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Monday, October 19, 2009

2009 Wizard World Big Apple Comic Con

The fine folks at Wizard World granted The Aquaman Shrine a guest Press Pass for the Big Apple Comic Con that went on over the weekend. And even though I was only able to attend one of the three days (Friday, October 16th) I had what was possibly the single best con experience of my life--here's what went down!

First off, I must preface this post with an aside--frequently in my life there have been events or moments that, for whatever reason, I had plans to attend and then at the last minute reconsidered--I'm too tired, I don't have enough money, I'm too busy, blah blah blah. Its human nature to come up with all kinds of reasons why you can't do something.

But I've noticed--almost every single time I've pushed through those feelings and gone ahead anyway, it ended being an extremely rewarding experience. And this trip to the con was no exception--the morning of the show, I looked out the window and saw nothing but freezing rain, dreading the long drive. I also had a lot of illustration work to get done, and I briefly considered just scrapping the whole trip. Thankfully, I didn't...

sgAfter getting to New York and making my way to the hall (Pier 94, at 55th and 12th Avenue), I tried to find where to pick up my Press badge. From my experience, how smoothly this goes can sometimes be an omen as to how the whole con will be run.

Within just a few seconds of looking around, a friendly Wizard World rep asked me what I was looking for. After I told her I was picking up a Press badge, she cheerfully steered me to the correct line. After a few minutes in line, (where I ran into my old friend and former boss, Mark McNabb) the young woman giving out the Press badges found my name without any trouble and handed me my badge, wishing me a good show. We were off to a good start! (Even though the badge didn't quite get it right...see picture)

As soon as I entered the hall, I made a bee line for the person I was there to see the most...actress Loretta Swit, who played Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan on my all-time favorite show, M*A*S*H. I didn't even know she was there until a few weeks ago, when my pal and F.O.A.M.er Vince Bartilucci told me about it, and I simply couldn't let the opportunity to meet one of the actors from that show pass me by.

After a few minutes of wandering the autograph section (featuring various actors, wrestlers, and Playboy models), I saw Ms. Swit at her booth. I gulped, instantly becoming nervous--there she was, the woman I've watched on TV since as long as I could remember! I've met a number of famous people, even worked with some of them, and none of them gave me the same feeling of awe I had when seeing the Major Houlihan in the flesh.

I made my way over, and introduced myself. Babbling a bit, I told Ms. Swit how much it meant for me to meet her, and she was warm and friendly. I then told her how much the show affected me, how much of an influence it was in molding me into the person I am today. She asked me how so, and I told her the show's intelligence, humor, and kindness were things I aspired to be and to have. She took my hand and thanked me.

I asked her to sign my M*A*S*H "Hot Lips" action figure, which she cheerfully agreed to. In between signing it, she held the package up, putting it next to her face, and said "Does this really look like me?" I replied no, none of the figures did!
I thanked her again, and she shook my hand and said what a pleasure it was to meet me. I walked away, as happy as could be. I couldn't believe I met Loretta Swit, and she was so nice! The rest of the con could suck and it would still be a banner day!

As I made my way to the more comic-centric part of the hall, it dawned on me that in my fanboyish nervousness, I forgot to get a picture of her and I together. Normally I don't get pics of me with people at cons (I can't stand how I look in those things), but I really wanted one this time. I cursed at myself for being so absent-minded, and resolved that I had missed my chance.

Walking around the rest of the con, I took in some of the sights, including The Batmobile:
...its always impressive to see the Batmobile (or at least a really good replica of, since this car has obviously had some upgrades, like a DVD screen playing the show in between the driver and passenger seats) right in front of you. I imagine sitting it would really make you think you're a superhero.

At Artists Alley, I saw some familiar faces, like my old Kubert School instructor Irwin Hasen, a mainstay at these shows:
...I then saw an artist whose work I am a big fan of, and arranged to get an Aquaman sketch from them. They asked me to come back near the end of the day, which I agreed to.

I then went comic shopping: I was looking for some issues of Adventure Comics from the 1980s, but was having a hard time finding any of them. The books I was looking for seem to fall between the cracks of the types of books usually brought by dealers: they were neither super-expensive, high-end "collectibles", but they also weren't books so valueless they're sold off at the "All books in this box 50 cents" fire sales you frequently see.

While shopping, I spotted the familiar bright colors of the Aqua-Hoodie. I introduced myself to the gentleman wearing it--a guy named Nick--gave him one of the Aquaman Shrine business cards, and asked if I could take a picture:
I resumed my shopping, still having no luck on the Adventure Comics front. I then moved on to my other goal, to pick up some cheap b/w magazines for an upcoming week of posts for my b/w mag blog, All in Black and White For 75 Cents. I was having a tough time with that too, since most dealers didn't bring any magazines--those that did were selling pristine mint copies of Creepy and Eerie, and I didn't want to spend $20-$30 a pop just to find a week's worth of content.

Luckily, I stumbled upon one dealer that had about 10 longboxes full of mags and a sign that said "All b/w mags $2"--I rifled through all the boxes, finding a whole week's worth of material for a measly $14! Sweet!

I then found two issues of the Adventure Comics I was looking for, and I seemed to be on a roll. I then saw Jill Pantozzi, aka The Nerdy Bird, and I stopped her to say hello. I've known Jill via her blog for a few months now, but had never actually met her in person:
...this con was really going well!

One of the frequent items I see for sale at these cons are DVD bootlegs of some of my favorite shows, and this time was no exception. My #1 show to get on DVD, Batman, was plentifully available:
...but for some reason, I can't quite get myself to buy them. Maybe its the $50 price tag (although $50 for 120 episodes isn't a bad deal), maybe its because I'm not sure of the quality (its not like I can return it)...or maybe its because I'm afraid the show will somehow not seem as good once I have it available to me all the time. Batman means too much to me, you know?

I did manage to find some Aqua-items, all of which will show up here on the Shrine later in the week. I was especially happy to find one piece for a measly $10 that I considered buying on eBay for about twice that.

Anyway, about halfway through the show I realized that I had pretty much visited every dealer. And since I wasn't that interested in seeing any of the other autograph guests, and I had a lot of work waiting for me at home (which is still waiting, since I'm writing this first), I decided that my original plan to come back on Sunday was off--this would be the only day I'd attend, so I wanted to make it count.

I found another artist who was doing these little color sketches--mini-paintings, really--on trading card-sized boards so I commissioned him to do an Aquaman. He asked me to give him a half hour or so to do the piece, so I had some time on my hands.

I decided then and there that, even though I might feel silly, I would go back to Loretta Swit's booth and ask her for a photograph--when else am I going to have this chance?

I made my way back, and before I could ask her about the photo, she asked me if I knew the area. I said a little, why? She said that she and her friend (who was helping her man the booth) were starving, and the food available in the hall (mostly just pretzels and soda) wasn't really sufficient. She hoped she could ask a Wizard World volunteer to get them some food, to which I replied, "I'd be happy to do it for you."

Loretta lit up, asking me if I was sure, and I said absolutely. Using the back of one of my business cards, she wrote down what she wanted--a salad (we're both vegetarians, we discovered) and some fries, the same for her friend. I took her order and headed back outside.

While on my way to find a place to get the food, I called Darlin' Tracy in disbelief. "Trace", I exclaimed, "I'm on a food run for Loretta Swit!"

I was excited just to tell her, but also to have someone else on Planet Earth know I was doing this in case I got hit by a car and killed in the process. I wanted The Legend to live on.

I stopped in one place, but they didn't make Caesar Salads. The owner pointed me out the door, down the street, and told me of a place that would do it. Thanking him, I practically ran (in the still-freezing weather) to the next location, where the cook inside said he could make the salads, no problem.

While waiting, I saw they didn't have fries on the menu. Thinking I'd have to go find a third location, I asked the guy at the counter where I could go to get french fries. He said, "Oh, we can make them for you." They didn't have them on the menu, but they had them and could do it. I was thrilled at this one-stop shopping.

After grabbing the food, I stopped to take a pic of the place:
New York City has such a reputation for being an unfriendly place, but there was none of that now. Everything was coming up Millhouse!

While on my way back, I realized I had been around this area before--many times, actually, since this is where they tape The Daily Show, a show I've had the good fortune of attending a couple of times:
I made my way back to the con, and delivered the food to Loretta. She was thrilled, thanking me for my efforts.

I said no problem, this was an amazingly strange and wonderful little experience, and it was the least I could do. Then before they dug in Loretta came around and posed with me for the picture:
I thanked her again, saying what an honor it was to meet her, concluding what might be the single best con experience of my life.

I made my way back to the artist, Dave Fox, doing the Aquaman piece, and he needed just a little more time to finish the coloring. Having ten more minutes to kill, I remembered one last thing I wanted to do.

Joe Kubert was a guest of the con, at a Kubert School booth. I had him as an instructor my third year, and even though he would not remember me (I kept a very low profile in his class, too terrified to say much) I wanted to (re)introduce myself and tell them that while I'm not working in comics, I have managed to carve out some sort of art career for myself, and I guess I wanted him to know that.

I found the Kubert School booth:
Sadly, Joe was not there--he'd be there on Saturday and Sunday--so I gave my card to the gentleman working the booth, told him who I was, that I was a graduate (Class of '92!) and asked him to give it to Joe. Who knows? Maybe he'll visit my site and be happy that another one of his students is a professional artist, if not the kind the school specializes in.

I went back to Dave's table, where he showed me the finished Aquaman piece, and it was beautiful! I thanked Dave for the nice work. Be here tomorrow to see it!

I made arrangements with the other artist I commissioned--who had not yet gotten do the Aquaman piece (since I was leaving well ahead of schedule)--to mail me the piece. I want to keep it a surprise who it is--all I will say its someone who worked on Wednesday Comics.

With that, I was eager to get home. I braved the freezing rain again, hopped in my car, and headed home. I was so happy that I skipped all the podcasts and audiobooks I brought with me to listen to (I always bring something like 10x the amount of stuff I'll actually have time to listen to), and just hit "Shuffle" on my iPhone, singing along to all the up-tempo songs I had in my collection.

I've had some really memorable con experiences (I participated in one event in San Diego that became something of a legendary story that preceded me for months), but this might rank as the best time I've ever had at one of these things.

I got some cool Aqua-sketches, bought some cool Aqua-stuff, got the comics I was looking for...and got to meet one--and even do a favor for--of my all-time favorite people, and learned they were really, really nice. It'll be hard to top.


Randy said...

Loretta Swit has certainly aged well. And that is a cool story of how you got food for her.

And I really like the pic of you with Jill. Nice to see my two favorite bloggers in the same picture! :)

Unknown said...

That's such a great story, Rob! Good to hear you had such a terrific time!

Josh Hill said...

I was going to go to this show, but was a little turned off by how much focus was put on celebrities as opposed to comic book creators. However, I'm glad you had a nice time! Thanks for the report!

Russell said...

Sounds like you had an awesome time. My chatting with Sara Douglas isn't anywhere near as cool as you getting food for Loretta Swit. Nice!

Wings1295 said...

Wow, what a great day! Glad you got to meet a favorite actress, always an amazing feeling, no matter how old we get, eh? Cool that she was so nice, too.

Fun times, thanks for sharing it and the pics! The Aqua-hoodie looks good on that dude. :)

Doug said...

THAT is a great con experience Rob!

Andy Luckett said...

That's awesome you had such a great time Rob, especially with a once-in-a-lifetime experience like that with Loretta Swit.

I've got to get out to more Cons, I miss the uniqueness of each.

Luis said...

Fantastic story and very well told! It made me feel like I was there myself. I really liked the part where you find some BW comics for 2 bucks each since I'm also a big fan of your other site - All In Black and White for 75 Cens.

Orin's Dad said...

What an awesome day Rob! How cool is it that you not only got to meet someone you've admired for years, but that she is a really cool person too. What a great story. Thanks for sharing!

Vincent Paul Bartilucci said...

Glad you had such a great day, Rob.

I really wish I could have gone but the finances just wrren't there.

Next year, definitely. Although Wizard scheduled there show the same weekend as NYCC ...

Adama said...

I am so happy for you Rob! Congrats on the great con experience. Hopefully, someday, I'll have a story that awesome!

The Irredeemable Shag said...

Rob - Great recap of your con escapades, and what a great experience with Loretta Swit! I'm thrilled for you, pal! How are you going to top that at the next con? :)

The Irredeemable Shag

Tommy! said...

What a great story & "Hot Lips" still looks really great! I wish NYC was not so far from me or I would go to some of these events. But hearing about this is cool.