Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Thoughts On Garden State Comic Fest (2016)

To some readers, it may seem like all I ever do is go to different conventions across the East Coast every other week. To be honest with you, I don't think I'd mind if that were the case! While the idea of starting my own convention is still a priority in the future, I plan to take in as much as I can from other local events. So this weekend, my friend and I attended Garden State Comic Fest in Morristown, NJ. Like East Coast Comic Con, Garden State Comic Fest is advertised as a comic-focused convention, keeping the spirit of what a "Comic Con" was always meant to be. How did this one stack up against the rest?

Something I've always loved about the smaller conventions, is the idea that there is usually less ground to cover, and more time to simply take in what's around you. I'm happy to say this event is no exception to that rule. Being a sports arena, two large rooms were taken full advantage of (one actually being a hockey rink!), and a large hallway to keep it all together. Not during any point did it feel too crowded, or like there was a lack of space anywhere. It was also nice that they had a food counter in the large hallway, so you never had to go too far.

The first person I saw coming in was Paul of A Video Game Con. He had a great table set up, with two TVs and classic NES and Sega Genesis games on each. He told me that one of the best parts of the day for him, was seeing all the young kids who never grew up on these types of games, actually come up and learn how to play them for the first time. I wished him the best of luck and told him I can't wait for his event come September. I also hope they let me do my two panels again this year!

My friend and I figured that Kevin Eastman (co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) would be one of the first people we should head to, since his line was bound to be long. But we decided to start with the "Heroes Room" first, mainly because we didn't actually look at the map yet, and just kind of wanted to get the law of the land first. Right as we came in, there were comic and action figure vendors all over! This was also perfect, since there were a few comics/graphic novels I actually wanted to get for the sole purpose of getting them signed by some of the guests. (More on that later.)

The first person we came across when walking up the center isle was none other than Bob Camp, co-creator of The Ren and Stimpy show! Two minutes of talking with this man had me laughing just as much as when I first watched the cartoon as a toddler (even though looking back, that show was definitely NOT appropriate for children!). When I took a picture with him, he shouted "Everyone say shiiiiiit," causing us all to laugh pretty hard. He then followed that up by saying "See, that gets a genuine smile out of people; not like that fake stuff." Too true, Bob. Too true.

While wandering around (and seeing what was quite possibly the greatest Hulkbuster cosplay of all time), I also stopped by Rags Morales' booth to get him to sign my copies of Action Comics #1 (New 52) and the Identity Crisis graphic novel. He was happy to do so. I also saw Scott Hanna again, but I didn't have anything for him to sign this time, unfortunately. He's come to quite a few local conventions though, and I'm sure I'll have more opportunities to chat with him again in the future.

While I already had some things ready for Kevin Eastman to sign, I didn't have everything I wanted for Walt and Louise Simonson. This was especially true in Walt's case, as I admit I have never actually owned any of his run on Thor in the past. For Louise, I had a copy of Web of Spider-Man #1, Superman #75 (Vol. 2), and The Death of Superman graphic novel. Since she was also the creator of the X-Men villain Apocalypse, I just knew I'd have to get something X-Men-related for her as well. Thankfully, I managed to find a copy of X-Factor #6 at one of the dealer's booths (which was not only her first issue as writer for X-Factor, but the first full appearance of Apocalypse himself!). After finishing up exploring the "Heroes Room" for now, my friend and I went into the "Villains Room" to check out the other side (and finally get over to Kevin Eastman!). Before moving too far forward, I managed to find a copy of the graphic novel "Thor by Walter Simonson - Volume 1" at another booth. While it's not quite the same as having any issues of his (particularly his first Thor issue, #337), I figured it was at least something.

After this, my friend and I finally decided to stop playing around and locate Kevin Eastman's booth. I was afraid the line would be ridiculous by that point, and I was pretty much right... From about 11 AM to 12:45 PM, we waited to get to the front. The line got so large that con staff actually had to break it off and told everyone else to come back after 2 PM. Kevin Eastman's method for signings was a bit more creative than what I'm used to seeing creators do. The first item you brought up to him was free, while any after that were an additional $20. This was eerily perfect, as I had only brought two items with me (my Ultimate Black & White Collection Vol.1 graphic novel, and the GameStop reprinting of issue #1), and my friend was kind enough to stand in line with me to hand Kevin the second. I can honestly say the wait was well worth it. Kevin was an awesome guy to talk to, and it felt like he had been a friend of mine for years. I'd love to have that kind of charisma with fans of my own someday.

I looked around the "Villains Room" a little more after this, and got Scott Lobdell to sign my copy of Astonishing X-Men #1 (the first issue in the Age of Apocalypse crossover, to which he was a major driving force). I also got Tom Palmer to sign my copy of Kick-Ass #1 (to which he was the inker). We actually had a good talk about the impact of both the comic and the movie, and how the first film was almost exactly like the comic for about the first half or so. We also laughed about how Mark Millar always seems to try and push the (controversial) bar a little more with every major comic he puts out.

Before heading back to the main hallway for some lunch, I met up with Petterson Oliveira, one of the recent graduates from The Kubert School, who I met with some other students at a Barnes and Noble a few months back. I really do hope he becomes successful, as his Black Panther and Batman art are more than capable. It was great seeing him again.

Instead of being smart and just getting lunch at that time (I think it was almost 1 PM), I went back to the Heroes Room because my friend and I both found out where Walt and Louise Simonson would be (after finally taking a long overdue look at the convention map!). We figured it couldn't possibly take as long a time as Kevin Eastman's line did, so there was no need to worry. I also learned that I really need to stop assuming things...

Although Walt and Louise Simonson were not actually at their table (likely getting lunch by that point), there were already people lined up, awaiting their return. My friend and I figured we'd join in, since they couldn't possibly stay gone for too long of a time. I started to get a look of dread, as I noticed people with ridiculously large stacks of comics in front of us (including one guy who literally had three boxes of comics stacked on top of each other!). It took almost another 20 minutes before the two came back, and they were both really polite from the second they started talking with all of us.

Walt actually went through all parts of the line in order to tell people he'd only be doing a limited number of sketches for free, in order to keep the line moving. Once again, I have to admit both of them were well worth the wait! Walt kept telling stories about almost everything that people were bringing up to sign, and he was doing all kinds of sketches (for characters like Thor and Apocalypse). I had him draw one of Apocalypse for me as well, and took a great picture with the both of them. Talking with the two of them had to be one of the biggest highlights of the entire convention to me, simply because they were both so adorable together. It was like talking with my parents (if my parents were comic book writers and artists of course!).

After all of this, my friends and I FINALLY proceeded to get lunch, and I managed to somehow stay alive up to that point. As I was chugging down the coffee I had purchased, I had a good laugh at watching Robert Bruce (of Comic Book Men fame) walk up to the one of the arcade machines (with two really large machine guns), and just play the hell out of it like it was no big deal. After meeting him at The Great Philadelphia Comic Con, my reaction evolved from what would have been "Haha, that's really random!" to "Yeah... he would do that!" I didn't even have to talk with him in order to be entertained.

Wandering around again, it was pretty much impossible to not notice the huge line over by Jim Steranko's booth. He was probably the biggest hit of the convention, next to Kevin Eastman. I felt a bit lousy, as I didn't have any books that Jim put out. You could say the comics he made were "before my time" and therefore, harder for me to track down. I was happy to find a variant cover that Jim made for the recent Captain America reboot, and purchased that at another booth, in order to go bring it over to get signed. The man at the counter actually showed me some other comics that Jim made (mostly from his "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.E.I.L.D." series) for purchase. For some reason, I was just happy with the simple variant cover, recent as it was.

So with my Cap #1 variant in hand, I walked back to Jim's booth for the signing. I could see he was having long, deep discussions with a lot of the people coming up to him. Even though this caused me to wait longer, I couldn't help but find it really cool that Jim was taking the time to really talk with his fans, and not just rush them all away. As I was just getting up to the front of the line, some men walk over with Joe Caramonga, the letterer of the very Cap issue I was bringing up for Jim! They were asking Jim to give Joe one of his sharpies to sign with, and they came up with the idea of having Joe sign in blue, while Jim's signature was in red sharpie. This kind of added to the "red, white, and blue" effect of the cover. I asked Joe if he could sign my comic that way too, since he was already over here. All three of us started making jokes like "Who's booth is this again!?" After that, I finally got to talk to Jim briefly. He had an air of confidence in both himself and his fans that I really admired. He also had one of the most unique handshakes I think I've ever seen. Truly a class act, and I won't soon forget him.

By this point, it was already pretty late in the day, and less than an hour before the con would close up. I tried searching around for a copy of Thor #337, in the hopes of getting it back to Walt for one more signature. But it wasn't meant to be. Almost every booth my friend and I searched through didn't have any copies left, and the one that did was selling it for $50, which is far more than most would consider it to be worth. We were just about ready to leave...

Just as we both checked around the Heroes Room one more time for anything we might have missed, we suddenly noticed Louise Simonson was walking right up to a booth with steampunk animal art creations. The girl at the counter asked me and my friend if she was famous, because she "seemed like she was." I kind of laughed and explained, since Louise was too polite. After that, Louise and I actually had a short conversation. I had told her about how I was trying to make a convention of my own, and how I'd be lucky to afford guests like themselves someday if so. She laughed at my mention of cost to book them, and said "Oh, we're actually pretty cheap, so no worries there." She also gave me some suggestions about starting a convention, based on her and her husband's past experiences with them. It was a talk I will take with me forever, and it only makes me even more hopeful about this convention idea of mine really coming to life!

Overall, even with the amount of time I had to wait in line to meet some of the guests, I left this convention with a lot of positive feelings, and couldn't deny all of the fun I still had along the way. I guess this means I've got yet another convention to visit every year! Already looking forward to the next!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Classic Cinema: A Trip To The Moon (1902)

I thought for a good long while about what film I should choose for the first entry of this new classic cinema blog. I must have looked at dozens of movies from multiple decades before deciding. But in the end, there was only one clear choice: The iconic French film "Le Voyage dans la Lune," also known in the US as "A Trip to the Moon."

For those who are unfamiliar with Georges Méliès and his large body of work, I am about to open your eyes to something wonderful. Film really began around the mid-to-late 1800's, where multiple technologies were being developed and honed. Méliès began his film career by modifying an Animatograph (a projector), so it would work as a camera. He was no stranger to stage and theater, to which he loved dearly. He was also an enthusiast of creating magic and illusions for his audiences. This love would also serve to inspire all of the special effects he would later become famous for (such as time-lapse photography, substitution splicing, multiple exposures, and others).

"A Trip to the Moon" is arguably the first science fiction film ever made. Clocking in at around fifteen minutes, it was also Méliès' longest work to date, and cost him around 10,000 francs to make. He credited the inspiration of this film to Jules Verne novels, such as "From the Earth to the Moon" and "Around the Moon." Historians have also argued that they believe H.G. Wells' "The First Men in the Moon" to be another.

The plot of the movie is not going to sound like the most intricate story ever written, but that's far from the point here. Astronomers get together and devise a plan to get to the moon. The group gets in a capsule and fires off into space, crash landing into the moon's eye, and creating one of the most iconic moments in movie history. What moment am I talking about, you ask?

Yes, that moment.

If you take anything from reading this blog, let it be this standout and highly influential moment. Once again, Méliès' use of effects (namely the substitution splice, which allowed the capsule to immediately appear crashed into the moon's eye) did the talking, as this moment would soon never be forgotten. Do you remember the first time something truly stood out to you in a magical sort of way? Something that changed your perception of what a medium could actually be about, and opened your eyes to a beautiful world of imagination and discovery? Something that you took with you for the rest of your life, it impacted you so heavily and wonderfully? For thousands of people in the early 1900's, this was that moment.

Once reaching the moon and getting out of the capsule (noticeably without any kind of space suits), the astronomers decide to camp out, while watching the Earth rise and other constellations form around them. The big dipper even appears in the form of human faces on each star. The goddess of the moon (named Phoebe in Greek mythology) appears on a crescent moon, and wakes the astronomers up with a snowfall. They quickly find shelter in a cave (while encountering giant mushrooms along the way), and get attacked by creatures called Selenites, again named after a Greek moon goddess. One of the astronomers quickly hits and kills one of the Selenites instantly, showing that force is enough to take them down (as indicated by a "poof!" effect with each kill). The astronomers become outnumbered however, and are taken to a palace, where the king of these Selenites resides. Quite quickly, one of the astronomers gets the upper hand, and actually manages to grab the king, and slam him into the ground, causing another kill explosion.

In the chaos of this attack, the astronomers make their way to the capsule, fighting off any Selenite that may come their way. Five of the six astronomers make it into the capsule, while the sixth remains outside. The final astronomer uses a rope to actually tip the capsule over, in order to make it fall back to Earth. Now keep in mind that Méliès was not out to be scientifically accurate. In fact, if you hadn't already guessed, this film was a complete satire on scientific concepts, greatly exaggerated in order to create the adventure you see before you. Some believe this was done intentionally, to remove the limitations of "logical thinking" from the film making process.

Falling back to Earth (with a Selenite who happened to grab on to the capsule at the last second), the crew lands in the ocean and is picked up and brought ashore. The final scene consists of a parade being held for the astronomers to celebrate their return to Earth. The Selenite is held captive and the final shot is of a podium with the phrase "Labor omnia vincit" ("Work conquers all") written on it.

While obviously not a complex film by today's standards, the work put into the story and set pieces was quite exhaustive. Much of the scenery was mechanically operated and all of the backgrounds were hand-painted. People who have become bored or even disgusted by the constant use of computer-generated effects in today's movie market, may also find something to appreciate here. The effects in this movie were made using simple camera tricks and some seriously outside-the-box thinking, and yet I find them invoking more creativity than just about anything I've come across in recent years. As a fan of the original Star Wars Trilogy, I found myself getting more and more disappointed with each re-release that George Lucas would put out, tampering with material that many felt was perfect just the way it was, and replacing some of the more creative effects with excessive computer-generated usage.

It's not that I'm against the use of CG in today's movies (far from it in fact), but I feel that it has been abused to the point where almost all of the imagination factor that made classic films stand out so prominently, has become very few and far between in today's day and age. Movies such as this remind me of where we came from. They reinvigorate a sense of creativity and passion in a way that nothing else can.

You may have noticed some of Méliès' influence recently, in the form of the now famous book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" and the preceding movie, "Hugo." This actually pays a very sweet homage to the man that changed the face of film forever. Even Walt Disney could not help but give credit where credit was due.

In his lifetime, Georges Méliès made over 500 films. For one of those films to stand out so prominently from the rest, it shows us just how special the movie truly was. If you see any work of Méliès' in your lifetime, make it this one. See the sights that captivated so many back then, and you may even see something new within yourself.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Classic Film Blog: An Introduction Before We Get Started

Welcome fellow movie-goers! I've covered a lot of territory in my blogs, whether it be thoughts on music, recent movies and shows, animation, comic books, or other mediums that have made up my very being. While I do love these properties very dearly, I still feel I can do more. Well, that's just what I plan to do now! I've long been a fan of cinema as well, though you may not even know it! My favorite film of all time, for example, is a German silent film from 1927, Fritz Lang's Metropolis! There are many companies that exist today, for the sole purpose of getting these amazing movies out to the masses. For those who don't know, The Criterion Collection is an American motion picture production company. Their purpose is to focus on licensing and distributing "important classic and contemporary films" for fans like us. Another favorite company of mine, Kino International, also goes to great lengths to restore many classic works of art, for us to enjoy and take with us. I've always found it really alluring to learn about classic films and literature. It's one thing to read/witness a work of art; but I feel it's another thing to examine what went on behind these works as well.

And that is going to be the focus of these blogs. I intend to watch each and every classic film that I can get my hands on, whether it be through my own personal collection, or streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu (though I have been informed that streaming rights to Criterion Collection in particular will soon belong to FilmStruck, a new streaming service coming from the people behind the Turner Classic Movies channel, in the later part of 2016). With each film that I watch, I'll write up a new entry, talking about not only my thoughts on the movies themselves, but the stories behind them as well. I intend to talk about what made each movie relevant for the period it was released in, and try to discuss what we as film buffs can also take from them.

Depending on how well these blog entries go over time, I'd also like to consider writing posts on classic literature in the same vein. I'd like not to get too far ahead of myself of course, so I think I'll leave things off there. With each entry I post, I'll also end it by mentioning what my next blog will be about, so that you'll know what to look forward to each time I finish one up! I hope you all find this new venture to be as fun and enlightening an experience as I am hoping it will be, and enjoy this journey through cinema history together!