Saturday at Wizard World Tulsa 2014: My First Con Experience

When I learned I’d be going to Wizard World’s Tulsa Comic Con this past weekend, I was excited and a little nervous. I’d never been to a Con before, and while I have certain dorky tendencies, I don’t consider myself a full-blown geek. I’ve read a few graphic novels and manga, but I don’t haunt the comic book store. I’ve seen almost all of the superhero movies, but rarely have they been caught in the theatre. I like science fiction movies and stories but not more so than any other genre. And while I play a lot of games, they never get more serious than Plants Vs. Zombies or emulated versions of The Legend of Zelda. What I’m saying is that while I like to visit the Land of Geek, I’d really rather not live there. The thought of spending a day in its capitol city was more than a little daunting – like visiting a foreign country where you don’t really speak the language and you are unsure of the local customs.

But hey, you only live once.

The Con was downtown and it took me about 45 minutes to get there. I knew I was in trouble when as soon as I got off the exit traffic was backed up. It took another 45 minutes to get to the parking garage. All the time I kept thinking there was surely an easier path. I know Tulsa well enough to realize there were other parking areas and roads to the Con but not well enough to know where those things were.

Finally inside, I was met with a barrage of sensory input. There were people everywhere all decked out in costumes wandering to and fro and everywhere in between. It was total chaos. There were ticket booth lines up against a wall and shirt sellers alongside food vendors and all sorts of information kiosks, but nothing that made sense to me immediately. Finally, I asked a lady who seemed to work there where I could get my press pass and she pointed in a general direction. A bathroom break to catch my nerves and I finally found it. Pink bracelet firmly attached to my arm, I braved my way into the main floor where the vendors were selling their goods.

There were loads of super cool stuff including lots of geek shirts, posters, trinkets, swords, doo-dads, patches, and everything one might want to collect. While I do collect lots of different things, I’ve never been all that into collectibles. I have DVDs, books, music, and various wall hangings, but trinkets and the sort of collectibles that you can do nothing with besides stick on a shelf have never really appealed to me. This is likely do to the fact that I seem to move about once a year and those things are hard to pack, get easily lost, and tend to break when you slog them around in big trucks. But while I didn’t actually see anything worth buying, it was lots of fun to browse.

At the back of the room were all the celebrity booths. This is where the Con really kind of drives me crazy. I’ve already laid money down for parking and to just walk in the building now if I want to get anywhere near the celebrities I’ve got to pull $40, $50, $60 or more out of my wallet for each individual, and that’s just for an autograph, a picture, and maybe three minutes of their time. If I actually want to spend any real time with them, I’ve got to drop the big bucks for a VIP package. I don’t begrudge the celebrities making some extra cash and I recognize these guys wouldn’t be anywhere near Tulsa, Oklahoma if there wasn’t a large paycheck involved, but it just seems like such a huge money grab that it left a bad taste in my mouth. But hey, if you have the cash and want to meet someone whose work you admire, well you only live once.

I’m also not a big fan of our celebrity culture. I certainly love a great many artists and their artistry. There is a long list of musicians, writers, directors, and actors that I’d love to meet and discuss their work with, but our culture’s obsession with famous people and the industry that follows them can get a little depressing. I say that with one side of my mouth while with the other I have to admit I wandered around the celebrity corner trying to catch glimpses of everyone there while secretly getting a little giddy over Ernie Hudson and Ralph Macchio.

Wizard World presented a wide array of panels. There were an assortment of celebrity talks mixed with a great many discussions on the various aspects of the sub-culture. From Daleks to writing graphic novels, from Gamergate to Homer (both Simpson and the Greek poet), they have the whole world of geekdom covered in one way or another.

Looking at my schedule, I noticed that Jon Bernthal and Scott Wilson of The Walking Dead were giving a talk in one conference room while in another there was a more scholarly discussion of classic literature and epic themes in the world of comics. Not being a fan of that zombie show, I decided to try and learn something. About ten minutes in I was mentally discussing how rude it would be to walk out on the professor. It’s not that his discussion was bad, its just that it was a little dry and his presentation was rather lacking. In his defense, it’s got to be hard to discuss Greek mythology to a bunch of folks dressed up like Deadpool and characters from Final Fantasy.

Eventually I decided (again) that you only live once and I slipped right out and wandered over to The Walking Dead panel. I’m really not a fan of that show, but the schedule said James Marsters (Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) was up next in that room so I figured I might as well come early to him and try and get a good seat. I fully expected The Walking Dead guys to be talking to a full room and that I’d have to wait in line outside. The room was packed but there was a steady stream of folks moving in and out. One of the ushers pointed me to the back of the hall where I stood with the rest of the latecomers until I spied an empty seat a few rows in.

Both Bernthal and Wilson were funny and entertaining, but neither seemed all that engaged. For example, when one kid asked them who inspired them to take up acting, Bernthal talked about his first acting teacher, but Wilson replied pithily that Jim Beam was his inspiration. That’s a funny line, but I can’t help but feel sorry for the kid who asked. He was obviously a fan of the show, had probably spent weeks in anticipation of this moment, spent his money on tickets, stayed up all night thinking of a question to ask, stood in line nervously waiting to ask it, and the response he gets is a one-line joke. When someone else asked them what they though their characters would be doing if they hadn’t **spoiler alert** been killed off, neither of them had any idea. As if they’d never given it the slightest thought. But that might just be my bias against the show. They really were entertaining and the audience seemed to have a good time.

James Marsters was the very definition of engaged. He joked, told great stories and gave considerable thought to the questions presented to him. He kept the audience rolling in the aisles while also talking at length about his career, craft and life. He never talked down to anyone but often gave them praise for asking interesting questions and made even the more mundane questions seem fascinating.

Next up was William Shatner. While the other panels had a Comic Con host with them, Shatner came out alone. He is every bit as weird, hilarious, and magnificent as you imagine. He walked straight out on stage and just started talking about whatever came to his mind. He spent the first several minutes trying to remember when he’d been to Tulsa and then discussed a great horseman he once knew in Oklahoma City. Then he told grand stories about his life in the most Shatneresque way possible. After about twenty minutes of this, he finally seemed to notice there were people standing in line waiting to ask him questions and so he took a few. His responses rarely actually answered the questions in full but they were so wonderful in themselves I doubt anyone really cared.

My favorite was when a 17-year-old girl in a Star Trek shirt told how she had avoided watching the original series for many years because she’d heard that Captain Kirk was misogynistic, sexist pig, but now after seeing it, she believed that was a mischaracterization and she was wondering his thoughts on the subject. After making her repeat the question three times (and in his defense the sound system wasn’t working well), he finally answered with a long tirade about how women are generally more nurturing and that men should be about the business of hunting and gathering. And hey, if while out killing a boar they happen to sleep with anything else that moves, then why is that a big deal? Then at the end he seemed to get a closer look at the girl and asked her how old she was. When learning she was but a teenager, he added slyly that it was too bad, and that she should come see him next year. Only Shatner would respond to a question about a character’s sexism by hitting on the teenager who asked.

His talk ended at three, and I then realized I’d not eaten lunch. I stood in the long line to get my overpriced chicken fingers and sat on the floor against the wall to eat, as all the food-court tables were taken. It was the perfect place to people watch and the teenagers next to me were doing just that. Surprisingly, they weren’t catty at all but instead were excited to see all the well-made costumes. Their only complaint of the afternoon was that while they rather liked the girl wearing a Babydoll costume from Sucker Punch, that movie really sucked and she should have modified it to be something else.

The costumes really were magnificent. Deadpool and Harley Quinn were the most popular of the day, but there were plenty of folks dressed like characters from Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and countless video games and anime that I’m not familiar with. It’s quite wonderful, really, that so many people take the time, money, and effort to create costumes of the characters they love.

After lunch, I wandered the merchant area a couple of more times before deciding my body was rather angry at me for eating so late and the exhaustion began to set in. I’d be missing Robert Englund and Ralph Macchio but I knew it was time to head home. I’d entered into geek ground zero and survived. Nobody accosted me for not being properly dressed, I wasn’t made fun of for not knowing who some of the cosplayers were or the difference between a geek and a nerd. Everyone was really quite nice and I even got a compliment on my Super Mario/Hunter S. Thompson cross-over t-shirt.

All in all it was a really fun day. My press pass would have gotten me in for the next day’s activities and I thought hard about coming back. But in the end while you do only live once, sometimes once is enough.

Mat Brewster

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