Got home a little less than an hour ago from my annual pilgrimage with the Spawn to HeroesCon in Charlotte, NC, and since I’m unpacked and settled in, I thought I’d get caught up. So strap in — here we go!
We left Mondoville a bit after noon on Friday, and the Spawn quickly tapped out as her dramamine kicked in. Two hours later, we reached base camp. We stayed at a different hotel than we usually do, but the conditions were pleasant enough and it was only a ten-minute drive from the neighborhood I’m used to. So after getting settled in, we zipped downtown to the Convention Center, got our wristbands and goodie bags, and made our way down to the floor.
Traffic was a little light that afternoon, but that was about what we expected. The Spawn’s primary focus was on the collectibles booths — she was looking for a couple of particular Transformers figures, but didn’t have any luck. She did, however, find a Star Wars minifig that she wanted. It was three bucks, but when she broke out her debit card, the owner said, “Just take it — it’s not worth the trouble of getting the processing app going.” Of course, it also likely helps that the Spawn is cute.
There seemed to be a larger selection of “geek vehicles” at the show this year, from Ghostbusters ambulances and Mystery Machines I’m used to seeing to a very nice version of the Bluesmobile. I didn’t ask if it had cop tires and suspension, but I thought about it.
While I saw some folks in Walking Dead gear, zombies were much more scarce than they were in past years. I did see several Infinity Gauntlets and other Avengers paraphernalia, but the new hawtness appeared to be stuff connected to Stranger Things and Rick and Morty. A pretty fair number of younger folks were sporting Steven Universe T-shirts and such as well, but as usual, DC’s Big Three and Marvel’s Spidey and Deadpool seemed to be the dominant choices for cosplay. Several women were wearing dresses that looked like the Tardis, but I don’t know if they’re roomier on the inside.
After making the rounds and making a donation to the local bunch of Klingons (who were raising money for an area hospice), we walked a few blocks up the street to the local Carolina Ale House for burgers (for the Spawn) and nachos (for me.) The heat and humidity were pretty stifling — the walk to and from the restaurant (about 4 blocks) was like wearing a suit made of the towels barbers used to employ for straight razor shaves. Honestly, even the convention floor was a bit stuffy. I never quite reached the point of looking like someone had upended a bucket on my head, but I wasn’t far from it.
On the way back, the Spawn and I were approached by a youngish guy who handed me a couple of pamphlets and a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t pay you anything for these,” and handed them back to him.
He said, “It’s OK, I’m a monk. Will you read them?”
Now in point of fact, I’ve already read the Bhagavad Gita — during an agnostic phase in my teens, I read religious texts from the Upanishads to the Book of Mormon, before finally hearing a call back to the Presbyterianism I grew up with. But I’m enough of a Northrop Frye fan to think I might see some connections if I read them again, so I said, “Yeah, probably.”
So he gave them back to me and we went on our separate paths. When we got to the car, the Spawn asked what I was going to do with the books. I said I’d either read them or put them next to the Gideon Bible in our hotel room. And since I left them in the car when we got back to the hotel, I now have new additions to my office reference shelves.
Although I didn’t spend a great deal of time outside on Friday, I apparently was a little shy on fluids, as I woke up at one point that night because I was trying to kick myself in the back of the head with my heel. I was a touch crampy, is what I’m saying.
However, I survived til Saturday morning, or noon, really, when we went to IHOP for brunch. Other than on a manager’s T-shirt, the whole “name change” thing was a non-starter, by the way. It certainly wasn’t playing at our table in any case, as the Spawn had her customary waffle and bacon, while I had an omelet.
After that, it was back to the convention. I got the car parked, and we went to the elevator in the garage. The door slides open, and we’re faced by a guy in full Michael Myers costume, with a sizable prop knife. We got on the elevator, rode up to street level, and went our separate ways. No words were exchanged. It was actually a little unsettling, but it’s hard to be terrified when you’re a head taller than the celluloid villain.
There was a substantial crowd on Saturday, but I still had time to say hi to a couple of folks I had met in the past. One of them was Bob Camp, of Ren and Stimpy fame. When I saw his booth, the Spawn leaned over to me and whispered, “Are you gonna ask him about John K. being a creep?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But not like that.” So after we said hi, I asked if Kricfalusi’s scandals had hurt Camp’s sales of Ren & Stimpy stuff (from badges to pencils shaped like the ever popular “Log“.)
“No,” Camp said, “It hasn’t hurt me, but it has totally destroyed the franchise.” And he started rolling. “Nick had actually contacted John about doing a new R&S short to run before the next Spongebob movie.” He shook his head. “I guess no one saw what he did with the Adult Party Cartoons. I mean, the guy’s a sociopath. And a pedophile! And he abuses everyone he works with. But people think that maybe he’ll get it right this time. . .
“And then this happened, and that was it. Just. . . boom. You can’t save this.”
Camp then recommended a book for me to check out, and mentioned that someone had made a documentary about the show. “We had all agreed to keep everything light in the movie for the fans, and they got everything in the can, and then, the story broke the next day.
“So I told the filmmakers, ‘Look, add more footage. Own this. If you put it out like it was, it’s gonna look like you’re defending him. Just tell the truth.” After that, we talked a little about Ralph Bakshi, and I bought a badge with one of Camp’s original characters and we went on our way.
A couple of booths away was Yale Stewart of JL8, and we chatted a bit as well. Business had been good, he said — he had been doing sketches in the booth to the point that his back was getting stiff. “I don’t know how I did this for years on the kitchen table before I got a drafting table.”
In some respects, however, he said the vibe is a little different in the community right now. The creators and fans are still having fun, but there just seems to be a kind of malaise in the culture at the moment. I told him I’ve seen it as well — it seems sometimes like everyone’s discourse is either fatiguing or fatigued. To cop a line from Blue Oyster Cult, “This ain’t the summer of love.”
But that doesn’t mean we’re without our pleasures. I happened across the booth for World of Strange, where I bought two T-shirts last year with horror and sf graphics, including one I’ve worn at Bouchercon and a couple of readings.
I found another couple of designs I liked a lot, including a shirt with a nifty pre-Code comic cover by Frank Frazetta — my dad (a Frazetta fan) would have been pleased.
A little later, the Spawn and I were separated, when a different guy came up to me and tried to hand me a couple of pamphlets and a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. “Um, someone gave me these yesterday afternoon, but thanks,” I said. Still, I wonder what there was about my presence that inspired these guys to pick me out. I mean, there were other people at this thing. Do I have some sort of “This guy is in dire need of enlightenment” aura?
After that, I stopped at Team Cul-De-Sac’s booth and bought a collection of Sarah Andersen‘s cartoons, with the proceeds going to efforts to cure Parkinson’s Disease. As I told the guy in the booth, I’ve seen enough of her work on social media — the least I could do is buy a book. I didn’t have the scratch to try their big fundraiser, though — an original Calvin and Hobbes sketch by Bill Watterson. Maybe one day.
As the afternoon grew later, the Spawn and I retreated to the hotel, and from there we headed to a movie theater about 20 minutes from where we were staying. We saw The Incredibles 2, which seemed a nice enough fit with our comic-themed weekend. The theater was pretty crowded, but we got there early enough to get decent seats, and the crowd was better behaved than I was expecting on an opening weekend.
The movie itself was reasonably charming — Pixar remains visually delightful, and I never get tired of Silver Age/Space Age environments, whether on the page or the screen. The plot itself was efficient, although the “overwhelmed dad” trope doesn’t really get any better when the kids have superpowers. Honestly, that part felt a little sitcomish, and it isn’t improving with age.
Likewise, while the super-toddler Jack-Jack offered fun moments (most notably in a set-piece showdown with a raccoon), there were times that I felt he was more of a sop to the younger audience than a plot driver, even though he is in fact key to the film’s resolution.
In some ways, I think my kvetching matches the Spawn’s hot take: “This wasn’t really a movie about superheroes — it was a movie about super powers.” Super powers are flashy and fun to watch, but aren’t enough for an audience to connect with the characters. The first Incredibles movie worked in some ways because it showed us the civilian lives of the people who happen to have these powers. This film needed more Bob and Helen Parr and less Mr. Incredible and Elasti-Girl.
And as the Spawn also noted, did we really need four different versions of “Heroes must stop large transportation machines” in a two-hour movie (Villain’s tunneler, train, helicopter, and ship, if you’re counting.)? Having said all that, though, no one expected this to be Citizen Kane, and were it not for the fact that Pixar has set the bar remarkably high over the years, it would have been perfectly nifty. It deserved the round of applause the audience gave when it was over, and it went well with popcorn.
The Spawn had consumed a good 75% of the popcorn, so she didn’t need dinner, but I did, so I got a to-go order from my favorite hole-in-the-wall burger joint, getting there just before closing. It traveled well.
This morning, we went back to IHOP for a Father’s Day brunch and headed back to Mondoville, as the Spawn needed to study for her Spanish class — we still have a week and a half to go. As we drove home, I noticed a car in front of me with one of the zillion “special edition” license plates one can get in South Carolina, espousing enthusiasm for a college, social cause, or hobby. The one I saw advocated the spaying/neutering of animals, and bore the slogan, “No more homeless pets.”
Now, I know what they meant, but as longtime readers know, I tend to overthink things. So I asked the Spawn, “Unless we’re talking about a homeless person’s pet, doesn’t the fact of being a pet imply that there’s a home in the picture somewhere? I mean, there could be homeless ex-pets, if the owners dump them or something, but really, aren’t we actually talking about homeless random animals here? If they’re pets, then they’re living with someone, which means they aren’t homeless, right?”
The Spawn displayed an intense interest in her cell phone. Probably wise of her. But we agreed that we had a fun weekend, and that we’ll do it again next year, and when we do, I’ll tell you about it again.