The plague doctor lowered her mask and began the arduous track through the crowded isles, teaming with people. She stopped short at the large, dark monster. It’s normal to flash was covered mostly in Scarlett ropes, and she evaluating the spectrum. Then, she selected a small white bag from the top of her staff, and on the sachet of lavender on one of the hooks that made up the spiraling talisman that adorned the top of the Skeksis walking stick. Next to him, a young Gelfling, chained to the monster, just looked on, puzzled and petting her Fizzgig.
That’s right, Maddie was coming with me this year – kind of a necessity since I had no hands and needed someone capapble of handing over money for admission and spaying vendors and stuff.
Akron Canton Comic con has been a regular stop now for a few years. It is one of the best of the Harper shows in the area, not just because of the costume contest that draws cosplayers from all around the area, but also the smart and interesting layout in the larger venue. The artist alley lines the upper level, and continues just by the stairs of the lower area. It means you’re going to have to pass through the artists before you hit the dealers. It’s a nice way of getting them better exposure. The venue also most cinnamon press the snack bar, selling two dollar sloppy Joe’s and hotdogs pop and ice and whatever you need. There’s tables and chairs and open spaces in the upper level for people to eat and hang out out, making this one of the more surprisingly social show.
Social can sometimes be the point. There are certain people in that area like Allie or Jason, that I’m only going to run into at these particular events. And for a lot of people, this was their first time back into the convention world in over a year. I was delighted and relieved to run into Mike, the founder of Akron Comicon, working a booth. He had his own bout with the plague, and this afternoon he actually looked in better health and more positive and spry than I’d seen him, even before the calamity. My teenage daughter was accompanying me, and he actually recognized her first. Not a big surprise, considering my features were completely buried under the full body costume.
In other corners of the show, we ran into a couple that was walking around in Robotech costumes. Never my thing when I was a kid, but my friend Johnny Em turned me onto it by slipping me the novels when I was in my 20s. It’s an amazing series, and fun to see people dressing up with it. I don’t get a chance to talk about it that often. The fellow then reached behind him, into his backpack and pulled out his problem. It was a plate, with what appeared to be a steak and potatoes on it… And I knew immediately which character he was cosplaying. There’s a scene in the middle of the Macross saga, where pilot Ben is just sitting down to dinner. Suddenly the alarm klaxon goes off and he hast to rush off to his veritech plane. He turns back to his dinner, and points at it saying, “Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be back.”
The heartbreaking irony here, is he never does make it back. Something you don’t realize at the moment… It’s just a funny line that becomes heartbreaking a few chapters later. A little touch like this on the prop, it just takes the costume to a whole new meta level.
Maddie found an Avatar poster from one of the artists in Artist Alley, and absolutely fell in love with it. Was one of the first things that she bought, and it’s one of those things that I always enjoy seeing my kids buying art from the vendors, not just toys or books. For my part I hit the 50 Cent bins at Hazel’s Heroes pretty hard, flipping through them, even while in the Skeksis costume. Of course, that meant that when it was time for the costume contest, I had to find a way to hide the bag in my robes. I pushed it up as far as I could into the crook of my elbow and tried to keep that elbow almost past my back, with the bag then melting into the folds of the cloak. Perhaps I should’ve been focusing less on that, because once we got on stage, the sachet from the plague doctor fell off my staff. I reach down to grab it with my Skeksis hand, and a finger fell off. It was a disaster, the costume was falling apart before our very eyes! Everybody smiled and laughed and whore, and Maddie shuffled me quickly off the stage.
After I’d gotten out of the costume, it was back to the floor, where I could better see into the long boxes. I grabbed another stack of trade paperbacks and chatted with some of the people who could now recognize me. There was a Deadpool in a sailor moon costume who you may have recall seeing him at ZipCon back in 2020. (We leared he went by Dead Moon, rather than the SailorPool moniker I’d hung on him last year) He looked at me, aghast.
“THAT’S what you really look like?”
“Look who’s talking!” I laughed. And it was nice being able to chat with people, friends old and new face-to-face.
It had been a long day, and a crowded one. From a purely spectator standpoint, the show seemed like it was more crowded than usual, a phenomenon I’m in countering at every convention I go to this year. We ended up having to park two lots away and walked down to before we got into the show. That’s OK, I’m happy to see that the scene is making some sort of a comeback. We ended the day tired, but happy. And can’t wait to go out and do it again.
If you’re interested in seeing Maddie’s video diary of the event, you can check that out below. Otherwise jump to the pictures!
Skeksis is very confused…..
Oh crap….is that a MIMIC????
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.
Last year around this time, I was off braving the frozen wastes of Chicago to head out and meet Clive Barker. I’d sent my buddy, director Mark MacKaye out to scope out the resurrection of the Dark X Mas convention. This year, I had an embargo against larger conventions like Days of the Dead I decided to head out to see Dark X Mas for myself. I’d actually quite enjoyed it’s summer counterpart Dark X Fest, but when I pulled up the map on my GPS I had to double check… The show had moved from the eerie hotel in the middle of nowhere, set against barren fields full of ghostly children. This time around, GPS was taking me to Mentor, and a familiar address at that. Dark X Mas has moved to the Holiday Inn that has hosted Lake Effect Comicon for the last few years. It’s familiar digs, despite being configured a little differently.
Once inside, I made a beeline for Marc Price’s table. Price is best known as Michael J. Fox’s best friend Skippy on Family Ties, but Dark X Mas had him here to celebrate the film Trick or Treat, where he co-starred with Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons.That’s not why I wanted to meet him. I sidled up to his table and pulled out my convention bag.He spied the Troma autograph on it, and pointed excitedly.
“Lloyd Kauffman!, I know that name!” Price exclaimed with a huge grin. He turned and pointed to a particular poster on his banner. “He actually just bought up the rights to all the killer tomatoes movies!”
Out of my bag I pulled the same DVD cover and presented him with Killer Tomatoes Eat France.
“Like this?” I replied smiling. I reached into my bag again.
“I also brought you a friend to meet you.” and with those words I pulled out a plush fuzzy tomato. He picked up FT In wonderment, turning him over and over looking for a tag. I informed him that these were handmade, a little something I’ve been putting together since watching the films recently. He shook his head in astonishment
“Seriously? I thought it was official merch!” I commiserated with him that there was no official merchandise for Killer Tomatoes, and even when the cartoon had been on there was very little. Price was excited to talk about the movie, and shocked that anyone had even seen it much less enjoyed it. He taken the role against the wishes of his agent, who was sure it would be a disaster. Price on the other hand didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to travel to Paris on the film’s dime. He still finds it mildly annoying that like trick-or-treat, he’s not on the cover of the movie – but he remembers all the lines and even knows about some of the other sequels, informing me that George Clooney is in one of them – “the second!” I exclaimed happily.
I pulled out my other killer tomatoes, Zoltan and Fang, and we grabbed a passer-by to take a photo of us with the tomatoes. Price pointed it to them and ask the cameraman do you know what these are?” The guy with the camera grinned and bobbed his head referencing “Part four of the tomatoes trilogy!” Price was flabbergasted that he had another person was familiar with this movie.
He wouldn’t take any money for signing my DVD cover but was selling autographed photos from Trick or Treat and Family Ties with all proceeds going to the Michael J Fox foundation. I cheerfully grabbed a Trick or Treat photo and got a second autograph so I could make a donation. We shook hands but I wasn’t done with Skippy yet!
I moved down to the next table where Angela Jones was sitting. She is probably most notable for a small role that she had in Pulp Fiction, driving taxi for Bruce Willis and chatting about what it feels like to kill a person. It’s a bit role, sure, but it’s a bit role in Pulp Fiction! She was nice enough to sign my VHS box and when it came time to take a photo, there was no one around. She grabbed my phone and waved Price over, asking if he could take the photo for us. This is not something I don’t normally do, asking one of the guests to do grunt work like taking photos seems a little gauche, but she was the one doing the asking. Marc framed us in the picture, then shook his head, unsatisfied with the angle. He moved to the left a little bit… Looked again and shut the shoulders and moved a little bit more to the left. Just a little bit more, and finally found the perfect angle and proceeded to take a photograph of the back of my head. “What are you DOING???” Angela chided Marc as we all laughed together. It was great fun and exactly the kind of goofy stuff you want to see at one of these events.
Shawn South was the last person I was there to meet, he’s been a bit player on a variety of productions, but I was interested in getting him on my Walking Dead poster. They had him seated next to Tim Proctor, another Walking Dead alumni, and he was every bit as friendly and fun as Proctor has been in the past. I caught him well he was chatting up a couple people who had brought him record albums to sign. He told them the story of how Norman Reedus didn’t believe Shawn South was his real name.
“That’s got to be a stage name! Show me your license!” Norman had teased him until he whipped out his driver’s license to prove it. Norman would continue to tease him through production – Shawn SOUTH!” enlisting other cast to run the gag. He recalled one time he had seen Andrew Lincoln pulling out of the parking lot and waved to him “Shawn SOUTH!!!”
I mentioned to him that The Walking Dead was one of of those few TV shows that my wife would watch with me. I told him the story about me catching up the first few seasons when they were marathoning it before starting the series in earnest. It had just always been on and Amy had wandered by enough that she started to get invested, and now it’s more her show than mine.
“Man, I know exactly what you mean,” South replied. “There’s so many shows I watch just so I can hang out with my wife. I mean stuff I’d NEVER have watched on my own. There’s this one Netflix show, it’s from Canada – it’s called Heartland….” My jaw dropped.
“I know Heartland.” I said, trying to control my laughter. “My wife is OBSESSED with it!”
We chatted for a while about the series and out mutual amazement at how it’s lasted 13 years. Then South paused and looked around the ghoulish wares surrounding us and shook his head.
“This is the last place I thought I’d be talking with someone about Heartland!”
Because this was a little smaller of a show I decide it would be a nice place to to a soft premier of my new Skeksis costume from The Dark Crystal. I’d been tinkering with it for a few months and Dark X Mas gave me a deadline to finish the main body (though I’ll still be working on accessories over the winter). I lugged the large costume over to an empty space across from the registration table. The wristbands for the show had been red, which would blend in nicely with my robes, but that also may present a problem getting in and out. So I walked over to the lady at the registration table and presented my band and explained that it may be obscured soon. She chuckled and nodded, then proceed to watch in fascination as I suited up. Tim Proctor from the Walking Dead stopped dead in his tracks as he was passing by.
“I saw all the red and gold and the PVC pipes and though they were putting up a tree r something!” He said as he gawked at the bird-like monster. “This is totally not what I expected!”
I wandered in, stopping for photos with people and I heard a voice nearby warn “You better watch out! Thanksgiving is days away!”. Inside I found monsters to play with. Guests Chris Hahn and Marc Price both jumped in for photos with the skeksis as well as several of the Horror Hosts. One group of horror hosts interviewed me asking “If you can’t find any gelflings to eat then what do you do? Is there like a generic version?”
“Lawn Gnomes.” I replied. then headed over to take a picture with Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Anne Robinson from the original War of the Worlds saw me and gushed.
“I have no idea what you are, but it’s amazing!” She cackled. “Look at the armature on the hands! The fingers even move!”
I had to run outside to grab something from my car. On the way out the gentleman from the Horror Hotel convention stopped me to tell me about thier show. “If you want to come out this year, you’ve got a ticket. I’d bet with all the indie filmmakers there, someone might even want to use that suit in a production!” I thanked him and let him know that Horror Hotel is one of those shows that’s been on my radar, but always seemed to conflict with someone else, but that I’d try to make it next year. I unintentionally freaked out some people trying to park in the hotel lot and retrieved my phone from the car, while sneaking some hydration. On the way back in I ran into Lisa Wilcox (from Nightmare on Elm Street 4&5) taking a smoke break and assured her I’d be in for her panel soon. She grinned. I’d see a dark elf out there later – not quite a gelfling, but close enough!
I do love hitting panels at these events. I managed to sit through Angela Jones talk as well as the Walking Dead panel in my street clothes, but had to sneak in the back for Marc Price and Lisa Wilcox due to the bulky costume. Tim Proctor and Shawn SOUTH moderated thier own panel, just having a talk between themselves and the audience, but apparently no one had been scheduled to do Jones or Wilcox. Joe Ostrica from Retro Invasion Weekend jumped in to save the day acting as impromptu moderator and asking excellent questions on the fly. Much respect to him for doing that.
If I have a complaint about Dark X Mas it’s the lack of organization. Not having moderators and kind of failing t keep the panels on time or on track shows a lack of planning and foresight. The panels kind of just lasted as long as they lasted. Maybe an hour for one. Maybe twenty minuets for another (and they NEED strong programming with the dealers room being on the small side). They advertised a costume contest, but no one knew where they were going to hold it or even who the judges would be. At the last moment they decided to hold it near the entrance of the dealers room and asked the horrors hosts to judge. In the future, I’d like to see a bit more planning, but I DO see a future for this show. It’s a friendly show with a fun atmosphere and I honestly had a better time here than I did at Days of the Dead last year. I’m definitely coming back to Dark X Mas in 2020.