As I’m typing this, my final report from the four-day monstrosity that is Comicpalooza, I’m so tired that I can barely keep my head off the spacebar of my laptop. I and dozens of other con-goers, some in costumes starting to droop with wear and sweat, are all huddled around the lone Starbucks in the George R. Brown. Most of them are either asleep at the tables or recounting the weekend with their chins in their hands. The line for caffeine is at least 30 people deep, and after four days of $3 sodas and sandwiches that seem more modeling clay than bread and meat, the “overpriced” coffee here sounds like the deal of a century.
It’s not much better on the floor of the convention. By Monday several vendors have either bounced or are half-heartedly staring out at the last few costumers hoping to make a profit from the trip. The celebrities who are left are generally in good spirits, easy to approach and say hello to at their last sessions. Even as they smile, though, you can feel them counting down the minutes to their way out.
I hadn’t gone much into the celebrities this year. For one, my main focus of geek is Doctor Who and I’d already spoke to our lone guest, Dan Starkey, last week on the phone for an interview. Aside from dropping by to put a face to name for him and say thanks, that was all the use I had for the guests.
It’s not that I don’t want to meet Peter Mayhew or Stan Lee, you understand. It’s that I literally have nothing to ask these people they haven’t been asked a million times before. I have it on good authority that Henry Winkler is just the nicest man on the planet, but all I can really offer him is a blank stare and the words “I know you from TV.” He’s had that.
On the subject of Doctor Who, I ran into one of Comicpalooza’s organizers, Vijay Kale, on the way back from shaking hands with Starkey. Some of the biggest names like Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman skipped our city to hit Fan Expo Dallas instead next week.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Kale. “I know Dallas is still bigger than us and they’ve been around ten years, but we still offer a pretty impressive deal for guests. I think part of it is still that celebrities don’t really see a reason to come to Houston yet. We’re still working on that. We ask people every year.”
I did have one question for a celebrity, though, and it was for Patricia Quinn of Rocky Horror fame. I performed in a shadow cast here in Houston for more years than I care to acknowledge. I even met my wife there. We took a trip to Los Angeles several years back to a Rocky convention where Quinn was the guest of honor. While she was there, she mentioned that she had recently recorded an album and even gave a CD to a fan who had won some sort of contest.
Nothing else was heard about that album for the next decade.
“Oh,” said Quinn when I brought it up, clearly searching her memory. “Yes, I remember it; it was this young man named John Jacobson. He was a punk singer, I recall, and someone had played him the song ‘Lullabye.’”
Here she began singing the slow, sexy anthem from Shock Treatment, allowing me to join in harmony briefly.
“Anyway, he asked who sang it and his friend said Patricia Quinn. So he rang me up and told me he’d written a song and asked if he could come by with his keyboard player and have me sing his song for him. I guess he was expecting this very proper old lady and was very surprised when he got me instead. I remember it was called “The Guts to Dream,” and it was about a younger man and an older woman drinking together. It was just wonderful. He was wonderful, but I don’t think he ever did put it out. Shame, really.”
Quinn half hummed, half sang what little she remembered of the tune for me before I made my good-bye. Just one of those magical moments that only seem to happen in the lulls at conventions where there’s a bit of room for appreciators and the objects of their appreciation to really breathe.
One of the things that I was really interested in finding out on the last day was how big an event this sort of thing was for independent authors. They don’t make up a huge proportion of the tables, but they do seem to make up a disproportionately large number of the folks on panels. Geeks are always very interested in learning the craft of writing, and the people who pass on that knowledge are usually only a little way up the ladder from writers just starting out.
First I talked with Rose Garcia and Eve Pohler, both of whom caught my eye with a banner that read “Texas Writers of Teen Fiction.” (Ethics disclosure: I found out later that a member of my publishing house, Venessa Kimball, is part of their club.) Garcia is the author of the teen series Final Life, which is a trilogy following a young woman on her last reincarnation. Pohler is more prolific, with a six-book series about a romance between a young girl and the Greek god of death, Thanatos, in addition to other works.
“This is better for us every year,” said Garcia. “Every year it gets bigger and better. I’m almost completely sold out of books. Fans I met the first year I did this come back around for the third book this year. It’s amazing.”
Pohler was also full of helpful advice for young writers wanting to showcase at a con. Teaming up with other authors on a table saves space and makes the setup appear more lively, for instance. She also stressed very much that joining various Facebook writing groups was a fantastic way to learn marketing skills. By being an active promoter using what she’s learned, she moves between 15 and 30 books a day.
I also spoke with Dicey Grenor, who works with more adult fare. Her series follows a narcoleptic vampire who works in a fetish club. I caught her just coming back from a diversity and multiculturalism panel, with a new fan trailing behind her eager to get signed copies of all her books. Garcia as well mentioned that panels were an important part of building a fan base at conventions. It’s easier to engage people and sell them on your point of view when you’re talking about something they’re already interested in.
Grenor is also notable as a woman of color writing about kink, one of the reasons she started the diversity panel last year. Comicpalooza is her main in-person appearance though the year, and she favors a one-on-one approach that allows her to woo fans on a personal basis. She also praised Houston for it’s openness, something she definitely didn’t feel at her sole appearance at Wizard World Comic Con Austin.
“It felt very segregated, you know?” she said. “There, only black people would come up to me and others would just kind of skirt around me. Here, people you would have never guessed would be interested stop by and can’t wait to see what you’ve got.”
My final stop of the con was to see filmmaker Joe Grisaffi at his booth. I’ve seen and reviewed all of his most recent films, but I was eager to try something new he was doing. Grisaffi has teamed up with programmer Jason Santuci to start making old-school Atari 2600 adaptations of his films. The one on display was Conjoined, where you are tasked with catching full hearts while avoiding broken ones and knives. Get enough and you’ll collect a surgical instrument. After four levels, you finally go to the attic and cut the two twins apart so you can be with the non-murdering half.
It’s addictive as hell and murderously hard. Grisaffi thinks it could be a major marketing tool for independent filmmakers. Mainstream artists like Skrillex and Björk have already experimented with gaming as a commercial, but the low-budget nature of the games and the retro gaming renaissance offer a unique niche. Currently Grisaffi is just applying to the major retro market, creating actual 2600 cartridges, but hopes to expand to mobile and other platforms.
“I’m hoping to get to the point where I make a game first and then the movie,” he said. It might be nice to have a totally faithful video game adaptation for a change.
Comicpalooza is a grind. I know several people who skipped it this year citing cost and how exhausting it is. The Vampire King of Houston, Michael Vachmiel, complained online that attending was costing him $100 in parking alone, and as fond as I am of Patricia Quinn, I wasn’t too keen to drop $35 for an autograph with her. There’s just so damned much of it to do, and every year leaves me needing a week for my body to recuperate and a month for my bank account to follow suit.
But you know… on the way out of the building, Santa Claus stopped me and gave me a small plush Rainbow Dash which I put in my pocket for my kid. Some things are worth being tired and broke for.