Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wizard World Tulsa: A miserable trip but a wonderful show

I generally go to ONE comic convention a year, primarily due to financial constraints. That convention is usually Wizard World St. Louis, which has been an annual tradition amongst the friendly local media personalities for three years now. But when I found out the "Secret Wars Reunion Tour," which reunites writer Jim Shooter, penciler Mike Zeck and inker John Beatty, was going to make a stop at Wizard World Tulsa, I knew I'd have to save my errant couch change and start plotting a course westward.

After much deliberation, I ended up deciding not to go for the whole weekend, and opted to head up on Sunday instead. My reasoning was twofold, both due to finances. First, Sunday tickets were cheaper, and secondly, the vendors would be packing up to go home and would therefore be more inclined to make a deal.

I convinced my friend Kyle to make the pilgrimage with me, and with the promise of a photo op with Norman Reedus we made plans to set out before dawn that Sunday.

What I didn't count on was catching a flu bug that had been wafting around the house for the better part of a week. I was fine until Friday, but then--BAM! Instant misery. There was much DayQuil and Kleenex to be found for the rest of the weekend, and although I still felt miserable Sunday, there was no stopping me at that point.

The drive to Tulsa is actually quite pleasant. Once you get out of Springfield, it's easy-cheesy all the way to the city. The bad news is when you feel like dirt, even an otherwise-pleasant drive can feel awful. I also learned the joys of toll roads, and learned that if I have to pull over to get gas, there's surely ANOTHER toll booth awaiting just off the exit. Clever, Oklahoma. Very clever, indeed!

Also clever: this sign near the convention center.

Once we arrived at the convention, the first thing we did was get our Norman Reedus photo op ticket exchanged for a handy-dandy voucher card. I'd learned my lesson from previous conventions, and got that done post haste. Then, since we still had a bit of a wait, I ventured over to artist and painter Mike Mayhew's booth. Mayhew is one of the finest painters in comics, and he is most famous for drawing comic book women REALLY well--so well, in fact, that he was listed in good company in a 2005 issue of Wizard along with Greg Horn, Frank Cho, Adam Hughes, Greg Land and Terry Dodson. I had already obtained their autographs at the inaugural C2E2 event 2010 in Chicago, and Mayhew's was the last signature I needed to complete the set. He happily provided it, and I also scored some great prints.

MAN, he's good!
He also signed my copy of Avengers: Finale, which also boasts signatures from Mark Morales, David Mack, David Finch and Steve McNiven.

I still couldn't bring myself to shell out $30 for Neal Adams' signature (which is unfortunate, because he drew the cover), but I'll probably cave next year. I did, however, have Adams sign my copy of Avengers #96 ... which was WELL worth it.

Gorgeous, gorgeous art, even if the book itself has seen better days.

Meeting Mr. Reedus (of The Boondock Saints, The Walking Dead and Blade II fame) was great, even though, as per usual at conventions, we were herded in and out like cattle. He's a really nice guy, even though I'm guessing the sunglasses were due to a late night at the nearby casino.

We're not worthy!

I also met Marvel and DC penciler Mike McKone, and even though I went to his booth only expecting to say "hey," get a couple of signatures and be on my way, he proved to be one of the nicest, friendliest creators I've met over my years of convention-going. I had a couple of blank-cover comics on-hand and, after talking with him a bit, requested a basic Wolverine head sketch. He said it'd be about 90 minutes, so I wandered off for a bit. When I came back, THIS is what awaited me:


Let me make something perfectly clear: all I asked for was a basic head-sketch, with maybe a bit of red marker scribbled in for blood effects. This work of ART? This magnificent, detailed, full-color masterpiece? That was out of the goodness of Mike McKone's heart. I will hereby sing his praises forevermore. He is TRULY a class act.

I also met Neal Adams' son Joel, who was a character designer for King of the Hill during its early seasons. I had a blank Batman '66 cover which, combined with a moment of inspiration, resulted in this glorious commission:

Bask in the glory! BASK IN IT!!

I also had an awesome time talking to Jim Shooter about the appeal of the original Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, and commented that it's a shame we never got to see a black-costumed version of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Spider-Man balloon. Shooter grinned and informed me that he was the one who designed the balloon, shortly after he had been "let go" from Marvel (Shooter is a bit of a polarizing figure in the comic book industry, rather like Neal Adams. But, like Adams, his positives have vastly outweighed the negatives in retrospect. Here's a great read about his methods, which really makes me feel bad for him, and also inspires me more than a little bit). Legendary Spider-Man artist John Romita, Sr., had initially been brought in to provide input on the balloon, and the result was a scrunched-up figure that looked like a scrunched-up, ugly baby. Shooter said the problem was Romita was "too nice," and backed down when the sculptor told him a proper-looking Spidey balloon "couldn't be done." Shooter, on the other hand, told the sculptor upfront what needed to be done, and wouldn't take no for an answer. The result was the now-legendary, awesome balloon, and once it was sculpted, Shooter said, Romita himself provided the intricate web design, showing the painters how to apply it.

Even when seated, he towers over me.
I asked Jim if he'd be willing to do a quick Spidey head-sketch on my copy Secret Wars #8. He politely declined, citing his shaky hand, and that was fine. It was a pleasure just to meet him, speak with him, and shake that hand.

He did, however, sign my comic, as well as my copy of #1. Again, I can't stress enough, he's a legend in the comics industry, and one of the key reasons I drove almost six hours to Tulsa, flu symptoms notwithstanding.

LOVE it. 
These are also signed by Zeck and Beatty. 

You know who else was at Wizard World Tulsa? KEVIN CONROY, the voice of Batman himself! And you know what he did as soon as he walked into the signing area? He climbed up on his chair, spread his arms and bellowed, "I am VENGEANCE. I am THE NIGHT! I ... AM ... BATMAN!"

I might have fangirled just a little bit.

Maybe a lot.

He was very pleasant, and clearly enjoys his job. What's funny is I shelled out $40 for his autograph fully intending to flip it later when I opened up my very own comic shop (which is happening ... soon). But as soon as he asked, "Would you like me to make this out to you?" ... well, there was no doubt in my mind when I said "yes." I'm framing that sucker and keeping it forever!

He even signed it "Batman." BATMAN!!! :) 

Zeck and Beatty were awesome as well. I bought several prints from Zeck, including one of the classic Captain America Annual 8 to go with the comic I also had signed.

What I love about this issue is it's the one where
an angry Cap tells Wolverine he'll NEVER be an
Avenger ... and 20 years later, he becomes an Avenger. 

Michael Golden was also available to sign my copy of Avengers Annual 10, which is best known as the first appearance of Rogue (she thrashes the Avengers mightily).

Traded for this beauty at Oz-Con earlier this year. 

I met Jai Nitz by accident. Kyle and I were walking past his table and I thought he said something to me, which prompted me to say, "Huh?" He replied, "What?", and after ten minutes of listening to him talk about the industry and the influence of legendary professionals, he convinced me to walk away with two volumes of his series, Dream Thief. I honestly didn't expect to enjoy it, but I fought off the effects of my NyQuil long enough to get through the first volume last night, and I've got to say, it was VERY hard not to stay up and devour the second volume. It takes a very unlikable character and makes his story and evolution as a not-quite-hero quite compelling.

It's DARK. But it's good. 

I also went on a joyful search for assorted swag, and came up very happy. First off, how 'bout dis Riddler figure?

Based on Greg Capullo's "Zero Year" design.

How about this sweet Joe Kubert Ghosts cover, just in time for Halloween?

Valuable? Nah. Awesome? YES. 

Then there's the convention-exclusive reprint of The Walking Dead #1, with a spiffy cover by Good Charlotte guitarist Billy Martin. Although it's a little odd that Rick still has his hand even though Carl's missing an eye ... it's still a fun cover.

Mr. Martin was very nice as well, by the way. 

Then there's this awesome book from the '70s JSA resurgence, by Paul Levitz and Joe Staton. A copy of this was one of my very first comics, but I read the thing ragged. I'm glad to have a fresh copy because Staton is going to be at Comi-Conway in November, where I'm going to have vendor space. I'm looking forward to meeting Staton and I might just see if I can convince him to do a sketch of the classic Earth 2 Flash.

Before there was Wolverine ... there was Wildcat!

I picked up Batman #10, the penultimate chapter of the "Court of Owls" yarn, and also the one issue I yet lacked of that series.

Capullo goodness!

And, of course, the one I've wanted for years but never thought I'd own ...

And now you want it too. 

The drive home was miserable, in large part due to my flu symptoms and also as a result of the Volcano Quesarito I had for dinner. But I'd do it again in a heartbeat (except for the Quesarito part). The show was a lot of fun, as all the conventions I've been to have been. It was low-key and friendly, and I loved interacting with the various creators. I also got to see my friend Amber, who has volunteered for quite a few Wizard cons, and does a great job of it.

Some people might complain that the Wizard World conventions place to big a focus on celebrities as opposed to the comic book aspects, and to an extent that's true (Mike Tyson of all people was on the guest list for a while before he had to cancel due to other engagements). But I love the diverse crowds and the many different ways many different nerds from many different walks of life can come together and nerd out.

Will I go back next year? I'd like to. Like I said, I might not be as financially stable as I am this year, and I might only be able to go to one (and if that's the case, I'm going to St. Louis, because it's closer, and more of my friends would be able to go). But if business is booming, I'll gladly make the trip to Tulsa once more. I just hope I'm not sick. And I'll probably stay the night somewhere.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The NYT Modern Man examined and revised.

The recent New York Times article "27 Ways to Be a Modern Man" article by Brian Lombardi has stirred quite a wide range of responses, some positive and some negative. Although I found myself in agreement with several of the concepts and sentiments listed, I nonetheless took issue with quite a few as well.

The crux of it is this is "a" modern man, but not necessarily "the" modern man. Masculinity encompasses a broader spectrum than the article gives credit, and some of Lombardi's assertions are all well and good for an affluent urbanite but don't necessarily apply to those who wear collars of blue or live far from the nearest Neiman Marcus.

Here is my two-cent deconstruction of the "modern man."

1. When the modern man buys shoes for his spouse, he doesn't have to ask her sister for the size. And he knows which brands run big or small.  Well, naturally. But shoes are a tricky subject––does the modern man also share her sense of style? Perhaps it is wiser to fund a shopping-and-spa day instead.

2. The modern man never lets other people know when his confidence has sunk. He acts as if everything is going swimmingly until it is. Hmm ... so much for being honest with his feelings. I understand the concept of "faking it until you make it," but if you need help or support, wouldn't the "modern" approach be to seek it?

3. The modern man is considerate. At the movie theater, he won't munch down a mouthful of popcorn during a quiet moment. He waits for some ruckus. How noisy is this popcorn, anyway? It's a theater––all those present took a calculated risk that there might be sodas slurped or popcorn munched at inopportune moments. The gentle sound of popcorn munched shouldn't be that big an issue. But he should probably wait a moment before sucking out the last droplets of Pepsi.

4. The modern man doesn't cut the fatty or charred bits of his fillet. Every bite of steak is a privilege, and it all goes down the hatch. Excuse me? Now you're telling me how best to enjoy my steak? Have you seen how fatty or badly-burnt some steaks can be? Just because I'm a gluttonous gourmand who eats whatever is placed in front of me doesn't mean every man must do the same.

5. The modern man won't blow 10 minutes of his life looking for the best parking spot. He finds a reasonable one and puts his car between the lines. Clearly the author has never parked in a busy lot. In college I had to blow 10 minutes of my life because there wasn't anywhere reasonable to park.

6. Before the modern man heads off to be, he makes sure his spouse's phone and his kids' electronic devices are charging for the night. That's a nice gesture, to be sure, but shouldn't this be a learning opportunity for the kids to take responsibility for their own stuff?

7. The modern man buys only regular colas, like Coke or Dr. Pepper. If you walk into his house looking for a Mountain Dew, he'll show you the door. Way to be an anti-Pepsico shill, Lombardi. I'll drink what I see fit, whether it's Orange Crush or Cranberry Splash Sierra Mist.

8. The modern man uses the proper names for things. For example, he'll say "helicopter," not "chopper" like some gauche simpleton. There is a time and a context for everything, you sanctimonious twit. Por ejemplo:

ALWAYS appropriate in polite conversation. 
9. Having a daughter makes the modern man more of a complete person. He learns new stuff every day. Right you are. But sons can be fun, too. Kids in general are a definite learning experience.

10. The modern man makes sure the dishes on the rack have dried completely before putting them away. This is common sense for the modern everyone.

11. The modern man has never "pinned" a tweet, and he never will. Never crossed my mind.

12. The modern man checks the status of his Irish Spring bar before jumping in for a wash. Too small, it gets swapped out. So it's okay for the modern man to be wasteful of his soap, but not his steak? I also detect more corporate shillery afoot.

"That's why I use Mighty-Whitey toothpaste ... because
I want my teeth to look ... Amazing." 
13. The modern man listens to Wu-Tang at least once a week. How about NO?

14. The modern man still jots down his grocery list on a piece of scratch paper. The market is no place for his face to be buried in his phone. I do prefer paper, but whatever works. Adapting to modern circumstances and such.

15. The modern man has hardwood flooring. His children can detect his mood from the stamp of his Kenneth Cole oxfords. Again with the brand-naming? And although hardwood floors are lovely, and make for some excellent Hot Wheels racing, there's nothing wrong with a nice berber here or there.

16. The modern man lies on the side of the bed closer to the door. If an intruder gets in, he will try to fight him off, so that his wife has a chance to get away. Yes, this is good, but why not lie on the side of the bed closest to the baseball bat? Or the handgun? Then there will be no need to get away at all.

17. Does the modern man have a melon baller? What do you think? How else would the cantaloupe, watermelon and honeydew he serves be so uniformly shaped? Let me ask you this: how often does the modern man eat melon? Does he have constant access to good melon? Because I sure don't. Save your money ... buy a pizza cutter instead.

18. The modern man has thought seriously about buying a shoehorn. But clearly he hasn't. Guess he doesn't care that much about properly affixing those Kenneth Cole oxfords.

19.  The modern man buys fresh flowers more to surprise his wife than to say he is sorry. Why doesn't he grow her fresh flowers? Give her a whole garden, I say! She deserves it!

20. On occasion, the modern man is the little spoon. Some nights, when he is feeling down or vulnerable, he needs an emotional and physical shield. But what if that's the night there's an intruder and she needs to get away? And wouldn't that reveal that things aren't going "swimmingly?"

21. The modern man doesn't scold his daughter when she sneezes while eating an apple doughnut, even if the pieces fly everywhere. Can't I at least wrinkle my nose and say "eww" as I fetch the paper towels?

Missed a perfect ad placement opportunity, guys.
22. The modern man still ambles half-naked down his driveway each morning to scoop up a crisp newspaper. The modern man should put some pants on.

23. The modern man has all of Michael Mann's films on Blu-Ray (or whatever the highest quality thing is at the time). Uhhh ... duh?

It's always a good night for Collateral
24. The modern man doesn't get hung up on his phone's battery percentage. If it needs to run flat, so be it. The modern man clearly doesn't live in the 21st century. Charger at the house, charger in the car, charger in the office. Always.

25. The modern man has no use for a gun. He doesn't own one, and he never will. Hey, everybody! "All-you-can-grab" sale at the modern man's house! I hear he's got a melon baller and a wide array of Coke products!

26. The modern man cries. He cries often. There there, little beta-male ... there there. There's nothing wrong with crying, but again, it sounds like things are not going swimmingly. Unless he's swimming in his own tears.

27. People aren't sure if the modern man is a good dancer or not. That is, until the D.J. plays his jam and he goes out there and puts on a clinic. Darned right.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ranking the Marvel films so far

Now that Ant-Man has brought Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a close, and it'll be another year before we get another Marvel film ("Fantastic Four" doesn't count), it's high time I ranked the films thus far. 

12. The Incredible Hulk (2008). The film is billed as "incredible"; I call it distilled weaksauce. Some fun action scenes and humor do not make up for the lackluster performances, most notably from Edward Norton (who reeeeally came across as disinterested), and Hulk taking out the Abomination by ... choking him out with a lead pipe? What? At least the previous film had Sam Elliott!

"Thunderbolt" Ross does not condone your buffoonery. 

11. Thor: The Dark World (2013). Anytime Loki is onscreen, the film is a blast. But once he exits the narrative it goes downhill fast. The audience is given no further reason to care about Jane Foster (although Lady Sif does regard her with some epic side-eye), and when we first see Dr. Selvig he's running around naked ... for no reason except "he's craaaaazy." Even Anthony Hopkins, who was perfectly cast and utilized as Odin in the first film, seems wasted here, and he seems to phone it in. And there's no reason to care about the villain except for the fact that he killed Thor's mom to remind us how evil he is. Plus, the last 30 minutes are essentially just Thor and Malekith playing "Portal."

"There goes the neighborhood ..."

10. Iron Man 3 (2013). This one is still a lot of fun, but it just doesn't hold up compared to the other two, especially after repeated viewings. The "twist" regarding the Mandarin isn't a death sentence for the film by any means, but it's still a disappointment, and the fire-breathing Aldrich Killian is quite unimpressive compared to the darkly sinister Ben Kingsley mumbling assorted nonsense about teaching America a lesson. Killian's underlings, on the other hand, played by James Badge Dale and Stephanie Szostak, are a lot more interesting, and a lot more bloodthirsty. The movie also falters a bit in its attempts to counterbalance the darker tone with one-liners and gags ... it works to an extent but after a while it gets old, especially with the plucky comic relief kid.

To be fair, though, who WOULDN'T leave Ty Simpkins behind?

9. Iron Man 2 (2010). Honestly, this movie gets a lot more hate than it deserves. It biggest offense, which admittedly does detract a great deal from the overall product, is the rushed ending. Like most moviegoers, I really could have gone for another 5-10 minutes of Iron Man and War Machine whupping up on Whiplash (or vice-versa). Mickey Rourke was such an enjoyable villain, and I would have liked to see him at least have words with Tony before the two armored heroes "crossed the streams" and vaporized him. More of Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer would also have been appreciated. The "my arc reactor is slowly killing me" subplot, too, was pretty weak, especially since Iron Man 3 showed he could have had it removed at any time. 

This guy ... we need more of this guy. 

8. Ant-Man (2015). What I liked about Ant-Man was (pun intended) its small scale. There's no imminent threat to mankind, just the implied threat of what will happen if CEO Darren Cross has his way. It's a fun, good-natured heist film, and the ever-endearing everyman Paul Rudd is a perfect addition to the MCU as Scott Lang, heir to the Ant-Man mantle. But even though the movie is good fun with heart, that's not quite enough to put it at the top of my list.

"Stupid drain's clogged again ..."

7. Thor (2011). There's really nothing wrong with Thor. In fact, its greatest triumph is making Thor, a rather stuffy character in the comics, a likable if slightly boorish character you'd actually want to hang out with in real life. Kenneth Branagh did a great job adapting the character to the big screen, but at times it does drag a little bit, and the slower pace is what keeps it from being a top-tier Marvel film. I was also a bit displeased by Natalie Portman as love interest Jane Foster, who in the comics is a nurse but in the film is an astrophysicist. If their goal was to make her more of a "strong female character," they kind of failed, because at every turn she's still practically swooning for the muscle-bound thunder god (the sequel takes it even further in the wrong direction, showing Jane's life has become a lonely, miserable mess in his absence). The animated series Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes got Jane right, portraying her as a tough EMT who runs directly into danger to help the wounded, and thereby gaining Thor's attention and respect. The movie version of Jane ... I honestly don't see why Thor would give her the time of day. 

Old-school Jane ain't got time for Thor's crap. 

6. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). I loved this movie. I really did. And it hurts to exclude it from the top 5. Excellent casting, exhilarating action and a great pulpy feel all contributed to a great movie. I especially enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones as the gruff yet witty Colonel Chester Phillips and Toby Jones as the scheming HYDRA scientist Arnim Zola. Buuuuut it still rates below the top dogs, and it has its share of goofy moments.

Sorry, Steve ...

5. Iron Man (2008). Marvel got it right the first time with this film. It's exciting, it's funny, it's got a terrifying heel turn from Jeff Bridges and it showed us that Robert Downey, Jr., was actually leading man material. It's not the best of the Marvel films, but it set the stage for all the awesomeness that followed over the next seven years.

"Hey, bebbeh ..."

4. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Nowwwww we're down to the tough choices. From here on out, they are all 5-star movies in my book. Age of Ultron is not the best of the top four, and the parts where Whedon clearly had more to say are evident, but this is still an immensely satisfying movie. Some developments are a little out of left field, such as Black Widow's teased romance with Dr. Banner, who she should be terrified of after the first film, but overall it's a very well-crafted film with high stakes and Whedon's trademark knack for sharp banter and character development.

It also had this jack@$$.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Marvel's best solo film so far, even though it wouldn't be a stretch to call it Avengers 1.5. The action is breathtaking, and finally gives Samuel L. Jackson the chance to be the Nick Fury we've been waiting for all this time. And even though those expecting Robert Redford to be the Red Skull in disguise were disappointed, the implosion of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the revelation of HYDRA's resurgence were nonetheless developments that shook the entire MCU, and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series as well.

And you thought you had a lousy commute ...

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). How can you not love this movie? A ragtag band of misfit characters get together in decidedly "Star Wars"-ish fashion and save the galaxy, with a delightfully awesome soundtrack to boot. It's not quite meaty enough to take the top spot, but it is a VERY close second. The best argument that can be made for it deserving the top spot, though, is its universal appeal. ANYBODY can enjoy this film, whether or not they typically like superhero or sci-fi movies.

Stay swashbuckly, my friends.

1. The Avengers (2012). All of the yes. Although subsequent viewings are a reminder of how excruciatingly slow the first act is, once it pays off IT PAYS OFF BIG. I'd go so far as to call this movie the culmination of all my childhood dreams in one glorious spectacle. The most ingenious aspect of the Marvel model is that all of the characters had already been established--all The Avengers had to do was bring them together, and once they get off the Helicarrier and into action, it's a sight to behold. Plus you get the wonderfully hammy villainy of Tom Hiddleston's Loki in all his figurative mustache-twirling glory. The Avengers might not hold the top spot for long, with The Infinity War being the obvious endgame of Phase 3, but for now it's still the one to beat.

... like a rented Loki. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wizard World St. Louis, Take 3!

2015 marked the third year of Wizard World St. Louis, and also my third year of attendance. The inaugural convention boasted such guests as Stan "The Man" Lee, James Marsters, Juliet Landau, Henry Winkler and Lou Ferrigno. The second had William Shatner, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, Bruce Campbell and Jason David Frank. And this year had Michael Rooker, Hayley Atwell, Phil LaMarr, George A. Romero and Billy Boyd.

Unfortunately, this year's convention suffered from some poor planning. Conventions in Denver and Houston held the same day snatched up a lot of high-profile guests, including several who had previously committed to coming to St. Louis. There was also a much smaller roster of comic book creators and vendors, which I found especially disappointing. 

The turnout reflected the convention's issues, and was much smaller than in previous years. However, there were still plenty of die-hard fans and cosplayers running around, and if anything, cosplay was one aspect that seemed to have gotten better with each year.

Heading into my three-day weekend, I have to admit I was a little worried. The night before we left, I'd suffered chills, sweats and some alarming stomach flip-floppery, and I thought I might be coming down with the flu. It just figured I'd get sick THAT weekend of all weekends, but it seemed indicative of my typical luck. However, I nipped it in the bud with DayQuil, NyQuil, Gatorade, peanut butter crackers, an early bedtime and Imodium, and by Saturday morning, to my surprise, I felt like a million bucks.

I need to also give a shout-out to the awesome people who joined me on this grand nerdly undertaking. Mssrs. Ed Button and Brett "Stevens" Mattox are also third-year veterans of WWSTL, and although we took my car, Mr. Button took over driving duties halfway to St. Louis, and Mr. Mattox kept me supplied with medication and bought us pizza on Saturday. Then there's Mr. Tom Tillinger, our most gracious of hosts who offered up to us his home, his good towels, his moonshine and his XBox. My imaginary hat is off to you, sir. And then there's the always delightful Meghann Thoma, who was with us only a few short hours, but made those hours all the more enjoyable. Y'all are rock stars, yo.

Blue Steel! Blue Steel everywhere!

The first thing I did was run a quick lap around the Artist Alley area and collect signatures. The first one I got was Gerhard, the Cerebus creator who drew a variant of The Walking Dead #1 for the convention (I'll upload it tomorrow––was a little sidetracked today). From there, I moved on to Michael Golden and Jim Mahfood, who were kind enough to sign a comic that featured both of their work.

I thought it clever that Golden signed in golden ink, but
it doesn't show up very well against the cover's earthy tones. 

Another stop was at James O'Barr's table. O'Barr, for those who don't know, is the writer/artist of The Crow, and a friend of mine had entrusted me with her prized trade paperback of said book to get signed. Mr. O'Barr obliged, and he also sold me an art print which I brought home for my friend.

He scribbled on it in red marker to make it a "bloody" variant.

Next up was Ethan Van Sciver, one of DC's A-list artists best known for his work on Green Lantern. His teenaged son was helping him out at his table (re: convincing people to buy swag), and he was pretty darned good at it. He cut me deals on two prints Saturday, and two more on Sunday, and it became a running gag that every time I passed by their table, he'd say, "Excuse me, sir, but can I interest you in a print?"

The answer was always "yes." 

I had commissioned an epic Sinestro sketch from Ethan the previous year, and I wanted to get another sketch from him this year as well. I had two blank covers––an Avengers Arena and an All-New X-Factor––but while digging through my collection I found Zero Hour #0 from 1994, and it had a white cover as well. It occurred to me a Hal Jordan as Parallax sketch would look really good on that cover, so after handing Ethan my crisp $150, I relayed my suggestion. He grimaced, and told me he could try, but since it wasn't an actual sketch cover, it wouldn't hold the ink properly. I decided it wasn't worth it, and instead produced my All-New X-Factor book.

"I'll take an X-Factor-era Cyclops," I said.

He raised an eyebrow.

"Y'know, with the racing stripe on his hood and the buccaneer boots. Very '80s."

He shook his head, and I pulled up an image on my phone.

"Ah, okay," he said. "When do you need it by?"

"Tomorrow afternoon," I said. "So whenever."

He's a cool guy. 

I had him sign a couple of books, and then I went off for my first photo op, with Giancarlo Esposito, a.k.a. Gustavo Fring from Breaking Bad. Tom and I split that one. Mr. Esposito was super-nice and friendly, the polar opposite of his taciturn character on the show, but for the photo he assumed his icy facade.


Immediately afterward, Ed and I had our photo op with Atwell, and as soon as we walked in, Ed suddenly threw up his hands and squealed, "Oh my god! How are you?"

Atwell, in turn, threw up her hands and said, in her enchantingly British accent, "Oh my god, how are you?"

She was very sweet, very personable, and I couldn't resist teasing Ed for "fangirling" as we headed out to pick up our photos.

Not that I can blame him, of course.

We also ran into the radiant and wonderful Amber Carr, a friend of ours who was volunteering for the event. She and her mom are regulars at the con as well, and it was great seeing them.

We're also media personalities, repping TV, radio and print respectively. 

After that, we met up with Meghann, and went to a pizza place called Pi across the street from the convention center for lunch. It was dee-licious, and a nearby diner snapped a group photo for us.

What an awesome bunch'a nerds we are. 

Returning to the convention, we saw all manner of great cosplay from all different genres.

"Do you feel in control?"

Not too sure about fancy-lad Joker, but the others look good. 
If the '90s X-Men theme isn't playing in your head right now, I don't know
what to tell you ...
"Robin" here totally attacked me when I tried to take
this photo. Twice. Must've been that Damian Wayne version.

"Sey esaelp!"

Usagi Yojimbo!

Alas, poor Sektor, I knew him ...

"You know where they're holding that bratty prince's
birthday party?"

This IS the cosplay you're looking for. 
Those are REAL animals! She has a falconer's license. 

"ICE to see you!"
"We heard there was a Hobbit around here somewhere ..."

I'm guessing the ATM is also a Transformer. 
"Mama mia!"

Of course, the biggest highlight was meeting Rooker, and despite turning 60 this year, that man shows zero sign of slowing down. I mean, he was literally sprinting up and down the photo op line, shooting video of the gathered throng. 

That guy right there is pure cool. 

The moment he peeked out from behind the curtain, grinning impishly, the crowd went nuts, and rightly so. Rooker is a consummate showman, and was easily the most gregarious and bombastic personality to grace Wizard World St. Louis this year. 

While we were waiting in line, Meghann and I were geeking out pretty severely (the phrase "I literally can't!" was thrown out a lot), but when the moment came, he was pretty darned disarming. I shook his hand––TWICE––and voila, photo op gold! 


Afterward, I headed straight for Hayley Atwell's booth to get my convention-exclusive trading card signed. I had a decidedly Ed-like moment, though, wherein I was bedazzled by her beauty and accent and thanked her twice profusely for coming to St. Louis and then made my hasty, bashful exit.

Stunning! Hayley looks good, too. 

I also got my photo taken INSIDE Herbie the Love Bug, which for me was kind of a big deal. I absolutely LOVED the Herbie movies as a kid (aside from the Lindsay Lohan reboot, which we don't talk about), and I remember defacing my VW Hot Wheels cars as a kid to make them look more Herbielicious.

Herbie, I'm inside you! Wait, no, I didn't mean it like that ..."

Then there was the "Shaggin' Wagon" from Dumb and Dumber ...

Makes me laugh every time. 

After that, it was back to Tom's for "Cards against Humanity" and Fireball whiskey. I remember singing a lot. 

They were less excited about it than I was. 

Sunday was a much more leisurely day. I woke up at 7 feeling great once again, but, seeing the guys were still asleep, I sneaked into the kitchen, got my leftover Pi and returned from whence I came to eat two cold slices in silence and secrecy. 

Delicious, delicious secrecy ...

We got back to the convention center around noon, and the first thing I did was swing by Ethan's table. I was a bit alarmed to find he had not yet started, and I feared a repeat of last year might be on the cards (not that I'm complaining––even rushed, his Sinestro sketch turned out amazing). I informed the guys and they were a bit dismayed as well, and Ed mentioned we didn't have a whole lot of time to work with. So, after raiding a discounted bin and coming away with $50 in half-price comics, I headed over to Ethan's table and let him know I was a little pressed for time. However, not wanting to rush him (he was working on another commission) or cause him to half-ass it, I said I'd be willing to give him money for shipping. He immediately dropped what he was doing and asked, "Do you have thirty minutes?"

"Yes," I replied, but again, I was a little worried the quality might drop a bit in such a short timeframe. I needn't have worried. In ONE MINUTE FLAT, he had scribbled out the basic pencils, and they looked incredible. 

And I thought I could draw fast!

"Inking it's the hard part," he said, and I took that as a cue to wander off for a bit. I went around and visited my friend and fellow artist Ellis Ray III, and we talked comics and comic book movies for a good while before a passer-by caught Ellis' eye: prolific voice actor Phil LaMarr! Ellis got his attention and gave him a Static print he had drawn, and they chatted for a while. Before Phil left, though, I piped up:

"Hey, uh, Ellis here is a friend of mine, and I was wondering if I could get a photo of you two together."

Phil nodded and leaned in, and that's the story of how we got a FREE photo of Phil LaMarr. Cool guy! 

That's Ellis' Static print in the foreground. 

I got back to Ethan's booth just as he was putting the finishing touches on my Cyclops sketch, and I couldn't have been happier. He completely outdid himself, even under a short deadline, and provided me with the crown jewel of this year's con swag. It turned out so well, he even snapped a photo for himself! 

Seriously, it's good even by HIS standards. 
"'Cause I only have EYYYYYYES ... forrrr YOUUUUU ..." 

By the way, the soundtrack of the event was also topnotch. I heard a lot of disco, which was a pleasant surprise. While I was at Ethan's table, though, "Carry On, Wayward Son" came on. I'm not a big fan of Kansas, per se, but Ethan was clearly elated, and started singing along. "Don't you cry no more, Chris," he sang as he sketched. "Why are you still crying, Chris? What are you crying about, Chris?"

I settled my sternest gaze upon him.

"What am I crying about, Ethan? I'm 26 years old. I live with my parents in the middle of nowhere. I work for peanuts at a small-town newspaper. THAT'S what I'm crying about."

He considered that for a moment, then said, "Okay, you can keep crying."


Moving on ...

I also visited the table of Emmy-winner Bob Camp, who is best known for his work on The Ren and Stimpy Show. I had a copy of The Official Marvel Comics No-Prize Book, which Camp had drawn along with inker Vince Colletta.

It's every bit as glorious as it looks. 

Camp also shared the story of how he SAVED STAN LEE'S LIFE. Apparently they were at the same convention one time, and after shaking a fan's hand, Stan stepped backward and tripped over somebody's luggage. Camp immediately stood up, stuck out his arm and returned Stan to an upright position ("He weighed all of twelve pounds!"), at which point Stan, totally oblivious to what had just happened, turned around and shook his hand.


We also ran into another guy from West Plains, Preston Vandenbulcke, who had been selected by Weta Workshop to model their epic makeup work. Weta Workshop, based in New Zealand, is the effects company that did the makeup for "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," and they made him up like an orc Saturday and a dwarf Sunday.

This is the "before" photo. 

As always, we were sad to leave, but we had a long journey ahead of us. Also our feet were killing us.

Womp-womp ...

Heading home, we made our annual bowel-destroying stop at White Castle. We were then caught in a thunderstorm, and before too terribly long we were back in good old West Plains, where we were greeted by ...

Which means ... two evil leprechauns to deal with.

I can't stress enough, I had a really good time (I always do), and even though this was a much smaller convention than last year, the change of pace was nice. I'm already planning ahead for next year, and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing my St. Louis people again! 

Until next time!