I’m only recently getting into Ostrander’s legendary run on Spectre, but I remember back in the 90’s always seeing those amazing covers that Tom Mandrake was creating. I love that I got a couple of these signed at NEO Comicon
“Hey! Can I be your leg?”
A blue blur raced towards me. It was a cosplayer in a plushie blue outfit that reminded me of Sonic the Hedgehog. My little con buddy Maddie giggled as she whipped out the camera – after all, Voltron haven’t even made it into NEO Comiccon yet!
Sometimes when a convention changes hands, an anxious feeling of uncertainty can arise – that certainly seems to be the case with the uncertainty surrounding Akron Comic Con right now. With NEO though, there was never any doubt. After founding anr running the show for the past four years, Shawn Belles had decided to hand it off to Eric Anderson, the proprietor of Comic are Go. Anderson is a regular vendor on the con circuit and is well known and respected… and it doesn’t hurt that his store happens to be my favorite comic shop. He pulled the show off and kept it the same con that we know and love. If nothing else, the event maintained enough continuity that you probably wouldn’t even know there was a new promoter unless somebody told you. That’s good because I love this show, especially since it’s so close to home. The Soccer Sportsplex where it’s held is about a ten minuet drive from where we go to Church. Maddie and I hit the early service and then headed down the street to the con.
We knew from previous years that you couldn’t show up too late and still expect to get parking on site. We pulled in a little after eleven to find that the lot was full. I swung around and backed my little black car against a fence, creating my own parking space. While Maddie was high fiving me in the front seat, four other cars pulled in next to me, the five of us creating the last half a row of parking possible in the grass.
“I feel weird going into a convention without a costume!” Maddie complained to me. The thing is I don’t disagree with her. It reminds me of that first time out to the late and lamented Shinbokucon. I arrived in jeans and an Excel Saga shirt and felt woefully out of place among all the other cosplayers. Nevertheless I assured Maddie that in this 90° heat, she wasn’t going to want to be suited up all day – we’d do our shopping, say hello to friends, get autographs and armor up after lunch.
I brought a collection of interlocking Green Lantern covers for Paul Pelletier to sign. I had actually met him the previous day at a signing held by Comics Are Go. He and Matt Horak had popped into the shop for a couple of hours to sign comics and talk about the industry.It was a great time, almost like having my own personal panel with them. Pelletier described his early days breaking into the industry;
“I actually got into the Kubert school but then discovered I couldn’t afford to attend, so I went to work at the shoe place by day, doing comic books pencils practically for free on the side. I was drawing Ex-Mutants for Malibu and the guy who was inking the book also did work for DC. Some of his bosses there started to notice my pencils and asked ‘who is this guy that’s drawing for you?’ He gave them my information and they called me, I didn’t even have to send samples”
It’s a fascinating story, because his breakthrough into the industry wasn’t just about luck, there’s obviously a lot of hard work involved as well as being in the right place at the right time. He’s done amazing work on Aquaman and Justice League for the new 52 (I ALMOST pulled the trigger on one of his Superman prints – but it’s that new 52 outfit and I just can’t bring myself to spend money on Superman unless he has red shorts….) and I was stoked to have my books signed. We noted it was funny that while he’d always been more of a Marvel fan, most of his work had been done at DC.
While Tony Isabella was technically the guest of honor this year, the real draw for me was Tom Mandrake. Mandrake is probably best known for his legendary run with John Ostrander on the Spectre. I remember my buddy Mike Roop having a bunch of those glow in the dark covers, but I never really started reading books until very recently.I’m not sure why. They’re totally down my alley, and what’s interesting is we even see some crossover with us Ostrander’s Suicide Squad.
I didn’t just have just a stack of Spectre though, I had a curiosity with me. Mandrake did a single issue of Shadowman – something I found odd. I pointed out to him that I wasn’t aware of much work that he done with Valiant and asked if he was a regular there.
“Actually, that’s the thing, I didn’t do much work with them”, he said in slight bewilderment. “I don’t even remember how I got this job – they probably called me up because they needed an issue done quick. Back in those days we were all a lot closer in the industry…”
I grabbed some resin landscapes from a miniature dealer who was creating a variety of interesting things – since the rise of 3-D printing and the popularity of Perler beads, I don’t really see too much resin and looking at these figures you can realize exactly what a shame that is. I’m really excited to paint these and use them for photography with action figures and HeroClix. Maddie scored a Simpsons comic from Chris Yambar. He is a regular stop for her when ever we are at a convention.
I grabbed a Green Hornet poster at the local TV station’s booth and we moved on to Rubber City Cosplay to sign up for the costume contest. I noted that on the line above my entry there was another set of names with the series “Voltron”. I looked up at Cody and asked “Is there another Voltron costume here today?”
He nodded. “They’re playing a couple of the characters – Keith and Link.”
Maddie and I looked at each other.
“We’ve got to find these guys to get a picture!”
Indeed, we’d already spend much of the day chasing down cosplayers for pictures. Coming in to the show, Maddie had spied a girl dressed as Pokemon’s Serena. It’s Maddie’s favorite character, and she’d actually had her Serena custom on the previous weekend. She was totally excited to see another one. We also ran into my wife’s friend Crystal in her Miss Piggy outfit. She had nailed the character. it wasn’t just the ig nose or the blonde wig, what really sold it was the eye makeup. Big black lashes and heavy eyeliner, topped with purple eye shadow, I had never realized until that moment how essential all that is to the look.
We followed a trail of feathers on the ground to find Cruella Deville, but my favorite costume of the day was Chubby Bunny Cosplay, dressed as the Evil Queen from Snow White. Not only was the costume perfect, she had brought props that just made the look. A goblet that frothed (with cotton) and glowed (with LEDs), a magic mirror and a large spell book (which was hollow and served to carry her hone and wallet!). Maddie and I both cheered when she won the Adult division in the costume contest.
It was after 12:30 and Maddie was getting hungry so we headed out front and caught the shuttle bus. The viehicle was brimming with hustle and bustle, cosplayers all around us. It took us down the road a bit to the local college where there was overflow parking for the convention. The welcoming sight of a McDonald’s loomed across the street. Maddie and I nipped across the intersection to grab lunch and cool down under the air-conditioned golden arches. By the time we had eaten and got back to the show, it was just after one and we are ready to suit up.
About 17 hours before the convention, Maddie had come to me asking if we could pull her Iron Sapphire, – she hadn’t worn it in two or three years, and I knew it would have to be altered. We dug through the attic and found most of the pieces, I cancelled my plans to see Troll 2 at the Cedar Lee, and get to work adding inserts and extensions in the armor to make it fit a 13-year-old girl instead of an 11-year-old. (and here I had thought that since I finished my upgrades on Voltron Friday morning, I wasn’t going to have to deal with any con crunch this weekend!) While we’re at it, we added extra lights, rebuilt the mask and tiara and completely revamped the mid-section for my daughter who is now taller and – well, shaped differently then she had been a few years ago. By 1 o’clock in the morning I had painted pieces drying on the porch and was ready for bed. It’s a little nerve wracking though, we were breaking one of my general rules – always try on the whole thing together before bringing it out to a show. It turned out to be okay – the midplate didn’t go up quite high enough, but it was forgivable and Maddie darkened up the Star Sapphire logos on her shoulders with a sharpie while we were in the car, giving it that final touch. I suited up as Voltron and never even made it into the convention center before getting stopped three times for photos. The addition of the sword to the costume is something that had often been requested of me, this time around I decided to not only create it but to do so in the anime tradition – that is, oversized and detailed. I had taken care to make sure that it was removable – the hilt had no paint on it since it would probably just rub off from being inserted into the lion heads that form to my hands. One of my favorite things during this show was to hand the sword over to people who wanted pictures with me and show them holding it in the photo. By the end of the convention we got the hang of pulling the sword out of the lion head using two hands with a sharp upward motion and then lining up to the holes and steadily inserting it back in.
As we passed Archie Cunningham‘s booth, he waved us over, delighted and wanting a picture.
“Hang on, and I’ve got something for you!”
He reached under his table and produced one of his prints of Voltron : Legendary Defender and presented it to me.
“I was so upset with how the series ended, and I think it’s last time I’m ever going to draw him this way. I’m gonna go back to the classic – the way you look!”
We wandered around, taking pictures with Pennywise, a space marine, even a xenomorph from Aliens! Maddie got in on the act as well taking photos in her Iron Sapphire outfit and had a generally good time despite the uncomfortable armor (I had been right, even the three hours we were suited up was tough. We never would have made it through five hours). One of the vendor’s was nice enough to handle water bottles “I know how hot those things can get!” He suggested hooking up a old computer fan in the helmet perhaps to help cool me down.
When it was time to lineup for the costume contest, I was fortunate enough to be right behind the other Voltron cosplayers, and Maddie was right in front of another young woman in hand made Iron Man armor – the synchronicity was beautiful. My friend Rhonda was in the line next to us so we were surrounded by familiar faces.
We made one last pass at the dealers room, but shopping is always hard when you’re in a cumbersome outfit. Still, you never know what you might find. During that last pass, in an old toy booth, I spied it – a vintage 1979 Twiki action figure. It was in fact, the exact figure I’d been looking for at the Neotacc swap meet a couple weeks prior. I reached into the hidden pocket by my hip armor and grabbed my cash. I ended up paying about 25% more than I was really comfortable with on the toy, but I shouldn’t complain – it’s easily worth double what I paid, and routinely goes for much more on eBay. I definitely got a deal.
Finally it was time to pack things up and head home. The crest in my breast plate fell out as I was shuffling out of my armor – I had managed to perspire right through the foam. We cranked up the AC and left our makeshift spot in the now mostly empty parking lot. NEO Comiccon was still the great convention that it always has been and I’m glad to see it in good hands. We can’t wait to come back next year.