I’ll say this for Great Lakes Comic Con, I never fail to have a good time there – it’s always been a good show all the way back to that first year that Maddie and I discovered it when we were looking for an alternative to Wizard World Cleveland. I skipped this one last year mostly because there were no guests that I was interested in and as such, it fell prey to the streamlining of my schedule. This time around however, not only were they bringing in the actors from the old Shazam series, but they were also bringing in one of my bucket list writers – Jim Starlin. His run on Batman is transformative, and the combination of him, Mike DeCarlo and Jim Aparo are my definitive creative team for that book.
Nevertheless, I woke up that morning with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. It was an early departure, primarily because Starlin had capped his signing line to 25 people per hour, due to a hand injury. I know from experience that means you better get over to that table and grab a line ticket as soon as the show opens or you may not get to meet the guest – I’ve been burned on Bruce Campbell this way and almost lost my opportunity to get George Perez to sign my stuff. On the other hand, I would’ve preferred to have shown up around Noon and wasn’t sure if I’d have enough to d all day. Still, I have faith in Great Lakes and so I drug myself out of bed and made the long, arduous journey to Deee-troit!
I was pleased to discover that the line wasn’t as long as it had been on my previous trip, and I managed to make it over to Jim’s table just after 10:30. I was able to secure a place in line between 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock – that was going to make things difficult with the costume, I’d probably have to get in and out of it a couple of times but at least I was going to get my books signed! Ticket secured, I made my way over to the Shazam booth where the guys were friendly and happy to see me. Bringing in superheroes from these old 70s shows reminds me a lot of Akron Comicon’s old philosophy and I’ve always enjoyed the selection that Great Lakes brings in. Across the sprawling, massive dealers room floor I found some fun blind boxes of Ghostbuster stuff as well as one dealer unloading a ton of Walking Dead swag for a buck apiece. I grabbed Lucille pens for Amy and Lydia, as well as a pack of Pokémon cards for Maddie. At the door, the freebie station was set up and people were handing out promotional items for the Harley Quinn movie – tiny hammer and bat keychains as well as posters and enamel pins. I’m not proud. I loaded up. Lydia would be delighted with the tiny Harley hammer that I brought her home. Right near the entrance I spied a vendor selling Spider-man Essentials volumes for two dollars apiece and picked up two of the huge trades and headed back to the car. It was time for a swag dump and a change of outfit.
Fortunately for me, Michigan was having a mild winter so it wasn’t too terrible as I lugged the Skeksis costume in, wearing only the sweatpants and shirt that went underneath it. I geared up and took a look at the clock – I’d have to get back into civvies in two hours, but that would allow me plenty of time to make a couple of rounds through the floor.
In the week between Zip Con and Great Lakes, I had completely reworked the left arm so that it now held a staff. The hand, staff, and arm were all one piece, repainted and sculpted out of Great Stuff and PVC but this would be my first time walking around with it. I’d also drilled a hole in the neck connector so that I could drop a nail through the joint, securing the head to keep it from falling off again. There in the front hall, I had people coming up to me for photos before I had even completely suited up. After my experience at Zip Con and with the addition of the staff I was feeling much better about this costume and was happy to see how well received it was at the show. One young man in his twenties came up to me and told me he recognized it – not from the new Netflix series, but because his parents used to play the movie for him all the time on VHS! Another person confided in me that The Dark Crystal was one of the few films that genuinely scared him as a kid and gave him nightmares. I smiled and told him I was glad to have contributed to his psychosis.
As I made my way to the back of the convention floor, the people over at Guy Gilchrist’s table spotted me. Gilchrist is a Henson alumni, and bills himself as Jim Henson’s cartoonist. His assistant jabbed at his arm, drawing his attention up and away from the piece he was working on. His eyes widened in amazement and he exhaled deeply in wonder. He invited me over to get photos and showed me a photo of him with Jim Henson “This was taken right around the time he was creating you!”. It meant a lot to hear how impressed he was with the costume, he insisted on signing a Dark Crystal print for me and told me to come pick it up once I was out of costume.
I checked the time, Tom DeFalco‘s panel was about to start and I figured I’d be able to make it through about half of it at least before I have to shuffle out of the suit. Some of the con staff were nice enough to open the door to the panel room for me and I slipped into the back corner. DeFalco was just beginning his talk and had been handing out notes. He grabbed the moderator and handed a stack f papers to him and then pointed to the back.
“…and let’s get one of these over to the… Creature… In the back.”
I enjoyed DeFalco’s talk about his approach to creating comics. This is another one of those things that great Lakes does really well, and I remember having a similar reaction when they brought Jim Shooter in for a talk much like this. I was disappointed when I had to slip out, but time is ticking away and I wanted to be in normal clothes to meet Jim Starlin.
I carried my bundle out to the car and decided it would be too much trouble to get the lizard feet off (they are the hardest part of the costume, and it always takes me forever to wriggle out of them. I usually don’t take them off until I get home actually) and decided to just put my jeans back on over top of them. It had warmed up enough that I left my leather jacket in the car and just wore my sweater, topping it off with a hat to cover my hair, mussed from the costume.
Starlin himself was warm and congenial.
“Batman was always my hero,” he told me. “ I mean back then, it was either superman Batman or wonder woman – and then maybe a little bit later the fly or the Jaguar, but it was really mostly Superman Batman and Wonder Woman”
He looked at my copy of Death in the Family as he was signing it.
“It was a shame, after we killed off Robin, somebody in merchandising realized it was a problem, and all of a sudden I was kind of persona non grata at DC. Work just dried up. Fortunately, there were some openings over at Marvel and I ended up working on a little thing call the Infinity Gauntlet – so I can’t complain too much!”
Before I got back into the costume, where I would stay for the remainder of the show, I managed to swing through and do a bit more shopping. No quarter bins, but plenty of 50 Cent bins and I managed to score some Punisher and Green Hornet. I was shocked when I discovered a bunch of Hulk and Star Trek issues in one those 50 Cent bins, all signed by writer Peter David. David is one of my favorite writers and I actually go out of my way to meet him at Hall of Fame Comicon a couple of years ago. I can’t for the life of me understand why these are in the discount boxes, but I wasn’t complaining. I grabbed as many as I could find and came home with a stack of new stuff to read.
I spent the last two hours of the show back in the Skeksis outfit. I hadn’t realized how much muscle it would take to carry around the staff. It’s not that it was heavy, just that used muscles in my forearm that I’m not used to flexing all the time! About an hour before the costume contest, I saw a familiar costume style walk in, a cosplayer I’d seen around Michigan a few times – he’d spent most of the day in a diffrent costume, but now was in his new hydra suit which managed to place during the costume contest. Backstage and waiting for the contest to proceed, I had fun fooling around with some of the other contestants – hypnotizing one of them with my staff and joking with some of the others. This time with the other cosplayers is consistently my favorite part about doing costume contests – it’s not about whether you win or lose, it’s about who you get to know!
As the show drew to a close, I slunk out quickly and quietly- exhausted and ready to hit the nearest McDonald’s for some hydration on the way home. Still, despite my fatigue, I had fun and can’t wait to come back.
It was the day after Valentine’s and the young woman reached out and handed a long stemmed carnation to the monstrous Skeksis. A gnarled, mottled claw reached out and accepted the flower. If you looked closely, you might think he was smiling. The little Primarina next to him certainly was.
It’s been a while since I made it out to Zip Con. It used to be a regular stop on my cn circuit, and my main anime show, but in recent years, with Maddie getting more into the anime scene, we’ve been expanding that range and haven’t made it back to Zip Con in a couple of years.
What the @#$% happened to Zip Con anyhow?
We managed to snagged a good parking spot in the structure right across from the building and got there early. The line was out the door, but hadn’t snaked down the steps into the street yet. They got us into the building and out of the cold in a reasonable amount of time. One young man walked up and down the lines with a clipboard having us sign our liability waivers in advance of hitting the table, but when we finally made it to the ticket table, the workers were confused as to where to go. Then, all of a sudden, the line stopped. It was discovered that the faculty to guest ratio was off. Someone had slept in and hadn’t arrived yet. Shortly they found the missing staff and ticket sales began again. In a bit over half an hour we were through the line.
Maddie and I explored the floors, looking to see what was happening where. Panels were inconsistent, and there were a LOT of D&D panels (as opposed to anime ones). Some panels weren’t running (The con would make a somewhat defensive facebook post addressing it but not quite apologizing “Hello! Just a friendly reminder that the panelists not showing up to panels should NOT reflect your view on zipcon!”). We found the Confused Greenies doing an improv workshop and hung out there before venturing over to the dealer’s room.
The dealers room seemed bigger than I remember, bigger or not – the vendors were excellent, offering a variety of fun and interesting wares. Maddie scored a pineapple cat plushie from The Nerdy Taco. We grabbed a couple of adorable food plushies from Live Dream Create, and even scored a catnip toy for Sparky from Mookies Cat Toys!
It was time for lunch so we made a mad dash for the car, and then got lost in the wrong parking garage. After much wandering around we finally located my vehicle, did a swag dump and seized our bag lunch to take back to the college. We found a nice quiet spot upstairs and began the somewhat complex process of eating in my costume.
While Maddie was debuting her Primarina, I was still feeling out my Skeksis costume. I wasn’t entirely confident in it yet – this particular creature seemed like it might demand more detail than my impressionist style contributes. I was worried it might not be recognizable or if it were, that it might not feel accurate enough. I was awed by the reaction. As I would enter rooms I’d hear gasps. There would be whispering and mumbles all around me, and I’d hear world like “Dark Crystal” and “Chamberlin”. Every ten steps we’d be stopped for a photo. One person knelt in front of me declaring “I bow before your masterpiece!”. My Skeksis was a huge hit and I was immensely humbled.
Maddie’s Primarina was doing good as well. The wig suited her and the belt helped with the ultimate look. One person recognized her right off, while several others could see she was a Pokemon but weren’t sure which one. As soon as she’d start to explain, you could see a light bulb go off over their head and recognition hit their eyes.
After another pass at the dealer’s room, we hit the dance room. This was really just a dark room that had been set aside if you wanted to bring your music (Not my idea of a dance room. My definition would include some flashing lights and perhaps a DJ or at least a sound system playing music on shuffle). When we had passed it in the morning the space had been empty, but now one girl had brought in some music and every one was doing a choreographed dance. My Skeksis rushed in and joined in. It was going fine until my head fell off (I’m going to have to fix that flaw).
We unsuccessfully searched for a game room or an anime screening. I’m told there was a video game room but we couldn’t locate it. I don’t know if there was a board game room this year, and I missed all of that stuff. We ended our day by sitting in on the Sonic the Hedgehog panel. This one focused on the IDW series – interesting because I hadn’t even realized Sonic had jumped from Archie to IDW. Still Maddie was fading fast and we were ready to head home. The college had mandated all minors leave at six and as that watershed hour arrived the place became a ghost town.
We had an okay day. We had fun meeting up with old friends and cosplaying – having a good time at cons is what we do. But I’m not sure we got our money’s worth. In just a few years I watched Zip Con go from Free, to Free, but if you pay five dollars you also get this cool lanyard! to Okay, five dollars for everyone, to ten dollars for everyone. I understand they have to control the crowds and are trying to get some voice actors in, but I honestly don’t see them drawing more attendees than what Zip Con already had. The show still feels like an nice amateur affair run by a college anime club, and if that’s what you want to be, then cool but you can’t charge that kind of admission for that kind of show. Higher admission includes higher expectations – Planned panels and activities instead of just accepting volunteer ideas and hoping the mods show up. Well run lines, constant programming and performances. I expect THEM to provide music in the dance room, and host the gaming tournaments. I expect at least one if not two rooms dedicated to screening Anime.
The magic is kind of fading. I do think we’ll be back once Zip Con figures out what it wants to be, but that might not be for a while.