And I was like “Yeah I’m nervous!” “Just tell them you’re nervous.” So I was like “Hey I’m Aaron, I play Al and I’m really nervous and there was a chorus of “Awwww” and uproarious applause. And I was like “That’s weird.”
Okay, one last question. What was your first experience with fangirls?
I ran from the first girl that tried to glomp [to pounce on and hug aggressively, often with a running start] me. I actually ran. She was a titan. She was really tall and she was wearing a Sailor Moon costume and I wasn’t familiar with Sailor Moon. I was only thirteen probably. Fourteen? Her friends met me first, and Vic said, “Do you know who this is? This guy is going to play Al.” And this was before Anizona. I was going to this con to get adjusted to it. It was a con in Fort Worth, my hometown. So I just went there for kicks to check out the scene and Vic happened to be there as a guest and he happened to recognize me and he told some other fans who I was and they were like, “We have to call our friend.” They called their friend and it was the 6’7 Amazon woman in a Sailor Moon outfit. She was like [bellows like a screaming fangirl]. People are like spilling to either side and it was an anime moment. I ran to the bathroom and then I slowly came back and hugged her calmly.
After the interview, Anthony and I went around the dealer room one last time when I noticed something very familiar. I am a yaoi fangirl, so I would recognize fan art from a fandom I am deeply involved in–in this case, Durarara!! What I saw was a wall scroll depicting the show’s most popular characters, Shizuo Heiwajima and Izaya Orihara, as they appeared in high school. They were embracing aggressively. The image was a popular piece of fan art. Someone had ripped it off, altered it slightly, and stuck it on a wall scroll that was now for sale.
I spoke to a very close friend, Kawaiikisshu, who is also an artist. This particular image she had seen on Zerochan.net, and I found it in other places such as tumblr. She said there are a lot of these on eBay and it is sad that work gets robbed and turned into merchandise for money. I heard the same sentiment from Irene Y. Lee, who draws the Li’l Deadpool for Marvel Comics. We saw a picture at her booth of Li’l Deadpool looking through a box of comics, which I totally do not have a T-shirt of. No one obtained Irene’s permission to make the shirt, and she receives no payment from it. I wish now I had told some of the staff what I saw because I knew it was illegal. Artists deserve all the credit and the money their art is worth. I know how I would feel if someone copied and pasted this article into their own web site and pretended that they were me. If they were me, they can buy food for my eight cats. (Disclaimer: I am not a crazy cat lady.)
Aside from copyright infringement and the need for more than one room, Anime Fan Fest was a spectacular experience. It was organized, the guests were terrific, and the staff was superb. When I interviewed Vic at Ichibancon, the staff member who was supposed to handle his schedule told me to ask him myself. Aaron’s handler, however, worked with me to create a seamless interview process.
I guess the worst part about Anime Fan Fest was the drive. In North Carolina, it had already been raining for about a week, and it did not stop until we left New Jersey, which, by the way, is the capital of RUDE. In our 24 hours in the state, we were honked at fourteen times. I haven’t been honked at fourteen times in North Carolina in my nineteen years of living.
Just kidding. I HEART New Jersey.
A few years ago, when I was still in high school, a person who liked anime was made fun of for it. My school had a manga/book club, and the entire group was often ridiculed by jocks who wouldn’t know good writing if it were mixed in their protein shakes. Despite this, I grew to love the art form, and when I learned that there were whole conventions devoted to it, I begged my dad to take me to one. Surprisingly, he agreed.
Anime conventions were smaller then, including my first, Ichibancon 2012, which was held at a tiny hotel in Charlotte, NC. I originally went with two friends to meet none other than Vic Mignogna, who was–and remains to this day–my favorite voice actor. We stood in his autograph line for about 30 minutes, and when I finally got to his table, I said “Hi” in a talking-to-your-crush-for-the-first-time voice.
Now, five years later, I’m still going to that same convention. It was held this year over New Year’s Day weekend at Embassy Suites Hotel in Concord. Comparing this year’s Ichibancon to the one in 2012 is like comparing the inside of the TARDIS to the inside of my closet. Over 5,000 attendees pre-registered this year, which doesn’t include those who bought a badge on-site. I don’t think 5,000 people even knew about it in in 2012. The cosplayers were awesome. I saw anime, Marvel, and DC characters, plus assorted Pokemon and pop culture figures (the guy dressed as John Cena was meme-tastic). One group of cosplayers was from Undertale, a video game that just came out, which was impressive in its immediacy and quality. Dozens of panels were scheduled on just about any nerdy topic you could imagine, even for Homestuck, the webcomic created in 2009 by Andrew Hussie. The gamers had their own room: dozens of PlayStations and Nintendos (and I don’t mean Nintendogs) projected onto the walls. There was even a TARDIS bouncy house for all the children. I didn’t see the cosplay contest, but I’m sure it was fabulous, especially since, for the first year, a $500 prize was available for first place (this would probably cover the cost of half an automail leg).
Speaking of automail, I got a chance to talk to my five-years-ago idol, Vic Mignogna. Vic is the Johnny Depp of anime. Other voice actors were there, including several members of the cast of Durarara!! (Saki Mikajima, Kasuka Heiwajima, Seiji Yagiri, and Saburo Togusa), whom you don’t see often. But Vic was clearly the biggest draw: one girl came all the way from New Jersey to meet him.
After seeing him a dozen or more times over the years, I felt more relaxed than that initial time. Here is what we discussed.
Me: As Edward Elric, you’re very emotional and over the top. Then you recently switched to playing Kasuka on Durarara!! who is emotionless with a very emotional brother. What was that like?
Vic: You know, I have to tell you, I’m kind of naturally emotional and expressive with my voice. Then, when I was doing Durarara!!, started, and they asked me, can you take the emotion out of it? Can you make it flatter? I’m thinking, it’s pretty flat already. So, yeah, that was a big change.
Me: How long have you been doing conventions?
Vic: Wow. Honestly, maybe a total of thirteen years.
Me: How did you get started?
Vic: Well, I got started in voice acting sixteen or seventeen years ago, and I didn’t know anything about conventions. In fact, there weren’t any at the time. Then, a few years into my career, I saw Monica Rial, and she said to me, “Hey, do you want to go to an anime convention?” I was like, “A what? They have conventions?” I went to Star Trek conventions when I was a little boy, but I had never been to an anime convention. So I went as a guest to one in Ohio, in Columbus, and I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe that there were these wall scrolls with my characters on it and pencil boards and plushies. I had no idea this stuff existed. That was the first one I went to, and of course it ramped up since then.
Me: I’ve also seen you at conventions like DragonCon that are not strictly anime conventions. Talk about the difference between those.
Vic: Anime conventions are very special in and of themselves. There is a real strong sense of community because everybody is there because they love this one specific genre of entertainment. Multicultural, pop culture conventions are more of something for everyone. It’s nice to have an anime presence there, but they don’t typically have the same feeling, a sense of family that you get at an anime convention. I suppose it would probably be the same for any convention that pertains to one thing. If you went to a Supernatural convention, it’s a little more focused. But I enjoy pop culture conventions, mostly because I’m a big sci-fi fan myself, so it’s a real pleasure to get to meet other sci-fi actors that I’m a fan of.
Me: Who is your favorite celebrity you’ve ever met?
Vic: Oh, Bill Shatner, of course. I’ve loved Captain Kirk since I was a little boy. [Want to see Vic as a little boy? Click here.] And you know, when I was young, I used to go to Star Trek conventions, and he is the only one of the original cast I never got to meet. Now, to literally be represented by the same manager who represents Bill, we get booked into conventions together, and we’ve gotten to have dinner together and travel a little bit and hang out, so it’s a real privilege.
Me: Have you had to suppress the urge to squeal like a fangirl?
Vic: All the time. All the time. [Laughs.] I want to respect him and not turn into one of those fanboys he’s dealt with for forty years.
Me: I read on your Wikipedia page that you were once a law enforcement officer.
Vic: I was. Right after college, my mom, who lives on the eastern shore of Maryland, was very good friends with the chief of police in the city where she lived. She always used to brag to him about her son who was a moral, ethical, upstanding member of the community. And so he said, well, I’d like to have someone like that on the police force. I didn’t have any plans right after college, so I went back there and went through the police training and became a cop for two years. It was never a career move. I enjoyed it a lot, but it isn’t something I want to do forever.
Me: It takes a special person to do that job.
Vic: It does. And to deal with the darker side of humanity so much of your life, always having to enforce the laws and deal with people breaking the rules can make a person very cynical and depressed.
Me: I have a copy of your Gospel of John CD. What was the genesis [see what I did there?] of that project?
Vic: Actually, it’s kind of interesting. I was at a convention, and a mother came up to me and said, “My daughter loves your work. She could sit and listen to you for hours. She loves your voice. You could read the phone book and she would listen to it.” I thought, what a nice thing to say. Then I thought, maybe not the phone book, but what if I were to record something of more importance and give it away. So I went home and recorded the Gospel of John and used a contemporary translation and played the piano underneath it to make it easy to listen to. I put a lot of money into it myself to get all the discs pressed, and now I give it away at conventions because what better thing to give to fans of my work than something that is very precious to me?
Me: Do you have plans to do more books?
Vic: I would love to, but it takes a lot of time, and to be honest, I don’t know what book I would do. There aren’t a lot of books of the Bible that stand by themselves, that tell the whole story. If you’re gonna get one chance to tell someone the story of Jesus, why he came, what he did, his ministry, his rising again, all of that, it’s all pretty self-contained in the Gospel of John. So I don’t know what book I would do, and it’s very time-consuming. I don’t have a lot of time, especially now with the Star Trek series I’m doing.
Me: So the Star Trek series is still going well?
Vic: Oh yeah. Bigger than ever. We just finished shooting episode six. Popularity is growing, and viewership is growing. At the risk of sounding partial, it’s fantastic. It looks and feels and sounds exactly like the original series. We have managed to continue the original series in every way, so you feel like you’re watching episodes that were never broadcast.
Me: But they’re all original stories.
Vic: Oh yes. From the recreation of the sets to the lighting, costumes, make-up, story, music, editing, characters—everything. No amount of description can prepare you for the quality. And it’s free. Just go to startrekcontinues.com. The first episode is wonderful, and the second is better than the first, and the third is better than the second. They just get better and better
Me: Last question. What is it like dealing with all the fangirls who are much younger than you?
Vic: Well, it’s kind of funny because, if I were half my age, I would be flattered. But I really look at it more like a father looking at younger people and going, Man, if I can give some joy to this person, if I can make them feel special about themselves, because so many of these kids are struggling with who they are and their place in the world and their security and self-esteem. I feel as if I have been given an opportunity to be an encouragement, somebody that they look up to and notices them and compliments them and puts his arms around them and gives them a big hug and engages with them. I think that’s very important. I didn’t used to realize how important that is, and over the years, with all the emails and letters I’ve gotten and interactions I’ve had at conventions, I’ve come to realize that God has put me here for a very specific purpose, and that is to bring encouragement and love and kindness and support to a lot of people who are at a very sensitive crossroads in their lives.
Of course, everyone has their criticisms no matter how much they enjoy something, and Ichibancon was not without flaws. For one thing, it needs a larger venue. There were lines to get into the dealer room and artist alley, and some of the panels were standing room only. Parking was ridiculous. I squeezed my car in next to a dumpster, and I saw people walking over from car dealerships and other hotels. According to one staff member, however, the only place large enough to expand to is the Charlotte Convention Center, whose surrounding hotels are much more expensive–$240 a night or more. Anime conventions are largely attended by teenagers, who don’t have much money (and spend what they do have on Call of Duty).
It was clear from artist alley and the dealer room that neither of them was “juried.” Some conventions judge vendors’ merchandise ahead of time and then make decisions on who gets a slot. This is done to make sure there is enough variety and quality in the room. Ichibancon, it seems, didn’t do this because there was a lot of repetition in both areas. Merchandise was mostly plushies, posters, and wall scrolls. There was no manga, and I saw only one dealer selling comic-related stuff (usually, there are more).
Even with all these negative things going on in the convention, that is no reason for the muggles to boycott this convention (I saw a picketer in the parking lot). In fact, I believe that this convention is the perfect one for any anime convention newbies.
Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim and a few of the cast members of Legends of Tomorrow spoke to the media at Wondercon 2016, and Convention Scene’s own Richard Oh was there!
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.
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.
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.
In honor of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, here’s a look back at the art show dedicated to the movie!