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.
The Society of Illustrators celebrates the work of four iconic illustrators- Peter de Sève, William Joyce, Carlos Nine, and Bill Plympton – with an exhibit featuring the original illustrations from numerous movies and shorts.
About the Artists
Peter de Sève:
Peter de Sève’s illustration and character designs are known throughout the world. His work spans three decades and various media, including magazines, books, print and televised advertising, animated feature films and magazines. Best recognized for his many New Yorker covers and his character designs for the three blockbuster Ice Age movies (“Scrat” is now an international icon), de Sève has also contributed to such films as Mulan, A Bug’s Life, Tarzan, and Finding Nemo.
His many distinctions include the prestigious Hamilton King Award from the Society of Illustrators, a Clio Award for a Nike television commercial, a Spectrum Annual of Fantastic Art gold medal, a Soleil d’Or award from the Festival BD Sollies-Ville in France, and a Visual Effects Society Award nomination for outstanding animated character design for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.
Peter was honored with an Emmy Award for Outstanding Character Design for his work on Sesame Street’s Abby Cadabby’s Flying Fairy School. He has received three Annie Award nominations for Character Design in a Feature Production, the most recent for his work on Arthur Christmas.
Peter lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife Randall (with whom he recently collaborated on his first children’s book, The Duchess of Whimsy) and their two daughters, Paulina and Fia.
William Joyce has achieved world-wide recognition as an author, illustrator and pioneer in the digital and animation industry.
In February 2012, he won an Academy Award for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, an animated short film about the curative powers of story. In the past two years, he has also written seven hard copy Simon & Schuster children’s books including The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, The Guardians of Childhood book series: The Man in the Moon, The Sandman: Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie, Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King, E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth’s Core! And Toothania: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies.
Named by Newsweek magazine as “One of the 100 people to watch in the new millennium”, William has been heavily involved in the world of digital animation from its full-scale inception at Pixar Animation. His projects have been produced by nearly every major film studio including Disney, Twentieth Century Fox and DreamWorks Animation. His feature films include Rise of the Guardians, Robots and Meet the Robinsons and his television series George Shrinks and Rolie Polie Olie for which he won three Emmy Awards.
Additionally, he is the writer, producer, and production designer on the Blue Sky Studios feature film, Epic, inspired by his book The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs.
Carlos Nine is a renowned illustrator, comics author, painter, sculptor, animation film writer, and author of several books. His works have been published in Argentina, Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, U.S.A., Brazil, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
He was awarded awarded on several occasions the Silver Clio in Illustration (Clio Awards, New York, 1993), the Caran D’Ache award for best illustrator (Rome, Italy, 1995), the Prix de l’Ecole Supérieure de l’image (France, 2001) and the First Prize at the Angoulême Festival (France, 2001). He has published books and held exhibitions in numerous countries. He has been invited to give seminars, workshops, and courses in his country and in France.
He has also worked for several magazines and journals, including Le Monde (Paris), The New Yorker (USA), Noticas, Humor, and the newspapers La Nación and Clarín.
Mr. Plympton is considered the King of Indie Animation, and is the only person to hand draw an entire animated feature film. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, he graduated from Portland State University in Graphic Design. Bill moved to New York City in 1968 and began his career creating cartoons for publications such as New York Times, National Lampoon, Playboy and Screw.
In 1987, he was nominated for an Oscar® for his animated short Your Face. In 2005, Bill received another Oscar® nomination, this time for his short Guard Dog. Push Comes to Shove won the prestigious Cannes 1991 Palme d’Or; and in 2001, another short film, Eat, won the Grand Prize for Short Films in Cannes Critics’ Week.
After producing many shorts that appeared on MTV and Spike and Mike’s, he turned his talent to feature films. Since 1991, he’s made 10 feature films. 7 of them, The Tune, Mondo Plympton, I Married A Strange Person, Mutant Aliens, Hair High, Idiots and Angels, and Cheatin’, are all animated features.
Bill Plympton has also collaborated with Kanye West and Weird Al Yankovic in a number of music videos and book projects. In 2006, he received the Winsor McCay Lifetime Achievement Award from The Annie Awards.
Society of Illustrators
128 East 63rd Street, New York, NY 10065
Beach Ball Comics
3024 W Ball Rd Ste G, Anaheim, CA 92804
Comments Off on GraniteCon Celebrates 10th Anniversary
Save the date! Granitecon 2013 is September 28th and 29th! To celebrate 10 years of Granitecon we’re expanding to 2 days and moving to the larger Expo Center! Expect all sorts of fun events, signings and more! Check out the recently relaunched granitecon.com for some of the early details including our first round of guests!!!
So far our guests include:
- Katie Cook – My Little Pony
- Chris Giarrusso – Mighty Marvels, G-Man
- JK Woodward – Star Trek/Doctor Who
- Ale Garza – Deadpool, Teen Titans
- Craig Rousseau – Marvel Adventures, Perhapanauts
- Chrissie Zullo – Fables
- Amy Mebberson – My Little Pony, Sesame Street
- Edwin Huang – Skullkickers
- Mike Raicht – Stuff of Legend Writer
- Erik Burnham – Ghostbusters, TMNT Writer
- Blair Shedd – Doctor Who, Dorothy of Oz
Make sure to follow Granitecon on Twitter @granitecon and Like us on Facebook!
Comments Off on NYCC 2012 to Take a Walk Down Sesame Street with Appearances by Elmo and Gordon
ELMO AND GORDON TO APPEAR DURING “NYCC KIDS” AT NEW YORK COMIC CON
Sesame Street Characters to Visit Pop Culture Event on Sunday, October 14
Norwalk, CT, September 10, 2012: New York Comic Con (NYCC) officials today announced that Sesame Street’sElmo, the 3 ½-year-old monster with the high pitched voice and contagious giggle, will appear at the show along with his good friend Gordon (Roscoe Orman). The hugely popular and widely recognized pair from Sesame Streetwill visit the annual pop culture event during NYCC Kids, a day focused on programming and activities for younger fans and their families on Sunday, October 14, 2012. Organizers note that further details about the appearance, including the precise time Elmo and Gordon will be present for kids and fans will be announced in the near future on the NYCC website.
NYCC Kids, which always takes place on the last day of New York Comic Con, is enormously popular for children and their parents, annually attracting thousands of young kids to the pop culture extravaganza. Each year, NYCC invites the young and the young at heart to the event to enjoy, create and share in the love of all aspects of pop culture. NYCC Kids features activities for kids including drawing workshops, author readings, animal education, active games and events, and a chance to see and meet their favorite characters! New York Comic Con, which hosted over 100,000 fans last year, is one of the largest annual conventions to take place in New York City. This year’s event will take place October 11 – 14, 2012 at the Javits Center. Tickets are selling quickly and may be purchased at www.NewYorkComicCon.com.
“I am delighted to be welcoming Elmo and Gordon to New York Comic Con,” notes Lance Fensterman, Group Vice President for ReedPOP and Show Manager for NYCC. “Not only will they be a highlight event for NYCC Kids, but they also underscore the range of personalities and talent who are attracted to our show. There is something for everyone at New York Comic Con and it doesn’t make any difference if you’re 3-years-old or 80-years-old. That’s what our show are all about! We provide the very best entertainment in the pop culture universe and we cater to every age and demographic. Elmo and Gordon are legendary and we’re pleased to provide this opportunity for thousands of kids (and adults!) to see them in person.”
ABOUT ELMO: Elmo is a 3 ½-year-old red monster who is enthusiastic, friendly and cheerful. He always wants to be part of everything that goes on. However, like most preschoolers, he sometimes doesn’t have the skills or knowledge to do what he wants. But that never stops him because he has a very positive, optimistic view of himself and life.
ABOUT ROSCOE ORMAN / “GORDON”: Roscoe Orman (Gordon) is an accomplished actor whose credits extend to television, stage, and screen. This season of Sesame Street marks Orman’s 37th year as Gordon, a science teacher who is married to Susan and the father of Miles.
Orman has worked extensively on the New York stage with the Negro Ensemble Company, New York Shakespeare Festival, Manhattan Theatre Club, New Federal Theatre and American Place Theatre. Orman’s film credits include the title role in Willie Dynamite, F/X, Striking Distance, New Jersey Drive, Drive By, Thirty Days,Twilight’s Last Gleaming, Coney Island, Compliments of the Serpent and the 2011 family film Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life. On television, he has been seen on such shows as Sanford and Son, Kojak, All My Children,Law & Order, Sex and the City, Cosby and The Wire. He has authored two books, Sesame Street Dad: Evolution of an Actor and Ricky & Mobo, a children’s book which he also illustrated.
As noted, tickets for New York Comic Con in 2012 are currently available for purchase atwww.NewYorkComicCon.com. Anyone interested in exhibiting at New York Comic Con should contact Larry Settembrini, Larry@ReedPOP.com. Other information about the show, as well as news about ReedPOP, which organizes a range of pop culture events, is available at facebook.com/NewYorkComicCon andtwitter.com/NY_Comic_Con . Organizers note that many more guests will be announced over the next few weeks and fans should keep their eyes on NYCC’s website and blog for additional comics, entertainment and anime announcements.
ABOUT REEDPOP: ReedPOP is a boutique group within Reed Exhibitions which is exclusively devoted to organizing events, launching and acquiring new shows, and partnering with premium brands in the pop culture arena. ReedPOP is dedicated to producing celebrations of popular culture throughout the world that transcend ordinary events by providing unique access and dynamic personal experiences for consumers and fans. The ReedPOP portfolio includes: New York Comic Con (NYCC), Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2), Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) Prime & East, Star Wars Celebration, Fantasy Football Fest and the UFC Fan Expo. The staff at ReedPOP is a fan-based group of professionals producing shows for other fans, thus making them uniquely qualified to service those with whom they share a common passion. ReedPOP is focused on bringing its expertise and knowledge to world communities in North America, South America, Asia and Europe.
Comments Off on NYC – Being Elmo Screening
Muppeteer Kevin Clash and producer-cinematographer James Miller host a screening on Sat, Nov 12, 2011 at 2pm. Kevin Clash also hosts a screening of Elmo in Grouchland at noon.
Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Sundance and the Audience Award at the Nantucket Film Festival, this documentary chronicles the story of Kevin Clash—the award-winning persona behind the furry red monster Elmo of Sesame Street. Growing up in Baltimore in the 1970s, Clash had different aspirations than his classmates; he wanted to be a puppeteer for Jim Henson. With a supportive family behind him, he made his dreams come true.
BAM Rose Cinemas
General Admission: $12
BAM Cinema Club Members: $7
Movie Moguls: Free
Children (13 & under): $9
Students: $9 (25 and under with a valid ID, Mon—Thu)
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11217
Caroll Spinney, the man behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street appears at a special event for the Toonseum.
Pittsburgh – On Saturday, November 6th, 2010, the ToonSeum celebrates memories of Saturday mornings filled with cartoons, breakfast cereals and animated heroes. Jim Martin (Gary Gnu of the Great Space Coaster) and David Newell (Mr. McFeely of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) will be on hand throughout the evening, along with live music, a silent auction with unique experiences, food, drink, and plenty of cartoons.
The evening begins with a special ticketed VIP reception at 6:30pm featuring a conversation with Caroll Spinney. Caroll is best known for his portrayals of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. Caroll is also a talented cartoonist, painter and illustrator. Attendees of the VIP reception will receive a signed print from Caroll, along with a year-long ToonSeum Membership.
After the VIP reception, the ToonSeum kicks open the doors to all ticketholders at 8pm for KA-BLAM! III: The Return of Saturday Morning. This year’s blast is a celebration of cartoons, comics and everything else that made our mornings special. With cartoons, hands on activities, entertainment and much more, the event is a great chance for grown ups to let their inner child out to play and party.
The annual fundraiser benefits the ToonSeum, Pittsburgh’s Museum of Cartoon Art. The ToonSeum, located in Downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, is one of only three museums in the nation dedicated to the comic and cartoon arts.
This year’s event being is chaired by Yu-Ling and Gregg Behr (who are fans of cartoons and of being big kids). “The Toonseum is a new and important asset to our vibrant Cultural District and we are honored to be a part of KA-BLAM. Celebrating childhood memories is important and something we should take time out to do. This event will remind us of all the things we loved as kids and still love as big kids.” – Gregg Behr
KA-BLAM! Will take place on Saturday, November 6th, 2010. The VIP Reception with Caroll Spinney begins at 6:30pm, and the main event will be from 8:00 pm to 11:30 pm.
VIP Tickets are $100 each or $150 per couple. VIP admission includes a signed limited edition print and ToonSeum membership. KA-BLAM event only tickets are $50 and student tickets are $25. All ticketholders must be 21 years of age to attend. Saturday morning pajama dress is welcome and optional.
Tickets may be purchased online at www.ka-blam.org or in-person at the ToonSeum.
945 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222