Having been to my first Emerald City Comic Convention last year, I knew what to expect and was a little more prepared this time around. The first thing I knew is that the night before one of the local comic shops, Arcane Comics, in Shoreline just north of Seattle, throws an annual pre-ECCC party where they invite customers and artists to come to the store, mingle, and get ready for the upcoming convention. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. I guess my vision was people setting up tables or at least having name tags to identify them as customers and artists. There was 75-80 people in the store at all times, coming and going, and I enjoyed hanging out with the people I did know and meeting some new people. There were more than 20 artists expected, but the only two I know for sure were Jen Vaughn (Adventure Time) and Johnnie Christmas (Firebug).
I also knew that I needed to take better notes, which I feel that I did. The actual convention ran for four days this year, Thursday through Sunday. Between enjoying the Artists’ Alley, where the comic book artists were, and the Exhibit Hall, I managed to catch a few panels every day. These are the ones I attended:
Stan Sakai Talks Usagi Yojimbo:
Sometimes stumbling onto a panel you know nothing about ends up being a pleasant surprise, and this one was just that. It was so unexpected because it was conducted on a stage in the back of the convention hall where anyone passing by could stop and watch. It also only lasted for five to ten minutes with an interviewer who directed specific questions at the guest in a talk-show environment. It cut out the unnecessary fan questions and was much tighter and more informative.
Usagi Yojimbo is a comic with a samurai bunny as the main character that Sakai has been drawing for 34 years and has been reproduced in 16 different languages. He originally wanted to do a comic about a samurai and for some reason drew a bunny and it stuck with him. Originally, it took him six to eight months to do a comic but now he can produce a 24-page story in about five weeks.
Sakai sees his comics as more than just a comic. He wants it to serve as a learning tool as well. And some of the topics he has used are about things that had interested him and he wanted to learn about as well. His most recent story, which came out this month, deals with Christianity and how it originated and affected China. Some of his other interests were seaweed farming and the making of soy sauce, which he used in previous installments.
With over 230 issues, he still loves comics so much that he continues to be a letterer for the comic Groo. Lettering is what a lot of beginners do as they are simply copying the dialogue into the comic book, but he enjoys the business and the craftsmanship so much that he does it even though he doesn’t have to.
The Man Behind BB-8:
Brian Herring was literally the man behind BB-8, as we learned, the famous Star Wars robot was a two-piece puppet. The body rolled, while the head and body were connected by metal rods that Brian would move and adjust to make it look like it was one piece and made sounds with his mouth to give the actors something to play off. He would wear a motion-capture suit and push the puppet around the sets. The desert scenes were so taxing that he had to hire a physical trainer just to get him in shape for the action scenes. Once they filmed the scenes, the digital animation crew would remove him and the metal rods from the shots making it appear that BB-8 was a real robot.
During the panel, they would show his work and the various scenes as they were shot and how they looked throughout various digital alterations that were made. Brian also discussed the differences between using practical effects and CGI, saying that a number of films have discovered that using both types makes the audience feel the realism than if CGI alone had been used. He also showed some of the various creatures used in the films that many people thought were CGI but instead were exceptionally crafted puppets.
This was probably the most informative panel I saw and I really enjoyed seeing how the movie magic was created.
Khary Payton Spotlight:
Khary Payton was one of the guests I was really looking forward to seeing and he did not disappoint. I probably wanted to see him more for his voice acting as Cyborg on Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go! (TTG!) than his character King Ezekiel on The Walking Dead. Before I went to the panel, I was unaware that he also voiced Aqualad on the DC comics show Young Justice. The majority of the questions and comments had to do with those three main characters.
Cyborg was his first voice audition ever and he got the role. One of the most important things about TTG!, was that his father did an episode where Control Freak made the team jump into various television shows. He knows the song "Night Begins to Shine” and sang it for the crowd, which was awesome. And shared secret information that TTG! was planning on doing an episode about The Walking Dead.
King Ezekiel is not just a zookeeper. He is a badass zookeeper because he jumped in a cage with a tiger (Shiva). The inspiration for the voice came from his Uncle Ned who had a big southern drawl. Normally when a character dies on the show, they know months in advance but with Shiva, he found out when first reading the script. Now that Shiva is gone, he’d like to get an elephant as his next pet. Khary has no preferred way that he would like to see Ezekiel die on the show and he will not make suggestions or give the writers any help since his plan is to live a very long life. It takes eight days to film an episode of The Walking Dead. Cooper Andrews, who plays Jerry, is the best gift he ever received on the show and is a great human being. If he had to pick one person to take into the apocalypse, it would be Yoda because he has lived over 900 years and knows how to survive.
Khary enjoyed playing Aqualad and was surprised at the response he received from people who watched the show when he killed Artemis. All kinds of people were calling him up all upset and the only thing he could tell them was to just wait and see what happens and that they will like the outcome. He also had a secret about the return of Young Justice that he whispered only to a fan named Moya who asked him a question.
Not only did he answer questions about his more popular roles but also had a lot to say on a variety of topics:
The craziest things fans have done -“Grandma’s grab my butt more often than you would expect.”
Favorite cartoons while growing up - Bugs Bunny doing opera, The Real Ghost Busters, He-Man, GI Joe, Dungeons and Dragons (he loved the archer’s bow), Tom Slick, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and The Tick.
His appearance on Geek & Sundry's Critical Role podcast - He had so much fun that he forgot people were watching and was able to just let go.
His advice to actors - “Be in the moment. Be authentic. Be present to the people around you.” You owe it to your fellow actors so you can both react off one another and give your best performance.
The best thing he has received from his job - The connection between him and his fellow cast members and between him and the fans because that is what life is all about.
My best moment of the panel was when a young man dressed as Negan came up to the microphone to ask a question. Khary told him to come back with dreadlocks and a tiger and then he would answer his question. At that point, he went back to the other side of the room and took a question from another person instead. He did go back afterwards and told him he was just playing with him, but it was funny and had everyone laughing.
Jeremy Shada Spotlight:
I had no idea who Jeremy Shada was when I walked into this panel. When I walked in, they were playing his first music video for the song “Kissaphobic” that was a shot-for-shot scene recreation from the Back To The Future film. It sounded like a typical pop song and the fact that it was such an exact recreation from the movie was a big turn off for me.
After the video and hearing the young girls screaming, I learned that he does the voice of Finn for the Adventure Time cartoon. He answered several questions about the show, how his character had actually evolved over the seasons, and how this final season would show a more grown-up version of Finn.
Jeremy also does the voice for Lance in Voltron: Legendary Defender, which is a show created by DreamWorks and Netflix. The audience was treated to a preview of the upcoming second season by watching a fifteen-minute clip. I have not watched Voltron before, but from what I saw, I will certainly be checking it out when I get a chance.
Wil Wheaton Spotlight:
I had never seen Wil Wheaton before and was looking forward to it. His panel was a lot more serious and straightforward than I was expecting. A large portion of the time was taken up discussing the issue of mental health and how depression affected him throughout his career. When it came time for audience questions, there were a large number of people who brought up the topic of their own mental health and how he had personally affected them. While it did get a little awkward at one point, Wil kept his composure and said all the right things to one woman about her personal issues. He impressed even my friend that I drug along to the panel.
Along with his current projects, he discussed how The Big Bang Theory’s executive producer Bill Brady had emailed him unexpectedly about playing a delightfully evil version of himself on the show. He commented how he would never forgive them for cancelling Eureka using Twitter. In addition, he praised Rob Reiner in his professionalism and ability to keep the cast focused on Stand By Me.
And as expected he received a few Star Trek questions where we learned his favorite episode was "Final Mission” where Wesley Crusher and Captain Picard crash-landed on a planet and Wesley had to take care of him. He learned a lot from Patrick Stewart on the show and never wanted to let him down. He also enjoyed the episode “First Duty” where he got to act with kids of the same age. And he really hated the infamous “Shut Up Wesley,” line from the “Datalore” episode because he felt that it belittled the opinion of children and his character was asked to be on the bridge and given some responsibility and therefore did not deserve such a comment.