Indiana Comic Convention 2023 Photos, Part 2 of 2: Actors and Activities!

Me doing jazz hands with Grant Gustin.

It’s Grant Gustin! With The Flash soon coming to a close on The CW, TV’s Barry Allen is finally hitting the Midwest convention circuit.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s that time again! This weekend my wife Anne and I attended the ninth edition of the Indiana Comic Convention at the Indiana Convention Center in scenic downtown Indianapolis. They refrain from calling themselves “Indiana Comic Con” on paper for tiresome legal reasons that aren’t their fault, but to us they’ll always be Indiana Comic Con.

ICC 2023 was another opportunity to look at walls covered with old comics, meet people who create reading matter, boggle at toy displays, respect the anime fandom whose population dwarfs us older generations, and find space to breathe among or away from those cheerfully ever-growing crowds. Although the showrunners reserved less space than they did for last year’s edition — in fact, they moved the show back to the halls where the inaugural edition was held back in 2014 — geek life nevertheless thrived in abundance…

…relatively speaking. The smaller square footage meant noticeably fewer vendors than last year. In hindsight we probably didn’t need weekend passes, but we’d taken advantage of an early February sale that got us in Friday and Saturday (we almost never go on Sundays) for a mere five bucks less than what folks were paying for Saturday-only passes day-of at the door. So we did some stuff, but not as much as usual.

Amid a few different cast reunions on the guest list, the most meaningful for me was the two headliners from The Flash — Grant Gustin, the Scarlet Speedster himself, and Carlos Valdes, who played his longtime friend/teammate Cisco Ramon a.k.a. Vibe, for the first seven seasons. Curiously, at ICC they teamed up neither for dual photo ops nor for any shared panels. I didn’t require any package deals, but they would’ve been nice. We also don’t need to dwell on how I stopped watching the show after the “Armageddon” crossover event that kicked off season 8. But we’ll always have those first few, really strong seasons that still get me a little emotional whenever someone says, “Run, Barry…RUN!” unless they say it wrong.

Me doing jazz hands with Carlos Valdes.

Valdes recently starred in a new musical Hulu series called Up Here, which I’d never heard of till I saw a commercial for it three days before ICC.

Normally I tell our comic-con stories in chronological order because they’re more fun for me to write that way, despite how most search-engineered passersby don’t really crave my step-by-step recounts. In this case our Friday experience is 90% skippable. We could only spend a limited time at the con that day because I’d bought us advance tickets to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 at 3:30 out in Plainfield, unaware at the time of purchase that the ICC show floor wouldn’t open till 12:30. To factor in travel time and other sundries, we needed to leave the con by 2:00. That meant no time for panels, so our plan was to see as much of the exhibit hall as we could, go watch a movie, then peruse the rest on Saturday.

A lengthy disclaimer posted above the registration tables, cautioning attendees that COVID-19 was still a thing and ICC refused to be held liable if anyone caught it.

We took exactly five photos Friday: four of cosplayers and this sign telling us COVID-19 is still real and basically Proceed At Your Own Risk.

We were done by 1:30. We tried to browse and linger and shop. We really did. There just wasn’t much for us. I don’t buy back issues anymore. Anne’s main thing nowadays is pins, but she has very specific characters and designs in mind, none of which she spotted. None of the celebrities we wanted to meet were at their booths by 1:30, though we do have to award brownie points to early arrivals who were at their stations when the doors opened — Quinton Aaron, costar of the Best Picture nominee The Blind Side; and voice actor Ryan Colt Levy (Chainsaw Man). Same as last year, ICC’s Artists Alley lineup had a shrinking array of accredited comics professionals tabling amid the craftspeople and print-sellers.

I did brake for one pro I hadn’t previously met. Gerhard is best known to us older collectors as the longtime background artist on Dave Sim’s sprawling Cerebus the Aardvark, the 300-issue epic that ran from 1977 to 2004 and remains the longest-running black-and-white creator-owned series in comics history. (The “black-and-white” qualifier had to be added as of October 2019, when Todd McFarlane’s colorful Spawn reached #301 and broke the overall record, which it holds to this day.)

Gerhard and his wife smiling at their ICC table.

The artist, his lovely wife, and a Gerhard background in the background.

“Background artist” doesn’t begin to capture the depth, breath, and splendor of what Gerhard added to the series. While Sim wrote and lettered everything (especially the diatribes) and drew all the figures, from #65 to the finale Gerhard rendered entire environments and dimensions all around, bringing levels of complex lighting, shading techniques, and exquisite architecture to the printed page that are an extreme unicorn rarity in today’s comics. Though he’s no longer active in day-to-day graphic storytelling, he accepts commissions online and in some cases offers a different sort of work. They’ll purchase a piece of newly drawn figure art from one artist (who usually draws only the one figure), then send the piece to Gerhard, who in turn illustrates a background from scratch. It’s a creative art-commission idea I’ve never seen done before. Not a lot of newcomers in the field seem to enjoy drawing backgrounds quite as much as Gerhard does.

Longtime MCC readers know I almost never buy prints at cons (to the chagrin of hundreds of Artists Alley denizens out there), but obviously I had to make an exception.

Two black-and-white prints mostly by Gerhard - see caption.

At left: Gerhard’s handiwork sets a stage for Jack Knight, a.k.a. my favorite Starman, drawn by his co-creator Tony Harris. At right, an all-Gerhard take on Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, which I once did a paper on in college.

Gerhard is aware that Cerebus is not quite as universally beloved as it used to be, but that was through no fault of his. (He severed ties with Sim once and for all in 2007.) Our chat didn’t dive deeply into all that, but when he asked me, I confessed I had indeed read all 300 issues in their sixteen phone-book compilations. (My copy of the eleventh volume, Guys, is a first printing signed-and-numbered by Sim and Gerhard.) I forfeit anything resembling bragging rights. I didn’t get entire story arcs because I hadn’t read the same literature Sim had. I’d long stopped enjoying what passed for “stories” well before he began burning bridges with the comics community-at-large, but I stubbornly kept buying them anyway out of a non-verbalized, non-interrogated stubbornness to see the thing through, for worse or worst. The artwork was the best and possibly only defensible excuse…well, in the issues that had artwork in them, as opposed to the interminable pages and pages of pure text in the later arcs, about which the less said, the better.

Prepared for a moment like this, Gerhard said that anyone who actually made it through all 300 issues deserved a medal. And so he handed me one, which in his Canadian homeland metrics measures 6.90 cm x 10.7 cm.

A paper medal autographed by Gerhard with the Cerebus logo, red-white-and-blue trimmings, and crossed swords behind a number 300.

It’s…a major award?

(Disclaimer: all views, opinions, and one-man religions expressed in Cerebus the Aardvark, especially from #186 onward, do not necessarily reflect those of Gerhard, Midlife Crisis Crossover, or You, The Viewers at Home. Like, at all.)

Anyway, Gerhard and his wife were the highlight of our one-hour Friday experience. Then came Saturday. Anne and I saw several panels we were interested in attending. I had the two photo ops shown above. Three other actors were on my potential autograph to-do list. Anne had autograph desires of her own. The showrunners decided to schedule all of these things Saturday morning at the same times against each other. Remember that time in 1990 when The Cosby Show, The Simpsons, and The Flash were all on Thursday nights at 8:00 Eastern? And they were all watchable back then? And tough choices had to be made? Saturday morning was like that for us.

That Saturday had other complications as well. This year ICC broke from their former April berth and was instead held the same weekend as the OneAmerica Mini-Marathon, an annual event that always takes place on the first weekend in May, when tens of thousands of very healthy runners converge on downtown Indy for a long jaunt from downtown Indy to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the world-famous Indianapolis 500. Also, the first weekend in May is almost always Free Comic Book Day, one of my favorite hobby traditions. And did I mention Guardians 3 opened this very same weekend? This, frankly, was too much for just one weekend, which is why we are presently dead on our feet and I took Monday off work in anticipation of being somewhere between heat-exhausted and catatonic by now.

Anyway, yeah, Saturday gave us logistical migraines. We left home at 7:30 a.m. to avoid the Mini-Marathon traffic messes and were only partly successful. (All those necessary marathon-route road closures seem to have slammed down much earlier than they used to.) Since we had no compelling reason to be inside the exhibit hall precisely when it opened at 10:30, I’d made the command decision to fetch breakfast after we parked but before we’d head over to the Convention Center. Remember how it’s 2023 and there were pandemic shortages and hiring issues and whatnot, and American society hasn’t actually solved any of that and life has yet to find a way? The restaurants along our path were absolutely not ready for tens of thousands of Mini-Marathon entrants and Indiana Comic Convention attendees all converging on them at once.

Eventually we were somehow fed and on our way. Upon arrival at the Center around 9:00, Anne and I realized there was only one way to accomplish as many individual comic-con objectives as possible: we had to split up. That’s a rare strategy for us, but we’re adult enough now after eighteen years of marriage to recognize we can function as separate units when we need to. We don’t prefer it, but we can do it. I was therefore on my own for the next 4½ hours.

While she went to join the long line into the exhibit hall that would open at 10:30, I staked out the photo-op area for my 11:00 apointment. This year they wisely moved that function away from the main hall up to a second-floor ballroom that gave them enough space to establish forty separate photo-op queues, thus avoiding the logjams we’ve experienced at numerous cons where lineups had to be postponed due to spatial limitations. One awkward side effect: the crowds waiting for their turns to line up often clogged the hallway outside the ballroom and interfered with foot traffic to and from the nearest parking garage.

For the most part I passed the time by retreating into my introverted li’l mind cave and my phone. I was summoned outward only twice: once to notice with relief that the Celeb Photo Ops operations were being run by the same bearded, muscular gent who’d kept things running well at Galaxycon Columbus 2022; and once when I was approached by a pair of fellow Flash fans, a South Asian mother and son who complimented my Tattooine shirt and asked a few questions as first-time con attendees. We also shared our mutual disappointment that Tom Cavanaugh had canceled his ICC appearance.

Grant Gustin’s first op started a good 20+ minutes behind because he’d tried to fit in some autographs earlier that morning, but eventually I got it done. Unfortunately he’d run so late (apropos of Silver Age Barry Allen, really) that I missed the 11:30 Star Wars panel featuring six different Clone Wars voice actors. By the same token, my 1:10 photo op with Valdes would require me to miss Gustin’s own competing panel at 12:30. Counting the requisite lineup time, the two photo ops meant I couldn’t attend any of the panels I’d wanted to see, nor could I confidently join an autograph line for fear of that taking too long. Between ops I alternated between redundantly wandering the exhibit hall a second time (apart from taking cosplay pics, anyway) and finding deserted, faraway spots to rest my aging feet for a spell.

A remote-controlled life-size R2D2, plus another droid wheeling around behind it.

Non-cosplay sightings around the place included, of course, RC astromech droids…

A black-and-silver astromech droid shaped like R5-D4.

…and more of same.

Meanwhile, Anne had herself a ball. During her wait to get in, she watched handlers walking the Paul Williams in through the front doors, as opposed to clandestinely sneaking him in through a top-secret celebrity door. When the same thing was done with John Glover, a woman next to her in line shouted his name, prompting him to run over and high-five her.

Then the con was on, and she proceeded to acquire two Clone Wars voice-actor autographs in less than 90 minutes. One was from the Dee Bradley Baker, his first time appearing at a con within our reach. The other was from James Arnold Taylor, who somehow impressively remembered her from when she’d asked a question at his Galaxycon Columbus Q&A about how he takes care of his voice. “A Jedi knows another Jedi,” he told her in his Obi-Wan Kenobi voice, which pretty much made her Saturday. (“And yet, John de Lancie still has no clue who I am,” she would later remark.)

At 12 noon she attended the first half of a fan-run panel devoted to celebrating everyone’s favorite guest stars on Star Trek: The Next Generation. The topic was explicitly limited to one-time appearances only, no recurring figures, which meant Anne was barred from extolling the virtues of John de Lancie. Before she left, Anne got to hear rave reviews of Elizabeth Dennehy from “The Best of Both Worlds” (whose brief return in Picard‘s third season was none too flattering), Deliverance‘s Ronny Cox from “Chain of Command”, Lost costar Terry O’Quinn from “The Pegasus”, and future Voyager costar Robert Duncan McNeill from “The First Duty”. The panel turned a tad awkward when the moderator talked about McNeill’s lone TNG episode and not knowing why he was later cast as a different character on Voyager as if it were an unsolved mystery, only to be corrected by an audience member in the back who, like other fans, was aware there’s in fact a documented anecdote about that non-coincidence. Anne was grateful for that guy speaking up a few seconds before she was about to herself. She and I tend to get grumbly whenever we’re watching a fan panel where we know things the moderators don’t.

She left shortly before 12:30 to attend another panel she’d wanted to see, one devoted to the science of voice acting. She’d expected more of a tips-and-tricks advice session, but it was literally more like a seminar held from a scientific perspective. The speaker was one Colette Feehan, PhD, whose doctoral thesis in Linguistics concerned “the Acoustic and Articulatory Phonetics of Voice Actors”. Attendees received a two-page handout with physiological diagrams, ultrasounds, and MRI imagery collected and analyzed as part of her exploration of how voice actors do what they do, from shifting their tones for myriad funny voices to the varying accents they implement. She’s interviewed numerous voice actors as part of her research, some of whom have ideas how they do what they do, while others just do it. Again: not what Anne expected, but fascinating to her nonetheless.

After that panel ended, we reunited at long last at 1:30 in front of the autograph booth for our next famous subject: Paul Williams! TV viewers our age or older remember him well from any and every ’70s TV show that invited guest stars — The Match Game, Hollywood Squares, The Muppet Show, The Love Boat (whose theme he wrote), probably a lot of variety specials, and more, more, more. He’s still acted occasionally in recent times, such as when I saw him six years ago in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver (as a character I described as “a gunrunner who nails a bizarre sales soliloquy coached entirely in high-end pork-product metaphors”).

But most folks know him for his extensive songwriting career, including but not limited to tunes for various Muppet episodes and movies. For signing I’d brought a Batman: The Animated Series DVD set already signed by John Glover (who’d played the Riddler) and Loren Lester (a.k.a. Robin), which contained a couple of episodes featuring Williams as the Penguin. I made a point of telling him how “The Rainbow Connection” was the first song I was ever taught in elementary-school music class that I was genuinely excited to sing.

Us posing with Paul Williams, no jazz hands.

The congenial Williams is a convention rarity: a celeb the same height as Anne.

(Apart from the Paul Williams moment in and of itself, my second-favorite part of that pic is the floating head of Tim Daly glowering upon us from his booth banner. I should’ve brought a Superman animated DVD set for him to sign, but I had to make budget cuts somewhere.)

Our final actor meet-and-greet was a rerun of sorts. Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, we’d met John Glover twice before, at the 2012 Superman Celebration in Metropolis and again last year as part of a Smallville group photo-op at Galaxycon Columbus. (I know I keep mentioning it, but that was a great con.) In 2012 Anne had gotten his autograph on a free souvenir newspaper, but now wanted a more substantial memento for her collection. The fun began even before her turn: in front of us was a pair of young guys who wanted him to sign a photo op they’d just done with him and a third guy, who declined to come along for his autograph. Glover signed their photo and, with the two guys’ blessing, proceeded to use his marker collection to add a mustache and other features to the third guy’s face in assorted colors. Hopefully that third guy learned his lesson: never pass up a chance to meet John Glover repeatedly.

When Anne got her turn, I stepped back while they began to chat, only to be rudely interrupted by an ICC announcer cranked up to volume-17, whose Voice of God could be heard throughout the halls and possibly in Chicago, announcing the name of a parent whose unhappily lost children were waiting for them at the information booth. Totally undaunted, Glover signed her 8-x-10, “For Anne, who taught me LOVE.”

John Glover crouching down next to Anne in front of his booth.

Glover is noticeably not the same height as either Anne or Paul Williams, but graciously crouched down to approximate hers.

I’d had one last actor’s name on my want list: Garrett Hedlund, the star of Tron: Legacy who’s popped up in numerous other works I’ve seen since then (Mudbound, Triple Frontier, Inside Llewyn Davis, an episode of Reservation Dogs, and so on). Alas, by 2:00 he was away from his booth for scheduled photo ops as well as his own Q&A. We’d have had to wait another two hours or more for his return. We were dead on our feet and I was tired of having to find ways to kill time. Instead I put those allocated funds toward a discount hardcover from Gem City Books, one of my favorite recurring comic-con vendors.

And with that, we concluded our Indiana Comic Convention experience. That all added up to a lot more words than I thought it would. And that wasn’t even the end of our day. We still had to go do Free Comic Book Day. And make time to read those acquisitions and write the requisite annual MCC entry about same. And there’s the matter of writing the requisite Guardians 3 entry, which I do believe I mentioned was also a thing we did. For us this was like three weekends in one.

Overall we enjoyed each separate component for its own sake, even if they collectively left us physically debilitated for hours afterward and stuck me with hours’ worth of self-assigned blogging homework. But, y’know…we’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.

The End. Thanks for reading! Lord willing, we’ll see you next con…hopefully one that has a weekend all to itself.

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