It’s not always easy being a dyed-in-the-wool pop culture geek and convention attendee for a number of reasons, chief among which are the sometimes prohibitive costs and the pain in the ass of hauling oneself to a con’s appointed venue, even if the show’s technically not that far away from home. Yet endure those logistical hurdles we must, for are Geeks and were are mighty, proud to represent in the name of the perceived-as-uncool stuff that we adore and keep that torch lit to share and pass on to those who are like-minded. In the name of my lifelong nerdy obsessions I have paid outrageous prices for con admission, put up with crowds that put a street scene from Soylent Green to shame, had my olfactory senses tested to their limits by the wafting B.O. of hygienically challenged fanboys (and occasionally fangirls, if truth be told), and suffered the tortures of the damned in my thirty-plus years of indulging in this fannish madness, so when I find myself at a show that features an optimal amount of everything going right I feel a renewed sense of love and tolerance for every member of the family of humanity. That said, this past weekend’s Big Apple Con was a stone cold blast and I can’t wait to go to the next one (hopefully equipped with more disposable cash for tchotchkes).
Running from Friday, October 16th through Sunday the 18th, the long-running Big Apple Con shifted location from its usual Midtown hotel digs to the considerably more remote confines of Pier 94 at Twelfth Avenue on Manhattan’s West Side (at 55th Street), and if you ask me it was a good move. Sure it’s a pain in the ass to schlep as far left on the map as one can go in Manhattan, especially on a day as unseasonably cold and inclement as Friday was, but the effort was rewarded upon gaining entry to the show. From the moment I walked in I was surrounded by exactly what I want from any show I attend, namely lots of t-shirts, fantasy weaponry, toys, and a myriad of assorted gewgaws for sale that catch the eye of the eager geek, enthusiastic attendees throwing aside all propriety (and in many cases dignity) to show up in costume and give full reign to fully-rocked appreciation of their favorite characters, beloved celebrities from movies, teevee and elsewhere, present to meet and greet and sign autographs for their fans, and of course, shitloads of comic books and the artists who create the stuff. That, to me, is bliss, Elysium brought to the mundane world, allowing all a welcome break from an existence punctuated by overdue bills, incompetent government, family dysfunction, (FILL IN THE BLANK) being declared a possible carcinogen, threats of foreclosure, and for real kills-folks-dead warfare.
As I made my way into this wonderland of the imagination I was pleased to note that the huge space allowed every attraction at the show easy, one-level access for all (something those in wheelchairs were no doubt glad of) and also gave much-needed room to the celebrity signers. Previous Big Apple shows held a certain charm thanks to them being among the very last of NYC cons to have the old school DIY feel common to shows in the days before they got huge, al la the San Diego Comicon or New York’s own Javits Center conventions, but Pier 94 allowed Big Apple’s charms to shine through while considerably increasing the scale. Unlike many shows I’ve been to, the one-level layout of Pier 94 made it very simple to do a once-around scouting of the whole affair and get the lay of the land in almost no time; by the end of my first hour there, I had the layout committed to memory and could make my way here, there and everywhere like I’d been there my whole life. A major plus when compared to shows where I felt I’d done amounts of walking equal the travels of Kwai Chang Caine.
While making my way to “Artists Alley” — the place where the creators of comics lurk — I wandered among the dealers of toys and comics, breathing in the distinctive and comforting smell of musty old four color mind-rot and discovering a multitude of tables offering hundreds of pre-1970 collector’s items for literally next to nothing. Vintage books from Marvel, DC, and far more obscure publishers littered the place, leading me to wonder if this windfall of comic book blow-outs was due to dealers in this iffy economy seeking to rid themselves of extraneous stock that might not move in their already overcrowded stores. Those old 80-page giants and 100-pagers were had for a pittance and I even managed to score a copy of All Star Comics #58, featuring the very first appearance of Power Girl — who was far less bosomy there than what she evolved into under the solo hand of Wally Wood — in great condition for three bucks. I don’t know what’s causing this trend, but I hope it keeps up for at least the next year’s-worth of cons.
A gorgeous re-build of the 1960’s Batmobile was majestically parked on the floor, right next to the main area for celebrity signings, and it was there that I was allowed to live out a childhood fantasy. For a mere ten bucks admission I was allowed to plant my beige ass in the driver’s seat of the Batmobile — THE GODDAMNED BATMOBILE!!! — and have a photographer take (theoretically) unlimited pics of me totally geeking out. I took advantage of that rare opportunity and made sure to take reference shots of the legendary vehicle’s dashboard and accouterments with my own camera, but the icing on the unbelievably geeky cake was when I donned the Adam West-style Batman cowl and posed for pics while “talking to the Commissioner” on the Bat Phone. By committing that act to photographic record I strongly believe I may have given up all right to ever get laid again, but damn me if it wasn’t worth it.
After the Chernobyl of geekery that took place in the Batmobile, another of my personal goals while attending the show was to obtain a number of autographs from some of the celebrities on hand, some of whom had a huge impact on my in various ways since my childhood. Topping that list was Julie Newmar, the brain-warpingly hot bombshell who so indelibly brought Catwoman to life on Batman in the 1960’s, followed immediately by the equally stunning Nichelle Nichols, the original Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura, perhaps the first prominent black woman on TV to not portray a buffoon or a maid. Lemme tell ya in no uncertain terms that the pair of them are responsible for turning me into the curve-lovin’ horn dog that I am, so no matter how many decades had passed since they were in their prime there was no way in Hell that I was not going to shake hands with those goddesses of my childhood. Monty Python’s Carol Cleveland also frequently had starring roles in my young lad’s less-than-wholesome reveries and she was also present, so I had my sights set on her as well.
Meeting the celebrity guests is always fun for me and gives me an opportunity to hone my skills at conversing with some of my favorite entertainers without geeking out like a complete idiot, especially if the celeb in question is someone I worshipped during childhood. The first guest that I tested my keeping-it-together skills against was Nichelle Nichols, and I was not surprised to find she was a kind and elegant presence. Carol Cleveland really surprised me by engaging me in a lengthy conversation in which she regaled me with stories of her recent meeting with the rest of the still-extant Pythons, all of whom were in town to receive a BAFTA award at Manhattan’s Zeigfeld theater. Having been familiar with her TV work since I was a kid and hearing her rock a lilting British accent, I was stunned to hear her speak like a native American, and only while doing some fact checking for this piece did I discover that while born in London, Cleveland moved to the States at a very early age and was raised in Philadelphia, San Antonio and Pasadena before returning to the U.K. when she was eighteen.
Carol Cleveland, as seen during her Monty Python days (specifically as seen in "The Attila the Hun Show" segment)...
Then came the real moment of truth, the moment when my fannish zeal and long-ago feelings of schoolboy lust would have to be pushed into a corner and replaced with my dignified and erudite grownup convention-meet-and-greet self. I was going to stand face-to-face with Julie Newmar, Catwoman herself, and finally convey my lifelong admiration to her, and frankly I was rendered jelly-kneed at the prospect.
The most sobering thing about meeting Miss Newmar was being reminded that she is only a few months younger than my own mom and that Newmar was once a professional dancer, an occupation famous for wreaking havoc upon the feet, knees, and hips of those who practice that art. Miss Newmar must have paid the price for her years in the limelight, because now she required a man under each arm to assist her to the seat for her signing, but despite her obvious frailty she entered the place with an air of regal dignity like she owned the place. And judging from the reaction of her legion of fans that had showed up, she pretty much did. Frail though she may have been, her Amazonian stature was quite imposing, and even in the flats she was wearing she had to be around 6’2”, easily towering over Yours Truly.
Despite having waited a good while for her to arrive, I found myself jockeying for position among the fans that showed up just before Miss Newmar got there and didn’t feel like waiting patiently like I and a few others had. It was at that point that the bad behavior of poorly socialized fans reared its ugly head and I found myself mortified by some of the sleazy things those louts were saying to Newmar in a disastrously failed attempt to be witty, but my outrage quickly turned to amusement as Newmar fielded the remarks like the seasoned con warrior she undoubtedly was. The most amusing example of this came when a greasy-haired guy in his late-thirties approached her and stated, “Catwoman sure was ahead of her time, y’know, being a dominatrix!” as he all but drooled all over himself. Newmar responded, in that sweet dotty old lady voice of hers, “Catwoman was not a dominatrix,” but fanboy wasn’t having it and countered with, “Oh, yeah she was!” Newmar merely looked down at the 8x10 she was signing and politely retorted, “Maybe in your mind…” a comment that sailed right over his head. It took a lot for me not to turn to the grotty fanboy, point rigidly at him and shout, “OWNED!!!" But what the hell did I care about that douchebag? I was able to meet La Newmar, pass on my respect and well-wishes to her, and I got a couple of great autographed pics fro her, of which the one seen below will soon be framed and afforded a place of honor upon my tiny apartment's wall, right next to my shot of Sonny Chiba as The Street Fighter.
The bottom line on all of this is that the new and improved Big Apple Con was a hell of a lot of fun and a great value for the admission price, so I will definitely be returning. The next one of these shows is scheduled in direct competition with the next Javits Center hoo-hah and I’m very curious to see how that one will play out. In fact, proving once and for all that I’m a masochist, I’m gonna try and attend both shows in order to compare, contrast, and note how the respective cons work for or against one another. Rest assured, I’ll be back with a full report when it all goes down. Hell, I'm not at all political on this con stuff, just so long as it's fun. Oh, and here are some shots of more con stuff to hold you over until the next show:
Former colleagues from my days in the Marvel Bullpen: Peter Sanderson and Danny "the Fing" Fingeroth.
A fetching trio of geek gals, rockin' it Old School.
The unlikely pairing of Jareth the goblin king and Nightwing. Note Jareth's package; the guy was cracking himself (and me) up with what had to have been a length of kielbasa stuffed down his trousers, and for that I salute him.
A blurry shot of infamous NYC cable TV legend Ugly George (look him up), complete with his famous foil-covered video camera setup. I very much doubt he was able to coax any of the costumed attendees into showing him their tits.
Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, co-authors of the exceptional BOILERPLATE: HISTORY'S MECHANICAL MARVEL, which I strongly urge you to run out and buy right now. The book looked interesting in the first place and I was shocked to find that once I started reading it on the subway I couldn't put it down until nearly two in the morning (barring the time I spent at Steph's art show on Staten Island later that evening). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
While cruising the mean streets of Gotham City in search of villainous scum, the Caped Crusader cranks his favorite GG Allin tunes on his Pioneer stereo.
An excellent Batman Beyond, furled...
In the immortal words of Stinky Wizzleteats, "Happy happy, joy joy."
It's moments like this that give me hope for humanity.