Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Phoenix Comicon 2012

Phoenix hosted the annual Comicon convention downtown over Memorial Day weekend.  Comicon, for the uninitiated, is far more than a celebration of comic books and comic book characters.  It is a weekend-long, wide-ranging paean to pop culture:  movies and television, games and books; anything with an emphasis on the futuristic and/or the fantastic.       

Conventions of any kind aren’t really my thing, just like parades, or high school rallies, or really anything where large masses of people tend to concentrate into a relatively small area.  Generally, people make me anxious, so it only follows that more people = more anxious.   I have this fear that everyone I’ve ever wronged will somehow be in the same place at the same time, and that one person will recognize me, which will start an ugly chain reaction that ends with me at the bottom of a very large dogpile, helplessly suffering an endless combination of noogies, atomic wedgies, and worst of all, angry tickling. 

But this year I learned that the actor who played the role of Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Jeremy Bulloch, would be attending.  Mr. Bulloch was the man inside the armor.  Yes, another actor supplied Fett’s voice; but as any true fan of Star Wars knows, the real acting, and the ultimate effectiveness of the character, came from Bulloch’s physical performance (besides, the character didn’t have more than five lines of dialogue between the two films combined!). 

Anyway, his presence at the convention, combined with the fact that I coincidentally had written a popular blog post tribute to the galaxy’s most notorious bounty hunter, was enough to convince me to brave this peculiar gauntlet for the first time.  I made up a hundred copies of “The Ballad of Boba Fett” on some nice paper stock to take with me.  Wouldn’t it be awesome, I thought, to have Boba Fett himself sign a copy of my poem, and maybe the three of us (me, Mr. Bulloch, and my poem) take a picture together that I could place triumphantly on the blog as a symbol of my success.  Exactly what the success was supposed to be, I’m not too sure; let’s say it was working up the courage to go to comicon, the nerve to find Mr. Bulloch and get his autograph and picture, and then the perseverance to survive whatever might happen after that.  At the same time, I also figured I could pass out copies of the poem to anyone who seemed they might be receptive (minimally that would include anyone dressed up in Mandalorian armor, and I was surprised at how many of those there were).
Mandalorian armor represent!  This photo comes from
the blog Lightning Octopus.  If you want to see some great
photos from Phx Comicon 2012 (far better than mine),
check it out! 

We went on Sunday afternoon, the last day of the show.  I took my older daughter Jessica with me for a certain measure of protection, and moral support, and possibly because I thought she might enjoy the spectacle.  Four blocks from the convention center, we began to see individuals with green and blue hair, wings, silver body paint, and/or horns, as well as a small delegation of the living dead.  Once inside, it was as if we had been transported to an alternative universe ruled by extreme genre confusion.  Sci-fi meets horror meets fantasy meets anime.  Sometimes literally, as when a stormtrooper, a gore-dripping zombie, a mechanical-faced cowboy, and a masked, purple-haired butterfly all collided because none of them could see where they were going. 

We bought our passes, and made our way to the main hall in search of the man who was Boba Fett.  Conveniently for us, they had all the celebrities lined up along one wall.  In one cordoned off and heavily curtained corner, there was a long queue waiting to meet someone.  There was only one person whose presence at the convention could command such copious drapery:  William Shatner.  The rest of the celebs, people like Wil Wheaton, LeVar Burton, Gil Gerard, and Erin Gray were lined up behind a long row of folding tables that stretched to the far end of the room.  I wondered what they thought of being spread out like a Golden Corral buffet while Shatner had what could have been his own private day-spa retreat next door.  Jeremy Bulloch was three tables away from Shatner Corner, and had a respectable ten to twelve people in line.  A few tables away, Ed Asner sat waiting for the guest brave enough to approach him.  It wasn’t me.  I didn’t want him detecting my spunk.  Another two tables further down was Lou Ferrigno, who didn’t look anywhere near as large as I expected.  Of course, he was sitting down.  By the way, Mr. Ferrigno, have I told you how great you were in I Love You Man? Nope, not enough courage for that, either.

After waiting for our turn, I forked over $20 (cash only please) and advanced to meet Mr. Bulloch.  I told him about the poem (he said it was the first time someone’s presented him with a Boba Fett poem, although he said he knew of a song written about him).  He accepted a copy, signed another, and then took pictures, first with Jessica, then me.  I guess I was nervous because I kept turning the camera off instead of pressing the shutter release button.  Historically, I don’t do well in celebrity situations, such as the time I accidentally tripped Richard Farnsworth (The Grey Fox), God rest his soul, as he was walking through the stands at the Prescott rodeo.  But Mr. Bulloch was really gracious and patient and good-natured about the whole thing.  He said he would try to post the poem, at least part of it, on his website, which I thought was a generous – and unexpected – gesture.

After handing out copies to a few more costumed fans, we wandered past the remaining celebrities and up and down the lines of booths and displays in the hall.  I learned two new words while we were there.  One of them was ‘cosplay,’ which I naturally assumed had something to do with Bill Cosby, and which somewhat disappointingly turned out be simply a melding of the words ‘costume’ and ‘play.’  As in:  “All the people dressed up like vampires and zombies trying to bite each other were simply engaging in some light-hearted cosplay.”

The other word, or phrase actually, was ‘steam punk.’  I had not heard this phrase before the convention, and even now that I know what it means, I’m not sure I completely understand the concept, let alone the motivation.  Let’s start with a picture:

This, I believe, is an example of steam punk. The way I understand it, steam punk devotees are into this idea of an alternate version of history where technology began developing in a different direction somewhere in the late 1800’s, advancing with machines that rely on steam energy to accomplish the things that we’re used to doing with oil or electricity.  The result is that these people walk around encumbered by all this complicated, brass, baroque-looking gear and mechanical contraptions.  Personally, I never thought of pipe organs as a fashion statement, but in the world of steam punk, it appears to be quite popular.  And even though technology continued to advance (though in a very different direction) in this parallel universe, the evolution of apparel seems to have stopped dead in its tracks during the Victorian era, which is why steam punk aficionados tend to dress in clothing indicative of 1890’s London, or 1890’s Arizona, as in the above picture.  No Christian Dior for this group.  Overall, the effect is a blend of the extremely antiquated and the bizarre, which may not be the best look if your goal is to get a job, but seems perfectly at home somehow within the confines at the convention.    

The happy couple, R2-D2 and longtime lover R5-D4,
proudly announced their wedding plans at
Phoenix Comicon '12.  Looking on is the token
black droid of the Star Wars saga.
After scoping out the main exhibition hall (and ‘exhibition’ here should be taken in the fullest of possible meanings), we wandered into a few of the panel discussion rooms.  The first one was called “the retcon of Star Wars.”  Retcon, yet another new term to me, means “retro-continuity.” The two fanboy-types who presented the material looked exactly what you’d think two Star Wars geeks lecturing on retro-continuity would look like, and were clearly more comfortable with the material than they were with presenting it to actual people.  It must have been like watching me during my first three years of teaching.  At any rate, their hour-long presentation was all about the tortured plot devices, convoluted logic, and reverse engineering employed by Lucas’ minions in order to resolve inconsistencies and discrepancies between the films themselves, and between the films and certain elements of the Star Wars EU (expanded universe:  books, TV shows, video games, etc.).  We heard all about the differences between G, C, T, S, and N-canons (it doesn’t matter).  Jessica and I hung around until they got to the one retcon that no one can seem to abide.  The “Han shot first!” debacle was duly trotted out, and then ritually (and cathartically) beaten to death for what must have been the umpteenth time.  After that, I saw no reason to stay. 

Benjamin Button versions of Captain
America and Indiana Jones.  It makes
sense these two would know each other.
After all, they're from the same era, and both
battled fascist regimes.  They probably
met at the historic "Down with
Dictators" march in '38. 
Next, we popped in on a sci-fi/fantasy poetry session.  This was probably the only room in the building where the panel, consisting of three writers (two men, one woman), threatened to outnumber the people there to listen, at least until Jessica and I, and two extremely enthusiastic adolescent girls who went straight to the empty front row and sat down, joined the discussion already in progress. These three writers of science fiction and/or fantasy poetry discussed the inspiration, process and challenges of writing in this incredibly specific genre.  Their lack of an audience was kind of awkward, especially as you couldn’t help but hear the torrents of people passing by in the hallway outside.  But it didn’t bother me.  I can listen to anyone talk about writing, no matter what kind of writing it is (well, with the exception of term papers and some forms of consumer product manuals).  There is always some connection, some commonality between writers which I can draw from, or commiserate with, and this panel was no different.  After that, they took turns reading samples of their poems, which were probably very good, but all of which lost me within the first nine words.  They say that poetry is meant to be read aloud, but if it’s longer than “Roses are Red,” or doesn’t involve someone from Nantucket, they might as well be speaking Farsi unless I can read along.  We stayed to the end of their presentation, and then approached the panel as they hastily prepared to retire to the nearest watering hole for what I sensed were going to be some very strong drinks.  I forced a copy of “The Ballad of Boba Fett” on one of the writers, David Lee Summers, who made the mistake of informing us that he was also the editor of a science fiction magazine called Tales of theTalisman.  He politely accepted it, even as he nearly fell backwards trying to explain that anything related to popular culture really was not within the scope of the magazine.  In doing that, he may have unwittingly explained the general lack of interest in their panel.  Still, Mr. Summers was kind enough to send an email the following day, saying he enjoyed the poem, and that if I ever wrote anything of a more non-commercial, science fictional nature to please consider sending it in during their next open submission period.
Who knew?  The nice thing is, they also unplug drains.

By the end of the poetry panel, it was close to five, and things were winding down.  We walked back towards the parking lot, stopping at Cold Stone in the Arizona Center for an ice cream, which we ate sitting on a bench, watching the bewildered expressions of the Diamondbacks fans, whose game must have just ended, as they intermingled with the homeward-bound zombies, superheroes, and Japanese pixies.   

It wasn’t until we were pulling off the 17 at Glendale that I realized the box containing my extra poems, convention programs, and a few posters Jessica had picked up was not in the seat next to me.  It was also not in the back seat where Jessica was sitting.  Undoubtedly, it was still on the bench outside the ice cream shop.  In it was also the poem signed by Mr. Bulloch that I had paid to acquire.  So, along with my dream of posting a signed copy of the poem on the blog, there went my plan for writing it off as an expense on my taxes next year. 

I briefly considered turning around and driving back downtown to try and recover the box, but decided against it.  By that time I was completely drained.  The entire day had been long and exhausting; and how many demons and monsters could one timid person be expected to contend with in one afternoon anyway?  


  1. Sounds like you had a "Comic"-al adventure. How did Jessica react to all of the strange outfits and breakdown sessions you attended? It would be interesting to hear her point of view and whether or not it ranged from "This is Cool" to "oh my God, I'm at a comic convention with my dad. I'm so embarassed."

    1. Well, I just read her your question, and her answer was "Both." Fair enough, I say. I'll just add that she was game from beginning to end, and I am proud of her for that.

  2. As I was reading the story I thought 'What a great story!' and then you totally burst my bubble at the end! I am completely deflated. (Insert sound effect- muffled muppet trumpet whah- whah) Bummer.

    1. Your bubble?! What about my bubble? I'm out a decent ending and twenty bucks!