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!

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