"A" is for
"August". That time of year when the weather in northern Indiana turns
from hot, to hotter, and then hellish while the children, gambling
on an endless summer from school, are dragged into the local box-marts
by parents and are force fed ream upon ream of either wide or college
ruled notebook paper.
But that's not the only reason that August ROCKS! There's also the annual Wizard World Convention held in Chicago every year where the freaks, geeks, dweebs, spazs, dings, and Trekkies of the world, Midwest America at least, unite to assure each other that there's nothing wrong with falling in love with a cartoon character or having the Starship Trooper logo tattooed on their upper arm.
Essentially, The Wizard World Convention is what the Chicago Comic Book Convention morphed into after Wizard, a magazine publisher, purchased the convention and raised ticket prices. (Thanks!) However, The Wizard World Convention is still at its heart a comic book convention though other items such as toys, DVDs, and Kevin Sorbo's used undershirts might also be for sale. (Anyone looking to purchase said undershirt please contact Bert via The Fort Wayne Reader.)
Over the last nine years I have attended these randomly named conventions in Chicago eight times. (I didn't get to go in 2003 due to a wedding. Thanks Ben - you know who you are.) I did get to go this year and was pleasantly surprised at what I found. (And not just the plethora of chicks in their thirties walking around in Hogwarts robes, the fact that Gil Gerard ('Buck Rodgers') looks more like Jabba the Hutt than a movie action star, or the amount of "naked celeb" videos on sale.)
"Wherever you go, there you are." - Buckaroo Banzai
The trip started out in Fort Wayne. To prepare for such a long journey, I had decided to stock up on the essentials just in case anyone got any "cravings" along the way. We had two bags of cookies, seventy-five pellets of jawbreakers, five sheets of high-powered sugar dots, a saltshaker half-full of Pixie Stick dust, and a whole galaxy of bitter, sweet, and tart candy. Also, a liter of Coca-Cola, a quart of Sprite, a case of root beer, a pint of raw sugar, and two dozen candy orange slices. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get into a serious sugar collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. The only thing that really worried me was the raw sugar. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an sugar binge, and I knew we'd get into that rotten stuff pretty soon. (With regards to Hunter S. Thompson.)
Most of the trip was uneventful other than two speeding violation tickets, accidentally picking up a serial killer hitch-hiker whom "tasted Illinois blacktop" when we threw him out of our mini-van going 90, and a high-speed chase through the streets of Calumet with "shots fired." All of which is too boring to relate.
The attire at these conventions is usually casual.
Though the older collectors looking to complete their already bursting
collection of 'Batman', 'Doc Savage', or 'Commie Pinko Menace' might
wear a shirt and tie, members of the post Generation-X slacker community
tend to wear shorts and t-shirts emblazoned with their favorite 1980's
phrase. ("Trickle Down Economics Rawks" and "Hey, Wha' Happen?" were
the two most popular shirts this year.) Bucking the slacker trend,
I had chosen to wear a disguise at the convention - best not be recognized
by my hoards of loyal Fort Wayne Reader fans.
I wore a bushy moustache glued to my upper lip, a pirate shirt, dew-rag on the head, and loud metallic colored parachute pants with a Boom-Box hot-glued to my left shoulder which blared old Def Leopard and Rush songs. Though I spent the day rocking out to Rio and Red Barchetta, I don't think the disguise worked since it seemed as if everyone recognized me.
We arrived at the convention around noon, stood in line for a few minutes to purchase tickets (it cost $25 to walk through the door) and quickly made our way out onto the convention floor. The sights that greeted us upon entrance would make even the most jaded comic book geek drool in anticipation.
Booths from all the major comic book companies were sprawled out on the convention floor and, for the most part, were manned by scantily clad women. (Nothing attracts the geeks to the booths like scantily clad women.) Overhead giant screens played out various new cartoons, movies, and television shows said companies were promoting at the convention. Crowds gathered around the booths looking to get an autograph from a popular comic book artist or writer. As we walked I noticed that to my left was comic book artist Rob Liefeld who was once considered to be one of the best artists in the field. Liefeld was so famous that he appeared in several Levis 501 jeans ads. However, it was later realized that Liefeld was a talentless hack and would not surprise me if it turned out that he was currently drawing 'Archie' comic books - the lowliest of the low, the unclean.
Moving onto the convention floor hundreds of dealers were set up with booths hawking everything from comic books featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man, and selling from anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over 15,000 dollars, to various old toys, movie posters, bootlegged DVDs, swords, movie scripts, and the what-not. Some comic book geeks are known to suffer a brain seizure upon entering a room filled with such great items all available for purchase. I saw one young man being helped off the floor and an older lady passed out in one of the corners of the center. I did feel a bit light-headed but was able to push on.
It's every geek for themselves.
Inside the convention center people are lined up almost elbow-to-elbow, crowded to the extreme. Fans crowd certain booths looking for "that" particular comic book, or an autographed copy of an 'Aliens vs. Predator' poster, or a bootlegged DVD featuring all of the season two episodes of the U.K. cartoon 'Danger Mouse'... And these fans have no qualms with pushing their way in, and you out, of the primo space in front of the booths. It's best to carry pepper spray to combat this type of behavior. Remember to aim for the eyes.
As I browsed one of the booths a woman came up to me and asked, "Do you know anything about 'Star Tre'k?" To which I immediately gut-punched her and replied, "Lady, you're at a comic book convention. Most of the people here can recite entire episodes of 'Star Trek' as flaming baseballs are thrown at their heads. Push on, woman, and talk to someone else." She was a bit dazed but seemed to have gotten the message as she gripped her stomach and stumbled down the isle and away from me.
At the convention I managed to pick up a mint
copy of 'Famous Artist Norman Rockwell: Nazi Smasher', the pilot episode
to an as yet unaired revival of the 1960's series 'Time Tunne'l, several
fan made 'Batman' productions, a few issues of 'Naked Apes in Colo'r
magazine, several 'Alie'n movie related toys, a book, and the script
for the next George Romero 'Night of the Living Dead' movie entitled
Every year there are the fans that dress up as their favorite comic book or movie characters. (In a fun, not sick and twisted dress up and tie me up sort of way, which I am into.) There are those who dress up like Batman, their favorite character from 'Firefly', and even some nameless characters that are well known to the Japanese but known only to a dozen or so people here in America. Have you ever heard of the Japanese comic book character 'Super Deluxe Gooey Fish Head and Tail Action Character'? I think not!
This year there were a plethora or girls dressed up like they were students from Hogwarts, men dressed up like 'The Punisher', and several company-sponsored costumes related to movies or toys. Some people may think it a bit odd that people dress in this manner. I tend to agree. But still, girls who dress up in these costumes really know their comic book trivia. And is there anything more attractive than a girl who knows the difference between Kal-El and Jor-El? (Said girls please write to me care of the Fort Wayne Reader.)
Give me a Marc Singer hairdo.
Best of all were the C or D list celebrities in attendance at the Con. Most of these celebrities were on their way out decades ago but still cling onto the hope that the next cell phone call will be from Quentin Tarantino offering them up a part in his next film. Alas most of these "stars" will quietly fill out their days on the convention circuit charging anywhere between $20 and $50 an autograph. At this convention, not only was Buck Rodgers (Gil Gerard) there, but also Buck's girlfriend Wilma Deering (Erin Gray), The 1970's 'Incredible Hulk' (Lou Ferigno), Lt. Boomer (Herbert Jefferson) from 'Battlestar Galactica', and 'The Beastmaster' himself Marc Singer.
I my eyes swelled as I spied one of my childhood heroes Marc Singer from across the room. He smiled, I smiled. I finally worked up the courage to go over and say "hello." But as I approached his booth I realized that the Beastmaster I had known growing up had changed. It wasn't the addition of wrinkles, droopy skin, or slightly graying hair. It took me a while to notice just what it was. Then I realized that the lion, ferrets, and eagle featured in the movie alongside Marc were not in attendance. Everyone knows that these animals were the real stars of the movie. So I turned and I walked away in disgust.
Is there anything better than spending an entire summer day locked away inside a convention center with the smell of moldy old pulpy comics? I don't think so. I can't wait until the convention returns next year.
(With regards to Tim, Sean, Alex, and Clark Faurote whom all collectively shared their mini-van with me as I tagged along on their trip to Chicago. Guys, I swear I didn't know that eating two quarts of baked beans before the trip would make me gassy. All photos used with this article were taken by Alex Faurote.)