Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
It’s that time again! This weekend my wife and I attended the fourth annual Indiana Comic Con at the Indiana Convention Center in scenic downtown Indianapolis. Once again Anne and I found a few intriguing names on the guest list and decided to drop by…
In our first three chapters you saw all our costume photos that were remotely fit to print, but wandering the halls and capturing people’s handiwork and souls isn’t all we do at cons.
DAY ONE: Friday, April 14th.
My employers let us have Good Friday off every year. Anne isn’t so lucky and had to work that day. That meant a major milestone: my first time attending a full-size convention alone. At first it was lonely, especially in that first long line to pick up her one-day wristband and my lanyard. I arrived unaccompanied shortly after 11 a.m. and found a few hundred people ahead of me in the line for pre-order pick-ups. Meanwhile the eight or ten volunteers manning the lines for onsite purchases assisted eight or ten fans that first hour.
Most of the things we wanted to do were scheduled for Saturday, or were meant for the two of us together. Conversations went on around me. A hurried discussion about where to find batteries for a megaphone. A fan wishing some con would invite the voice of Count Chocula. A lot of volunteers in cheery states, in top shape and not yet worn down by the long weekend ahead.
I decided to spend my “me” time in the exhibit hall perusing the comic racks and clearance stacks, but at a measured pace of my choosing. For once I didn’t have to feel self-conscious about boring Anne while immersing myself in so many longboxes. Usually she’s sweet and tolerant of it, but I don’t like to take her patience for granted. I picked up a few minors deals. I stopped at my local comic shop’s booth and said hi. I met a few comics creators over in Artists Alley.
First up: Gerry Conway, the man who murdered Gwen Stacy. As one of the writers to guide the fates of the Marvel Universe after Stan Lee stepped away from monthly scripting, Conway was a longtime contributor throughout my childhood there as well as at DC Comics. The two-part “Death of Gwen Stacy”, which I read as reprints in Marvel Tales, was probably the first story I ever read as a kid that showed a “good guy” dying. And when Norman Osborn got his in the next issue…that was the stuff of high drama, something I certainly wasn’t learning about from my steady diet of cartoons.
Over at DC, Conway co-created Firestorm the Nuclear Man and any number of characters surrounding him, which included future hacker Felicity Smoak from TV’s Arrow. We chatted for a bit about one of my fave DC heroes and agreed that Victor Garber’s version of Professor Martin Stein on Legends of Tomorrow is letter-perfect.
Also a pleasure to meet: artist/writer Ron Randall. Throughout the late ’80s to the ’90s he worked on various DC titles including a run on Justice League Europe. Randall’s own Trekker was among the early creator-owned works to grace the pages of the original Dark Horse Presents, and among the few at the time to feature a female protagonist. Recently he co-penciled issues of the Hanna-Barbera crossover maxiseries Future Quest for DC, did a fun issue of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, and tries to find time for more Trekker adventures, which has so far included two trades’ worth of new stories in addition to the original DHP shorts (now available in omnibus form!). We spent a few minutes dwelling on the good things about comics today, including but not limited to agreeing on the prowess of Kurt Busiek.
…and that was it for my short, simple, shopping Friday. Walking in, about, and out calmly and without scheduling pressures was a nice, relaxing way to spend some geek downtime.
DAY TWO: Saturday, April 15th.
Full conventioning mode on. As is our established procedure whenever we mean to meet a popular actor, Anne and I arrived at the Convention Center around 7 a.m. and were the second and third folks in line to enter Hall H when it opened at 9 a.m., a bit early compared to other cons. Other fans slowly joined us as time went on and we began the annual trading of the convention anecdotes, always the best part of every line. Highlights included behind-the-scenes joys from a guy who worked as a volunteer at both Star Wars Celebrations II and III here in Indy, and one guy who got slightly, accidentally choked by an actress at a Wizard World Chicago photo op.
Conversation halted when we were approached by a security guard we remember from last year who likes tossing us weird trivia questions to which he wished he knew the answers. This year’s prime example: “Who was the first super-hero?” which is one of those time-honored controversies that can yield a dozen answers from a dozen fans unless and until you can get all dozen of us to agree on the parameters of the word “super-hero”. If your response to the question is “Superman!” without even pausing to think, you get a pat on the head, a “Good Job!” sticker, and a seat in the Peanut Gallery while us olds try to dredge up past discussions and debates from Comics Buyer’s Guide and the like about every character we can think of who predated Superman — with or without powers, with or without a costume. Frankly, that’s hours’ worth of work you’re asking from us.
Promptly at 9 we all rushed the open doors and headed toward the autograph lines of our choice. Unfortunately my sprained knee and a couple other obstacles hindered us a bit and made us roughly twelfth and thirteenth in line to meet the Cary Elwes. You might remember him from such films as The Princess Bride, Glory, Saw, Liar Liar, Hot Shots, The Crush (my mom made me watch it), and more more more. For our money, he was Priority One. We spent our line-time chatting with a young schoolteacher from Naperville who made us aging folks shake our heads with regret at his tales of The Kids These Days.
Curiously, Elwes was one of only two stars who weren’t positioned at a mere table out in the open. His was inside an enclosed booth, where he did autographs and photo ops at the same time, rather than doing separately scheduled professional photo ops elsewhere.
As we found out, Elwes is fond of the idea of letting each fan or couple have a separate moment apart from the crowds — just you, him, the cashier, and the volunteer who’d take a pic with your camera. He was scheduled to commence at 10 a.m. but arrived at 10:30, better than the average actor by our experience. Elwes was exactly as gracious and courteous to meet as you’d hope, and then some. I got the impression that he’d already had to shake far too many hands before meeting us, so we did our own jazz hands without imposing on him. When he realized what we were doing after the pic was done, he laughed the kind of hearty laugh that only a true British gentleman can laugh, and we magically became ten years younger in his presence that day.
We departed the booth in high spirits. Anne couldn’t get over the fact that he was apparently wearing the greatest cologne in world history. Her exact words: “He smelled so good.” She was so elated, she didn’t share this just with me, but with every fifteenth or twentieth woman she passed in line as we headed off. Because every lady in the house deserved to know.
As for the other actor who insisted on autographing only in a shrouded booth…we suspected that was with a slightly different motive. Behold the foreboding fortress of Val Kilmer.
Kilmer appeared at C2E2 a few years ago. As we recall, he was hours late, and the consensus among the post-con fan discussions Anne witnessed was that he seemed…standoffish. Based on this, and on the fact that at ICC he was charging twice as much as any other guest, we declined to include him in our itinerary. Therefore I can’t tell you what his booth experience was like. To his credit, he arrived shortly after 10, a bit before Elwes and well before some of the other actors down the way.
Later, though, we saw what his photo-op experience was like. While I was doing a thing, Anne wandered over to the pickup table, where all completed photo-op photos are spread out for fans to find and grab the ones containing them, she noticed a pattern in Kilmer’s pics. I give you the following exhibits as examples:
Every photo was the same: in the chair, hands folded, no motion, no reaction, and an expression that says, “If I don’t do this and play nice, they’ll send me to my room without supper.” It looked like every set of fans posed with the backdrop by themselves and had the same “Sad Val” image Photoshopped next to them after the fact. Anne noted at least one unhappy fan at the pickup table lamenting, “I paid $80 for this?”
At the other end of the actor joy scale, you have cheery folks like Jewel Staite, costar of TV’s Firefly.
We met her previously at Awesome Con Indy, but on a tighter budget at the time. I opted for having her sign my Firefly DVD set alongside several other costars’ autographs I’ve collected over the years. Now I’m thrilled to have a photo op to match.
To kill a bit of time between events, we wandered the exhibit hall so Anne could get a gander at what I’d already browsed on Friday. She rarely buys anything from dealers, but she appreciates the opportunity. You never know when inspiration might strike.
We also made a point of sitting in on Cary Elwes’ Q&A. At the prompting of moderator Christy Blanch, he told so many stories from the set of The Princess Bride that not much time was left for questions from the audience. First one up was a nine-year-old asking him about what convinced him to star in Saw. So that was lively.
Our final event was scheduled at 5:45. That left us with large, hours-long gaps in our schedule to fill. The panel schedule was a light one compared to other cons — virtually none of the comics guests were doing panels, and we weren’t interested in sitting in on the various voice actors’ Q&As.
(Tangential note: if you wanted to see the largest cosplay gathering outside of professional group photos, you could find many of them in the autograph line for monetized cosplayer Jessica Nigri, who seems to have a plethora of followers.)
On a whim we sat in at the Costume Contest, arriving late and hanging out while our feet rested. The spirited judges and hosts gave it their all, though one MC’s words wee largely muddled either by poor acoustics or my bad hearing. That meant missing most jokes and far too many character names. But the costumes were nifty, as you saw in Part 2.
Later still, we arrived late for another, smaller panel — a “con survival tips” mini-seminar given by a woman whose introduction we missed. “Eden” was either her name or her cosplay character’s. As stodgy old folks, not all her tips or tricks applied to us (though the idea of getting my own EZPass for the Chicago toll roads is tempting, considering how often we’re in the area), but if you’re new to the convention scene and aren’t sure how to navigate hotel rooms on as few dollars as possible, she has notes for you.
Last event, and last photo op, was with a legendary actress we’ve met at previous cons, but didn’t have the best pics of the experiences. The one, the only, the talented, the Nichelle Nichols. If I have to explain her identity to you, you’re at the wrong website.
Oddly, as we approached the booth and the door (where the con staffer remembered my shirt from the Jewel Staite op and joked that now he could finish reading it), we noticed every fan was doing the exact same pose with Nichelle: a Vulcan salute. Every. Single. One.
Telling me “Everyone else is doing it” is the best way to get me not to do something. Nichelle’s smile beamed with every new entrant. She seemed in high spirits despite her advanced age and the lateness of the hour. The time seemed right.
When we approached, Anne led with, “Do you mind if we do jazz hands?”
Nichelle’s dignified response: “Yes, I do mind.”
That was a first. Usually if stars think we’re loony for asking, they’ll respond, “You can do whatever you like!” and proceed to stand back while we bring the pizzazz. We couldn’t tell if she was just kidding, or if the Vulcan salute was the only gesture she could manage without pain, or if it was in her contract that she was limited to a single pose, or if it would be sheer blasphemy for the grand matriarch of the Star Trek universe to do anything but a Vulcan salute. Or maybe she hates jazz. Or has very specific ideas about quality jazz hands and doesn’t trust the attempts of unlicensed amateurs.
No time was allowed for extended conversation on this communication gap. So we split the difference.
By the time our photos printed, it was 6:30 p.m. The vendors were closed, most of them already vacated from the premises. At long last, 11½ hours later, our Indiana Comic Con experience was concluded. We went home and died.
DAY THREE: Sunday, April 16th.
That was Easter and a Sunday, so we missed out on the only day to feature super-special guest Millie Bobby Brown, a.k.a. Eleven from Stranger Things. She’ll be at C2E2 this coming weekend, where we’ll also be even though we won’t be rested in time. I’ve already bought a new knee bandage for the occasion.
Side note: if you decide to scour the internet for more Val Kilmer photos, you can tell which ones were taken on Sunday because someone put a suit jacket on him.
The End. Till next con, far too soon from now.
Thanks for reading! Other chapters in this special MCC miniseries: