Every August since 2003 our hometown of Indianapolis has hosted the Wonder of the World that is Gen Con, one of America’s oldest and largest gaming conventions. Whether your gaming mode is RPGs, tabletop games, TCGs, dice games, family board games, or video games, Gen Con has its sights aimed in your direction. Try a new game, pick up supplies for your current campaigns, network with gamers from faraway lands, or just wander the premises and gaze upon the wonders. Attendance over the past two years has topped 60,000 and shows no signs of slowing down. On the occasion of their 50th celebration in 2017, as phenomenal as it was by all accounts, I’m surprised a squad of fire marshals didn’t simply shut the whole city down.
1. A Long-expected Party.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my annual comic book reviews included a promise of a future entry inspired by Die, the new Image Comics series by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans that I encapsulated like so:
What if you took the structure of Stephen King’s It, but instead of fighting a murderous super-clown, the kids and adults in their respective eras were reliving the ’80s Dungeons and Dragons cartoon as a horror story, and the Big Bad was Tom Hanks from Mazes and Monsters turned into a truly mystical, manipulative interdimensional overlord?
Painted art by Stephanie Hans is like a high-end gallery showing on every page, while writer Kieron Gillen is engaging in ambitious, phenomenally detailed world-building, worrisome in its six-digit word count and rising. He’s exploring fantasy tropes and toying with them from within, but he’s also designed an entire RPG from the ground up to facilitate his vision, one that’s dredging up so many childhood memories for me — some I would dare label “definitive” in regard to my personal backstory — that I’ll need to devote a separate entry to this series in the near future. I have a lot of baggage to unpack here, and I blame Gillen for wheeling the baggage cart right up next to me.
I had the pleasure of meeting painter Stephanie Hans at this year’s C2E2, where I gave her the elevator-pitch version of this entry and she encouraged me to share it. I got a kick out of meeting Kieron Gillen at C2E2 2013, where we briefly chatted about his Britpop-magic fantasy Phonogram and he asked me which character I identified with most. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to it and was ashamed to have no answer, either prepared or improvised. I’m not used to pros at a con asking me a question beyond “Where are you from?”
(Having had time to think later, my answer came to me, obvious if twofold. As a young adult from 1989 to 2000 I imagined myself Seth Bingo, self-anointed tastemaker and DJ, bringing my boom-box and tapes/CDs to entertain at work after-hours — no requests allowed, sharing my collection with peers who just didn’t get me or my nightly playlist. For my life 2000-present I’ve been closer to Lloyd, engaging with music intellectually via long thinkpieces written only for the audiences in my head, but rarely physically and never socially, thus arguably denying its greatest powers. If only I could’ve written all that on an index card before approaching Gillen’s table. Or narrowed my answer down to just one of those two alienating dudes.)
The farther I’ve read into Die, the more I’ve found myself reflecting on my own experiences with Dungeons and Dragons, an integral part of my preteen years. It was a compelling confluence of entertainment and imagination. It was a big hit with the other kids who joined in. It also ushered in the end of my circle of childhood friends.
Like anyone with a working Internet connection, from time to time I find myself completing online surveys about various companies or products, whether for fun, for freebies, or in hopes that the survey will include an essay question that you can use as a soapbox to unleash a thousand-word tirade about the last time their services ticked you off and ruined your day. “That’ll show ’em!” you think to yourself as your carefully crafted vitriol is forwarded to the survey company and assimilated into the results database containing hundreds of thousands of other surveys, someday to be skimmed by a distracted HR rep who might raise an eyebrow at your poison-pen screed, if you’re lucky.
Every such survey has the obligatory section whose questions are designed for demographic pigeonholing of your results. I don’t mind revealing my ever-advancing age, blissful marital status, or conspicuously dull bloodline. My least favorite question is always, “What is the highest level of education you have completed?” It sounds simple and uncomplicated, especially if you earned a degree. Sometimes I wonder if those who attended graduate school and/or who hold multiple degrees receive a little bonus from the survey company in return, to thank them for bolstering the results with certified demographic classiness.
Mine is the humble ignominy that requires me to check “Some college”. It’s always a multiple-choice question, never a write-in field, so you can’t fall back on the standard glib answers such as “school of hard knocks” or “school of life”, joke answers such as “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” or “Hogwarts”, or even obscure answers such as “School of Fish”, in hopes that someone in the survey company will agree how cool a song “3 Strange Days” was. Every time I spot the bland, undecorated phrase “Some college” on a survey, I wince for a second and have to shake off the reminder of a young adulthood that wandered astray.
I spent tonight diving into my own personal archives (by which I mean piles of old stuff) to research a potentially epic-length entry involving childhood memories, games, and psychological damage. A particular magazine box proved to contain only one of two items relevant to the search, but I stumbled across a small stack of posters I forgot I owned. I flip through a few of them and, lo and behold, find myself staring at a beauteous work of art by the Hayao Miyazaki, nearly the entire length of our card table.
I don’t remember owning this, but here it is.
…so, uh, spoilers for this heartbreaking entry in the title, obviously.
28 hours past the event itself, I’m two sentences into this and have already had to stop typing twice to compose myself.
Anne and I haven’t watched the original Mary Poppins in 35-40 years. We had considered revisiting it before lining up for director Rob Marshall’s showy happy sequel, but all the legal streaming services wanted twelve bucks or more for one (1) showing of one (1) 54-year-old film. We moved on without it.
I remember very little of the plot, but the songs have haunted me ever since. Credit goes mostly to the legendary songwriting team of Robert and Richard Sherman, and partly to my grade-school music teacher Mrs. Quebbeman, later Mrs. Surdi when she remarried. She taught us songs we never wanted to know (“Up with People”), didn’t notice when a few of us discovered the new fad called “lip-syncing” in sixth grade, assigned me solos in three consecutive Christmas programs while I still had a stable singing voice, and blessedly introduced us to the wonders of wooden percussion, “The Rainbow Connection”, “Danse Macabre”, and at least half the Mary Poppins soundtrack. For me the film may have faded, but the tunes remain etched into my brain. Long after all the useful parts have shut down, I’ll be in my bed humming the chorus from “Step in Time” till the end of days.
Sadly, Mrs. Surdi passed away about a month ago. She was firmly in my thoughts as Mary Poppins Returns played on. Thanks to her, I knew ahead of time there’s no way I’d like the sequel more than the original. But sometimes it’s nice to sit back, be patient, listen closely, and wait to be surprised at what sticks.