Friday, May 31, 2013

Kickstart: Legos, Epic Tactics, and a Derelict

Kickstart Your Weekend: A series in which I occasionally spotlight Kickstarter projects that are ending soon and deserve a little nerd love. Also, I'll highlight some past projects as well, as you never know when these enterprises are going to turn up again.

Before I get started with today's post proper, I just want to say a few words about the past month.

Thank you. Today marks 31 consecutive days of blog posts, and accordingly it has been the single greatest month in terms of traffic in the history of the blog. In fact, it more than doubled my previous record-setting month in page-hits. I really appreciate the regular traffic, and I'd like to continue to build on this momentum. At the same time, all those hits are still really quite modest--modest enough that I'm not going to share exact numbers just yet. And it required a heck of a lot of work to get there. I mean, I've written a novella's worth of words in the past month--somewhere between fifty and seventy thousand words, I estimate. Now, I'm still working my tail off, but this is a little butt-kick to all you guys who haven't followed or strong-armed your friends to do so (which is pretty much all of you): we can do better. I'd love to see the next month increase the traffic on site even further, and little things you do help with that a lot. In particular, the best two days of traffic in May were when I shared a link to my blog on the Angry Joe Show's comments section, and when a reader shared my C2E2 post on their Facebook page. Both days pulled in more than double the average number of hits I got on most other days. This stuff works, so try it out.

With that out of the way, let's review the status of some past Kickstarter highlights. Browncoats: Independence War finished up solidly, bringing in over $21,000 with an original goal of $16,000. I believe that means all producer-level backers get added to the Companion Registry. Not sure how useful that will be, though, since the Companions Guild won't be created until the socio-environmental collapse of earth-that-is. I wouldn't hold my breath, producers. (No, not really.)

The screaming warrior schoolgirls and man-boys of OVA: the Anime RPG are doing quite well. With over $75,000 right now, it looks like this weekend they will be unlocking their stretch goal for custom dice. Nerds love dice. So you'll definitely be getting a new set of dice with your pledge of $30 or more. If not, there's always the $15 digital level for us cheap-skates. Or, more accurately, those of us who have already blown way too much dough on other projects. But they've still got more than two weeks left, so I bet the project will end up with two hundred grand at this rate. Guardians Chronicles is doing well, too, even if they aren't rising as quickly now as earlier in their campaign. But with their Facebook page getting closer to 1,000 likes, they'll be adding their bald claw-sporting-berserker-not-Wolverine named Rage to those pledging $50 or more. I think they still have a decent chance of unlocking their hundred grand stretch goal in two weeks, so people pledging for the full set have a good chance of getting a lot of exciting goodies, including the Night Squad team, added to their sets automatically.

Deadzone is ending this weekend, and they're a cinch to become Mantic's best Kickstarter campaign, in my opinion. They're over three-quarters of a million dollars in pledges, and I bet they'll end up well over the million dollar mark before the weekend is over. As it is, they've got a Buy One Get One Free deal on their booster bundles, and a similar deal for their individual boosters. And since war-gamers love getting into these sorts of games in a big way, I expect a lot of people will be buying into this game at the last minute. I know I'm thinking about getting some Enforcers as Cerberus troops in addition to Blasto. We'll see what other surprise stretch goals the campaign yields. I strongly suggest you check in on the campaign before it ends on June 2.

Melting Point

What it is: Melting Point is a thirty minute 'brick film' being developed by Jonathan Vaughan. A brick film is a stop-motion animated film made using Lego toys to tell your story. If you don't know what stop-motion animation is, you're probably my younger brother-in-law making me feel like Old Man Winter again. Stop-motion is when you use still photography to take pictures of models, toys, or puppets in minutely changing poses to animate them moving around. And Melting Point is going to be a riff on a cop action flick, in which the leading Lego man is trying to bring down a psychotic pyro melting their Lego world.

Why it's exciting: Way back in the 90s, my brother and I used to love messing around with my parents' VHS video camera. There was no better way to burn through tapes than scratching them up filming our lame gags and then watching them ten minutes later on our tv. One of my great aspirations as a stupid seven year-old was to take my Ewok Robin Hood Prince of Thieves forest village set and film my GI Joe action figures in really bad stop-motion battles with each other. And they were bad--like I would forget to pause the frame and accidentally film my repositioning the figures and then I'd stop the recording bad. Fortunately, those aspirations didn't last long. Even more fortunately, Jonathan Vaughan is going to the trouble of doing a Lego stop-motion video that looks well-written, funny, and really sharply composed. His previous short, Zombie: Genesis, shows a lot of wry humor and talent, and I can't wait to see what he does with Melting Point. His initial support has been good for the first few days, but film projects tend to slow down a lot more than other Kickstarter campaigns, so please visit his campaign and spread the word about it in support of a really ambitious little brick film. Here's his Zombie: Genesis short, followed by the sequel, Zombie: Exodus:

Massive Chalice

What it is: Massive Chalice is a computer game coming out of Double Fine Productions, an indie game studio that funded an adventure game last year that seemed to break open the floodgates for high profile video games going to Kickstarter for funding. The game's action itself revolves around the old-school tactics genre, with players commanding a squad of heroes in defense of the realm. But the meta-game itself that extends beyond the combat and links the action sequences together is a choice-based strategy game. The player takes on the role of an immortal king or queen, building support and employing heroes in their service while also marrying them off to create political families. It looks like a bit of Fire Emblem and Ogre Battle 64.

Why it's exciting: I love cross-genre games. I love tactical games. And I love games that force players to make difficult, subjective choices and deal with the consequences. And I love having the passage of large amounts of time be a factor in strategic game-play. Massive Chalice looks like it's lined up to do just that.

Now I'm going to highlight a project that I was super excited for but that didn't receive the support it needed. There have been several projects that I loved that failed, but I think this one deserves the most post-KS support.


What it is: Blackspace is a unique take on the tower defense strategy genre. For the uninitiated, tower defense is a type of game where the player controls a fixed set of assets that are then attacked by successive waves of enemies. Traditionally, the player builds a series of towers along an approach to a castle or headquarters while orcs or undead storm down the road. In Blackspace, however, this straightforward formula is something altogether different. In this game, the player controls a versatile mining craft tasked with harvesting asteroids for valuable resources. Flying freely around the asteroid in full 3D physics crunchiness, the player gathers resources and tears up the deformable rock surface with mining warheads, and then uses the resources to call in structures to establish a mining facility and defenses on the planetoid.

What happened: I love a good tower defense. Even in traditional strategy games, some of my favorite moments are when I arrange for 'Helm's Deep moments' by setting up heavy defensive positions and waiting for the enemy to charge into my fire. The ambitiously beautiful setting and awesome physics of Blackspace also enticed me. And Blackspace really breaks the mold of tower defense games by making the main landing vessel a veritable bomber in its own right. But unfortunately, the campaign never even raised half of its funding goal of $350,000. Granted, this was before games like Star Citizen and Project Eternity (both earning millions in pledges) showed how massively popular Kickstarter games could be, but I still will never get over the way this beautiful and slick-looking game got overlooked by most Kickstarter patrons. Maybe it was the fact that the game didn't have a super-polished trailer, or that there wasn't much interest in a genre-bending tower defense game, but this is one project I'd really like to see power back up and take off. Follow their website and see what happens when they finish their pre-alpha demo.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pimpin' My Blog

Fo' Real

As May comes to a close, the end of my blog sprint is in sight. No, this doesn't mean that I'm ending the daily posts just yet. But I'm now looking at a finite number of ASAP posts and after that I'll be pulling back my posting rate depending on you guys. Note that I said guys: plural. I'm assuming there's multiple of you by now.

Now, when people say they're pimping something, they usually mean they're upgrading it, adding decoration, or showing off its status. In the case of vehicles, they're usually functionally crippling it to pimp it. This isn't what the Nerdery means when he says it, though, because the Nerdery is an anal grammarian. And because when a pimp is out pimpin' his soiled doves* (that's right, I'm going to 19th century lingo), he isn't upgrading them, showing off their status, or even really improving their decoration. He is concerned with getting them out there doing their thing and bringing back money.

I love my blog, but I am so pimping it.

I've done my part--the blog sprint has provided a huge boost in the amount of content on the blog here--and I'm going to keep doing it for a bit longer. I'm also going to start making more use of Google+ and Facebook to promote my blog in the future, so keep an eye out for that over the next few days or so. And I'm dedicating my Google mail account to traffic from G+ and this blog, so if you want to ask questions of me directly, you can do so at "bensnerdery" on gmail.

Now it's time to put you to work helping me pimp my blog--by spreading the word. Now, I'm not just asking you to do this for free. Oh no, this fancy cat is setting rates. And your response will determine how often this blog gets updated once the sprint is over.

Overall in the past, I've been very bad about updating here regularly, but we've turned a corner on the blog and I'm finally regularly scheduling time to write for this site. When I began the blog, and posted much more regularly, I'd been at a different job and working less than full time. I've been at the new, full-time job for about a year and a half, and even though I've had the time, I haven't been spending it updating the blog.


Now part of that was finding my stride in the new job. This job works on an occasionally hectic schedule that I'm only now starting to understand and anticipate well, so that hurdle is somewhere behind me. There's been a lot of family stuff to do, too, since I moved my family of three into a new home last year, and there's still unpacking, cleaning, painting, and a whole list of chores to do that I'd forgotten about during the previous four years in an apartment.

But a big part of what impairs regular blogging is energy and motivation. C2E2 has been a big boost in that department. Some people get motivated and energized by milestones like New Year's Day, but I get pumped by nerd epiphanies like the awesome weekend I had at C2E2. That has been a tremendously uplifting factor in my domestic grind, and I humbly think I can promise a regularly updated blog.

Without being a liar, I mean. Of course I could promise cheddar castles on the moon, but the fact is old Luna is 100% feta, so that'd make me a liar.

But no, seriously, I am going to promise one post per week. I won't commit to a specific day, as some posts will be more timely on a Monday, and others on a Friday, but I will post at least once per week going forward.

What's that you say? "Once a week isn't very much"? Well, I think so too.

So here's the bargain I'll make just between us: you bring me more readers, give me more feedback, and I'll post your brains out. Well, probably not really, but I will post more often. Because I'm a writers are fickle for feedback and obscure signs of remote affection. And I've got less than 10 followers on this blog. Now I know that I have more regular readers than that, but less than 10 is rubbish. You get your friends to read and follow my blog, though, and I'll up my pledge for weekly posts. How does that grab you, eh?

For every digit of followers I have, I will commit to posting once per week.

That's right. So my once per week promise to post is just the starting bid in this online ante. You do your part--spread the word--and I'll do my part--dropping plenty more words and articles for you to spread around. You bring me your nerd-buds; I'll keep them entertained and informed with obscure opinion pieces. Bring me your nerd-curious; they'll love my introductions to all the weird things you love bending their ear about. You send me geeks; I'll convert them over to true enthusiasm for nerd culture. Bring me your mundanes; I'll put on a gleeful spectacle that will charm them even if only so they can wait for an awkward silence and then yell out NERD at the top of their digital lungs.

For those of you who like to follow simple instructions:

1. Follow the site. Following the blog through the link at the top right of the page is the easiest ego-boosting currency for you to pass on to me. Whenever I look at the metrics of my blog, it's the first thing I check. And it never frakking changes. You should really do something about that.

2. Comment and Share. This step is really important to me, too. Commenting lets me know what my readers like and think of my articles, and it creates a sense of community that supports the growth of a blog's popularity. Probably. I wouldn't know just yet. Sharing is the really important part, though. Every time you share a specific article through Facebook, Twitter, or Google+, I get a notice that it's been shared (ego rising, Godzilla-like, from the churning seas of nine-to-five drudgery), and more importantly, it gets reposted for all your buddies to see, which is likely to result in a little more of #1.

3. Harass your buddies. Nicely now. I want to sleep peacefully over this. But the odds are that you know at least a couple of dorks who would like my diatribes and silly memes, and the odds are really good that they've never heard of this blog before. Like really really really good. Like Thor's-odds-against-Superboy-in-a-prison-fight good. So do what's necessary to get them to read my blog and see what happens.

Put me to the test. 10 or more followers and you'll get bi-weekly updates. 100 will get you three posts per week. A cool kilo of nerds in my pocket, and I'll drop four posts a week. Get me OVER 10,000!!! and I'll give you five posts a week, making this thing a whole other phenomenon.

So there it is. The blog gauntlet has been thrown down. Refer friends, comment on my posts (truly, they help generate more interest and community in a blog than you think), and get me those followers.

Do it. I dare ya.

*for those of you who don't know your cowpoke jargon, 'soiled dove' is an 1800s slang for a prostitute.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Saturday Morning Fatherhood...

...Is Bachelor Hell

I love being a dad.

I need to start off with that, because this post might make you think otherwise. Starting with a title that asserts that parenthood is where bachelors go when their wicked days are over doesn't help either, I'm sure.

Raising a toddler is like living with a super-villain from a really bad, cliched comic-book. You start out with an origin story whose popularity is directly related to a gory and outlandish event. In this case, it's the miracle horror of childbirth. Then, you have the super-villain's pathetic phase. This is when his clothes don't match or fit, he's too inept to do anything much except try to snatch whatever falls in his lap. He's bad at it, so you don't give it much thought and you don't crack down on him too hard.

You put him behind bars, which is a big mistake.

In comic books, imprisoned super-villains fall into two categories: those who brood and wait to be broken out, and those who become more powerful and dastardly, crafting terrible plans and developing new strategies, and eventually break themselves out.

Toddlers are like that villain when he's figured out the guards' patrols and has lined up his heroic nemesis' weakness. They learn the combination of the cute d-bag and exploit it without mercy. You try to establish a routine or interrupt their plans, and they devastate you with an impromptu red-faced hissy fit, tossing and turning on the floor. This will often happen in public, because toddlers--like burgeoning super-villains--love to have an audience of idiot innocent bystanders. Also like in the comics, the innocent bystanders will stand around and watch rather than help or get out of the way.

"Raising a toddler is like living with a super-villain from a really bad, cliched comic-book."

And every good super-villain prides himself on ruining the hero's most special moments. Killing their romantic interests is usually a safe bet for the comic book antagonist, and a savvy toddler will try to do the same between mommy and daddy. The constant assault on the daddy's literal progenitor is usually a great and easily repeated way of doing it, especially when coupled with the NRBB--No Reason Bedtime Bonk. That's when you're in bed, and your loving wife innocently invites the toddler in just so he can smack your junk before bed. Or better yet: to start your day. It's a real Folger's moment: "The best part of waking up is drop-heel to your nuts."

But the thing that is most precious to the father of a toddler: Saturday morning. The chance--or rather, the illusion of a chance--to sleep in is one of the most dizzyingly sweet rewards you can get after a long week of working, daddying, and nerding. And the boy envies that most of all. He sets his sights on your Saturday morning, puts wheels in motion, and without fail your precious sack-time is twisted into a morass of growling threats and red-faced mortal combat.

"...toddlers--like burgeoning super-villains--love to have an audience of idiot innocent bystanders."

For instance...

A few months ago, I was stupidly innocently under the impression that I might get to sleep in on a Saturday morning. My dearest went to work early that morning without waking up The Boy, which I took to be a good sign. (Comic book wisdom: not getting any recent reports of activity from your arch-nemesis is always a bad sign.) Then, when seven o'clock rolled around he made his strike, opening with the familiar cute-jerk combo:

"Daddy. Up. Up Daddy."

Ugh. I rolled over and flopped a stubbornly-still-sleeping hand towards my cell-phone-cum-alarm-clock. I only wanted to sleep until eight. Just an hour more... I rolled over an glared a twilight-myopic Telltale Heart eye at the door and the imagined baby assaulting my sleep, saying:

"B'cky! Jus' gimm 'ther m'nut sleep!" My face was still buried in the pillow, and my mind still trying to latch back onto my recurring Terminator dream.

"Up. Up. Daddy. Up." He said insistently, but without variation.

I shut my eyes. If he wasn't going to raise his voice, cry, or start doing damage, I was just going to phone it in, too. My eyelids shuttered and rolled me back into the skull-infested future where only I could save the girl from the endless hordes of stupidly slow zombie-machines. Du-dut-dut...du-DUT! Du-dut-dut...du-DUT!

My eyes snapped open. I sucked in breath and felt my chest seize in Dad-panic.

I don't hear anything.

"No, no, no, no," I babble as I flop out of bed and tilt on unsteady legs to the bedroom door, without glasses or any clothing other than socks and my Captain America boxer-briefs. (Yes, I have a pair, and yes you can see them.) I swing it open: oh good--his door's still closed. But there's plenty of danger in his own room for The Boy to find, and I needed to check on him.

"Comic book wisdom: not getting any recent reports of activity from your arch-nemesis is always a bad sign."

I open the door and see my son. Naked.

"Pshew!" The Boy says, throwing both his hands forward in an Iron Man dual-repulsor blast.

A gullible and sleep-derived lunatic, I fall into the trap and smile at my cute, R-rated Marvel fan. Then I go to the side of his crib to scoop him up and put some decency on him. I step into a puddle of pee on the carpet beside his crib. Pretty fresh, too (I'm ashamed to say I know), because it was still a puddle and sitting more or less on top of the carpet--all the better to soak into my socks. Then, as I overcame the urine-shock and went to pick up my son, I noticed a brown smudge on his crib sheet. And blanket. And an overturned, wadded up diaper.

I trembled in horror as my nose testified to the chilling truth. My son, who was now sweetly cuddling against me, with both arms wrapped around me and his head on my shoulder, was covered in excrement. From his jaw to his pudgy toes, he was a giggling smear of poo. And there were chunks that were big enough to rub off on me. Now, I couldn't very well let him go--I wasn't going to have him Cat in the Hat Comes Back his pestilence all over the house--so I had to hold him tightly against me with one arm while the other stripped off the crib bedding and tried to clean his mess as best as I could. And meanwhile, my suddenly affectionate son decided to rub my hair.

Oh yes. Mine is a truly diabolical son.

So we hopped into the shower together and shared a good cry while I tried to put to rest this insidious dream of a nice Saturday morning.

What's more, later investigation revealed that the pee had not gotten within the confines of the crib at all. The pint-sized mastermind must have pooped, stripped his diaper, rolled around, and then stuck his winky through the crib bars to deliberately pee onto the floor where the dreaded Daddy would stand.

Super-villainy most foul.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Speaker for Grandpa

Yesterday was Memorial Day, and though I already posted about the holiday this week, I have a bit more to say that strikes a much more personal note. But before I get started, let me offer two warnings. This post is something of a conceptual spoiler for Ender's Game. It's not a particularly bad spoiler--nothing you wouldn't get from reading the back of the sequel Speaker for the Dead--but if you are very spoiler sensitive, you may want to skip today's post. The second warning: this post is rather more serious than most of my articles on this blog. If you're new here, this post is an important link in the chain of my blog, but it may not be representative of the tone and content I strive to achieve here. I suggest reading some of my posts from this past weekend instead to get a better feel for Ben's Nerdery.

Seriously now, the spoilers shall flow. And probably also some sissy tears. You've been warned.

I've talked a little bit in the past about the profound impact Ender's Game had on me as a young fan of science-fiction. The drama and the kid-centric cast, the strategy and meditative tone, the spectacle of the battle room and the culture of the school, all helped it to affect me greatly. But nothing moved me quite so much as the concept of the Speaker for the Dead. The concept is introduced after Ender completely annihilates the alien Buggers threatening humanity and is confronted by the psychological immensity of what he did while conversing with the last queen of the entire alien species. It's a philosophical breakthrough for Ender, for the Buggers (Formics, to be politically-correct), and for the masses of humanity who read the Speaker for the Dead memoir and establish a cultural role around it. It's a cathartic moment of truth and acceptance, where Ender anonymously pens the misunderstanding from the aliens' point of view and in turn dispels the hatred, fear, and confusion left in the aftermath of his own actions. His work isn't just accepted as a way to honor the essentially-extinct Buggers specifically, it's also promulgated throughout human culture as a typical role at funerals. The Speaker for the Dead is a sort of investigator invited into the lives of the bereaved, hunting for truth and clarity. The Speaker isn't concerned with honoring the dead with flattery, but with objectivity and scrutiny, and when they speak at a funeral they share a sort of homily that conveys who the deceased really was--including their flaws, their secrets, and their impact on those around them. I find it a profoundly moving concept, and one I've carried with me for almost 15 years now.

Some time ago I mentioned a rather unpleasant experience where my wife, toddler, and I took a flight out to California. That weekend was for my grandfather's funeral--the last of my grandparents, and the one I've always wanted to understand and know the most. I never really got to know him all that well, but his legacy permeates my mother's family and everything I am today. And I can't think of a better time to be his Speaker for the Dead than the day after Memorial Day. It's worth pointing out that I'm neither objective nor an investigator, and I do want to honor my grandfather's memory with love as well as truth. So while I'm a poor Speaker in that sense, this needs to be said and would never be said by anyone else.

"Seriously now, the spoilers shall flow. And probably also some sissy tears. You've been warned."

When I talk about Grandpa, let's get an outrageous assertion out of the way: he's a greater hero than Captain America. I don't just refer to his heroic service in World War Two, but also to his legacy as a father and later in life as a stubbornly social and outgoing person. For the faults he certainly had--the ones I recall and the ones I'll never know about--I truly wish I was more like him, and I'll always feel like every mistake I make is falling short of his example.

Grandpa grew up in a patriotic family of four high-spirited brothers and three sisters. Each of the brothers were named after a president of the United States. No kidding. Grandpa was the second youngest of them, but that didn't prevent him from joining his older brothers in fights that always sounded to me like sober bar brawls. Their father also supported Germany in the 1930s, and as Grandpa's oldest brother saw the way politics were going at the end of 1941, he took it upon himself to set his brothers straight: they should not talk about their father and his political views to their friends. They would disown him on an ideological level. Grandpa was maybe 14 at the time. I can't fathom what that was like, and I thankfully will never have to. My greatest divide with my father is over watching subtitled movies.

Not only did my grandfather distance himself from his own father's views, but in 1944--at the age of seventeen--he enlisted, underage, into the United State Marine Corps, trained at Camp Pendleton, and was shipped out to fight in Okinawa, Japan. He fought throughout the close of the Pacific campaign, and in the process he brought back his share of incredible stories, scars, and a spiritual side delivered through an artillery shell. A side he certainly never had as a brawling German boy in Texas. He'd been sitting in a foxhole in the Pacific, huddled in the dark of night as bullets sprayed the area and a heavy barrage of artillery was tearing shrapnel through the air. He'd say that the artillery would come down in these arcs of ground-shaking explosions across the landscape. Boom. Boom. Boom. Tracing lines of craters as they demolished men in their foxholes. And he could here a line of death coming towards him, the shells raining down closer and closer to his position. Boom. Boom. BOOM. Thud. Just as the shells had zeroed in on him, a dud landed just feet away from him, within his own foxhole. And that's when Grandpa decided to talk to one of the chaplains in his unit.

"The Speaker for the Dead is a sort of investigator invited into the lives of the bereaved, hunting for truth and clarity."

He became a marine chaplain's aide, later going to seminary to become a Baptist pastor and raise a family in Southern California after the war. He married and had five children living in California. And then he got divorced, stepped down from the church he'd been ministering to, and moved to Texas. I never knew much about this more than what I just shared. Something happened, and growing up I knew never to ask my mother about it--a sage decision based on how she'd cry whenever I tried to pin down details. And as my Grandpa married a woman my mother's age in Texas and had three more children, the assumption in my mind growing up had always been that he had done something. He left, he abandoned my mother's family when she was in college and her two younger siblings still at home.

My mind naturally inserted slander to connect the dots of what I knew had happened and what must have led to it. There was no malice in it, and I wasn't even that far off in my conclusions, but they were still just assumptions, and I had nothing to put in its place in my perceptions until I was twenty-six years old. And even then, my mother could only share it with my wife--I've never heard the details myself. My Grandpa had been having affairs, and between his own guilt and the rumors, he soon was asked to leave the church in the midst of his marriage breaking up. With my grandmother raising the children, I suppose it was all he could do to get away from the stigma to head back to Texas, where he'd grown up.

My grandfather aged and lived his life in Texas, quite separate from the rest of my mother's family, for some time. I wouldn't say he aged gracefully, but he aged exuberantly. He rode horses and played pranks and was always a social bee. He got divorced a second time, had a couple of heart attacks, and finally a stroke drove him from his home in Texas back to California to be attended by his eldest daughter. I'd visited him a few times in Texas and knew him then as a head-strong crazy driver, a witty back-talker, and spoiling push-over who couldn't say no his younger kids or his grandchildren. But it was only after the medical problems, the wandering through his empty house and helping pack up his belongings, that I started to get a picture of the man. He was proud, ashamed of getting old, and had trouble letting go of the insanely fit young fighter he once was. The war still haunted him, especially so later in life as his health and focus declined, and above all he never stopped loving everyone he met. We'd be at a restaurant and he'd strike up a conversation with a bus-boy or try to hook the waitress up with my older brother. He never had trouble seeing the person behind the role or the function society placed on them--he always saw and addressed the individual in front of him.

Not long after Grandpa's stroke the World War Two memorial in Washington, DC was completed. My aunt and cousin brought him out to DC, where my family met them and spent the weekend touring the capital. Grandpa was only able to walk a few steps at a time, and even then he needed someone to hold onto him and keep him balanced. If no one was attending him, he'd lean progressively further and further forward, his short bow-legged strides becoming a faster and faster shuffle as he'd inevitably fall over. My cousin was a high-schooler at the time and she'd never exactly been built for helping one hundred sixty-pound septuagenarians around, so I took it upon myself to be his wheelchair chauffeur (and walker when he got too stubborn to point). I was eminently proud of myself that weekend. Not for the service itself, but for being attached to a man that I'd respected so much--and in a place specifically geared to honor him. I was his color guard--a slack, unfit civilian in glasses to guard a hero from Okinawa from falling on the concrete.

"...a head-strong crazy driver, a witty back-talker, and spoiling push-over who couldn't say no his younger kids or his grandchildren."

When we got to the memorial itself--the field of gold stars projecting out from the marble arc--Grandpa just had to get out of his wheelchair. Wearing a light jacket and USMC WWII Veteran cap, his arms and legs quivered as he pushed off of me to come to the best state of attention he could manage. His eyes slowly surveyed the memorial, and by that point I was certain that each one inspired a vivid memory from the war--and probably also of a time where his body wasn't constantly betraying him with frailty. Then he saluted, and stood a little bit taller. I held my hands just below his armpits in case he started to lose his balance, but he held that salute for what felt like a good minute before slowly going back at ease and wobbling back into my arms. Drained, he sunk back into his wheelchair, probably as out of breath from the emotions as from the exertion itself. My whole family was worked up at that point, and my mother and her sister were gushing over Grandpa and hugging him when a woman a little bit younger than my parents came up to him.

"I'm sorry, but could I just say thank you for what you've done?" she asked. "For serving this country?"

Now, I have a defiant streak in me a mile long, and this was after I'd read The Things They Carried, so I felt an urge to go Tim O'Brien on this woman. "For what he's done? What do you know about what he's done? You want to thank him for wearing a cap and looking like a sad old man, a great photo op, but do you care about what he's thinking right now? Probably hating that the prime of his life is tattered by these traumatic memories, that memories of youth for him are memoirs of death? I'm sure him being here, weak and emotionally raw, just makes your day, lady. A real nice visit to the World War Two Memorial..." But Grandpa was a better man than me that day.

"I was his color guard--a slack, unfit civilian in glasses to guard a hero from Okinawa from falling on the concrete."

"What's your name?" he asked, weakly shaking the woman's hand as she started to well up with tears. He then talked to her, and asked if she had any family who had served. I don't remember her replies, but I remember the way Grandpa, in a moment where I could only imagine feeling bitterness and resentment, took the time to talk to a random stranger and focus on making her feel good. Of course, we were surrounded by women at this point--the stranger, my cousin, my mom, and my aunt--so making her feel good meant that they all started sobbing while I stood amazed at the long-suffering smile on my grandfather's face.

That was nine years ago.

Since then I'd made countless pledges to chronicle Grandpa's life--to sit down and interview him while his senility still left him a spry conversationalist. College stymied that for a little while, and then his health slipped. He lost the ability to reliably focus on phone conversations, and the last time he visited, five years ago for my wedding, he struggled to keep conversations going at the best of times. I prayed that he'd get better, and swore that when he did, when I could interview him, I would write down his story, in his words, and know the man.

He never got better. And then, years later when I brought my family to his memorial service and held my son while talking about my hero and a man he'd never meet, it struck me how unfair it all was. That I'd never hear these stories in his own words, never learn how a German scrapper from Texas ever became such a mild and playful pastor. Never how he endured the shame of his own weakness and divorce, or what he was thinking when he first enlisted. Instead, he's dead. Dead and gone to a better place. And I'm left with only a vague composite testimonial instead of a relationship with my grandfather. I want to be bitter, to indulge in it. But then I think of that day in DC. I think of those feet shuffling in worn loafers across the concrete, and the way his stride would get faster and faster and then finally his knees would buckle under the strain of his pace. And on that February day, as I listened to family talking about Grandpa, I understood the man: he wasn't falling. His body may have been feeble, but he never lost his eagerness, that sparkle in his eyes that was just as likely to come from a visit from his nurse as talking to a janitor at his hospital. He had limitless energy, and that shuffle wasn't a fall--it was him rushing. Always eager, always wanting to set his own pace. And even in the end, when I'm sure it seemed like he was falling to the limits of his body, I know my Grandpa--he was just in a hurry.

I know this has been a long post, and I appreciate anyone who's read it through this far, since there's been scant humor or conspicuous nerdiness. But in being the Speaker for my Grandpa, I want to share with you a little bit of what drives me as an individual, a father, a son, and yes, even as a nerd. You see, Captain America is a great cartoon figure--a stylized and gratifyingly entertaining symbol of the greatest generation. But Grandpa, he simply is the greatest generation. He joined when everything stood against him and fought just as bravely as any man did. Then he went home and lived a life and fought a thousand other battles. He won and lost some, and even his family misunderstood him, failed to appreciate him, and abandoned him at one point or another. He still failed, still loved, still tried, and still reached out to family, friends, and strangers with a warmth I will never fully understand. He was a fighter. He was a flawed man. He was a soldier. Grandpa.

I hope you had a great Memorial Day. And I promise more snarky humor and frothing fandom tomorrow.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Movie Web Monday: William Sadler

Movie Web Monday: Each week, I'll look at a specific actor's roles across three good movies. The third movie will in turn tie into the first movie of the next week's actor, whose third movie will continue the pattern. I will go through actors and movies at this rate, with the following limitations in mind: every movie(or television show) invoked will be one I either own, or wish to own; no movie or actor will be invoked twice. So sit back and enjoy as you fall into the nerdery's movie web. (Oh, and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, telling you just enough to know if you'll enjoy the movie)

Today's entry in the Movie Web is William Sadler. A great actor with a long pedigree of powerful supporting roles, he most recently showed up in Iron Man 3 as President Ellis. You probably are more likely to recognize him from Die Hard 2 as Colonel Stuart, though. The movies I've picked for him today, though, have him run the gamut from convict to sheriff to a broken man leading a lynch mob. Yeah, he rounds the bases of the D&D alignment system, I guess.

William Sadler: Lawful-Go-Round

Movie: Shawshank Redemption (Own it)

While Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman's characters take up all the limelight of the Shawshank Redemption, they are supported by great performances and key supporting characters. Not the least of which is William Sadler as Heywood. While Freeman's character Red is the plain-spoken cynic and man of means in the story and Robbin's Andy Dufresne is the spirit of hope, Heywood comes to the fore of the supporting characters as the most believably constructed of the inmates. Red and Andy are the salt of the earth in two very different ways, both essentially pure and useful in the plot of the film. Opposite them are conspirators, murderers, and rapists. It'd be easy to dismiss the movie as a bipolar and ham-fisted reality tale if it weren't for Heywood and the other inmate friends of Red and Andy he tends to frontline. Heywood is crass and funny, thick and selfish, and pathetically under-educated. From the get-go he's intense and shows a cruel streak as well as an angry sensitivity, as he sways to angry, loud threats at Andy after chirping happily:

Sadler's realization of Heywood--for me, anyways--is one that is much more reasonable and genuine feeling than many of the other almost allegorical characters. In some scenes he seems like the scum of the earth, and in other he's a quivering reactionary trying to protect himself or follow the lead of Red and Andy. And, perhaps most importantly, there's a consistency to his character that doesn't require a neat explanation for what has happened to bring him here. Sadler's Heywood is the perfect support--a believable part of the background, but also a snappy and self-actualized character.

Television Show: Roswell (Rent it)

Alright, let's get this out of the way right now: yes, I watched Roswell. I'm even (gasp!) enjoying re-watching it via Netflix Instant Watch. My mom got me into it when I was thirteen, and I gotta say, when you're a young teenage boy and your mom tries to get you to watch a vaguely sci-fi show starring young Katherine Heigl and Emilie de Ravin, you don't argue. You just enjoy the show and capitalize on being one of the only freshmen in your high school to actually be willing to gossip with girls about the latest episode. Also, I totally thought Tess got a bum rap and they should've had her end up with Max instead of retconning her into a monster. And for those of you who don't know: Roswell was an angsty teen-oriented show in 1999-2002 based on a book series that followed unusual kids who happened to be the survivors of the famous crash in New Mexico.

With that out of the way: Tess' ridiculous and unbelievable transformation aside, William Sadler's character--Sheriff Jim Valenti--was by far the show's most dynamic and well-developed character. As a local law enforcement officer and shamed son to a known alien-hunting kook, Valenti begins the show as a sort of above-board antagonist. While a lot of the plots involved conspiracies and layered secrets, he tried to pin down the paranormal out of a jaded need to wrench the truth out of Roswell in an unspoken need to validate his father. It worked really well, and as the show progressed he became something of a white knight for the teenage protagonists to rely upon. The transformation came in quickly at the end of the show's first season, but it flew really well as Valenti's frustration with official cover-ups and deception pales in the face of his own instincts as a father. When head alien embrid (that's emo-hybrid) Max saves Valenti's son, he realizes that the truth is far less important than his beloved son:

Sadler's single dad portrayal is wry and endearingly pathetic in a middle-aged sort of way. Some of my favorite mundane moments in the show (other than alien bruiser Michael's love affair with the movie Braveheart) was when Valenti would showcase his band of fellow 40-somethings: the Kit-Shickers. That, and when he became a surrogate father to double-outsider Tess, he perfectly played up the awkwardness of a father and long-time bachelor trying to cope with having a darling princess in his life. It was sweet and adorable, and they shouldn't have ruined her character by suddenly having her be a Lannister-esque brain-melter. Dumbdumbdumb. They ruined at least half of their characters in that badly-devised plot twist and all just to justify the stale Max-and-Liz-forever romance that couldn't carry itself in light of Tess' importance.

Alright, I need to stop now. Valenti: good. Tess: adorable. Liz: dumb interstellar dynasty-wrecker.

Movie: The Green Mile (Why the heck don't I own it?!)

The Green Mile is another prison-movie masterpiece based on a novel by Stephen King--I mentioned that Shawshank Redemption is based on a Stephen King novella, right? Oh well, it is. Starring Tom Hanks, David Morse, and Michael Clarke Duncan, it's another beautiful installment the roster of movies about human hatred that nonetheless elevates the spirit. Man, that sounds like a crock if you haven't seen it. But it is true. Set in the 1930s in a death-row cell block, Tom Hanks' character guides his fellow guards through their duties with a certain amount of pomp and dignity that helps give doomed men hope, and all of that before they receive an inmate convicted of disgusting crimes with a supernatural aura. It's funny in a I'll-kill-him-right-after-a-punchline sort of way, leaving you feeling almost guilty for how much you enjoy some moments of such a tear-jerking melodrama.

William Sadler's role in The Green Mile is brief, and you probably don't remember him in it unless you have a celebrity NavComp AI for a brain. Like I do. The father of the two murdered girls that gets pinned neatly on the simple John Coffey, he has to play a huge variety of emotions in a short span. Breathless exhilaration as he assembles a search team and irritably coordinates with his wife. Helpless defeat as he realizes that they're already too late. And blind, futilely-misguided rage at a man more hurt by being close to damned innocence than mere beating could ever achieve.

It's an understated note to leave the Movie Web on, but considering William Sadler's laundry list of supporting roles, that's probably exactly the right way to end things.

Until next week.

(I think I mean that literally--I think I'll continue the blog sprint through this week and next. But don't freak out if it's not there after all.)

Movie Web Monday will continue next week with a new actor, picking up with some other prolific player from the last movie listed above.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day: Reenactments

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. In the past, I've written about the history of the holiday and listed off several suggested nerdy activities related to honoring those who've sacrificed their lives for others. I have a strong military tradition on both sides of my family, so this holiday is particularly important to me. My father, my grandfather, and several of my uncles have all served in the military, and their service informs who I am and how I think. My brother serves in the Air Force today, and one of my highest priorities as a father is to ensure that my sons grow up honoring and appreciating the military legacy of my family. But since I'm just a civilian and a nerd, I approach this problem from a different angle.

So today, I'm going to spotlight a special event that happens every year in Union, Illinois. The Illinois Railway Museum hosts a reenactment weekend each May called "WWII Living History Days." This event features the museum grounds as a parallel for the strategic rail-yards of Anzio, Italy in 1944. With over 150 re-enactors dressed as Allied soldiers, German soldiers, partisans, and civilians, they set up camp around the open lawns of the museum grounds and occupy the period-authentic trains and trolleys that guests can ride. And all of this culminates in a pitched battle as Allied forces assault German positions over a quarter mile of scrap yard and rails.

Military reenactments are a fairly common staple in the midwest, and I've probably gone to at least a dozen Civil War reenactments throughout my life. But this was the first I'd ever been to that was set in World War Two. For those of you who don't know, reenactments are like interactive performance theater with an emphasis on education and authenticity over individual characterization. So a bit more museum docent than Tony and Tina's Wedding, but still with an eye towards entertaining and engaging youngsters as much as any dinner theater. Of course, I don't know of any dinner theater with firearms and tactical maneuvering, so a good reenactment blows them out of the water right there. Now if someone made a Godfather dinner theater experience, wow. That'd be cool.

"But since I'm just a civilian and a nerd, I approach this problem from a different angle."

This was another event that my wife and I had heard of years ago when she was first pregnant, but we didn't want to try it then because we were stupid first time parents scared of every time our unborn son got the hiccups. At least my wife was, and I was just too cowed by the whole Alien-like process to make any imperative suggestions. This year, my wife was hugely 8-months' pregnant, but neither of us were really all that worried about anything other than the process of waddling her onto the 1940s passenger car. Plus, my son is a fanatic for trains, and so we made this year the first for yet another annual outing.

Stepping past the gates onto the grounds of the Illinois Railway Museum, we found a small camp of several tents belonging to Allied forces, completely decked with bedrolls, cots, personal gear, and a selection of weapons. Re-enactors in uniform squatting on camp stools swapped stories and would explain the significance of their paraphernalia to anyone with questions. Opposite them was a train platform with a 1940s passenger train taking on riders. We got aboard--I'm not sure how my wife hefted herself aboard, as I was carrying my son who was bucking for my vitals in mad locomotive mania--and shortly after we took our seats, some squads of the occupying forces lined up on the platform and boarded as well.

"Now if someone made a Godfather dinner theater experience, wow. That'd be cool."

The train took us out to the far end of the museum's property, stopping on the way for the Germans to pile out and capture an American flight crew. One of the pilots was brought aboard and kept under armed guard just a few seats behind us. A German officer tried to recruit my son to watch over the prisoner, but my boy was conscientiously uncooperative towards that assignment. Mostly, he was too busy chanting "faster, puffpuffpuff, train go faster!" as the wind blew in through open windows through his flaxen hair. On our way back, the train stopped again, this time to pick off some partisans cutting telephone wires. But while the Germans piled out of the train, three jeeps full of American GIs pulled up a nearby road and attacked them. With the train under Allied control, we returned safely to the station where we'd left to amble about the museum freely for a bit.

Toddler snatches canteen in 3...2...1...
You don't amble anywhere freely when you have a toddler. No more than you get to amble freely in a game of tug of war. Even if you're stronger and sure to win, the constant struggle of trying to restrain the rampant, sprint-grab-and-shake interests of a two year-old defines the experience. Sure, we might go where Daddy pushes the stroller or carries the Buck-Buck, but the conflict is what defines the journey, and there is nothing free about it.

"You mean this isn't a gigantic cast-iron jungle gym?!?"
My guy, for instance, loved the playground and picnic area near the trolley station. And apparently by his determination, the trains on display inside the museum buildings were indistinguishable from the brightly colored toddler-friendly playground outside. It didn't matter if he was looking at a sixty foot-long thousand-ton locomotive with six foot-tall wheels and covered in more protruding bolts than Pinhead from Hellraiser, my son wanted to climb it, and fought constantly for the privilege. We got to see some awesome sights though, and our little train-enthusiast was cotton-mouthed with panting joy throughout the afternoon.

The highlight for me, though, was the battle of the rail-yard in the mid-afternoon. The crack-crack-pow of eardrum-splitting rounds going off was a lot of fun, and put me at once in the middle of my favorite movies, vague histories, and secondhand family stories. It also freaked the crap out of my son. Even though he was at least thirty yards away from any of the noisemakers, he looked about as worked up and flushed as my childhood Cocker Spaniel in the middle of a thunderstorm. Which was license enough for mom to call a hasty retreat and end to our day, even with the echoing crack of rifle fire pinging off sheet-metal buildings around us as we left.

"You don't amble anywhere freely when you have a toddler."

If you are in the Midwest next May, I strongly suggest you look up the Illinois Railway Museum and see if you have a chance to visit during the re-enactment weekend. And if you're elsewhere in the country, look around for similar events in your region. It's a great visceral way to make learning something insidiously fun and ear-poppingly unforgettable.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

C2E2 2013 Roundup

UPDATE 5/26/2013: So after rereading this post today, I realized I'd neglected to expound on a lot of key stuff. Some of it I will save for a future post, as I'm having trouble bringing over some of my shaky Cloverfield-esque video, but for now I've expanded the Cosplay section of this post a lot, including a video of the Silent Hill nurse disturbing GenCon.

Today is a very special post.

A titanic post. And not because it's a lumbering, arrogant compensation-device bound to hit the biggest humiliating force of nature in the ultimate example of post-industrial hubris. It's a titanic post because it's huge.

Today's blog is about my impressions of Chicago Comic Entertainment Expo (C2E2) 2013. In a lot of ways, C2E2 was the final impetus that got me back to blogging here on the Nerdery. It's a fantastic convention here in the Midwest that has grown by leaps and bounds since it started in 2010. I'd heard about it in previous years, but never really felt the pull to go. That was largely true this year, too. Despite how much I'd loved attending Fire and Ice, I knew C2E2 would be vastly different and the basement-dwelling homebody nerd inside kept telling me I didn't want to go to such a vast, impersonal convention. Plus, I hate going into the city, and it'd be expensive, and a dozen other chirps of procrastinating unambition from the drowner within. No, I wouldn't go, and I was pretty certain I'd be a happier nerd for it.

That worked well enough until my wife happened to win a pair of weekend passes to C2E2 from a local radio station. Whoa. My cheapskate crutch snapped under its own weight as now the only real cost of C2E2 would be entirely volitional--I'd only spend money if I couldn't keep a steady grip on my wallet. So we'd be going, I reluctantly agreed. Reluctantly still, because that infernal pasty guy who never leaves the game room still wasn't that excited about going. But he was okay with doing research. And research is what did him in.

"It's a titanic post because it's huge."

Just looking over C2E2's website was enough to melt away the pasty contrarian in a wash of pure white fire. Hundreds of artists in Artists' Alley, a huge swathe of the convention floor dedicated to tables for artists from all sorts of comics, each with prints to sell and commissions to take. "Oh, I do love the artwork," crowed the little drowner, rubbing his clammy murderous hands together. "Maybe I could get something with the Avengers in it--or Ms. Marvel. I likes Ms. Marvel..." The creature's resolve was already cloven. Then I went over the guest speakers and panels. "Marvel vice presidents and editors talking about future of comics?" he drooled into my inner monologue, dropping his articles like a slob. That was a sign of weakness, as even the demented internal voices of the Nerdery's fragmented subconscious are grammatical sticklers. Once I clicked on the featured guests, the fight was done. "Ron Perlman?! Hellboy?!" screeched the drowner in helpless fanboy giddiness as I dropped my blessed silver claymore down on his clavicle, splitting him wide. There would be no second thoughts, no hesitation. I would meet the Perlman and would make his signature mine. Oh yes, I would make his signature sit on my Hellboy Director's Cut and it would be most sweet.

And so I went from being staunchly opposed to going to being ravenously excited about the proposition of meeting the man who is the hub of my Movie Web (it all begins and ends with Ron). Not even the brutal and graphically rendered slaying of my slacker subconscious could allay my enthusiasm for leaping into the unknown and coming out with my trophy in the form of Ron Perlman's handle scrawled on my DVD set.

Seriously, my mouth is watering right now.

So I went after all. The first day, Friday, I brought my 14 year-old brother in law because my silly pregnant wife was having a sympathy attack over my two year-old who'd been sick that week. Seriously, the sympathy attack is one of the most illogical and destructive beasts of living with a pregnant woman--and the sympathy never flows towards you, either. It pretty much always opposes your enthusiasms and has water in its eyes even when 'everything is fine'. Bah, I didn't have time for that on April 27--that was my day to capture Ron Perlman's script on my tomes of Hellboy! So I picked up my brother-in-law and we rode the train down into the city, while I gave him a primer on the birds and the bees of comics, Nerdery, and what wonders we would inevitably see (since I knew so much).

"That was a sign of weakness, as even the demented internal voices of the Nerdery's fragmented subconscious are grammatical sticklers."

Saturday my son was feeling better--actually, my son was feeling better on Friday, but after a day of sympathy attacks my wife was feeling better--and so I took the missus with me on the continuing nerd fest while my son terrorized my parents for the day. It was great, and we got to see even more awesomeness, despite being hamstrung by my wife's over-encumbering pregnancy. Although I did find that drafting behind her made navigating the dense crowds of the convention much easier--no one wants to bump into a strange 8-month pregnant lady at a nerd gathering.

Then on Sunday we brought my son. Decked in a Spider-Man hoodie and wide-eyed over the spectacle of getting to ride a train for the first time in his life, and into a tunnel no less, my little sidekick was beside himself with manic joy at the con.

It sucked.

For those of you who are considering bringing a toddler to any convention, let me prepare you for it. First of all, the ladies will constantly be complimenting you on how cute you are with a blonde-haired blue-eyed toddler in your arms. And it is cute. Guys will say it's awesome to see your little Web-head going fwip-fwip to show how he uses his web-shooters. And it is awesome. You'll also have to lug a thirty-five pound snatching kleptomaniac around all day, wrestling him into your arms while he donkey kicks your junk in an effort to get to the toy retailers' alley or to sprint ahead of the line to sit in the Mach 5. You get to watch his hands so he doesn't yank people's hair as countless strangers with fascinating heads pass within claws' reach. Yeah, maybe it is cute. But it's also a pain in the arms, back, and gonads, and people give you funny looks for every tantrum he throws rather than thank you for restraining him from ripping their redheaded wig off at the scalp.

And to top it all off, when my son saw a perfectly realistic Spider-Man posing with other people, he was totally speechless. The shrieker gasped and his slack-jaw look of wonder had all the pronouncing power of an old fish. Just flapping lips, wide-eyes, and a faint press of air that could only vaguely be translated into words.

"Hey, who is that, Bucky?"


"Well then, call him."

"Over here, Spider-Man."

"No, Buck, he can't hear you. You gotta call louder." A small pinch on the thigh, trying to either throw some sense into him or encourage him to narc on me to the red and blue hero.

"Spider-Man. Spider-Man come 'ere." As faint as ever, though plaintively urgent this time.

"Hey, Spider-Man! Can we get a picture?" I called out as the cosplayer turned his back and began to move on. I trotted up to Spider-Man and showed him his quiet doppelganger. My son's arms swung wide and he pitched his body forward to embrace Spider-Man and transfer into his arms.

"Spider-Man," he said, voice now contentedly smaller than ever as my wife and I got some of the only pictures of him both awake and still from the whole day. When that was done, he hugged Spider-Man around the neck.

"Bubye, Spider-Man. See you later."

Yeah, maybe it is awesome. But I still don't recommend it.

In the interest of breaking down my impressions into easier-to-digest chunks (yeah, right, like I do that), here's the major categories of attractions at C2E2 that thoroughly enchanted my weekend.


There was a tremendous amount of star power at the con. Convention veterans like Burt Ward and Julie Newmar were there, as well as a bunch of stars from The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. Felicia Day, Sam Huntington, and Patton Oswalt were also there meeting fans and signing autographs, but the biggest three in my esteem (other than The Man himself) were the Babylon 5 trinity: Bruce Boxleitner, Mira Furlan, and J. Michael Straczynski. I'm actually a very belated fan of Babylon 5, only recruited through Netflix Instant Watch, so I didn't have any signable goodies for them. If I did, you can bet I would've hit them all Friday morning after stopping off at Ron Perlman's table.

Ah, Ron. I was pleasantly surprised that going straight for the autograph tables immediately after getting to the con Friday morning was the way to go. There were hardly any people at all getting autographs yet. Except for Ron. Out of maybe 40 fans getting signatures at that point, I'd guess that twenty of them were in line for him. I felt perversely proud of Mr. Perlman for it.

"I would meet the Perlman and would make his signature mine."

Now, I had a really stupid pact in my mind to be charming and erudite when I met one of my cinema idols. There was a vague scenario sketched in my mind where I could say the right words that would get the celebrity to want to strike up a friendship with me and go play wargames or something. Unfortunately, the Ron Perlman fan in front of me was a svelte She-Hulk wearing booty shorts and a tattered tank top, so by the time I got up to the front of the line of fans all I had really determined was that I should not make an ass of myself. See how that went with my poignantly-remembered transcript:

Taking my Director's Cut in hand, Ron says, "Where would you like me to sign it?"

"Right there on the front," I answer dryly. At this point, I'm thinking: Man, his head is really a normal size. Yeah, I know. Somehow, over the years of seeing him tower over other actors in these grand roles, I'd gotten the impression that he'd make me feel like Frodo's scale double once I met him, never mind the reality that he's only an inch taller than me. So for an awkward silence, I just chanted: Don't talk about the size of his head, Ben. He will totally go Angel on you if you freak out on him. Be cool. So I was being cool. I was also suddenly aware that I was standing in front of Ron Perlman and I wasn't talking--not cool! "I really love the video commentary on this set. Your comments are especially well-informed and they show how well you know and appreciate the material," I say, silently complimenting myself on not sounding like a lunatic.

"Yeah? You know, I don't think I've ever sat down and watched the video commentary since we recorded it," he says with a smirk. Ron can smell loon.

"Really?" I ask, idiocy welling up within, boiling over. "Well, if you want to watch it you could borrow it. I'm going to be here all weekend." Now, I had thought that would be a clever way to ingratiate myself to the celebrity, still clinging to the delusion. Of course, I went home and started blogging zombie party favors, so you know the story doesn't work out that way.

"Oh, that's okay," Ron said with that Vincent smile. "I'm pretty sure I have a copy at home."

Oh my giddy-odd. Did you really just say that? He probably thinks you're a loon. Just get the picture taken with him and go.

"Mind if my brother takes a picture of us?" I say through the stupid-stupid-stupid in my throat.

"No problem," he says, magnanimous in the face of demented fanboy.

Wow, his hand is like not really warm or cold. It's a just right hand. Shut-up! Don't say anything but thank you!

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Ron Perlman's frakkin' shaking my hand!!!


Walking through Artists' Alley is a real chore. And I don't simply mean because it's super-crowded navigating the rows of tables and aisles choked with fans to find the artist you're looking for. I mean because there's so many awesome pieces of art on display. Each table sports a dozen or more display pieces, and then they have entire portfolios of art prints that you can pick up right there. I really liked chatting about the art with the creators--especially the couple that were really impressed by the details and elegance of their work. Even surrounded by fans, they were genuinely impressed by viewers who saw and loved the details. And then there's the great commission prices for artwork. You can watch artists at work on those commissions, sketching iconic characters in real-time while you chat about the latest scandal in nerd interests. You know: Star Wars being ruined for kids these days, the New 52, and Michael Bay. Yeah, it's definitely a part of the con where I could envision spending an entire day next year. (Oh, did I mention I am definitely going next year? Spoiler alert: I'm going next year.)

One of my favorite pieces of art was one I found on Friday, by Stephen Bryant. I was drawn to his table by his painted covers, in particular a piece called "The Power of Three" featuring Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Liz Sherman. Having just come down off my I-met-Ron high, I picked it up right away and started talking with the artist and assistant as I went through the rest of his portfolio. Then I found my favorite picture of the con. Entitled "Iron Man: Dreaming Big", it featured a young boy lost in a thick volume of Essential Iron Man, with a image of the cinematic Iron Man floating above his head, springing from his imagination. Oh, I love that piece, and so that got added into my impulse purchase as I gushed to my brother-in-law over it and proved much more socially competent with Mr. Bryant than I was with Ron. Then, joking as I realized I was breaking my own personal promise to 'not spend that much,' I grabbed a print from Stephen for a friend whose birthday was coming up. It depicted Deadpool in Eddard Stark's classic "Winter is coming" pose. The best part? I had been at the con like two hours and already spent almost as much money as I would've on the two weekend passes. Oops.

So then the rest of our time we spent in Artists' Alley on Friday was ulterior-motive scouting. For those of you who aren't married, that's when you look for products to show your spouse to make them assume you must've spent a lot more money than you really did. "Hey, I know I picked up three art prints, but if I was really out of control I would've picked up a dozen. See? Look at all this great art I didn't buy...Can we get that one, too?" So on Saturday we grabbed another 5 or so art prints, this time impelled by my wife, and we really only stopped because of failure to visualize where they could go in our house.

Artists' Alley: totally worth a day on its own. Don't go there at all if you don't want to spend money. Just don't.


The panels were great, and varied from intriguing and intellectual to creators having mass love affairs with their fans. The rooms where the panels were actually located, however, were harder to find than a matte surface in Abrams' Star Trek reboot. If you're going to the con for the first time, know that all of the panels are held upstairs, and--while there are stairs leading up inside the main convention floor--the stairs you want are actually up the escalators before even entering the main floor. Yeah, those other stairs just lead to a sort of island food court that is designed to fulfill the same function as the Lost Woods in the Zelda games--be as confusing as possible in a confined, closed space.

The panel with the Marvel leadership was great, and since that was a Friday panel, I had the pleasure of sharing it with my brother-in-law who was pretty ignorant of all things Marvel that weren't in the last batch of movies. (I say was pretty ignorant because I think he went home that day a genuine Marvel fan.) It was a great time that made me proud to be a Marvel fan. In a fairly packed room, the Marvel heads were funny, personable, and showed they not only knew their fans as an abstract demographic but also were able to read us as a collective batch of Midwest nerds sitting in front of them. I loved it, and by the time I left they had sold me on Marvel Unlimited and gotten me excited for the upcoming Project Gamma.

But of course, my absolute favorite panel was Ron Perlman's Q&A on Saturday. In a massive hall filled with probably fifteen hundred people, Ron fielded questions direct from fans in a frank, crassly charming hour or so (too too short). There were a lot of good questions asked, and it was clear the room was full of true fans. A couple of fans just gushed over Ron more than ask questions, and he handled it with hilarious and dirty back-talk. He even shared a few details that I'd never heard before, one of which was clearly a tender subject for him, so it all felt intimate despite being so grand. I wanted to ask him a question or two, and I would have done so, but by Saturday it had dawned on me how dumb I came across the day before. So I kept my trap shut.

An aside: my wife would tell you that at one point I got quite animated and pointed to some random fan thinking he was Guillermo del Toro popping in on the Q&A, but that's ludicrous. First, I totally never said that. Second, I don't get dumber the closer I get in proximity to Ron Perlman, but I might get more loony. Thirdly--and I'm not admitting anything--but it would've been an awesome publicity stunt if the director of some of Ron Perlman's biggest movies, including his next one Pacific Rim, had just shuffled into the room and stolen the show for a few minutes, right? I mean, it's not a totally dumb idea. But I never said that, so it's all just my wife's gravid eccentricity.


Oh my, the cosplay. I'm going to have a lot to say about this in upcoming posts, so I won't go into much detail about what cosplay is or anything other than to say that I was overwhelmed by how much good cosplay was on display at C2E2. And I don't just mean hot costumes. I'm talking about people with cinema-quality outfits, or with realizations of costumes not yet seen in live action that absolutely blew me away. Even before getting into the main hall on Friday morning, there were at least a dozen people I wanted to take pictures of. I snapped a few, but not nearly as many as I would've liked. Partly because I was keeping an eye on my brother-in-law, and partly because I was certain that I'd see all of the really good cosplayers in the costume contest they'd have later that night. In short, I was a putz. Don't be a putz. Take tons of pictures. Because you will see hundreds of awesome, well-done costumes, and the contest itself was only 30 people. Granted, I saw great cosplay on the stage, but I missed out on great photos for second-guessing myself.

I don't think anyone suffered more for their cosplay than this girl. Chelsea from Lionheart Cosplay and Makeup Effects went as a female Carnage--the insane symbiote that makes Venom into an occasional hero by comparison. She had white-out contacts, painful-looking dentures, and that latex tongue hanging from her jaw. Probably the greatest crime about the whole affair is that a lot of the fabulous, scrupulous details of her costume were really hard to notice and appreciate from a distance. When I talked to her after Friday's contest, it was clear that the entire getup was exhausting her in real-time. Lionheart, indeed.

The greatest thing about the fantastic cosplay at conventions like this is that it's by far the most social aspect of the experience. You might not have any interest to talk to some random comic book guy, but when you see someone dressed up as a perfect Hudson from Aliens, or the Red Ranger's T-rex dino-zord, or frakkin' Captain Planet, you just have to talk to them. I myself really enjoyed dragging my shy brother-in-law to the side of the stage after Friday's cosplay contest and talking to some of my favorite cosplayers from the night. I won't go into too much detail, but I'll say I met some really cool people that I hope to meet again and even feature on this blog in the coming weeks.

One of those people was Courtney from Cosplay4UsAll. She dressed up as the nurse from the horror game series Silent Hill, and in that costume she won the crowd's approval for best cosplay in Friday's costume contest. Besides having a great costume, she also had far and away the most disturbingly accurate twitch-walk that perfectly emulated the horrors from the Hill. The contest's MC (I believe her name was Trin) simply wigged out as Courtney shuffled up onto the stage, and as we all cheered I'm pretty sure she was planning an escape route. I love the roleplay aspect of cosplay, and the fact that Courtney stayed in character for her stage walk was fantastic. Included below is a brief video of her creeping around GenCon 2012. Even after the show, when I met her and the rest of the family composing the Cosplay4UsAll team, she stayed disturbingly mute. It was only when we I started talking about video games that she had to break character to brag on some of her Mass Effect and Borderlands cosplay as well. Even then, she kept it hushed so other people wouldn't see her talking. Great people, and I'm already working with them on another project. Filmatleven.

My brother-in-law, being a typical high school boy with little or no knowledge of true Nerdery (I mean it, some of his honest questions absolutely killed me--like when he asked if the vintage Captain Power toys were from the 60s), really loved this Deadpool cosplay. Wise-cracking, uber-violent, and gun-toting, Deadpool is a fun Marvel character that is known for breaking the fourth wall with almost cartoony antics. So when this cosplayer, Michael, dressed as the "merc with a mouth" he went over-the-top, and was naturally pitch-perfect as Deadpool. A scratch-built 60-pound cannon, Deadpool's "The Solution" was a big crowd-pleaser. At least it was once it got assembled and lugged up onto the stage.

Finally, I was really impressed by the large number of quality Iron Man costumes at C2E2. Friday alone we saw at least three or four Iron Man cosplays that were good enough to make you do a double-take. I found it particularly fun when we stopped to have a bite to eat and an Iron Man tromped through the food court area, liking stalking up on a blonde or a cold one. Or looking for a mechanic to help him take a bathroom break. Either way, it was one of the nerdy little moments that was ridiculously common at C2E2--like seeing Ms. Marvel in her Warbird outfit resting her heels while munching on some celery. So mundane and disarming. So priceless.

And yes, I like Ms. Marvel. Shaddup.

If you were thinking about going to C2E2 before, it should probably be a foregone conclusion now. It's a fun convergence of a lot of nerd elements, and the chance to rub elbows with so many nerds in such uninhibited surroundings alone is worth it. Also, keep an eye out for more pictures and a lot more coverage on cosplay as Nerd Butter in the next week or so.