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!
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!
Indication #1 you are at a sci-fi convention.
Indication # you are at a sci-fi convention.
Guys, no need to fight. There are enough tickets for everyone.
I would have seen GRRM sooner if it weren’t for those meddling kids!
Inside the dealer room.
People came from all over for this convention. Even Golgotha.
No, Johnny Depp was not there. Would have been awesome, though.
GRRM signing line: the Haves . . .
. . . and the Have-Nots
I’m not sure why I bought so much stuff at the auction. Any ideas?
GRRM addresses fans during one of his readings.
Lara Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott pose for a picture.
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!
Day 1 of Minneapolis’s first-ever Wizard World
Can’t wait to get in!
I had trouble finding a parking spot, so . . .
Robert Englund plans his next nightmare.
Deadpool! Get out of the picture!
A couple of convention security officers.
Minnesota isn’t quite the Caribbean, but this pirate didn’t mind.
Look just under the poster of Karen Gillan to see the real Karen Gillan.
My cell phone wasn’t working, so I asked this guy to call my wife. With his mind.
Yes, it’s bigger on the inside, but how many licks does it take to get the Tootsie Roll center?
I thought about asking this guy for directions but decided against it.
Who scheduled a dance competition on the same weekend as Wizard World?!
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.
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
Boston is a good city in which to be a geek. Annually it hosts several well established conventions including Vericon, Arisia, PAX East, and Boston Comic Con. Last weekend Anime Boston hit town bringing with it thousands of attendees, most of whom wore cosplay. Founded by the New England Anime Society in 2003 with a focus on Japanese animation and comics, the convention still welcomes fans of many genres and media who are interested.
This year’s big feature was the highly anticipated US debut of the English dub of Attack on Titan. A popular manga which was adapted last year into an animated series, Attack on Titan imagines a world where the entire human race hides away in a giant walled city to protect themselves from monstrous Titans that have devoured anyone caught outside. After one hundred years of peace, lead character Eren Yeager, his adoptive sister Mikasa Ackerman, and their friend Armin Arlert find themselves pulled into the Survey Corps to battle the new breed of Titans that have breached the walls and avenge their fallen families.
In the weeks leading up to Anime Boston the production company FUNimation gradually announced the English language cast for the dubbed version. Included were 2014 guests Patrick Seitz as Keith, Kyle Hebert at Mitabi, Mike McFarland as Jean (in addition to being the voice over director), Josh Grelle as Armin, Matthew Mercer as Levi, and Trina Nishimura as Mikasa. The only role unannounced leading up to the convention was that of Eren, the main character, which led to a great deal of speculation that it would be given to actor Greg Ayres, who was another guest of the show. However, at the premiere Sr. Manager of Social Strategy and Development for FUNimation Justin Rojas began with a specially recorded video message. Actor Bryce Papenbrook appeared on screen to announce that he would perform the role of Eren and expressed his regrets that he could not appear in person.
The crowd was raucous and excited as they were given the first public screening of the first three episodes of Attack on Titan. The fans sang along to the theme song and cheered loudly for the first appearance of literally every major character. One thing anime fans have in spades is enthusiasm. An encore presentation with two more episodes was screened on Sunday. The full series will release on June 3rd 2014.
Following the screening was a Q&A with cast members Mike McFarland, Josh Grelle, Matthew Mercer, and Trina Nishimura. They all expressed a keen interest in the project, though Mercer seemed intimidated by one fan saying he is now a sex symbol. His signing line earlier that day would certainly reinforce his popularity as hundreds of fans queued up though only one hundred were guaranteed to get their posters and DVDs signed. Grelle said it was exciting to see an anime taking a chance and deviating from the old trope of “harem shows with magic” which have dominated the industry. He also said the music drew him in as well.
McFarland and Mercer were both unacquainted with Attack on Titan prior to being cast but each said they binged on the entire series in one viewing because they were so drawn into the story and characters. McFarland warned that it’s a gritty show but SO dark that some characters won’t make it. When asked about casting, McFarland said that many key roles went to Los Angeles talent, as opposed to FUNimation stalwarts, because of amount of work that went into each session and that he actively wanted to bring in new people as much as possible. The actors were pushed hard to make sure the performances were the very best.
Nishimura had an admiration for her role as Mikasa, a character who is as strong or even stronger those around her. “The stereotype of the anime chick is changing,” she said to applause, “It’s not pantie shots and flying and sparkles.”
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. EPs Jeffrey Bell, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jed Whedon, along with cast members Clark Gregg, Elizabeth Henstridge, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, and Brett Dalton spoke to the media at Paleyfest 2014, and Convention Scene’s own Richard Oh was there.
The Mad Monster Party returned to Charlotte this weekend, March 21-23, 2014, by far their biggest effort yet. This was the third year for the convention that celebrates everything from old school Twilight Zone to A House of 1,000 Corpses, and everything in between. In fact, where else could you find Leatherface himself, RA Mihailoff reciting the Bard with Shakespeare Carolina, while music legends The Misfits looked on? It was truly a bizarre weekend.
I had the great fortune to be invited by local independent film makers, Long Walk Productions, to hang with them at their vendor booth for the convention. This meant that my time was split between working the Con and also enjoying it from a visitor’s perspective. It’s interesting to see things from both sides of the house, especially if you want a clear impression of what is really going on around you. It’s always a good thing, unless of course you are reviewing a restaurant. In that case, I assure you…stay out of the kitchen.
The Mad Monster Party (MMP) was set up between two large ballrooms at the University Place Hilton in Charlotte. The hotel is situated by a small lake, amongst many shops and restaurants all connected by small footbridge. Parking was a little tricky, but almost always is at events such as these. MMP utilized every bit of space that they could, lining the hallways of the hotel with various vendor booths and installing a gala tent in the parking lot. Everywhere you turned, strange collectibles and stars of the macabre awaited. Upon set up Friday, it seemed as though everything was planned to perfection. Little did I know how busy things were in the lobby with people trying to get through Will Call with their pre-paid ticket receipts.
And then, of course, came Saturday. Saturdays are notorious for being the busiest convention day because that’s when most people are able to attend. It became evident quickly that the volunteer staff was not prepared to handle the situation. Social media began to explode with posts citing excessively long lines and ticketing issues among other things. Television and film star John Schneider, who was there to do a special screening of his new film Smothered, remained positive as he told me, “We had a good turnout [for the screening] but I wouldn’t do it on a Friday night again, because I’ve had a bunch of people say that they couldn’t get in last night because in order to see Smothered, they had to get in here first. And the line was too long, so by the time they got their ticket, Smothered was either already started or over.” Aside from that snafu, Schneider seemed rather pleased with the rest of MMP.
That seemed to be the consensus all around. Nightmare on Elm Street’s Heather Langenkamp, commenting on the amount of people waiting in line to meet her, “It’s something like I have never experienced.” For the most part, vendors and celebrities were easily accessible, with no more than a 10 minute wait at any given time. But as Saturday progressed, maneuverability waned. Table lines grew wildly, specifically for William Shatner, Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson, and Corey Feldman. Traffic flow to the tables was not designated prior, so fans were coming at them from all sides. It was a complete cluster. Finally, someone had the sense to put some silver duct tape on the floor in front of Elvira’s table to split the flow of traffic in either direction. Feldman told me, “I think it’s [MMP] great, you know. It’s probably the biggest one I’ve seen outside of [San Diego] Comic Con, that would be my guess.”
Joe Moe, one of the three event organizers, was on hand throughout the weekend, talking to vendors, guests, and overseeing things first hand. I witnessed him assess a pedestrian traffic jam and quickly remedy the situation by addressing volunteer staff and guests. Having been on the working side of conventions before, I know how overwhelming things can become. Moe, always with a smile on his face, took it all in stride. “We’re having some growing pains, yes. Ballpark, it looks like we’re on track with 4-5,ooo in attendance, which is what we had hoped for.” Moe also made sure to respond to comments on social media outlets throughout the weekend, which were not always positive, and address concerns in the best way that he could. “We’re really responsive to fans.”
Many of those fans had some downright horrible things to say in their posts. This is the first time that I have seen that level of response to a convention. Sure, I had issues with the event. For starters, the power went off twice in the ballroom leaving everyone in the dark for a few moments. The A/C was all but non-existent. There wasn’t enough signage or a proper map laid out in their pamphlets to let guests know which celebs were in which ballroom, or to provide the location of any special panels (the tent in the parking lot, in case you were wondering). One of the actors, I won’t name names, bumped into me at a water cooler. “I ain’t seen a staff member in hours.” He’d had to abandon his autograph table in order to get a drink of water because volunteers all but disappeared the more chaotic the crowd became. There were so many things that I witnessed–again, as both vendor and guest–that I would have done differently.
Certainly, there were cases where the venting was called for. If I’d pre-purchased tickets and still been subjected to a 3.5hr line to hand in the receipt, I would have been pissed! If my car had been lost by the valet (yes, that happened) the whole world would have known about it. But, the majority of the complaints were, in my opinion, blown out of proportion. I don’t know anything about this Joe Moe or his colleagues. But what I do know, is that someone who is a fanboy at heart, got the idea to start a convention. A party by the fans for the fans. For everything that was wrong, so much of the weekend was right. Even Disney World gave me a headache (fast-pass my behind). But it was still one of the greatest vacations of my life.
That being said, let’s consider the rest of MMP, shall we? One minute I’m discussing special effects make-up with the great Tom Savini, and the next, I’m cracking jokes with the likes of Richard Kiel and Dick Miller. There was a panel between WWF (yeah…I said it) legends Rowdy Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan. Henry “the Fonz” Winkler was showing off children’s books. Cherie Currie was chatting me up on the history of rock legends the Runaways. Corey Feldman used my cell phone. Megan Grant, a licensed cosmetologist and entrepreneur, was set up with her Get Dead Crew, providing air-brush and prosthetics to people, literally turning them into monsters on site. There was karaoke in the hotel bar Saturday night. I laid down the boogie and played that funky music til they died. Or at least until the Misfits’ Dr. Chud cracked up laughing at me. The highlight of my weekend at MMP was Saturday night at midnight, when an estimated 1,000 guests piled into the gala tent to watch a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, featuring a spectacular shadow-cast troupe called That Type from Charlotte’s Cinebarre, and featuring the film’s stars Barry Bostwick, Patricia Quinn and “Little” Nell Campbell. RHPS historian, Larry Vizel was on hand to film and conduct interviews for the upcoming 40th anniversary documentary Rocky Horror Saved My Life. It was an historical evening. In her second year attending with her family, Roseana Matthews found a “Golden Ticket” in the “Monsta Bar” she had purchased. The chocolates were a monster mock up of the famous Wonka Bar, with 6 lucky winners being upgraded to RIP status.
I guess the point that I’m trying to make, is that people need to lighten up. Unless something truly horrible happened to you or someone you care about as a direct result of something at a convention, you’re problem isn’t as big as you’re making it out to be. MMP is, as Moe said, experiencing growing pains. In 3 short years, the event has grown exponentially. Given their celebrity guest list, perhaps they should have considered a different venue. This is an event that is convention center worthy, crammed into a hotel. In order to make up for the overcrowding (which, according to local news, had the attention of the Fire Marshall), organizers will need to carefully consider where they set up next year. Or at least, reconsider the amount of vendors in the halls (many in wheelchairs had difficulties navigating) or alter the layout. Volunteer staff could be better trained. But this is how it is done, honestly, trial and error. As an event organizer, you try to prepare for every possible scenario you can imagine and you train your staff based on that. Without fail, something unexpected will always crop up; being short handed, celebs that cancel, ticketing issues, photo-op issues, and so forth. Conventions should be looked at as viable organisms, growing and changing and evolving. They will never be able to please all fans all the time. But they will certainly try. Year to year, they’ll try.
And it’s important for MMP to learn from their mistakes and move forward a little more prepared next year. For every celebrity guest I interviewed raved about how much fun they were having and how they couldn’t wait to come back. Celebrating all that scares us excites our film heroes, too. “Your first scare is the most important one you have,” said Langenkamp, admitting that the Flying Monkeys from the Wizard of Oz is what started it all for her. Dick Miller laughed, “I’ve very rarely been scared by movies…except for something Shirley Temple did.” Barry Bostwick had other ideas, “You wanna know why I do this? I do this to talk to lovely people like you and to oogle the girls. I just sit here and watch the girls go by.” Thanks, Barry.
All in all, in spite of a few hiccups–some preventable, some not–I think Mad Monster Party was a huge success. It is a relaxed environment where you get to hang out with the celebrities, rather than being separated from them like at some other conventions. Between the few panels that they had, the movie screenings, and the Rocky Horror reunion, it was definitely worth the ticket price for anyone who attended. Even though I did my fair share of mumbling and complaining throughout the weekend, I will admit, as a fan I am grateful an event such as this has been put together. I hope that, in time, other fans will learn to appreciate what all goes into putting on an event of this size and what they got to experience over all. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2015 brings for the Mad Monster Party!
Photos courtesy of Garrett Marks and Walker Bait Productions, unless otherwise noted.
Thousands of colorfully dressed fans flocked to Kansas City, MO this past weekend to party and meet their heroes. And there were also comic convention-goers! While the fans of Iowa State and Baylor University were in town to cheer on their teams in the Big 12 tournament, many fans of comics, cosplay, and science fiction were at the convention center for Planet Comicon!
This was my first visit to this convention, even to the Midwest, but I still had an idea of how big the con would be. The promoters had a stellar line-up of comic creators including writers Scott Snyder (Batman), Jason Aaron (Amazing X-Men), Greg Rucka (Lazarus), Cullen Bunn (Wolverine), and Frank Tieri (Deadpool) and artists like Darwyn Cooke (New Frontier), Tim Sale (Captain America: White), Jill Thompson (Beasts of Burden), Dave Johnson (100 Bullets), Don Rosa (Uncle Scrooge), and many more.
One of the highlights of the show was meeting hip hop icon Darryl “DMC” McDaniel (1/3 of the groundbreaking rap group Run-DMC). He was in town promoting his latest venture, Darryl Makes Comics. A self-avowed comic nerd, DMC spoke at length during his signings and his panel about how he connected with comic books growing up, particularly Marvel titles as many were set in New York City. He even told a story about he and his brother selling off their beloved collection of comics at age 14 in order to purchase his first turntable set. His new line of comics will be treasury sized set in a universe in which DMC is only the first superhero to debut. With prominent industry creators such as Damion Scott, Ron Wimberley, Greg Pak, Dexter Vines, and more on-board, DMC assures fans that his comics will be created with integrity and a love of the medium.
Another big draw for Planet Comicon this year was a Star Trek: The Next Generation reunion. While the crowds were too big on Saturday and Sunday to catch all of their panels, I was able to sit in on Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi) and Michael Dorn’s (Lt. Worf) on Friday afternoon. Sirtis told the audience that the rest of the cast gets very nervous whenever she does a convention in the Midwest because she’s very outspoken politically. Then she launched into a tirade against Obamacare detractors while Dorn tried to get her back onto the subject at hand. They fielded Q&A from the crowd and told many stories from behind the scenes of the show, which Sirtis described as being “like kindergarten at recess.” One fan asked about the connection between TNG and the Disney animated series Gargoyles, in which Sirits voiced lead villain Demona and Dorn recurring character Coldstone. Dorn said that the producers were fans of TNG but still made everyone audition. Sirtis described Demona as being much closer to her actual personality than the demure Counselor Troi.
Growing up the only reason I even started watching TNG was because Levar Burton was the host of my favorite kids’ show, Reading Rainbow. Having missed out on his panel, I decided to purchase an autograph. When I introduced and explained how much Reading Rainbow had meant to me, Burton replied by saying, “Colin, would you like a piece of gum?” holding up a pack of Extra. A fan ahead of me had given him a bag of goodies (candy, toys, hand sanitizer, etc.) and at first I demurred stuttering that I already had gum. “Are you sure?” he asked, “It’s the classic bubblegum flavor.” That’s when a woman behind hissed, “What are you, stupid? Take the gum!” I realized that that this was a unique opportunity and thanked Burton for the pack. Naturally he signed the photo, “Colin, Enjoy the gum!”
All in all, this was a really fun convention. The organizers are to be applauded for getting a great list of guests and smoothly running a large con. I honestly have no qualms or criticisms to offer. Thanks to Ben & Jeni Defeo for showing me around the city (and then some) and my travelling partners Randy House and Christian Miller.
On March 7th, the Mondo Gallery in Austin, TX featured a fantastic exhibition of classic and modern Disney films captured brilliantly by some of today’s top pop culture print artists! With fans waiting in line as early as Tuesday afternoon, over 300 fanatic fans showed up to take part in this amazing show. While the show may be closing, the remaining prints will go on sale tomorrow at the Mondo Tees website! And now, here are some pictures showing off the gorgeous artwork!
Nothing’s Impossible, the title of Mondo’s Disney show!
The line of chairs that stayed outside for days prior to the show.
Aaron Horkey’s Ratatouille regular and variant prints!
Olly Moss’ Jungle Book!
Brandon Holt’s Jungle Book stole the show!
Martin Ansin’s Beauty and the Beast regular and variant editions!
Kevin Tong’s Up and Wall-E prints!
Jason Edmiston’s beautiful trio of villain paintings gracing the walls of the Mondo gallery.
Phantom City Collective’s The Skeleton Dance print!
Francesco Francavilla’s The Black Cauldron print!
JC Richard’s Peter Pan, Tiny Kitten Teeth’s 101 Dalmatians, Rich Kelly’s The Sword in the Stone, and Dave Perillo’s Winnie the Pooh!
Finding Nemo, one of Tom Whalen’s 4 prints for the Disney show!
Ken Taylor’s Alice in Wonderland in sandwiched between 2 more Tom Whalen prints. Don’t miss these on tomorrow’s online drop!