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!
Watch The Man himself Stan Lee speak to a captivated audience at Boston Comic Con 2015 in a panel moderated by comic creator Jimmy Palmiotti and Stan’s manager Max Anderson. The event featured a special appearance by Stan’s best friend Ken Bald, Guinness World Record holder as the oldest living comic artist, and a phone call from Stan’s wife Joanie.
Back in 2011, John sent me an email that read, “Son, look at this.” John and I have called each other “son” for twenty years. It’s our oldest invention, the stone tools of our friendship. His email included a link to a convention called DragonCon, which I was unfamiliar with. “We should go to this to watch all the freaks,” he went on. “We’d have the time of our lives!”
We went to DragonCon that year, plus the next two. In 2014, John was unavailable, so I took my wife and daughter, who went with me again this year, marking my fifth Labor Day weekend spent in Atlanta, Georgia.
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DragonCon has been held in the Dogwood City since 1986, when it was started by a science fiction and gaming group, the Dragon Alliance of Gamers and Role-Players (DAGR). From the outset, it was different. In an era when most conventions focused on a single universe (Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who) or medium (comics, games, science fiction), DragonCon was founded as a multi-genre convention, and it has remained one ever since.
That first gathering drew 1,400 fans and featured some surprisingly renowned guests: Robert Asprin, Lynn Abbey, Michael Moorcock, and the band Blue Öyster Cult. Attendance grew every year, doubling in some years. By 1995, it was at 14,000. It topped 40,000 in 2010, and in 2015, just five years later, over 65,000 were expected. Heck, there are now more volunteers (2,300+) than inaugural attendees!
Most gatherings of that size take place in convention centers, but DragonCon is still hotel-based. Initially confined to the Piedmont Plaza, it now swamps five four-star venues: the Hilton, Hyatt Regency, Marriott Marquis, Sheraton, and Westin. Vendor booths are located in a sixth building, the AmericasMart. Over 3,000 hours of programming are spread among those hotels, divided into fortysomething tracks. Tracks such as comics and Tolkien are the DNA of DragonCon. Others like podcasting, Whedon Universe, and filking are newer. The curriculum is always changing, always improving, according to Dan Carroll, DragonCon’s director of media. The alternate history track, for example, was added seven years ago when a panel on the topic was planned for 400 people. Over 3,000 showed up.
I went to one panel this year. Cacophonously titled “Legendary SW Authors Talk Mythos,” it featured four writers—Rebecca Moesta, Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole, and Kevin J. Anderson—who have totaled no fewer than 50 Star Wars novels. To call these authors “legendary” carries a double meaning, as their works, like others of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, are no longer canon thanks to a 2014 Lucasfilm decree. (This article describes the new continuity in detail.)
The authors talked about this decision, not to bellyache but to explain that it isn’t the degradation most fans seem to think. They knew from the start that they were scribblers, hired to tell tales from someone else’s world. They didn’t feel betrayed; they felt lucky for the opportunities. After all, it isn’t just any world—it is Star Wars, one of the best worlds in this, or any, universe. Besides, there is nothing to stop Lucasfilm from taking their work—say, Michael Stackpole’s X-Wing books—and turning it into a separate movie or TV series, a possibility hinted at during last year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
The panelists discussed other topics, including their tastes in stories (westerns, Doc Savage, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and fortuitously, romances like Gone with the Wind), what influenced them as writers, and how they collaborate. It was a fascinating colloquy despite the feebleness of the moderator, a supposed Star Wars blogger whose questions were rambling and confused the panelists. One question had already been answered by Stackpole, and after the moderator asked it, Kevin J. Anderson said, “Mike, you want to run through that again?” The moderator smiled, turned to the audience, and said, “Never mind. We’ll take your questions now.”
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One of the biggest attractions of DragonCon is the Walk of Fame, where all the TV, movie, gaming, and other guests interact with fans. Over 400 guests attended this year, a few of them household names: Stephen Amell, John Barrowman, Katie Cassidy, Karen Gillan, Nichelle Nichols, and Edward James Olmos. I wanted to interview some guests, a process DragonCon manages better than most conventions. Reporters who are granted press passes must be separately approved for interviews. These approvals are based on the size of their media outlets. Once I got my approval, I could request interviews with up to ten guests.
With over 500 interview requests for 114 slots (according to Samantha Douglas, the interview coordinator), not every reporter approved for interviews actually gets one. Imagine my surprise when I was offered two: one with Sylvester McCoy, who played the Seventh Doctor on Dr. Who, and one with Caroll Spinney, who played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. The interviews were actually press conferences held in one of the Marriott meeting rooms. About twelve reporters were at each one. Most represented nerd-news sites like ConventionScene, though I also saw CNN and Georgia Public Broadcasting.
Through no fault of DragonCon, the press conferences were disasters. After we waited thirty minutes for Sylvester McCoy, someone came in to say that he was cancelling. His panel had run long, and because he was leaving that afternoon, there was no time to reschedule. Carol Spinney was over an hour late (he simply forgot) and stayed only about ten minutes. Here is a bit of what he had to say:
Reporter: I heard in other interviews that you based Big Bird on a four-year-old child. Over the years, have you had to adjust your characterization of that four-year-old child version of Big Bird based on the generations?
Spinney: Actually, initially, since I decided Big Bird could not read or write, he was four-and-a-half. Then I had to go up to six. And now he has been six for years. He is a precocious child of six. He travels by himself with a dog. And he went to China, somehow. I don’t know how he got tickets. I think it’s just fun playing him as a kind of wide-eyed child. I get letters all the time from children saying, “Big Bird, you’re my best friend. Please come and play with me.” One said, “How about next Thursday?”
Reporter: When the movie [Follow That Bird, 1985] came out, Big Bird had already been around for a while, and a whole generation of children had been watching him and relating to him as a friend, and kids really felt that their friend had been kidnapped. Were you expecting Big Bird to connect to a whole country of children at that deep of a level?
Spinney: I didn’t really know what to expect. When Jim Henson hired me, we were both puppeteers. I would do whatever characters needed performing, but by the third year, with Big Bird, I was so busy. They tried to have me continue doing the incidental stuff too, but one day, Big Bird was in almost all the scenes, and I had to keep taking a taxi up and down Broadway [performing as different characters in different scenes], so one day I said, “Let’s not play this game anymore.” On the fourth year, I said I was busy enough that we needed more puppeteers. So we got some more.
Reporter: I saw that you visited the Center for Puppetry Arts yesterday. Can you talk about what you saw and did there?
Spinney: Well, the museum is going to open by November. They have so many things to display. I saw the place where they are building and repairing puppets, a lot of the Henson puppets that are worn-out. Some of the material has decayed. It has turned to powder. The only puppet I ever created myself is one that has gone to pieces. It was Bruno, who carried Oscar’s trash can around. There were fake arms going to Bruno’s shoulders, and my hands were inside. Oscar would come up and try to boss him around, but Bruno would not be bossed. I designed Bruno so that my head was in his head. I could see out through where the bags under his eyes would be. He looked like a Bert-type puppet. That way, we could get Oscar out on stage for concert tours. I asked a couple of years ago why we don’t use Bruno in shows anymore. He doesn’t exist. He has turned to powder. I asked why they don’t make a new one. It would cost $20,000, so good-bye, Bruno.
Reporter: You are an animator as well. Are you planning on making any future animations?
Spinney: Not really. After four years of doing it in Boston, I kind of got tired of it. I was glad it didn’t have to be my permanent career. I was hired by Disney Studios to be an animator, though I didn’t take the job. This was 1957, and the pay was only $56 a week for the first two years. I decided I’d try for something different, so I did. Walt [Disney] actually walked into the room during my interview. I never actually got to speak to him. I had always had a bucket list of three people I would like to meet: Andrew Wyeth, who I spent an afternoon with once and his son Jamie; Walt Disney—at least I was in the same room with him, and I turned his company down; and the other one was Jim Henson, who personally hired me. So I guess I accomplished all those.
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Suppose you are thinking of going to DragonCon in 2016, which will be its 30th anniversary. What do you need to know?
- Book early. Tickets are plentiful, but the hotels fill up fast. The marketing manager at the Hyatt told me that it takes fifteen minutes to sell his 1,250 guest rooms for DragonCon weekend.
- Prepare to wait. You will wait for autographs. You will wait for panels. You will wait for the Heroes & Villains ball or the DragonCon Burlesque or panels with the biggest celebrities. Heck, you will wait for an elevator or a restroom. Get used to it.
- Pay in cash. I have a dream that someday the DragonCon decision-makers will realize they need to mail pre-paid badges. What’s the point of buying online when you have to pick them up in-person? This means 65,000 people standing in line. Yes, registration starts on Thursday, but this benefits only those who buy a weekend pass. Those who want a one-day pass on Saturday can only buy it on Saturday and must pick it up on-site, even if they paid online. You may as well pay for a one-day on-site, and if you do, pay cash. The cash line is terribly shorter and faster than the credit card line.
- Account for the parade. A highlight of the weekend is the Saturday parade, which starts at 10:00am and stretches through downtown. Over 80,000 people show up to watch, making it the second largest parade in the state of Georgia (the first is the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade). Along the parade route, every inch of sidewalk bears a geeky gawker. It’s like a Marvel mosh pit, so plan accordingly. I heard one woman complaining that she had missed her Saturday morning photo op (which she had paid for) because she could not reach the hotel through the throng.
- Schedules are bunk. The program you are handed at registration contains a detailed schedule for the entire weekend. It is outdated the moment it is printed. There is a smartphone app that is kept current, but even it is not omniscient. For example, when I entered the Walk of Fame on Saturday, I saw a handwritten sign taped above Karen Gillan’s booth announcing that she would arrive on Sunday. DC Comics luminary George Perez left at 1:00pm on Saturday, and that was announced only when his signing line was cut off at noon. And I’ve already mentioned the press conference bloopers. Bottom line: No one can manage a convention of this heft flawlessly, so be flexible. Don’t have a meltdown when something goes awry.
- Take care of yourself. Dan Carroll calls DragonCon an “immersive experience.” This can be dreadful if you don’t manage it. He told me about an attendee some years back, a diabetic, who fainted during a session in the gaming room. She told the EMT who restored her that she hadn’t eaten in two hours. “When did you last eat?” the EMT asked. “Around 2:00,” the woman answered. The EMT looked at her and said, “Honey, it’s now 11:00.”
Six buildings. 65,000 attendees. 2,400 volunteers. A $55 million economic impact. You may have attended conventions in the past, but none compares to DragonCon, one of the United States’ largest and most venerable. Nowhere is this more evident than in the cosplays, which are more sumptuous than those you’ll see anywhere. Check them out for yourself below. Maybe I’ll see you there next year, when I plan to be dressed like this.
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Gotham City’s underworld, circa 1925
I didn’t want trouble, but these guys brought it. Big trouble.
George Lucas’s first casting attempt
Here’s Sam. Where’s Dean?
It’s always hot in Georgia in early September. Some people respond by practically going nude.
Who you gonna call? Sorry, wrong ghostbusters.
Maybe Mystery Inc. was looking for these guys. I found them instead.
I went to DragonCon looking for a life-size Barbie doll. Here it is.
This was a ood cosplay . . . I mean, a good cosplay.
An impromptu Muppet Show breaks out.
I found a baby once. Then this guy took him from me.
Preach it, Deadpool. Preach it.
Want to know what 3,000+ cosplayers in a parade look like? Here’s a glimpse.
Want to know what happens when my wife and daughter spend an entire weekend together? Here’s a glimpse.
Chuck Rozanski from Mile High Comics provided regular updates from the San Diego Comic-Con, and we have them gathered in one place for you.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CSq8WsE–0
Next year’s Deadpool film emerged as one of the highlights of this year’s San Diego Comic Con. Here are the full panel, interviews including one with Rob Liefeld, and the leaked trailer (NOTE: The trailer is not work-friendly or kid-safe.)
Deadpool Full Panel
Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, TJ Miller & Brianna Hildebrand’s DEADPOOL Interview
MTV interviews Ryan Reynolds
MTV interviews Ed Skrein
JoBlo interviews Rob Liefeld
Bootleg Copy of the Trailer
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) July 12, 2015
— 20th Century Fox (@20thcenturyfox) July 12, 2015
— Ed Skrein (@edskrein) July 12, 2015
— Ed Skrein (@edskrein) July 12, 2015
July 9, 2015 by Brian Pate
Filed under Animation, Anime, California, Comic Books, Comic-Con International, Con Reports and Photos, Cosplay, Gaming, Horror, Movies, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Television, Top Stories, Video Games
Be sure to keep coming back for more as we curate the best videos from the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con.