The attendees at the con were overwhelmingly thrilled by the mix of pop culture art, actors, fashions, films, costumes and collectibles. As an experienced convention attendee I was very impressed by how well this exhibition was run. The con organizers pulled together a multitude of moving parts to put on an excellent event. Here are some of the spectacles that caught my attention on Sunday.
Spotlight on Gil Gerard – After seeing Erin Gray (Colonel Deering from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) on Saturday, it was a no-brainer to catch Buck Rogers himself, Gil Gerard, on Sunday. Mr. Gerard snuck into the room and surprised the crowd of fans, as most of us didn’t immediately recognized the actor who is now in his late 60s.Mr. Gerard was under the weather, but still managed to ‘wow’ the crowd of fans which included 1st time con attendees, who came out just to see their childhood hero, to local politicians who found direction in life from Gil’s stalwart portrayal of Buck Rogers, to an excited mom who offered to take the hero to her house for some homemade chicken soup. Mr. Gerard seemed genuinely touched by the group that had come out to see him.
Gil Gerard was a successful industrial chemist before he got hit by the acting bug and he talked about joking around on the sets of his multiple television shows and films, which included Buck Rogers, E.A.R.T.H. Force and his personal favorite, Sidekicks; but he made it clear to the crowd that even though he always tried to create a lighthearted work environment, he has always been a very professional and well-prepared actor.
Gil has great affection for his co-actors and Ms. Gray, from the previous day’s panel, told how he fought with the Buck Rogers producers to have more female roles in the series. When Mr. Gerard was asked about this he said that he wasn’t out to make any kind of grand “women’s lib” statement, but that he just couldn’t believe that after 500 years (in the 25th century) that only one woman [Erin Gray’s Colonel Deering] had been successful.
Mr. Gerard often fought hard to make the Buck Rogers show that he believed in successful, but had to deal with studio executives who made poor marketing choices failed to invest properly in the series, which was canceled after only two years. Gil feels there are still a lot of Buck Rogers stories that should have been told, so the surly actor is taking matters into his own hands and writing a series of novels focusing on the Buck Rogers stories that he wanted to see on the television series. He’s currently in talks with publishers, so look for more Buck in the near future.
Jon Bernthal vs. The Walking Dead – Actor Jon Bernthal played the “means well, in a bad way” zombie-apocalypse survivor, Shane Walsh, on the popular The Walking Dead cable-television series. Even though Jon’s character died (twice) in the last season of the show, he still has immense popularity, which was evident in the packed room 120 (Comicon’s largest) on Sunday afternoon.Although Mr. Bernthal’s Shane is the kind of character that most people “love to hate,” in person the man is extremely intelligent, thoughtful and very witty. As a real-life boxer who has had his nose broken 14 times, he has a powerful but pleasant presence and is a committed method actor who intentionally lived isolated as a loner during filming of The Walking Dead, in order to better understand his character. During his panel he fielded a crazy array of questions from the audience and had the crowd cracking-up on several occasions.
Jon shared some of his ideas for The Walking Dead’s season finale, that he had pitched to the show’s writers; and he spoke of a interesting cut sequence (from the show’s season-two opener) where his character was abandoned by the other apocalypse survivors (maybe this will end up on the DVD extras.) Regarding the death of Shane, Jon said he was just glad his character lasted longer than he did in the comic book series, where he was killed early on.
Mr. Bernthal is currently teamed up with the original Walking Dead producer/director, Frank Darabont, and they are working on a new cable-television series called L.A. Noir, a gangster-style drama set in post-WWII Los Angeles (debuts in 2013.) He is also in a new film called Snitch (2013 release) in which he will be starring in with Dwayne Johnson. Jon said, “There is a big difference between trying to throw Andrew Lincoln [Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead] around and trying to throw ‘The Rock’ around.”
Jon also hinted that he has become very interested in the Garth Ennis controversial comic series, Preacher. Could this mean that the actor might be playing Jesse Custer in a Preacher TV or movie series? I, for one, would love to see that happen [fingers-crossed].
Post-Apocalyptic Life – What better way to wrap up the last day of the Comicon than with a panel on Post-Apocalyptic Life? But what I thought would be just a nerdy discussion of end-of-the-world scenarios as envisioned in popular culture, instead turned into to something much cooler.Did you know that there is a whole sub-culture of bad-ass extreme-cosplayers (Do I dare even call them cosplayers?) who dress-up a la The Road Warrior and party apocalypse-style at events like Wasteland Weekend? We’ll, there is, and the panel was hosted by a local group called “End of Days” (EOD) with characters straight out of a Mad Max movie, with names like Doc Lawless, Desert Yeti, Rabbit, Ramrod and an intimidating female member named TANK (the group’s real-life micro-biologist.) They were a very nice and fun group of people, but not anyone whose bad side I would want to be on as their events often require a waiver.
The goal of this group is to “take the worst possible scenarios you can imagine and make them fun.” In addition to the Wasteland Weekend gathering in California, the EOD group also hosts local Arizona events where you are encouraged to get your post-apocalypse bad on and party like it’s 1999 (although I think Prince would probably be eaten as a late night snack by this group.)
EOD’s events include contests like “Death Rally,” where 100 post-apocalyptic style go-carts, with paint-guns mounted to them, go at each other in a scoreless competition. There’s also a contest called “Jugger” (based on the film The Salute of the Jugger), that the group says is “like soccer, but with a dog’s head [as the ball] and weapons.”
The EOD group mixes their fun with real-life preparedness for any potential apocalyptic event and they spoke of items that every person should have inside their “bug-out bag” (BOB), a light-weight backpack that holds essential survival items in the case of a real disaster. What’s the most important thing to have during the apocalypse? EOD says, “Great friends that you can rely on,” and that’s why I’m here to tell you, these guys are awesome!In Closing – And so, this wraps up a very successful Phoenix Comicon. The overall word in the exhibit hall on the last day was that this event has definitely grown into one of the finest in the country and that although it is far from the biggest, it has heart and at its root it is still a “Comic-Book Convention,” something that many of the larger pop-culture shows seem to have forgotten. Phoenix Comicon brings in some big names, showcases pop culture mediums of all sorts, including gaming and films, but they don’t overshadow the little guys that are just trying to get their name and their work known. For exhibitors and attendees alike, it was an exciting weekend extravaganza that left us exhausted, but ecstatically anticipating next year’s event.