The feet of R2-D2 and Chris James, member of the R2-D2 Builders Club and host of the club-sponsored panel at WonderCon 2008, San Francisco. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2008. The first time I went to WonderCon was 15 years ago. Until this year, it was also the last time I went. These pop-culture related conventions are, perhaps, easy to dismiss as being "geeky" until you realize that everybody has their own little "geeks." We could also call them fetishes - is there really any substantive difference between wearing a prosthetic Klingon forehead over your real head and wearing a bright orange hunting cap at an indoor gun show? There's very little difference in my head between a gun enthusiast going to a gun show, a car fanatic going to a classic car show, a martial artist going to a weekend-long seminar, or my dad shlepping the family to Montana to trace General George Armstrong Custer's last march. Except, perhaps, I have the common sense to not drag my folks to a comic book show. Of course, comics get derided because people still have problems understanding that the medium has moved beyond being a disposable entertainment for children and into the realm of Serious Art. Just recently, a German plan to educate schoolchildren about the Holocaust came under attack because the plan featured a comic book as the message delivery medium. The issue was not the content of the comic, but rather that the concept of sequential art should not contain such weighty issues. And right over here is this wonderful bridge, straight from Brooklyn and with a low starting bid... Anyway, there is undeniably something unusual about the things people devote their money and time to. The WonderCon has grown massively since I last attended, and now is a clearing house for all sorts of pop culture obsessions. Among those, it's doubtful you could find a larger one than the obsession people have for Star Wars. One of the many seminars and lectures on the schedule at WonderCon was the one run by the R2-D2 Builders Club. Merits aside, the dedication to building what is essentially a radio-controlled robot that moves forwards, backwards, blinks, bleeps and bloops and doesn't do much else is astounding. Not to mention expensive - to get all the various parts machined, painted, molded and cut can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $13,000, and take around 18 months to put together yourself. At the end of the day, though, you've got a radio-controlled robot that has become a symbol as famous as Superman's chest shield, and that when moving down a packed hall filled with people dressed as stormtroopers, GI Joes, Batmen, Captains America, and Wonder Women, all it takes to stop the crowd is one little blue-and-white upside down garbage can with feet. ALSO: A gallery of selected photos from WonderCon with extended captions that I've written has gone up on my employer's Web site, CNET. You can check it out here.
Artist Ben Templesmith, co-creator of the Alaskan vampire horror story 30 Days of Night, shows off artwork purchased by a fan at Isotope Comics WonderCon 2008 Friday After-Party. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2008. Part art show, part shmoozefest, and filled with comics geeks well-lubricated by beer and booze, Isotope's comics parties are never dull. The post-WonderCon Isotope parties this year attracted some great talents, and except for one rage seizure at the end of the night on Saturday, people behaved themselves and were ecstatic to hang out and talk.Friday night's party featured Aussie artist Ben Templesmith and Brit writer Antony Johnston, of Queen & Country: Declassified and Dead Space. WonderCon being the massive comics fustercluck that it is, all sorts of fans and pros in town for the convention show up. There were tons of people there, the ones I remember being Jeremy Love, creator of the webcomic Bayou, The Batman writer Michael Jelenic, and Chip Mosher of Boom! Studios in L.A. Also on a WonderCon-related note: I've written expanded captions for several of my WonderCon photos for CNET News.com. You can check out that gallery here.
Noel Neill, the first woman to play Lois Lane on screen. WonderCon 2008, San Francisco. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2008. Listening to Noel Neill talk, it's apparent the woman comes from another era. Unambitious when it came to seeking out Hollywood roles, she nevertheless played Superman's girlfriend opposite Kirk Alyn in the first Superman movie serials and then on the first Superman television series with George Reeves. There's no need for me to disclose her age, but suffice to say she's older than she looks. More importantly, she's a woman who speaks her mind, and isn't afraid in the high-pressure world of Hollyweird to tell people to buzz off. I wasn't planning on attending her seminar at WonderCon, but the FMA wanted to check it out, thus proving once again why she's got the title of "adviser". Neill was at turns funny and serious, witty without being crude, but clearly able to take on attitudinal younger folk. Graciously, when I asked her to pose in the typical pugnacious Superman pose with fists on her hips, she didn't even blink before agreeing. It turns out that until she was forty--so about a year or two ago--she was a beach volleyball champion, even while she was starring on one of the most famous shows of all time. According to Ms. Neill, she was also the second-most popular pin-up girl during World War II. Given her confidence and forthrightness, that's not hard to believe.
Young monks in Thailand and Laos are at monasteries for schooling as much as anything else. They're very much the Southeast Asian equivalent of Catholic schools, except with more orange and less hair. The FMA and I often discuss our similar educational backgrounds, but I surprised myself one day by agreeing that school uniforms were a good idea. Is this the start of a long road that ends with voting Republican? I would've fought down to my last cotton thread to not wear a uniform, but then I never really cared about competing for fashionable clothing. More or less, I wear the same clothes I've worn since I was 12 or 13: T-shirt and jeans, generally black or gray. It's become apparent to me that either I never noticed everybody caring about whether their butt displayed the word "Juicy," or at some point after I left high school the caring got a lot more intense. It was never just teen girls who wanted to look fashionable, but they were more visible. Now I see teen boys wearing enough fabric to make a parachutist jealous. It looks like jeans and T-shirts and baseball caps, but it's billowing and finely cut and where the heck did a 16-year-old get the cash to waste on team logos? Shouldn't they be buying drugs? Joking aside, I wonder if a bit of forced conformity would teach a stronger appreciation for more idiosyncratic thought later on in life.
We are quite lucky in San Francisco to have several different kinds of comic book shops, and Isotope is one of the best with its couches and hipster lounge atmosphere. Sadly, they lack a massage chair recliner.
The FMA and Friend Emily below an early-blooming cherry blossom tree at the Polo Grounds, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2008. Sunday was a bit too cold for a picnic, but that didn't stop Emily, the FMA and I from having a bit of a Japanese day of things: We made o-nigiri, stuffed rice balls, drank umeshu and sake, and ate sembei and mochi. Oh, and Pocky, because no Japanese picnic is really complete without Pocky.
Marv Wolfman takes a Red Vine and comic book break during a party at Isotope Comics, San Francisco. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2008. Marv Wolfman's bio can tell you more about the author more succinctly than I can. What I can add, besides the utter irrelevancy of the fact that he wrote the first comic I ever bought, and therefore is largely to blame for getting me into reading comics, is that you know you're dealing with a Serious Writer when he takes a party break to read. Click here on the photo above to see the gallery from the party celebrating Marv's work at Isotope Comics.