Comicpalooza Day 1: Quidditch, Horror Flicks, and Our Crush on Link

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Being that your humble reporter is they guy the Houston Press calls on our specialty geek emergency phone whenever steampunk, zombies, or superheroes need reporting on, it may come as some surprise that this year's Comicpalooza is the first comic book convention that we've ever been to. It's true, but we still had a pretty good idea what we were getting into.

Calling these events comic book conventions is like calling a laptop a word processor. There's a lot more going on here. The world of film, craft, video games, books and pretty much any pop culture geek favorite endeavor is lovingly represented. Comic is just a codeword for fandom, and the conventions reflect that.

We arrived in the early afternoon without much of an itinerary, preferring to just soak up what was going on around us. Right off the bat, it's clear the steampunk movement is gaining even more ground in the comic community. Goggles, brass fixtures, top hats, and comically oversized and accessorized firearms - it's Texas, after all - were everywhere.

A surprise to us was the absolutely huge number of Ghostbusters enthusiasts. There had to be a regular platoon of at least 20 of them, including a guy dressed as Slimer who looked kind of like the Hulk had mistaken his upper torso for a rest stop bathroom. Their proton backs, jumpsuits, and other apparatus were as flawless, and there were even cars customized to look like Ecto-1. It wasn't a '59 Cadillac Miller-Meteor or anything, but it's a hell of a sweeter ride than our '09 Matrix that smells like cheerios.

One of our first stops was to visit the booth of 8th Dimension Comics. 8th Dimension is a new comic shop opening here in town being run by Jeremy and Annie Bulloch. And no, that's not Boba Fett Jeremy Bulloch. He doesn't live in Houston and own a comic book shop, though Peter "Chewbacca" Mayhew is actually a Texas resident these days.

The Bullochs' booth was showcasing a lot of Steve Jackson's hilarious Munchkin card games series. Apparently we had actually just missed Jackson himself, who had stopped by to thank the Bullochs after hearing how fast his merchandise was moving off their shelves. We chatted comics for a while, and Jeremy invited us to come visit the store when it opens on Wednesday, June 1st. Having known the couple for a while, we can definitely say that their knowledge of the comic world is second to none, and that anyone in Houston who wants to find a true geek home can do no better than to make the trek up 290 to see them.

After applauding us for our Buddy Cthulhu shirt, the Bulloch's suggested we make our way over to Scott Chitwood's booth. Chitwood is the owner and operator of the Red Five comic publishing house. Star Wars fans will recognize Red Five as Luke Skywalker's call sign in the first film.

Chitwood is a tall, amiable chap who's really on his way up in the comic world. The hilarious Atomic Robo series was nominated for two Eisner awards, and his comic Afterburn has been auctioned for movie right with Gerard Butler possibly being involved.

In a world where comics are happily pushing the limits of good taste in the name of boobies and blood, Chitwood takes pride in putting our all-ages appropriate books. That's not to say that Red Five doesn't have some action. We've been reading Atmoic Robo all morning and there's plenty of vampires, gun play, and psychotic hurt fests, but it's all within the realm of something we'd be comfortable leaving out on the coffee table.

"We want to put out comics that you'll fight your kids to read," said Chitwood.

By then, it was just about time for our one must-see event for the whole convention. We wanted to catch Texas Tech vs. Sam Houston State in the first round of the conventions Quidditch tournament. Art Attack dropped out of the University of Houston to dedicate our time to performing in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, so we've decided to adopt Texas Tech as our honorary alma mater. We follow their football exploits avidly, and once we heard they had a Quidditch team we knew that we couldn't miss that.

Quidditch, when played outside the page of the Harry Potter novels, is a combination of rugby, basketball, dodgeball, and hide and seek. The teams are required to hold brooms between their legs at all times - which still makes more sense than most of the cricket rules we've ever heard. A player in a bright yellow costume with a ball hanging from his belt is the golden snitch, and takes off prior to the match for the seekers to find. Meanwhile, chaser try to throw the quaffle through one of three hoops while avoiding the beaters hurl bludgers at them to try and knock them out.

The sport is hyper intensive, full-contact, and honestly it's really, really fun to watch. Or rather, it would probably be fun to watch is SHSU hadn't fielded a new team who apparently wasn't quite up to a match with the incredible Red Raiders. Tech was fresh off a killer match with LSU, who apparently is a very stiff group with no compunctions about playing as rough as possible.

The Tech chasers ran circles around SHSU while beater Athena Flusche took out any scoring attempts with deadly accuracy. The single scoring attempt SHSU mounted was thwarted by a spectacular jumping save by the Tech keeper. Less than half an hour into the game Tech managed to capture the snitch and shook hands with the scoreless SHSU team post win.

The game had been scheduled for two hours, so we ended up with a lot more time on our hands. Rather than cross George R. Brown to try and catch some of the panels we headed back to the dealer room to see what else we could dig up.

The Happy Project had a table right near the entrance. Happy Project is a production group dedicated to spreading the happiest music in the world, J-Pop. For those who've never seen an anime, J-Pop songs are the aggressively cheerful theme songs that are so upbeat and enthusiastic we think that they should be used to combat terrorism. The project teaches this music to squads of girls who then perform it at various conventions and functions. Though their work is entirely covers at the moment, they did inform us that we can expect to hear a CD containing original J-Pop music later this year.

Just past the inflatable war zone that would host laser tag later we came across Aviana Knochel dressed as Link from the Legend of Zelda games. So far, we hadn't been too dedicated to catching cosplayers for pictures, but we literally just finished beating Ocarina of Time last week so we wanted to start with Link. Also, uh, she was really cute. Is it weird to crush on a girl dressed as a male character? Man, we really did do Rocky Horror too hard for too long.

Leaving behind the possibility of being maced, we decided that we'd spend our remaining time drenched in blood. Stacy Davidson and Odyssey Pictures were screening bits of their films Sweatshop and Jacob in a small, darkened tent next to an enormous mannequin of Sweatshops masked hammer killer. We were hoping to wheedle some details from Davidson about his upcoming science fiction project, being suckers for model space ship battles, but he declined with a smile to further illuminate on the subject.

Across the way from Davidson was a cute redhead in blood splattered white shoes who jumped in front of us so fast we thought she was going to hit us. Instead, we made the acquaintance of Kelly Burns Smith, CEO and founder of Splatterfest.

Splatterfest, which will host its second annual gathering in Houston this October, is a film festival/filmmaker challenge competition. In addition to promoting and screening films, including her partner Kerry Beyer's award-winning and just plain awesome cheerleader slasher Spirit Camp, they issue what sounds like the most awesome improvisational theatre exercise ever. Filmmakers are given one weekend, 54 hours, to complete a short horror film. They are given a character, a weapon, and a line of dialogue to use in the short, otherwise its anything goes.

Smith and Beyer have already made quite a mark on the horror world with their innovative vision of what the horror community can be, and attending Splatterfest later this year is definitely on our list of must-dos for 2011.

As a side note, why do all Texas horror directors seem to have genderless first names?

With a sack now full of all ages comics and DVDs of torture and death, as well as a small, plush Cthulhu for our daughter's crib, we headed out from the first day of Comicpalooza with a much greater appreciation for what Texas is capable of in the realm of fandom.

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