THE FLORIDA EXTRAVAGANZA COLLECTIBLES SHOW
In the days of yore, Ye Olde Editor was a regular attendee at local comic and sci-fi conventions (such as Tampa's legendary SunCon) with great regularity. Usually held at one of the area Holiday Inns, but along the way, USF, the armory, other hotels and, heck, even the occasional small rented conference room would play host to these seminal fanboy events. Sometimes a popular actor or behind-the-scenes tech would spice up the act with free autographs. Those days seem hopelessly long gone now, with the notable exception of our homegrown Tampa Giant Comic Con. The really big conventions all went corporate years ago and the "big business" aspect that on one hand guaranteed meetings with major TV and movie stars, will eventually doom it in the current economic downturn.
I say all this as a preamble to my brief review of this year's Florida Extravaganza and Collectibles Show, aka, F/X Con, billed as "The Coolest Show On Earth". It is very cool, and certainly huge, but rising prices and falling attendance gave me a feeling I was watching a dying artform, one that will have to downsize considerably to continue.
But, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Before this year, the biggest Florida convention I had ever attended was MegaCon. (Conventions outside of Florida is another story for another day.) Both are located at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, so that at least gave me a familiar geography to work with. I didn't go to this year's MegaCon due to financial and health problems, and I had low expectations of making F/X. But with F/X re-scheduled for the better weather in April coupled with ED Tucker's sky-high recommendations and the promise of meeting Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy, I had a change of heart. I managed to convince co-editor Terence Nuzum to accompany me (he's never been to of these either), and after Brandon Jones dropped out of the running as our teammate and transportation (long story), we were delighted to be able to carpool with FANGRRL Lisa Scherer Ciurro, who was most enthusiastic. Well, the possibility of meeting Buffy the Vampire Slayer's James Marsters had a lot to do with that ('cuz he's dreeeeeeeamy).
Terence, Lisa and I anticipated having a great time, as we always do when we're out together, and this marked a first for doing something together this far out of town. Arrangements were made to meet up with our Jacksonville contingent of ED Tucker and Byron Rocher at the Con.
The first positive surprise of F/X Con was having press passes waiting for us at the gate. Wonderful in that I'd inquired about it through emails, but never got any response, let alone confirmation. (That they had us on the passes list was a major relief also in that your absent-minded editor-in-chief didn't remember to bring a photo ID or even a business card!).
Best I could get of Leonard Nimoy from about 20 feet away.
Best I could get of Jonathan Frakes from about 20 feet away.
When I originally called the F/X staff to follow-up about passes, I learned of the first negative surprise: Leonard Nimoy -- Spock from the original Star Trek series and the primary reason Ye Olde Editor made this...er...trek -- was charging $65.00 per autograph. That ruled out getting his personal scribbling, but I figured I might be able to get some snapshots (rumors abounded about Con security interfering with that, but that didn't turn out to be the case). Believe it or not, even though I've been a lifelong Trekkie, this marks only the second occasion I've been in the presence of an original cast member; the first was George Takei (Sulu) thirty years ago (nearly to the day) at a Tampa SunCon. Back in those days there was no charge for autographs. What a difference thirty years makes, eh?
Within seconds of entering the main hall, we were greeted by ED Tucker and Byron Rocher who pledged unwavering support and guidance in an effort to enhance our experience (old hands as they are at F/X Cons). While Terence and I were skeptical about how much "guidance" might be desired, ED did save us a little time in getting to some desired spots and offered commentary on what had transpired so far (they'd been there since Friday).
SPOCK, RIKER AND BEYOND....
I immediately made a bee-line to Nimoy's table. While I encountered no interference from the Con staff (my press pass maybe helped there?), I could only get just so close because of the crowd of fans. Adding to this was that Star Trek: The Next Generation commander Will Riker, aka, Jonathan Frakes was sitting at the neighboring table. I was able to get only middlin' pics because of the distance, sorry to disappoint (ED's got a better shot of Nimoy in this week's Retrorama), but it was something. The picture I got of Lindsay Wagner (The Bionic Woman) turned out to be so distant as to be unusable, but I got a decent one of Lost in Space cast member Mark Goddard (I have better ones of him from past Cons).
Lost in Space pilot, Mark Goddard
In fact, the only celeb I actually spoke to was Goddard, who was very courteous. I went up during a break in his line to offer support and congratulations on his successful teaching career. I'll throw in he looks pretty damn good for 60+ years old. An old pro at being a guest at these conventions, he went immediately into a pitch for a self-published book on his life (about $30), but I respectfully declined. I made a mental note to maybe get that from him next time, just 'cuz he's a cool guy.
In closing about celebrity autographs, I'll just say this: at the last MegaCon I attended, just a few years ago, no one was charging more than $20 per autograph and that included a picture. From what I understand, all autographs from celebs of this caliber (an important qualification) exceed that figure and may no longer include photographs.
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The Florida Extravanganza Show is primarily about toy collectibles. I can see why ED felt totally in his element here. The rest of us aren't quite so much into that, but I wanted to see what it was like here. To Terence it seemed like a massive flea market on steroids. He stuck pretty much with the bootleg DVD vendors while yours truly was checking out mainly old comics and magazines and socializing with familiar faces known to inhabit these corridors. ED seemed frustrated that I wasn't so much into shopping as much as I was into hanging out, but that is 95% percent of what I do. It's not that I would never think of buying anything, it's mainly that anything I'd set eyes on that's rare and desirable is going to be WAY out of my price range. But I do like to keep a finger on the pulse of the ebb and flow of the market, that's what I'm there observing.
While I don't have the toy-collector acumen to personally score any of ED's or Byron's acqusitions, I'll compliment ED on finding some decent-looking issues of Warren's Screen Thrills Illustrated. I bought some of these issues directly from the Captain Company years ago, but not all of them. Unfortunately, my memory always fails me on which issues I'm missing, a problem I always have.
For the expert's view of the F/X Con and its toy merchandise, definitely review Retrorama.
THE TAMPA GIANT COMIC CON CONNECTION
Horror authoress Andrea Dean Von Scoyoc with Ye Olde Editor, Nolan B. Canova.
Terence and I were both rather shocked at how many familiar faces and dealers we remembered from Tim Gordon's Tampa Comic Con that just relocated to Largo. Authors Andrea Dean Von Scoyoc and Tony & Glenda Finklestein, actors Joel D. Wynkoop and Jeffrey Bresslauer, comic artists Joe Leone, Mitch Hyman, and Alex Saviuk, our regular bootleg DVD dealer (don't know his name), NONE of whom were at the Largo-transplanted Con in March were all here! Only Tim Gordon himself was here AND there. I spoke to Tim briefly about the state of major Cons, and it seemed that if the so-so turnout here was any indication, they may be in trouble.
Comics entrepreneur Terry Cronin at his Students of the Unusual booth
We intially lost Lisa for about an hour, but she rejoined us well before lunch. After some more meandering, we adjourned to lunch at about 1:30pm and headed to a local Chinese buffet ED recommended. Our Fanboy Summit was decently animated and the food was very good, but we were all very tired (being nocturnal, staying up all day still isn't natural for me).
ED and Byron departed for other territory after lunch, but Lisa, Terence and I returned to the Con, primarily so she could catch the James Marsters panel. We left soon afterwards and discussed the day's events on the way home. Lisa actually returned to Orlando to catch the 8:00pm concert by Marsters. I'm sure she'll have some commentary of her own in this week's FANGRRL.
FANGRRL Lisa Scherer Ciurro peruses some toy collectibles.
Tampa Giant Comic Con's Tim Gordon and friend!
ED and I argue about the root causes of fewer dealers, empty booths and a lower turnout, but to me, it's flat out simple: we're in a recession! Yes, some dealers did well, and money was changing hands, but generally all but the most serious collectors are out of the running. Casual collectors and Con mall mavens just don't have the discretionary income to spend at an event like this anymore.
Veteran fangirl, Trekker, and former PCR contributor, Patty G. Henderson, left, with her nephew, our own Terence Nuzum. Patty secured Leonard Nimoy's autograph on a beautiful pencil portrait she drew of a young Spock!
Dawn of the Dead "Hare Krishna Zombie" Mike Christopher, left, with The Underground Lounge's Shade Burnett.
Since Terence and Lisa took care of parking and gas (thanks guys), and the F/X staff took care of my press passes (thanks guys), my net spending for the day wound up being about $10 for lunch. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have sampled at least one F/X Show, and in retrospect, the MegaCons were at their peak a few years back. This was likely my last trip to Orlando for the forseeable future, but I don't want to leave an unfairly negative impression.
ED Tucker, left, and Nolan Canova meet in their traditional Convention Center portrait.
The Crazed Fanboy Jax/Tampa FL Extravaganza Group '09. L-to-R: Lisa Scherer Ciurro, Nolan Canova, Byron Rocher, ED Tucker, and Terence Nuzum.
The F/X Show is the be-all and end-all for Florida toy collectors, and over the past few years, the celebrity guest list has improved over MegaCon's. However, there are currently no celebrities whose autographs are worth more than $20 to me, and with my fragile health and dicey money situation, the local comic shows bring me enough satisfaction to keep me closer to home, at least for the time being.
ONLINE NETWORKING INQUIRIES
To everyone who over the past few weeks has sent me repeated invitations to join Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and countless other networking groups: YOU CAN STOP NOW. I mean, thank you for your invitation and everything, but I have NO desire to join any more networking groups after a less-than-stellar experience I had with MySpace. I'm just not into it and really don't have the time for it anyway. Please continue to correspond through regular emails.
On a related topic, I was horrified to discover over the past few days at least two talk show guests who were "discovered" via Facebook or Twitter. I thought talk show staff were supposed to be, like, you know, busy with running the show. That they've got that much time to f*ck around on Twitter to the point where they're booking guests they find on there is a Brave New World this old codger doesn't recognize and, frankly, rejects. Those who succeed me on Nolan's Pop Culture Review may be of a more lenient persuasion.