Monday, February 7, 2011

New Orleans Comic Con


Last weekend, I had the extreme pleasure of being chosen to be one of two official photographers at the New Orleans Comic Con. It was my first Comic Con ever, and it makes me wish that I worked for Wizard Con and could follow them around taking pictures for them all the time.

This blog entry is about my personal experience, which means I’m only going to have information about what I experienced personally, and my thoughts on those parts. The pictures are either my personal (unofficial) photos, or photos I borrowed from my co-photographer, Laurie Lee.

So, if you’d like to take a gander, I think it’s worth it. If only to hear what a pathetic fangirl I turn out to be.

I arrived on Friday morning at 8:30 (late) and met with the Con organizers and other volunteers. I got to wear a horrendously hideous bright yellow shirt and a name tag. I’m a name tag person! I promptly grabbed a marker and wrote “Bunny” on it, and also “Photographer”, as my contact wasn’t there yet to give me the official fancy badge.

Of the four pictures, I only knew what two of them were. The con didn’t start until 10:00, and the first panel wasn’t until 11:45, so I spent the majority of the morning helping to get all the fans wristbanded. The costumes were hilarious, and the fangirls and boys were adorably tunnel visioned. Once I got out from behind the desk and started snapping pictures, things started getting more interesting.

I am the wrong kind of nerd for Comic Con. I don’t read comic books, in general. The only ones I try are those specifically recommended to me, such as Sandman or The Walking Dead. I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie. And the last video game I played was on the original Sega Genesis. So as I walked the lines of people waiting to get in, snapping pictures and cooing over how amazing they looked, in my mind I’m thinking, “Am I supposed to know what you are?”

I walked up and down the line, and saw X-Men, super heroes, villains, one Horrible Doctor, and tails that I didn’t understand the full horror of until the costume contest later that night. The line was long, but it wasn’t cold outside, and everyone was in pretty good spirits.

At 10:00, people started moving in. When I first walked in, I made a few rounds to orient myself about where each celebrity would be. All of the Whedonverse actors would be on the same aisle, so I didn’t have to split my attention too much from them. Tasty Appetizers Those actors hadn’t arrived, or were still being set up, so I walked around and looked at the other actors on the floor.

The first person I saw was Ernie Hudson. Ghostbusters! Actually, when I think Ghostbusters, I picture Bill Murray. When it comes to Mr. Hudson, it’s all about The Crow for me. He was incredible in it, and it’s one of my all-time favorite films. I got a picture of him with fans, and his booth right across from the Louisiana Ghostbusters. Very clever placement there.

In another area was Louis Gossett, Jr. Of all the (non Whedon) actors at the Con, he intimidated me the most. He is the only actor I did not say anything non-official to. I lucked out in a huge way, though. As I stood to one side, snapping a picture of him with fans, he noticed Ernie Hudson walking nearby and called him over. I immediately motioned to his manager, and asked if I could get a picture of the two of them together. His manager was scary and ready to eat me and my first born, so I only got one picture. Wherein he blinked. Those are the breaks, I suppose. I got to meet Peter Tork from The Monkees, who is so hilarious and friendly. I didn’t speak to him long, but I let him know that I watched the show as a child, and still listened to the music. He was very sweet. I also walked past Aaron Douglas from Battlestar: Galactica. But more on him later.

Chandler Riggs, Keisha Tillis, and Adrian Kali Turner from The Walking Dead were in a booth together. They were being interviewed by media when I walked up, and I got a few good pictures of them with the press. I told them that I had just finished up the first season of the show the weekend before (future entry coming), and that the three of them had made me cry, scared the hell out of me, and cracked me up, respectively. I spoke to the parents of the two boys, who were very friendly and personable, though I had the best conversation with Chandler’s dad. He told me about what the filming was like, and how he was cast. We also discussed Cheap Trick. Very cool guy.

Ray Park was the very first booth on the Whedonverse aisle. I was trying to get a crowd shot by standing on a chair near his booth with a few of the personnel there to ensure I didn’t fall. A very angry gentleman (Handler? Manager?) came up behind me and demanded to know why I was blocking his way into Ray’s booth. I hopped down, turned to the others, and said, “I just got scolded.” I looked apologetically at Ray, and he just smiled at me. I’ve never seen any of his projects, but he’s a good guy in my book.

As I was looking around near Ray’s booth, I spotted a dark haired, lean and muscular man with glass-cutting cheekbones walking towards me. My heart leapt into my suddenly bone dry throat, and the hand holding my camera gave a few epileptic shakes. Why, hello there, James Marsters.

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All but one of my best memories from this weekend came from the five people in these photos. It took every ounce of strength and professionalism and dignity to stop myself from just hovering like a freak around these people all weekend. As an official volunteer of the con, in THE SHIRT, I wasn’t allowed to be a freak of nature around them. I made it a point not to go up to the celebrity booths if they were occupied with fans, because people who pay win out over people who were smart enough to volunteer.

The first booth I walked up to was Nick Brendon and Kelly Donovan. As expected, they had already accumulated a line. Nick was occupied, but Kelly was hanging to the side, just observing everything. I caught his attention and asked if I could take a photo. He immediately flashed me the brightest, most amazing smile. Involuntarily, my mouth opened and I said, “You have got such a wonderful smile.” I don’t know if I turned bright red, or just a soft shade. He was incredibly sweet, and I scurried away.

Marsters’ booth was swarmed. Luckily, he was next to an empty booth (Julie Benz’s original booth, and she wouldn’t be there until Sunday), however THAT was also swarmed, with the fans who wanted to snap a picture and not pay money. Like me. I edged up next to the volunteer monitoring the line, and snapped a few shots of him talking to fans. My first sign of how very expressive he was. Also, my first real look at his entourage. A super friendly looking British woman, a less friendly looking woman, and The Manager Of Doom Who Wants to Eat Your Soul. More on him later.

Clare Kramer had a few fans around her, so I moved to James C. Leary, who…didn’t. I snapped pictures of him while telling him what a fan I was, and how much better I thought he looked out of the Clem suit. We chatted for quite a bit, including me getting very upset when he informed me he had given up on Hollywood. He’s now in the business of making video games, which is awesome, but still. I prefer him on my television as opposed to in something I don’t touch. I also harassed him endlessly about logging into Twitter and updating more regularly. Or ever.

There was a lull at Clare Kramer’s booth, so I moved over to get a picture and speak with her. She was immediately open and friendly, and pretty much from the jump stole the title of Sweetheart of the Con. Her kindness was genuine, and she seemed really happy to be there. We discussed her beautiful little girls, and her plans for their upcoming birthday parties. I told her that if it weren’t for the Mayor, she would’ve been my favorite Buffy villain. She said she hears that he’s the fan favorite constantly, but she’s never seen Season 3. I told her if she only watches one season other than her own, it should be that one. Her fans returned, and I moseyed away.

panel1 (640x480) At a little before 11:45, I headed upstairs for the panel area. There were two rooms for the panels, Room A and Room B. As is expected, Room A is for the bigger names, Room B is for the smaller. All of the actors appeared in A, and the comic artists and writers were relegated to Room B. Laurie and I were to photograph approximately 3-5 minutes of each Panel. This meant leaving the A panels and going to the B. This, to put it lightly, made me cranky. Damn professionalism.

I only got to sit in for about 25 minutes of James’ panel. This was before Laurie and I hatched our ingenious scheme, so I was standing in the doorway, and she was on her hands and knees in front of the dais. It only took me a few minutes to catch up and crawl over to where she was. James is extremely funny, and not a little ADD. He sat on the table, swinging his legs and gesturing with the mic. The biggest revelation of the panel was that he and Patricia got married extremely recently. He talked about going to school, and a little about his experience on Buffy, and a lot about Caprica. I moved out of the way ahead of him, and got a great picture of him signing a fan’s bra. Not while it was on her.

The next panel was Billie Dee Williams. As I said above, I’m not a Star Wars fan. But he has a very soothing voice, if a bit monotone. I enjoyed the four or so minutes I stayed in there before hustling out to go to the simultaneous comic panel. I left as he was saying that Colt 45 always worked for him. Heh.

Please note again, I am not a comic book fan. I have absolutely nothing pertinent to say about the comic panels I sat in on. The only one I might’ve been interested in was the author of The Crow, and sadly that was on Sunday as I was down taking photographs of the lesser marketed starving comic artists.

Next up was the Nick and Kelly panel. This was the best panel of the weekend. I say that confidently, despite not having sat in for any panel on Sunday other than Julie Benz. Again, Laurie and I were on our hands and knees snapping pics, and I was too busy laughing to take a good deal. Nick is a dirty, dirty boy. A fan got up to the mic to ask a question, and she had multi colored hair. Nick immediately said, “I want to lick your hair.” Needless to say, this led to serious dirty jokes and sexual innuendo. He and Kelly practically had a contest going on. At one point, Kelly said, “It’s all about the backrubs and blowjobs.” And then a small child came up to the mic to ask a question, and the crowd roared. Nick invited her up to get a hug, and there was a loud, resounding “Awwww”. Another little girl came up to the mic later solely for a hug. Only the little ones can get away with that.

And no Nick panel would be complete without it:

After the Nick and Kelly panel, Laurie realized that we needed to do something to save our knees and backs. We took our sticker name badges, and put them on two chairs in the front row. Both had our names, and hand-written “Photographer” on them, and we also added the word “Reserved”. Let some little fangirl bitches try to take our seats. We were official, and now we had official seats.

I don’t remember much from the Clare and James Leary panel. I know that there was a reference to Clem eating cats, and James’ wife believing he didn’t eat enough. You could tell how many people had that joke fly straight over their head.

I ended up arriving late to the Aaron Douglas panel. I walked into the very large room from a back door, and as I was making my way to the front of the room, a fan at the microphone said, “So, I have a question about BSG, and this is a spoiler.” I could not run. So instead, I just moved my legs harder, trying to propel myself to the next door. As I turned, almost safe, the fan spoke again. The wind went out of my sails, and I slunk away. After about ten minutes, I went back in, and sat to take more pictures, listening the entire time to them discuss the finale of BSG. Sigh.

Adam West and Burt Ward finished up the panels I was paying attention to. They were so picture phobic, Laurie had to practically sign over an internal organ to get permission from their people. The men were both delightful and very funny, but a few times I thought I saw a vein twitch on Adam West’s head when Laurie took a picture.

costume1 (480x640) (2) The last official events of the night were the costume contests. First up was the child’s costume contest, open to kids 10 and under. I thought that was a bit much, seeing as how there were 14 entries for this, and what felt like 100 entries for “adults”, many of those being under the age of 18. But the prizes given away were stuffed animals and the like, so I suppose that was only fair.

The costumes were truly amazing. I’d already seen some of the children throughout the con, but a great deal I had not, including the X-Men twins (Rogue and Storm) and a tiny Spike and Drusilla (Mommy dressed as a very grown up Drusilla). The kids obviously had a great time, and were an absolute nightmare to photograph, as they would not stop moving. Chandler Riggs from Walking Dead was a “judge”, though it was decided there was a 14-way tie. The children swarmed the toys, and I was jealous when I saw them walking away. They had a stuffed snail, for crying out loud.

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The adult costume contest was a whole other thing. Luckily for the parents, the majority of the children cleared out before those costumes started rolling out. Each costume paraded up the aisle between the two sections of chairs, then came to the front, said a little something about their costume, and posed. This was when I got the most severe rug burn of the night, ducking and dodging around the NON OFFICIAL photographers to get pictures of each costume, then scurrying back to get the picture at the front of the room.

James C Leary was one of the judges, along with a fabulous lady who does costume design and whose name I don’t know. She was hilarious, and James was inappropriate. Jarrett Crippen, aka The Defuser, had acted as an MC for all of the panels, and he was judge and MC for this. I think between him and James, any parent still keeping their child in the room was extremely uncomfortable. The entire contest may be the funniest thing I will see all year.

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But the best part of the night came second to last, when these ladies came dancing down the aisle. Orion's Envy came to the front, and proceeded to put on a very long, extremely well choreographed belly dance routine. If we had realized how extensive it would be, and how truly hilarious James Leary’s reaction would be, there would be both picture and video. Sadly, we realized halfway through that they weren’t intending on stopping anytime soon.

James danced. And when I say danced, I mean he did the greatest white boy dance ever seen. He also pulled out his wallet. Sadly, it would appear he had no dollar bills. The girls had to have known this was going on behind them, but they held their composure beautifully. All day people had wondered who “The Green Girls” were. The set up had a huge payoff. They did beautifully.


After the costume contest, there was a bit of time before James Marsters’ concert, at 9:00. Everyone cleared out of the room, and I headed downstairs with Laurie to get bottled water. We had our reserved stickers, so I didn’t have to worry about not having a good seat. Laurie headed upstairs before I did, and by the time I got up there, the line was down the hall, and she was nowhere in sight. I realized she was inside, enjoying her view of James doing a soundcheck.

And I couldn’t find a way to discreetly slip inside without looking like an asshole. I called her quite a few untoward names in my head as I smiled sweetly at the volunteers and the people waiting in line.

I was allowed to go in a bit before the show, to prepare to make sure everyone entered in an orderly fashion. James was finishing up, and quickly headed out of the room to wait for everyone to get in and be seated. Laurie and I had an agreement that I would record the video, and she would take photos. So the photographs to the right are copyright her, not myself.

James performed for the entire hour, and had entirely too much fun goading the crowd. He was sweet and funny and above all a very very naughty little puppy. I had not heard his new album, Like a Waterfall, so imagine my surprise when I heard the words to his song “Look at Me”.

You can’t tell from the quality of the video, but James is grinning at me for a good portion. More on that later.

At the very end, as James is thanking everyone for coming out and preparing to head out the room, he quickly and casually said, “And you can fight over the set list.”

Only I didn’t hear him clearly at first. It took a second for me to realize what he said. And I’d been eyeing that piece of paper for an hour. I launched myself from my chair towards the stage, and noticed a shadow to my right. I dived for the paper, flinging myself onto the stage and nearly coming to rest on the paper itself, my hand grasping part of it and someone else's hand holding the other part. I had no idea who it was, and I did not care. It could’ve been an adorable five year old, or a quadriplegic octogenarian. That. set. list. was. mine.

It turned out the hand belonged to the unstoppable Rosie, a woman I had seen around the James fandom world and knew was hardcore. And who I KNEW had seen James live before, and who could completely afford to GIVE IT OVER. I was. not. letting. go. And then, as I’m watching James traipse out the door, he turns, and spots the two of us. More accurately, me, full on looking at him with my hand behind my back, holding his set list and turning eight shades of red. He grinned, and walked out the door.

Got the set list, though. So, hey. Thanks, Rosie!

So, that was Saturday. Sunday, I got there at 8:30 again. Spoke to the photographer guru, who said he wanted more photographs of the comic artists, along with the panels. Other than Julie Benz, I was not intending to stay at any of the panels long, so I was planning on staying downstairs for most of the day anyway.

julie3 (640x480) Julie arrived around 10:00. Her people had sent word ahead to have her photographs ready on the table for her to sign for the fans, so I had laid them out and covered them to stop anyone from picking them up.

I’ve always liked the belief that if you have nothing nice to say, you shouldn’t say much of anything at all.

Julie signed autographs at her booth. She had a panel at 11:00am.

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After I headed downstairs, I hit the Artist Alley like I was Ike Turner.

As I said, I have no comic book knowledge. The majority of the artists there were not huge superstars, though, so this worked nicely. I ooh’d and ahh’d over artist renditions of popular characters (Most Overdrawn Character Award goes to the X-Men), but when it came to original artwork, I took the time to stop and look through portfolios after snapping their photos. I even (gasp!) purchased comics, though they were old school Buffy and Angel. So does that even count?

My favorite artists were two gentleman who were quite obviously bored. I rounded the corner to an aisle, walked to the first table, and burst out laughing. I turned, composed myself, and turned back around. Promptly started laughing again. The handsome blue-eyed gentleman at the table watched me, nonplussed, from behind his giant hand-drawn mustache that covered his face from upper lip to bottom of his chin. I could not take a picture without laughing, so I finally just gave up and chuckled through the photograph. He offered to draw me one, and I asked for a villainous curly-cue. He put QUITE a lot of effort into the artwork, and even gave it to me on the house. I wore it to a few tables, but everytime I talked, the tape unstuck, plus I felt myself turn red as each artist looked up and did a double take.

I came to another table, where an artist was lazily scribbling upside down on the tablecloth in front of him. I snapped a picture of him drawing, then politely stood by to watch him draw. I wasn’t planning on staying, but as the creation took shape, I was essentially mesmerized. In a matter of maybe two, three minutes, he drew a large, fully formed character, muscley and Hulk-esque, holding a teddy bear and sucking his thumb. I was slack jawed at that moment. He was amused by how blown away I was, and promptly got an X-Acto knife and cut it out of the table cloth for me. Despite begging and pleading to other con volunteers and employees, no one could tell me where to get him another table cloth. If he shows up next year, hopefully he asks for a few extras.

The panels that I missed were Claudia Christian, of Babylon 5 fame. I did not watch her in that, but when I went to get her official picture, she offered to get in the photograph with me, which was very sweet. She was extremely nice and personable, and I pretty much slapped the hell out of myself yesterday when I realized she was on Freaks and Geeks. My memory is not what it never was. Ray Park and Louis Gossett Jr also spoke, as well as Mike Grell and Mark Ryan. Mike Grell and I had a very hilarious conversation about my name (Bunny), which led to him telling me a seriously awesome story about seeing Hugh Hefner in a men’s restroom. You’ll have to ask me personally to hear the story. Mark Ryan is a wonderful British man who took a photo with me, even though I didn’t have a clue who he was. Voice of Bumblebee in Transformers. Never saw it. Again, I am a bad geek. But he was a wonderful man, and I’m glad I got a photo. Walter Koenig from Star Trek had the second to last panel. He is the only actor I did not speak to nor get a picture of. Not that I didn’t care to, it just didn’t happen. There was also a Walking Dead panel at the end of the day, which neither Laurie nor myself made it to.

I spent the majority of the afternoon stalking the Whedon booths. The fans had finally died down a bit, save for the ever present hardcore Marsters girls. Gotta love them. I know he does. I chatted with Leary and Clare Kramer a bit, and got both of them to sign my photographer badge. Handed my badge to the volunteer manning Julie’s booth, and she got her to sign it for me. Again, if you can’t say anything nice. I was standing between Nick’s booth and James’ booth, and Nick came out from behind the booth to hug a fan. I quirked an eyebrow and said, “Hold up. If you’re giving out free hugs, I need in on this.”

He hugged another fan, then turned to me, arms stretched. I hugged him, and he squeezed me very tightly. Very. The good kind of hug, not the “pat pat tap tap”. I smiled at him, my skin tingly. He ended up being the only Whedon actor not to sign my badge. But I’ll take the hug over the autograph any day.

James was still overfanned, so I walked over to Aaron Douglas’s booth for his autograph, where the delirium and over stimulation of the past day and a half led to…inappropriateness. Inappropriateness of the best kind, mind you. Laurie wandered over at one point, and joined in on the conversation. I cannot in good conscience get into said discussion here. But suffice to say, Aaron has won a spot in the cold black heart of Bunny. And other places.

Walking back, Nick was still with fans, but Kelly was free, so I moseyed up to his side of the table and quietly asked if he would sign the badge for me. I told him what a genuine pleasure it was to meet him, and that I had tweeted how his smile was better than Nick’s, but that no one should tell him that. Kelly grinned and whispered that they really, really shouldn’t tell Nick. We discussed Louisiana, as he’d lived down here before at one point. He asked what Slidell was like, and said at least it wasn’t Metairie. The conversation was fun, and easy. And truth be told, I’m more than a little in like with Mr. Donovan. He’s thinking about moving down here again. He has a friend working on films down here, and apparently Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is not only going to be made into a movie, it’s going to be filmed down here. And Kelly wants to do set dressing down here. I said that wasn’t necessary, I was going to see the movie anyway. I also informed him that if needed anything when he moved down here, I was his girl.

Finally the line was dying down for James. I walked over to speak to his manager Steve. Steve is a very very scary gentleman. He’s about eight feet tall, lean and lanky, with a face that has, “Bitch, I will cut you” written all over it. I believe James keeps Steve there for those moments when he doesn’t want to do something, but needs someone else to blame it on. After all, he is there to make money. If you want a photo op, pay the $60 and get it taken professionally. But James can’t say that without looking like an asshole. But Steve can! So, I went to Steve and let him know I wanted to take the official picture for the con, and was that okay. He gave me a look that said, “I could have your toenails ripped out”, but said that was fine, and to just wait in the line. I let a few fans go in front of me, but then some of them started to get bitchy about Steve, so I gave up and moved forward. Steve explained what I wanted to do, and James looked at me, smiling. As I raised the camera, I mentioned that I was a big fan, as well.

“I remember you from the concert.”

Ears start to ring as the blood rushes to my head.

“You have a great face for musicians.”

I. I. I. I. I. I. I.

I snap the picture, smiling at him, and ask with shaky voice, if it would be alright if he signed my photographer badge. He looked to Steve, and I promptly ducked around the lady sitting next to him to confirm it was alright with Steve. He looked exasperated, but another volunteer had asked previously if James could sign her shirt, so he waved her over so James could sign both. As James picked a spot on the badge, he shook his head and said, “I can’t believe you actually want my autograph on this. Too cool.”

I. I. I. I.

I moved away and sat down for a minute, catching my breath. I’ve always been a fan of his acting. Who knew I was one of those fangirls?

More inappropriateness with Aaron, then I found my con “boss” and unloaded the pictures for the day. 5:00 hit, and the fans vacated. The booths started to get disassembled. I walked in, ostensibly to help.

Hey, look. James Leary’s paper name banner, with the photos of him. I should keep those as a souvenir. With the banner. Oh, look, Kelly and Nick’s banners. Oh, there’s Clare’s. Oh. Clare wrote on her tablecloth. They’re going to throw that away.

This became a fan scavenger hunt. It was actually quite a lot of fun.

As I prepared to leave for the day, we were given our con goodie bags, which I still have not looked at in depth. We also got our pick of autographed pictures that the actors had signed specifically for the volunteers. There were none of James, and the only other Whedon actor who signed I was not interested in having an autographed picture of, so I took one of the Aaron Douglas ones, to remind myself of the fun conversations. I also grabbed a previously autographed picture of three people from one of those awful Twilight movies for my friend Lindsey, who has horrid taste in movies, if not friends.

My legs burned from crouching, kneeling and ducking for photographs. My lower back ached, and my knees were torn up from rug burn. I got very little sleep, and ran largely on adrenaline and Starbucks provided by a fellow volunteer. I was worn out, and over stimulated.

One of the top 10 best weekends of my life. Looking forward to next year.

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