Con-Gregate Con Report! (And Interview with the Carolina Ghostbusters)

This was the inaugural year for Con-Gregate, a general sci-fi convention held in Winston-Salem, NC on July 11-13. The guest of honor was New York Times bestselling author Larry Correia, known for his Monster Hunter series, though he does have other writing credits, including “The Christmas (Noun)” and “The Christmas (Noun) 2: The Nounening.” (What’s next? “How the Gerund Stole Christmas”?) Other guests included writers A.J. Hartley and Faith Hunter; Magic: The Gathering artist Mark Poole; and movie make-up professional Jennifer McCollom.

The con was led by a team of veterans, including folks from RavenCon, Stellar Con, and DragonCon. Yet, as with any first-time event, there were hiccups. Larry Correia’s first book signing was held on Saturday morning, when a lot of convention goers weren’t yet up and at ‘em. The lighting was poor in the vendor room, and though much was made in the convention program about name badges (even vendor badges bore individuals’ names), I never saw a staffer checking them.

Still, it was a fun weekend, with a costume contest, a book launch party (D.B. Jackson’s A Plunder of Souls), a charity auction (I won a signed photo of Avery Brooks as Capt. Benjamin Sisko), and some fascinating panels. Plus one of my favorite groups, the Carolina Ghostbusters (www.carolinaghostbusters.com), made an appearance. On Friday, I got a chance to talk to three team members–”Doc” Geressy, Chuck Carte, and Mikki Smith.

Me: How did the Carolina Ghostbusters get started?

Doc: About 5 years ago, I got divorced and laid off from work in the same week. I got a great severance package and didn’t have anyone to spend it on, so I was like, I’m gonna build a Ghostbusters car. That was five years ago. It took about 2½ years to get everything together. Once the car was built, we started getting requests for conventions, charity events, car shows, baseball games, birthday parties, weddings . . . we do a lot of weddings, oddly enough. We spend about 70-80 days a year on the road now, with the vehicle, and I never would have imagined, but it has been the most awesome thing ever. We got to meet Dan Aykroyd. He signed the car. We met Ernie Hudson from the film. So it’s been a lot of fun.

Me: How did you meet Dan Aykroyd?

Chuck: He was on his Crystal Head Vodka tour, doing signings of the bottles when the liquor had first come out. And we got treated really well by the Aykroyd camp as soon as they saw us in our car. He ushered us to the front of the line, took photos with us, signed the car, and he was just a real . . . I look at it as my favorite moment of getting to do this, getting to meet him, and just how cool he was to us.

Me: Why Ghostbusters?

Doc: I am a big fan of movie cars, always have been, and when I was originally going to build a movie car, I had thought about doing a classic Batmobile. I had some people looking for a late model Lincoln to use as the base for it, and we ended up finding this hearse first, and one of the guys called me and was like, hey, would you be interested in doing a Ghostbusters car? I was like, sure, love to, and so we ended up doing a Ghostbusters car instead. And it is actually, interestingly enough, the most recognizable movie car with the least amount of screen time. It is only in the film for 5 minutes and 28 seconds. But everyone knows it. We have had people drive 20-30 miles out of their way to take pictures with us.

Me: And you also have the Men in Black car, right?

Doc: That is our new one. We’re about a year into that build, and it was another one where the car kind of found me. We ended up getting it at a really good deal. It had low miles and was in excellent condition. So we started the build on that. We should have it done in the next year. It is actually roadworthy now, but there are a lot of things we want to do to it, and a lot of props we need to build. It’s probably about 80% done.

Me [to Mikki]: Tell me about your involvement with the group.

Mikki: Honestly, I asked. That sounds kind of like a boring way. Basically, I originally hired the Carolina Ghostbusters for a very small, one-off convention that I ran called Jax Con that happened in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida—

Doc: It was an awesome convention.

Mikki: Thank you so, so much. That’s what people say now. That’s not what people said right after it happened.

Chuck: That’s what I said right afterward.

Mickey: Me booking [the Ghosbusters] was literally the best thing I ever did for that convention. After that, I was still really into cons, and I started going to them more and more, especially local cons. I became really good friends with the team, became pretty good friends with Doc and Chuck and Cher [Cheralyn Lambeth, another group member]. That was kind of how I got involved. I think at XCon 2013 was my first official event, and I worked that one. I was an intern for about 6 months, and now I have been moved up to Acting Ensign of the Deck Department, and I serve under Chuck Carte, who is a fantastic immediate boss.

Chuck: Thank you. I don’t get that often.

Me: I was reading on your web site that you also do paranormal investigations. Tell me a little about that.

Doc: About 30% of what we do is paranormal investigations. We are the only Ghostbusters group in the country that actually does paranormal investigations as well. Sometimes we joke that the Ghostbusters car is our dog and pony show, but we have a lot of fun going out and actually not just dressing up as Ghostbusters but actually being Ghostbusters to an extent.

Me: How do you measure your success as paranormal investigators?

Chuck: Whether or not the check clears.

Doc: Yeah, that’s a good answer! [Laughs] We approach things from a very scientific viewpoint, very much like the Ghostbusters did in the film. We don’t employ or work with any mediums or psychics because we can’t quantify that information. We try to be as empirical as possible, and we have captured some amazing photographs, we’ve got some awesome EVPs [electronic voice phenomenon], and just the experiences of being able to travel around. One of the things that being Ghostbusters has provided us is a lot of access to places that other paranormal groups can’t get into. People see the car or they see us, and they’re like, oh, you guys are like legit! There are so many other paranormal groups out there that are just as legitimate as we are, but just that knowledge of Ghostbusters affords us the ability for people to just wave us in and be like, yeah, come investigate this place.

Me: What are you working on next? What are your goals?

Doc: Oh god. Replenishing my bank account is what I’m working on right now.

Chuck: The speedboat from Thunder in Paradise.

Doc: Yeah, I gotta buy a boat trailer first.

Mikki: You’ve been talking about the Blues Brothers car lately.

Doc: I would love to find a Blues Brothers car. That would be the next thing on the list. I also really like the ambulance from Cannonball Run. That would be another one.

Me: I guess it’s time to wrap up. Can you say a few words about your podcast?

Doc: Our podcast is called Sci-Fried Eggs, and we get to travel to all these conventions and meet all these cool guests, and we bring that to the rest of the people. So if you miss the convention, or even if you’re at the convention and you didn’t get to meet that person you wanted to meet, we may have interviewed them [on the podcast], so you can check them out.

And while you’re at it, check out the photos below.

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Carolina Ghostbusters: they’re ready to believe you.

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No, this isn’t a promo poster for Avengers 2. It’s the winners of the Con-Gregate costume contest.

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Must . . . not . . . make . . . bird-brain joke.

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“Good evening, Clarice.”

SDCC 2014 Digest: 2

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series SDCC Digest 2014

Batman v Superman SDCC

Get a glimpse of the Batman v. Superman footage from Comic-Con plus a Mad Max trailer, Wonder Woman revealed, the complete Age of Ultron poster, and more.

SDCC 2014 Digest: 1

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series SDCC Digest 2014

Sting WWE

Sting shows up at the WWE panel, Matthew McConaughey shows up to push Interstellar, and Microsoft releases a trailer for HALO Nightfall.

SDCC 2014 Digest: 0

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series SDCC Digest 2014

Batfleck SDCC

The Batfleck costume, Avengers and Ant-Man posters, a tour of the Sideshow Collectibles booth and a lot more in our first SDCC Digest for 2014.

Marvel LIVE! at San Diego Comic-Con 2014

Marvel Live SDCC 2014

Marvel will be broadcasting live from the San Diego Comic-Con each day via YouTube, and we have their live stream for you right here.

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Cartoon Stars Shine at ConnectiCon 2014

This past weekend was ConnectiCon in Hartford, CT. Founded in 2002 primarily as a gaming convention, it has come to encompass multiple genres and attracts attendees from all over the country.  It roots in gaming are still clearly apparent as they host a gaming room equal the size of the main vendor/artist area which hosted hundreds if not thousands of gamers playing Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, WarHammer, and many other table top games. Naturally there is also a large contingent of cosplayers dressed as their favorite characters from TV, moves, comic books and video games. The projected attendenace fo this year was 17,000 people and while there were certainly a lot of people in the Hartford Convention Center, it was laid out and organized so it never felt crowded. The autograph lines for guests moved surprisingly fast and, provided you showed up a little early, panels were easy to get into.

A big draw for this year’s ConnectiCon was the wealth of guests from the voice acting industry. A growing trend at conventions across the country, these talented performers need only a microphone to display their gift for breathing life into characters. Guests included Invader Zim’s Richard Horvitz and Rikki Simons, Pinky and the Brain’s Maurice LaMarche and Rob Paulsen, Batman: The Brave and the Bold’s Dietrich Bader, Mass Effect’s Jennifer Hale, and Legend of Korra’s Janet Varney. Speaking to the press, Horvitz and Simons said they love having meeting fans who grew up watching Zim and are now cosplaying as their characters. The also mentioned people sometime have full sleeve tattoos where they leave room to get autographed. Horvitz said, “We always ask them to please not get murdered because we’re afraid the police will think the killer signed their work.”

As an actor who had success in on-screen roles on The Drew Carey Show, Outsourced, and Office Space, Bader remarked that he is in awe at the talent of his cartoon co-stars and how unpretentious and friendly most are compared to the rest of Hollywood. When asked what his favorite character to play was, Bader immediately and unequivocally said “Batman.” Prior to being cast on Brave and the Bold Bader had not been terribly well-versed in Bat-lore but said that getting into character really moved him especially in the scene where Batman confronts his parents’ killer, during Bader said he had literal tears running down his face.

On panels with LaMarche and Paulsen it was readily evident that their their friendship and work relationship easily rolls into one another. Paulsen remarked several times that his co-stars are people with whom he would choose to be friends had they never met at work. They often finished one another’s jokes and would goad the other into saying a favorite line or catchphrase. They credited a mutual love of Monty Python and Beyond the Fringe as instantly cementing their bond when the first worked together.

LaMarche and Paulsen shared many stories from Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, one being the famous “Yes, Always” sketch in which LaMarche faithfully recreates a famous outtake of Orson Welles recording a commercial for peas in which the famous director angrily tells off the staff. LaMarche had regaled his co-stars, directors, and engineers with his rendition so it was added to the script as a suprise for LaMarche. They also regaled the audience to a reading of “Green Eggs in Ham” with Paulsen reading Sam I Am (in the voice of Pinky) and LaMarche playing the main character as the Brain. The showstopper, however, was Paulsen singing “Yakko’s World” in which he rattles off every single country in the world to which the entire crowd clapped along.

Finally, Janet Varney who voices the title character of The Legend of Korra spoke about the series to a full panel room of Avatar-fans. She noted that they all had very pointed questions regarding many of Korra’s decisions on the show. Varney said while she often disagrees with Korra’s actions that is part of what makes her a well-rounded character. Twice during the Q&A Varney had to apologize for “rudely” taking a phone call. The first was from Firelord Zuko (actor Dante Basco) who called in to look for his honor and the second was Bolin (voice actor PJ Byrne), both whom were kind enough to say hello to the fans and field a question or two.

Fans were very excited to meet the people who helped bring their animated favorites to life. LaMarche said it best, “Hearing I made your childhood better makes my middle age better.” Here’s looking forward to seeing what voice talents are scheduled for next year’s show!

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ConCarolinas Con Report!

ConCarolinas is a general sci-fi and fantasy convention held annually in Charlotte, NC. Attendance was 300 in the inaugural year, 2002, and the guests were small potatoes, but those days are done. Well over 2,000 people (my estimate) showed up this year, and the guest of honor was a bona fide celeb: George R. R. Martin, creator of Game of Thrones. Other guests included Anthony Montgomery from Star Trek: Enterprise and Laura Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott from the original Dark Shadows.

Sounds accomplished, right? GRRM was announced over a year ago—not even Comic Con International is that foregoing—so I expected the con to run like a thoroughly Penzoiled Sprint Cup chassis. In some areas, it did. Events started and stopped on time, and they were easy to find, for the most part. One exception was the ballroom divided into three smaller rooms that the schedule called, noninformatively, “Main,” “Programming 2,” and “Programming 3.” I missed the start of one panel because it was scheduled for Programming 3 but took place in Main, and each time I passed these rooms, the only sign I saw bore the Hilton’s name for the room: Lakeshore.

This plaint is piddling, however. The real mess came with Saturday’s GRRM autograph session. It was scheduled for 3:00, and by 12:15, a line was evident. “You should get in line now,” my wife said, to which I replied, “But the sign says the line will start forming at 2:00.” A woman of few words when she’s right, thank God, she pointed to the dozen or so people standing there. Just then, another two or three walked up. I assumed the position.

A few minutes later, a con staffer—I’ll call her “Bee”—came over to wrecking-ball the line. “We’ll start the line at 2:00,” she announced. Until then, we should “go enjoy the rest of the con.” Instead, the now-twenty of us moved six feet away to flank the concrete steps that led from the hotel entrance to a duck pond. Unsatisfied, Bee told us to move on, saying she had to “keep the steps clear.” They were currently so clear that piano movers could have carried a Steinway up them.

A guy who looked like Robert Downey, Jr. tried to tell Bee she was being unreasonable. We had paid for admission, he argued, and it was our prerogative to waste three hours in line—a line that had formed against the fence surrounding the patio, well out of the way. Someone else offered that there was “nothing else to do,” which hurt Downey, Jr.’s case. He wanted to negotiate, not inflame.

Bee was having none of it. She walked away and returned with con security, one of whom asked us nicely, in contrast to his Ghiscari Legion cosplay, to disperse. Downey, Jr. stood up defeatedly. “It’s a little unnecessary,” he said, more soliloquy than direct address, “but whatever.” And we moved away.

Things were tense after that. People arrived by the minute, and because we couldn’t form a line, we had to hang around pretending that we weren’t forming one. Annoyance passed from one person to the next, growing with each utterance as in the telephone game. “This is literally why we bought tickets,” one person said. “I don’t think they were ready for this kind of crowd,” said another. I took a philosophical tack. The con staff had taken an orderly line that had arisen spontaneously and, through human agency, made it into a mob. Maybe they were anarchists.

At 1:16, Bee pulled out a megaphone and announced, “If you are gathered here in order to rush the line, your badge will be taken, and you will be escorted off.” All 100 of us? 200? Versus her little honor guard? We didn’t move. When a Canada goose wandered off the pond, Bee walked up to it and blared through her megaphone, “This is a goose-free zone.” She said it to be funny, but nobody laughed. Too much had passed between her and us.

By 1:45, at least 400 people had gathered. The original group was still camped on the concrete steps, with newcomers forming parallel lines that stretched alongside the duck pond toward the hotel parking lot. About every thirty minutes, a con employee walked between the lines, urging us to keep the sidewalk clear because “the fire marshal is here,” though I never saw anyone official-looking. One person dubbed our station “the line to get into the line,” and we laughed—finally.

At 2:00, Bee started assembling the line. She did it fairly, calling ten people at a time from different spots, starting with the ur-group on the steps. I got in with the seventh summoning. My reward was to wait another hour before the 3:00 start, though this was better: Revolution had been averted, and I was now guaranteed an autograph. GRRM was scheduled to sign for only an hour, and those who didn’t reach him during that time might be turned away. (When someone griped about this, Bee said simply, “He is not a machine.”)

In all, I waited from 12:15 to nearly 4:00 to meet George R. R. Martin, and it was over with a few strokes of his pen. But it was worth it. The writer was gracious, even charming, and he signed two books for me. Autographs are my favorite part of conventions, and Downey, Jr. was right: You can have fun just sitting and waiting. Looking at cosplays. Writing a story (I got most of this done during the downtime). My wife and I rounded out the day with a couple of panels and that evening’s charity auction, hosted by podcaster and voice actor Rich Sigfrit, who also moderated a sci-fi-centric Whose Line Is It Anyway? starring the improv comedy group Pineapple-Shaped Lamps.

So that was it from Charlotte and the 13th ConCarolinas. Next year is already shaping up to be a good one with writer John Scalzi as the guest of honor. My next stop: Charlotte again for Heroes Convention on June 19. Maybe I’ll see you there!

 

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Indication #1 you are at a sci-fi convention.

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Indication # you are at a sci-fi convention.

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Guys, no need to fight. There are enough tickets for everyone.

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I would have seen GRRM sooner if it weren’t for those meddling kids!

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Inside the dealer room.

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People came from all over for this convention. Even Golgotha.

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No, Johnny Depp was not there. Would have been awesome, though.

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GRRM signing line: the Haves . . .

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. . . and the Have-Nots

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I’m not sure why I bought so much stuff at the auction. Any ideas?

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GRRM addresses fans during one of his readings.

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Lara Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott pose for a picture.

 

Minneapolis Wizard World Con Report!

My feet were hurting. Throbbing, in fact. With blisters on each ball and heel, even short walks delivered a four square of pain. Ever had a pebble trapped in your shoe? How about a shuriken? Watching me walk, people must have thought, “The poor man. Must have forgotten his crutches. How can he get around on two broken legs?”

I was in this predicament thanks to walking twenty-seven miles in one weekend, mostly around the latest Wizard World Comic Con, which was held May 2-4 in Minneapolis. It was that city’s first-ever Wizard World con, and everything from guests to vendors to venue—the 87-room, 475,000-square-foot downtown convention center—was spectacular.

Headlining the event were Matt Smith and Karen Gillan from Doctor Who. Gillan, a former model, played traveling companion to Smith’s Doctor in series 5-7. I saw her on Saturday, smiling and chatting, her hair in a bun, amid a sea of fans. Smith showed up the next day, and the two had a joint photo op—the third time in North America that this had happened (the first two were the Louisville Comic Con and the St. Louis Comic Con). Other stars were William Shatner, Robert Englund, Ernie Hudson, Ralph Macchio, Neal Adams, Mike Grell, and Lou Ferrigno (my interview with Ferrigno will appear on ConventionScene in a few days). Other events included celebrity one-on-ones, panel discussions, a film festival, RPG tournaments, speed dating, at least 75 exhibitors, and a cosplay contest.

I caught most of Ralph Macchio’s one-on-one session on Saturday afternoon. Now 52 years old, Macchio delights in the Karate Kid franchise, though it used to bother him. In the early 90s, he said, he struggled to find acting work, and there were days he stayed hidden at home because he couldn’t face another “wax on, wax off” encounter. But film quotes were not all that fans said to him. Some told him how the movie had helped them deal with bullying, or it had changed their lives in other ways. When he thought about those people, he realized he would be “foolish” to reject his legacy. Ralph Macchio is a funny, humble guy who likes the Karate Kid re-make (though he doesn’t see it as “iconic”) and who is hoping his future includes more voice acting (he has done several episodes of Robot Chicken). And do his two kids understand their dad’s place in cinematic history? Macchio told the story of his son Daniel (hmm . . . coincidence?) coming across a trove of magazines and other memorabilia from the 80s. The boy raced into his sister’s bedroom and said, “Julia! Dad was huge and we missed it!”

Minneapolis was cold this May—unseasonably so, according to one native, which is just my luck—but the city was grand, the people welcoming, and the comic con a smash hit. If you weren’t there, browse the photos below to see what you missed. Next I am off to ConCarolinas (May 30-June 1) in the Queen City, Charlotte. Maybe I’ll see you!

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Day 1 of Minneapolis’s first-ever Wizard World

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Can’t wait to get in!

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I had trouble finding a parking spot, so . . .

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Robert Englund plans his next nightmare.

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Fabulous costumes!

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Deadpool! Get out of the picture!

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A couple of convention security officers.

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Minnesota isn’t quite the Caribbean, but this pirate didn’t mind.

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Look just under the poster of Karen Gillan to see the real Karen Gillan.

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My cell phone wasn’t working, so I asked this guy to call my wife. With his mind.

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Yes, it’s bigger on the inside, but how many licks does it take to get the Tootsie Roll center?

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I thought about asking this guy for directions but decided against it.

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Who scheduled a dance competition on the same weekend as Wizard World?!

Salute to Supernatural DC 2014 Con Report!

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A special look inside Creation Entertainment’s Salute to Supernatural DC May 2-4, 2014 Convention.

Creation Entertainment was founded in 1971 by Gary Berman and Adam Malin, two youths with a shared vision of “traveling” fan conventions. Producing “live, interactive” shows, Creation Entertainment soon cornered the market on Star Trek conventions. Being fans of Sci-Fi, Berman and Malin began producing scores of genre-specific events that showcased individual movies and television series. Their policies are “not to oversell its venues” and “guarantees a seat in the main theatre for all ticket holders to see all guest appearances and attractions.” Having only ever attended conventions that sell until the Fire Marshall arrives and institutes the one-out-one-in policy, I couldn’t wrap my head around how this could work. I’m used to large convention centers, massive halls and ballrooms lined with tables of celebrities signing autograph after autograph. Even if you purchased your tickets in advance, you could spend an entire weekend standing in line and risk missing celebrity panels and photo-ops. Surely, an entire convention devoted to the CW series Supernatural, which is coming into its 10th season, couldn’t be confined to seats in a singular theatre, could it?

When I interviewed Barry Bostwick in March of 2014, he had this to say about Supernatural, “That show [Supernatural] has such a fan base! We were at a convention once where there was a whole panel of just people from Supernatural; people who maybe only did it twice. And the audience was rabid. I mean RABID. It was amazing!(Bostwick appeared in a single episode of Supernatural). I have to be honest; I half-expected this weekend to be a hot mess. I was never more excited to be proven wrong!

The convention was held at the Double Tree by Hilton hotel in Crystal City, Arlington, VA, which is basically Washington DC. I should mention that an announcement was made that this was to be their first and only show in the DC area. Climate control was a major issue, with some areas too hot to breathe and other areas too cold. This, however, is a venue issue and not a convention issue. But since it was the only complaint I heard from attendees, I felt the need to mention it. We visited the vendor room downstairs first. I’d come to expect a sea of small store fronts. Surprisingly, there were less than a dozen vendors to shop with. Save for a handful of tables with handmade jewelry and vinyl stickers, the majority of the items for sale were top quality, officially licensed Supernatural products. What are we supposed to do during “down time” if we don’t have 100 booths of fan junk to sift through each day? The big laugh here is that I actually thought there would be “down time” at this show.

We returned to the lobby where the main stage theatre was located. The lines at the registration and photo-op ticketing tables were moving along in a timely manner. Volunteers at the theatre door were checking wristbands and credentials, guiding fans to their designated seats. With your ticket purchase, you are assigned a specific seat for the entire weekend. This meant you didn’t have to worry about lines, since you already knew where your seat would be. We took our place alongside the videographer, one of the many friendly volunteers at the show. Her name was Rachael Augsburger and she’s been volunteering exclusively with Creation Entertainment for 4 years. “It’s always so much fun,” she said. “No other show is put together like this. And I love meeting all the guests who visit us from so far away. We’ve had people from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom.” As we chatted, I watched throngs of fans file into the room. No one was rushing around. No one was pushing to get closer to the stage. In a virtual sea of plaid-flannel and tan-Trenchcoats, fans were courteous and pleasant. I’d never seen anything like it. Adam Malin took the stage to make a few quick announcements. And then, the stars of the show literally took over the convention.

Dressed in patriotic garb, the house band entered the theatre in a military style march. They called themselves the Elastic Waste Band, but are professionally known as Louden Swain. The band is fronted by Supernatural cast member, Rob Benedict (Chuck), who adopted the stage name “Tango“. The band rocked from open until close each day of the convention, alternating between classic rock songs and original material. They were quickly joined by cast member, Richard Speight, Jr. (Gabriel/Trickster) who was our emcee for the weekend, and who described the long theatre room as being, “Like Jared [Padalecki] laying down; it keeps going and going and ends up in a pile of hair.” Speight and Benedict controlled the rhythm and pacing of the panels, both literally and figuratively, keeping the events as close to the program schedule as possible. For two cast members that had never worked together on the show, their friendship and quick-witted rapport was contagious. I am of the opinion that they should have their own late night talk show. That, or they should host every convention, every where. Forever.

Beyond being called out for photograph and autograph sessions, and perhaps the occasional visit to the lavatory, there was no need to leave the theatre. The momentum never ceased to build. Stars would come in and share in a mutually entertaining hour with the fans. There was a microphone set up at both stage left and right where fans could line the walls and wait their turn to talk to the stars. As each celebrity appearance ended, that guest would journey to another room in the hotel for private meet and greets, autograph sessions and photo-ops. But as I said, there was no “down time”. The time between guest appearances was filled with activities within the theatre such as trivia contests, a costume contest, a no-minimum-bid auction, music videos (made by fans), and a tribute to the “Angels, Demons and Other Creatures of Supernatural”. The entire weekend was one of perpetual motion. By the time I went to bed Friday night, I was physically exhausted! Kudos to Rob Benedict, by the way, for his energy, commitment and devotion to the fans and the show. Benedict suffered a stroke at last year’s Toronto Con. But he was back and in top form, outlasting the Energizer Bunny. Truly inspirational!

Benedict wasn’t the only heart-warming aspect of the show. Rachel Miner (Meg) made a late evening appearance on Sunday. Miner, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, was an example of strength in the face of adversity; a definite highlight for Supernatural fans. Over the weekend, various items were auctioned off with the proceeds going to an MS charity in her honor. Two things I love: shopping and philanthropy. I donated $70 and came away with quite a haul. Creation Entertainment also donates a table at every show to Random Acts, a non-profit organization started by cast member, Misha Collins (Castiel). Random Acts collects monetary and tangible donations at every event and donates them to a local charity in that particular city. This show’s donations went to support a local food bank in the DC area. On Saturday, Collins did a live, one-hour event through Stageit, broadcasting from the convention over the internet. Collins screened two the short films from his TSA America: Level Orange series, while fans in the audience and worldwide logged in to Stageit and made donations to help fund Random Acts. “Small sacrifices in your life can help other people’s lives in a big way,” said Collins. The selfless generosity displayed that day was overwhelming.

As Bostwick teased, Supernatural fans are rabid. As with any fandom, there will always be a contingency of people who take such possessive ownership over their beloved characters, that they tend to ruin it for everyone else. Those people are the reason the stars must find a working balance between connecting with the fans and maintaining a healthy distance. Thankfully, the majority of fans bond over their shared love, some returning time and again, following Creation Entertainment shows like rock concerts. For Alex Harbet, 20, this was her fourth time at one of their shows. “I prefer these conventions to other ones, especially the way they run the photo-ops. You actually get quality time with the stars. This is just awesome.” Cassandra Martin, a first time attendee, had a lot to say about her experience. “All of the volunteers are very kind. The photographer, Chris, is amazing and never takes a bad picture. This whole weekend has been very personalized. The lines move quickly, but when you are up there getting autographs or pictures, you never feel like you are being rushed. You definitely get your money’s worth.” Martin and her friend lost over a $1,000 in photo and autograph tickets and lost all hope for the weekend. The staff of volunteers quickly rallied, making announcements and getting other guests involved. Their tickets were recovered. “They were so helpful in resolving that. I haven’t had a bad experience yet.”

It helps that so many of the volunteers have been with Creation Entertainment for years. Johanna Burris first attended one of their Twilight conventions 4 years ago. “It stuck,” she told us. “I knew I had to volunteer with them. Everyone here is like family. I have met friends I wouldn’t have otherwise, who will be with me forever.” We spoke with volunteers and staff who had been with the company from 3 to 23 years, completely dedicated to their business model and willing to travel around the c0untry to assist with productions. For this show, volunteers suggested the idea of utilizing a designated hashtag for fans to use, then broadcasting their Twitter and Instagram posts on the screens in the theatre all weekend long. The interactive nature of the convention pleased a lot of fans.

Personal highlights for me included:

Osric Chau (Kevin) appeared dressed in fellow character Dean Winchester’s Ren Faire inspired costume, reciting the famous speech from the film, Braveheart. “When I said I would cosplay at every single con, I just…I forgot how many there were!”

Gil McKinney (Henry Winchester) making his first Supernatural convention appearance, seemed slightly overwhelmed, but with his sense of humor and charm, he quickly adapted. “Years ago, I actually auditioned for the role of Sam Winchester. So, when they called me about the role of Henry, I was surprised. I mean, I didn’t even know the show was still on the air,” he laughed with the crowd.

Sebastian Roche (Balthazar) commanded the theatre like a bona fide rock star. Though he answered only 3 fan questions in an hour, they didn’t seem to mind. For Roche spent the majority of that time singing, dancing, running through the audience, and being his naughty, flirtatious self.

Mark Sheppard (Crowley) came down from the stage to console a young woman who had broken down in tears at the microphone. He also proceeded to erupt Misha Collins in a fit of laughter over a story about the Wind in the Willows, leaving Collins unable to speak.

Chad Lindberg (Ash) spent the majority of his time on stage regaling the crowd with tales from his own ghost-hunting experiences, even using a “ghost box” on stage to try and summon spirits to communicate within the theatre.

Cast members pranked Matt Cohen (John Winchester), Benedict, and Speight during their panel. Unbeknownst to them, a message was displayed across the  screens that faced the audience that read “Jacques E. Normus Please remove your package from the registration table.” That’s how it was for most of the weekend. This family of actors laughed, talked, sang and played with one another just as you’d expect a real family would.

The costume contest on Saturday had, from my best guess, around 200 contestants. They paid tribute to the obvious and the more subtle only-a-true-fan-would-know-this aspects of the series. A separate judging was held of approximately 30 dressed as Castiel. Those fans were judged by the angel himself, Misha Collins. On Friday night, guests were treated to an 80s themed Karaoke party, where fans had the opportunity to sing on stage with their favorite stars. On Saturday night, the cast held a special Cabaret, or as Collins put it, “…a bad talent show.” The cast members sang a variety of songs, some solo, others duet and in groups, showcasing their talents beyond hunting demons. McKinney, who was a voice major, stole the show (and ruined a lot of women) when he sang John Legend’s hit, All of Me.

Of course, a Supernatural weekend wouldn’t be complete without the Winchester brothers, themselves, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. The pair attended an exclusive breakfast with fans, then for one sweet hour, they took to the theatre stage, thrilling fans and answering questions. I would imagine seeing them years ago at a convention was a wholly different experience. But, as a parent, I found their honesty refreshing. Ackles and Padalecki admitted to being tired and sleep deprived, and they seemed most genuine when telling stories about their children. Both men were taken aback when a fan thanked Ackles for “saving my life“. She had heard him tell a story about losing a friend, some years back, and it moved her. She has since been sober for 8 years and through streams of tears, wanted to present Ackles with her sobriety chip. Ackles was hesitant, reminding her of the significance of the chip, but she assured him it was what she wanted. Ackles reluctantly and emotionally accepted it with a hug. From there, they humbly told the audience of how they feel about the impact of what they do, on their fans. Said Ackles, “We may not be curing cancer. But we sure may be helping someone who has it.”

Over all, the entire weekend was nothing at all like I’d expected it to be. The pacing was smooth enough that hours could go by and I’d completely forget that I’d been in the same theatre all day. There was constantly something more to see and do. Of course, there were a number of technical difficulties with regards to multi-media and lighting, but you’ll have that any show from time to time. There was some time lost due to seating confusion during the Cabaret, but that was mostly because once the fans had taken their seats, the stars encouraged them to all move forward, closer to the stage. Officials quickly had them retract and send everyone back to their designated seats. Aside from that, I honestly did not hear a single complaint from any of the fans (and you’d best believe I do my share of eavesdropping in order to hear what people really think). The volunteers were knowledgeable, committed and friendly. Again, the element of the house band and emcee was absolutely wonderful and, in my opinion, a necessity that should be considered by all conventions. The idea of having an emcee, yet no moderator during the panels was somewhat risky, as stars can become “trapped” by a fan’s question and momentum can be lost, denying opportunities to other fans who are patiently waiting their turn. Conversely, the absence of a moderator allowed each star to speak freely and plainly with the fans and “shoot from the hip” rather than dole out stock answers to the same tired questions posed interview after interview at other conventions. This show was completely unstructured in a structured way; controlled chaos, if you will. And that environment suits Supernatural very well.

Creation Entertainment truly and pleasantly surprised me with the level of intimacy and element of fun with regards to the atmosphere of their Supernatural convention. According to Speight, “All four leads [Ackles, Padalecki, Sheppard, Collins] have signed on to do one year of conventions worldwide, so that all of the fans would know when and where they’d be and could plan to meet them. That’s rare for a TV show cast.” Indeed. Rarer still, is the ability of a cast nearly 10 years later, to have this much fun spending time together. I only wish we’d had as much time with Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as we did Misha Collins throughout the weekend.

Thank you, Creation Entertainment, for allowing us the opportunity to be a part of your Salute to Supernatural DC. It was an exciting weekend filled with laughter, good deeds and quality “entertainment”. I would highly recommend your conventions to any fan eager for a unique experience!

To see a full schedule of Creation Entertainment’s upcoming fan conventions, visit creationent.com

Supernatural airs on the CW Network. Check your local listings.

Misha Collins judges the 'Castiel' cosplayers at DCcon.

Misha Collins judges the ‘Castiel’ cosplayers at DCcon.

 

Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles share a laugh at DCcon.

Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles share a laugh at DCcon.

Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles speak to fans at DCcon.

Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles speak to fans at DCcon.

One lucky fan donated enough funds to Random Acts to literally win the shirt off Matt Cohen's back at DCcon.

One lucky fan donated enough funds to Random Acts to literally win the shirt off Matt Cohen’s back at DCcon.

Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles at DCcon.

Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles at DCcon.

Misha Collins addresses crowd during live Stageit fundraiser at DCcon.

Misha Collins addresses crowd during live Stageit fundraiser at DCcon.

Sebastian Roche working the crowd at DCcon.

Sebastian Roche working the crowd at DCcon.

Osric Chau dressed as Jensen Ackles at DCcon.

Osric Chau dressed as Jensen Ackles at DCcon.

Jared Padalecki, Richard Speight Jr. and Jensen Ackles sing 'The Boys Are Back in Town' with Louden Swain at DCcon.

Jared Padalecki, Richard Speight Jr. and Jensen Ackles sing ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ with Louden Swain at DCcon.

Mark Sheppard and Misha Collins at DCcon.

Mark Sheppard and Misha Collins at DCcon.

Gil McKinney and Sebastian Roche sing with Louden Swain at DCcon.

Gil McKinney and Sebastian Roche sing with Louden Swain at DCcon.

Misha Collins answers my question during DCcon.

Misha Collins answers my question during DCcon.

Rob Benedict and Louden Swain at DCcon.

Rob Benedict and Louden Swain at DCcon.

Misha Collins speaks to fans at DCcon.

Misha Collins speaks to fans at DCcon.

Charlotte Comicon Spring 2014 Con Report!

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For 12 years, Rick Fortenberry and Dave Hinson (of Dave’s Comics in Fort Mill, SC) have been delighting Charlotte area comic book collectors with their Charlotte Comicon. The show is held three times a year–in April, August and December–and never fails to entertain. I suppose this would be a good time to mention that I have been involved with this show in both a volunteer and working capacity for a couple of years now. But, I promise not to let personal feelings get in the way of an honest convention report.

The Charlotte Comicon averages between 1,100-2,000 visitors per show, with ages ranging from toddler to senior citizen. Most of them are die hard comic collectors, as this show is predominantly a ‘trade show’. With 35 vendors and 24 special guests (artists, authors, and so forth) at their April 13, 2014 show, there were plenty of treasures to be found. I have seen this show grow exponentially in recent years, even causing them to change venues to their current home at the Crown Plaza Executive Park Hotel.

One aspect of the show that has continued to expand is the Cosplay participation. Years ago, the number of attendees in costume was less than 100. Now, hundreds show up at Charlotte Comicon dressed not only as their favorite comic book characters, but recognizable characters from movies, television, novels, anime, manga, and more. This year’s spring show had 164 contestants just  for their costume contest! I do not envy the job of the judges, whatsoever. There were multiple age divisions for competition and Honorable Mention awards given out as well. Winners from each division were given cash prizes that they could spend in the dealer room. The costume contest is one of the bigger draws for the younger crowd that attends each show.

Seeking to connect with their cosplay fan base, Fortenberry and Hinson arranged for a special Secrets of Cosplay panel. The hour-long panel featured professional cosplayers DJ Spider, Amberle Linnea, Todd Lacey, Eve Madison and ‘The Clown Prince of Charlotte’ Victor Goldberg. Each panelist addressed specific topics such as the politics of cosplay, construction tips, and staying in character. It was standing room only in the ballroom that housed the panel, as the audience hung on their every word. Some went so far as to take notes during the panel and many hands went up when it was time for the Q & A segment. I know a lot of the familiar faces who attend the Charlotte Comicon regularly came away from that session eager to put their knowledge to use. The level of costumes at the summer show should be extraordinary.

Another new addition to the spring show was the Tribute to Charlton Comics panel, featuring Michael Eury (Editor-in-Chief Back Issue Magazine), Dan Johnson (Comics Historian) and Fester Faceplant (Artist, Writer). This hour-long panel with Q & A gave a unique history of Charlton Comics, 1946-1985, and the original characters that ended up being acquired and re-imagined by the likes of DC Comics. I admit, I knew nothing going into this panel, but by the end was fascinated with the industry and the backstory of the likes of The Watchmen. The Charlton Arrow #1 was being sold in limited quantities after the panel. Charlton Arrow is a limited edition collection of stories by Charlton veterans as well as contributors from DC Comics, Marvel and  Archie. This historical look at the world of comics was enough to make me hungry for more. I hope that Charlotte Comicon will continue to include such panels.

All in all, Charlotte Comicon is exactly what they claim to be: a family-friendly show. For six hours and $5.00 (free if you are in costume or under the age of 12) you can enjoy a day meeting authors, watching artists paint and draw bringing characters to life before your eyes, and take in one of the wackiest costume parades I have ever seen. Here’s where my honesty  kicks in…if you have trouble with tight spaces, you might want to consider that when attending one of their shows. They get more and more crowded each time and maneuverability in the dealer room can be daunting at times, especially if you are wearing a costume. Beyond the tight quarters, I have never had a bad experience at a Charlotte Comicon.

There was a big announcement made at the spring show, however, that should alleviate some of the traffic. Fortenberry and Hinson will be adding a third ballroom for the remainder of the 2014 shows. This additional room will house a Toy Show, with vendors and collectibles as far as the eye can see. With comics in one room, toys and collectibles in another, and cosplay/panels in yet another room, even if their attendance doubles as a result, it shouldn’t feel crowded and will remain a fun and affordable outing for families. I’m looking forward to watching this little show grow and grow. Who knows? Perhaps in the near future it could end up being a full weekend? Until then, I don’t think Charlotte Comicon or its fans have anything to worry about.

The next show will be held from 10am to 4pm on August 3, 2014. Information can be found at charlottecomicon.com

CCC_Spring_2014_Group

Michael Eury, Dan Johnson and Fester Faceplant lead the Tribute to Charlton Comics Panel.

Michael Eury, Dan Johnson and Fester Faceplant lead the Tribute to Charlton Comics Panel.

DJ Spider, Amberle Linnea, Todd Lacey, Eve Madison and Victor Goldberg lead the Secrets of Cosplay Panel.

DJ Spider, Amberle Linnea, Todd Lacey, Eve Madison and Victor Goldberg lead the Secrets of Cosplay Panel.

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