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Comicpalooza 2013 Day 3: Fear of a Black Dalek

The Hates' Christian Kidd and his wife Alexis were also at Comicpalooza
The Hates' Christian Kidd and his wife Alexis were also at Comicpalooza
All photos by Jef With One F

Gentle readers, and commenters, I have made a dedicated effort in this year's coverage to not make my reports exclusively Doctor Who related because lots of amazing stuff from all across the realms of fandom happens at the ever-more impressive Comicpalooza. That being said, even on a day when I tried real hard to find other stuff, The Doctor found me at every turn and made it clear that Doctor Who probably represents mainstream geekery more than any other brand.

Of course, some of that may have been because today The Wife With One F was able to break from her nursing studies and busted out her Rose Tyler costume.

When we arrived at the convention hall we were just in time to see Ian McNeice and Frazer Hines begin their panel on performing in Doctor Who. Hines had the longest tenure of any companion on Doctor Who, sticking with Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor throughout all but one episode of his run. McNeice has appeared twice in the new series, both times playing a long-time ally of The Doctor, Winston Churchill.

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It was somewhat amazing to see how these two men's lives had been forever altered by their presence as part of the show. Hines in particular lamented that he had never asked to rejoin the Tardis crew after he film scenes for "The Two Doctors" in 1985, a request he was sure would have been granted as he got on so well with Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.

But even after almost half a century he still brings his time to life with a combination of uncanny mimicry of his past associates and honest zeal for what the show meant. As moderator Gary Russell moved down into the audience to take questions Hines stood and explained how the Ice Warriors would kill people with their lasers. Using a reflective piece of rubber, an actor would stand in front of it and the camera would film the reflection. A stage hand behind the rubber would pull a handle as the actor screamed, and the image would distort and collapse in on itself.

"So this one time the guy goes to pull the handle and it just breaks off. So the actor and the Ice Warrior behind him just stand there looking silly, until the Ice Warrior says, 'Ssssssssshit, misssssed the bugger and sauntered off."

McNeice has of course been doing it far less and had fewer stories, but the ones he had were still a hoot. He recollected when Matt Smith attacked a Dalek pretending to be ally of World War II England with what was supposed to be a rubber crowbar, but ended up ringing the bell of the internal operator when he mistakenly used the real one. He also talked about how he prepared for the role of Churchill on stage (A stage performance witnessed by "Victory of the Daleks" writer Mark Gatiss that led to his casting) but visiting the grave of the old prime minister.

"It was dark, and there was the grave of Churchill. All around me was this low mist that was very spiritual, very eerie, and as I knelt down I heard a small voice say, 'Don't fuck it up."

 

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Comicpalooza 2013 Day 3: Fear of a Black Dalek

But more than anything else, what McNeice said was how unbelievable Doctor Who had become. It had utterly engulfed all of England, and now the crème de la crème of British acting fought tooth and nail to be on the show. He and Hines talked lovingly about the convention circuit, the kindness and enthusiasm of fans, and how in America we were so quick to extol our love of their work.

Even after we left the forum, we were still surrounded on all sides by the most energetic and enthusiastic of Who fans. There was a First Doctor, an Eighth, several Tens, several more Elevens (Most of them female or children) and tucked away in the back was an incredible recreation of a black Dalek available for pictures.

While the Wife took some shots, I interviewed the creator of the Dalek, Joshua Polman. Polman had grown up with Tom Baker in the '80s, and when the new series debuted became a huge fan. After getting a birthday cake in the shape of a Dalek one year, he decided to craft a life-sized model that could be piloted. Now he tours conventions allowing it to be used for photo booths and entertaining fans.

"It's amazing," said Polman. "It makes kids cry and adults weep with joy. I've seen an 80-yar-old man just throw his hands up and squeal with delight. Kids want to hug it. It always gets this enormous reaction."According to Polman creating a Dalek generally costs around $1,000 in materials and several thousand more in man hours and expertise. It can't be too terribly hard, because over in the autograph section another Dalek silently glided across the floor until it would yell, "EX-TER-MIN-ATE!" startling conventiongoers.

Just steps behind the Dalek photos was another booth run by a man named Alex. He was selling comic book-themed lamps, but the centerpieces of his table was a Tardis lamp (The detail when viewed up close was masterful) and another of Gallifreyan script. When I asked Alex what sold the best, he just nodded towards the Who lamps. Either Doctor Who has become the de facto neutral zone of all geekdom, or Houston needs to get its own convention just for The Doctor.

There was other stuff, though. A walk through the vending area ran me into two Robins, one a grown woman and the other a small child of nine named Destiny. While my wife and the other Robin chatted, I interviewed my first child subject.

I've noticed that kids have a very different approach to comics and comic lore than adults do. A grown person may read the entire run of Sandman from back to front and be able to have an organized impression of it as a whole. For the geeks of the next generation it's a very different type of knowledge. They absorb it from the world around them, a cartoon here, a Wikipedia entry there, trading cards, single issues, whatever may happen to be handy.

Destiny's father is one of the guys at the Pop Culture Company, so for her, the worlds of Marvel and DC were all around her just like language was. She told me she goes to conventions all the time, feels wonderful wearing a costume, and corrects people who get their comic facts wrong.

 

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That's how far we've come, folks, because kids were all over the place at Comicpalooza. All across the spectrum adults of my generation have refused to throw away their toys, and now our kids don't know a world where a grown man has any reason to be ashamed of owning a stormtrooper costumes. That is a wonderful thing.

My last stop of the year was to a table run by the organizer of the Stephen King Dollar Babies festival, Shawn Lealos who directed a 15-minute adaptation of King's story "I Know What You Need."

King's Dollar Baby program is supposed to allow indie filmmakers the chance to adapt a story for next to nothing in hopes of boosting the careers of future auteurs. I always thought it was a wonderful thing for King to do, but I had no idea some of the restrictions placed on the filmmakers.

Of course the main one is you can't adapt a property that has already been made, so no, you don't get to try your hand at Carrie. The second is you can't sell it for profit, which is reasonable, but you also can't throw it up on YouTube or anything else of that nature.

You can only screen Dollar Baby films at festivals, and according to Lealos there have been 76 films made since the program started and almost no one has seen more than a couple because of how difficult it is to find a legal venue to do so. He's currently writing a book about the Dollar Baby program, and he was told that he wasn't even allowed to ask for films to view for the project.

I understand King's (And more importantly King's lawyers) position. Adaptation of his works is serious business, and brings in lots of money. You don't want a bunch of cash cows running outside the fence. That said, Frank Darabont got started this way, and it seems such a shame that these films just sit on a shelf in King's office. You think at the least he would allow for the free screening of them.

After a weekend where I watched so much ingenuity and generosity when it comes to creation and expression of art, it was an indicator that somewhere above all of us lays a corporate cloud. Comicpalooza is supposed to go to four days next week, and I have never seen so many people. It's growing to be a big player, but when that happens will it also just become a marketing venue for the big bosses? I wonder if this was the last year of the convention I can answer that with, "No."

We'll see you again next year!

Jef With One F is a recovering rock star taking it one day at a time. You can read about his adventures in The Bible Spelled Backwards or connect with him on Facebook.

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George R. Brown Convention Center

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