Hurray it’s time for Emerald City Comicon! Well, by press time, it will be at least another year until it’s time again, but let’s jump in our TARDIS and journey back to that forsaken time known as March 2012. Last Friday to be exact.
Once a year, all of the nerds, geeks, and–let’s face it–a steadily growing number of previously closeted or undiscovered nerds and geeks from all over the Pacific Northwest descend upon the Seattle downtown area for three days of celebration of comics, movies, television shows, games, and something else I’m forgetting. Let’s go with Pez dispensers.
And really, it’s all increasingly less about “nerd culture” than it is about “pop culture.” With the enormous success of television shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, movies like The Hunger Games, and the internet super-celebrity of George Takei and Wil Wheaton [Please give him back his Kindle–ed.], the traditional lines between genre fans and so-called regular folks have become indiscernible, a fact which is reflected in the year-over-year growth in ECCC attendance.
The event boasts celebrity panels, a vast selection of merchandise for sale, even a rich and exciting after-hours scene that might surprise the uninitiated or casual attendee. For me, the annual event is a chance for a “Staycation”–three days of escape from real life within the confines of my home city, combining the opportunities to meet new people and see old friends, spend way too much money, eat poorly, and drink copiously, but still crash at home in my own bed.
Friday: I arrived about an hour after the doors had opened (curse you, real world commitments). I was greeted by my first huge line of the weekend, reserved for those of us who had purchased advanced tickets and needed to exchange those for badges.
While we were being punished for our foresight, planning, and eye for discounts, the lucky few fans who stumbled into the convention center without tickets were able to waltz right up to the sales counter and enter with no wait. Tempting as it was to begin the convention by complaining about this seemingly lopsided situation, it struck me as a very short-term issue that would quickly balance itself out as the pre-sales were processed and the day-of-show crowd increased. The scales might even tip completely the other way at some point. Spoiler Alert: Saturday.
After obtaining my badge (lanyard sold separately!) and program, I entered the massive exhibitor hall and began that age-old convention tradition: the series of concentric circles around the convention floor. Like a bat using sonar, the convention goer uses a seemingly random wandering pattern to map out the layout of the space, find the panel rooms, locate the back-issue bins, and identify the best restrooms.
Since Friday afternoon is still relatively mellow, it’s also a great time to visit with artists, and buy their wares without waiting in long lines. I took the opportunity to get the latest from some of my favorite webcomics like Octopus Pie, The Oatmeal, Nedroid, and Girls with Slingshots. While most of their stuff is available online, I like to buy reprint volumes and prints from them at conventions as a way of making a financial contribution to work that I enjoy for free, year round. Plus, it’s fun to get personalized sketches!
For me, the main attraction of attending comic book conventions is hitting the back issue bins for old comics. With all of the emphasis on media guests and movie and TV franchises, the comic part of “Comicon” can get a little lost sometimes, but Emerald City still feels like a show with its roots in the Dark Comic Arts. Chalk it up to a strong local and regional community with stalwarts like Fantagraphics, Oni Press, and Dark Horse, as well as a network of great local comic shops, ECCC is a wonderful place to discover new comics, find tons of great stuff in the dollar bins, and see and meet some of the top talent in the world.
My convention hunting falls into two categories: Finding new comics, and hunting for fun old comics. In the first bin, I like to buy work directly from artists or publishers, anything that jumps out at me or that I’ve heard about but haven’t had a chance to pick up yet. For fun old comics, I mainly try to track down series to read in the dollar bins–finishing off that run of the ’80s Suicide Squad or ‘Mazing Man, or tracking down that last issue of Walt Simonson’s Orion series.
While I have had a collecting “problem” in the past, these days I am just a reader, and everything buy is to enjoy from cover to cover, with a few exceptions. For the past few years, I have been working on finding some of the earliest issues of the Amazing Spider-Man (those drawn by Steve Ditko) and Fantastic Four (drawn by Jack Kirby). To make this both fun and affordable, I have made a rule to never spend more than $10 on any single issue.
These are comics that tend to fetch three and four figures in presentable condition, so I usually only find a couple each year if I am lucky, and they are often in pretty bad shape. As long as the cover is relatively intact, I don’t care about the condition–it’s all about the chase and the amazing bargain, the things that are missed when buying comics on eBay. At conventions, the sellers are looking to make deals, so great finds can be had, and patience is rewarded.
After wearing some new crop circles in the convention floor carpet, I decided to try to get in on a panel called “Movie Mashup Featuring the Finest Voice Talent in the Galaxy,” which in this case included Kevin Conroy (the greatest Batman ever), Jess Harnell of Transformers fame, John DiMaggio and Billy West of Futurama, Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche of Pinky and the Brain and Tara Strong from the fantastic My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I would love to tell you how incredible and hilarious this panel was, as these voice actors recreated movie scenes with mismatched characters. Unfortunately, I thought I could get in line for the panel 45 minutes before it started and still get in. Somewhere, John DiMaggio (as Bender) is laughing at me and calling me “idiot.”
Having been turned away from the panel a mere several hundred people from the door, I decided instead to grab some dinner and a beer to fortify me for the Friday night Karaoke contest.
Yes, Emerald City Comicon Karaoke Hero is everything that the name suggests. The event was kicked off by an absolutely phenomenal performance of the Spider-Man theme by a man who was either cosplaying as Casual Friday Wil Riker or maybe not wearing a costume at all.
Following his lead, we got Tigra from the Avengers singing “Eye of the Tiger,” Batman exploring his Nu Metal roots, and the Flash performing “Tainted Love” (you know, “sometimes I feel I’ve got to run away”).
The highlight of the night was a performance by the Green Goblin of “Spider-Man,” Weird Al’s parody of the Billy Joel summer camp classic “Piano Man.” Not only could the ersatz Norman Osbourne deliver the song, he threw some of his signature pumpkin bombs into the crowd, no doubt as part of an evil plot to murder us all. His scheme may have failed but he took home a handsome trophy for his performance.
Outside the confines of the convention center, a number of sponsored after-hours events were held throughout the weekend, providing a nice chance to continue the fun and celebratory spirit but with the aid of the other kind of spirits and a much needed change of venue.
I wandered up the hill to the Ltd. Art Gallery on Pike St., for the opening of “Mintcondition: A Comic Book-Inspired Art Show.” Co-sponsored by ECCC, the show brings together works from over 30 artists, ranging from portraits of comic characters to less direct forms of tribute and inspiration. One piece featured a mashup of Dick Tracy and Mad Men’s Dick Whitman/Don Draper.
Perhaps the most elaborate was a Lichtenstein-inspired portrait of Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike embracing in fatal combat, with accompanying Japanese text which turned out to be a translation of the Misfits classic “Last Caress.” That’s several layers of nerdy, right there, and had I been able to bring it home with me, I probably would have. The opening party featured comic-themed cocktails constructed from Jones Soda flavors and a variety of booze choices. I enjoyed a Gamma Ray, made from bright green apple soda and vodka. I did not Hulk out, but I did find myself making a last unscheduled stop of the evening at another karaoke bar on the way home. Finding no super-heroes inside, I decided to call it a night.
Saturday: I woke up, filled up with a Grand Slam at the Coastal Kitchen and then high-tailed it down the hill to the convention center in plenty of time to get into to see Wil Wheaton’s “90-Minute Awesome Hour.”
For those of you just joining us on the Internet, Wheaton has become an icon of nerdom, and is a convention mainstay and highlight, thanks to his work as a writer both online and off, in which he combines his own love of geek culture with personal stories from his daily life and appearances on shows like The Big Bang Theory and Eureka.
Wheaton’s panel lived up to its title, starting off with a set of readings that had been requested by fans ahead of time, including “If Robocop was a bad ’80s sitcom” and “Because it will give me an excuse to buy and own and wear an ascot.” The former being exactly what it sounds like and the latter describing an idea for a PSA to be shown before movies.
Wheaton also took time to promote his new show “Table Top” on the nascent Geek and Sundry YouTube Channel from Felicia Day. The show plays as a “Celebrity Poker Showdown” for the tabletop gaming set, with Wheaton hosting games with weekly guest stars. Having seen the first episode, I pronounce it quite fun, and foresee that it will probably result in more than a few trips down the street to Gamma Ray Games.
Following the “Awesome Hour,” my plan was to spend some time looking through back issue bins and other vendors and maybe getting some sketches and signatures from my favorite artists. Big Mistake! Apparently, while I was in the panel, the entire city of Seattle and most of the Pacific Northwest decided to show up for ECCC at the same time.
The convention floor was packed, with even less shuffling movement than usual, and it took longer than the reveal of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture just to cross from one side to the other. So many people showed up to buy a single day pass for Saturday, I later learned, that the Fire Marshal stopped allowing more people into the convention. The entire lobby area of the Convention Center was filled with people waiting to be let upstairs to purchase tickets.
I did the only reasonable thing I could, and decided to find some lunch. A word on food. It always amazes me, year after year to see people at the con waiting in huge lines, for 30 or 40 minutes or more, to eat at the on-site Subway or Taco Del Mar, when right outside the door is the wealth of choices provided by downtown Seattle and even Capitol Hill. I like a Taco Del Mar burrito as much as the next nerd, but the convention center is mere blocks away from several better burritos, including La Vaca in the Market.
Similarly, you can keep your Subway–Homegrown is just a short jog up the hill on Melrose. You can walk up to Victrola on Pine much faster than you’ll get your coffee at the Convention Center Tully’s, and what better way to take a break from the crowds than by grabbing some pub grub and a beer at Six Arms?
After lunch, the crowds were still too heavy on the floor to do much shopping and browsing so I decided to take in some more panels. Knowing that George Takei would probably attract a capacity crowd, I decided to stake out some seats in the big hall where his talk would take place later in the day. This meant sitting through some panels that weren’t of great interest to me on the surface, but turned out to be extremely entertaining.
First up, I caught the second half of Jason Mamoa–who played Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones, as well as the titular character in the most recent Conan adaptation, and Ronon Dex on Stargate: Atlantis. These shirtless roles have made Momoa very popular with the sci-fi ladies, and no small part of the audience Q&A was devoted to requests for hugs. Momoa was funny and engaging, describing his fear of horses while filming Game of Thrones, and listening to Pantera to help get into the Khal Drogo character.
Following Momoa was his friend and fellow Stargate alumnus Christopher Judge, who hails from this region, having once played football for the University of Oregon Ducks. I will be honest here: Outside a few episodes of the unfortunate Stargate: Universe, I have not seen a single episode of any Stargate anything.
So it came as a surprise how much I enjoyed Judge’s appearance. He was extremely funny and his stories so entertaining that he could have been describing his time on Small Wonder and had the room in stitches. He almost made me want to check out some SG-1. Almost. At one point, while relating a story of fan craziness, he confessed to having only recently learned the definition of the term “Furry.” Not missing a beat, someone in the audience shouted “But you’re from Oregon.” Which pretty much summed it up.
Then it was time for the main event of the day. I won’t waste your time here with a recap of how George “Sulu” Takei has won the internet over the past two years with his perfect blend of activist politics and LOLsci-fi humor. You already follow him on Facebook.
For some reason, many of the panels this year were hosted by local radio personalities, which made for awkward banter at best and squirming embarrassment at worst. Put Takei’s panel host Danny Bonaduce in the latter category. Bonaduce’s machoman act was completely out of place on stage with Takei and led to some cringe-worthy moments. Thankfully, once things got rolling, Bonaduce gave Takei plenty of room to answer questions and speak at length.
He spoke of his work on behalf of Washington United for Marriage, his new musical Allegiance, about his family’s time in a WWII internment camp, the origin of his catch-phrase “Oh my” from his Howard Stern appearances and, of course, Star Trek.
He told a particularly funny anecdote about introducing the cast and crew of the original series to sushi in the ’60s, turning James Doohan into an overnight expert and failing to warn Walter Koenig about wasabi until it was too late. He also revealed that he and his husband Brad now have a team of interns that help them with his Facebook profile, although they do vet and approve all of the posts. Bonaduce aside, the panel was highly enjoyable and Takei was as charming and funny in person as I could have hoped.
Afterwards, I returned home to sit quietly with some fresh vegetables–the perfect antidote to the day’s crowds and heavy food consumption–before heading back out for the Fantagraphics Pin-Ball Party at Shorty’s. The Belltown bar was packed, but it was hard to tell how much of that was from the event itself and how much was just Saturday night. Aside from a few insider sightings (Larry Reid and Eric Reynolds from Fantagraphics, Jim Woodring) it felt like any night in a fun bar, which was a pretty nice way to counter the days events as well.
Then it was off to the next after-hours event, a live art extravaganza at the Crocodile, organized and hosted by local artist, model, and cosplayer extraordinaire Molly McIsaac. I don’t know how Kanye does it–one after-party was already pushing it for me, but I’m glad that I stuck it out for the festivities at the Crocodile. The show featured a slew of local and visiting artists on stage, painting, drawing, applying body paint to barely-clad models, and a boisterous and friendly crowd of comic art enthusiasts.
That’s some good near-racy fun, elevated from its Lollapalooza-circa-1993 potential by the quality of the artists participating and a crowd that was far more personable and game than a Seattle comic art-themed audience might be expected to be. Credit for much of this must go to McIsaac, who is a connector online between a lot of different communities (comics to cosplay to anime to gaming to modeling) and clearly brings that gift of bringing people together to real life as well. I met up with some old friends, made some new ones, and saw some people in an entirely different social context. Forget what you think you know: Nerd parties rule.
Sunday: To borrow a phrase from Homer Simpson via Wil Wheaton, I’m not going to lie to you, Marge–by Sunday morning I was tired. Running on caffeine fumes tired. Somehow, heroically, I managed to get up and back down to the convention in time for my editorially-mandated [damn straight!-ed.] coverage of the Summer Glau panel.
The actress–best known for her role on Firefly [kickass!-ed.]and its movie sequel Serenity [awesome!-ed.] as well as TV’s Sarah Connor Chronicles [um…yeah-ed.] and Dollhouse [woohoo!-ed.] – was noticeably nervous at the beginning, but soon warmed up to the crowd, especially after the ham-fisted local radio personality handed things over to the audience for questions.
Glau talked about her transition from dance into acting, her love of westerns, and her desire to act in period pieces, and how she and her co-stars took Terminator classes to prepare for their roles as the latest in Cyberdyne system technology. When talk turned to her role as River Tam on Firefly, especially when responding to fans of all ages in the audience, she consistently choked up a little, obviously very touched by the impact that role continues to have.
Glau was followed on stage by her Firefly co-star Adam Baldwin (who will always be My Bodyguard to me). Dressed in a “Dammit Joss” T-shirt gifted to him by a fan the previous day, Baldwin told jokes and stories, reminisced about his various roles and even sang a little of “Hero of Canton,” the song written about his character on Firefly, Jayne. While making a big point to avoid any talk of politics on-stage, the notably conservative Baldwin took time on Twitter to harangue Wil Wheaton for taking part in a video which he says “mocks Christianity” in order to help promote Jenny Lawson’s new memoir.
After the panels, I grabbed some lunch downtown and then returned for my final mission of the day, to meet Wil Wheaton and hand him a copy of Zubatto Syndicate on CD and a Zubatto T-shirt in a fitted men’s medium. I waited in line for about an hour, along with a man dressed as Wheaton’s hypothetical PSA, complete with ascot, and some younger fans who knew the actor primarily from his appearances on The Big Bang Theory and Eureka. I didn’t let this make me feel old.
When it was my turn at last, I began to step forward, but Wheaton suddenly sprang to his feet, mouthing the words “I have to pee.” I nodded knowingly and waited a little longer. In no time at all, he was back, I bought a copy of his book, Sunken Treasure, and handed over my gift. He seemed pleased to receive the CD, even asking if he had my permission to possibly use the music on his podcast. I said something in the affirmative and took my leave. This was not the first time I’ve met him, and he is always extremely personable, asking questions of his own, engaging in actual conversation, making jokes. He never seems to find the convention scene tiring, even though it must be, and treats his fans with respect and humility.
I made one last attempt at wandering the convention floor, but my legs and my wallet kept complaining so I decided to call it a wrap. I never found as much time to wander the convention floor as I would have liked, and I wish that I had gotten to meet Kevin Conroy (seriously, he’s the only Batman, you guys) but all-in-all, it was a successful weekend. On my way home, it occured to me that maybe three days of this isn’t really particularly good for my body or mind, but thankfully I have an entire year to forget that thought.
Unofficial estimates place the crowd for the entire weekend at around 50,000 attendees, which I believe is a record for ECCC. A few years ago, before the convention went from two days to three, it felt like ECCC was beginning to grow beyond its borders a bit, and that things were starting to veer towards a level of crowds bordering on the insane.
The addition of the extra day seemed to level things out for a time, but this year again, it felt (especially on Saturday) that the convention was outgrowing its Spidey tights. The Convention Center complex still has a great deal of space to offer, and my hope is that they can find a way to work with ECCC to add space in a way that makes sense and allows the event room to grow and flourish. Because every year, it seems that more and more people suddenly discover their inner nerd and there’s no sign of that letting up.
See you next year!