Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Saturday morning my wife Anne and I drove two hours southeast of Indianapolis to attend the eighth annual Cincinnati Comic Expo in the heart of their downtown that’s not so different from ours. The guest list seemed a little thinner, particularly in the comics department, but we had such a great time last year that we agreed an encore was in order.
“Boy, you guys sure do a lot of cons!” is a thing we keep hearing lately from family and friends who’ve noticed how our 2017 has been going. The tone and implication vary by speaker.
We keep expecting the Midwest convention boom that ignited for us in 2015 will eventually fizzle out, but it hasn’t happened yet. Anne and I agree and keep telling each other we need to cut back on conventions, if for no other reason than to have more time for all the other aspects and responsibilities in our lives. But the temptation is hard to resist when so many cons keep popping up within a manageable driving distance for us, based on the road-trip skill set we’ve developed over the past nineteen years. It’s harder to resist when showrunners actually invite guests we’re excited to meet. And it’s hardest when we’re talking about shows we’ve done and loved before.
That’s how Cincinnati Comic Expo, having passed all three qualifiers with flying colors, beckoned to us for a second year.
The two-hour drive from Indianapolis to Cincinnati is no big deal to us. (Remember, we’re that couple who once drove two hours for one of the worst cons of the year.) This trip was no exception, even allowing for road construction along the way. We arrived in downtown Cinci shortly before 9 a.m. and headed straight for the same parking garage as last time, curiously deserted in the morning. A change in CCE’s layout for security purposes meant we had to walk two extra blocks to the southwest corner of Duke Energy Convention Center instead of to the southeast corner. We used to consider bag searches and metal detectors off-putting, but they’re becoming such a common convention feature in our broken world that we’re now accustomed to them and didn’t let them slow us down. CCE’s team seemed more organized than Wizard World Chicago’s was, I’ll give them that. The multiple Will Call booths had no lines. The general-admission entrance line had only 40-50 fans waiting an hour before showtime. For a moment I was suspicious that things were running too, too well.
Promptly at 10 a.m. the fan stampede began and we headed directly for the line of the first of two actors we wanted to meet. My primary objective today: Wallace Shawn! You may remember him as the voice of the cowardly T-Rex from the Toy Story series; as Grand Nagus Zek, head of the Ferengi Alliance, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; as a voice for other cartoons and/or flicks with animals in them; and in memorable roles from Clueless, The Haunted Mansion, or his cinematic debut in Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Some among you are thinking at me, “Dude, are you seriously skipping over his greatest credit of all time? The one everyone on the internet totally knows and loves to quote? Really? Do you really not know? That, my friend, is inco-”
NOPE. Let me stop you right there. As soon as we joined the line behind a dozen other folks, the volunteer on duty had to inform us of the One Rule before we approached:
To the potentially thousands of fans who might want to drop in and pay respects to Vizzini from The Princess Bride, I can imagine it might have been a disappointment. Another guy in line asked if he was allowed to ask Mr. Shawn to say a synonym for The Adjective That Must Not Be Named. Anne suggested that perhaps trying to find loopholes in the One Rule might not be in his best interest.
Honestly? To an extent I was relieved. Days before, I had half-joked with Anne that I hoped we wouldn’t arrive to see Shawn slumped at his table, head down, signing furiously and refusing to look up as his fans dutifully marched by in lockstep while he repeated the same two-word greeting/farewell to each and all: “Inconceivable! NEXT. Inconceivable! NEXT. Inconceivable! NEXT. Inconceivable! NEXT. Inconceivable! NEXT. Incon–” and so on. I had no problem with that moratorium because I’d already decided on a different direction.
Fun trivia: acting wasn’t his Plan A. He’s always chiefly considered himself a playwright but found himself flummoxed at how the life of a character actor worked slightly better for paying the bills. Film lovers from a previous generation may recall one of his most acclaimed works, director Louis Malle’s 1981 mininmalist classic My Dinner with Andre. It’s a most peculiar piece in which he and actor/theater director Andre Gregory play fictionalized versions of themselves spending 90+ minutes chatting over dinner. That’s literally the whole movie. The first hour alone is mostly Gregory performing an epic-length monologue while Shawn listens. Like, really listens. Some folks might recall it was paid homage in one episode of Community. If you’ve ever seen an indie film that was all talk talk talk talkity-talk talk, blame the influence of Andre.
Shawn and Gregory collaborated on two more dramatic films, neither of which you’ve seen. 1994’s Vanya on 42nd Street (director Malle’s final film) is staged as a faux-documentary about a cast rehearsal of an Anton Chekhov play, notable in that it was adapted by David Mamet and that 90% of its movie poster is taken up by Julianne Moore’s head. Twenty years later the dialectic duo reunited for their take on Henrik Ibsen’s A Master Builder, for which Shawn wrote the screenplay himself. It was one of director Jonathan Demme’s final films and it made $46,000 at the American box office.
Today he’s beloved for funny business by anyone who instantly recognizes the sound of his voice. Count me among them. But once upon a time, Shawn had dreams of becoming a Serious Playwright. So he was shocked when I brought a copy of the Criterion Collection boxed set containing all three of his films with his good friend Mr. Gregory. We chatted for a few minutes and he didn’t seem to mind my prattling on, even when I drew thematic parallels between Andre‘s engaging debates and the overwrought coffee-shop philosophizing of The Matrix.
From there we headed to the other side of the autograph area for the big name on Anne’s list: Caroline Blakiston! You might vaguely remember her as Mon Mothma, the other woman of authority from the original Star Wars trilogy. Most folks remember her distinctive line about how many Bothans died to bring them this information and so forth, even though we’re never given any reason to care about the Bothans. For all we know the Bothans could’ve been Lawful Evil jerks who only aided the Rebel Alliance because it suited their long-term interests. Maybe they secretly had death camps back on their home planet of Botho and it’s good that some of them were massacred so they could never return home to continue torturing their hidden captives. For all we know, maybe Mon Mothma knew all of this but chose to remain silent because Our Heroes needed victory by any means necessary, and if a little piece of her soul died in the process, it was a small price to pay for the liberation of A Galaxy.
Also, she looks like my aunt Marilyn. That’s not a bad thing.
Other autograph lines around us varied in length. At one end, the longest line of all waited patiently for Star Trek: Discovery costar Jason Isaacs. (Thankfully we’d gotten ahead of the curve and met him at C2E2.) Meanwhile on the other end, British actress Miriam Margolyes (Professor Sprout from the Harry Potter series), who was ready at her table right at 10 a.m., occasionally yawped like a gung-ho bazaar vendor whenever she had no line. Still another actress, who helped ruin a TV show I used to like, likewise had intermittent periods of boredom between customers. Other actors’ vicissitudes varied here and there, most of them pretty well occupied as morning gave way to afternoon and the population of Cincinnati finally began to flood in and crowd up the joint. By 2 p.m. the narrower aisles were overflowing with bodies and nearly impassable. Everyone just had to be patient and wait a while for the good turnout.
Most of the rest of our day was spent wandering the exhibit hall. Special thanks to the three vendors who successfully took money from me:
* Gem City Books, a dealer that’s have appeared at nearly every show we’ve done this year. I love them not only for their expansive rack of $5 graphic novels, but for the fact that, instead of musty longboxes that take forever to flip through while you’re elbowing everyone around you, Gem City displays their wares on bookshelves that let buyers scan across all the spines and see everything they have at once. I’ve grown to hate longboxes and admire the convenience of shelf-shopping.
* Ryan Ruffatti, creator of Teleport, a comic about a scientist who finds herself driven by personal reasons to perfect the science of teleportation. Very promising, some interesting ideas, can tell there was actual proofreading (after nearly forty years of enjoying my comics hobby, I’ve come to appreciate the forgotten basics), and liked the clean linework from artist Moomie Swan.
* Sassy Pants Sweets & Treats, fellow survivors of this year’s Fandom Fest fiasco. Things didn’t go so well for them in Louisville (so say we all), but they’re bouncing back and recently added cookies and cupcakes to their culinary repertoire, which we approve.
Speaking of food: CCE remains very nearly the only convention we’ve ever attended for which I’m genuinely eager to eat on the premises. In addition to local chains LaRosa’s Pizzeria and Skyline Chili, they also welcome the wondrous works Tom & Chee, a specialty grilled-cheese joint that also has a location twenty minutes from our house. This year their booth was a lot less prominent, stationed in a faraway section behind the northernmost aisle. We had no idea they were there till Anne went on a scouting mission and stumbled across them. As with last year’s upstanding lunch, we found ourselves duly satisfied and wish they catered every con ever.
We otherwise wandered here ‘n’ there and didn’t spend much. We’re saving up for other potentially exciting events coming soon (besides bills for adulting, I mean). Seeing some of the same artists at every Midwest con again and again and again has gone beyond a mere novelty wearing thin. I’m sick of back issue boxes. My reading pile isn’t dwindling. I’m still extremely reluctant to buy from would-be novelists at cons. I still don’t buy prints. And I’m reluctant to finish writing my long-delayed MCC entry “How Not To Sell Me a Comic in Artists Alley” because I might have to sound harsh about 99 out of every 100 offerings I’ve walked past.
But hey! There’s fun to be had at every con nonetheless. Just not the kind of fun that the participating retailers wish we were having.
Our last major activity for the day was Wallace Shawn’s 1:00 Q&A, hosted by a local Fox anchorman. No audience questions were allowed, so no one had the chance to pelt him with riveting journalist takedowns such as “What was it like working with [name of actor more successful than you]?” or “I have a two-part question, but I’m lying because they’re actually two different unrelated questions…” or “Can you say ‘inconceivable’?” He was surprised that so many hundreds of us had shown up for the occasion.
(It wasn’t simple, but we managed. We arrived two minutes before the end of Daphne Zuniga’s Q&A, only to learn they were clearing out the general audience section between every panel. That meant we left without getting comfortable, went and joined the long line that we hadn’t seen outside the other end of the room, marched back in, and immediately headed back to the exact same seats without a fight. By this time we really weren’t looking for extra exercise, but we did what was asked.)
Brief excerpts from the mind of Wallace Shawn:
* Among his favorite movies are David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and Lars von Trier’s Melancholia
* He’s not a Method actor
* His preferred acting technique involves clearing his head and interacting with the other actors so their responses feed off each other
* He describes himself as “a bitter guy”, and I got the impression that Disney/Pixar has not actually covered all his living expenses from 1995 to eternity
…and he expressed disdain for the “hierarchical” divisions in a standard Hollywood production. He vividly recounted the one time he worked on a big movie in which the main stars were helicoptered to the set every day and got to stay in a big house; the director was limo’d to set and got his own trailer; the “short, funny-looking actors” (i.e., his tier) rode a bus together to set and had to split trailers between them; the extras mostly milled around in one big tent; and the disabled extras were sequestered in the back of said tent. Not exactly the glamorous life for all.
He refused to answer a couple of the anchorman’s questions because he believes people should keep some things firmly for themselves and not up for worldwide sharing, even harmless fluff like favorite color. We had no argument with that. We were all just happy that he was here to convention with us.
We left the show mid-afternoon, elated with our results and satisfied with our CCE experience once again.
On our way around the second-floor meeting rooms, we paused for thought at the bird’s-eye view of the exhibit hall.
On our way to the exit, we had the sincere pleasure of saying hi to a young couple we’d previously met in the wintry entry line to Hall of Heroes Comic Con, our first 2017 comic-con waaaay back in March. They recognized us first, but we remembered them both a second later. They’re doing fine, their baby boy has grown tremendously since then, and they kind of wondered if we do a lot of cons.
We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do. For 2017, at least. And our year isn’t over yet.
Thanks for reading! Lord willing, maybe third time will be the charm in Cincinnati next year.