Comicpalooza 2013 Day 1: Talkin' 'Bout Geek Education
All photos by Jef With One F
This is my third year covering the Comicpalooza convention, and each year it's gotten better and bigger. 2013 seems absolutely massive with pockets of all kinds of geekdom spread out all over the entire George R. Brown Convention Center. Every time you think you've seen it all you stumble across a literally stadium-sized room full of things you didn't even know about.
You also get lost a lot if you're like me and a decade of homing beacons in video games has destroyed your ability to follow a map or find a location without a helpful pointing arrow in front of you. Damnit, BioShock, I used to be smarter than this!
If there is anything I can say I really love about Comicpalooza it's that there are so many people here that are keen on expanding not just fandom, but knowledge in general. We now live in a world where cutting edge science and discoveries can reach almost anyone in the developed world in seconds. What are we doing with that access?
Jasminn and Chris as Harley Quinn and the Riddler
Huston Huddleston wants to build a Star Trek museum with it, that's what. I stopped by he and his assistant Rachel's booth first thing on the way in and heard a remarkable story. Huddelston ran across a mock-up of the Star Trek: The Next Generation bridge in a warehouse in Los Angeles. It wasn't the set from the actual show. That had been destroyed in the '90s. It was from a touring exhibition, but the find got him thinking.
Now Huddleston is traveling the country selling T-shirts and lunchboxes as well as taking donations in order to build something no one else has yet done. He wants to craft a permanent museum installation that encompasses not just the famous command center of the Enterprise, but also engineering, sick bay, and other portions of the Star Trek universe. It isn't only a haven for fans, though. Huddleston's vision is a center where children can take field trips to in order to be taught science.
"How cool would that be?" asked Huddleston. "To be able to go on the bridge of the Enterprise and learn astronomy and engineering and other scientific areas, all with a 3D screen and the ability to fire phasers at oncoming ships?"
Once the initial funds are generated (Around $250,000), the San Diego Air and Space museum will hold the project for a year before it begins a three-year tour to other museums. Eventually, it's hoped that a permanent home in Hollywood can be found.
I hadn't gotten far from the Star Trek bridge when I realized that something was following me. I figured it was one of the many people I've met at the convention over the years who wanted to say hi, but instead I came face to face with a six-foot robotic creeper from Minecraft.
After ducking briefly in anticipation of the inevitable explosion, I made the acquaintance of the Sugar Land based Techno Chaos company. They were the minds behind the creeper, which was being used to great effect by sneaking up on people (And apparently got into a fight with a Darth Vader).
Techno Chaos hosts everything from summer camps to field trips hoping to interest kids in robotics. They use some of the most fun things in existence like LEGO and Minecraft in order to jumpstart a love of building and experimenting. They told me, "Why buy a toy when you can make one."
In addition to the impressive creeper, which they sensibly wouldn't let me pilot, they also had an impressive game of robotic LEGO soccer set up. Using little more than standard LEGO mixed with a wireless sending unit, I and another man got to steer small plastic cars around a field obstinately with the goal to kick the balls into goals but in reality just seeing if we could knock the other one over. See what I mean about not trusting me with the creeper?
That was enough bettering myself for a moment as far as I was concerned, so I started exploring. All the usual vendors seem to have come back this year, and I stopped by our friends at 8th Dimension Comics chat. Half-Price Books brought their A game this year, but I was out of luck if I was going to pick up more Doctor Who books at a discount like last year because they were already sold out. They do have a really fantastic choice of audio books, though, and that's pretty stellar.
Game Over was hawking a legacy system for $80 that allows you to play SNES, Genesis, and NES games all on the same console. It makes up for earlier this year when an April Fool's Joke about an Atari legacy system made me delete a 700-word article once it was revealed as a prank. Game Over is actually hosting an entire retro-gaming convention in Austin in July called Classic Game Fest. Maybe a road trip will be in order.
I'm not really much for celebrities at conventions, and the cancellation of Peter Davison ended my only real nerdgasm hopes. There are two other Doctor Who alumni in attendance, though, Frazer Hines and Gary Russell.
I've already done a nice bit of background on Hines, so I won't repeat myself, but he was free this early in the convention so I stopped by to annoy him. I didn't know that he had written a book (Hines Sight), which I quickly bought. He is also selling audio versions, which if you can you should grab because he is a master storyteller in the Big Finish audio adventures. His impression of Patrick Troughton is just uncanny.
I can't wait to read his story, already sold out in hardback, because Hines is a really enchanting and hilarious person to be in the same room with. He speaks warmly about his time on Doctor Who, as well as growing up riding horses and working with Charlie Chaplin. I'm always surprised at just how accessible the English celebrities are, and how ready they are to talk to you. I'll have more on that after the panel on him tomorrow.
Gary Russell was also on hand, and ran an extremely educational panel specifically on what it was like being part of the writing process on Doctor Who, but also just explaining some fascinating bits about the television industry from a writer's standpoint in general. Russell worked as the script editor during the Eccleston and Tennant runs, edited Doctor Who Magazine for three years, and has written a number of spin-off novels as well as the Doctor Who Encyclopedia. He probably knows more about the entire mythos of the show than anyone else alive, and to hear him explain what it was like to be part of the creative process on a brand so far-reaching was really illuminating.
If you have any plans on ever being a writer, I highly recommend you do what I did and try to bother Russell endlessly when he's trapped behind a table. He makes the seemingly dry process of bringing a script to an editor and the methodology of how a writer's work eventually becomes a television episode into hilarious and engaging story.
"Write well, and don't be a dick," was his specific advice to me. I'll try to remember that.
My last stop of the day was to visit Ken Gerhard, Houston's former goth rock superstar turned monster hunter, for his presentation on the basics of Cryptozoology. I'm a crypto buff from way back in the day because I went to a school that had all the Time Life legendary monster books, but Gerhard actually gets to travel the world interviewing people and touching the corpses of chupacabras. Like with his hands and stuff, not like with a stick as my cowardly ass would.
Gerhard can still command a room, I'll tell you that, and his passion for the world of possible monsters is infectious. I wish he had scheduled a block of programs rather than a single primer as part of the rest of the conventions paranormal track, but you take what you can get sometimes.
His lecture took us over the last 200 years of discovery, where scientists declared all the living large land animals found and told us that we should just concentrate on the fossils that are left to be unearthed. Gerhard's slideshow revealed a menagerie across the spectrum of significantly sized animals that have been discovered even up to a few years ago, and makes a very good case for the possibility that more are out there.
His segment on Bigfoot and the Yeti in particular were illuminating, and though I usually think of hunting for Bigfoot to be the silliest of cryptozoolocial endeavors the calm and concise manner in which Gerhard presented his case was enough to make me reevaluate my stance. As he said himself, it only takes one of more than 3,000 sightings being true to mean the creature exists.
The really mind-blowing part of his talk was his interest in thunderbirds and other large unexplained flying creatures. It's an area of cryptozoology I had honestly never really considered, but Gerhard is digging deep into the accounts of people who were so perplexed by what they saw they didn't report it. I'll need to pick up his book on the subject tomorrow when I return.
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