Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Tourist in an Unknown Land: Seven Hours at NYCC (Part 3)

               When we last left off, our hero had made it into the Sean Astin panel and finally found the friends he had managed to swap contact info with...

              I have some trouble describing panels. I am by nature an active sort of writer...when I do things, I do a lot of things very quickly and then report them in a long, rambling wall of text. It's crazy, it's kinetic, and while it looks like wandering aimlessly and doing random things, I am to some degree building something. But panels are for the most part a sedate thing. You can report on what was said, but unless you're making a big announcement or something, reading about someone sitting in on panels gets kinda boring. But there were a lot of interesting things going on, so I'm gonna try to talk about those.

              I finally got into the Sean Astin panel only for the guy ahead of me to park his ass right in the empty seat next to my friends. I managed to find a seat on the other side of them and sat down for what I was sure was going to be described as "very definitely a panel". My friends and I chatted for a bit-- they had some very specific questions they wanted to ask (all of them loaded), I had nothing I really wanted to do or say-- and then, slowly, Sean Astin and his two moderators made their way to the stage. The moderators were guys from a satellite radio program*, and they tended to dominate a little more than the soft-spoken Astin. 

           But as Astin found his momentum, he began to take more and more of the focus. Not in the same way Morrison held a room, but in a more congenial way. It wasn't his court, it was more of a chat with a group of people he really, really wanted to tell stuff to. He was quieter. Gentler. And then, somehow, we got on a tangent about Discworld, and things got a little surreal.

       Sean Astin, as it turns out, is a huge Terry Pratchett fan**. So much so that his favorite role he's played thus far is Twoflower, the mostly oblivious tourist from The Colour of Magic. So much so that he actually invited an audience member with a Kindle onstage so that Astin could read the prologue of The Colour of Magic. And so much so that he decided his panel was going to have a special surprise guest-- Terry Pratchett himself. In fact, before we got to the Q&A, the panel turned into a Terry Pratchett panel moderated by Sean Astin moderated by two guys***. Also, the audience member with the Kindle got to stay up on stage, which gave me slight pangs of envy. The Q&A session went about the same way every session goes...people asked Astin about his roles (hanging halfway off an active volcano wearing prosthetic feet while carrying Elijah Wood was unsurprisingly a frightening moment), about what he was doing next (doing a lot of work on various projects), and one case where a guy flat-out asked him if he could make a cameo in an indie film****. Finally, the panel ended and I decided I was going to wander off again. 

     Thankfully, this time I was able to wander with friends, so we made our way around the halls. They went off to meet a friend from Temple, and I started heading in the direction of the theater for the next panel. After a few more sweeps of the various floors to look for people I knew, I headed back towards the larger theatre structure so I could see the last event I wanted to for the night. 

     There was a sort of "main theatre" sponsored by a company I won't name here***** that I'd found out early in the day in my crawls across the convention's floors had a panel from some of my favorite artist/writers, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick. Having seen the footage of them from such places as Dragon*Con and SDCC, I knew I shouldn't pass up the opportunity to watch them in action. So about an hour before their panel started in the theatre, I broke off from my friends and went to go stand in line. For about an hour, I stood in line, surrounded by cosplayers, the only entertainment my trusty music player and the panel going on about Silent Hill: Revelation, a film for which I had zero interest. Strangely enough, I gained interest from the trailer, but had none from the panel******. 

      Finally, we were herded into the large auditorium, and after they'd made sure the whole thing was filled, the lights dimmed and...the set turned into a 70s-style talk show?!

      Yes, apparently the good people behind the show The Venture Brothers had decided to do their panel in the style of a show called "Let's All Smoking!", with voice actors Paul Boocock and Michael Sinterniklaas as "guests" and Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick (the creative duo behind most of the show) as "hosts". The "hosts" pretended they had no idea what TVB even was, and managed to keep up the pretense until just before the Q&A session. And yes, they did actually smoke during the event. Little E-cigs that were too long and apparently felt all weird, but it still completed the effect. And it's a rare panel where the people running it are actually more impressive than the product they bring to show off, but in this case, they were. So much. 

     The AstroBase Go! panel had the general aesthetic of theatre, but a very approachable type of theatre. One where everyone's in on the joke. Hammer and Publick were welcoming and very congenial, and most of the jokes they made at anyone's expense were either about themselves or an apparently very funny in-joke about Deborah Harry from Blondie*******. The Q&A session continued the tone, with fans asking Doc Hammer for hugs ("It must be like getting hugged by a fence rail dressed like Dracula"), asking the panel about their favorite Halloween costumes, and relating an anecdote about meeting Doc Hammer in an American Apparel store (Which lead to an unprintable back-and-forth session. It was hilarious, and probably caught on film somewhere. Go look for it). By the time the panel had ended, I actually started to come down, surprised that yes, the panel had given me a high of some kind.

            But finally, the charms of NYCC had begun to fade for me. I was beat, dead tired, hadn't found anyone else, and had missed the last few panels my friends were attending. So, my coat heavy on my shoulders and once again the sounds of "House Jam" by Gang Gang Dance (which is now my official "end titles" music) pumping into my ears through my tiny earphones, I trudged out of the building and out into the streets, following the brightly colored costumed people back towards the train station and home. It may not have been the best con I've gone to, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

What I learned:
- Prosthetic Hobbit feet have got a lot more comfortable since 2001
- An hour's lead time may be just enough time to get into the bigger panels and get a good seat. Barely.
- Terry Pratchett speaks very quietly these days.
- Understand that you will not be able to see everything, but you will be able to see most things
- I should really be buying my books at these things, as they have a lot of new and promising-looking titles
- "House Jam" is still the best damn end credits music, I mean, seriously, but I will allow "Midnight City" by M83 as a close second. 

*The moderators for the panels were all from satellite radio. Those that did have moderators.
**He also appeared to think Terry Pratchett was little-known. It must be that he and I travel in wildly different circles or something.
***Who, while energetic, I tried to tune out because they tended to think a ton of references to his earlier career in such movies as Goonies and Rudy were what the crowd needed.
****One of my friends later reported that he waited with the guy to talk about Astin and film appearances. Nothing ever came of it. I don't see this as a slight on Astin's part. I just think he was busy.
*****They already get more than enough press, thank you. Actually...I think they even are the press...
******I think...I think there might be something wrong with me. Isn't this the inverse effect?
*******There was also one fan who got up to ask two questions, one "in character" that was misconstrued as something about "jews" that got a good response. But it was good-natured ribbing, it seemed. 

- A guest gives her impressions of NYCC, as she was there for longer than I was^
- Horror Show by Greg Kihn
- The Annual Geek Rage/Strange Library Halloween Special
- And much, much, much more


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Tourist in an Unknown Land: Seven Hours at New York Comic Con (Part 2)

When we last left our hero, he was trying to find his way towards the panel rooms in time to meet his friends… 

     Descending to the lower depths of the building, I kept my friend talking to figure out where they are. I could use a map, but maps are useless to me-- I never wind up where I want to go regardless of whether or not I use them. Instead, I navigate by getting what I call good and lost. There's an art to getting good and lost, but it will get you where you need to be without fail. So I take the escalator and I start my technique, my friend giving me the exact place so I can figure out where they are once I get to the general area.

     Now, this is a technique just about anyone can try. What you do is you just sorta let your mind slip. Like you would if you were meditating. Keep walking, it's very important you put one foot in front of the other, but to get to good and lost, you need to stop thinking of a destination. The walking is more important at this stage. Move in and out of the crowds, and for the love of God don't run into anything, but just take the paths that stand out to you. As you wander, you'll find yourself getting more and more disoriented until you don't know where you are. Relax when this happens. It's all part of the technique. 

      Now that you don't know where you are, keep doing the same things, but be aware. If a way out of the place you are stands out to you, take it. If a door is open, walk through it. Music helps a lot, too, as it kind of shuts up the tiny engines that allow you to move based on intuition. Eventually, though it might take as long as half an hour (sometimes longer when I'm navigating Manhattan...more ground to cover), eventually you'll get exactly where you need to be. It may not be where you want to be, exactly, but usually you can get to there from here. It works best if you have an undefined idea of where you're going and a little bit of time to kill. 

     In my case, though, since this kind of intuition-based hokum is the only way I can navigate, I use it to my advantage in any big situation. Eventually, I found myself in the event room section, after finding the food court and the events theatre. The panel my friends were in was closed, so I bummed around a little more out there, and then went off in search of fresh prey. "Fresh Prey" in this case meant looking for some friends who were also around in the area. However, I'd neglected to give them my contact info until well after the point where they were out of my range, which made things a little difficult. Still, I figured, they were both in costume, there was no way I'd miss them*. 

     In hindsight, this was a mistake. Especially on a full convention floor. Especially when most people were in costume. Also, looking for a young woman with bright red hair at any geek convention short of a model train enthusiast's gathering is a bit like (in the immortal words of Mr. Neil Gaiman**) playing "spot the pigeon" in Trafalgar Square. More so if they're wearing black. I wandered around the various floors for a while, looking for anything that caught my eye, anyone who looked familiar, and that was when it happened. I was walking around the event floors, debating whether or not I wanted to kill some time watching anime in one of the viewing rooms, when a guy in a baseball cap came up to me and asked, 

"So are you supposed to be Weird Al or something?"

      I blinked for a few moments. Internally, I ran through my options. The guy may have been a little confused by the loud Hawaiian shirt and the long hair. I could do many things to him, but really, I just wanted him to leave me the hell alone. Finally, I hit on the diplomatic approach and went for it:

"Nah, I'm covering the con today and this is my only workshirt."

      He persisted. "Oh. look like him."

       So I just nodded for a moment, keeping things quiet for the most part and sort of odd. Finally, when he looked really uncomfortable, I finally said, "Yeah, it's the hair and the shirt, right? Look, I gotta go." And I shrugged back into my long black coat and slouched off back to the panels hall. 

       I noticed from the banners outside each one of the rooms that one of my idols, Grant Morrison, was doing a panel. I've wanted to ask him a few questions for a long time, but they're not the kind of thing you ask in public. Long discussions on magick and the occult and susto*** and all of that aren't really suited for a panel. Short ones, yes, long ones not so much. As I looked kind of bewildered, I was immediately ushered into the room where the Morrison panel was to take place. At the time, there was a panel on how they wrote and drew an issue on Wonder Woman, that while entertaining I didn't have much of an interest in****. The lack of sleep from the night before, combined with the heat from the convention hall and about seven or eight other factors was giving me a headache, so I tuned out the panel, until suddenly from the corner of my eye, I saw a skinny bald man approach the microphone, and I was yanked into focus by a sudden high-pitched howl. 

Morrison had arrived. 

      He was the only one on stage. There may have been a moderator sitting next to him, but she was superfluous. Grant Morrison held the audience, delivering a rambling but perfectly-coherent speech about his new projects (he's got two new movies in the works, one based on what he himself described as "A Christmas Carol on drugs"), the idea of superheroes as perfect ideals*****, and the possibility of a comic where the Ents from Lord of the Rings live in regular apartments. The questions afterwards ran the gamut from demon-banishing (you use logic and shapes...demons can't stand rationality) to what was going through his head when he wrote Flex Mentallo, one of his more famous works (Ecstasy and mushrooms, apparently), to questions about how his multiverses work (Featuring him grinning evilly at one fan's theory on a certain aspect and telling the fan, "Oh, it is so much worse than that"). As the panel grew to a close, I was invigorated, and it was clear Morrison really likes his work and likes to talk about his work. 

    I left the panel to find several missed calls from my friends telling me they were getting ready for the Sean Astin panel, and having missed the few chances I did have to talk to Grant Morrison for now (And the press badge that may have made it easier...******), I headed onward to finally meet up with them for the very first time that day, finally achieving my goal of having met up with people I know.

What I learned:
- Contact information is important
- Completely improvising your plans can often lead to plans not happening
- Italy has an entire genre of devilish anti-heroes, and there's a movie coming out called Annihilator that plays on this archetype
- Superman has been remade for every decade he's existed, and in the forties, fifties, and seventies he was a bit of a bastard
- I should really outline these looks at things. I mean, jesus.

In the next installment:
- The dangers of going off-topic
- An explanation of why I'm rubbish at panel coverage
- I almost climb into a trunk
And much more

A guest contributor weighs in on their experience of NYCC in the first piece on this site not written by yours truly. 

See you next time!

*When I later looked up a picture from the event, I think I could make myself out in the background, slouching towards God-knows-where. Had I only bothered to turn my head to the side...ah well. 
**Still have to review Neverwhere or Stardust. Maybe when I get another spot for a classic review.
***susto is a condition that occurs when you experience some sort of fear or trauma that causes you to believe your soul has left your body completely. Or, as I like to call it, "Late February to early April 2012"
****Wonder Woman is a comic that seems to be telling me at every possible moment "THIS IS NOT FOR YOU! STOP READING ME AND GIVE ME TO SOMEONE WORTHY!" So now I leave it alone.
*****Often misquoted in arguments about why comics should be dragged back to a time before the Bronze Age of Comics happened, much to my dismay
*******Yes, this will become a reocurring theme.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Tourist in an Unknown Land: Seven Hours at New York Comic Con (part 1)

I like the idea of these accounts having a separate title. So now they're under "A Tourist in an Unknown Land". Like it? Hate it? Let me know!

        The story actually starts a few weeks before NYCC does. I'd failed to go to New York for two years running-- the first because I simply didn't know, and the second because I was in Honolulu. So this year, I checked the website, and decided this year that maybe, I'd take the advice of one of the better first-person account writers of our century: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." and get myself press credentials. The plan was, I'd get a press pass for ComicCon and then be able to cover all four days of the show, maybe earning a little more credibility in the process*. So I went through the paperwork, got myself a fancy web URL at**, got a business card with my chop on it, and the morning of the deadline I faxed all the paperwork to New York. About a week later, I got my response: No***.

        Maybe it was that I just didn't have the circulation figures. Maybe it was that they just didn't want to give the underdog a shot. Maybe it's that most of what I do is book reviews due to not getting the press credentials I apply for. In any case, I found an alternate route in and got a day pass for Friday, figuring that I'd be able to see more than enough to report back to you guys. 

      And so, finally, on a cold October morning, about three hours late (and having forgotten my camera in the journey out of the house), I entered the Javits center for the second time in two years, once again wearing my official Hawaiian shirt of journalistic intent, and I was blown away. 

       The first thing you notice is the crowd. Most of the places I've been working and going to, there's a crowd, but it's dispersed throughout. BEA didn't have a bottleneck even half as big as NYCC. Upon entering through the proper door, I was hit by a wall of people. Almost literally. Posters and banners for all sorts of new movies hung from everywhere, and The Walking Dead's new season was advertised everywhere I looked. A car display was just off of where I came in, one that could be mistaken for an auto show were it not for the logos and banners in back, advertising something I could only barely make out.

          Navigating through the crowds was difficult even for a veteran of concert mosh pits like me, and despite the fact that it was about forty degrees out when I arrived, inside I'd already started to sweat from the heat. So naturally, the first thing I did after getting out of the crush of people streaming into the con hall was go up the stairs into the even more heavily-crowded showroom floor.

       I don't know what it is about the Javits center that always draws me to the second and third floors of the building. I guess it's just that they're the first thing that catches my eye, and between that and the large steps that always have some kind of graphic on them pertaining to the con, I get funneled upstairs. 

       I'm not the only one, apparently. The showroom on the top floor was packed with people and noise in what could only be described as an oppressive sensory-overloading gauntlet of stuff. And not really any particular order to any of it. Books were put next to video game displays, the Troma Entertainment table was smack-dab in the middle of a group of comic book companies and a few tiny independent film booths. Weirdest of all were the random anime tables scattered intermittently around the floor...I understand that the geek spheres of influence are growing closer all the time, but it just makes the whole thing feel a little it's trying very hard to find its voice but it can't. 

      A friend of mine from the con circuit told me this was because it merged with an anime convention in New York, but given that the merger isn't recent, the show should have found its soul by now. Instead, it feels like it's going through an identity crisis. The anime events pop up all over the place, but if they're going to have a section like that in their show, maybe not spread it out all over? I dunno, it just didn't work for me. The showroom felt anarchic in all the wrong ways, like something was trying to be cohesive and failing. 

      After spending some time wandering the halls of the showroom and looking at all the things I didn't feel like buying****, I finally went over to take in the video game displays. About one aisle over from a comic display for a book called (I shit you not) Whore with a display that would be just as offensive to me if I thought about such things regularly*****, the game displays boomed out from the corner of the convention hall, large banners proudly displaying a free-to-play  The game displays were pretty much a wall of light and noise, though the new Just Dance game had a platform where a small group of con-goers (most of them in costume) danced to some song I didn't know. To get out of the noise, I headed to the book section, narrowly avoiding buying two DVD box sets from the corrupt anime table and the Troma table******. This looked familiar to me. It looked like the tables at BookExpo America, only you're allowed to buy things and don't get confused about what's a freebie. 

     I was pleasantly surprised to see perennial favorite of the site Iain M. Banks had a new book in his fantastic Culture series, as well as that his publisher was holding a drawing for five books in the series, including the mainstay of my "to-read" list Consider Phlebas and the big, thick, and engaging-looking Matter. I quickly jotted down my name and email address in a scrawl that could charitably be called "unintelligible" and continued to make the rounds. While there were a few booths that caught my eye, my wallet kept me from spending too much time around the dealer tables and the merchandise. Soon, I recieved a phone call from a friend of mine who had also come to the show, and I made my way downward to the panels, hoping to catch up with them and maybe take in a little of what I was supposed to see as a journalist. 

Things I learned: 
- Have a backup plan so you can cover four days, in case NYCC gets stingy with their passes
- People like the creators of Whore should really try's no fun when they're just blatantly trying to offend for controversy
- Troma Films, makers of such low-budget sleaze classics as Toxic Avenger, Tromeo and Juliet, and Poultrygeist, need a bigger freaking table. They had this tiny corner square at NYCC, and they're too good for such a small space

In Part 2:
- Mad scotsmen
- An unfortunate case of mistaken identity
- I search for a needle in a haystack

*Also, less the expense of faxing them my application, press passes are comped four-day deals with access to the lounge and some nice perks. So...why wouldn't I want one, exactly?
**Which, as many of you know, leads to the tumblr site of fantastic design and horrid formatting. Blogger made their bed by not enabling url redirects, the schmucks
****which is almost everything. I have another con in about two weeks, gotta save some money for not buying things at NekoCon.
*****People were convinced to sit in the "whore cage" for ten or twenty minutes for an exclusive T-shirt. Yeah. I try to keep myself distanced from any sociopolitical issues, but seriously?
******I have the opinion that at any given con where anime is being sold, there is the shady anime table (where the box sets look a little shoddier but the prices are lower and the quality's usually good), and the corrupt anime table (where the set quality is a little better but the guy calculates the price discount in his head very quickly, not always to your benefit). The Troma table, of course, just looks shady and a little corrupt but is in fact on the level. And twenty bucks for Terror Firmer, while out of my price range, is still cool. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack

This review's a little short, folks. Hope you don't mind overmuch. I just had a hard time reviewing a book like this. Why? Read on...

        So the basics: This is a very good book that I cannot recommend. It tackles cultural decay in an interesting and absurdist fashion, and there are passages that have made me laugh out loud. Mark Leyner has an excellent way with words, and his poking fun at the nature of mythology as well as decay and contamination is fantastic. A book about a book being attacked (possibly by itself) is a wonderfully meta premise, and if you can take that, then you can easily read and enjoy this book. 

However, the bad part is, if the self-conscious premise doesn't grab you, you will not like this book. I can't recommend it to anyone. The plot and characters and action are entirely superfluous to the story, the main crux of the book being that the book is fighting itself. Some of you will get this concept and hate it. Some will not get the concept and hate it. So I can't recommend it, but it's a book that'll give you an interesting and original read, all the same.

Full analysis below.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

VampCon announcement

So friend of the site and all around awesome guy Armand Inezian has a new book that is out now, and I apologize for not getting the word out sooner, because as I said, Armand is awesome. That link above is to his writing blog/website. Check it out.

Armand's new book VampCon is a dark fantasy thriller, and I'll let the ad copy speak for itself:

“Kill the stoker and the shifter and the priest!”
The vampire who turned Jonathan Stoker did so as a joke: what fun to turn a man named ‘Stoker’.
But life is no joke for Jonathon. He’s fled his family, every vampire he meets attacks him, and he’s consumed by blood urges. Ten years after his mortal life ended, the blind and striking Arial Lockhart delivers Jonathan’s invitation to the Vampire Congregation in Boston. It isn’t a request; Arial’s summoning spell warps time and space to ensure every vampire attends
Of all the many horrors Jonathan discovers at this murderous congregation, worst of all is to find his mortal son, Jake, has come searching for him. And Jake’s just fallen in love… with a vampire!
  “Kill the stoker and the shifter and the priest!”
Jonathan learns that Arial’s invitation is far more than a summons to the congregation: it is an invitation to fulfill his destiny, because the stoker, the shifter, and the priest are the only ones who can defend the vampire and mortal alike against the demon invasion.
But only if they can stay alive…
“Kill the stoker and the shifter and the priest!”
Now, and I only speak here from my somewhat biased position atop my ivory tower, this sounds like a fantastic read. I wholly suggest you check it out, or at least give it a preview. VampCon is sold in these places:
Available in paperback from   | 
and Kindle:   |  and ePUB: Smashwords  | diesel  | Kobo 

Please do us both a solid and check it out. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Hello, and sorry for the delay from last week. I wanted to finish the book and get over my cold. I have now done both these things. There was also some drama-brooding, but everyone has drama-brooding, so best get over it and do what I do best:

My verdict is as follows. Book of the year. Hands down, my pick for book of the year, unless there's a genre book that solves all the problems I've been brooding over, or grants all my fondest wishes or something right around the corner. This is easily one of the best things I've read. I'm kind of pissed off I don't own it.

The bad bits have to do with some pacing issues and a tendency Harkaway has to follow multiple threads until he can finally lock down what he's focusing on, but this in no way takes away from the overall presentation, which twists and turns its way along until finally the brake-lines get cut and the book slams home with a climax that is altogether surprising and satisfying. Full analysis below.