Former or current presidential candidate -- depending on your level of optimism -- Ron Paul was just roaming the halls of Comicpalooza. Obama I would've expected, he's a notorious nerd, but Paul? If I hadn't taken this picture, none of you would believe me.
For the second time I'm braving the halls of the George R. Brown Convention Center for the annual Comicpalooza convention. Last year was a treasure that led me to many of the best geek-centric stories I've ever had the chance to write. Would this year live up to to expectations?
"Come see the strange thing" was the first thing I heard shouted at me. I turned because I'm more used to that sentence being shouted about me, but this time it proved to be a member of the Braggart Family SideCircus. During the convention, they put on impressive displays of juggling and driving nails into their skulls. Apparently they run a freak show in between performances.
The press badge got me out of the $1 fee for seeing the so-called strange thing, which I was told was given to them by a mysterious man from California. Upon opening the ornate box, I was gifted with the sight of something that looked like a cross between a monkey, a fish and a dollar-store candle that had been left in the sun for a couple of hours. As far as Fiji mermaids go, it wasn't really spellbinding. I'd have been more impressed with a pickled punk or a Yeti foot cast.
Still, it left me in a mood for more mysterious fare, and luckily the booth for the Pasadena Paranormal Research Team wasn't far away. The nonprofit group has been together less than a year, and specializes in investigating strange noises, mysteriously moved objects and a pervasive feeling of being watched. A spokesperson told me that though they've rolled out five investigative cases so far, they mostly function as a repository for people to share their paranormal experiences.
"These are people that believe the spirits that may be present in their houses or business are benign, even helpful," she said. "Most times, they just want to tell someone what they've seen, heard and felt."
She showed me some of the ghost-investigation equipment on hand, and as someone who is both terrified of ghosts and also a hard-edged skeptic, I was fascinated. Though I was assured that spirits could communicate through EMF readers, they were used more to detect faulty wiring and strange electrical fields that might be leading a person to believe they're being haunted. Amusingly, they also had a voice recorder for picking up electronic voice phenomena...the exact same model I use in journalism.
Heading through the dealers' area, I checked in with Red 5 Comic, publishers of the acclaimed Atomic Robo series, which is still going strong. Last year Scott Chitwood told me that the film rights to Robo had been sold, and a feature film was still in the planning stages. The book was nominated for an Eisner award this year, and a ten- to 15-minute animated short is also due to be released in the near future. A Kickstarter campaign for the project has a $12,000 goal, and closed at a ridiculous $75,000.
One of the conversations that we had with Chitwood last year was about his passion for digital comic selling. I was curious how that was working out for him a year later.
"Great," he said. "The thing that you discover when you are doing digital sales is that you're not actually competing with your own hard copies. It's two entirely different audiences, and both require their own different strategies."
He did admit that he feared for the brick-and-mortar comic shops' abilities to continue building audiences in the digital age.
Just down a ways from Chitwood, I spied Christopher Yost unoccupied at his booth. Yost is the writer behind Houston's first superhero, Kaine Park, the Scarlet Spider. I've followed Parker's adventures since their debut, and watched our city from a whole different perspective because of his stories.
"99.999999 percent of the Marvel population lives in New York," said Yost. "It was nice to branch out to places that weren't full of that. Houston has such character and so many things that can drive stories -- NASA, the gulf, the proximity to Mexico. All of it can lead to great things."
Yost indicated that one of Spider-Man's most famous enemies, Kraven the Hunter, would soon be making an appearance in the book.
After picking up a print of the Tenth Doctor done by 30 Days of Night artist Ben Templesmith as a gift for the wife, I left the dealer room. In the main area, a musician going by Arc Attack played to a crowd of zero...which is bar none the saddest thing I come across in everyday life. Quidditch was under way, but not with the same gusto as last year.
Then there was a tremendous crash and I spun around to see that the Dagohir Battle Gamers had crashed through their barriers in the midst of their war. While they reset up the boundaries, I chatted with a strange girl called Mercy who was covered in black makeup and rags from head to toe. Despite her outfit, she was as sweet as a doll.
Montrose residents have probably seen the group in Mandell on Sundays. Using foam weapons, cosplay and a tremendous amount of energy, they dance somewhere between Civil war re-enactments and an LARP. Once the game was back under way, we watched a pitched battle, and I'll tell you this, if they showed this on Monday night television, I would crash my car trying to get home in time to watch.
Apparently, when they're not constrained inside a convention center, they bust out the trebuchets and ballistas. Why anyone plays football when this exists is utterly beyond me.
A steampunk musician called Professor Elemental was due to start on the second stage at three, as was a panel with Sean Patrick Flanery about Boondock Saints. At twenty past three, I was told that the Professor had technical difficulties and wouldn't be performing. Meanwhile, the main stage wasn't even finished being built yet.
A talk with some of the con employees told me that many of the panels on Friday had been canceled. It sort of confirmed a feeling I'd had since I walked in, that there was something not quite right this year. There seemed to be far fewer things planned, and a lot of the planned things had been moved or canceled.
Then there was an ominous post from director Kerry Beyer on Facebook earlier today.
I've cancelled my appearance at Comicpalooza. I will never have anything to do with that convention again. Was given 2 complementary booths as peace offering from lasts year's snafu... loaded in last night and setup my booth. Today, I show up and my booth had been broken down and moved. The other booth had been given away.
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That doesn't bode well at all.
That was the point at which I took my leave and made the long, long, long walk back to the parking garage. Ahead I spotted some of the Ghostbusters cosplayers, less than last year but still a very dedicated bunch, and they were taking pictures with...
That's it for me. My colleague Craig Hlavaty will tell you all about Day 2. See you cats on Sunday.