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AICN COMICS SPECIAL REPORT: Prof's WizardWorld Austin 2010 Con Report!!!

Professor Challenger here. I know it's a week late, but you can't rush a proper Show report. Add into that, a total meltdown of the official "Challenger Computer" and you have a recipe for slight delay. Take note of a few things. I don't mention every celebrity or every comic book pro at Show. None of that is meant as any disrespect. As well, I know it is fashionable in geek circles to take swipes at the whole Wizard World experience. You will find that I am not going to do take down Wizard World in this report, although, I am also not pulling any punches on those aspects of the show that were...shall we say...less than spectacular. Overall, the Austin Comicon was a rousing success for dealers, pros, and attendees. This year has been a choice experience for me in that my Show experience has been limited to 2 brand new cons: C2E2 back in the spring and now the Austin Comicon a week ago. Ultimately, my goal here is to give AICN Comics readers who could not make it to the new Austin Comicon a taste and a feel for what it was like and I hope you enjoy your time spent in my virtual head.

@@@@ DAY 1 @@@@

Easy drive in to downtown Austin. Good thing I decided to be there in the morning rather than waiting until later in the weekend because in addition to Comicon, it was also "play-offs" night at various high school football arenas, and it was the U.T. vs. O.S.U. game on Saturday, and it was a state teacher's conference meeting in the same location, and a friggin' movie was filming in downtown this weekend. So, Austin traffic was pretty much a nightmare the entire weekend.
I headed in just as the gates opened wide. Walked right up to the press booth to get my wristband for the weekend and headed inside. Man on a mission. Snapped some general pics of the entrance as I walked in, no crowd at all yet so I strolled right up to the Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner) and Oscar Goldman (Richard Anderson). Wagner is still gorgeous and seemed terribly shy. I told her I was here on behalf of Aintitcool and she asked what I did. She was pleased to hear I still draw “old-school” and then scan the art in to digitally manipulate and/or add color. Then in a Columbo-moment I asked one other thing...could I snap a picture? She got nervous. The lady with her got stone-faced and clipped. I think, did I say something wrong? So I mutter out..."for the website?" Wagner looks at the other lady like she's hiding Jews in the basement and I just showed up wearing a swastika (I make the Nazi reference for reasons that will become clear later). Awkward silence hung in the air and then I just shrugged and said "Really, its no prob..." Then the other lady interrupted in a mollifying tone that "Well, there's the paid photo-ops and we're not supposed to..." And I said, "That's fine...I wasn't thinking in personal terms but for the website..." and smiled. Then the two of them looked at each other and said "Okay..." So, I snapped a nice picture. The fact that I was probably only the second person to talk to her made that possible. I promise that any later in the weekend, I would've been shut down immediately and likely had a cattle-prod shock to the groin.
Next up was Richard Anderson right next to Wagner. He was terribly nice and friendly and soft-spoken. I may have been his first customer. I told him that he and everyone else from the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN show were a little bit of a lifeline for me as a kid while my family was stationed in Puerto Rico. Everything on TV was in Spanish except for a handful of primetime shows that had the English audio simulcast over military radio, and their show was one of those. He wanted to talk about Puerto Rico.
The next few hours were spent scoping out where everyone was situated and getting a feel for the place. I hit up Greg Horn for a gorgeous "Star Sapphire" print (and wound up buying a Vampirella print too...I'm a sucker for Vampi...have I mentioned that I have one of those life-size posters of Vampi from the '70s signed by Vampi herself?). I checked out Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard) and Wilma Deering (Erin Gray). Erin Gray has aged quite well and were I single and she willing...well…I'd canoodle a bit.
On to Mike Grell to buy a WARLORD print and get him to sign a copy of an issue of GL/GA that I am pretty sure was the first Mike Grell comic I ever bought. Grell was signing your first comic for free and additional comics are $1 for each. It's an easy way to keep away the ebay-ers because they hate anything that erodes their profit. Grell is an energetic guy with a nice tough-guy persona and an entertaining story to tell for each and every hand he shakes. A great guest. I'd love to see him on a panel with Howard Chaykin, another great storyteller from the same generation of creators.
Visited bunches of dealers just looking for a good deal. One guy had a bunch of longboxes with random comics thrown in for 50¢ each. I found mint copies of all 3 issues of GREEN ARROW: THE LONGBOW HUNTERS...a series I regret having gotten rid of years ago during a comics purge. Knowing Mike Grell was at the con, I was thrilled to find them. So, I presented them to the dealer who looked at me with a constipated look and groaned "Are you sure you can't find one more?" I said "Well these are all I wanted." He groaned again "....I don't have.... 50¢" Really? He didn't offer to just let me take all 3 for $1.00, so I said "I'm sure I can find something." I remembered flipping past an old '70s BATMAN comic I had as a kid, so I grabbed that one. Dealer was happy and gave me my bills. Mentally tucked away the fact that I needed to get back to Grell for another sig.
About 30 minutes before Lee Majors was scheduled to show up for signings, I made my way into line to wait. I was the third person there. He eventually showed up, not too late. Obviously, Majors' appearance here is coordinated with the release (finally) of the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN series on DVD in the U.S. for the very first time (legally). The only downside to this great news is that it's a $250 package from TimeLife and unavailable for rent or in individual seasons. You gotta buy them all or nothing. And no stores are allowed to carry them. So, a good news/bad news situation for fans.
Majors himself is in real good shape and seemed completely overwhelmed by this whole experience. The TV show predates the modern convention mania, so he was obviously quite outside of his comfort zone here. However, he was very friendly and nice. I shook his hand...TWICE! So sue me...he's the frackin' SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and I wanted to hold his hand a little bit!
I told him that I was an actual member of his "Fan Club." To which he laughed and said "I didn't know I still had one!" So, I smiled and told him about how when I was 9 years old I clipped out the form from a comic and slipped 10 thin dimes into an envelope and sent it in to join the official "Six Million Dollar Man Fan Club." But, a few weeks later, I received an envelope back with 9 dimes inside, my form, and a note that said I had only sent 9 dimes instead of 10. A very sad me was shocked and surprised and gloriously happy about a week or so later when the full Fan Club package arrived anyway! So, I walked away the first day with all my birthday money spent on autographed photos of Lee Majors, Lindsay Wagner, Richard Anderson and autographed prints from Mike Grell and Greg Horn. Like a friend of mine said...I was "like a kid in a candy store." All I know is that those 3 photos join my Johnathan Frid (Barnabas Collins) signed photo and my birthday sketch from George Perez as most prized possessions. Now I really need to finally get that Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing) autographed photo.

@@@@ DAY 2 @@@@

Friday had been a steady but not overly large crowd. The Saturday crowd was monster sized already. In terms of space, this was not a particularly large space...easily about 1/4 of the size of the C2E2 for comparison. So, when this crowd descended on Saturday...well, there were times during the day where I literally could not move because there was simply no space, just bodies. Of all the comics guys there, the top three in terms of continuous long lines were Greg Horn, Joe Madureira, and Arthur Suydam. Suydam was the most popular (again, in terms of lines) with his massive Marvel Zombies banners and hundreds of zombie prints for sale.
There was a huge emphasis on THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE at this Con, which is bizarre to me. I don't get that appeal at all. But the guy and the two hot girls who star in that low-budget torture flick were there and the most disturbing thing I overheard as I walked by was a guy holding his signed picture from one of the girls and telling her he loved the movie. *shudder* How anyone loves a movie where that girl gets her mouth surgically attached to a guy's butt is beyond my comprehension. Had no interest in Xander from BUFFY, but he was there.
One thing I noticed immediately upon entering the Con was a deep fixation on the camera I wore around my neck. It was kind of crazy. Every time I moseyed anywhere within sight line of a celebrity...if I even glanced their way I would be staring eye-to-eye by someone with a badge either shaking their head at me or actually putting their hand up and saying "No pictures." Nobody seemed to mind when I stood back and took a string of pictures of Ernie Hudson of GHOSTBUSTERS fame...wearing his costume. Try taking a picture of Billy Dee Williams or Lee Majors and I got the distinct impression that my children might become orphans. This kind of thing eventually started pissing me off...because I really don't like people treating me like that and I get kind of immature. Especially considering what the WizardWorld sign outside at the entrance says:
"By entering these premises you consent to be photographed, filmed and/or otherwise recorded for any use and waive all rights you may have to any claims for payment or royalties in connection with any exhibition, televising, or other publication of these materials." [emphasis mine]
Sometime after lunch, I felt the need to visit the men’s restroom. What I found in there is difficult to describe, but besides the enormous line of geeks waiting to use the various holes, the place looked like a bunch of angry chimpanzees had had a poo party or something. So, I tried the other restroom. It too was a disaster, and now it was becoming urgent. Then I remembered the Teacher's Conference upstairs..."teachers are less likely to conduct themselves like angry chimps" and hopped on the escalator and snuck into the restroom up there. Clean, quiet, victory.
I rushed back downstairs to sit in on the Walter Koenig panel. Took note of the sign at the entrance to the Exhibit Hall with two stages set up. The sign said "Photos allowed in Exhibit Hall while celebrities are on-stage as long as photos are for personal use only." Woohoo! So, I happily snapped away with my phone as ol' Walter talked. I'm not kidding when I say that he was asked TWICE to say "Nuclear Wessel" in 30 minutes. If he was Del Shannon, he would've killed himself on the spot.
After Walter's talk, I got my picture taken with the “Soup Nazi” and headed back inside for Bill Sienkiewicz's panel. Snapped a couple of shots of him just with my phone. Good sized crowd. Immediately after that was the Adam West & Burt Ward panel on the other stage.
Crowd was pretty huge, so I went off to roam again for awhile and strolled back in about 15 minutes into the panel. I stood way in the back to listen in and snap a couple of grainy zoomed-in photos. By the time I snapped the second picture I was being manhandled by this long-haired dude (too old to keep his hair that long unless he's a member of an '80s hair band). He was in my face about how he told me "4 times from the stage that there were no photos allowed!" To which I informed him that I just walked in and didn't hear that announcement and... he interrupted that we needed to let security deal with me. And I, again politely but firmly, pointed out to him that I obviously understood there was a policy against photos out on the floor because of the paid photo ops (I'm not a moron) but that the sign at the entrance to the panels says that photos ARE allowed while the guests are onstage...for personal use. He smirked and mockingly said " me the sign." I said.."Okay. Unless someone has taken it down or something." Which got me a superior snort from him. So, I walked him to the entrance and pointed out the sign triumphantly. His puffed up chest deflated as he read the sign and he didn't outright apologize, but he told me that I could keep the picture I took. I accepted that as an apology. Then he hustled off to get that sign taken down because, according to him, it was "not supposed to be there." Pissed me off, but there was a sense of satisfaction in that I was right this time. But thank you long-haired Whitesnake reject for ruining the West & Ward panel for me. I had no interest in walking back in there after that. Basically, the Con organizers and their bullies need to lighten the hell up on the quick-snap photos or they need to just outright ban cameras entirely from the event.
The Costume Parade and Contest was a lot of fun. Hosted by that guy who won WHO WANTS TO BE A SUPER-HERO and included Doug Jones and the “Soup Nazi” as Celebrity Judges. After 2 hours, the guy dressed as Mario won. He was funny and good...but Power Girl, Blue Falcon, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkgirl were all much better and all deserved Best In this humble reviewer's opinion. Honorable Mention should go to "Pimp" Vader.
Headed in to the last hour of the GHOSTBUSTERS screening and afterwards visited outside for about another hour with the drop-dead gorgeous cos-play model "Taffeta Darling" and Scott from I avoided the costume after-party at the Gypsy Lounge when I realized it was waaaayyyy down on the east end of 6th Street. I no go there. Sorry.
I overheard a lot throughout the day as I went in and out of the pathways of celebs, comics pros, and dealers. The most obvious constant was that they were without exception very very happy with the response in Austin.

@@@@ DAY 3 @@@@

Sunday was light and easy. I strolled in right at 11 a.m. to attend Matt Sturges's talk on writing comics. Very down-to-earth talk. Good to hear a working writer with a practical head on his shoulder and not worshipping a giant other-dimensional snake or chanting over sigils to get his work done. Sturges's work is marked by a nice syncopation to it and quirky sensibilities. I have a copy of his novel OFFICE OF SHADOW I'm trying to get to...but it got bumped once again on my reading list. This time it was bumped by Michael Moorkcock's DR. WHO novel “The Coming of the Terraphiles.”
After Sturges's panel it was time for Mike Grell's panel. And boy what a panel. Grell is one of those old-school got-a-story-for-every-occasion kinda guys. He was very fun and interesting. His story about how Vince Colletta made Jose Delbo cry over the butchered inkjob he did on an issue of JONAH HEX was a gem. As well, his story about how he came up with the entire pitch for THE WARLORD in 2 minutes while Carmine Infantino was taking a phone-call was classic. After his talk, he came down and shook everyone's hands and thanked them for coming. Very nice.
This being the last day, it was my day to go hit all those comic guys that had been too busy before. So, pretty easily, I was able to run by Michael Golden and get his sig on my copy of the BATMAN SPECIAL with The Wrath. Talked a little to Bill Sienkiewicz while he signed his EPIC ILLUSTRATED cover of Galactus. My personal favorite Sienkiewicz work is the adaptation of MOBY DICK he did for First Comics. He said "That needs to get back in to print." I agreed.
Finally, Suydam had no line. I got him to also sign a cover of EPIC ILLUSTRATED, the last issue, with "Cholly & Flytrap" on it. He told me that a new hardback collecting all their stories was recently released. I will look for that. I also had him sign one of the VAMPIRELLA covers he did and bought an unbelievable "Red Sonja" print from him. Got my chance to talk to Matt Sturges for awhile. He may be just about my favorite comic professional that I've met. Now that I know he lives so close to me, I expect an invite to Thanksgiving dinner.
Cartoonist Phil Ortiz was set up across from macabre cartoonist Angus Oblong and it made for an interesting thing to watch. Phil, of course, illustrates THE SIMPSONS comics and looks like a Simpsons character himself. Angus spent all 3 days in full clown-face makeup...including the red ball nose. Definitely a sight to watch. Both of them were entertaining delighted fans the whole weekend.
I finally ran on up to Grell for the second time, this time to get him to sign that first issue of THE LONGBOW HUNTERS I got on Friday. I told him my favorite part about the cover was that I could see the canvas and paintstrokes on it. I like texture in my art. He told me a story about seeing an actual painting by N.C. Wyeth that blew him away and humbled him when it said at the bottom that Wyeth had painted it in 3 hours. I told him "That's okay. You created THE WARLORD in 2 minutes." I actually stumped him for a second with that one. Then he started laughing and told me he was stealing that!
Last thing I did before taking off was run by to see Kerry Gammill at the Monsterverse table. I bought a copy of BELA LUGOSI'S TALES FROM THE GRAVE and the incredible painted promo poster from Gammill. I wanted to shake his hand finally. When I was a teenager I once wrote him a letter about getting into the comic biz and he handwrote back a very nice letter that I still own.

Austin's first large-scale Comic Convention was by all accounts a huge success and plans are already underway for next year.

“Prof. Challenger” is actually Texas graphic artist and lifelong reader of comics, Keith Howell. He really digs Green Lantern, most recently completed the cover art for the upcoming book THE WORLDS OF PHILIP JOSÉ FARMER, and has contributed award-winning art, design, and editing to a number of books and magazines. He occasionally updates his website at at and welcomes feedback from readers, both pro and con, but if female please include an attached pic in a tasteful state of undress. Thanks for all the fish.

Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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