The Pros and Cons

The Pros and Cons
                In April St. Louis held its first Wizard Con.
                In all my years as a science fiction and comic book nerd I have never been to a convention of any sort. A few years back there was a “convention” in a meeting room in a Holiday Inn in Chesterfield, Missouri; but it was just dealers and individuals selling comic book and related items. I found some good stuff, but it wasn’t a convention in the … er … conventional sense.
                But THIS was Wizard Con. One of the biggest convention companies around. My friends were eager to go and, since this would not involve a long trip and a motel stay, I wanted to go too!
                Not being a major con, and being the first in a new city, the guest list was not too impressive.  Philadelphia gets William Shatner; we get a wrestler and a Power Ranger.  Stan Lee was the biggie. The fact that he and the other media guests charged for autographs and photos riled me a bit. It’s one of those things that I suppose I will have to accept as “the way things are nowadays”.
                None of the media guests impressed me that much. I didn’t really feel like paying $80.00 to Lee and stand there smiling while he pontificated …
                “You know, I created the comic book convention!  I helped arrange the very first one in New York.  Well, by “helped arrange” I mean I did it all myself…”
                “There are a lot of folks in line, Mr. Lee, could you just sign the comic?”
“You know, I created the Sharpie…”
                Most of the other guests I flat-out didn’t know. The prostitute from “Firefly”, Lou Ferrigno (was it worth getting his autograph … nah … now if Bill Bixby was still around…), Henry Winkler (the Fonz charging for an autograph? I thought he was supposed to be cool…), James Hong (“Seinfeld, four!”), Juliet Landau (I remembered her from “Ed Wood” – others know her from “Buffy”), professional wrestlers and the like.
                I was much more excited to meet the writers and artists scheduled to be there:
                Gary Friedrich – creator of Ghost Rider (Marvel barred him from stating that but they didn’t bar me…), Michael Golden (artist who drew the best “Star Wars” issue in its run, he also drew “Micronauts”, “Marvel Premiere” and the Marvel poster I had on my college dorm wall for years. I bet I threw it away…) and Neal Adams.
                Yes, Neal Adams.
                My backpack was loaded with comics to sign and my wish list of comics to purchase.  Neal Adams’ booth was near the entrance with no line. I went there first. He autographed the postcard I brought with his Green Lantern stamp and my copy of “Superman vs. Muhammad Ali” (if you don’t know, don’t ask). He showed me the special “Sports Illustrated” cover he did as homage to that comic featuring the “Greatest Athletes of the Twentieth Century” with Michael Jordan replacing Superman. I asked if he knew of Ali read and enjoyed the original comic. “Yes, he loved it. I met with him while I was drawing it.” It was a thrill to talk to him!
                Overwhelming is putting it simply. It was very crowded at the con and at times the crowds moved like cattle past the exhibitors. I ran into the friends I intended to go with (I had missed the turn to the meeting place and ended up taking the train into downtown St. Louis alone) but was very pleased to see my sister, her husband and my nephew there! I spent the rest of the day with them.
                THEY were please to see the guests from Buffy and Power Rangers and others. By now I had bought my comics and had by belongings signed and saw the convention through my nephew’s eyes. He pored over the Doctor Who exhibits and we discussed our individual favorite Doctors (mine had died before he was even born…).
                I had a wonderful time but left disappointed. Wizard Con St. Louis was, basically, a large and expensive flea market. Very crowded and not very organized. At the time I doubted I would go back. I can get the comics I need on ebay.
                For example: there was no information kiosk. Apparently Gary Friedrich had canceled. He was nowhere on the information map (he has health problems – were he allowed to hype himself as the creator of Ghost Rider he might attract some work without Marvel losing a penny of their billions … but no).
                The point is if there was a kiosk I could have asked if Friedrich was there or not.
                Another example: the next day Neal Adams told his Facebook fans what a great time he had. He even got to talk about some movie deals he is working on at the panel at which he was featured.
                Panel?
                Panel!?
                There were panels?
                Oh yes, there were panels, movies, seminars, all kinds of things!
                There were?  Nowhere on their website did they mention panels – let along tell the public what they were about and where they were. I looked and looked before going. I would have loved to watch panels on artists, upcoming events and the like.
                I hear from my friends who go to bigger conventions (even the granddaddy-of-all-conventions at San Diego) talking about seeing previews to new movies, TV shows, guest speakers hyping their latest books and films. Sometimes there are seminars on writing and publishing.
                But I had no idea such things were at Wizard Con St. Louis.
                But this was the first and was quite a success. They are already hyping next year’s con. They already have a line-up – more actors I don’t recognize from shows I don’t watch … with the exception of Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca). Him I know.  I don’t want his autograph – my sister already got me his autograph at another convention in 2011 – so I’ll once again look forward to meeting the artists and writers I have loved in the comics!
                Perhaps they will strive to improve the Con next year and in following years. A bigger venue is a start – or at least open up more space. An information kiosk. A list of events – preferably online so we plebs can plan our day (“Sorry, Chewie, I gotta head for the panel on writing short stories in the digital age.”)
                “You know, I created the short story …”
                “Shut up, Lee.”
                I’ll go next year now that I know how it works.  It’s just too bad this one left a bad taste in my mouth.  
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry

 

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Fall of the Titans

Fall of the Titans
 
            In the last two months we’ve lost some giants. They were icons of their individual fields that were imitated and emulated but stood alone on their own shelves – no one coming close to their level.
***
            Ray Harryhausen died in May at the age of 92. His stop-motion animation made the fantasy sequences of his movies real, especially to an impressionable youngster with a love of fantasy and monster movies. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was real. Mighty Joe Young was real. The skeletons that fought Jason – real. The Kraken, Medusa and Pegasus from “Clash of the Titans” were better actors than Olivier.
            And “The Valley of Gwangi”. Ray assured himself a special place in heaven with “The Valley of Gwangi”.
            Without him I would be taking Jean-Luc Godard and Dziga Vertov seriously.
            A friend’s mother went to high school with him. Her mother still has the year book. Isn’t that cool?
            It’s very easy in this cynical age to look back and say how cheesy his artistry was. “Look at Lord of the Rings,” one would say, “how can any of his work compare to that?” The answer is simple – the son always strives to be better than the father. Peter Jackson would be the first to agree.
            Watch the battle between Jason of “…and the Argonauts” and the undead skeletons near the end of the movie. Imagine you are eight years old. Did you fold your legs under you on your seat?  Were you afraid of a boney hand brushing your ankle from under the sofa? No? You are lying.
            He made me believe in monsters said “Shaun of the Deaddirector Edgar Wright in a memoriam.  Thank you, Ray, for making us believe.
***
            George Jones died in April at age 81. He was one of the last great country singers of his era. For almost sixty years he ruled the country music roost. If there was an award, he won it. His music was of a kind only imitated now.
            His signature tune, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” has been called the greatest country song of all time. It is certainly one of the saddest songs of all time. But that is saying the same thing, isn’t it?
***
            Jonathan Winters died in April at the age of 88. He was a comedian. No one, no one, has been able to match his styling. He didn’t do stand up, he didn’t do monologues, he didn’t do wry political commentary. He did one-man acts; skits with his own sound effects.
            Some comedians start with, “two Jews walk into a bar…”  Winters started with “Colonel, the Apaches are lining the hills…”, or
            “(affecting an elderly lady’s voice) Oh, what a lovely day for a drive…”, or
            “Did you ever undress in front of your dog?”  I laugh out loud still thinking of this bit. I smiled while typing it.
            “Are you queer?” “No, I’m homosexual. My little brother’s queer. He collects little bugs.”
            Marvin Kaplan, his co-star in “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World” said he worked with two geniuses in his life – Charlie Chaplin and Jonathan Winters. Watch him discuss his time in that movie with Winters giggling alongside at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JD5WeFCcu68.
            Jonathan Winters was on Scooby-Doo, he was Papa Smurf, and he was on the Muppet Show. You can see the exact moment Frank Oz as Fozzy Bear gave up trying to improvise with him. The crew’s laughter drowned out the laugh track.
            Robin Williams is the only comedian who has come close to the weird and manic ways of Winters comedy-style; and even he admits he didn’t come close.
            Was he insane? He spent time in a mental institution. But he channeled any mental illness he suffered into a useful and beneficial way. He made us laugh. He made us laugh until our bellies hurt.  Goodbye old friend.
***
            We’ve lost two other artists who I will miss as well. Not the titans of their genre, but I was still saddened by their deaths.
            Richie Havens was a folk artist with a very unique guitar playing style. He died in April at age 72. He will be renowned for being the opening act at Woodstock, but he should also be known for his music. Among his accomplishments include something extremely rare: He remade “Here Comes the Sun” in a version more beautiful that the Beatles’ version.
            Ray Manzarek died at 74 in May. If he had not founded the Doors with Jim Morrison, he would have been known as a great keyboardist – either in rock or jazz. If he would not have stayed in the music business he probably would have been a professor of music at a distinguished university.  I interviewed him in the late 1980s and he was extremely intelligent and funny. He talked about the influence for his opening riff on “Light My Fire” and his relationship with Jim Morrison. He sang on a few Doors song – notably “Close To You”. 
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry