Sunday, September 21, 2014

Convention Report – Cincinnati Comic Expo

Over the weekend I attended the fifth annual Cincinnati Comic Expo at the Duke Energy Convention Center in downtown Cincinnati. The con gets bigger every year—longer lines, bigger guests and lots and lots of people dressed like Stormtroopers. As I was pulling into the parking garage I passed two Deadpools, a Thor and a guy with a mask and raccoon tail. It’s like stepping into another dimension for the weekend where you can just let your freak flag fly. It’s kind of freeing, actually, even if I’m not personally the cosplay type. Every one of those folks is accepted, even celebrated, for their deviation from the societal norm.
The convention floor on Saturday morning
First I thought I would hit the lines of the celebrity guests from whom I would like to get an autograph. I have a large autograph collection from actors I enjoy, and it’s always a pleasure to meet them and discuss their work if time allows. Some folks are so famous and have so many people who want to meet them there isn’t time to engage in a lot of back and forth. I’m not overwhelmed with celebrities, they’re just people with cool jobs, so I find it fairly easy to chat with them and find common ground.
The first person I met was Julie Newmar. I grew up lusting after enjoying her fine acting work as Catwoman on the original Batman TV show. She was the most gracious and friendly celebrity I’ve met at a con (and looks fantastic). I told her I loved her as Catwoman and we discussed the upcoming Batman show on Blu-ray. She said it looked wonderful, much better than it did originally in the ‘60s. I asked her if I could snap a photo. She asked me if I would like to step around and be in it with her.
I glanced back at her line and said, “Well, I didn’t want to be rude and ask ...”
“Nonsense!” She insisted. “Go ahead and be rude!”
I stepped around the table and a con volunteer snapped our photo.

Me and the only Catwoman, Julie Newmar
I thanked her genuinely, got my autographed photo and left (I’ll post all autographs later). Julie Newmar is a sweet lady.
Right beside her was the line for Henry Winkler, whom I also wanted to meet. Most celebrities do panels at these shows, where they host an audience, tell stories from their career and answer questions. Henry’s panel was titled, “Jumping the Shark with Henry Winkler.” That told me the man had a sense of humor. During lulls in the line, when people were gathering their money to pay, Henry would walk briefly through the line, telling jokes and doing magic tricks for children. He was a personable, funny guy, always the performer. I picked out a Fonzie photo for him to sign. He had a table full of photos from his long career, but people were only choosing the Fonzie picture for autographs. Why bring anything else? We chatted amiably while Henry signed my photo (I told him I enjoyed his recent interview on Kevin Pollock’s excellent podcast, he said he had a blast doing it). We snapped a photo then he was off to the next person.

Hangin' with the Fonz, Henry Winkler
I’ve loved John Rhys Davies since Raiders of the Lost Ark—he played Indy’s sidekick Sallah. Since then he’s played Gimli the dwarf in the Lord of the Rings movies and lots of other juicy roles. Davies did not do photos with folks in line—attendees had to pay an extra fee and go to a separate photo session to get one. That’s fine, but too rich for my blood. However, when a woman in a wheelchair in front of me bought an autograph, Davies asked her if she would like a photo with him. She said she didn’t want to delay the line. Davies, in that deep baritone voice, looked at the line crowd and said, “Oh, I don’t think anyone would mind, right folks?” Of course no one did. He got up from behind his table, came around by the woman and posed next to her. Her daughter snapped a photo and now she has a lifetime memory about what a class act John Rhys Davies is.
When I got up to him, I chose a photo of Davies as Gimli from LOTR for him to sign. He smiled and asked me what I did for a living. He was asking everyone, I suppose as something familiar and easy to talk about to break the ice. “I’m in sales,” I told him. “Oh, one of those fast-talking sales types, eh?” He asked facetiously. I told him I first became aware of his work in PBS’ I, Claudius (which is fantastic, if you’ve never seen it). He played a very mean Roman soldier.
“I’m afraid you’re dating yourself,” he quipped. I laughed and told him I saw it on tape, not on the air originally in the ‘70s. Thirteen year-old Jerry would not have known what to make of I, Claudius in 1977.
John Rhys Davies Signing Away
The celebrity stuff done, I turned to the real reason I was there, comics. There were some great deals to be had and some rare books to find. Unfortunately, those two things did not necessarily go together. I definitely filled some holes in my collection and found the one book I needed to finish a title (Marvel Two-In-One from the ‘70s). I also found some cheap Giant-Size Marvel books and found affordable copies of Marvel’s Avengers #54 and #55. That is tough to do, since those books are the first appearance of the villain Ultron, who will be the antagonist in the next Avengers movie.
Avengers #55
Not that I care, but the value on those books should shoot ever higher when the movie comes out next year. I don’t collect comics for their worth as investment, but it’s a happy coincidence when they appreciate in value.
George Perez sketching his fingers to the bone
I did take some comics for the guest comic artists to sign. Marv Wolfman (real name, by the way), writer of so many great comic book stories (Tomb of Dracula, Spider-Man, Teen Titans) was there and signed several books for me. I also wanted to get the same books signed by the master artist George Perez. After standing in Perez’s line for an hour, it turned out he was doing (and charging for, of course) sketches for individuals in his line. No big deal, but artists sometimes separate their time at cons to do sketches and to sign books and meet fans. Sketches could take up to 20 to 30 minutes and he had around 40 people in his line. Do the math. It would have taken hours to get to the front of the line, so I just skipped it and planned to come back later. However, Perez’s line never went down and he was always sketching away. Maybe next time.

Neal Adams, the World's Greatest Comic Book Artist
Neal Adams is the greatest comic book artist of all time. Just ask him. Neal laughs about his arrogance, but really, he is the greatest comic book artist of all time. He draws the definitive Batman, the definitive Green Lantern, the definitive Green Arrow, Superman, Tarzan, Conan; the list goes on. I had Neal sign a Batman print for me while I gushed about his artwork and he agreed. I don’t think it’s wrong to think and say you’re the best if you can back it up. Adams can.
The cosplay this year was better than ever. I’m not sure how people create their costumes from scratch, with authentic helmets, weapons, armor and other accessories. But it sure is fun to look at.
The Hulk and Thor. Those are real muscles on the Hulk. And Thor.
It's Federal law now that all cons have to have at least one Slave Leia. Here's ours.
Stormtrooper on an ... animal ... thingee. I'm losing my Geek cred here ...
Ashley Smallwood in a fantastic Hawkgirl costume
Samuel Brooker as Agent Venom
A comic-accurate Black Widow with attitude
"I'm Batgirl"
A majestic Magneto
Catwoman, in a nice homage to Julie Newmar
To wrap up, the con was better than ever this year. But the long lines and crowded hall made it a bit tough to navigate down some parts of the convention floor. I heard they had a capacity crowd and for around 40 minutes the Fire Marshal wouldn’t let new attendees in—not sure if that is true but I would certainly believe it. I was so busy on the floor I didn’t make it to any panels this year, and I would have loved to see Julie Newmar’s and Henry Winkler’s. Overall, a successful, well-run con.

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