Anyway, that got me thinking about all the conventions I've been to. They all tend to run together, but a few stand out. If I can keep up my enthusiasm for this blogging thing, it'll certainly be a topic I'll come back to over and over again.
Cause I basically loved going to conventions. Loved 'em. Even the old Larry Lankford conventions were a high point of my existence back during that third life. But the convention thing itself started during life number two and it had nothing to do with anime or manga. That was all comics and RPGs.
I lived in Houston back during the late '70s. I want to say that, by population, Houston was either the fourth or fifth largest city in the US back then. And it had a total of three, count 'em, three comic book shops. And two of those were right across the street from one another on Bissonnet Road. Which was actually fine by me because that way I only had to take one bus there and one bus back. "Roy's Memory Shop" went out of buisiness a bit after, but "Third Planet" moved to a larger location and stayed open for quite a few years after I moved to San Antonio in '80. The third, "Camelot Comics" was downtown and a bitch to get to for a penniless kid like me, though I did manage to score about ten issues of the New X-Men starting with #94 from them a year or two before the prices shot through the roof because of...well, if you've ever been a real X-Men fan, you know the story. Never did manage to get the Giant-Sized origin issue, damn it.
If you figure a city the size of Houston had only three comic book shops, you don't have to be a genius to come to the conclusion that conventions were few and far between. I can remember going to two while living there and the second of those wasn't even in a hotel. But that first one...
...yeah, I can't even remember the name of the damned thing. But it was in an old hotel near the Medical Center, just south of downtown, near Rice University. The hotel had a lighting system that made the whole place look green after sundown, so I kinda want to say it was The Shamrock Hotel, but I dunno. Anyway, it was my first real comic book convention, a real two-day affair, and I was fucking stoked. My plan (or at least the one I told my parents) was to hang out there Saturday, catch the last bus home, then get back there for Sunday. Yeah, like that worked, right?
I get there early Saturday, stand in line with the rest of the sweaty people (this is, well, Houston), pay my money, get my badge and run quickly inside to scope out the best stuff my forty bucks would get me before all the other goofs got it all. Only problem was that, as it turned out, dealers trade with other dealers before the doors even open and there were so few dealers from out of town there that after looking around for about an hour, there was really nothing there I wanted that I couldn't get from the three shops in town. Man, talk about disappointing.
But, hey, it got better. This was, as the kids now might say, a failsafe environment. The film room was scheduled to show Barbarella and Flesh Gordon that night. Big screen. 16mil. Followed by 2001: A Space Odyssey. The only drawback was all that teenaged fanboy bait was half a day away and, frankly, there wasn't a whole lot else going on. They had a dealer's room (I think maybe there were a total of ten retailers there, if that many) a gaming room that doubled as a panel room, and the film room. I don't even think they had any guests, or if they did, it wasn't anyone I was remotely interested in hearing or meeting. I had pretty much nothing to look forward to over the next couple of hours, except running across the street to Burger King to eat. Hey, I know what you're thinkin', but at my house back in the day, Whoppers were fine dining.
Teenaged Fanboy Heaven
You tell me. WTF?
Anyway, this gaming room has four or five tables, but only two are being used at the moment. The loudest game in the room, AD&D, is being run by an extremely large, but exceedingly jovial man named Roger Lawter. Being the curious sort and always drawn towards the sound of people having loads o' fun, I hang around the table for a while. More fun. I look at my con schedule. Nothing interesting in the film room. More fun. The table takes a break and Roger looks up at me, smiles, and hands me his hardback copy of the AD&D Player's Handbook. I grab a nearby chair, sit down and after about five minutes, I'm grabbing a character sheet and rolling those silly dice. More fun. My wood elf makes five straight "secret door" checks, something Roger tells me has never happened before in one of his games. Now that I look back, I'm pretty sure he was lying, but it worked. The forty bucks I brought for comics ends up in the pocket of the only dealer selling gaming stuff and I end up sticking a Player's Handbook and a few other gaming essentials in my bag. Not to mention wasting a good deal of the next decade of my life. Thanks a fucking lot, Roger, wherever you are.
I kid. I didn't have any friends my age back then, so it became my social life such as it was; and I don't regret any of it. Well, okay, maybe the four-sided die thing...
God, I think I still have this somewhere. And, given that gamers are gamers, I put my name in it. Now, honestly, what's more embarrassing? To have this thing stolen or have your girlfriend find you put your name in it?
In any case, Roger was one of those rare gamers who did have a social life, which included going home to the wife, so he packed up just in time for me to run over and grab my seat for the opening credits of Barbarella. Now, for those of you who have seen it, the opening credits of the Roger Vadim camp classic are pretty much the main reason to see the film. Well, okay, the orgasmitron, excuse me, the "Ex-sex-sive Machine" scene was pretty cool also, but that's more something that appeals to the mind. Yeah.
"You know, you could get a vibrator for under ten bucks back in '68"
Unfortunately, everyone else in the room knew about the whole "credits" thing too and the front rows were overflowing with sweaty fanboys, so I was relegated to somewhere in the middle of the room. Which wasn't actually all that bad because did I mention the film was an actual film? As in big picture projected against a large white screen? With pops and crackles and multiple reels so they had to actually stop the film in segments to reload the next reel? Yeah, I know, that sounds really primative, doesn't it? But it's all well worth it when Jane Fonda's boobies float around in front of you at several times their normal size.
Flesh Gordon, on the other hand, that just rocks. Still. You have your porn, then you have your porn, if you know what I mean, but Flesh Gordon is just in a class by itself. It just is. From the Sex Ray (now a staple among written porn fetishists) to the Penisaurus to the Great God Porno (whom the crew lovingly named "Nesuahyrrah" - Harryhausen spelled backwards), it's just great fun from beginning to end. Is it gay to admit that you once thought that having a pair of power pasties of your very own would be cool? I'm not sure, but I think that maybe my memory of this one is clouded by the fact that no one in the film room got carded. And there were kids far younger than me in that audience. Did I mention that I fucking love conventions?
Maybe I got a bit of a contact high, because I don't remember much of what went on Sunday. I know Roger showed back up and I cracked open my AD&D book and played some more. Spent the last of my money on more gaming crap I probably never used after that - though the little miniature pewter elf was a better representation of my character than the grey-and-white speckled twelve-sided die I'd used the day before. Fuck, I still can't believe I'm writing this shit down.
Oh, well, I guess your first convention is kind of like your first lay. Well, okay, maybe not. If I had to write about my first lay, it'd take up half the space.
And, to this day, I've still not seen 2001 all the way through.