As the lone male Anomaly, it once again was my great delight to accompany the rest of the Anomaly crew manning the booth at the Wizard World Austin Comic Con. Last year was my first time to do this, and was also my first ever con experience. This year is now the second. I didn’t change much from how I experienced the Con this time around, but I am starting to get a better handle on what I want my own personal con experience to be. Your mileage may vary.
Austin Comic Con, Day One: The Rain-pocalypse
or Big Bird Hit Me with a Baseball Bat Straight in the Feels
As I do not live in Austin, I stayed with a dear friend who was kind enough to put me up for the weekend. Because I don’t get to see her very often, I went up Thursday to hang out with her and her son. We had a blast that evening and the next morning as I geared up to head to the con, the heavens opened and torrential rain assaulted pretty much the entire I-35 corridor. So that meant those coming from farther away would have to fight that weather to get to Austin. Since I was already there, it took me only a half an hour to get to the Convention Center. I checked my somewhat-damp self in, got my wristband, and went to the booth. This was somewhat reminiscent of last year.
Last year I was SUPER stoked to go to my first con, and may have showed up a tad early. Like… three hours early. So I sat at the booth and waited for the others to arrive so I could help set up the banners and the other booth accoutrement. That waiting time was when I had my big moment of last year’s con when legendary comic artist Neal Adams walked by and asked where he had to go to get his wristband, and when he came back by, stopped to chat with me. I had a random five minute conversation with a comic legend. That was cool.
This year, I showed up to Austin Comic Con at 9:45 am, which was the appointed time for us all to gather and start setting up. But I soon learned that the rest of the Anomaly crew was getting slogged by all the weather, and would be getting there when they could. So I did what I could: I stayed at the booth and waited. The con floor opened at noon and by that time Angela and Sith Jen had made it to the booth, so I had some company. Frazzled company… but I was glad to have it.
Not long afterward, the rest of the crew tricked in from getting set up at their hotels, and we got the booth set up fully and started really getting into the con. I had my first real chance to walk the floor and see who was there and what they had. This year there were fewer vendors than the previous year, and some of those that were absent saddened me, like Ultrasabers. (Speaking of which, if anyone from Ultrasabers reads this blog, y’all really need to cut a deal for anyone at Anomaly who buys from you in the future. Don’t think of it as giving us a 20% discount, think of it as paying us for all the plugs we gave you this year from folks walking up and asking about all the lightsabers. More on that to come, but I wanted to put that out there.)
The prevailing thought was that, since this was only a 2-day con instead of 3-days like last year (and next year btw), many vendors weren’t sure they could make enough money to justify the expense of coming. I was seriously planning on getting more stuff than I did. Last year I got several patches for my party pants, some lego minifigs, a MTG duel deck, and I got Neal Adams to sign a book for my friend Davy. The heart of the matter is… I just don’t collect a lot of the things that are sold in large volumes at Austin Comic Con: Comics and Toys.
The reason I don’t collect comics comes down to geography. When I was a lad, we lived in small towns in Texas, the largest of which did not have a comic book store at the time (now it has two!) and the smallest of which would have fit inside the Austin Convention Center. Shout out to all my Nordheim people. Hm… Nordheim. Almost sounds like a Norse realm. Asgard, Svartalfheim, Niffelheim, Jotunheim… Nordheim. But I digress. Since none of these towns had a place to buy comics, I didn’t ever buy comics. I feel like in order to really become a comic book collector the primary way is to have started early, and have a title that you love and have bought weekly since you were young. I never had that chance.
The reason I don’t collect toys is a bit harder to pin down. I certainly had toys growing up. I remember playing with Star Wars toys at a very early age, but when I think of the toys I liked most as a child, it was first He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and later it became the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At some point in my childhood, my parents donated all my He-Man toys to be distributed to needier children. I’m sure they asked first, but if I had that one to do over, I would have kept them. I think my Ninja Turtles wound up with my younger brother. So I am not in possession of pretty much any of the toys from my youth, so I guess that is the reason I don’t feel compelled to add to a “collection,” and while I have nostalgia for the times spent playing with those toys, it is not great enough to justify the expense of collecting them all once again to just sit on a shelf. I’m not big on “shelf” items. I like my geeky stuff to be at least somewhat useful.
So I walked the floor and got a new TARDIS patch for my party pants, and headed back to the booth. And that was when a chance encounter with a young cosplayer would change the con experience for not just myself, but also for KC – this young kiddo who came with a great Jim Henson cosplay.
He told us about how Caroll Spinney had asked to borrow his Kermit and had performed with it, which is just sweet. That broke me out of my general malaise about not finding anything that really excited me to purchase at the booths and motivated me to go meet a celebrity, which I had not done last year aside from the chance encounter with Neal Adams.
Long before I started talking in California surf slang to sound like Michelangelo, before He-Man and Skeletor had their epic battles in my room, even before I lost Luke’s tiny lightsaber, I had one toy that was the thing we couldn’t leave the house without: Big Bird. I cannot remember a time in my life without Sesame Street. It is an omnipresent part of the shaping forces of my life. Big Bird and Oscar (both performed by Spinney) were two of the biggest components of that show for me. I had a record that I would play on my Fisher Price record player that had a song called “I Love Trash” sung by Oscar. I still know the words to that song. (I pulled it up on YouTube to make sure.)
It was with these thoughts running in my head that I went over to Caroll Spinney’s autograph booth. Sitting with him was his wife Debra, who I recognized from the documentary I am Big Bird which I had watched literally a week earlier, so it was fresh in my memory. There was no line, so I walked up and shook his hand. I stammered something about how much I loved his work. Then he noticed the ‘”Team Harley” patch on my party pants and asked if my name was Harley. I told him that no, my name was Noah, but that I was a Harley-Davidson enthusiast. So we talked motorcycles for a minute or two. Then I showed him the Kermit patch on my Party Pants, and lamented that I didn’t have a Big Bird or an Oscar (a situation that will soon be fixed).
He asked me to pick out a photo, and I chose one that had himself, Big Bird and Oscar on it, and asked that he make it out to my wife Heather. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t gone to the booth intending to get the photo for her. I made the decision on the spot. But as it turned out, that was about the best thing I could have done for a lot of reasons. Firstly, it made for a great present for my wife when I got home, but secondly, it sparked the best part of the conversation between us: Mr. Spinney told me that Jim Henson’s youngest daughter was also named Heather, and that she was born a week apart from his own son. He and Jim had joked that since the two were so close in age, they should be betrothed. Years later, he caught back up with her, and told her that story. She took it about the same any one of us would have, with a dismissive laugh. Caroll said that it probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway. Can’t win ‘em all.
After that Debra took our picture, I said farewell and headed back to the booth, trying to keep from becoming an emotional wreck. If you didn’t read my Muppets blog from a few weeks back, you should know that the Muppets are a huge thing for me. So having Caroll Spinney tell me a personal story about himself and Jim Henson and their families was more than enough to pluck at my heart strings. I sat back down at the booth and let those feelings wash over me. I reveled in the sense of childhood that was evoked by that sweet man. He had spoken to me not just as himself, but he also used the voices of Big Bird and Oscar in the course of our conversation. It was easily the highlight of the con for me.
But then something unexpected happened.
KC, who had determined after her harrowing experience fighting the rain to get to the con that she was just going to stay in the booth that day, saw me sitting there having my little moment. As a concerned person who is seeing a grown-ass man crying in a corner, she naturally asked me if I was okay. I told her that Caroll Spinney hit me in the feels with a baseball bat, and that I would soon be fine. I know that she too was a big fan of the Muppets, so I told her that she should go see him as well. At first she was reluctant to leave the safety of the booth, but some cajoling and a promise that I would go with her for moral support was enough to get her to go.
We went back over, and there still was no line so we walked up and Caroll said, “Oh Noah, you brought a friend!” Not wanting to butt in on KC’s moment, I hung back as they started their conversation. Again I was just humbled and reduced to a childlike state just by being in his soft-spoken, grandfatherly presence. As they had their own moment, the most surreal experience of my life started to unfold.
In the booth next to Caroll Spinney was Chris Sarandon, aka the voice of Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas and Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride. A couple that was visiting his booth had gone around to get a picture with him, and in doing so, accidentally bumped Caroll’s table, making him ruin the picture he was signing. A flash of annoyance crossed his face, and as he was getting a new picture to sign the table was bumped yet again. Then Caroll Spinney looked right at me, and said as Oscar the Grouch, “Hey, Noah. Go over there and take care of that racket.”
My immediate defense mechanism was to smile and laugh. Inside, I was a turmoil of giddiness and absolute horror. What do I do? Oscar just told me to go “take care of” Prince Humperdink! Do I go over and say something like, “Drop….your….pen!”? As I was trying to collect myself, Caroll got another photo and started to sign it for KC, and the other couple left the booth having finished with Chris Sarandon.
It was then that we saw that the couple who had bumped the table was a man leading a blind woman. Without missing a beat, Caroll says, “Glad I didn’t say, ‘What are you? Blind?'”
Then Chris Sarandon pops his head into Caroll’s booth and apologizes for the inadvertent bumping. I guess the fabric curtain separating us and the general Con noise were not enough to keep him from hearing our little conversation. All was quickly smoothed over, and with a smile to KC and me, Chris Sarandon left, and we headed back to the booth.
I can’t speak for KC, but that was easily the weirdest thing that has happened to me all year. At least, it was … until we got back to the booth and learned that even more strangeness had happened while we were gone. Bruce Campbell had walked by on his way to his booth and decided to photobomb a few pictures taken with Angela’s husband Jim, who was getting a photo with some Back to the Future cosplayers. He even gave us a “one-finger salute.”
This also marked the second year in a row that I missed the “celebrity drive by” at the Anomaly booth. Last year Michael Rooker flashed a “live long and prosper” at the booth as he walked by, but I was not there to witness it.
To be continued….