Monday, November 24, 2003

Looking To The Stars: A Very Hurried Wizard World Report!

Wizard World has come to Texas. And what with the convention being in my backyard, not a scant dozen blocks or so from my place of employment, I’m sure you’d expect good ol’ Unca Stars to have been on hand for the whole thing, right?

Well, not quite. What with the convention being in our backyard we were expecting a whole lot of traffic over the weekend so we were informed months ago that nobody was getting any time off that weekend that they wouldn’t normally get. Luckily, what with me usually getting Sundays off, that left me with one day to try and squeeze in the entire convention experience.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of going to a convention, here are a few quick survival tips.

  1. Arrive early.

Often times, there are special events which require separate tickets than the ones you purchase to get in the door. In this case, there were a limited number of tickets for a special signing by Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes that were quickly snatched up within minute of opening the gates to the teeming masses. Not only can arriving early help ensure that you get to see everything you want to see that day, but you also get to meet interesting people as you wait.

  1. Bring cash and a budget.

There’s going to be a lot of things you’re going to want to buy but only so much you can afford. My advice is to bring a set amount of cash that you are going to be set to spend for the whole trip. Not only does this allow you to better keep track of what you have left but it does help when you meet the dealers who don’t have credit card machines (yes, there actually are some left!) or have a fairly high minimum charge on dealing with credit transactions. In addition, there are some things you will have to pay up the nose for here… particularly food. Four dollars for a cheeseburger may be only slightly cheaper than the costs in leaving the Con and coming back if they do not allow in-and-out parking.

  1. Plan ahead.

The schedule for the Con is usually available on their website or at the door. If you have certain people you want to meet, it’s always a good idea to plot out where they will be and plan to be there accordingly in order to avoid the longer lines.

The morning had a shakey start. Yours truly was dressed in his Starman costume; in this case, the Jack Knight Starman with the custom painted leather jacket, tin badge and a pair of googles that I found after spending countless hours of searching military surplus stores to find the right model. Well, the strap on the goggles broke as I was waiting in line to get in. Luckily, I was able to improvise a fix using the strings on my backpack to make a new tie.

I spent a little under two hours waiting before the gates opened, fully ready to make the dash to the Wizard booth where the Kevin Smith signing tickets were being handed out. Thankfully, it turned out to be a less of a frenzy than I feared and I got one of the few tickets easily. With that first stressful challenge out of the way, I had some time to explore the floor before going to my first planned signing.

Since I was there anyway, I decided to take the challenge at the Wizard Booth. They were having a contest where you picked a category, answered a question relating to that category and then spun a wheel to win a prize if you got it right. If you got it wrong, you had to undergo a physical challenge (just like Double Dare!) in order to get a prize.

I won a free Rising Stars “Unmasked Patriot” action figure after answering a trivia question about Spider-Man. (Name three members of the original Sinister Six… a piece of cake for a Spider-Fan such as myself.)

The next two hours were devoted to autograph hunting. In no particular order, I secured the signatures of…

  • Kurt Busiek, whom signed my copy of JLA/Avengers #1 as I thanked him for bringing back Conan to comics.
  • Mart Nodell, who I thanked for creating one of my favorite superheroes of all time (That’s the Green Lantern for those of you unfamiliar with the creators of the Golden Age) and bought a painted mousepad from.
  • Aaron Williams, the writer and artist of the excellent PS238 and Nodwick comics, who signed my PS238 #1.
  • Paul Dini, who signed my precious first edition of “Batman: Mad Love” and said precious little though one of the Top Cow marketing people next to him seemed very eager to talk to me once he found out I wrote for a review magazine. He gave me a preview of the new Wanted book by Mark Millar, JG Jones and Paul Mounts (which will be reviewed as soon as I have time to sit down and read all the freebie promo books I got this weekend.)
  • Harris O’Malley, who gave me a copy of his book “Between The Cracks: The Bridge.” (Again, look for a review next week.)
  • Cal Slayton, artist on “Shades of Blue” who autographed two books for me, signed a book for my friend Tanner (who got me reading Shades of Blue in the first place and couldn’t make the con because of work) and even did a quick sketch of Unca Stars in his Starman costume.
  • Drew Edwards, creator and writer of Halloween-Man - the creepy, kooky, ooky on-line comic. (Again.. an in-depth review is forth-coming). Dave also gets points for being the first person to recognize my costume to my face.
  • Local horror-show hostess and vintage pin-up model, Jami Deadly
  • Spectactular Spider-Man Scribe, Paul Jenkins, who signed my #1 issue of that worthy comic as he ran his way up the line of people waiting for autographs at the Wizard Booth. It seems Mr. Jenkins flight got bumped up, so instead of having a leisurely two hours to sign autographs by his lonesome at the end of the Con, he was instead sharing an hour with Darick Robertson (artist on Wolverine) and the line was moving slower than a snail. The manic Mr. Jenkins began to move up the aisle, ask who was there to see him (a surprisingly small number, given that the Con’s free promo comic was one of his- an alternative cover to Wolverine: The End #1) and quickly polished off signatures for all his fans.

And then I went to The Event. The moment that a good deal many were there for and a moment that had a deep spiritual meaning for me; the Kevin Smith autograph session. I speak with no small sense of melodrama here, for I honestly do hold Kevin Smith as responsible for saving my life.

You see, once upon a time I toiled in a lousy job in a video store in a small town, taking abuse from small-minded, low-intellect locals who I knew I was smarter than. Still, I accepted this as something to be dealt with. And then I saw a little film called “Clerks” and I was inspired. I took to heart Randall’s words that you can’t let a job define your behavior or your life and that if you aren’t satisfied with your situation in life, you are under no obligation to tolerate things as they are.

Now, I have escaped from that small town. I am, for the most part, content with my life. I have good friends and a supportive family. I have a great job that could pay more but is not stressful and allows me time to continue my education. I don’t have a girlfriend but that owes more to my not having time to go looking around more than any inability to meet people. And Kevin Smith’s writing was no small part of that.

Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to tell him that. I was too busy trying to remember if there was one “n” or two in the middle of the name of my friend Shannon, whom I was getting a book signed for as she was unable to make the convention on Sunday. But I have a book autographed by Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes, a photo of myself with the Cheech and Chong of my generation and a good story to tell every other Kevin Smith fanboy I the area.

So Kevin… on the odd chance you wind up reading this, thank you for showing me the truth of that saying “Sometimes we are the architects of our own jails,” and helping me to escape mine.

After that, there was precious little to do but wander around and shop. And that is when I made perhaps my greatest celebrity meeting that day, in terms of the person who has had the greatest impact upon the Comics-Reading world. As I was searching fruitlessly for a variant Starman figure (the one with the different color pants and a goatee), I heard the announcer’s call…

“George Perez and Kurt Busiek are now signing autographs in Room 9!”

My eyes widened. Zuzu’s pedals, I had forgotten that George Perez was still here for the Con today! I rushed to the room to find a very small crowd… barely a line. I hoped that everyone had gotten their signatures earlier in the week or that I had somehow beaten the rush because seeing so small a crowd for one of the most influential modern artists in the genre… the man who co-created the Teen Titans and drew JLA and Avengers for years upon years… well, it was a disturbing thing to think of.

Mr. Perez is widely said to be among the kindest of creators you can meet at a Con. It is a reputation that I found to be very well deserved. He was very gracious to every person coming through the line, answering questions and always smiling. He made me feel like I was the only person in the room as I told him about how I reviewed comics and gave him one of my business cards. And it just about made my day when he said “Oh, 411Mania? Yeah, I’ve seen it a few times.”

All in all, it was a most enjoyable afternoon. And as I write this now, I speculate that this may well have been the best twenty-four hours of my life. And this is even ignoring the fact that I met Kevin Bloody Smith!

You see, in addition to my writing for this magazine I am also part of a small independent acting troupe in Fort Worth. The Saturday evening before I went to Wizard World, my fellow actors surprised me by throwing an impromptu party in my honor at what I had been told was an emergency cast meeting. Instead, I found many of my dearest friends waiting with cards and gifts… all for a man they said did a lot of hard work for the group for very little acclaim.

To all of you, I say thank you. I would not be able to carry on without the support of all of you, my friends. And that is worth even more to me than any number of autographed comics. I love you all. Viva Los Bastardos!

Tune in next week. Same Matt Time. Same Matt Website.

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