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CONVERGENCE 2014 CON REPORT
FRIDAY, JULY 4
9:00 AM CDT
The previous night, Greg had advised me that to be on the safe side, I should make sure to arrive for the 11:00 AM auditions AT LEAST half an hour early. Being my usual self, I took this as a cue to get in line (well…start a line) two hours prior.
To be fair, I did everything I could to kill some time once I realized I'd gone a little overboard with punctuality. I sampled the con's "free food" room for the first time, grabbing a blueberry muffin and some fruit for breakfast. I walked around a bit more, saw Bookwyrm off to a 9:30 AM "Adventure Time" panel, and played a little bit of "Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon" on my 3DS. Still, I was there outside Atrium 7 for…well, let's just say a while.
Funnily enough, though, I didn't end up being first into the actual auditions. At around 10:15 AM or so, Greg himself showed up, along with Jennifer Anderson, Susan Leonard, Greg Bishansky, and a few others. As no one had gotten behind me in the past hour or so, I got out of line to chat with them for a little while.
Mr. Bishansky gave me a few tips on how to conduct a good audition, which was definitely appreciated. Though outwardly I was quite eager and chipper, inwardly I was nervous as all hell that I was gonna screw up somehow.
Bar none, the radio play was the part of the con I was most looking forward to. To not only be watching the performance of new Gargoyles material, but to actually be PART of it all - to be "on stage" with Marina Sirtis herself - it was kind of a dream come true, and I'd resolved that any and all headaches my role as Station 8 moderator has ever given me would be worth it, if only I could snag even a small part.
Once other people finally started to line up outside the audition room, I got back behind them…overall, about fifth to go that day. This didn't give me a lot of time to go through the audition packet once I was given it, what with its several dozen characters from Gargoyles, SpecSpidey, and Young Justice.
It took me until the very moment before I was called in to choose. I needed a part where I could distinguish myself, show a little range, and demonstrate that I could really get into a role if called upon. David Xanatos, Green Goblin, and Aqualad were all considered. But the role that jumped out to me the most was Eddie Brock…except I didn't think his lines gave me much to do with once I opened to them.
So I turned the page, and looked at VENOM'S lines instead. And said, "Yeah…I think I can work with this."
It was a gamble, to be sure. I've practiced my Spec!Venom impression pretty much ever since "Intervention" aired, but I'd never tried it out to other people; I couldn't guarantee the voice wouldn't come out sounding forced or just plain off the mark.
But ultimately, I didn't see a better choice available to me. So I used the remaining minute or so to run the lines over in my head, testing for the right places to enunciate to make it sound as natural as possible. And with that in mind, I walked in.
The room was, I will admit, just a little bit intimidating. A whole mess of empty chairs, made for seating about a hundred, with only Greg and Jennifer seated at the far side of the room and Susan seated near the mic. But I swallowed hard, held my head high, and told them I'd be doing Venom.
Jennifer noted that I was the first Venom audition they'd heard, which gave me some hope in terms of standing out from the crowd. And so, with that…I began.
I hope it doesn't sound too immodest to say that I think it turned out quite well. I kept up a good flow throughout, emphasizing the right words and never flubbing a line. My years of randomly reciting the "WE have one enemy! The Spider-Parker tried to destroy Us, too!" speech for no particular reason had clearly paid off, as Susan called my performance "epic" and Greg told me that "Ben Diskin would be proud."
After that, he had me run the lines a second time without affecting the Venom impression, so they could get a better idea of my natural speaking voice. I'd also checked off the "bark like a dog" box on the audition sheet, though I think the one I gave when requested was kind of weak.
Still, I had a big fat grin on my face as I left the audition room. While I'm not one to count my chickens before they hatch, I was PRETTY sure I'd just nailed my audition.
FRIDAY, JULY 4
12:30 PM CDT
Since I'd been so close to the front of the line, I had a decent amount of time to kill until the next panel once the audition was completed.
The charity auction was open for bidding by that point, so I spent some time making my rounds there and putting down bids for a few items that caught my eye. Suffice it to say that I checked back in there whenever I had some downtime across the next couple days, and I was summarily outbid on all the items I actually WANTED - including a talking doll of Sumomo from the "Chobits" anime, a wall scroll with the cast of "Cowboy Bebop," and a little plushie of Radical Edward and Ein from the same.
Rest assured, however, that I did NOT end up leaving the auction empty-handed. But I'll discuss that in more detail in Sunday's report.
During this break time, I also ran into Chip and Greg Bishansky again; they asked me to demonstrate my Venom voice once I'd related the details of the audition, and both seemed suitably impressed with the result. We spent some time speculating about the possible subject matter of the radio play script, before heading off to catch the Wise Man's next panel appearance: "From TV to Comics."
Obviously, between Gargoyles and Young Justice, there was quite a bit for Greg, Chris, and Karine (rocking an awesome Power Girl cosplay) to expound upon on this topic. Unfortunately, this is also one of several panels to come where my memories, over a month later, have grown somewhat hazy and blended together…and as such, I'm having difficulty coming up with many specifics.
There was, I recall, a decent amount of interesting discussion about the difference between writing a comic continuation of an existing property (ala Gargoyles or "Buffy") and a comic supplement to an existing one (ala Young Justice or "The Batman Strikes!" that Chris used to work on).
The artists who were taking part in the panel also had some interesting things to say about art references, and how they've changed vastly in the digital age. There's a world of difference between the support that Chris got on YJ, up to and including model sheets directly from character designer Phil Bourassa, and the plights of those early "Star Trek" comic inkers who were working off photographs at best, and sometimes not even that.
Finally, there was a lengthy discussion regarding the unfortunate "kids comic ghetto" that tie-ins typically get unfairly shunted into, being placed in a separate section from "mainstream" titles for seemingly arbitrary reasons and thus often becoming difficult for their target audience to find. With tie-ins like "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" and "Adventure Time" doing so well lately, it seems an especially odd practice…especially for someone like me, who's pretty much reading nothing BUT tie-ins these days.
Greg had a funny anecdote about that, regarding an old comics shop he used to frequent. They had at one point sold "adult comics" that were placed in a special section behind a curtain, so that parents and children wouldn't be exposed to them. But later they replaced that section with their "kids comics" rack…but kept it in the same place, meaning children literally COULDN'T GET TO the comics designed for them.
And the publishers/shops wander why it's so difficult to pick up new readers these days?
FRIDAY, JULY 4
2:00 PM CDT
Greg and Chris were both scheduled to sign during the next block of time, so what proceeded at the end of the previous panel was a rather funny exodus of most of the same people to the exact same place. That would end up being a not infrequent occurrence throughout the con.
Since I'd picked up some of her prints the previous day, I asked Karine whether she'd be doing any signings that weekend; she shrugged her shoulders and said she had time if people wanted her to, so she ended up joining Greg, Greg, and Chris at the table.
So if you got something signed by her on July 4…you know who to thank! ;)
[Y'know…besides Karine herself, I mean. Man, was she nice.]
Anyway, I ended up somewhere around tenth in line or so for this signing. Karine signed the three prints I'd purchased Thursday, and while I'd already gotten what I wanted from Greg Guler I stopped by briefly to say hi and wish him a good one. But the main event here was definitely the Wise Man.
I readily concede that I went overboard, requesting a total of NINE things for him to sign at once - and since he always personalizes each autograph with a fandom-specific message, that took a while.
In addition to adding his signature to the two Greg Guler prints I'd purchased for my friends, I requested and received his John Hancock on my Season 2, Volume 2 DVD; my Clan-Building: Volume 2 trade; my Young Justice: Invasion trade; my Mecha-Nation trade; my "3x3 Eyes" Volume 1 DVD (which led to a funny exchange about what to use as the "signing quip," since he didn't actually remember any of the dialogue from that show…I half-jokingly suggested Christian Campbell's death-scream, since his character Yakumo Fuji bites it about once every 10 minutes in that anime…Greg ended up settling on "Stay alive!"); and of course, my copy of Rain of the Ghosts.
I also purchased and got signed a copy of the script for "The Last" - partially for the historical value and "cool" factor, but also because after having him do THAT MUCH for free, I would've felt quite guilty not to at least buy SOMETHING. :D
Lastly, I visited Chris Jones, who I would quickly come to discover is about the most all-around awesome guy you will ever meet. He's RIDICULOUSLY funny (oh, the tales that will come when I get to the Blue Mug on Saturday), and just has such an intense enthusiasm for having gotten to draw some of his favorite characters of all time - he singled out Ra's al Ghul in particular - that it's quite infectious.
He added his signature to my YJ: Invasion trade and the print of the Team I'd purchased on Thursday, as well as a promotional poster of Mackenzie Cartwright that I'd picked up at the "Parallel Man" panel.
After that we chatted for a while, mainly about Young Justice and his future plans for art based on such. He mentioned plans to do some "family portraits" at some point, which I'm definitely excited to see materialize; in particular, because he specifically mentioned the Marvel Family as one he'd like to depict.
I asked if he could give some details about how he envisions Earth-16's Mary and Freddy. In no particular order, he shared the following: fairly traditional looks for their "civilian" selves, a greater resonance with Captain Marvel's own uniform, stars and sashes to indicate their "ranks" as Sergeant and Lieutenant, and Mary wearing pants rather than a skirt.
Now at this point, the ongoing panels were more than halfway over, but once I was done with all the signings I hurried over to catch the tail-end of "10 Must-See Anime Movies." I'm always looking for new recommendations, and this seemed like as good a place as any to get a few.
Unfortunately, by the time I got there the actual "10" had already long since been discussed, so mostly I just got to hear various audience members share their suggestions for what HADN'T been on the list. Still, that was quite fascinating in its own right, and I picked up a few tips I likely never would've heard about otherwise.
The best part of the panel, though, was hearing from Frank Paur about which early anime had strongly affected him in his youth. Some of the oldest stuff recommended there came from his personal "list," and I definitely took note of a few.
FRIDAY, JULY 4
3:30 PM CDT
Okay…now began the time to really get into the meat of things. Starting with this panel, "Creating Gargoyles."
Of course, this particular story was one I'd heard dozens of times over. I've lost track of the number of times I've read through the original development materials, memos, pitches, etc. that are posted on Ask Greg, not to mention the video record of the (successful!) pitch on the Season 1 DVD. So very little of what Greg shared was new to me.
Nevertheless, it's also a story I greatly ENJOY, so I didn't particularly mind. Even twenty years later, in the midst of the largest conglomeration of Weismaniacs in the country, the sheer audacity of Gargoyles having gotten sold at all still blows my mind on occasion.
[Trademark pending on the term "Weismaniacs," by the way. I would very much like it to catch on.]
Every good hero needs a good origin; I'm convinced the same is true of stories. The best shows, films, games, etc. don't just HAPPEN, but rather come together in a confluence of ideas big and small - gathering to embark on a journey of adversity and challenge. I truly don't think Gargoyles could've been as special as it was and still is, were it not for the arduous process that Greg and co. went through to bring it about, and that's why the tale of its genesis still brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.
Now, with that being said, it wasn't ALL old information presented there (though most of the questions tended toward stuff that Ask Greg has long since covered). In particular, I've never really gotten the chance to hear Greg Guler's perspective on the whole process, and that ended up being a real treat.
I'm no artist myself (I have about as much talent for the craft as the self-admitted Wise Man), but there's something profoundly fascinating about hearing of all the nuances of character design he went through, trying to get the gargoyle species - and our leads in particular - to look JUST right.
For example, he noted that the iconic brow ridges came about because horns angled either upward or forward couldn't help but be seen as satanic by some…a problem that turned out NOT to be shared when they pointed backward. The wings, meanwhile, were envisioned as "a cross between a bat and a dragon."
The walkthrough of the show's progression from concept to final product seemed to go on longer than Greg had anticipated. He screened the original pitch, as well as the media preview used to screen for the press…but I was more preoccupied with what he DIDN'T show.
For the media preview was on a disc with such perennial favorites as the New Olympians pitch, the Dark Ages pitch, and the Bad Guys leica reel. None of which I'd ever seen before, and all of which I'd been hoping to see for over a decade. When the panel ran out of time and Greg had to put that disc back in its case, I think each and every one of my organs died a little inside.
Thankfully, this is yet another thing which worked out in the end. But once again, that'll have to wait for Saturday's report.
FRIDAY, JULY 4
5:00 PM CDT
I wasn't really interested in the panels going on in this particular block, so I made my rounds at the Dealer's Room - buying, probably stupidly, a handful of new "Yu-Gi-Oh!" packs - and Artist's Alley, before meeting up with Dragonlord and grabbing dinner at the hotel restaurant again.
I'd had either fish-and-chips or chicken tenders on Thursday (can't remember which off the top of my head, but either way I liked it), so for Friday I decided to go for something a little less "bar standard" and tried their chicken stir fry.
This, I ended up at least somewhat regretting; the meal was decent enough, but the portion size left something to be desired when compared to the price. Still, I made it work.
Since that morning, we'd all been waiting in anticipation of the cast posting for the radio play. The approximate time it was scheduled to go up was 6:00 PM, so Chip volunteered to check on it while we ate. Eventually, he met us at our table to convey that, unfortunately, neither he nor his brothers had managed to grab a role this year…but both Brainiac and I had made the cut!
Obviously, once we were done paying for our meal (it took about half an hour longer than I was hoping for us to get our check), I had to go and check the list for myself. And sure enough, there I was…and only a few names from the top, to boot!
Chip informed me that this likely meant I'd have a significant role, which basically meant I was super-super-SUPER giddy for the entire rest of the night.
FRIDAY, JULY 4
7:00 PM CDT
"Time Travel Theory." While I love a good time travel story, this is probably not a panel I would've attended on my own, were it not for two particular panelists: the Wise Man, who'd suggested it…and none other than our favorite neighborhood physics professor, Dr. James Kakalios.
When I read that name on Greg's itinerary for the weekend, I almost did a spit-take. Now of course, in retrospect, it shouldn't have been THAT much of a surprise - he teaches at the University of Minnesota, after all. Hell, his Wikipedia photo is from a CONvergence!
But I hadn't known that at the time. All I knew was that the author of one of my favorite books was going to be there, completely blindsiding me.
I'd read "Physics of Superheroes" in high school, purely because I'd heard about the concept and thought it sounded really damn cool. Plus, my high school physics teacher had spotted me reading it before class in the mornings and eventually suggested I do my final project for the year on the subject (which nabbed me an A for the class and helped secure my 4.1 GPA), so I have something of a soft spot for it.
One of my few significant regrets of the con is that I didn't get to chat with him at all after the panel. But I did get at least one thing out of it - we'd gotten there early and sat in the front row, so I took out my weathered copy of the book and held it where he could see.
Thankfully, he noticed and was delighted, asking me to hold it up so his wife in the back row could see. I whispered that I'd really enjoyed the book and his work in general, and asked if he'd be willing to sign it; he did so without missing a beat.
Soon after that the panel itself began in earnest, and I quickly became fully and totally lost.
Okay…so that's a BIT of an exaggeration. But still, while I'm an admirer of the professional sciences I'm a humanities guy by nature and by trade, and I have to admit that at times, the ACTUAL scientists on the panel went a tad beyond my caliber.
As such, this is another panel I'll admit not being able to recall too many details of, apart from that Gargoyles and Young Justice both got analyzed and compared/contrasted. All I know for sure is that I enjoyed it a lot, LOL.
FRIDAY, JULY 4
8:30 PM CDT
This was the next "big" one - "Gargoyles Q&A," featuring Greg, Greg, Frank, Chris, Karine, and Marina.
It was definitely another panel where an hour was nowhere near enough time to cover everything - especially with six guests competing for time, and a pretty much carte-blanche offering of questions.
This was the first time I'd actually seen Marina in real life, and…well, let's just say she did not disappoint. She was brash, incendiary, and deeply political. And oh, was it such a delight.
While I don't know if she's someone I'd really want to "hang" with, getting to hear her rant off about how awful Hollywood is, with the occasional aside to take a dig at George W. Bush or certain members of the Supreme Court, was too amusing for words.
She also had a few nifty insights to offer whenever the subject came to Demona, which was quite interesting; it's clear from how she speaks of our favorite gargate villainess that she's internalized the character more than any other role she's done.
She noted, for example, that one of the reasons she identifies with Demona is that she's a very "in the now" person, who doesn't really engage in worrying about the future. Demona, as she puts it, rather HAS to live "in the now," simply to function. Genuine, honest self-reflection on her past and future would pretty much destroy her.
There was also a fun moment where Brainiac tried to - lightly - get on Marina's case for her French accent in "Sanctuary"…which naturally led to groans all-around of "oh, you did NOT just go there." Then a native French speaker came up just a few questions later, and Brainiac was hilariously mortified.
"I SWEAR TO YOU, I DIDN'T PLAN THIS!"
FRIDAY, JULY 4
9:30 PM CDT
Immediately once the Q&A was over with, it was time to return to the Theater Nippon for Mamoru Hosoda's masterpiece "Summer Wars." I'd seen the film exactly once before, in the dub; this was my first time seeing it subbed, and Chip and his brothers' first time seeing it at all.
Of course, we'd all LONG since seen Hosoda's previous work for the Digimon franchise, "Our War Game" - and as many anime fans know, "Summer Wars" was largely born out of his desire to play out and expand on the best ideas from "Our War Game," without the baggage of being attached to a pre-existing franchise.
This makes the movie something of an interesting experience for Digi-fans. The basic premise (kids fighting a malevolent computer virus which has infected vast swathes of the internet via digital avatars) is fairly similar, and much of the action in the respective "digital worlds" is almost beat-for-beat the same.
But the "real world" segments, and consequently the characters and themes the film deals with, are vastly different…to its credit, as its superb quality and numerous accolades make clear.
In any event, I quite enjoyed revisiting the film. But we had to run out pretty much from the moment the credits started rolling, as we had one last appointment to keep that evening.
FRIDAY, JULY 4
11:00 PM CDT
Technically, because the movie got a late start, we arrived nearly half-an-hour late to this: the semi-official "Young Justice Meet-Up" with Greg and Chris. Fortunately, it didn't appear that we'd missed much.
UNfortunately, the reason for this was that it was just plain too loud in the Garden Court for an informal Q&A (like the one I'd been part of during WonderCon 2013), surrounded as we were on all sides by the second night of room partying.
As such, by the time we got there everyone was pretty much just hanging around in the general area, enjoying the atmosphere. Greg decided to make the most of it by at least taking some photos, and so thanks to Chip's iPhone I have the perfect image to encapsulate my CONvergence experience: myself between Greg Weisman and Chris Jones, wearing a Green Lantern shirt and holding my Kyubey. :D
The others left after a little while, though I stuck around to chat with other fans - a very nice girl in a Black Canary cosplay in particular. Eventually, when it was down to only Greg, Chris, myself, and three other fans, we all ended up heading for the hotel bar to get away from the noise.
Which means I can now officially say I've gone drinking with Greg Weisman. Well…for a given definition of "drinking," since I just had water and nobody ordered anything harder than a Sprite.
But still. IT COUNTS.
Anyway, pretty much inexplicably, this meant I'd ended up hanging in a small group with Greg two nights in a row. Considering that a mere five years ago, he'd probably have been second only to Barack Obama on my "list of people I'd love to have a private chat with someday," that's kinda mind-blowing in the grand scheme of things.
We were there at the bar for about an hour or so, mostly chatting about Young Justice with a bit of Gargoyles and general con gossip sprinkled in. I got confirmation on my theory that the Earth-16 Justice League has a charitable endowment in place, and that Bruce Wayne contributes to it; my partially tongue-in-cheek thought that Lex Luthor does as well was denied, however.
Undoubtedly, though, the best part of that night was teaming up with Chris Jones to recap "Chill of the Night" to Greg, which wasn't one of the "Brave and the Bold" episodes he'd seen. There's a certain phenomenon in these sorts of things I like to call "geek-synch," and it was very fun to be on that wavelength with a guy like Chris.
The subject came up, incidentally, because Chris mentioned he had a very particular idea of what to do with the Phantom Stranger in a hypothetical Earth-16 story…which of course, unfortunately, never came to pass. While for obvious reasons he was light on details with us, it would've involved the Stranger showing Nabu a reality where the scales had tipped too far in the direction of Order, possibly inspiring a more nuanced perspective in Doctor Fate from then on.
Chris also handed out his little "Disco Nightwing" mini-prints to us, and paid for the drinks (which probably totaled maybe 10 bucks at most, but was still a very nice gesture). But by this point it was well past midnight, so Greg called it a night at that.
After all, we all had places to be…and worlds to conquer!
Let me know if Weismaniacs catches on.