Big Wow! 2014 Roundup

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Big Wow! is only an hour away from me, but I’ve never been.

Why? I don’t know. But this year, I saw what I’ve been missing.

Before the convention, I gathered some information on what I should expect from Big Wow! — I was told it was artist-friendly, a bit more intimate, and less frantic. I checked out the impressive list of attendees and guests — notably, at least for me, Bin Furuya of Ultraman fame and Kenpachiro Satsuma, one of several men who’ve donned the Godzilla suit. Greg Rucka who grew up in my city and Michael Lark — co-creators on my favorite modern comic Lazarus — would be on hand as well along with Humberto Ramos, Buzz, Joe Rubenstein, Mark Brooks, and Stephane Roux.

(The list was a lot longer than the ones I got to meet.)

I started off my first trip to Big Wow! by getting on commission lists before my buddy Joaquin and I walked the floor exploring booths, shops, and artist information. Joaquin came with me to be a second pair of hands because the delicate nature of comics means having to watch out for tape while bagging and boarding — or unbagging/unboarding — and doing things as efficiently as possible without damaging anything. I caught the commission/signature/grading bug at my first convention, and I’ve treated comic-cons as work as much — or more so — as pleasure. Not that I’m there to flip everything I buy, but I have goals I want to meet. Blame it on my obsessive-compulsive nature.

(By the way, I’ve yet to sell any of my sigs or commissions — and besides a few I had Desert Wind Comics do that were multiples and through an artist who was fine with it, I might be holding on to them all, or most of them, for a very long time before some hands me a $1-million.)

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Buzz

If I had to describe Big Wow! to a person who had never been there — it’s got a vibe unlike any other convention I’ve been to. It wasn’t as packed as WonderCon or Wizard World Sacramento when Stan Lee and Chris Hemsworth made their only appearances on a Sunday, so it was easy to snag an autograph or chat for a while. I had conversations with Norm Rapmund who was surprised to find San Jose was farther from Los Angeles than he thought and Buzz who told me he’d hook me up on a commission of Spider-Man. I got a commission from Buzz before at another convention, and I knew what kind of quality he puts into his work. When I picked up my Spider-Man commission, I was floored. Again.

Meeting Rucka was a little nerve-wracking, seeing as how he’s a former Salinasan. I didn’t know if it was a subject I was allowed to approach, but when the area in front of me cleared, and I moved forward to shake his hand, his friendliness opened the doors.

“Hello, Mr. Rucka. I’m from Salinas, too.”

A big smile spread across his face, and he told me how much it surprises him to find people from his hometown. And when I told him I see his father’s commercials — Mr. Rucka’s a lawyer — Greg seemed wondrous. “He’s still doing that?” he asked.

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Michael Lark

I told him Lazarus was my favorite current book, and then I got my issues signed by Rucka’s boothmate, Lark, who earlier delivered my commission. Lark seemed very sweet, and I thanked him again.

“Which commission did I do for you?” he asked.

“The Batman rising up in the rain.”

Between walking the floor, complaining about being hungry, and shopping, I went to check on Bridgett Spicer, Ace Continuado, Chris Arrocena, and Ray Zepeda, Jr. — fellow Salinasans who had booths. At one point, Ace and Chris let me man their table while they went to check out the convention. I’ve had dreams of writing my own comic for a while now, and I definitely liked the idea of one day being able to talk to comic fans from that side of the booth as a creator.

As for Bridgett — she shared a space with Betsy Streeter — they looked like they were having a blast. Their booth, renamed the Fun Booth, garnered plenty of attention.

“I’m definitely doing this again next year,” Spicer said.

“Better than APE?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said, nodding her head, furiously.

And while I was mainly there for the artists, I did have a chance to meet and shake Bin Furuya’s hand. There was an awkward mixup when I went to the wrong booth to get a ticket — Steven Skyler of Power Rangers Samurai graciously corrected my mistake, telling me: “This is a totally different booth.”

When I found the person handling tickets, the man in front of me in line bought 12 autograph tickets with his pick of 12 photographs. The ticket handler threw in a couple more photos which Mr. Furuya signed politely. For an octogenarian, Furuya looked great, and he signed cards and thanked each person after each signing. While I waited, I snapped a photo of Mr. Satsuma as he posed for the camera.

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Ultraman #1 Signed by Bin Furuya

I sort of freaked out when I placed my Ultraman #1 — I can’t believe I had one in my collection — down in front of Mr. Furuya. I don’t know if he’s ever signed comics, and he asked me, “Doko, doko, doko?” as he searched for a place to sign his name. I opened the cover, and he signed it on the inside.

“You sure that’s where you want it?” the CGC witness asked, “You won’t be able to see it when it’s slabbed.”

I slapped myself.

“Can you please sign it here?” I asked Furuya pointing to the slip over the cover.

He did, and then he signed a small card that had a picture of himself with his arm cradling the Ultraman helmet that he was the template for.

“This is the only one in the registry,” Mike of CGC told me, “He never does these shows.” Checking the CGC registry now, I can see there’s only one that’s ever been graded at all. Mine would be the second to get a grade, but it would be the first to be graded for the Signature Series.

I scored commissions from Stephane Roux who told me to return during the last hour of the convention on Sunday for quick sketches. My coworker is the biggest Harley Quinn fan I know, and I wanted to get him something.

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Joe Rubinstein

I also received a Spider-Man from Joe Rubinstein — he holds the Guinness Book of World Records record for most inks over artists’ pencils — and I got an amazing Spider-Man for my Amazing Spider-Man #1 sketch cover. It was pretty much a Spider-Man weekend as I sort of shelved my Batman project to get various covers for my Amazing Spider-Man #1s. Ramos was the last commission I picked up — it seemed right to have the interior artist give me his own original for the outside.

I got a good number of souvenirs that I’m trying to figure out how to display without light damage. It’s a comic problem that I’m willing to take input on, so if you know of a way to show off CGC books without worrying about UV damage, please leave a comment.

Quin and I didn’t attend any panels until Sunday when we were reunited with a long-lost friend we haven’t seen in years. James and his son stopped by the convention and found us in line. It was great hanging out with the both of them — they were interested in action figures and other toys. James got a commission from Stefano Gaudiano, which seemed like a steal for what he got and how much he paid.

We ended the last day of the convention with a screening of the Batman Chronicles, hosted by Anthony Misiano with a Q&A panel at the end. Misiano made a great impression on me as he kept us entertained even when the projector and sound continued to malfunction. Instead of reacting to the problems with negativity, Misiano displayed a sort of humor and joviality that made a lot of fans, myself included.

The screening and Q&A ended 15 minutes after the convention was over, and I thought I missed my opportunity to get Josh a Roux quick sketch. James somehow got back in, and I chased after him. While Joaquin went to thank Ramos for a commission, I went to find Ace and Chris who were already gone. On the way back, I saw Mr. Roux talking with a few others. I approached him, thanked him for the commission, then asked if he had five minutes.

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Stephane Roux

“Sure,” he said, “Do you have a Sharpie?”

I took out a Batman #29 sketch cover and a gold Sharpie.

“This will be the first gold Batman I’ve ever drawn,” he said.

“Actually, my coworker is a huge Harley fan.”

“Well, this will be the first gold Harley I’ve ever drawn,” he told me.

One of the others that Roux was talking to said, “Check this out. You’re going to see some magic.”

“I saw some magic earlier,” I told him, “Roux did a commission for me.”

“Was it on the sketch cover?”

“Yes,” I said.

“That one was awesome,” he said. We both nodded at each other as we saw a familiar face appear on a once-blank page.

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Day Two — Wizard World Sacramento Comic-Con 2014

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“The line is over there.”

Where the line ended was out the door, around another building, and spiraling back towards the front of the line.

When the doors opened for day two of the Wizard World Sacramento Comic-Con, a flood of visitors marched into the Sacramento Convention Center proving the Comic-Con a huge success.

I spent the first part of the morning standing in line for a Humberto Ramos commission with a purpose. One of my top priorities at the convention was to get James Hong’s autograph, and since I had nothing to get signed, I thought I’d get something one-of-a-kind.

While I waited, I had a great discussion with the others in line. We shared commissions, stories, some gossip, and I found out Jim Lee took some private commissions a few years back. (There was a screenshot, so there’s proof.) There were also some horror stories — I spoke to at least two fans who had lost their sketchbooks at conventions. One of them got theirs back after a year or so, but with great pain.

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When Ramos’ handler showed up and took down our requests, I let him know mine wasn’t conventional.

“I want a Lo-Pan. Can he do that?”

“Ramos can draw anything. We just need a great reference.”

And it would be the first one that Ramos had ever done.

At 12:15pm, I went over to the film festival to find out when Ghost Light would be screened. Ghost Light’s cinematographer is Tim Kang, a friend of mine who couldn’t make the showing because he’s in Chicago working on a documentary. PJ, the director, and Patrick, production designer, would be there, and they were expecting me.

I also got word that Ghost Light had already been designated best in show — “Don’t make the announcement until the official announcement,” I’d been told — and I wanted to be there to congratulate PJ and Patrick on a job well done.

I got a bit of background from the panel, and I had the opportunity of hanging out with PJ and Patrick for a short while. Ghost Light began as an idea inspired by American folklore from the Midwest. As a fan of Tales From the Crypt, PJ wrote the story with a little bit of horror infused into the short along with some 80s sci-fi influences. The result was a 20-minute short (including credits) about a father and son who encounter a ghost light and end up in a strange diner hidden along Route 66.

We talked about the set — a sudden snowstorm destroyed it forcing PJ to make the decision of bringing in comic-book style transitions — and working with Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks) as producer — “I would work with him again,” PJ told me.

PJ and I split at the autograph booth for Billy Dee Williams, and I was off to Ramos’ booth to check in on the Lo-Pan. Another request had been given priority because the one making the request had to leave early. Since mine was a simple black and white, I was told to come back in half an hour.

I circled the floor a few times, then I was off back to Ramos’ table. James Hong was scheduled for autographs at 3:00pm, and I wanted to make sure I got an autograph — Stan Lee was scheduled for Friday and Saturday but fell ill, and I didn’t want to miss my chance, especially with a commission of one of Hong’s most famous characters.

“He’s working on it right now.”

I walked behind the booth and looked over Ramos’ shoulder. While I oogled, Ramos turned around.

“Oh, hey!” he said, recognizing me from Portland. “Is this yours?”

When I came back to pick up the commission, they requested I come back to tell them what Mr. Hong thought about the piece. At the autograph booth, a sign said Mr. Hong would be back in 10 minutes. I decided to wait behind three other women who I assumed were in line, but when I asked them if they knew how long it would be, they turned out to be members of Mr. Hong’s family. I got a quick tour of the booth along with some tidbits of information about Kung Fu Panda and the possibility of a sequel.

When Mr. Hong came back, his family brought me forward, and I handed him a letter I had written — I didn’t want another Adam West geek-out moment so I planned ahead — and he read it on the spot. He signed the Ramos commission — “What color do you want?” he asked, and I chose gold — adding what I’m assuming is his Chinese name down the right side and tagging it “LO PAN” under his signature.

Awesome!

I got a picture with him, thanked him again, and returned to Ramos’ table.

“He loved it,” I told them.

Success!

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Humberto Ramos and James Hong

With one thing off my list, I worked on the others. I decided to visit Eisner Award winner Paolo Rivera who was trying to fit me into his schedule for a commission. Rivera was busy accommodating visitors who wanted simple sketches and autographs, and he was gracious to me the entire weekend even when I felt I was bugging him a little too much. I think I checked in with him about seven times total, and each time he showed me where he was at with the work that was currently on his plate. I could have just let it go, but Rivera told me he wasn’t planning on anymore conventions in California for the rest of the year.

Once I got the okay to check back in another couple hours, I went to Buzz’s table to see what the status was for a Batman commission I requested earlier in the morning. Buzz was great to talk to, and he told me the most time-consuming part of drawing a commission is finding a composition that he’s happy with.

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Buzz

For the next few hours, I wandered the main floor taking photographs of cosplayers, shopping for comics and collectibles, and waiting for the cosplay contest. I picked up a copy of Watchmen — finally! — and read it while I waited in line to get into the cosplay contest room.

There were over 100 contestants for the contest which was hosted by Eric “The Smoke” Moran and judged by special guests Ivy Doomkitty, Ryan Frye, and Vegas PG. Some of the contest highlights were the Spaceballs group, RoboCop, a duo of Predators, and MechaGodzilla, though every one of the cosplayers deserved recognition.

You can find the gallery here.

 

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