Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: last May my wife and I traveled three hours north to the town of Elkhart to visit the Hall of Heroes Museum, an impressive collection of toys, comics, merchandise, and movie memorabilia. We also walked along their Main Street downtown, enjoyed ourselves despite the unseasonably bitter temperatures, and expressed hopes of returning one day.
Today was that day. This weekend museum owner Allen Stewart oversaw the first annual Hall of Heroes Comic Con, a natural extension of his longtime hobbies and all our favorite comic cons where we’ve encountered his company’s booth on multiple occasions. Thanks to the event explosion we’ve been enjoying in or near Indianapolis over the past four years, we’ve had chances to attend more shows and meet more creators and actors than in all our previous forty Hoosier years combined. We can’t attend every show ever, but we’ll make the time and the drive if something or someone nails our interests.
For me, Stewart and his team did exactly that. Pictured above at left is Frank Conniff, a.k.a. TV’s Frank from Mystery Science Theater 3000, one of my all-time favorite TV series. At right is Trace Beaulieu, better known as TV’s Frank’s nefarious boss Dr. Clayton Forrester, and the original voice of Crow T. Robot. We previously met him at C2E2 2015, but this is a far better photo, and not just because it has TV’s Frank in it. Beyond meeting Joel Hodgson at Indy Pop Con 2014 and Mike, Kevin, Bill, and Mary Jo in St. Louis in 2000, the esteemed Mr. Conniff was the only major cast member I hadn’t met yet.
For that alone, for giving me the unexpected opportunity to complete the autograph set on my copy of The MST3K Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, I deem this a fantastic weekend, 12/10 hope to visit yet again someday.
Beyond our moment with “the Mads”…well, every first-year con has its learning curve and its kinks to work out.
We learned that the hard way from the first annual Indiana Comic Con back in 2014, which turned out a bit of a nightmare for a few thousand would-be attendees barred from entering. Or the first annual Wizard World Indianapolis, or the first annual Awesome Con Indy, neither of which drew enough traffic or revenue to warrant a sequel. Based on our experiences and the freezing temperatures outside, we had no idea whether to expect twenty thousand furious shutouts or ten hardy fans having the time of their lives running up and down empty halls.
The reality was somewhere in between. Our three-hour drive got us to the Lerner Theatre in downtown Elkhart a few minutes after HHCC opened at 10 a.m. (Praise be to the city planners who designed hundreds of free parking spaces all over the place.) Several hundred fans were ahead of us in line, stretching around the block to the rear of the building. We had no idea if this was just the line to buy tickets onsite, the line for folks who already had tickets (like us), or The One Line to be sorted at the door. We joined for a few minutes, but after Anne chatted with a few randomly sampled folks ahead of us, got a sort of consensus that “Will Call” buyers could go ahead to the front door.
We hurried around the corner and up the side of the building, where some parts of the line were bunched up and crowding the sidewalk. I tried walking near the sidewalk edge to leave them their personal space, misjudged a step, tripped and fell off the curb and into the street. Thankfully this narrow, small-town street was calm enough that the oncoming car easily braked ten or fifteen feet before it would’ve reached my head.
When I stood up, I could feel an irritating scrape on my right knee. My left knee was worse — I could put weight on it with no problem, but couldn’t bend it. Twenty minutes later I thought to check my left hand and found bleeding scrapes all over the back of it. But my head and glasses were intact. I deemed myself fit for conventioning and we pressed on to the front door for answers.
A nice lady told us there was a separate entrance for folks who hadn’t bought tickets yet. Everyone else, whether Will Call or Just Bought and Ready to Go In Now, had to join the long, long line. So our scurrying to the front and by extension my battle damage had been in vain. There’s a weak argument that could be made that my injuries wouldn’t have happened if there’d been no epic-length wait to get inside, but my walking is my own responsibility. Regardless: ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow OW.
We resigned ourselves to returning to the rear of the Lerner, but were happy to find everyone moving forward at a somewhat steady pace. Then again, when it’s 25°F outside, no pace is steady enough for you. We enjoyed chatting with a couple in front of us who’d attended the first two Indiana Comic Cons and who had a baby in a stroller swaddled up better than any of the rest of us, poking just one cute eye out from beneath their fuzzy fortress.
Eventually we got to the check-in tent, picked up our Will Call tickets, traded them for Saturday bracelets, and got inside and warm again shortly before 11. Mission priority one was locating TV’s Frank. All other activities were optional. One problem: the floor maps in the program gave no sense of space or how each section related to the others. Signage was minimal and far between. Assuming that the celebs were farthest away from the action, we shimmied our way through and around people and ascended a staircase to the second floor. We joined another thick line in a hallway bypassing the dealers’ room and a few creators’ tables on both sides. We followed a lone “celebrities” sign up yet another staircase and found ourselves in the upper balcony of the Lerner’s actual theater.
Sidebar: the Lerner’s origins date back to 1924, when vaudeville and movies still alternated in American entertainment venues. The most recent renovation efforts in 2011 brought new life and classic pizzazz to old architecture. Even without the con, the Lerner would be a nice place to tour. Among other amenities, it boasts the roomiest, cleanest, most elegant bathrooms ever provided to a comics convention in American history.
That being said and shown: a theater balcony didn’t seem like a logical place for an autograph line. We assumed either the sign was mistaken or we’d missed a follow-up sign. We exited through a doorway in the rear of the balcony and followed a dark hallway to a flimsy curtain. I drew back the curtain; Anne stepped forward, tripped over a stack of Styrofoam packaging, and fell into a sign, right next to a con volunteer and right in front of the signing table for Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank. The makeshift use of the theater spaces in creative fashions, combined with a lack of communication, had us technically sneaking into the celebrity autograph area without meaning to. The volunteer hadn’t even known what was behind the curtain and jumped back at our surprise infiltration. Thanks to the saving grace of that Styrofoam — the holders for some of the guests’ posters — Anne took zero points of damage from her fall, faring infinitely better than I had with my incident outside.
It was tempting to beg the guy to let us stay if only because the Mads were right there. But I wanted my autograph nice and legal, no under-the-table shenanigans, not even accidentally so. We exited the room, returned to the hallway, returned to the “celebrities” sign, and confirmed with another volunteer that the autograph line for all the celebrities ran across the theater balcony and toward the exit on the opposite side. Still a weird idea, but Elkhart doesn’t have a convention center to call its own. One must do what one has with the square footage available.
Side benefit of the arrangement: while we waited for the line to move forward, we were treated to a panel down on the main stage starring the 501st Legion, America’s premier Star Wars cosplay organization. Representatives from the Jedi and Sith alike were giving cosplay tips to would-be members and their families.
Fun Easter egg: down in the orchestra pit is Tony Stark’s demolished Cobra from Iron Man 2, a staple at the Hall of Heroes’ con appearances. Anne posed with it at Wizard World Chicago 2015.
After waiting a couple dozen minutes, slowly inching through the balcony to the other exit, and down another staircase that my knee hated, we got far enough in line to reach another volunteer who was inviting forward any fans who were there just to meet special guest Reb Brown, a.k.a. the 1970s Captain America, or Our Villains from MST3K, which she called “Mystery Theater”. I knew what she meant. More importantly, it meant us. 95% of the other people in line were here to meet this man…
…TV’s Dean Cain, a.k.a. Superman from The Adventures of Lois & Clark, now known to younger viewers as Kara’s adopted dad Jeremiah Danvers from The CW’s Supergirl. Anne enjoyed the heck out of meeting him in 2012 and discussing their mutual high opinions of Superman: The Movie. I missed out at the time because we’d gone in different directions to cover more of our respective to-do lists on our own. I wouldn’t have minded meeting him, but first and foremost, I was there for TV’s Frank.
The esteemed Messrs. Conniff and Beaulieu were a pleasure to meet and had books to sell. I love when people I’m already excited to meet at a con also happen to bring their own books to sell, whether comics creators, actors, or TV mad scientists.
Primary objective achieved, ’round noon-ish. Alas, meeting Dean Cain would mean rejoining the same long line through the theater balcony but not skipping to the front. To make matters worse, I knew Cain had a Q&A at 1 p.m., which would mean staying put in the same long line through that, then continuing onward once he returned to his table. Alas, I made the call and opted out. But I did not, regardless of how he looks on Supergirl and disregarding a few jokes I’ve seen while live-tweeting the show…in person, to the two of us, on this day, Cain looked as buff as ever.
From there the next natural move was a stroll through the dealers room across the hall. The designated ballroom was a giant can of sardines crammed together.
Both in the dealers room and in the adjacent hallway, I recognized at least two artists and one organization from our Chicago cons. A few animators held court on the far side; a couple of local talents on another. Throughout this inch-by-inch bazaar and the intermittent sellers elsewhere, I didn’t buy much beyond the Mads’ books (just a few new buttons for my convention bag), but noted a few nifty sights along the way.
By the time we wrapped up our minimal shopping and overview of the complete show floor, it was lunch time and we had no mandatory activities left. I had been considering Cain’s 1:00 panel and possibly a 2:00 seminar on WWII comics by main man Stewart himself. But I was ready for lunch elsewhere in Elkhart, I wasn’t sure how much more my knee could take, and I didn’t want to wait through that freezing line outside to reenter later after eating. When we mutually agreed we were done and ready to call it a day, that outside line wasn’t much shorter than it had been two hours earlier.
Naturally we won’t close without touching on the most critical asset of every valid comic convention: Hall of Heroes Comic Con cosplay photos! The shortage of elbow room and photogenic spaces in the Lerner made mandatory costume pics next to impossible, but we did what we could in the few opportunities that opened up.
Believe me, I wish I had more, but it wasn’t happening under the circumstances.
I also dearly wish we could’ve seen Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank on stage, but their panel wasn’t till Sunday, which we couldn’t do, and their special “Mads Live!” MST-style movie-mocking performance wasn’t till 6:00, which was later than we could stay. Those limitations were already decided before my injuries, which now have me typing this entry while wearing three bandages and planning to call them “war wounds” to anyone who asks. Because these were the scars I earned just for braving the gauntlet to meet TV’s Frank.
Alas, we left Hall of Heroes Comic Con earlier than average, but satisfied with what we’d gotten out of it, happy to be there, appreciative of all the nice volunteers we met, grateful for the even-tempered fans who all kept their cool and likewise had fun, and wanting to give a shout-out to the folks at McCarthy’s on the Riverwalk for an A-plus lunch before we headed home. Here’s hoping all went well and a good time was had by everyone else. If that phenomenal turnout of several hundred fans helps HHCC beat the odds, set up again next year, and pin down more awesome all-stars to meet, then we might have to indulge in an encore road trip. But next time we’re getting into town much earlier and watching our steps much more carefully.