- First, I should mention the crew. I went again as an employee of Stand-Up Comics, who patiently tolerated my frequent excursions from the booth to make bunches of purchases. The main staff comprises Eric (visit his new blog!), Pat, and Brian; among the rest of the cast were the two Amandas (fiancées to Pat and Brian), Jon, Bekki, Ben, my dashingly handsome counterpart Craig, and frequent visitors Jim, and Paul the Canadian. We shared the booth with Joe and his folks, who were primarily selling Star Wars stuff. This is just for ease of understanding when I mention names later on.
- On the complaint front, there's a major lack of organization. I spent the majority of Saturday waiting in one line or another for no good reason. Eric, Pat, Bekki, and I lined up early on Saturday to get tickets to the Gotham Knight screening, following some official who repeatedly said "I am the end of the line." Something got confused along the way, because we ended up getting about halfway, where security people told us that we had to go to the end of the line. After about twenty minutes of confused bickering, a stout Wizard staffer with an incredible moustache set things straight with a combination of a New York accent and friendly intimidation. We got to the front to find plenty of tickets for the show...
- Which led to the big "Gotham Knight" cluster@$%!. Why give out tickets to an event if you're going to give more tickets than seats? I realize that the hundred-plus people standing probably made for great photo-ops for the comic press, but it was a dick move to make that many people stand through a feature-length film after making them stand in line for tickets that morning, and then making them stand and walk through an existentialist absurdist nightmare of a line all the way around a circle of hallways to get to the screening room. The asininity of this is expounded by the fact that the entire thing could have been avoided by numbering the tickets and seats.
I spent a good portion of the screening on my knees; my legs and feet simply couldn't take it anymore. At least a lot of people cleared out before the panel; there's no way I would have been able to stand through that as well.
- I might not have been so sick of being on my feet during "Gotham Knight" if not for the fact that Wizard wasn't the only group with organization problems. See, the Rebel Legion and the 501st Legion put together a game called "Droid Hunt." You picked up a "Droid Hunt" lanyard and tag from the 501st and wore it all day. If a Stormtrooper (or Imperial Guard, or other Empire-themed person) approached you and asked you "How long have you had these droids?" you had to turn over your lanyard, and you'd get a raffle ticket in exchange. To counter this, you could pick up a Jedi Mind Trick card from the Rebel Legion booth (or one of their operatives, including a very authentic Obi-Wan Kenobi); when the Stormtrooper asked you the question, you could give them the Mind Trick card instead, saying something snarky (like "These aren't the droids you're looking for") and keeping your lanyard for a little while longer.
Unfortunately, there were problems. The rules (apparently including the fact that the Stormtroopers and Co. couldn't get you if their helmets were off) were not spelled out anywhere. This includes the rather nebulous point of the game. See, as we came to find out, the raffle ticket was the only way to win a prize, so there really wasn't any point to keeping the lanyard; in fact, it was better to get caught. Either way, you'd be trading the lanyard in for a raffle ticket in order to get a chance at a prize at the end. The booths had no way to keep track of who had gotten lanyards and/or raffle tickets already, so it was easy enough to just start right back up after getting caught. It was also easy to get multiple Jedi Mind Trick cards, which apparently only existed to slightly hinder your ability to win a prize.
So at the end of the contest, they had the hundreds of people who'd played gather around the tiny 501st booth, creating something of a giant honkin' fire hazard, as they called out raffle numbers with absolutely no voice amplification devices or way to weed out people who were no longer in attendance. This was a bigger cluster@%$& than the battle of Hoth.
The worst part though was this: the only sure way to lose the game was to win the game. The only way to get in the raffle--the only way to win prizes--was either to get caught by the Stormtroopers (which any sane person would see as "losing") or to have the presence of mind (and take a wild guess) to visit the booth before the raffle crowd formed and turn your lanyard in for a raffle ticket. There was no extra prize for people who kept their lanyards the whole time, no incentive to do so. So the two young kids who came into the massive crowd shortly after the raffle started, asking what they should do if they "didn't lose" and brandishing their lanyards, probably got to leave with nothing more than the lanyards themselves. Couldn't they have printed out posters or certificates or something at least?
- Which isn't to say that the game wasn't fun. It was; a lot of fun, in fact. It was a bit like Lazer Tag without the guns. Those of use playing took ridiculous steps to conceal our tags while in our booth, and to avoid the Stormtroopers on the floor. We got more than a bit paranoid...at one point, Bekki and I were walking around when I spotted a pair of Troopers up ahead and flat-out panicked. I grabbed her arm, shouted "cheese it!" and ran. We turned a corner and almost ran into an Imperial Guard. Really got the blood pumping, that one.
- The best part of the game, though, was after Bekki and I managed to each collect two Jedi Mind Trick cards. We went immediately from cautious to cocky, strolling past a Scout Trooper without a care. Eventually we ran into the Imperial Guard again, who had his helmet off. He tried to be all smooth: "Hey, do either of you know the time? Maybe you could read it off those droids."
"Maybe you could put your helmet on if you're going to ask that," I said.
The Guard, whose hands were full with a helmet, force pike, and various other things, said "But I can't talk when I have my helmet on."
I said "I don't see where that's my problem." I watched for a moment or two as he tried to juggle all his stuff, until Bekki said "This is when we leave." We turned around and swaggered off.
Our poor scarlet punching bag followed behind, still struggling with his mask. "Then this is when I follow you," he said.
Bekki whipped out a Mind Trick card, and I did the same. "That's okay, because these aren't the droids you're looking for anyway," she said, never even looking back.
"Well, if you're gonna do that, I at least have to take the cards."
"That's fine," I said. "We've got tons."
All that made the later brouhaha much more tolerable; it was worth all the standing and dumbassery that we got to screw with one of the Emperor's Elite Guard.
- "Gotham Knight" was really cool. It's done Animatrix-esque, with a different animation style in each of the six vignettes (and in one, Batman looks like a member of G-Force). That's a bit jarring at first, but it results in some gorgeous sequences, and the stories are well-written and acted. Plus, new Kevin Conroy Batman is always a plus.
- Better still was the panel following the film. There were an awful lot of inane questions asked by people who were either the most stereotypical of fanboy nerds, or by people who hadn't actually thought about what they were going to say before getting to the microphone. Bruce Timm basically confirmed that the next big animated DC Video project was "Wonder Woman," he suggested that either "Sinestro Corps War" or "All-Star Superman" had a very good chance of getting made, and when asked whether or not there'd be a Justice League (Unlimited) movie, he replied with a coy, sing-song "maaaaaaybe." So that's pretty cool. Just make sure you go and buy "Batman: Gotham Knight" on DVD, Blu-Ray, On Demand, and iTunes on Tuesday, July 8th.
- I managed two off-the-wall autographs this year. On Friday, I caught DC VP of Sales Bob Wayne in the DC booth while I had my "Time Masters" trade in my bookbag, and asked him to sign it. While folks were looking for a pen, the other guy at the table asked "so, you read this? And you still want him to sign it?" During the chit-chat, Wayne said that apparently they can't do a sequel because he'd have to market something that he wrote himself, which would be a conflict of interest. Wonder how they released the trade, then...
Anyway, on Saturday I managed to catch Dan Didio in the booth, and asked him if he could sign something for me. I missed him the last year, and didn't have anything the previous year (though Brian got him to sign a DC Nation column while we were waiting in the Geoff Johns line), but this year I happened to have a copy of "Superboy" #94, Didio's first issue as writer. He groaned, "Oh man, that's not fair! That's just mean!" As he signed it, I believe I heard him muttering "it's a sad day." At any rate, he's a very nice guy, despite his reputation.
- Interesting thing I saw #1: Brian Michael Bendis getting interviewed by Word Balloon in the entrance to the Men's room. From what I heard, Bendis had followed a Stormtrooper in there to find out how they managed to go.
- Interesting thing I saw #2: Chuck Dixon at a table in Artist's Alley, with one person talking to him. Anyone know how that resignation thing happened? The only rumor I've heard was that it had to do with Dixon's double-standard heteronormativity.
- Every year, there's at least one booth near us playing music. This year, the selection was better, but also way more scatterbrained. Sometimes it was smooth jazz, which was really bad for staying awake on Friday morning after no sleep; sometimes it was Michael Jackson. And sometimes, for some reason, I ended up with random songs stuck in my head. I had to ask at one point if someone had been playing "Candle in the Wind," because it was running through my brain for half an hour.
- On no less than three occasions over the weekend, once due to Ben at dinner on Sunday, I had to give myself a little meatspace spoiler alert. Bekki, you see, is a big Firefly fan; I am too, but I just haven't gotten around to watching Serenity yet. So, every time she got to talking with someone about the series, I'd hear "I can't believe they killed--" and immediately run away with my hands over my ears. Apparently the second time this happened, Bekki's conversation partner said "Sorry, I didn't realize your friend hadn't seen the movie. But he really needs to get on the ball."
Despite falling off the ball one night at the hotel (we tried to watch it, but fell asleep an hour or so in), I'm proud to say that the ball has been gotten on, and I more or less successfully avoided (or forgot) spoilers for three years. And I can't believe they killed--
- I am the scourge of zip-ties.
- As if you didn't already know, Art Baltazar and Franco (of Tiny Titans fame) are awesome. I spent some time at their booth on Saturday and watched Art draw Robin for a kid dressed as Robin, and a disco-dancing Skrull for someone else. I'm pretty sure they were the only people doing sketches that involved crayons. On Saturday, they were dressed in matching Hawaiian shirts and straw hats; on Sunday, they dressed as Superman and Jor-El from the movie, complete with ridiculous wigs. I'll get pictures up, including the sketch Franco did for me (for a dollar!), within a couple of days here.
- I didn't hit up any of the panels this time around; part of it was because I felt like I'd spent too much time away from the booth as it was, part was because things just didn't really draw me. The only ones that were really appealing were the Geoff Johns vs. Brian Bendis clash of the titans, and the game of Win, Lose, or Draw between professional artists. There should be more fun panels like that, rather than groups of creators avoiding giving answers to questions about the event du jour.
- Speaking of panels, there's another point of disorganization. If you're going to schedule multiple things in the same room, you ought to include time to enter and leave. The panel schedule ran 1-2, 2-3, 3-4, in the same rooms, as if nothing would run over time and everyone would vacate instantaneously. I mean, isn't that "event planning 101"? Leave time for the mundane things?
- Con food = terrible. The pizza was like day-old mall Sbarro's.
- There's an interesting relationship between organization, price, and selection at the various booths at the con. If a booth has a great discount, chances are they have either poor selection, or poor organization. If a booth has great organization, chances are their discount is laughable or their selection consists mostly of titles no one wants. This year was better than the previous two in that regard; it seems like more people realized that half-off (or better) trades were a major draw. I spent a good portion of the last two years' conventions digging through the very poorly organized boxes at the franchise of 50%-off trade booths that are there every year, but managed to find much better pickings elsewhere this year. Sure, the half-off franchise might have more titles, but it's a better use of my time to go someplace that understands alphabetizing and takes credit. Heck, even Graham Cracker Comics wised up and brought some discount trades.
- I'm doing most of my shopping on Thursday next year; at least one item I bought this weekend nearly doubled in price between Thursday and Sunday, and I was kicking myself for not getting it earlier. The conventional wisdom (pun intended) that Sunday has the best deals and prices seems not to be the case.
- No offense to the guy, but I thought Warren Ellis was thinner. Like, I pictured him as Brian Azzarello with Alan Moore's hair. He is...not.
- Sadly, Chase Masterson is no longer particularly attractive. It's less the weight gain, more the really bad plastic surgery.
- The "Incredible Hulk Retrospective" panel with Lou Ferrigno sounded like it might have been the most depressing hour at the con. Though the "Image Founders Panel" with everyone but Jim Lee was a close second.
- Manga selections, as far as I could find, were really poor all around, which kind of surprised me. Was the con just too close to A-Cen or something? My brother gave me a list of things to look for, and I didn't find much at all.
- Thing I learned: Monkey Punch is the author of "Lupin III," not a series of the books. The little brother got a few duplicates, I'm afraid.
- It occurs to me that the only "Heroes"-related things I saw were toys and the occasional trade.
- There's not much to eat in the greater Rosemont area. This was especially surprising on Saturday night, when everything we could call closed at ten. Ten!
- Thing I learned: it is a bad idea to mix a klutz who talks with his hands and a restaurant entryway where waitresses pass by with plates of food. The inevitable result was a broken plate, spilled hot wings, and ranch dressing all over Pat's Chuck Taylors. Mea culpa, all around.
Boy, that's long. I think that'll do it for now. If I remember anything else, I'll post it along with the pictures in a couple of days. Thanks again to the fine folks at Stand-Up Comics for giving me a spot in the booth and not getting too upset at my frequent absence from it. I hope we're able to do this again next year!