Friday, November 19, 2010

Austin Comicon (WizardWorld) SHOW! 2010 Report




Ah. A beautiful morning. Get to sleep in a little bit. Drive the boy to school for play-off pep-rally. Back home to shower and leisurely pack a large duffle bag. Slip all my credentials and info into a nifty Batman folder bought from Wal-Mart. Slip on my Legion Flight Ring and all is a-go. Ran to Duke's BBQ with the wife and daughter for a yummy breakfast taco and a short-stack of pancakes. Said my goodbyes and I was off....well, I had to swing by Kohl's on the way out of town to pick up an awesome tee with the cover of SUPERMAN #300 on it cuz all their character tees were half-price! Came in a cool collectible tin also emblazoned with that classic cover. I remember buying that comic when it first came out in 1976. It was a personal favorite imagining what it would be like if baby Kal-El had landed on Earth in 1976 and become Superman in the future of 2001. I made the mistake of "loaning" that one to the kid across the street, cause I was a nice kid and he was sick. He moved away without ever returning it. But I don't hold grudges. Except about that. Still one of my favorite covers.

Easy drive in. Sunny. Found a parking lot close by for $5 and headed in just as the gates opened wide. Walked right up to the press booth to get my wristband for the weekend and headed inside. Man on a mission. Snapped some general pics of the entrance as I walked in, no crowd at all yet so I strolled right up to the Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner) and Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson). Wagner is still gorgeous and seemed terribly shy. Difficult to get a conversation going at first. Lots of awkward, nervous smiling. So, I introduced myself. Told her I was here on behalf of Aintitcool but I was buying the picture and an autograph for myself. She asked what I did and I told her I write reviews and do interviews and that I'm an artist. That was a point of interest. She wanted to know what type of art and she seemed to like the fact that I still do it old-school and then scan the art in to digitally manipulate and/or add color. Gave her a business card with my website address on it and in a Columbo-moment asked one other thing...could I snap a picture? She gets nervous. The lady with her gets stone-faced and clipped. I think, did I say something wrong? So I mutter out..."for the website?" Wagner looks at the other lady like she's hiding Jews in the basement and I just showed up wearing a swastika (I make the Nazi-reference for reasons that will become clear later). Awkward silence hung in the air and then I just shrugged and said "Really, its no prob..." Then the other lady interrupted in a mollifying tone that "Well, there's the paid photo-ops and we're not supposed to..." And I said, "That's fine...I wasn't thinking in personal terms but for the website..." and smiled. Then the two of them looked at each other and said "Okay..." So, I snapped a nice picture. The fact that I was probably only the second person to talk to her made that possible. I promise that any later in the weekend, I would've been shut down immediately and likely had a cattle-prod shock to the groin.

Next up was Richard Anderson right next to Wagner. So incredibly nice and friendly and soft-spoken. Big genuine smile. Friendly handshake. I may have been his first customer. I bought an Oscar Goldman photo from him. I told him that he and everyone else from the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN show were a little bit of a lifeline for me during my formative years of '72 - '76 while my family was stationed in Puerto Rico. Everything on TV was in Spanish except for a handful of primetime shows that had the English audio simulcast over military radio, and their show was one of those. He wanted to talk about Puerto Rico. Nice visit and I moved along once others started lining up behind me.

The next few hours were spent scoping out where everyone was situated; getting a feel for the place. I promptly hit up Greg Horn to buy a gorgeous "Star Sapphire" print (and wound up buying a Vampirella print too...I'm a sucker for Vampi...have I mentioned that I have one of those life-size posters of Vampi from the '70s signed by Vampi herself?). I checked out Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard) and Wilma Deering (Erin Gray). Erin Gray has aged quite well and were I single and she willing...well, I'd canoodle a bit.

On to Mike Grell to buy a WARLORD print and get him to sign a copy of an issue of GL/GA that I am pretty sure was the first Mike Grell comic I ever bought. It's well-worn. Grell was drawing headshots for $50 and full figure shots for $100. If I was into that, I think it would be worth it. He also signs your first comic for free and additional comics are $1 for each. It's an easy way to keep away the ebay-ers because they hate anything that erodes their profit. Grell is an energetic guy with a nice tough-guy persona and an entertaining story to tell for each and every hand he shakes. A great guest. I'd love to see him on a panel with Howard Chaykin, another great storyteller from the same generation of creators.

Visited bunches of dealers just looking for a "good deal." One guy had a bunch of longboxes with random comics thrown in for 50¢ each. I found mint copies of all 3 issues of GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS...a series I regret having gotten rid of years ago during a comics purge. Knowing Mike Grell was at the con, I was thrilled to find them. So, I presented them to the dealer who looked at me with a constipated look and groaned "Are you sure you can't find one more?" I said "Well these are all I wanted." He groaned again "....I don't have.... 50¢" Really? He didn't offer to just let me take all 3 for $1.00, so I said "I'm sure I can find something." I remembered flipping past an old '70s BATMAN comic I had as a kid, so I grabbed that one. Dealer was happy and gave me my bills. Mentally tucked away the fact that I needed to get back to Grell for another sig.

About 30 minutes before Lee Majors was scheduled to show up for signings, I made my way into line to wait. I was the third person there. He eventually showed up, not too late. The 2 ladies in front of me were drooling over the footage of the $6,000,000 man playing on the TV while we waited. Obviously, Majors' appearance here is coordinated with the release (finally) of the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN series on DVD in the U.S. for the very first time (legally). The only downside to this great news is that it's a $250 package from TimeLife and unavailable for rent or in individual seasons. You gotta buy them all or nothing. And no stores are allowed to carry them. So, a good news/bad news situation for fans.

Majors himself is in real good shape and seemed completely overwhelmed by this whole experience. The TV show predates the modern convention mania, so he was obviously quite outside of his comfort zone here. However, he was very friendly and nice. I shook his hand...TWICE! So sue me...he's the frackin' SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and I wanted to hold his hand a little bit!

I told him that I was an actual member of his "Fan Club." To which he laughed and said "I didn't know I still had one!" So, I smiled and told him about how when I was 9 years-old I clipped out the form from a comic and slipped10 thin dimes into an envelope and sent it in to join the official "Six Million Dollar Man Fan Club." But, a few weeks later, I received an envelope back with 9 dimes inside, my form, and a note that said I had only sent 9 dimes instead of 10. A very sad me was shocked and surprised and gloriously happy about a week or so later when the full Fan Club package arrived anyway! So, I walked away the first day with all my birthday money spent on autographed photos of Lee Majors, Lindsay Wagner, Richard Anderson and autographed prints from Mike Grell and Greg Horn. Like a friend of mine said...I was "like a kid in a candy store." All I know is that those 3 photos join my Johnathan Frid (Barnabas Collins) sign photo and my birthday sketch from George Perez as most prized possessions. Now I really need to finally get that Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing) autographed photo.

After that, it was time to check in at my hotel room. Originally, I planned on heading back for the Bionic panel, but I realized I needed a little lay-down time. So, I relaxed at the hotel until about 5:30 and then started getting ready for dinner with some friends up from Louisiana. Chatting by text a few times during the day, I knew they were in town and we planned on meeting up for dinner. They wanted to know where and when, so I made a reservation real quick at MariaMaria Restaurant right off 6th Street. A great place for high-end Mexican food and drinks, plus it's co-owned by Carlos Santana. :) I figured more than enough time to meet up with my wife and daughter on the south end of Round Rock and skedaddle back to the downtown by 7.

I was wrong.

What I did not know or take into account was that this wasn't only the Comicon weekend. It was also "Play-offs" night at various high school football arenas, and it was the U.T. vs. O.S.U. game on Saturday, and it was a state teacher's conference meeting in the same location, and a friggin' movie was filming in downtown this weekend. Add all that to the normal afterwork traffic and our travel time tripled. :/ I kept sending my friends my apologies by text, and thankfully they went ahead and got the table and relaxed while they waited for us. Increasingly frustrated, we finally made it to where we normally would turn onto Colorado Street and damn if the road wasn't blocked off! So, takes forever to get around in Austin because of all the blasted one-way streets downtown. Finally make our way down to MariaMaria and the fracking $5 garage we always park in on the left is shut down. So, with no way to cross traffic back over to the right side....and to avoid Valet (because my OCD has a problem with valet parking), I drop my wife and daughter off and tell them to go in and find Jim and I'll be there as fast as I can. ..which, because of Austin's bassackwards road and traffic, took me way longer than it should, but I finally got parked in well-lit garage on the right and dashed inside and started scoping around for our table.

Great food. Great visit. A couple of hours later, around the time that the live music started kicking it up, we parted ways and I took my wife and daughter back to their car....which this time took all of 15 minutes rather than 1 1/2 hours. I headed back to my room close by the Con and made an early night of it so I could be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning for the mongo Saturday.

Woke and showered in plenty of time to catch the "Continental" breakfast at the hotel. First time ever that his included Mexican fried burritos and boiled eggs....but I'm not complaining. Booked it over to the Convention Center, no prob. Staying literally 3 minutes south (away from all the football madness) was genius. Met up with my sister and my son just as the doors were opening. Friday had been a steady but not overly large crowd. The Saturday crowd was monster sized already. In terms of space, this was not a particularly large space...easily about 1/4 of the size of the C2E2 for comparison. So, when this crowd descended on Saturday...well there were times during the day where I literally could not move because there was simply no space, just bodies. Of all the comics guys there, the top 3 in terms of continuous long lines were Greg Horn, Joe Madeiura, and Arthur Suydam. Suydam was the most popular (again, in terms of lines) with his massive Marvel Zombies banners and hundreds of zombie prints. Horn and Suydam were selling prints and books and were willing to sign with a purchase. Without a purchase, Horn was requesting a donation go into the Hero Initiative donation jar in exchange for sigs.

There was a huge emphasis on THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE at this Con. Which is bizarre to me. I don't get that appeal at all. But the guy and the two hot girls who star in that low-budget torture flick were there and the most disturbing thing I overheard as I walked by was a guy holding his signed picture from one of the girls and telling her he loved the movie. *shudder* How anyone loves a movie where that girl gets her mouth surgically attached to a guy's butt is beyond my comprehension. Had no interest in Xander from BUFFY. But he was there.

One thing I noticed immediately upon entering the Con was a deep fixation on the camera I wore around my neck. It was kind of crazy. Every time I moseyed anywhere within sight line of a celebrity...if I even glanced their way I would be staring eye-to-eye by someone with badge either shaking their head at me or actually putting their hand up and saying "No pictures." Except for poor Ernie Hudson of GHOSTBUSTERS fame. He was there wearing his full Ghostbusters costume and set up right next to a replica of their Ghostbusters-mobile. Nobody seemed to mind when I stood back and took a string of pictures of Ernie. But whatever you do, don't try to snap a pic of Peter Mayhew or Gil Gerard. Try to take a picture of Billy Dee Williams or Lee Majors and I got the distinct impression that my children might become orphans. This kind of thing eventually started pissing me off...because I really don't like people treating me like that and I get kind of immature. So, yeh. After awhile, I turned off my flash and started just nonchalantly snapping pics without aiming as I walked through the aisles. Wound up accidentally catching folks like Claudia Christian, Lou Ferrigno, Kevin Nash, Joan Severance in some of them. Oh well, let's all remember the WizardWorld sign outside at the entrance says:

"By entering these premises you consent to be photographed, filmed and/or otherwise recorded for any use and waive all rights you may have to any claims for payment or royalties in connection with any exhibition, televising, or other publication of these materials." [emphasis mine]

Roaming around in the crushing crowd, I periodically popped by the Artist's Alley to see if a few of the guys I was interested in talking to (like Matt Sturges) were available, but crowds everywhere. Eventually I gave up and decided to hit them all up on Sunday when I was sure that the crowd would be much smaller. I overheard a lot throughout the day as I went in and out of the pathways of celebs, comics pros, and dealers. The most obvious constant was that they were without exception very very happy with the response in Austin.

My son spent a lot of time at a dealer in knives, swords, and stun guns. I will say that the telescoping light-sabre-style massive stun gun was definitely impressive. You could hear those things going off all day as the dealer was demonstrating her wares. She always had a full contingent of men checking out the weaponry.

Claudia Christian bumped into me on what I believe was a quick dash to the restroom and when I turned back around, there were some friends I was supposed to meet up with for lunch. So, the three of us grabbed my son and headed outside to look for a place to eat. I wasn't exactly sure what all was in the area, so we just started walking. Sidewalk was a little busy, so we slipped into the mostly empty bike lane for a block or so. That was a mistake. I forgot that the Austin bike community is a militant wing having delcared a fatwa upon all pedestrians and drivers. We weren't there 5 seconds and an obnoxious biker...with more than enough room...yells "BIKE LANE!" at us. We ignored her. But we got a good amount of daggers flung our way from bikers' eyes during that short walk across the street. *sheesh*

After a good lunch at the Spaghetti Warehouse, we headed back to the Con. Walked around some more with my boy and then he headed back to the stunguns, so I left him alone and felt the need to visit the restroom myself. What I found in there is difficult to describe, but besides the enormous line of geeks waiting to use the various holes, the place looked like a bunch of angry chimpanzees had had a poo party or something. So, I tried the other restroom. It too was a disaster, and now it was becoming urgent. Then I remembered the Teacher's Conference upstairs..."teachers are less likely to conduct themselves like angry chimps" and hopped on the escalator and snuck into the restroom up there. Clean, quiet, victory.

Rushed back downstairs to meet up with my son to sit in on the Walter Koenig panel. Took note of the sign at the entrance to the Exhibit Hall with two stages set up. The sign said "Photos allowed in Exhibit Hall while celebrities are on-stage as long as photos are for personal use only." Woohoo! So, I happily snapped away with my phone as ol' Walter talked. I'm not kidding when I say that he was asked TWICE to say "Nuclear Wessel" in 30 minutes. If he was Del Shannon, he would've killed himself on the spot.

After Walter's talk, it was time for my son to decide how he wanted to spend his $20. Out of everything he walked around to look at, it came down to a decision between 2 items: A butterfly knife from the stungun lady or a signed soup ladle from the "Soup Nazi" from SEINFELD. The "Soup Nazi" won the prize...and my son is incredibly happy and thrilled. "Soup Nazi" was so nice, visited with us, and let us take pictures with him. At one point as he was signing the ladle, I told him "that must've taken some practice." To which he smiled up at me and said "You'd think so. But the weird thing is that the very first time I tried it, it came out perfect. I guess I was born to sign soup ladles!" And he laughed. That was the end of the day for my boy. Once I got him dropped off with his mom, I was back inside for Bill Sienkiewicz's panel. Snapped a couple of shots of him just with my phone. Good sized crowd. Immediately after that was the Adam West & Burt Ward panel on the other stage.

Crowd was pretty huge, so I went off to roam again for awhile. When I checked the time and realized the West & Ward thing was 15 minutes into it, I strolled back in and stood way in the back to listen in and snap a couple of grainy zoomed-in photos. By the time I snapped the second picture I was being manhandled by this long-haired dude (too old to keep his hair that long unless he's a member of an '80s hair band). He was in my face about how he told me "4 times from the stage that there were no photos allowed!" To which I informed him that I just walked in and didn't hear that announcement and... he interrupted that we needed to let security deal with me. And I, again politely but firmly, pointed out to him that I obviously understood there was a policy against photos out on the floor because of the paid photo ops (I'm not a moron) but that the sign at the entrance to the panels says that photos ARE allowed while the guests are onstage...for personal use. He smirked and mockingly said " me the sign." I said.."Okay. Unless someone has taken it down or something." Which got me a superior snort from him. So, I walked him to the entrance and pointed out the sign triumphantly. His puffed up chest deflated as he read the sign and he didn't outright apologize, but he told me that I could keep the picture I took. I accepted that as an apology. Then he hustled off to get that sign taken down because, according to him, it was "not supposed to be there." Pissed me off, but there was a sense of satisfaction in that I was right this time. But thank you long-haired Whitesnake reject for ruining the West & Ward panel for me. I had no interest in walking back in there after that. Basically, the Con organizers and their bullies need to lighten the hell up on the quick-snap photos or they need to just outright ban cameras entirely from the event.

In fact, I kind of needed to just get out for awhile at that point and went and grabbed some dinner. Headed back for the Costume Contest after some food, which was a lot of fun. Lasted over 2 hours and a guy dressed as Mario actually won. He was funny and good...but Power Girl, Blue Falcon, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkgirl were all much better and all deserved Best In this humble reviewer's opinion. Honorable Mention should go to "Pimp" Vader.

Headed in to the last hour of the GHOSTBUSTERS screening and afterwards visited outside for about another hour with the drop-dead gorgeous cos-play model "Taffeta Darling" and Scott from I then headed to Sixth Street where I thought I might pop in to the costume after party at the Gypsy Lounge until I realized it was waaaayyyy down on the east end of Sixth Street. I no go there. Sorry. Soaked up the Sixth Street scene for a bit. Grabbed something to eat while reading a HOUSE OF MYSTERY trade and it was about 1 a.m. and time for bed. Relaxed and streamed the pilot of THE WALKING DEAD before heading to sleep.

Day 3 was light and easy. I strolled in right at 11 a.m. to go attend Matt Sturges's talk on writing comics. Very down-to-earth talk. Good to listen to a working writer with a practical head on his shoulder and not worshipping a giant other-dimensional snake or chanting over sigils to get his work done. Sturges's work is marked by a nice syncopation to it and quirky sensibilities. It's why he works well with Bill Willingham on FABLES and HOUSE OF MYSTERY. Similar approaches that work better on the fringes usually than on your average mainstream super-hero book. I also have a copy of his novel OFFICE OF SHADOW I'm trying to get to...but it got bumped once again on my reading list. This time by Michael Moorkcock's DR. WHO novel that picked up at the Con.

After Sturges's panel it was time for Mike Grell's panel. And boy what a panel. Grell is one of those old-school got-a-story-for-every-occasion kinda guys. He was very fun and interesting. His story about how Vince Colletta made Jose Delbo cry over the butchered inkjob he did on an issue of JONAH HEX was a gem. As well, his story about how he came up with the entire pitch for THE WARLORD in 2 minutes while Carmine Infantino was taking a phone-call was classic. After his talk, he came down and shook everyone's hands and thanked them for coming. Very nice.

This being the last day, it was my day to go hit all those comic guys that had been too busy before. So, pretty easily, I was able to run by Michael Golden and get his sig on my copy of the BATMAN SPECIAL with The Wrath. Talked a little to Bill Sienkiewicz while he signed his EPIC ILLUSTRATED cover of Galactus. My personal favorite Sienkiewicz work is the adaptation of MOBY DICK he did for First Comics. He said "That needs to get back in to print." I agreed.

Finally, Suydam had no line. I got him to also sign a cover of EPIC ILLUSTRATED, the last issue, with "Cholly & Flytrap" on it. He told me that a new hardback collecting all their stories was recently released. I will look for that. I also had him sign one of the VAMPIRELLA covers he did and bought an unbelievable "Red Sonja" print from him. Got my chance to talk to Matt Sturges for awhile. He may be just about my favorite comic professional that I've met. Now that I know he lives so close to me, I expect an invite to Thanksgiving dinner.

Cartoonist Phil Ortiz was set up across from macabre cartoonist Angus Oblong and it made for an interesting thing to watch. Phil, of course, illustrates THE SIMPSONS comics and looks like a Simpsons character himself. Angus spent all 3 days in full clown-face make...including the red ball nose. Definitely a sight to watch. Both of them were entertaining delighted fans the whole weekend.

I finally ran on up to Grell for the second time, this time to get him to sign that first issue of THE LONGBOW HUNTERS I got on Friday. I told him my favorite part about the cover was that I could see the canvas and paintstrokes on it. I like texture in my art. He told me a story about seeing an actual painting by N.C. Wyeth that blew him away and humbled him when it said at the bottom that Wyeth had painted it in 3 hours. I told him "That's okay. You created THE WARLORD in 2 minutes." I actually stumped him for a second with that one. Then he started laughing and told me he was stealing that!

Last thing I did before taking off was run by to see Kerry Gammill at the Monsterverse table. I bought a copy of BELA LUGOSI'S TALES FROM THE GRAVE and the incredible painted promo poster from Gammill. I wanted to shake his hand finally. When I was a teenager I once wrote him a letter about getting into the comic biz and he handwrote back a very nice letter that I still own.

I had a great time the entire weekend. And I still had Dr. Sketchy in about an hour, so I ran and grabbed a burger at the Sports Bar and then headed to The Art Department (TAD) for a 3-hour sketch session with Taffeta Darling dressed first as "Jessica Rabbit", then "The Black Queen", and finally as "Elmyra" (from Tiny Toons). Tons of fun. Got to work some art muscles. Hugged Taffeta and said my goodbyes and I was done, spent, and on my way back to real life.


Austin's first large-scale Comic Convention was by all accounts a huge success and plans are already underway for next year.  With STAPLE! in the Spring and Comicpalooza in Houston at the beginning of the summer, it looks like this is a good time to be a comc book fan in Texas.


*A revised and edited version of this report will be found on on Nov. 22, 2010

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