Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: Friday and Saturday, my wife and I attended the third annual Indiana Comic Con at the Indiana Convention Center in scenic downtown Indianapolis. Previous chapters in this special MCC miniseries:
The TL;DR rundown of our weekend experience: this was the best-run Indiana Comic Con to date. The showrunners evidently took notes last time, focused on their weaknesses, streamlined their processes, and exceeded our apprehensive expectations. We came away with a new set of happy memories, several cool books, another gallery of photos, a few minor suggestions for future years, and no sour complaints this time. A fine convention at last, would run through again, 10/10.
Early arrival times are a standard practice for us at most conventions, but given the troubling crowd-control issues we witnessed at the last two ICCs, we remained fully committed to this principle and mentally prepared for the worst. This year the con opened for business Friday at noon. We arrived around 9:30 and waited to see what would happen next…
Registration at Hall F opened at 11. Line #1 filed inside, we traded in our pre-order printouts for official lanyards, we exited the hall, then we had to go join line #2 on the opposite end at Hall I, the exhibit hall whose entrance would give us nearest, fastest access to the celebrity autograph area. Emmy Award Nominee John Rhys-Davies was scheduled to begin signing at noon sharp, and we were determined to avoid a repeat of the Carrie Fisher event. We bided more time and made small talk with a group of younger fans who were anxious to meet the various voice actors.
We walked briskly inside once the doors opened promptly at noon and found every autograph line had a dedicated transaction system — their own separate table with two volunteers to sell you tickets and provide your complimentary 8-x10 glossy for signing before you could get in the actual autograph line; one volunteer actually at the actor’s table as their assistant; and maybe an extra volunteer as standby security/gofer. Most other cons provide one handler per actor having to manage all necessary tasks at once from money to glossies. If your con can draw enough volunteers to provide a separate team for every actor, it’s a handy system.
Through some combination of effort and miracle, we found ourselves second and third in line for Mr. Rhys-Davies. He arrived a few minutes after 12 and we were done, out and giddy by 12:08. Frankly we were stunned by the speed of service, and by the hours of bonus convention time we thought would be wasted standing in lines instead of spending money at booths.
We had time to wander the exhibit hall at a leisurely pace, to buy stuff from folks (see below), to grab lunch from one of the food trucks outside (saving those pics for a separate entry), and to return in plenty of time for the Rhys-Davies Q&A at 2:00.
The Q&A started with an unexpected ten-minute extemporaneous speech about UK economics, free trade, fossil fuels, the butterfly effect on a worldwide sociopolitical scale, probably world peace and Real Change and so forth. I lost the narrative thread several minutes into it, and I imagine the younger apolitical American fans retreating into their mind palaces and waiting till it was safe to ask questions about Lord of the Rings or Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Random tidbits you may or may not have heard before:
* He sums up Gimli as the series’ “grumpy old fart” and played his attitude as “Glasgow paranoia and aggression”.
* His face became so destructively aggravated by the makeup that he’d have to wait days between filming for his skin to heal just enough for them to have clean places to reapply it, rather than gluing things onto open sores.
* I, Claudius was more fun in hindsight because he got to murder a young Patrick Stewart.
* He imagines Gimli after Return of the King building “an elaborate cabinet” as a shrine to hold the three hairs Galadriel gave him.
* As a noted conservative who’s made no secret of his anti-Islamic views, he nonetheless laments Sallah as “the last popular Arab in popular culture.” (Contrary examples do leap to mind, but are they as Popular-with-a-capital-P as Raiders?)
* As someone who grew up in Tanzania and witnessed aspects of the slavery market firsthand as a kid, he wondered aloud why African-Americans aren’t more vocally activist about opposing slavery in other parts of the world.
* The last fan to step to the mic was a well-educated nonwhite woman who politely asked if he as an actor was choosing parts that would afford him opportunities to speak out or confront serious issues that meant most to him, including but not limited to what he’d just finished pontificating about at length. He conceded he takes the parts offered to him, offered a bit of Latin, and — holding up his old-school feature phone as evidence — concluded with an admission that in his advancing age, “My opinions may have the same relevance as my technology has.”
We wandered a bit more, I flipped through a back-issue bin or two, and we moved on to our next actor: the great Maurice LaMarche. With over three hundred credits to his name, he’s appeared in something you’ve seen and enjoyed.
Whatever character a fan gushed about, he responded in kind in the corresponding voice. I remembered The Brain, Dr. Zoidberg, and various Orson Welles spoofs off the top of my head, but I last saw him in Disney’s Zootopia, in which he plays a shrew(d) send-up of Don Corleone. I complimented this, and in his Mr. Big voice he let me know he wouldn’t have me iced. And then I died content. The End.
From there we headed over to the photo op area, where fans arriving early for Line A had to march back and forth through sixteen rows’ worth of serpentine line to join others in wait. If you were 400th or 500th in line it was no big deal, but if you were among the first thirty in line as we were, it was a short bit of calisthenics to add to your already impressive Fitbit total for the day.
And then we got the goofy-looking results shown at the top. At the photo pickup tables we compared notes with other fans, who each testified he tickled everyone. We discussed whether it was okay for us all to laugh or if we should all file an offended class-action lawsuit in the name of Problematics. Anne and I took a while to stop laughing and carry on.
* * * * *
On Saturday ICC opened at 8 a.m. — not just for waiting, but for activities — shopping, panels, and even one major actor Q&A at 8:30 a.m., a start time unprecedented in the history of Midwest comics conventions. Our #1 reason for attending was a chance to meet Emperor Palpatine himself, Ian McDiarmid, whose first autograph session was scheduled at 9:20. That meant we had to adjust our own parameters and arrive shortly after 6:30 a.m. Anne is an early bird, but that’s hard for a night-owl like me. I can only imagine how hard that probably was on anyone who spent Friday night carousing and binge-drinking in accordance with comic convention customs.
Our line-buddies were a gregarious, shockingly wide-awake bunch, including one cosplayer who let Anne try on his Red Hood helmet. She’s not exactly a big Jason Todd fan, but cosplay opportunities are exceedingly rare for her. It’s been ages since she used to attend Trek cons in her old Starfleet medical officer’s uniform.
At one point we were joined by special guest George Perez, whom we’d previously met at Wizard World Chicago 1999 and at the 2012 Superman Celebration. A legendary artist and a very nice man, he posed for pics with the Batman of Mishawaka before heading off to find the pros’ designated entrance.
Security let us into Hall I at 8:00 on the nose. We sped toward McDiarmid’s spot and waited for another eighty minutes.
We got to say hi to old friend Richard, a fellow Carrie Fisher line survivor. And Anne the history buff had the pleasure of chatting at length with fellow fan Dave, a history teacher who came out all the way from Long Island for this chance to meet the Emperor himself. I played fly-on-the-wall for a while and watched them speaking in each other’s language.
Like a true professional, McDiarmid arrived at his table at precisely 9:20. Despite one dealer bringing several posters for autographing, each of which required veeeeeeeeryyyyyyyy slooooooooowlyyyyyyy uuuunrooooooolliiiiiiiiing so every one of them could be individually signed and turned into eBay gold. Once he was out of the way, then the line proceeded normally and we had our chance to say hi and bask in his majesty.
That moment took an unexpected turn when his handlers recognized us. One recalled our Jenna Coleman photo from last year; the other recognized me from this very site. Wonders really never ceased this weekend.
We were done, out and giddy yet again by 9:35. We’d honestly expected a minimum three-hour ordeal. Once again we had hours of surprise free time on our hands. I can’t say the same for other McDiarmid fans who arrived much later and were part of the system organized behind us, divided into managed sections for a much more orderly process than we’d endured in 2015. Many Star Wars actors are regulars on the convention circuit and have shorter lines as a result, but Palpatine isn’t among them. His line remained larger than any other guests’ pretty much all day long. Points to us early birds, then.
That gave us more time for light shopping, cosplayer-watching, and temporarily escaping the Convention Center to grab lunch at Circle Centre Mall rather than overpay for underwhelming convention food. We saw several other fans over at the food court with the same life-saving idea. We returned in plenty of time for our 12:30 photo op, for which the con kept advising ticket-holders should begin lining up fifteen minutes early. By the 35-minute-till mark, we were fifty strong, with hundreds more filing behind us over the next hour. The start time was delayed till after 1:00 so they could whittle down more of that overwhelming autograph line. All things considered, we understood, though a few kids in line with us were grumpy for a bit.
Eventually it happened, and we got our photo with the Sith Lords themselves, Emperor Palpatine and Ray Park, a.k.a. Darth Maul.
The delay caused us to miss a 1 p.m. comics panel we’d been considering, but there was nothing to be done. Next event: the 2:30 Q&A with those same Sith Lords. Thousands of fans filed through the serpentine in Hall J for the main event in Hall K.
Both stars were in great spirits. McDiarmid switched his Palpatine voice on-and-off as needed, and described his disappointing lunch as “Ewok hash”.
I didn’t take too many more notes because I doubt much of the chat was stop-the-presses news. Ray Park talked about his early martial-arts inspirations like the old anime Monkey Magic, and thought it was funny that he had to record ADR for Snake-Eyes in both GI Joe films because they wanted this very mute character to still grunt and groan and go OOF whenever he was hit. Otherwise we relaxed and listened and tried not to bristle too loudly when younger fans asked 100% inappropriate Q&A questions like “Will you sign this for me?” or “Can I have a hug?”
At panel’s end, the room was cleared per con procedure and thousands of us flooded into the halls all at the same time. Weaving through and around so much writ-large Brownian motion made me a minute late to our final panel of the day, a writers’ confab called “Writing a Shared Universe”.
Pictured left to right:
* John Jackson Miller, former Comics Buyer’s Guide editor turned comics writer (Iron Man, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) and Star Wars novelist (A New Dawn, which kicked off the controversial New Canon), who’s now got a Star Trek novel in stores and a Trek trilogy called Prey set to begin in September.
* Eric Flint, mastermind behind the 1632 shared-world series.
* An author who wasn’t listed in the panel’s program description, whose intro I missed due to late arrival.
* Jody Lynn Nye, whom I recall from the Thieves’ World shared-world series back in the ’80s, who also co-authored the later volumes in Robert Asprin’s MythAdventures series.
Most of their useful tips for co-writing in other people’s universes boil down to “Don’t be a jerk to the other writers by writing things that screw up everyone else’s possibilities.” But as we’ve seen in comics, some people do still need practical advice. I was worried that this panel might be the perfect opportunity for any haters of the New Canon to establish a beachhead at ICC, but Miller asked the audience to hold any Star Wars-specific questions until the end of the panel. At the end, they’d spoken so long that we only had time for questions from two fans — one asking about the value and drawbacks of fanfic, one broadly wanting general writing tips, neither of them coming within 500 yards of any elephants in any rooms. Bullets = dodged.
(I took more notes than that if anyone’s interested, but I realize I’ve lost most readers a couple thousand words ago. Just let me know if you’re interested in a follow-up sidebar.)
We made a few last stops in the exhibit hall to pick up heavy or unwieldy items, then bade Indiana Comic Con farewell for the year. (Saturday nights at any given con are rarely programmed for square old-timers like us, and we almost never do Sundays.) Before we close here, special shout-outs to the comics creators I had the pleasure of meeting throughout the weekend:
Full disclosure on that last one: as CBG editor, Miller was instrumental co-writer of their Standard Catalog of Comic Books, which compiled comic-book sales figures from past decades using the “Statement of Ownership” forms that publishers were once required to release once per year inside any and all comics that were available by subscription. I submitted a few forms I’d found in my own collection, so the Standard Catalog‘s “Special Thanks” section was the first appearance of my name in print in a nationally distributed book. Miller’s sales-stat work continues over at Comichron as time permits between fiction-writing opportunities.
Unfortunately not pictured above: Lee Cherolis and Ed Cho, local co-creators of the webcomic Little Guardians that we met at C2E2 back in March. I thought well enough of their first collection that I wanted to say hi and pick up Volume 2. I’d meant to ask if we could take a photo, but then another potential paying customer approached their table, so we stepped back and let them have the chance to make more money. Next time, then.
…and that was our successful thumbs-up experience at Indiana Comic Con 2016. If I had to submit a few nitpicky ideas to their suggestion box:
* I live-tweeted occasionally using the #indianacomiccon hashtag even though ICC’s official Twitter account kept recommending #ICC2016, which is already in use by other groups sharing that really common acronym, some of them overseas and none of them relevant. By contrast I counted only one (1) company likely to have use for #indianacomiccon. A hashtag shared by multiple groups for multiple purposes is a useless hashtag. (Value-added personal-preference note: I’m also staunchly opposed to hashtags that add pointless suffixes and devour those precious 140 characters for no good reason, like #indianacomiccon2016 instead of #indianacomiccon, or #thewalkingdeadfinale instead of #thewalkingdead. Maybe that’s just me.)
* As a fan of straight lines in general and grids in particular, the layout for Artists Alley, and various publishers’ and dealers’ booths was frustratingly non-linear and virtually freeform in parts, making it hard to ensure that we actually saw every exhibitor in the house. I missed at least one webcomic artist and one local comic shop that I’m pretty sure were supposed to be there but never appeared in our paths.
* Sincere kudos for printing an actual convention program this year, but I’d add at least a few more sections to it, including but not limited to: (a) short bios of all the main guests, as a means of upselling them to attendees who might be interested in spending more money on them if they had a better idea of who they were; and (b) a print version of the con’s official harassment guidelines, which were posted nowhere and only available online, buried in the About page.
So far the only other complaints I’ve run across were from a couple of comic fans on Twitter who thought George Perez’ line moved too slowly. As a two-time Perez line veteran, I can say that’s not unusual. He’s extremely cordial and will sketch for you then and there while you watch and marvel, instead of taking a commission list and getting back to you three weeks from the October after next, like other artists might do. I can sympathize, but to me he was worth both long waits. And trust me, however long you waited, he’s no Carrie Fisher.
Otherwise: great year. Special thanks to my local shop Downtown Comics for helping me complete my collection of Christopher Priest’s The Ray, and to Gem City Books, who always bring a fine selection of discount trades to our favorite cons, and who struck gold in my heart with a new idea: a rack for damaged books at rock-bottom clearance prices.
The End. Thanks for reading. Lord willing, see you next year. Cheerily so.