Kyu here again with adventures at WonderCon in Anaheim! The day was long and full of terrors. I mean, panels.
But first, a brief period of running around and getting more swag (see swag post). Picked up Sandman: Overture with only a 5 minute wait in line. Got free stuff from Lionsgate, Dreamworks, and other generous places. Picked up a signed copy of Bad Houses at the Dark Horse booth.
Then it was back to Pascal Campion’s booth. I finally found the two that I wanted:
Also, I stared at Noelle Stevenson from afar, but was too shy to say hello. (Although I wouldn’t have said, “Hello,” I would have said, “My god, everything’s on fire! Nimona!“) She’s just too talented for words, somehow.
Saturday was the day for cosplay, most definitely. I saw Monarch henchmen, some really well-done Batman villains, a few Freakazoids, and probably my favorite of the con, a couple of Spider Jerusalems with the signature tattoos done in black marker. One of them even had a comically oversized cigarette.
There was also a massive gathering in front of the convention center, with anyone in superhero costumes piling onto the steps around the fountain. The crowd was too huge for me to get a good picture, but it was pretty incredible. I love how much enthusiasm people put into their cosplay. It was extra weird, though, because the religious protestors who gather outside of these geek conventions were walking around in front of the superheroes with signs like, “The Wages Of Sin Are Death” and “Jesus Bore Our Sins.” Christ or Iron Man, aren’t these just competing mythologies? “The invisible guy I use to get through the day is better than your invisible guy! Also, Moses could totally kick Wolverine’s ass.”
After more food truck deliciousness, I went back inside for panels, panels, panels.
First off was the sequel to the Friday’s 1984 movies panel, the same group of guys instead talking about the greatest geek movies never made. This time they brought the director of Jodorowsky’s Dune, a documentary I’ve been meaning to see about the cult director’s aborted attempt to adapt Herbert’s seminal novel of science fiction and ecology. The talent Jodorowsky gathered for the film, including artists like Moebius, Dali, and H.R. Giger, went on to create some of the most exciting sci-fi visions of the next few decades. Dune passed at one point to Ridley Scott (who stepped away from the project right before filming Blade Runner) and ended up being helmed by David Lynch, who’s had a few unfilmed projects of his own. This included something called “Ronnie Rocket,” a sort-of metaphysical, multi-dimensional detective story so strange and complex the guy on the panel who had read the script couldn’t even explain it to us. There was talk of other great lost projects–Fincher’s Rendezvous with Rama and Coppola’s Megalopolis among them–but in the end, all these stories boiled down to money. The stranger and more exciting a project is, it seems, the harder it’s always been to separate financiers from their financing.
Next, I caught the back half of a spotlight on Kelly Sue DeConnick, a popular writer and feminist icon in the comics world. Her new project, Bitch Planet, sounds interesting–an attempt to take the 70s exploitation “Women in Prison” genre films and tell a similar story in comic form, only without being exploitative. But the interview as a whole was mostly a dud, with a lot of essentially trivial questions flying back and forth. (“Cats or dogs?” “What’s your favorite kind of fruit?” “Of all the Marvel writers, who do you think would be the best cook?”)
Fortunately, it was followed by a really good panel, a spotlight on one of my favorite authors, Peter Straub. Straub is prolific by just about anyone’s standards, having filled more than 20 novels and dozens of short stories with his cool, distinct prose. I first came to him from Stephen King, who shares a deep friendship with Straub (and a pair of excellent collaborations, The Talisman and Black House) and whose non-fiction horror text, Danse Macabre, discussed Straub’s Julia and Ghost Story. Ghost Story is good, but Julia is truly excellent, the novel equivalent of Nicholas Roeg’s masterpiece, Don’t Look Now. It features one of the great patriarchal villains and a chilling, tragic tale, but the real beauty of the novel is the way the writing slowly ratchets up the tension and dread to a fever pitch. Straub also wrote one of the finest short stories I’ve ever read, “A Short Guide to the City.” You can find the full text online here. Do yourself a favor.
It is not guaranteed than an excellent author will be an excellent speaker or an excellent person, or even a good one. But it was heartening to find that Straub, even at his advanced age, is both a warm humanist and a child at heart. When describing the genesis of one of his novels (about veterans), he related his experience watching Vietnam vets approach the Memorial Wall in D.C., struck by the veterans’ camaraderie and pride in themselves and in their units despite the horror and violence they had experienced. He talked about a childhood car accident that left him hospitalized for months, a foundational trauma that nonetheless cemented his personality as that of a voracious reader and writer. He talked about taking a year off from writing after The Talisman to sit on his porch and drink beer and read, and how when he came back he had forgotten how to write. For a year all he could do, he said, was describe characters taking actions one at a time. (“John entered the room. John walked to the lamp. John turned the lamp on. The room became brighter.”) But he kept at it. “By the second year,” he said, “I could summarize.” By the third he had it all back and more, and embarked upon a 9-year trilogy that he pointed to as the most exciting and rewarding period of his entire career. He finished with a long shaggy dog tale about how he eventually befriended Stephen King and how it led to a spur of the moment, “Hey, we should write a book,” after a long night of drinking in England. I got to speak with him briefly as he left the room–there is always that impulse to give love back to the creator whose works engendered it–but the real joy was simply in meeting him, hearing him, and having my expectations well exceeded. I should read more of his books.
After this, there was something of a lull, where all the lines were too long for me to get into a new panel (a first for me at WonderCon), including the Godzilla panel (surprising–maybe they thought it was about the movie instead of the old one) and the Adventure Time panel (less surprising). So I returned to the same room I’d been in for most of the day and read Goliath (the third book in Scott Westerfeld’s excellent dieselpunk YA trilogy) through a panel on the Green Lantern comics (which I’m not very familiar with at all).
Next was XYZ Punk, a panel of costumers and filmmakers discussing cyberpunk, steampunk, and other genre offshoots set in so-called “past futures”. They went over the social underpinnings of cyberpunk literature, steampunk costuming, dieselpunk filmmaking (“Rule of thumb: if a character is fighting Nazis and it’s not historically accurate, it’s dieselpunk”), and a host of other ‘punks’. (Some others named: nerfpunk, coconutpunk, rockpunk, rococopunk, atomicpunk and even the island-inspired Crusoepunk.) I’ll go into this in more detail in a future post, because I was taking detailed notes for a card game idea I’ve been kicking around featuring each kind of “punk” as a different playable faction. It’s still unformed, but that post will give you some idea of how my development process works. Plus, it’ll let me get some thoughts out on paper, maybe shake something loose.
Finally, David and I found our way into the Orphan Black screening, where the show was set to premiere the first episode of its second season. But first, we (and a lot of other fans) had to sit through a panel put on by the Warner Instant Archive, a kind of Netflix streaming service for Warner Bros. content. The fun, amusing panel had the archivists showing off a brief tour through the history of music in cartoons, particularly those produced by Hanna Barbera. Turns out there were a whole host of cartoons either mocking the bands of the day (both The Jetsons and The Flintstones did this frequently) or following the basic formula of “musical act travels the world, solving mysteries with the help of a cute sidekick.” The latter category included Josie and the Pussycats, Jabberjaw, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, and many others. You have to admit, some of the bubblegum tunes created for these cartoons were pretty catchy.
At long last, though, it was time for the main event, and excitement filled the room as the Orphan Black premiere began.
A year ago in the same place I was unexpectedly falling in love with Hannibal, but that was a new show. I already knew Orphan Black was great, a thrilling feminist biopunk story starring one of the most gifted actresses working today, Tatiana Maslany. I may write a more in-depth post on the show as a whole in the next week or two, but suffice to say for now that the premiere is a significant step up in the budget department and picks up right where last season left off with the show’s signature blend of action, thought-provoking science fiction, and pitch-perfect black comedy. It was a great capper to the night and to WonderCon itself. I see no reason why I won’t be back in Anaheim next year, once again enjoying the most relaxed and entertaining con around.