On Friday my wife Anne and I had the sincere pleasure of attending the inaugural Louisville Supercon, run by the company responsible for Florida Supercon since 2014 and Raleigh Supercon since 2017. Like many convention companies they’ve now turned their attention to the Midwest, which has been enticing and enthralling show promoters for a good five years now, ever since they noticed some of our states have money and geeks in them, in that order. Mind you, I’m not complaining.
Longtime MCC readers may recall the last time we attended a con in Louisville, it didn’t go so well, if I may understate it grandly while I’m reminiscing about that time MCC did something loosely approximating journalism. Louisville is only two hours from our hometown of Indianapolis, an easy ride for road-trippers like us, but a fiasco like that wasn’t a good look for their city and didn’t encourage us to keep tabs on their local scene.
On the bright side, that show’s official website has disappeared and the URL is officially up for grabs, for the price of mere spare change, slightly more than its net worth.
When we heard about Louisville Supercon, we had other reservations beyond the one time we were burned. Late fall/early winter tends to see harsher weather that discourages large-scale events that depend on a number of attendees wearing thin outfits that offer little protection from the elements. The weekend after Thanksgiving is usually reserved for lying around the house comatose and catching up on all the rest we couldn’t possibly have gotten over the busy holidays. And the Christmas shopping season generally isn’t a great time for unplanned expenditures. We had expected October’s Ace Comic Con to be our final outing of the year. We were reluctant to commit to Supercon for months.
After much deliberation and waiting, a few names on the Louisville Supercon guest list — actors as well as comics creators — lured us in. We kept ourselves to a tighter budget than normal. We reviewed the guest list for autograph/photo-op possibilities and vetted the names with extreme finickiness. As an added budgetary measure, we decided to attend Friday rather than Saturday, which worked well because (a) we both had vacation time to use up before year’s end; (b) Friday tickets were nearly half the cost of Saturday’s; and (c) nearly every actor we wanted to meet would be there Friday as well, which is uncommon for cons. (Our biggest regret: special guest Richard Dreyfuss would be there Saturday only. Another time, perhaps, hopefully someday.)
Thus we were off and running. A two-hour drive brought us to downtown Louisville and the Kentucky International Convention Center. It reopened last August after a two-year renovation project and really doesn’t look like a forty-year-old facility. In a bit of wondrous timing, temperatures were in the 50s most of the day.
On Friday the show floor would open at noon. We arrived in town shortly before 11 a.m. and found parking as near as possible. Not only is excessive walking getting harder as we get older, but Anne has been dealing with a sprained foot the past few weeks. That strategic move, plus her space-age bandage and our ibuprofen supply, helped save her energy and discomfort.
The crowds were light but in good spirits. Registration was a cinch. Locating the main entrance on the Upper Concourse wasn’t hard. We joined the short entry line, where Anne sat down on the floor and we watched teens in anime costumes enjoying each other’s company and taking turns posing for pics and whatnot.
Ten minutes till showtime, cameras gathered for brief, unofficial opening speeches by a representative on behalf of the showrunners, a local city-councilwoman, and Supercon guest John Wesley Shipp — star of TV’s original The Flash, recurring guest on The CW’s current version, and accredited graduate of a Louisville high school.
We all flooded into the exhibit hall promptly at noon and made a beeline for the celebrity autograph area, which were to Anne’s dismay in the corner farthest away from the doors. We had no idea what time to expect any actors because no autograph schedule had ever been released. As we walked through the autograph area, a handful of celebrities were already at their stations and ready to meet-‘n’-greet, including the original Creature from the Black Lagoon, Jabba the Hutt’s slave dancer, and the voice of Skeletor. Anne was afraid to look around because she didn’t want to be distracted from her primary objective.
Thus we continued without stopping and set up base camp for the next hour in front of the table reserved for TV’s Henry Winkler. Despite her infirmity we were first in line.
For us this would be delayed gratification realized at last. Winkler had been previously scheduled to attend last August’s Wizard World Chicago, but had canceled two days after we bought our tickets. Anne was disappointed at the time but held out hope that one day she’d meet Arthur Fonzarelli himself.
The Fonz arrived around 1:00, by which time a dozen of us were in line. He greeted each of us individually, gave a solid pitch for the various forms of merchandise he had for sale, then did the extra-friendly thing where he stood in front of his table to converse and sign instead of sitting behind the table.
Among the vast selection of 8×10 photos available, Anne was tempted by one from the Parks & Recreation episode in which Dr. Saperstein and his terrible son Jean-Ralphio spent the day watching cartoons in matching bathrobes. Winkler was very helpful in talking her through the photo choices, like a benevolent salesman trying to match the right car to the right driver. With his coaching she landed upon a candid photo of him at home with a happy dog. When Anne meets actors, she prefers to get photos of them as themselves rather than as their characters because that’s who she’s come to meet. Not only did Winkler peg her well, but he sold me on his 2011 book of photographs and non-acting personal memories called I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River. When in Rome, and so on.
None of our photo-ops were scheduled till late afternoon, freeing up the next hour or so for wandering Artists Alley and the rows reserved for assorted comic book professionals, some of whose contributions date back to my childhood. A fraction of the talents on hand included:
* Fabian Nicieza! Cons love billing him as the co-creator of Deadpool and Cable, which today’s successful Marvel movies have all but guaranteed he’ll be celebrated as for the rest of his life. Back in my day he was the writer of such top-notch and often underrated series as Psi-Force, Thunderbolts, New Warriors (which almost became a TV show), and Troublemakers for Valiant/Acclaim Comics. As someone who highly regarded his Psi-Force run in particular and Marvel’s ill-fated “New Universe” in general, I was stunned when he told me the book was selling 40,000 copies a month when it was canceled because those were low sales back in the late ’80s. Today that figure would make it a Top 10 book.
* Mark Bagley! Co-creator of the original Ultimate Spider-Man as well as Venom’s villainous spin-off Carnage, he was the long-running artist on such Marvel books as New Warriors, Thunderbolts, Amazing Spider-Man, and the nearly forgotten Strikeforce Morituri.
* Keith Giffen! When I first started reading comics as a kid, he was the regular artist on Legion of Super-Heroes. He went on to co-create DC’s Lobo and Ambush Bug, as well as Marvel’s Rocket Raccoon, though he only drew his first appearance and has hated drawing him ever since. (His detailed list of con sketching prices insists on $500 for Rocket, to ensure no one asks.) He’s widely known as the driving force behind the post-Crisis “funny” version of the Justice League, among other hilarious books that dared to put the “comic” in “comic book”.
* Emi Lenox! A relative newcomer compared to the other guys, her work first caught my eye on the Image miniseries Plutona written by Jeff Lemire. Imagine Stand by Me except the band of teens find the body in the first act and it belongs to a superhero. Their reactions spiral out of control from there as the kids’ flaws turn into disturbing psychodrama.
Approximately 90% of Supercon’s narrow Artists Alley was arts-and-crafts. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it’s not what I look for at cons. There was much fine work to be seen, but I don’t have good display space for too many art objects, nor did I really budget for it. I did emerge with purchases from two stands: a anthology from the Louisville Cartoonists Society, which I didn’t know was a thing; and once again from Drew Blank, one of the lone purveyors out there creating unofficial merchandise celebrating the genius of both Parks and Rec and The Office.
After comics came lunch. To our delight, the KICC’s food options weren’t terrible. We enjoyed gyros from a stand that had a tiny grill for cooking the meat strips while we watched. Later in the afternoon came giant ice cream waffle cones from another booth. Other options included pulled pork, Philly steak sandwiches, chicken and waffles, walking tacos, and a bit more. Convention centers have a terrible track record when it comes to edible resources, particularly for shows held in facilities with virtually no affordable restaurant competitors within easy walking range. The KICC is also surrounded with chain restaurants outside, a veritable banquet compared to, say, the grueling lunchtime moonscape that is Wizard World Chicago.
Very few tables stood nearby, none with chairs. Fortunately we found hundreds of empty seats in front of a nearby wrestling ring. There’s something else we don’t see often at other cons.
COSPLAY INTERMISSION TIME!
So, um, about that:
I make no secret of the fact that cosplay photos drive traffic on these convention entries. Like, extremely heavily if we’re on our game. Real talk: convention cosplay and overwrought movie reviews compose the preponderance of any and all MCC back-catalog traffic, which keeps me satisfied that my little hobby-site here isn’t a complete waste of my time. Despite how much weight and effort I put into all these travelogue entries, those are a joy to assemble but generally sink to the bottom within 48 hours because in the long term no one cares much about those. At all.
Unfortunately, we took very nearly zero cosplay photos due to a number of factors:
- We spent more time in lines than on wandering the exhibit hall
- Fridays typically have far fewer cosplayers walking the floor than Saturdays do
- The narrow aisles between vendors wasn’t conducive to cosplayers wanting to walk the floor much
- We tend to skip costumes we don’t recognize, which gets complicated when the field is overtaken by characters from universes I know zilch about such as Overwatch, Fortnite, and today’s hip anime
- It’s harder to chase down cosplayers when they’re in a hurry and we’re older and have injuries
with that in mind, sincere apologies for the paltry costume gallery. In keeping with past efforts, readers will note once again half the pics are Deadpool variants.
…uhhh, END INTERMISSION.
Also, as with other shows, we found super fun props.
We made time for one panel, which unfortunately resulted in some awkwardness. The main panel rooms were not easy to find . The convention map failed to explain the spatial relationship between those rooms and the rest of the show, simply diagramming them as a disembodied blueprint floating in space. I had to go to the KICC’s own website, not Supercon’s. to determine those rooms were located in the KICC’s east wing. Neither site showed how to get there from here. Without actual printed instructions or functional drawings, I figured the simplest way would be to go down to the ground floor and head east.
We tried this, but hit a dead end in the middle of the center. We stepped out the nearest exit and headed down the sidewalk to the east wing. We pulled on the nearest door and found it locked. Standing inside a hundred feet away was a con volunteer silently shaking her head, pointing westward, and refusing to approach or provide verbal or useful assistance.
We returned to the doors we’d just exited from the building’s west half. They’d locked behind us, one way only. We had to walk back to the doors at the far northwest corner of the Center, reenter, head back upstairs, walk toward the exhibit hall, divert to the easily overlooked narrow hallway to the left of the exhibit hall, take that toward the east wing, travel two escalators down, and then walk the full north-south length of the center to reach the room we’d wanted.
I’m glad we figured it out, but I was not happy that Louisville Supercon’s maps sucked. Somehow Anne’s foot was fine through all this, possibly in the end stages of the healing process. But now my feet were killing me.
With that out of the way, we walked into a conference room — college auditorium, style, complete with desks and laptop outlets, a great resource for anyone needing to charge their phones — and settled in to find the previous presentation was running long. Up front, artist/writer/editor Al Milgrom was finishing up a sketch of the Hulk while overhead projectors let us watch his work in progress. Once he finished blacking the last shadows in Hulk’s feet, he presented the completed work to a lucky audience member, and then their panel was over.
Next up was a Q&A with the aforementioned Fabian Nicieza, co-creator of a famous movie character who, by the other co-creator’s own description, was basically Spider-Man meets the Punisher.
Topics covered throughout their chat:
- Nicieza’s birth in Argentina, move to the U.S. as a four-year-old, and discovery of comics
- His early days in the work force that led to his gig in Marvel marketing
- His breakthrough as a comics writer, which he somehow handled in addition to his full-time job
- Some of the marketing gimmicks he spearheaded, such as the Avengers ID card that came free with the first issue of Solo Avengers, which I think I still have in a scrapbook somewhere
- His time as part of the team that took over the X-Men books during the poorly handled tradition away from previous longtime writer Chris Claremont
- The thought processes behind giving the Merc with a Mouth his own Spidey-like sarcastic personality and tragic backstory
- How Writers Are Getting Deadpool So Very Wrong Today
- Why Marvel’s NFL SuperPro was a thing that existed
- His current Webtoons webcomic Outrage (with artist Reilly Brown), which has had more readers than any printed comics he’s written in the last fifteen years
Beyond the Q&A, our afternoon saw three photo-ops in all. We’d originally planned the first one to be Brent Spiner, but he regretfully canceled due to a number of personal issues. In his place Spiner suggested and the con welcomed his former coworker Jonathan Frakes.
Anne had already met the entire main cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, nearly half of them at Wizard World Chicago 2014 (which included Frakes). She has all their autographs, but photos of almost none of them. The chances of meeting all of them a second time to collect photos are slim to none, but we figured it might be nice to take advantage of their recurring cameos where possible. We were sad that Spiner was unable to make it, but Frakes was an upstanding substitute.
In addition to his career as Commander William Riker, he’s directed films as well as TV that we’ve enjoyed. Earlier this year Anne and I finally finished watching the TNT series Leverage, for which he directed several episodes, did two cameos, and participated in a few of the entertaining, alcohol-laden DVD commentaries. On one of them, Leverage co-creator John Rogers even convinced him to yell “RED ALERT!” in his best stoic Riker voice. So yeah, I was more than happy to see him again.
Two more photo ops were our final activities of the day. In one, I got to meet the Alice Cooper — legendary rocker, performance artist, Muppet Show guest and Wayne’s World costar. Alas, in finalizing our available funds I found myself forced to choose between autograph or photo op with him. Since I don’t have a vinyl collection for him to sign like some of the other lucky fans I met in line, I went this way instead.
As our lead photo already spoiled, our Louisville Supercon grand finale was a dual photo op with the aforementioned Henry Winkler and the William Shatner. It sounds like an odd pairing if you’re unaware they’re costars in the NBC reality series Better Late Than Never along with George Foreman and Terry Bradshaw. The two former pro athletes were nowhere to be found, but Captain Kirk and the Fonz were in the house and happy to hang out together.
Anne and I have had the great blessing of meeting — or at least being in the same room as — nearly the entire cast of the original Star Trek. (Alas, that curmudgeonly DeForest Kelley stopped doing cons before our time, and our Leonard Nimoy experience was us sitting at the back of his crowded ballroom Q&A at a con where he only did pre-show signings for us commoners.) But we didn’t get photos the first time around, unless you count the time Anne met Shatner at Wizard World Chicago 2010, where he was surrounded by a wall of fans playing penniless paparazzi and the autograph signing was one of those cattle-call experiences where the actor is in mute, thankless, scribble-NEXT-scribble-NEXT-scribble-NEXT mode all day long. A second chance with Shatner and a first chance with Winkler was too good an opportunity to pass up. Theirs was the one moment where we went over budget. But we forgive us.
We were concerned whether or not this would actually happen, when news came in around 12:30 that Shatner was running a few hours late. Whatever was in his way ultimately didn’t stop him. While we waited in line, we chatted with a mother/daughter duo behind us who showed off their Alice Cooper autograph, under which he’d written “Galatians 2:20”. That was heartwarming on too many levels to recount here.
In deference to Shatner’s stature, Anne insisted we not ask about jazz hands. I understood but put on a state of comic disbelief anyway. As we entered the photo booth, Winkler said, “Nice to see you again!” and we died for a few seconds because the Fonz just remembered us! Shatner stood to the far side, content to abide.
We took our positions. I began to crouch down in front of the others so I wouldn’t block anyone. I was tempted to throw up some jazz hands from down below. I was about a foot down when Shatner protested, “Stand up! You look better that way!” Not in an irritated tone, but in the tone of a parent giving advice to a kid with low self-esteem who ought to be prouder of who they are.
I couldn’t very well explain my partially formed ulterior motive. To be honest, in that split-second I was taken aback because it’s so exceptionally rare for anyone to offer me constructive criticism. On anything. At all. Ever. In that moment I took it as encouragement, thanked him sincerely, and stood tall with comical stymied frustration on my face.
Shatner was right, though.
…and that’s the high note on which our Louisville Supercon 2018 experience ended, skipping over the part where my feet were in pain but Anne’s seemed blessedly intact. Now that we have a better idea of the KICC’s overall layout, the one part I thoroughly detested shouldn’t be an issue if we and Supercon return for an encore.
Thanks for reading. See you next convention…