As this is my hometown show, I’m friendly with a goodly number of people, many of whom were very grumpy even as early as Friday afternoon. Fridays are notoriously “dead” days for conventions, as any hardcore con-person will tell you. But this Friday, Romero aside, the only thing that would have made our aisles more lonely would be the appearance of tumbleweeds.
Now, not everything about the show sucked, of course. One thing that makes this show stand out from the others is that on Friday and Saturday, volunteers appear, wheeling around carts of McDonalds hamburgers and coolers of soda. Yeah, it prevents people from leaving their tables in search of sustenance, which may be the underlying motive of the promoters, but it’s still a nice touch of instant gratification. And despite the heavy traffic of shows of yore, it was still fun to hang out with my best friends and harass the more Lovecraftian of fanboy horrors. This year’s prestigious “Most Horrible Waste of Walking Skin” goes to the man we dubbed “The Ass-Grabber”. While this should be self-explanatory, this charming young Shuggoth insisted on hugging the female guests—Amy, Debbie, Bianca Chiminello—while his hand casually drifted South. Just South enough to avoid having his teeth kicked in, of course, but South just the same. Which wouldn’t be so bad if he had bought something. From any of them. But he’d just give a hangdog look and whine poverty. Then he’d go and change into his “Ghostbusters” uniform. For no reason I could surmise. After the second time he pulled this on Amy, my husbandly dander began to rise. But I’m not allowed to assault the public.
On Saturday, Romero was absent, but the con-going public was sated by the appearance of legendary artist John Romita, Jr. For those not in the know, Romita, Jr., drew every major Marvel character for well over three hundred years. He had a line that resembled Madison Square Garden (at about a quarter-to-two in the afternoon, but still, fairly sizable). Our little happy family was joined by our “Severe Injuries” co-star, Stacy Bartlebaugh-Gmys, who was making her con debut (selling pictures taken of her by the omni-talented and aforementioned Con God, Mike Shiley).
But all of our energy was being channeled into anticipation of our world-premiere screening of “The Resurrection Game”. Our long-mired in post-production zombie movie was finally fit for human viewing, and we couldn’t wait to see it eight-feet-high via video projector and hear it through stereo speakers. We were the only ones who were showing original productions this year. Every other screening this year consisted of DVD versions of comic book movies like “The X-Men” and “Spider-Man”. These were competing with the ever-popular anime room across the hall. And, yeah, we should have checked out the space.
This year, there was no video projector, no stereo speakers. In past years, these technological wonders were rented from the hotel for the attendees’ viewing enjoyment. This year, it seems, was a more frugal year. This year, the screening rooms would consist of a 25” television. Our particular 25” television happened to boast a blown-out speaker. And while we were blessed with a packed house (requiring us to borrow chairs from the disgruntled anime roommates), the crowded room required we turn up the volume. And the blown-out speaker rendered much of the dialogue an incomprehensible buzz. Embarrassing, to say the least, particularly as our audience consisted of such luminaries as Bill Hinzman (the cemetery zombie from the original “Night of the Living Dead”, who had a doppelganger in “The Resurrection Game”) and “The Machete Zombie” from “Dawn of the Dead”, Leonard Lies. While everyone was very supportive, and the applause was loud at the end, I was still a bit mortified by the experience. For me, there was no joy in Mudville.
One of the highlights for guests every year is the big penthouse party, wherein drinking and carousing with comic book luminaries was an event to be savored. This year, the promoters decided that you could only get in with your vendor badge. As it was ten o’clock-plus in the evening, many of the vendors had returned to their rooms to change and arrived sans badges. Some went back to their rooms to retrieve them. Others didn’t. “Severe Injuries” co-star and “Another World” veteran Robyn Griggs tried her charm to no avail. As she left, I personally overheard one of the promoters say to her overzealous bouncer, “You got to eject Robyn Griggs! Aren’t you lucky?” Nice thing to say about someone who you booked ostensibly and solely to make you money, eh?
There was also a “Mardi Gras” party going on in a lower ballroom. For some reason, it was decided that this would be a “family event”. With children present, the beads were merely exchanged for… er, the joy of owning beads. Further downstairs, there was a late-night high-stakes “Texas Hold ‘em” poker game going on. For charity, I was told. By this time, I was cynical enough to believe that there was illegal gambling going on. I was shocked! Shocked! (“Your winnings, sir!” “Oh, thank you.”)
On Sunday, folks were packing up early. Folks always pack up early on Sundays. But eleven am? My good friends, artists Mike Apice and Romik, didn’t even set up, but hung out before removing themselves from the sadness. As dead as Friday was, Sunday was “28 Days Later” minus the happy ending. Example: George Romero had no line. At all. At any point in the day. See, his Sunday appearance was a last-minute addition about which the promoters saw fit to tell no one. So no one came to see him, unaware as they were that he would be there. Which made it easy for us to talk to him, but that was a consolation to no one but us. I got to hang out with Cameron and his lovely wife, Andrea, for a while—upon which I was informed that he and his crew were charged to get in.
So what were the highlights, then? You know the old saying about making your own fun? The best part of the whole thing was just hanging out with my friends—my close family and the once-a-year extended family that comes to Comicon. I got to meet one of my heroes—the fantastic Berni Wrightson (who created the look of “Swamp Thing” as well as the fantastic “Creepshow” adaptation from many moons ago)—and I got to watch Joe Jusko shake his head in wonder as fan after fan brought up something special for him to autograph: the official bootleg of “Severe Injuries”.
But overall, it was a real eye-opener to say the least. And what can we learn from this experience? Some cons just don’t have the best interest of the fans—or the guests—at heart. But that just might mean that the con itself has lost its way. Hopefully, it left a decent trail of breadcrumbs behind it so that it may find its way back.
Photos courtesy of Mike Haushaulter at Secret Scroll Digest and Mike Shiley.
Mike Watt attempts to explore all the things that make Geek culture great, as well as pointing out all the things that make Geeks genetically superior to all other humans. During the course of this exploration, he may undoubtedly have to reveal horrid truths about Hollywood and Mainstream Cinema, as they compare to the riches of independent filmmaking. Ultimately, he hopes to bring higher awareness of and respect to Geek Culture, as well as secure a hefty book deal and the accolades of his (richer) peers. Feel free to lavish him with affection (or bitch at him) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on June 22, 2004 in Features by Mike Watt
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- THE GEEKS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH: DOING HARD TIME AT THE PITTSBURGH COMICON
- “THE RESURRECTION GAME” PREMIERES AT PITTSBURGH COMICON
- MONSTERS IN PITTSBURGH
- SEE? THE “PROM NIGHT” REMAKE WON’T BE SO BAD…
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