Comicpalooza Day 3: Werewolves, Roller Derby, and the Fear of a Christian Texas

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Read our coverage of Day 2 here.

Read our coverage of Day 1 here.

For the final day at Comicpalooza we vowed we would attend some sort of panel no matter what it was. We wanted education, illumination and to engage in true geekdom. Luckily for us, just as we made our way up the escalator at the George R. Brown Convention Center a symposium dedicated to setting straight mythological creatures was beginning.

The talk was hosted by Tak and Bekah Brown as well as their friend Fox Whitworth, and Art Attack was joined by half a dozen people in street clothes as well as a herd of fairies with stunningly elaborate wings. Perhaps enthused by the fae fans among us, the panel began by delving into some basics about the world of brownies, pixies, and banshees.

The most interesting thing we learned from this is the way tales that we would classify as ghost stories in America often became fairy stories in England, Scotland, and Ireland. The chosen example was the Cauld Lad of Hilton, a boy who was murdered in Hilton Castle by a local baron and returned as a type of house sprite.

What we really got into, though, was the group's discussion on werewolves. We were relieved to see that Whitworth was apparently intimately familiar with Sabine Baring-Gould's definitive history of the subject published at the end of the 19th century. During the question-and-answer period we broached the subject of the changing nature of becoming werewolf in Western folklore. Previous to the last century, becoming a werewolf involved a pact with the devil, as well as a special ointment or belt. It's only later that the idea of a bite passing lycanthropy along comes into play. Whitworth chalked it up to the rise in gothic literature.

"You have all these romantic, gothic writers like Byron and Shelley envisioning these tragic monsters," said Whitworth. "They understand what the noises in the night were, so they no longer needed to fear them. They used them to make money instead. I've never understood the psychological need to indentify with the monsters, myself. Take vampires. The modern vampire story could just as easily be a man taking a woman to a bar, slipping her a roofie, stealing her wallet, and buying himself a sandwich."

The group also cheerfully informed the audience that exorcism is on the rise in America, and that the Catholic Church is still seeking to have a trained exorcist in every parish.

After taking our leave of the Browns and Whitworth we made our way back over to the dealers room. Passing through the wide floor space where we watch Tech trounce SHSU in the first game of the Quidditch tournament, we heard the unmistakable grind of roller skates and the booming voice of announcer Mangler Mario Martinez. A quick check of our program revealed that the Houston Roller Derby would be competing in a set of fanboy scrimmages throughout the day.

By the time we'd reached the track, the Tank Girls had already defeated the Wonder Women, the zombies had beaten the vampires, and the Star Wars team had utterly annihilated the Star Trek team. All that was left was the Autobots vs the Decepticons.

Watching the bout until half time, it was real clear that the noble Autobots would triumph over the evil forces of the Decepticons. Much credit can be given to jammer Girl Friday, who we have watched closely over the last two seasons grow into a defining and undefeatable force on the track. The way she just blitz through the pack to rack up the points is simply amazing.

We left the girls and a very one-sided score to peruse the dealer room one last time before the convention drew to a close. Dominating the middle of the room was a massive Lego display that we hadn't had time to stop and truly appreciate on the first two days. Stretching as long a killer movie shark, the setup was an intricate landscape of trains, cathedrals, superheroes, spacecracft, cars, and just overall everything we'd ever begged for as a child from our equally Lego-obsessed but infinitely more financially conservative father.

Legos aren't cheap, folks. The Texas Lego User Group who was kind enough to chit chat with use revealed that the display was the work of several different members who collaborate to build the landscapes, and that the total cost of building something more massive than the bedroom we grew up in was easily within six figures. He actually began to say seven figures, but stopped as if that numbers was somehow embarrassing. He needn't have worried. If we had a million dollars to spend on Legos you'd never read another story from us again.

We made a quick stop by the booth of Red 5 comics to say hello to Scott Chitwood who we had made the acquaintance of earlier in the convention. Scott was away from the table, but it did give us the chance to see something we'd missed the first time we'd been by. He had an iPad set up on the table displaying his comic Atomic Robo. The colors were so crisp and clear, even more alive than they were on the printed page.

It reminded us of another conversation we'd had with Terrance Zdunich, the creator of Repo: The Genetic Opera the day before on why he wasn't releasing his new comic The Molting on Kindle and other digital formats.

"I like the tactile feel of comics," he said. "But ok, if you're going to do digital comics, why are people still wedded to this page layout? Why are they this size? Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there is an artist out there exploring the medium to its fullest potential, but the static digital transfers I'm seeing just seem... I don't know, disposable. Single use."

Remembering Zdunich's words made us make our way over to the celebrity side of the room in hopes of catching him again. He wasn't there, and Peter Mayhew was missing as well. Rumor was he was ill. Turning back we saw a poster that couldn't possibly fail to catch our eye. A fist raised against a Texas flag, tattooed with a bar code across the wrist. The tagline read, "How do you fight a state with God on its side?" That's how we met Gary Watson and heard about After Twilight.

As it stands now, After Twilight is a short film about a Texas 10 years in the future locked in a bloody secession from the United States in order to become a separate, Christian nation. Watson and his partners are currently working on developing the film into a full-length film as well as a comic book by Austin comic master Douglas Brown.

If you're wondering about the title, we wondered the same thing. To explain, we'd like to reprint the quote that inspired it verbatim...

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such a twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air - however slight - lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness

-Justice William O. Douglas

The film follows a librarian named Jen Frazier who seeks to avenge her sister's arrest and torture by the oppressive theocratic regime that now rules Texas. Her adventures take her into concentration camps where Old Testament punishments are meted out to those who break God's laws.

Watson was inspired to create the study by two conflicting groups. The first were groups dedicated to trying to instate America theocracy whose actions are chronicled by the Texas Freedom Network. The other was the raids by Taliban police in Afghanistan in order to catch people with televisions and other things against their now state sponsored religious doctrine.

However, the film is not anti-faith, anti-Christian, or anti-religion Watson maintains.

"The head of the theocratic government wears a cross, as does the leader of the resistance," said Watson. "It just goes to show you how the same symbol of peace can be warped. It's a very spiritual film."

So, with a free barcode tattoo adorning our note-taking hand as a parting gift from Watson, we walked out of Comicpalooza for the last time into a free world full or weirdness and wonder.... something it seems we can always count on Houston to provide in due measure.

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