Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con Diary 2013

For anyone who has heard The Podcast from the After Movie Diner's coverage of last year's Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con you'll know that it was an anxiety riddled but also thrilling ride.
From nervous podcaster journalist with out-of-depth feelings and pressure to get something, anything that resembled audio reporting from the event to a steady acceptance of the event's parameters and, dare I say it, even unabashed, childish enjoyment.
For people who haven't heard it you can do so here: Audio Recording: 'EPISODE 41 - The Philadelphia Comic Con 2012 ...' From 'The Podcast from the Afte...'

This year, as you'll see, never one to repeat myself, I instead opted to just enjoy myself as a convention goer and then report that back instead. Last year it was a list of what not to do and what to do as a first time podcaster at such an event and this year it's what to expect if you're attending one of these con thingies. So please enjoy, this, my Philly Comic Con Diary.

Friday:
I arrived, by Megabus, from New York at around 11:15am Friday 31st May. If you're ever doing this again for future conventions people be aware the Megabus also drops off in the city centre before 30th Street station, something that is not well advertised on the Megabus website.
I got to the hotel and was pleased to find I could check in early and a room was ready. I was also pleased that the Courtyard Marriott was a lovely hotel, with very helpful staff and mere minutes away from the Convention Center. After a long day walking around the large and various halls of that vast convention center and/or standing online for a while, the short walk back to the hotel was, most certainly, welcome.
I was heading to the convention with the intention to see Linda Blair's Q&A which was scheduled to be between 1pm and 1:45pm on the Friday. I arrived, I checked in, got my 4 day pass wrist band and my exclusive copy of The Walking Dead issue 1.
So far, so very cool. The line, thankfully, had been short and quick.

I then headed over to the press booth and see what was going on press wise from Jerry Milani. The slightly disappointing news this year was that none of the guests were doing interviews.
Now I don't get the press pass just to rub shoulders with famous folk and it certainly wasn't the only reason I was going but, obviously, it had been a feature of previous years and other conventions and it certainly would have given an extra and exciting something to provide listeners, readers and watchers of the various Diner sites that I run.
A lot of cons are places where stars announce new stuff, provide tasty behind-the-scenes knowledge and so on, not so much with the Wizard World Philadelphia Con and clearly, this year, I wasn't really going to get my chance to pry either. Oh well, I thought and trundled into the vast main hall.
Now, a couple of words here about the arrangement this year. Last year registration was upstairs from a main door and escalator of the convention center and fed directly into the main hall, which, I think, was smaller last year. Also there were clearly marked and easily accessible and obvious exits all the way along. This year the registration area felt about the same size but was slightly awkward to get to and a long long walk from anywhere. Once inside the main hall the layout was better with photos right at the back, then the famous folk in front of that, then some stalls, then artists alley, then more stalls, shops etc. finishing right at the front with, one of the best additions, a comfortable and fun seating area.
This was probably put there because getting to the damn place was such an interminable walk from anywhere. Another great addition was the posting of the schedule in various places and even a, really handy, information stand. Still no wi-fi, which boggles my mind but, I can't complain, there were some serious improvements made this year once you actually got to the hall.
Weirdly, though, although everything felt and definitely was bigger, it had the odd effect of making it seem like there was less there. More padding.

The second disappointment came when, seeing a black line through Linda Blair's Q&A on the board by the seats, it was confirmed, by the helpful lady at the information booth, that Linda had missed her flight or something and would not be giving her Q&A today.

Initially a little sulky in my head, I wondered around the whole hall, took everything in, took some pictures of some early costumed folk and then thought, well now what? None of the guests had showed up yet and the next thing I had planned on going to was the Ray Park Q&A and that wasn't till 4pm.
This where what I learnt last year kicked in.

LESSON 1: Adopt, adapt and improve or make the most of it and enjoy yourself, you're here and you paid for this thing, didn't you? so come on! buck up!
After another bit of a wander and a few more snaps taken I decided I would have lunch and then attend, at 2pm, HOLLYWOOD AND COMICS Which was described in the blurb in the book as: Comic creators have broken into the film and television businesses, and have built successful careers as screenwriters and producers. Hear from these successful professionals about the books they’ve created that studios are purchasing in this eye-opening discussion.

Before I talk about that, a little word on lunch.
If you are ever attending the Philly Comic-Con there's one place and one place only you should get lunch and that is the Reading Terminal Market.
Located at the corner of 12th and Arch street it houses food court like stands that serve just about every type of lunch type cuisine you could think of from all around the world. Italian, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Diner food, deli sandwiches, BBQ, hand-rolled donuts, home made ice cream and I am sure much much more.
It's a must visit!

So after lunch it was off to Hollywood and Comics and while it wasn't, at all, what was promised, it was a good fun time. Basically the founders of fantasy comic publishers Zenescope and producer/director Jon Schnepp discussed how they founded their company and how they got into comic books, animation and soon, film. They also discussed what studios are now looking to invest in, as comic books are obviously huge box office business. Although I was not so concerned with the content of their books (a sort-of dark adult fantasy retelling of Grimm's fairytales, Alice in Wonderland and other publicly available titles of that ilk), the talk was a fantastic tale of courage, entrepreneurship and creativity. Jon Schnepp, too, detailed how he fell into the business, some of the shows, videos and books he had worked on and all with a wonderful, dead pan, sad sack, depreciating and witty sense of humour.
There was an awkward moment towards the end where an, obviously crazy, person attempted to debate, at length, the annoyance she had that so many of the actors who had played Superman had brown hair and the wrong colour eyes. Jon Schnepp, thankfully, didn't put up with the madness too long before claiming he didn't give a fuck and was looking forward to the new film. The crazy person then left. I am not sure what became of her but if you are on line for Man of Steel and see someone waving placards declaring the wrong hair and eye colour of ol' Supes then BINGO, you've found her.
Apart from that, the panel was funny and inspirational, to say the least, and I was glad I had attended.

Then, in the same room, at 3pm, Kevin Sorbo of Hercules and Andromeda fame was doing his Q&A. Perfect, I thought, while not a huge Hercules fan (apart from, obviously, the Bruce Campbell centric episodes) I had seen enough and was interested enough to let his Q&A see me through to Ray Park at 4. Already the day was whizzing past and I was loving every minute of it.

This was one of the Q&As that sadly I didn't capture any audio for because I would've loved to have had it here to play for you. He was charming, funny, frank, passionate and talkative.
He mentioned the myriad of low budget film roles he has done and has coming up, he talked about shooting Hercules and Andromeda at length, he talked about his fitness regime at the time versus now and he talked with deep sincerity and positivity the school charity he works with.
He also addressed the infamous internet meme featuring him shouting, seemingly over the top, "DISAPPOINTED!" which eh revealed he actually stole from Kevin Kline in a Fish Called Wanda. Which, now that you watch it again, makes perfect sense. It was a great, relaxed and fun Q&A.

At 4pm it was time, finally, for Ray Park and despite him being a bit late (due to lines at his stall), he gave a great chat about his inspiration to study martial arts, his famous roles as Snake Eyes in G.I. Joe and Darth Maul in the Phantom Menace and his Scottish heritage. You can see some of this in the video below. The full audio of his Q&A will be posted here shortly.



Without barely a moment to catch a breather it was a brisk jog up two, or maybe even three escalators to make it to the ballroom which, at 5pm was hosting a Q&A with, none other than, Michael Rooker!
I had been a fan of his waaaaay before The Walking Dead and was pleased to see that I was not the only one when he fielded questions, not just about Merle but also about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Mallrats and even Tombstone. No Sea of Love or Slither questions sadly but beggars can't be choosers, am I right?
Rooks took to the stage like a fucking rock star and even if his answers weren't the most spectacularly in-depth or insightful, he was watchable, funny, funky and cool as fuck for the whole 45minutes, as you can see below.

A quick word, at this point, about the excellent moderator Mark Lee. While I did hear his same stories a few times, as there were many occasions at this Con that he had to vamp until the star got there, he always told it with a personable enthusiasm, excitement and good humour. His interaction with the stars was always humorous, to the point and he professionally tried to spur the folk less inclined to give good or detailed answers on to actually give upbeat and in depth responses. He also had no problem jokingly or seriously removing any idiotic Con goer who had long drawn out silly questions. He did his job well, with a smile and with passion. It was VERY much appreciated good sir, so thank you Mark.
Here Mark Lee deals with an unexpected guest on stage before The Walking Dead panel

And now it's Michael Rooker's Q&A

You can also listen to or download the whole thing as a podcast HERE

After the excitement of Rooker and reeling a little from the lack of sleep I had from the night before I headed back to the hotel for a little while before venturing out again to see Andrew McCarthy introduce Weekend at Bernie's at 7pm.

The surprise here was how long, in-depth, open, funny and appealing the Q&A was with former Brat Packer McCarthy prior to the film. I was expecting a cursory introduction but the man really answered some questions and gave the crowd a show. I was very tired at this point and after recording a few minutes of the Q&A and watching the first 15mins of Bernie I sadly had to leave and go back to the hotel. I didn't get to see what he said after the film but the plan was to have him come back out for more after the screening. I was sad to have missed it but could no longer keep my eyes open.
I guess I am not as young as I once was and the 3hrs sleep, I had barely got Thursday night, wasn't helping me to power through this long day successfully.
So to end Friday, here is highlights from Andrew McCarthy's Q&A before Weekend at Bernie's


Saturday:
Always the busiest day of any Con going over a weekend and always the day on which the schedule the most popular stuff. While this makes a certain sense and certainly a financial sense it does lead to longer lines, over crowding and worst of all, disappointments as, invariably, you can't make every Q&A, every panel, every photo shoot and every booth that you would like to. It's simply not possible.
Although I had filled up my Friday fairly successfully and while I appreciate there needs to be time for the panels concerning comics and cosplay on, maybe, the less popular days I would like to see the big hitters, the stars and panels everyone is there for spread out better over the three days.
For example, on Saturday there was William Shatner, The Walking Dead, Firefly, Henry Winkler, Charmed, Buffy and the weirdly popular power ranger guy Jason David Frank Q&As and on Sunday John Barrowman and Manu Bennett (you'd be completely forgiven if you just said, who? at that point). I understand not wanting too much Friday during the day as people might need to be at work but Sunday? That's another weekend day in my world.

I was joined on Saturday by my wife and was a little trepidatious, at first, as to how she was going to take to it all, not in a condescending way but because, while we fell in love over a mutual interest in George A Romero zombie films, while I credit my wife for getting me into 80s and 90s action films and while she grew up loving Star Wars and the original Hulk series, I wasn't sure if all this rabid geekdom on display wouldn't be a little overkill for her. Thankfully, I am happy to report, she loved it and threw herself into every aspect of the event with enthusiasm.

First up on Saturday was a photo op with William Shatner. I could rant here about the cost of the thing, the impersonal nature of it once you've paid that money, the orders and rules barked at you by the photo ops staff clearly loving being able to restrict others from having any fun, about the abuse of VIP passes and about the slightly shoddy organisation (especially on the Saturday) which are all complaints I have either read others have or hold myself to some extent but ultimately I am not going to as it leads us to...
Lesson 2: Accept the reality and the cost. This is imperative if you are going to relax and have any fun. You must accept you are not going to be able to see everything and do everything and you must accept that these events, like it or not, do not come cheap.
Are there ways that your experience could've been improved? yeah of course and we'll get to one way, in particular, later that has to do with the Walking Dead photographs but really, when you consider everything that has to happen at these events, the amount of people through the door, the security, the guests, the staff etc. They did a bloody good job all told and who am I to really complain. I got to get a photograph with William Shatner! Something my teenage brain would never have believed possible 18 years ago. So, overall, apart from one single frustration, that I will get into later, I think most things went off without a hitch.
So here, to the left is the photo I got with Shatner. Captain Kirk himself. TJ Hooker. Denny 'mutherflubbin' Crane! I honestly, staring at that picture now, can't believe it happened.
Now to explain my t-shirt. It reads 'I hope one day we'll all have a friend like KARATE PETE' and it references a song I did on the Shatner episode of my podcast (See HERE) where we covered Impulse and The Devil's Rain.
I was introduced to Impulse by my friend and podcast listener Brad Gullickson who is such a fan of the gentleman that every year he hosts a film festival in his apartment called Shat Attack.
In Impulse Harold Sakata (who most will know as the James Bond villain Odd Job) plays an old acquaintance of Shatner's character who pulls up in a large RV at a car wash and on the outside of his RV is a banner that reads 'KARATE PETE'
Brad was at Philly Comic-Con last year and had contacted me on Twitter (@aftermoviediner) when he heard I would be going too and we met up. I then had him on the show for the convention talking about The Captain's Panel among other things. It was on that episode that we hatched the plan to do the Double Bill Shatner episode.
So, my one goal this year, when I heard Shatner would again be attending, was to get a photograph with the man wearing the T-Shirt inspired by a film that was introduced to me by a one-time listener of a silly podcast I host and now, after meeting last year at the con, is a friend.
It, to me, beautifully represents the world we, self-proclaimed, proud nerds and geeks, all now live in, the wonderful rise of fandom and friendship and not to mention the fantastic accessibility of these icons we have held so dear for so long. That's worth a wad of my cash any day of the week. Perfect Con moment.

After the Shatner photo, the wife got a picture with her favourite Hulk, Lou Ferrigno and we discovered that this year, unlike last year, some of the guests were, for a different fee, doing photos at their booth, often with a signature and a picture thrown in. This was also a great improvement over last year because, while we did cough up quite a few shekels to stand in line for ages and get a professional photo with quite a few of the famous guests, with others it was quicker, easier and nicer to just snap one yourself at the booths. More personal, more fun and cheaper. Good all round.
That's what I like, the ability to choose. Last year when it was photo op or nothing it felt a little gestapo-esque the way the yellow shirted volunteers were forced to shoo away people taking long lens, grainy, blurred photos of the back of some famous person's head from yards away at the end of a long line of fans. Silly really. You're not paying just to take a photo, you're paying for the experience of an unobstructed capturing of a personal moment with one of your favourite actors. Less emphasis should be placed on removing folks just getting random long distance snaps. It leaves a sour taste in everyone's mouth.

Then we wandered around the floor again, biding time until Shatner's Q&A at 12:30pm
My wife got an autograph and a picture with Andrew McCarthy at his booth, we got pictures of lots of lovely Cos Players and after that it was off to the William Shatner Q&A.

Shatner's Q&A was great. He was funny, in depth, manic, smart, charming, eloquent and everything you wanted from Shatner. He really is a legend and can really hold a room. Yeah there is some umming and erring as he tries to make his 82 year old brain remember his 5 decade strong career but he always gets there and it's always engaging, admirable and humorous when he does.
Plus he was one of the few that spoke about interesting and exciting upcoming projects.
I could've sat and listened to him for hours. I saw his one man show when he brought it to Broadway and while, obviously, this wasn't as prepared, it was a marvellous extension of that showman, that professional and the dedicated, work-a-holic that is William Shatner today.

You can hear or download his whole Q&A HERE

Our plan, after some more floor time and then some lunch was to take in the Buffyfest panel at 2:30pm. We hit the convention floor happy and giddy after Shatner's talk and we hadn't been there two minutes when who should we spy? None-other-than Tom Savini himself. The legendary make-up and fx guru behind Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Friday the 13th (among others).


It then reminded me that I had read somewhere that he was only appearing Saturday afternoon as, I guess, sort of a publicity stunt as he was set up at a booth for Romper Zombie toys. I feel like not a lot of people realised he was even there. He didn't have much of a line, it wasn't an official booth but for $20 you could get a signed photo and a picture with the man.
Well I jumped at the chance. Not only are the Wife and I huge fans of his work, she also loves him as Sex Machine in From Dusk Till Dawn.
I had heard he can get prickly with fans sometimes and I was hoping that he wasn't going to let us down today. I am happy to report he didn't at all.
No he wasn't hugely talkative but he was appreciative of my stammering praise and compliments of his work, he shook my hand, autographed a picture of himself as Sex Machine and he posed for two pictures. I made an utter fool of myself by being so blown away by his presence that I, initially, completely forgot to get the camera out of my bag. I didn't know where I was or what I was doing, I just couldn't believe it was happening. Luckily we ended up with this great snap and an awesome autograph.
Definitely an unexpected and awesome Con highlight. I still can't believe it.
It's funny who you get star struck by but Tom Savini was one of those guys for me. I may have been an absolute stumbling imbecile around him but when I look at that picture I just think, that's so cool, my wife and I met a man who helped create a film, Day of the Dead, that both of us fell in love to.

After this it was off to lunch. While tucking into a breakfast roll we decided to forego the Buffyfest panel. I had seen the Buffy and James Marsters panels last year and my wife wanted to relax for a bit. Understandable as it had been a hell of a morning.
After lunch we headed along the many long floors of the convention center and back up a myriad of dizzying escalators to get to The Walking Dead Panel

When we got to the top, outside the ballroom we were greated with massive lines snaking all around the whole top floor. This was caused by the Buffy panel letting out and lines forming for not just the Walking Dead panel but the Firefly panel that was coming on after them.

To be fair to the volunteers they very quickly divided out the two different lines and organised it as best they could so we could shuffle and file into the big old ballroom. It turned out that we really needn't have bothered actually as  when we finally got into the ballroom not only were we right at the back but also the three actors from The Walking Dead weren't even there.

In fact they took so long to arrive that a child with mad face paint (I think Rorschach from Watchmen) and an Iron man top just wandered up onstage by himself and as precocious and as confident a kid as I have ever seen, he took the mic and started talking to it.
It wasn't long before he was joined by another kid too and while this passed the time and made the crowd oooh aah and laugh, I was painfully aware that we had a photo op for The Walking Dead guys to get to very quickly after the Q&A and it was slowly looking like not all of the actors were going to show up.

When one of the actors finally did take the stage it was none other than The Rooker again as, for whatever reason, Norman Reedus is insanely, Beatlemania popular. After seeing Michael Rooker do his thing Friday, realising we weren't going to get all 3 of them on stage together (which is really what I was looking for) and my wife wanting to get in line earlyish for the photo op, it was decided that we leave the Q&A and go stand on line. Which we did.

So because of the over scheduling of Saturday, the popularity of The Walking Dead and Firefly we, sadly, got to see neither Q&A really.
Then because they'd scheduled photo ops with all 3 Walking Dead cast (Rooker, Reedus and Bernthal) and then just the Dixon brothers (Rooker and Reedus) meaning there were several baffling lines, because any VIP with any pass for any of the actors or The Walking Dead could just show up whenever they like and because they didn't limit the number of VIP passes sold OR the number of photo ops sold we ended up standing for almost 3 very tiring, draining hours.

That's not where the pain ended unfortunately. The photo ops, after they were taken, took a speedy 45mins to come out. The trouble was they over sold and over booked the photo ops on The Walking Dead. Now considering, I suspect, a lot of these, like ours, were bought online pre-sale before the Con even started and considering they KNOW that Saturday is the busiest day of the con, you'd think they'd have a plan for this. 
Now, for whatever reason, the main Con hall had to close at 7pm. At this point everyone who had photo ops with anyone 5pm and onwards filed out into the huge registration area. Which is a big, echoey, concrete room. This made communication and organisation by unprepared staff with no megaphones an absolute nightmare. It also meant that all the photos had to come out in dribs and drabs from the opposite end of the vast convention hall to a big concrete room with a million people in it and no real tables. Lines snaked all over the place, people were cutting in, crowding the registration booths where the photos may or may not be displayed, breaking the poles placed there to organise lines and staff struggled to make sense of it. Feeling tired and irritable I was not at all happy and through the mistake of one of the organising staff I found myself at the end of a mammoth line when I had been up front in a shorter line earlier and had, in fact, been waiting since before the hall even closed.
Luckily a volunteer eventually told us that all people attending Sunday could pick their pictures up tomorrow morning. Something that probably should've been pointed out before we'd all spent an hour and a half getting angry, achey and tired.
Not only that but Norman Reedus and Summer Glau had to be moved out into the registration area and continued signing autographs till 9pm or after. This was because the autograph pre-sales and sales on the day meant they too were over booked!!
All I would say to the organisers next year (or of future cons this year featuring insanely popular personalities) monitor and plan for over booking. Firstly make it clear that there is a limited number available online OR make autograph/photo ops for certain people ONLY available for online payment OR limit the number of VIP passes. Also definitely DON'T schedule everything for a Saturday only.
As for the photo op fiasco on Saturday, the convention center had a million rooms. All you needed to do was before the hall closed, anticipating the madness, have the photo staff divide up the photos, take the separate photo sessions to separate rooms, lay them out and then, at 7pm, direct people to the right room number.
Ok moaning and criticising over.

It was all utter agony at the end of a Saturday full of highs and lows but it resulted in this very silly picture of me, Norman Reedus in a fucking baseball hat and shades (which was a bit of a poor show actually) and the rockstar legend that is Michael Rooker!

Sunday:
On Sunday we only had one plan and that was to do one last bounce around the booth, take a few pictures, talk to a few folks and interview Vlad Yudin, the creator of Head Smash.
First up we headed over to Henry Winkler's booth and stood online watching him entertain the children with his biting-the-coin-in-half trick. Just fantastic. See it below.
Also, of course, just as we got to be next on line he was called away to do his photo op but, ever the showman, and making an instant fan of my wife, he grabbed her cheeks playfully as he said "Don't go away, I'll be right back and I want to see YOU!"

He signed this cool picture, took a picture with us and we then trundled off to join Linda Blair's line.

Sadly I can't say our reception at Linda Blair's line was as warm, inviting or as fun. She was seemingly only there to plug and get money for her dog charity and despite advertising that she would take a picture with you and sign something, she didn't seem happy to do either.

She seemed very happy to talk about dogs and her dog charity but seeing as I couldn't really care less about dogs or a dog charity and weirdly wanted to meet her because she was in The Exorcist and Savage Streets it wasn't that a successful meeting, sadly.

Luckily the photo came out ok. So I can't complain too much.


We then had a photo op with James Marsters which had been moved earlier and so he was late. I got the feeling, as he ran in sweating and apologising, that someone hadn't told him the time had been changed.
Still, look at the two of us there... very cool.


Then lastly, on Sunday, before we left for New York, we had the pleasure to interview Vlad Yudin creator of Head Smash.

You can listen to the interview HERE:


The book sounds fantastic and would be well worth picking up.
Pre-Order it here
Learn more here
Follow Head Smash on Facebook
and, of course, check out http://www.headsmash.net
So after two and a half days at the convention, my overall feeling was extremely positive. We got some great memories, met some great people and attended some fantastic Q&As 

Thanks for reading and please take a look at ALL our coverage over at The After Movie Diner Podcast
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EPISODE 83 - Philly Comic-Con 2013 Diary/Ray Park Q&A/Vlad Yudin Interview

A Small Bite at the Diner 2 - Michael Rooker Q&A - Philly Comic-con '13