Archive for Salt Lake Comic Con

Led Astray

Posted in Events, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2015 by jaclemens

imageI was not one of the fans led astray by schedule mix ups on the Salt Lake Comic Con app, but then I couldn’t get it to open a majority of the time. Users overloaded both the app and the website on Friday, so that’s a tech enhancement request for next year’s conventions. As for this year’s RFID wristbands, I made sure I picked mine up and activated it in advance. Upon entering the press entrance Thursday morning, I gave the registration line a sidelong smirk and went straight to the scanning station – which was not yet operational. The volunteers fidgeted with it fruitlessly, and, after waiting an acceptable amount of time, I asked if we could simply use another station to scan our bands. I explained that we were all there for the opening press conference, but this volunteer didn’t know where that was held. I told him it was in the ballroom on the other end of the Salt Palace, where many scanners were set up, and he let us through. When I left later that day, I asked another volunteer if I was supposed to scan out – seemed like a sensible way to keep track of the number of people in the building at any given time – but she didn’t know. When the website was functional, it stated that scanning in and out was necessary.

imageThe press conference was less of a production this year. Gone were the TARDIS entrance, the live painting, and the Make-A-Wish kids. For a convention promoting #EPIC, the press conference really wasn’t. The celebrity guests weren’t prepared to be introduced all at once, and shuffled on stage holding coffee cups and rubbing their eyes in the lights. Except for the exceptional Marina Sirtis, who wandered out onto the stage without a proper introduction. She announced her guest narrating with the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall the next two nights (following the Michael Lewis event), and Dan Farr shared an anecdote about Sirtis (a repeat guest) talking up Salt Lake to the manager of Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell, guests who appeared later in the convention. I did not have any questions for the assembled guests, but I did snap a photo of someone in a Carnage suit interviewing Richard Hatch.

imageFriday I started my panel-going with a session on how to get your novel published. The aforementioned Richard Hatch was on the panel, and I jotted down the scant tips he was able to mention before the Winner twins took over. Somehow their story of being dyslexic-but-adorable twelve-year-old twin girls didn’t seem applicable to my publishing pursuits. On my way to the Salt Palace that morning I listened to a Writing Excuses podcast on how to be a good panelist and a great moderator; it’s episode 37 from season 10, and should be mandatory listening for the writing panels. I found myself no closer to getting published, but I was able to find a cosplayer (Bioshock) to pose with this fall’s book from Tachyon Publications: Led Astray, the best of Kelley Armstrong. I also found out that Steve Diamond, who lives in my neighborhood, is also an author! He was promoting his book Residue in the large booth with Kevin J. Anderson.

Animaniacs welcome the press to Salt Lake Comic Con 2015.

Animaniacs welcome the press to Salt Lake Comic Con 2015.

My next panel was exponentially more entertaining, as Maurice LaMarche joined Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, and Rob Paulsen from the Animaniacs! LaMarche is the voice talent behind The Brain, Yosemite Sam, Morbo, Kif, and Calculon (Futurama), and the Lexus commercials. Harnell is the voice of Wakko and dozens of video game characters. Paulsen is Yakko and Pinky, as well as Donatello. MacNeille, who is the most versatile according to the others, is the voice of Dot, Hello Nurse, Babs Bunny, Daisy Duck, Agnes Skinner from The Simpsons, Mom from Futurama, and many more. Their panel was opposite Sean Astin (voice of Raphael), making me doubly glad I saw him at Fantasy Con last year. The synergy between the four actors was amazing, as they repeatedly set one another up to shine. I missed nearly all of the best sound bites, but I was overjoyed to get a recording of LaMarche talking about the Pinky and the Brain Christmas Special, which is one of our family’s traditions on Christmas Eve!

Flash Boys

Posted in Events with tags , , , , , on September 27, 2015 by jaclemens

Kicked off Salt Lake Comic Con 2015 with Flash Boys.

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imageAuthor Michael Lewis was the featured guest for the Sam Rich lecture, sponsored by the Hinckley Institute of Politics. I was invited to sell books at the event, which precluded me from attending the first day of Comic Con. I attended the press conference that morning at the Salt Palace, went to work, and returned to Abravanel Hall for the event with Lewis. I was sorely tempted to slip back to the press entrance at the Salt Palace during the interim between set up and doors open, but I stuck it out.

Lewis spoke on the start of his writing career and his earlier books, such as Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood and The Blind Side. I had eight titles for sale that evening, the most popular being The Big Short, subject of the upcoming film starring Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, and recurring FanX guest Karen Gillan!

At the Seams

Posted in Events, Promotions with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 12, 2014 by jaclemens

Big Hero 6Like Disney’s Big Hero 6, Salt Lake Comic Con is bursting at the seams! Organizers were scrambling to find more scotch tape to seal the leaks on the first day of the second annual convention, as enthusiasm overflowed the registration lines. Fans who missed out on the excitement while waiting in line for hours have been offered recompense. Intake was more efficient on Friday, but fire marshals had to bar the doors a few times on Saturday as the ranks swelled upwards of 90,000 fans! More of the Salt Palace was utilized this year, but Salt Lake Comic Con broke the attendance record once again, with more than 120,000 attending between Thursday the 4th and Saturday the 6th.

Comic Con experienced some growing pains in its second year, but it also made some improvements to the layout. Artists’ Alley was moved to the front of the Expo Hall, immediately inside the main entrance. The booths were color-coded this year, although the aisles were not all completely color-coordinated. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it was better than the shunted to the side and scrambled set up from FanX, according to AZ Powergirl at booth Green 14. The Celebrity Signing area was moved around the corner to be closer to the Photo Ops area, which brought the Kid Con area forward. The orientation of the ballrooms was also changed from east-facing to north- and south-facing.

Craig Parker

Craig Parker interviews; over his shoulder, Veronica Taylor (voice of Ash Ketchum in the Pokemon cartoons) poses with a fan.

The Celebrity Kick Off Press Conference was held in the South Ballroom on Thursday morning. Lou Ferrigno welcomed us to Comic Con, then more guests emerged from a TARDIS onto the stage. As they were introduced one at a time, the ambidextrous artist Rob Prior completed a painting of the Joker in under fifteen minutes. The painting was given to one of the Wish Kids on the stage, and Manu Bennett pledged his first thousand dollars in earnings to another Wish Kid’s family before challenging the other celebrities to do likewise. At the conclusion of the press conference the Wish Kids got their own parade while the celebrities were made available for interviews.

When asked if he had a rebuttal to Jed Brophy’s aggrandized impersonation of an elf strutting the stage at Fantasy Con, Craig Parker (Haldir in The Lord of the Rings) responded that he had shown Brophy “the way of the elves” the weekend before coming to Salt Lake. Parker talked about having replica action figures, and said he knew he had made it as an actor when Lego issued a figure of Haldir! Parker was irrepressible in his spotlight panel that evening, sitting on the table to answer questions. At one point he held the microphone between his upraised knees so he could gesture with his hands while speaking. He mused about the blonde Russian girls who were offered Coke and Levis in exchange for the hair that went into making wigs for the elves (which beats the yak-hair wigs and beards the dwarfs wear!).

all fine

A cosplayer posing with my advance copy of Daryl Gregory’s We Are All Completely Fine (Tachyon).

Cary Elwes made the day of a lot of fans in his panel that afternoon. When a woman pronounced him her first Hollywood crush, he gave her a hug. Asked about his favorite sound he answered with his daughter’s laugh, and was declared both a sweetheart and a cutie pie. The real highlight of the Q&A came when a wheelchair-bound fan asked Elwes to perform the scene from The Princess Bride where the Man in Black (Westley) enters a battle of wits with Vizzini. Elwes needed help remembering his lines, but the fan had the Sicilian down pat! Elwes said that he loves this town, and hopes to be invited back for more episodes of Granite Flats. He was a hit, and took ample opportunities to promote his upcoming book, As You Wish. He may have missed his best opportunity, however, which would have been the press conference with all the Wish Kids present.

Sam Witwer rounded out the first day’s panels for me. Witwer played “Crashdown” on Battlestar Galactica and provided the voices of Starkiller in the Force Unleashed video game and Darth Maul in the Clone Wars animated series. Witwer knows his Star Wars chronology, and gave us his blueprint for introducing someone to the Star Wars trilogies out of numerical order, which preserves the overwhelming surprise of seeing it for the first time. Following his plan gives the original trilogy its full impact, while also making the prequels more enjoyable. That is a true Jedi mind trick, courtesy of a Sith apprentice!

 

Fine Fellows

Posted in Events with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2014 by jaclemens
Oh my! Did I just photobomb Sean Astin and J.A. Clemens?

Oh my! Did I just photobomb Sean Astin with a member of the press?

Salt Lake Comic Con is about to begin, and I’m still savoring Fantasy Con! It has been a whirlwind couple of months since I met these two fine fellows, Sean Astin and Billy Boyd! Astin is appearing in The Strain, based on the books by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. He can also be heard on Vox Populi, a weekly radio program, and as the voice of Raphael in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Billy Boyd is working on a new album with his band Beecake, and can be heard singing on the trailer for The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies! I was able to hear him sing “The Steward of Gondor” live during a panel (he sounded fantastic), and fortunate enough to meet both actors afterward.

Astin and Boyd are great together, and gracious to a tee. While Astin waited for an interview on camera, he turned to my friend Ryan to ask about his wife and children (who were in town, but not present that evening). Astin brought his own family to Salt Lake, something he never does on the convention circuit. However, his positive experiences filming Forever Strong and The Freemason in Utah showed him that Salt Lake City is an exceptional place. He may not have had as much vacation time with his family as he would have liked that holiday weekend, but he never ceased to be accommodating. I caught up to him as he was about to leave the room, and, after our meeting, he returned to a table for more group interviews.

At the conclusion of his spotlight panel on Saturday afternoon, Astin refused to allow the line of waiting questions be dismissed. Instead he went into a speed round, where each fan asked their question in one sequential string as he took notes. Then he answered all of the questions together, and no one went away disappointed. At Fantasy Con’s end, Astin was the last remaining special guest still at his table greeting fans and signing autographs. Sean Astin is a consummate professional.

Billy BoydBy way of comparison, Billy Boyd is a sheer delight. He brings out the conviviality in Astin (and everyone in the room, for that matter). Boyd said that being back with Astin and John Rhys-Davies helped him recall stories from their time working together, and he laughed heartily as he shared them. He also had kind words for his visit to Utah, noting the ambiance of dining alfresco and exploring the city on light rail. Waking up in a different time zone, he especially appreciated the bracing sound of bagpipes in the morning!

Boyd had the unenviable time slot of 10 am on Saturday for his spotlight, but was utterly charming nevertheless (once his “best friend” brought him a coffee). He demurred when asked to sing again, explaining that he sounded more like Rhys-Davies at that hour! Boyd did discuss performing with Beecake, and there was a genuine outpouring of enthusiasm for a tour date in Salt Lake City! If you haven’t watched the videos for “Please Stay” or “The Clown” you are missing out!

When I spoke with Boyd, I asked him about his employment as a print finisher in the guild. Over the course of seven years in the business he bound editions of both The Lord of the Rings and Master and Commander before appearing in the cinematic versions. As it was the eve of our Independence Day, I asked for his opinion on the referendum for Scotland’s independence (to be heard on the 18th of this month). Boyd said he had given it careful consideration and favors independence. Then he lightened the moment with a beatific smile and said “Maybe I’ll have apple pie!”

In Person

Posted in Events, New release, Young Adult with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2014 by jaclemens

Rob (with therapy dog) and Dan (wearing Bavarian hat)

I recently watched the first season of Battlestar Galactica at my older brother’s insistence. He thought I would like it, and he was right! It’s an excellent series, and – although I came late to it – the timing was perfect for me.

At the end of March I went to see Dan and Robison Wells at Weller Book Works. Dan was back in the U.S. touring for Ruins, the finale of the Partials sequence, so I passed on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s appearance at the University of Utah the same night to meet the brothers Wells.

Partials was inspired in part by Battlestar Galactica, and Ruins examines many of the same ramifications: what if the Partials not only look human, but are programmed to think they are human? What would happen to the offspring of a Partial and a human mating pair? War between the two sides has decimated the human population, and a faction of humans consider using the nuclear option against the Partials, condemning their own kind in the process. Humans created the Partials and bio-engineered them with certain fail safes to make them dependent on humans, so all sentient life on the planet will be eradicated  if the two sides can’t work together.

Wells was aware of the disappointing conclusion to BSG (I haven’t gotten that far yet myself, but I’ve heard the reactions) and promised to deliver a more-satisfying ending to his series. There is a payoff to the conflict, but the resolution left more to be desired. If the two peoples are to be interdependent, why do the romantic pairings split neatly down the human/Partial divide? It is a YA series, so it has the requisite love triangles. It does not have a fitting demise to the villain of the first two books, however. Her arc gives way to other monstrosities with which Kira must reckon. Ultimately only one of the geneticists who had a hand in creating the Partials survives, and that too seems unbalanced.

EJOI have finished reading the Partials sequence, but I haven’t finished watching BSG. Some of the big reveals have already been spoiled for me, but my brother isn’t to blame. He tried to warn me, but it was unavoidable. I had to go see Edward James Olmos (Admiral Adama) when he came to the Salt Lake Comic Con’s Fan Xperience in April! If you’re going to get spoilers, you might as well get them from the show’s star! His panel was stellar, and I was able to shake his hand the next day at his table. My brother wanted me to ask him if Deckard was a replicant, and Olmos said “Of course he was a replicant! I was the only red-blooded American in the movie [Bladerunner]!”

After I told Olmos I admired him I realized I was wearing a silly Kermit hat!

I told EJO I admired him while wearing a silly Kermit hat!

Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol) was also a guest at FanX, but I missed his panel due to a scheduling conflict. Douglas didn’t miss Karl Urban watching BSG on their flight to Salt Lake City, however! Urban (Bones) claimed to be just like us as a fan, but I found that statement suspect. Urban has most recently appeared in the tv show Almost Human, in which he played a human detective with an android partner, after all.

SpinerAnd then there was Brent Spiner, who played Data, the greatest android of them all! He was pretty great at playing the crowd as well! Given the heavy emphasis on Star Trek actors at FanX, I wanted to go in a Khan costume from Star Trek Into Darkness.

Ultimately I had to settle for reading the graphic novel Star Trek: Khan, by Mike Johnson. It details how Khan came to be bio-engineered (twice) in addition to memory tampering. It reminded me of  Isolation, the point-five story in the Partials sequence. Both show how the genetically-modified warriors were trained and manipulated by their creators; both stories result in biological warfare that destroys the ecosystem and the population.

My FanX read was Infinity Blade: Redemption by Brandon Sanderson. He was a FanX guest, as was ChAIR Entertainment, the developer of the Infinity Blade games. An oversight scheduled their panels concurrently, so I only got to see Sanderson. This installment of the Infinity Blade lore tells of how the God King (Raidriar) and Siris (Ausar) came to be Deathless through – you guessed it! – the wonders of bio- engineering! I’m beginning to wonder if that isn’t the secret to Sanderson’s prolific writing!

The epilogue to my Fan Xperience took me back to the prologue; it was a final panel featuring Rob Wells, Brad R. Torgersen, and other local authors of dystopian literature. I read Blackout before FanX (and before Ruins, in fact). It explores what happens when a virus interacts with the developing brain of teenagers. Some of the teens (and only teens are susceptible) who have the virus manifest superhuman abilities. It’s the X-Men minus the mutated x gene! Most of the teens are unaware of their unique powers, and go about being typical teenagers. Others have been identified early and trained – as terrorists. All the typical teens are rounded up and screened for the virus, as the Army intends to fight virus-fueled fire with virus-fueled fire. It’s an interesting premise for X-Fans, and it features a fine diabolical mastermind. Establishing the story takes some of the energy out of the equation, leaving it incomplete. There will be a sequel, Dead Zone, coming this fall, and, like the Partials sequence, it has a point-five story called Going Dark. I’ve already ordered Dead Zone (war with Russia!), and may go on to download Going Dark for the additional world building. Come to our store to meet Robison Wells in person and get his new book signed when it comes out!

Geek Week

Posted in Events, Fiction, New release, Recommendations with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2013 by jaclemens

It’s been a week since I went to Salt Lake Comic Con, but Friday the 13th seemed like the right time to post about it! This was the first comic con for Salt Lake and the first I’ve attended. I was only able to attend one day of the three, but Friday was a great day to be there! The top item on my agenda was an unofficial sneak peek at The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Immediately after I registered I got in line to wait for it. After some initial confusion about which line to stand in, I found the correct one and settled in for some people watching. This meant missing out on panels on Firefly (a show I have recently come to appreciate), Marvel vs. DC, and a Q&A with Q (John de Lancie’s character from Star Trek: the Next Generation), but I waited patiently – only to have the door closed in my face. I was seriously the next person in line when the room was declared full.

First lesson of first comic con: don’t expect to stick to your outlined schedule. Upon being denied entry to my top choice, I found a suitable alternative in Peter Lyon, the master swordmaker for Weta Workshop. That was fascinating, and would come back into play later in the day. I had intended to go to a discussion of the changing publishing world next, but wound up in the ballroom for Ray Park’s spotlight session.

DSC00619Park, aka Darth Maul, Snake Eyes, and Toad, was truly entertaining! He talked about emulating Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and Charlie Chaplin, and he has the personality to go with the physical tools. He also has a Scottish accent, which explains why he didn’t supply the voice for Darth Maul. Park was only 21 when he was cast to play the villain (he always wanted to be a hero), and wasn’t sure he could pull off the integral intimidation until he saw the crew’s reaction to the first fight scene he filmed. He lobbied unsuccessfully for a different death in Phantom Menace (decapitation), but would relish the chance to reprise the role. Rather than the mech legs Darth Maul’s been grafted onto in the comics and cartoons, Park joked that he should have a hover board and use his double-bladed lightsaber like a kayak paddle! After taking questions and adulations from the audience, Park wrapped up the session by bringing young kids in costume up on the stage and teaching them some martial arts poses. He was terrific!

I made my first foray into the vendor floor next. Lesson two: be prepared to spend plenty of time and money shopping the vendor floor. I didn’t make any purchases on my first pass. I wanted a look at everything that was available before I made my selection. I didn’t pay to have my picture taken with any of the celebrities, but I did take photos of a few from a distance. I managed to get pictures of David Prowse (Darth Vader) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca). I didn’t see Shatner or Stan Lee in person, but I did see William Kirchner (Bifur) and Manu Bennett (Azog) from the Hobbit films!

White OrcI took more photos of the life-sized Azog statue on display at the Weta booth than anything else at the con. The whole booth was spectacular. I particularly enjoyed seeing Peter Lyon take the sword Orcrist from a display case and show it to a few lucky fans. That was a serendipitous con moment! I was sorely tempted to get a treasure at the Weta booth, but the answer to the question “What have I got in my pocket?” was not enough for even the smallest knife.

There were some desirable items in my price range, but I decided to give it more thought during the next panel. Unfortunately I showed up too late, and both of the writing panels were already full. So I got in line with friends for the next popular panel on my list, Avengers vs. X-Men. That panel proved too popular for the likes of those of us waiting in the general line, so I went to listen to Brandon Mull and Chad Morris talk about comedy in writing. They were in a comedy group in college, and performed some funny sketches and songs.

They both signed books at a booth following the panel, so I went back to the vendor floor and waited in a line that already wrapped around the booth. Lesson three: be ready to wait in line. I read my advance reader copy of She Walks in Darkness while people paraded by in costumes. The book I asked Mull to sign was also an advance reader copy – Spirit Animals: Wild Born came out this week. It’s a series with an online game component in the same vein as 39 Clues; Mull laid out the full series and wrote the first book (of seven). Getting the book signed took most of the hour set aside for a second pass of the vendor booths, so I stepped out for one more panel.

An Examination of the Hero’s Journey was the only panel on my original schedule that I was able to attend. I was familiar with one of the authors on the panel, having once sat next to him at a signing – that was Dave Farland. The other members were Rhiannon Paille, Brad R. Torgersen, and Bryan Young. Robison Wells did not appear as scheduled, but having heard him discuss his social anxiety on the Writing Excuses podcast, that was understandable. I asked the panel how they address the matter of romantic interest in their writing, given that the examples being cited – Greek myth, Arthurian legend, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars – present only two options for the hero: love ’em and leave ’em or monasticism. The responses from Farland and Paille were noteworthy.

By that time I had come to the conclusion to make a worthy purchase from Artist’s Alley. Lesson four: support the artists who come to the con. I wanted something unique, something I may not be able to buy at a local store or order online. When I returned to the vendor floor the closing announcements started and the lights dimmed. I hurried back to a booth that arrested me on my first pass, hoping the artist and a particular print would still be there. They were, so I bought an X-Men/Star Trek (NeX-Gen) mash up picture from Stewart Craig. Later I located his blog and was stoked to read that it was one of three images he created specifically for Salt Lake Comic Con. It made an ideal souvenir!

I continued to walk the vendor floor, now emptier and darker, and took more photos of the booths I hadn’t seen on the first pass. I wasn’t coming back on Saturday (when the crowd ran between 70,000 – 80,000 con-goers), so I had to make the most of my opportunity that night. I found the Lego booth, one I would not have wanted to miss, among others. I returned home a reaffirmed geek, with photos of acceptable role playing role models for my kids and this great shot of a weeping angel posing with my copy of She Walks in Darkness!Friday the 13th