Comicpalooza Day 2: Heinlein, Graverobber, and Mech Warriors

Read the coverage of Day 1 here.

As we prepared to enter the George R. Brown Convention Center for Day 2 of Comicpalooza, we ran into Houston model and regular member of the Gothic Council, Sarah Hill on her way out. In complete defiance of the 100-degree-heat, Hill was decked out in satin from head to toe, and resembled nothing so much as the lead character in a remake of Mary Poppins helmed by Tarantino... a resemblance made even keener by her purchase of a bloodstained katana she cheerfully displayed for us.

"Today," we thought, as we made our way up the escalators, "We'll take in some panels. Maybe learn something." That was the plan, but a quick glance of the program revealed little we had any interest in. The comedic possibilities of watching a guide to live-action roleplaying for Vampire: the Masquerade were simply staggering, but after an hour of watching people make funny hand movements pretending to be vampires we were pretty sure we'd end up asking Hill to scratch an itch we had on the back of our heart with her blade.

So we made our way back into the dealer room in an effort to see what other avenues of geeky innovation we could take in... and what other free swag we could wheedle.

The first booth we swung by was that of author A. J. Scudiere. Scudiere specializes in a genre she defines as science faction, but that's not what makes her work unique. Though she does release regular print novels, her true passion is producing what she calls audio novels.

Books on tape are nothing new, but there have been some truly innovative things happening in the field. Take Max Brooks' World War Z for example. Mostly made up of interviews woth survivors of a soon-to-happen zombie apocalypse, the audio book featured a huge cast of celebrities like Henry Rollins and Mark Hammil. You could also look at the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Societies production of At the Mountains of Madness as an audio play for inspiration in the realm of audio prose.

Scudiere utilizes actors and full soundtracks in an effort to recreate the novel experience as close to a film as possible (minus the film). She's also begun to sell the files on flash drive as well as CD, making the transition to one's iPod fast and easy. Now that we've fully entered an era where transporting an audio novel is actually less burdensome than transporting a normal-sized paper back the medium may actually have a chance to dominate.

However, if you're a fan of the regular world of reading then Virginia Edition Publishing has something you'll really like. Our eyes were drawn to huge and unique posters advertising novels by Robert A. Heinlein. Stranger in a Strange Land has been in our top five books of all time since the seventh grade, so we just had to pop over and ask what this was all about.

We ended up in conversation with Aaron Asher who works with the Heinlein Prize Trust here in Houston. We had no idea that any part of the Heinlein estate was handled from here in the Heights, but it is apparently so. What Asher was selling was a 46 book set of the entire Heinlein library, including previously unpublished letters and screenplays... a set so impressive we wished aloud that Harlan Ellison would die so someone would do the same thing.

The price is impressive, too. $1500 for the whole thing in one cash payment, or you can do it at $149 a month. Bookselling is the least of Asher's work, though. The Heinlein Prize Trust is dedicated to promoting the idea of commercial, private space flight. They award cash prizes to people who advance space flight as well as being involved in educational outreach on the subject. With manned space flight ending soon for the foreseeable future, at least in America, the Prize Trust's work is becoming even more relevant.

High concepts and literature sobered us, and we decided to seek out some blood or irreverence. We found the irreverence in a stack of ancient NES games on a table. We found the blood in the games' owner Joe Grisaffi's description of his latest film, Dead of Knight.

The film may honestly be the first truly original slasher flick concept we've heard since David Arquette did the Tripper. In Grisaffi's tale, a cursed medieval knight returns in the modern world. To free his soul, he must embark on a quest to murder people who embody the qualities of chivalry. Think the quest for the Holy Grail meets Friday the 13th.

"How could you afford so elaborate a set of armor on a shoestring budget?" we asked.

"The guy who plays the killer already owned the armor, so we figured we'd better come up with something to use it in," replied Grisaffi. We wandered off amazed at the simplicity of so awesome an idea.

By the by, we found out later while liking the Dead of Knight Facebook that the film features none other than HP's own Brandon Hernsberger!

Art Attack hadn't really been into the guest list at Comicpalooza. Sure, we'd like to meet Peter Mayhew. Who wouldn't want to shake hands with Chewbacca? However, we were painfully aware that we had nothing new to ask the man he hasn't answered a million times in the past. There was one guy we really wanted to talk to though, Terrance Zdunich the creator of Repo: The Genetic Opera, and son of a bitch there he was just chilling when we turned a corner.

When we walked up to Zdunich's table he was conversing with a young girl named Scully who performs regularly in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area in a shadowcast for Repo. Scully excused herself after taking a picture for us with Zdunich, and we got to sit down and briefly talk with the man behind the most insane musical in 30 years. Repo is just so unbelievable in its premise and cast that it just shouldn't exist. And yet it does, continuing to find audiences in a cult way that eerily treads the path of Rocky Horror more and more.

Zdunich was open to some Repo talk, but we really wanted to know hat the master had planned next. Turned out that he was already well into his next project, a comic called The Molting. Zdunich was responsible for the comic panels used in Repo, and even a cursory glance through the Molting will confirm that. The series is everything you'd expect from the Graverobber. Dark, violent, somehow beautiful in spite of all its deformities. It pained us to put it down after one issue long enough to write this report, leaving heroine Susie Deveraux to wander free after murdering her violent and abusive aunt and uncle.

Zdunich's dedication to the self-published work is awe-inspiring.

"When you make a film or put on a show you can delegate things to other people," he said. "For this, I know its going to be over 500 hours of me alone bent over a drawing table completing it. It's hard, but if it was easy I don't think it would be worth doing."

The thing we liked best about talking with Zdunich was how he has effortlessly moved between different disciplines like songwriting, acting, and art. He remarked that everything came down to a picture, and that even singing was just making the sounds appropriate to accompanying that picture. The comic medium suits him immensely... though we'll always be waiting to hear that Graverobber below one more time.

Time was fast getting away from us, and we began heading towards the exit. A wrong turn led us right into the heart of 12 futuristic looking pods decorated like World War II bombers with pin-ups and flanked by imposing men in fatigues. We'd stumbled on the abode of Mech Corps.

Mech Corps, as their ranking officer Muerte explained to us, began in 2005. The pods were designed by Virtual World Entertainment to allow a group of players to simulate battle while piloting 75-foot battle tanks. The pods were once the exclusive property of Dave and Busters, but they parted ways with Virtual World in 2005 and the pods were bought by private investors in order to open their own local hubs. Muerte and his team have 16 of them housed in a space out on Highway 6, and for a very reasonable fee you can pilot your own battle mech in various missions for up to six hours at a time.

It does not speak well of your reporter that there is a place in Houston doing this and he hasn't heard about it. Mech Corps is doing well, having spread the word through comic convention appearances and is drawing a regular audience. They have even hosted two world champion invitationals at their arcade. Art Attack declined an offer to try out the service, preferring to skip an angry-looking line we were holding up, but you can bet we'll be heading out to Mech Corps headquarters soon.

We took our leave of the con, it being much more crowded than yesterday. As we neared the escalator we noticed a woman playing an accordion.

"Whatcha doing?" we asked.

"Waiting for someone to pay be to play Legend of Zelda songs," she replied. Her name was Sam. We fished out two dollars.

"Do you know 'Saria's Song?'" we asked. She did indeed, and we exited the building with the upbeat forest theme from Ocarina of Time being cheerfully wheezed out behind us.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner