Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
It’s that time again! This weekend my wife Anne and I attended the fifth annual Indiana Comic Con at the Indiana Convention Center in scenic downtown Indianapolis. It was another opportunity to dive into comic boxes, meet people who make comics, boggle at toy displays, make way for the youngsters who can’t get enough of anime merchandise, and find space to breathe in those cheerfully ever-growing crowds. To be honest, we were surprised how many of the actors on hand were folks we’d met at previous cons, but Anne and I found a few new intriguing names on the guest list and decided to drop by once more.
The biggest name we hadn’t met was, of course, our man Chief Hopper, the hero of Hawkins, the guardian of Eleven, and one of the great cast members from Stranger Things. He was a later addition to the con’s guest list, but his recruitment sealed the deal for our participation. We were far from alone on this, accompanied as we were by thousands of other fans excited for the opportunity.
As for the rest of the celebrity guest list…honestly, we’d met a lot of them already. Longtime MCC readers realize we’ve been doing quite a few conventions over the past few years, to the point that we spent more time in 2017 attending cons than sleeping.
We pause now for a very special MCC Convention Clipfest in which we recap the Indiana Comic Con 2018 guest list using pictures from our own past experiences:
We do regret missing one of Indiana Comic Con’s big guests this year — Matthew Lewis, a.k.a. Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter series, who unfortunately changed his schedule to Friday-only after we had already decided to attend Saturday only. Perhaps we’ll meet at a future con, Lord willing. A few other actors were in the house Saturday, but we had mixed feelings and little driving compulsion to brave their lines. Those that had lines, anyway.
Without any high-pressure time-sensitive priorities or any major autograph demands on our to-do list, we meandered into the Indiana Convention Center a mere hour before showtime, picked up our Saturday wristbands from Hall F, and joined the entry line at the opposite end of the hallway. The past two years we’d made a point of arriving ridiculously early among the first ten people in line. It’s a convention. It’s what we do normally. This time we happily ceded the position to other fans in exchange for slightly sleeping in and then indulging in breakfast down the street. The only difficult part was enduring the low temperatures outside, a frequent hindrance in this year’s peculiarly harsh spring. Carrying our jackets around the convention center all day would prove not to be so fun.
The doors opened a few minutes before 10 a.m. because apparently even the volunteers were excited to get the proceedings rolling. Our first stop was a mandatory errand: buying our David Harbour photo-op ticket. Unlike most other geek cons these days, Indiana Comic Con refuses to sell autograph or photo-op tickets in advance. Most cons are more than happy to take your cash up front and save you some minutes on the show floor, because then you have more time to go forth and spend bucks and do stuff. My best guess is that Indiana Comic Con would prefer to avoid the hassle of issuing refunds en masse in the event that celebrity guests cancel on them, and simply wanted to wait till they were absolutely certain their guests would be there, and then begin taking monies on their behalf. After the Fandom Fest debacle of 2017 I don’t blame showrunners for being sensitive to the issue of guest cancellations and their effect on consumer confidence. On the other hand, long-running companies such as ReedPOP and Wizard World have mastered the fine art of refunds whenever their guests bow out. As long as such refunds and apologies are timely and efficient, we’re totally understanding when actor conflicts come up. Sometimes this stuff can’t be helped.
Rather than refine any infrastructure for that aspect of the biz, ICC chose instead to sell photo-op tickets only on the show floor, only in person. Given the high-profile guest list, they should’ve been unsurprised when several hundred of us all got in line for photo-op tickets promptly at 10 a.m., all at the same time. I have absolutely no idea why they thought four (4) cashiers would be enough to handle this incredibly lifelike simulation of a Black Friday at Best Buy. The line moved somewhat quickly, but had been joined by several thousand more fans behind us by the time we escaped it around 10:30. Thankfully they realized this logjam would create problems for anyone interested in the day’s first session, Michael Biehn at 10:40, and asked those folks to come up front and buy theirs first. Everyone else had a long wait ahead of them…for the photo-op tickets alone, to say nothing of the actual photo ops later.
Harbour’s op wasn’t till 11:20, giving us a bit of time to walk part of the exhibit hall. We didn’t have time to do much — bought another $5 graphic novel from reliable Gem City Books; said hi to the guys from my local comic shop at their booth; saw Artists Alley filled with aspiring hopefuls selling prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, and also prints; and noted another con appearance by Optimus Prime.
We also made time to meet one of the more celebrated writers in attendance: Peter David, writer of stuff. Anne knows him as the writer of several Star Trek novels, while I knew his comics work literally from Day One, starting with a pair of Spider-Man fill-ins that led to a celebrated run on Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, which in turn led to Incredible Hulk (a ten-year run of which I have every issue), X-Factor, Spider-Man 2099, and onward to DC with Star Trek, Aquaman, and Young Justice. I could go on for paragraphs. I never thought he’d come out to the Midwest for a con, but here he was, courtesy of the publisher of some of his creator-owned novels.
We returned to the photo-op area shortly after 11 behind a couple hundred other fans who’d refused to go anywhere else that first hour. We killed the time saying hi to others around us, checking our phones, waving our ticket in the air on command every five minutes because the volunteers were oddly obsessed with verifying we’d paid our dues, and noticing the hundreds upon hundreds of ticketholders filing behind us and ensuring it would be a good, long while before Mr. Harbour would be able to break for lunch or return to his autograph table.
Several of us in the crowd also rolled our eyes in unison every time the volunteers recommended that we take off our glasses for the photo-op because we might not want glare from the camera flash obscuring our eyes. Breaking news for all those volunteers who apparently have great eyesight or contacts: anyone who’s been truly comfortable with wearing glasses for years will never, ever take them off for any photo. Ever. Over time they’ve become a natural part of ourselves, who we are and how we look. Without them we think we look weird. You suggesting I take my glasses off for a photo is like me telling you to shave your head right before a photo so you don’t have to worry about any stray hairs falling out of place. Your warning is useless against us.
The assembly line began rolling shortly before 11:30. We eventually got our turn meeting the man, the myth, and the legend. When we asked humbly if we could do our usual “jazz hands” pose, he joked in response, “Yeah, we can go back to my Broadway days!” And so it went. The first couple hundred fans may have worn him down a bit before our turn came.
Freed from our lone mandatory celebrity appointment, we had time to wander a bit more. We noticed the respective autograph lines for both Sean Astin and the Phelps twins had reached cosmic proportions and necessitated some awkward rearranging of placements. One of the lines appeared to snake backward into the curtained recesses of the farthest corner of the exhibit hall, threatening to swallow any newcomers into another dimension. We started having flashbacks to our classic debacle with ICC’s Carrie Fisher nightmare of 2015, but were grateful that such problems would not be ours this year. I noticed the same con employee who’d made the ill-advised Dragon*Con comparison at the time was still on hand in the same capacity. Later I also noticed a number of Facebook reviews from fans grumbling about the hours spent, the confusion sowed, and the chaos that ensued. I can’t comment firsthand on any of that directly except to express my condolences and my hopes that those fans found some other forms of enjoyment in their con experience.
At the same time, it wasn’t such a bad day for anyone excited to meet the non-headlining actors. While the line for Kevin Conroy looked impressively long, the other voice actors seemed to have manageable yet steady turnouts, particularly Nolan North and the aforementioned Mr. Shawn. At the far end of the autograph section, Sean Young seemed to have time for one-on-one conversations with those who approached. We took advantage of the situation to join one of the other short lines.
You may best remember William B. Davis in his role as the Cigarette Smoking Man from all the most confusing and dissatisfying episodes of The X-Files, or maybe that’s just us. But Anne, thoughtful person that she is, wanted to get his autograph as a gift for a coworker who’s a big X-Files fan who’s been going through hard times lately. Despite his significance to the show, his line took us about ten minutes. Quite a kind gentleman to meet, and accompanied by a very friendly handler who was likewise a pleasure to chat with.
Because self-care is important, next on the agenda was lunchtime. Once again the showrunners negotiated with our city’s proud food truck industry and had a row of hardy entrepreneurs lined up along Georgia Street to cater to fans and passersby alike. The 40-degree temps and blustery winds made for an inhospitable dining climate, but we refused to settle for convention center grub. The wounds from previous experiences run deep. Our winning truck of choice was Talkin Turkey, specialists in Cajun turkey dishes. We grabbed our swiftly prepared meals, fled back inside the Convention Center, and miraculously found one empty table in the nearest dining area for respite.
We finished five minutes before 1 p.m., starting time for a comics panel around the corner featuring two gentlemen who made good comics during my Golden Age of reading back in the 1980s. ICC has a pretty good knack for persuading creators from that time frame to hold court and sign autographs.
Carl Potts entered comics in the late ’70s as an artist, then eventually became a full-time editor at Marvel. During his reign he oversaw such books as Power Pack, Alpha Flight, Moon Knight, and other books that were part of my steady comics diet. His early days at the company saw him in charge of the submissions pile that would yield future superstars like the influential Arthur Adams and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. When Archie Goodwin moved from Marvel to DC, Potts also took over Marvel’s pioneering creator-owned Epic Comics line and kept it going for as long as possible rather than let The Powers That Be scupper it and its lineup of underrated, multi-genre projects. Away from his staff desk he created Alien Legion, one of the earliest Epic titles, occasionally drew or painted covers as a fine artist in his own right, and wrote the first two dozen issues of the original Punisher War Journal, initially drawn by some youngster named Jim Lee. Potts remained with Marvel throughout much of the tumultuous ’90s till escaping into other fields.
One of the many writers Potts worked with was the panel’s other highlight, Peter B. Gillis. He wrote the last several issues of the original run of The Defenders, and worked on titles such as Captain America, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Micronauts, his own creation Strikeforce Morituri, and the Marvel alt-history anthology What If?, concluding Volume One of that series with some of its greatest stories, including one of my favorite Captain America stories. A short stint at DC Comics yielded a series based on the TSR role-playing game Gammarauders as well as another nearly forgotten creation of his, Tailgunner Jo. First Comics likewise gave him work to do as one of the few comics writers living in their hometown of Chicago at the time. He later switched career tracks, but was recently spotted adapting Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn to comics for IDW Publishing.
These two gents, taken together, were a Big Deal to me as a comics fan of forty years. The panel was a simple Q&A with questions from the audience (myself included! This is extremely rare) that filled the entire hour. Random tidbits that came up:
* Gillis is unimpressed with the current generation’s fondness for decompressed storytelling, and dismisses deconstruction in comics as “too easy to do”.
* Potts owes his career to networking as it existed back in those days, and got his start thanks to the benevolence of west-coast artists Alan Weiss (vastly underrated in my book) and Jim Starlin (creator of Thanos and Gamora, among other cosmic characters).
* Gillis recalls pre-computer days when Fed Ex was a critical resource for meeting last-minute deadlines, and fondly recounted one crazy late night in which a friend’s daredevil driving got him and a script to the drop-off station at the same time as fellow Chicago comics writers John Ostrander and Kim Yale.
* Potts kept the Epic line going for as long as possible, despite his superiors’ refusal to allow them much of a promotional budget, and even after he was instructed not to solicit new works from any talents working on mainstream Marvel books. Eventually the line petered out, but lasted just long enough to let Sergio Aragonés’ Groo the Wanderer reach 120 issues, possibly as a final insult to upper management. (Okay, that last part didn’t come up in the Q&A, but occurred to me just now. Shout-out to my fellow Groo fans out there!)
* When commenting on advantages of the digital age, Potts confirmed Cary Bates (The Flash, Captain Atom) was the first comics writer he ever knew to own a word processor. For you kids who’ve never heard that term, word processors were the missing link between typewriters and computers with letter-writing programs. Don’t make me cry by asking me to explain other steps in the evolutionary process such as WordPerfect, dot-matrix printers (which also came up in the Q&A), or typewriter ribbons.
* When pressed for recommendations of current comics, Gillis said he couldn’t think of anything recent that he would consider “exciting”. Potts is behind on reading and confesses to having stacks at the ready, but keeps up on the field in general and recommended Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer.
* Both had fun anecdotes to share about the late Mark Gruenwald, a fantastic Marvel writer/editor who was integral to the company during my childhood and young-adult years, and loved its entire universe to pieces until his horrifically untimely passing in 1996 at age 43. Gruenwald’s sterile Wikipedia entry doesn’t begin to do his legacy justice.
…and more, more, more. After their panel, all we had left to do was finish perusing the rest of the exhibit hall. I made a point of stopping by their tables as well, which was enjoyable.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Brent Schoonover, an artist who’s been keeping busy at Marvel with work on Ant-Man, Captain Marvel, and the short-lived yet inspired Howling Commandos of SHIELD, which imagined Marvel’s premiere spy organization drafting a new team made entirely of monsters. I couldn’t pass up that last one.
I had hoped to meet one of the show’s other well-known guests — Bill Amend, creator of FoxTrot, one of the funnier comic strips still carried by our local newspaper — and one with geek cred, at that. We walked by his table three times between 12:30 and 3:40, only to find him absent every single time. This isn’t the first occasion on which I’ve missed out on meeting someone due to bad timing and a reluctance to loiter at their table for hours in hopes of their reappearance. I followed my usual procedure for such occurrences and gave up.
Otherwise…we took several more cosplay photos. I tried to look for more comics to buy, bypassed a couple of tables that I’d bought from before. Per my personal convention guideline, I skipped every single table that was selling nothing but prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, prints, and also prints. I did make one exception to this rule, but it was for Carl Potts.
By 4 p.m. we were essentially finished and satisfied with our Indiana Comic Con experience for the year. Ultimately my buying pile didn’t add up to a lot, but I was content. For value-added extra credit I also came away with so many compliments for my Doctor Who shirt from other passing attendees that now I’m tempted to wear it to every single con for the rest of my life until people start getting tired of it and mocking me to my face for it. Once again credit is owed to the seamstress extraordinaire at That’s Terri-IFIC, who’s had booths at a few Midwest cons but also accepts online inquiries.
The End. Thanks for reading! See you next convention…which, as it so happens, will be next weekend, much sooner than we’d prefer. We blame the Midwest convention boom and the shortage of viable weekends in any given year.
And if you’re among those still in line to get an autograph from the Phelps twins: hang in there, kid. I bet you’re almost there! You can do this! Eye of the tiger!
Other chapters in this special MCC miniseries: