Planet Comicon – Kansas City, Mo – Report

As you can see from the title, this post is largely unrelated to the main theme of this site, and happens to be a convention report. Thankfully, as you can see from the image above, there was definitely some UK science fiction fun to be had! Yeah, that ugly mug up there happens to be mine, and standing next to me is none other than Sylvester McCoy aka The seventh Doctor aka Radagast The Brown. Said convention was a Kansas City-based convention called Planet Comicon and it was held in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

The reason I decided to write about this on here, is that personally, I think there is some cross-over appeal from sci-fi fans and those who go to “comic-cons”, because in all honestly they aren’t just about comics anymore. Thankfully I live in the middle of Missouri, and Hollywood has never swooped in on our conventions, so it’s not like it has deviated too far from the main purpose of these types of conventions. There are panels, media guests and comic book writers and artists like anything else, minus all the BS that seems to have been messing up much larger events like San Diego Comic Con.

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For years, I have always attended anime conventions because part of me (erroneously) assumed that my local comic conventions were nothing more than small dealer rooms that you paid to get into. When I heard that Planet Comicon was going to be held at Bartle Hall, a huge convention center, I immediately took notice. I think the biggest con I attended was an anime convention in Dallas Texas (Project A-Kon) that had something close to 10.000 people attending, and considering the size of the building plus the sheer amount of people at Planet Comicon that I saw, I’m assuming that this one will be bigger when all the numbers are added up. The paper was suggesting almost 20,000 minimum!

One reason I don’t attend too many of those aforementioned anime conventions is because of my age. I’m 31 now, and most anime convention attendees seem to be somewhere between 12-17. Not to be one of those “get off my lawn” types, but the younger millennial crowd sort of annoys me, and having thousands of them left unsupervised means that I get to witness things like pulled fire alarms, trash all over the place, hormonal kids making out in hallways, and other fun stuff. A Comic Con crowd is skewed much older, and as a result the rude people are heavily outweighed by awesome people that can handle themselves in public.

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Pretty big crowd for a Friday

Aside from that, the MAIN reason I honestly stopped going to many anime conventions was the fact that I really enjoy panels, and at anime convention panels are REALLY hit or miss. Occasionally one stumbles upon something good, like the year I saw the world premiere and Q&A of Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles. Other times were not as good, like that time I had to sit through two awkward twelve year olds attempting to run a panel on Japanese horror films, and my quest to try to sneak out of the room as politely as possible.

I attended some pretty cool stuff this year, most of which was related to Star Trek: The Next Generation. This was because this convention had basically all principle cast members from TNG including Marina Sirtis, Levar Burton, Wil Wheaton, Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, and Brent Spiner. Also in attendance was the Star Trek God himself William Shatner and an unannounced John De Lancie! The convention did advertise a special moderated panel featuring all the the Trek guys, but I could not afford tickets to it. Good news is, most of these guys had smaller panels themselves.

The first panel I attended was a Q&A session with the Canadian-American “scream queen” and occasional Lois Lane herself – Margot Kidder. This was a guided Q&A (Moderated by a member of scifi4me.com) with an interview of sorts at the beginning and audience questions afterwards. Some gems were discussions on how Kidder got started in a tiny Canadian mining settlement mere miles from the arctic circle and her occasional flings with the likes of Warren Beatty and Jeff Bridges. Superman was, of course, a main topic towards the end of the panel, and Kidder suggested that she understood the torn fandom on the latest Superman offering suggesting, that the newest movie was perhaps “too dark”. All in all, pretty cool panel.  

Up next for us was a Star Trek related panel featuring Michael Dorn and Marina Sirtis in the hot-seats. As Trek fans will know, they played Deanna Troi and Worf on TNG. This was more of a full-on Q&A and started with some lighthearted banter between the two at the beginning. Sirtis cracked me up because I’m VERY used to her calm demeanor as Deanna Troi in TNG, so hearing her coarse, no-nonsense verbal attacks on various topics was pretty fun. On the flip-side, Mr. Dorn was “the straight man” of the affair, and tried to keep everything on topic. The running joke of this panel was that Marina kept bringing up how somebody had told her to be “sensitive to the mid-west view on political issues” which was like a splash of blood in shark infested water for her. She comically veered the discussions into a commentary on health care reform, gay marriage, and marijuana legalization no matter what Dorn tried to do to stop it.

On Saturday, we attended a Wil Wheaton Panel where the former Wesley Crusher himself lead a fun discussion about tabletop gaming, craft beer, and the perils of being a step-father. We ended up WAAAY in the back of the room for this and another panel so the picture that I am about to post will be tiny and awful. The best part of this panel was a “cameo” by Gates McFadden, introduced as “Space Mom”. As Trek fans will know, McFadden played Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: TNG, and was the on-screen mother for Wheaton during his time on the USS Enterprise. Since she didn’t have a panel of her own at this convention, it was cool seeing her appear in some capacity.

This mysterious blur is Wil Wheaton supposedly.

This mysterious blur is Wil Wheaton supposedly.

Next up was the Brent Spiner and Levar Burton panel, which had an ENORMOUS line waiting for it. We were actually scared that we wouldn’t be able to get in, but thankfully were able to get a few seats towards the back of the room. The panel started with Spiner having to deal with a rowdy “heckler” with a deep southern drawl yelling about how awful he was. Eventually security came in and revealed the “heckler” to be non other than Jonathan Frakes playing an obviously pre-determined joke of Brent. This was pretty great and really got the crowd going. Gates McFadden also made yet another guest appearance, and after that it was all questions!

The hot topic seemed to be LeVar’s other popular role as the host of the popular PBS educational program Reading Rainbow. o many questions were asked about this that Burton had the audience sing the theme song, and announced a Kickstarter campaign was about to materialize to help fund internet video versions of the show for a new audience and a smartphone app. Brent pretended to be irritated by the attention, referring to Burton as “Roots guy” and discussed popular roles on Independence Day and a fictitious sequel to Star Trek Nemesis where Commander Data didn’t die after all.

Yet another bad picture, this time it's Levar Burton and Brent Spiner

Yet another bad picture, this time it’s Levar Burton and Brent Spiner

Perhaps the highlight of this con for me was getting to meet Sylvester McCoy and attending his Panel. The panel itself was simply amazing because he decided to forgo the stuffy rule of “guest sits in chair” and proceeded to walk around talking to the audience, hugging people and other things. I’m pretty sure that the guys from the Traveling The Vortex Podcast were probably annoyed slightly, because McCoy sort of moderated his own panel, but they were good sports. The panel itself appears to have been recorded as a podcast on their site, so be sure to check that out if you want to listen to the fun we had.

Highlights of McCoy’s panel was an impromptu session of spoon playing on Darth Vader’s head and a kazoo heavy rendition of the Doctor Who theme to close everything out. My wife gets really nervous around celebrities, so she was freaking out a little bit about how close to everyone McCoy was. stories like his near foray into the priesthood as a teenager were delightful, and really made this the best panel I have EVER attended. If you ever get a change to see Sylvester McCoy at a con or something you will have a ball.

The McCoy Panel

The McCoy Panel

Another fun Doctor Who related event was a performance of the “Timey-Wimey Puppet Show” – a one man “Punch and Judy styled puppet show for kids and adults alike. I later got to meet the man behind the show, Mike Horner, and snap a picture with him. do yourself a favor and watch a few of his videos on YouTube up there, it’s pretty funny.

The highlight of the puppet show for me was a segment where cosplayers we asked to come up on stage for a rendition of “Twelve Days of Christmas” featuring regenerations of The Doctor, and there was a little boy, no older than five, dressed as William Hartnell. He was even a master at holding his lapels and looking surly.

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Mike Horner of the Timey Wimey Puppet Show with a few of his creations

This was a crazy weekend here is Kansas City because this convention, Big 12 Basketball, some sort of marathon, and a symphony performance were all scheduled at the same time within a few blocks of each other. Not only did that mean crazy traffic, but it also meant that parking was awful, and way too many people from Kansas and Iowa (due to basketball) were all over the place. If I have only one complaint it was that the city could have staggered these events a bit. Thankfully another convention, Naka-Con (an anime convention) was over the state-line in Kansas or it would have been too much to deal with.

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The General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard

I do have a funny story about the parking situation this weekend. On Saturday, we had TONS of trouble finding a parking space. Many of the bigger garages were at capacity, and many were resorting to shady stuff like parking at Denny’s to avoid high fees. we eventually found a nearly empty garage a few blocks away in “the art district” and jumped at the opportunity to get a place to stop at a cheaper price.

Not only did we discover that a nearly-vacant parking garage is sort of creepy, but the whole thing had “artsy-fartsy” minimalist music piped into it that sounded like a combination of a didgeridoo and someone scraping metal on the ground. To me, this was the soundtrack of hell itself, and I imagined that we’d soon witness Pyramid Head from the Silent Hill franchise walking around a corner at any moment. Had I thought this out, I would have attempted to record this for the site, but I wasn’t sure I’d even discuss this in any way.

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I haven’t had this much fun at a convention for a LONG time. For a while I always had something spoil the whole thing for me: whether be someone we came with getting cranky, annoying kids, or poor management. There is basically nothing bad I can say about the con itself, and I’d recommend this experience to ANYONE into comics or other nerdy “pop-culture” things. Planet Comicon has won me over, and they better expect me there for years to come!

If any of the footage from the panels surfaces online (I think it was recorded by the con staff) I will try to post it on here at some point, but otherwise listen to that podcast up there for a taste of what Sylvester McCoy had to offer.

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