As I watched character actor Nathan Barnatt, from the Web site Screw Attack, dressed up as Gollum from The Lord of the Rings franchise go rampaging through the exhibit hall, face down in a trashcan and with a camera crew in tow, I knew Anaheim Comic Con was something different.
Busty, former cheerleaders bedecked in tight superhero costumes put on burlesque shows amongst the dealer booths, while grown men in Jedi costumes swung plastic lightsabers at each other in their own cordoned-off area for this first annual convention held April 16-18 in the Anaheim Convention Center.
All the while, 200 or so TV and film stars hung out on the other side of the hall signing autographs and taking pictures with fans for a price ranging from $20 to $100 a photo or signature.
Many of the stars who spoke in the panel rooms even jested about the high prices.
“I’m enjoying the last few hours of my life entertaining you,” said Star Trek star William Shatner as he concluded his Q&A at the convention. “I’m going to go sign some autographs down there … I’ll wait for any of you who want to pay an astronomical amount of money, I just don’t understand it, to get my autograph.”
Now, put aside the fact that autographs and photo-ops were out of the price range for many con-goers, Wizard made magic with their panel rooms. Often greeted with standing ovations, stars put on one spectacular presentation after another.
Comic legend Stan Lee answered questions on the origins of his creations. Voice actors Billy West, Phil LaMarr, Maurice LaMarche and Rob Paulsen touched on the hallmarks of their careers with Paulsen and LaMarche saying their favorite characters which they’ve voiced have been Pinky and The Brain, respectively.
I walked across the hall to the other panel room to hear Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols discuss how when she tendered her resignation from the show, it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who convinced her to stay and be a role model for African-Americans everywhere.
The crowning glory of the entire convention appeared to be a reunion panel with the cast of the 1960s Batman TV show with Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, Yvonne Craig, Lee Meriwether (who played Catwoman for the movie) and George Barris (who created the iconic Batmobile).
Ward was immediately asked what he thought of the “stupid lines” he had to say as Robin.
“I didn’t think they were stupid,” he countered. “We were way ahead of our time. We were the first show in television history that instead of being just what it looked like on the outside, we had double meanings and all kinds of things.”
Ward later commented that he thinks he had 375 “holy this or holy that” lines.
“Over the years, we’ve had so much fun with you people because you really dug the show,” West said. “You understood what we were doing as you were growing up. You saw the moral lessons … and then you started to laugh. And if there’s anything we love more than laughter, I don’t know what it is.”
As Newmar was guided to her seat, she appeared delicate and fragile. But once she began to speak, she was the brightest, shiniest and liveliest thing in the room.
“They just melted licorice and poured it over my body,” she said, describing her skintight Catwoman costume.
West and Newmar lovingly sniped each other from opposite ends of the table. Newmar invited audience members to forward stories of the objects of their first fantasies to her Web site, JulieNewmarWrites.com, to be considered for a book she’s writing on the subject.
“Did you get mine, Julie?” West asked.
“I got yours, but it was a blank page. There were a lot of wet marks on it,” Newmar replied, following it with the compliment. “You are the inspiration. You are the best Batman there has ever been.”
In another panel, actor Billy Dee Williams soft-spokenly questioned the vaginal symbolism of the sarlacc in Return of the Jedi during a panel commemorating the 30-year anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. Williams fielded the ever popular question, “Why did you betray Han Solo?”
“My whole life revolves around this whole betrayal,” he said, continuing to say that when he’d pick up his daughter from school he’d be inundated with children accusing him of backstabbing Han.
“I’m right in the middle of the school yard trying to justify Lando’s motives … Listen he had what was tantamount to what Steve Wynn has in Vegas and in comes Han and his friends, and then right behind him there was Darth Vader … he was trying to prevent the complete demise of Han and his friends and at the same time hang on to his situation.”
Though billed to appear, the film’s director, Irvin Kershner, was unable to make it due to illness. Fans were invited to send items to his home for him to sign after the convention.
Anaheim Comic Con was oddly devoid of comics. There weren’t any big booths from usual suspects DC, Marvel, Dark Horse or the like and comic professionals seemed corralled in the back in Artist Alley. Wizard also didn’t have the big booth of Wizard Worlds past with their trivia wheel among other fan favorites.
Cal State Fullerton American studies major Adam Sapien came to the convention dressed as Gambit from the X-Men comics.
“It’s been fun … I wanted to check (Anaheim Comic Con) out. I try to do all the cons,” he said. “We do San Diego Comic-Con every year, and this year we’re doing Celebration V in Orlando.”
While the convention was rather small, it had a lot of heart and star power for its first year.