Marcon 31 was held May 3-5, 1996, in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Discounting a Creation con I had gone to a few weeks previous (I needed to find out for myself whether the rumors were true. They were.), this was my first SF/fantasy con. (I've been to a number of gaming cons, including GenCon the last several years, so the convention experience was not new to me.) Wow! Neat. The ambiance was a lot different than those gaming cons, and the schedule can be a lot looser, as you don't have four-hour events to go to. I know that I'll definitely try to make it back next year. (The feel was a lot better at the fan-run con, than the Creation con.)
What convinced me to drive many hours to central Ohio (on a Friday afternoon, no less) was partly the lure of going to a skiffy con (and to see some anime), but the main draw was the chance to see (let's say it together now) Babylon 5's J. Michael Straczynski in person. And Richard Biggs and Patricia Tallman as well. Well, I was not disappointed. I had heard over the last few years about how good of a show JMS puts on, and that he shows episodes and blooper reels (which I wouldn't get to see otherwise) there. True! (Though legal issues have since stopped him from showing any more episodes at cons.)
(Note: I did take a few pictures at the con, some of which I've scanned for this report. However, I'm not all that familiar with scanning, and I'm only an ameteur photographer, so the pictures cannot be accused of being high-quality.)
After negotiating Columbus' Friday rush hour traffic and finding/checking into my hotel (not the Hyatt that Marcon was at, because it was about twice as much as I wanted to spend), I arrived at the con about 7:00. I wandered around a bit trying to find where the registration area was. (Even with the helpful map in the pocket program, it took a bit for me to get used to the layout of the convention center. It didn't help that the maps of the different levels had no indication of how they related to each other, either in altitude or in compass directions.) I quickly glanced over the program (because I had gotten no information ahead of time) and found out that Richard Biggs was doing a signing right then. I was off like a shot. As it was so early in the con, the line was short and I got his trading card and a photograph I bought from him signed. One of the objectives achieved right away. Cool!
At 8:00, there was going to be a sort of opening ceremony with the guests of honor, followed by an interview with JMS. I went over there, after spending a little time in the dealer's room. Well, around 8:00, JMS leads us elsewhere, as the room certainly would not hold all the people interested. We ended up on the main stairs, with people even hanging over the rails two stories up to hear JMS talk. I was fortunate to be pretty close. (Getting there early counts for a lot; see the Babcon TV description on Sunday for more info.)
The guests of honor this year were: (not all of these were at the opening ceremonies)
- J. Michael Straczynski, Writer Guest of Honor - The creator and executive producer of the astounding science fiction show "Babylon 5," currently in its third season. He is active on multiple online services (Genie, Compuserve, America Online), as well as the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sftv.babylon5.moderated, where he's known as "Joe" or "JMS." His appearance was the main reason I went to Marcon, and I was not disappointed. (JMS, while he does seem to be extremely compulsive, is what role models should be: intelligent, cultured, with strong uncompromising morals, and with the guts to act on them.)
- Richard Biggs, Media Guest of Honor - Plays Dr. Steven Franklin on "Babylon 5." He also played Dr. Marcus Hunter on "Days of Our Lives," but I don't watch soap operas, so I can't say anything else about it. This man is a party animal. I understand that during the party on Saturday night, he was dancing on a table. However, I can't confirm this.
- Patricia Tallman, Media Guest of Honor - Plays the telepath Lyta Alexander on "Babylon 5." She was in the pilot, but a series of unfortunate events kept her from being a regular in the series. (Bummer, I like Alexander much better than the telepath we got, Talia Winters.) She returned in a second season and a third season episode, and will also appear in one or two of the Final Five episodes of the third season. She does a lot of stunt work as well as acting.
- Katherine Kurtz, Author Guest of Honor - The author of the Deryni series of novels, as well as some other books. I didn't see her more than a couple times in the con, but the few Deryni books I've read were pretty good.
- Larry Elmore, Artist Guest of Honor - Painter of a lot of TSR covers, as well as the writer/illustrator of Snarfquest, which was in the back of Dragon magazine for several years. I see from the program book that he's done a lot more non-TSR work than I'd been aware of (including come comic books). He's just written a book that will be published this summer by TSR.
- Brinke Stevens, Media Guest of Honor - It looks like she's written and been in a number of B-movies, but I'd never heard of her before. Let's see.... Some of the movies listed in the program book are "Teenage Exorcist," "Bad Girls from Mars," and "Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama." (That last sounds like something from "Bloom County.") So, go to the nearest Blockbuster Video and rent one.
- Animal X, Costuming Guest of Honor - She's a Master-Class Costumer, and quite famous in costuming. That's about all I can say about her. as my interest in costuming is minimal. Sorry.
- Joey Shoji, Filking Guest of Honor - Rather famous in filking. As I'm even less into filking than I am into costuming, I can't say much here either. (I did intend to go to a filk at Marcon, but unfortunately never made it.)
There were some non-GOH people at the opening ceremonies, namely:
- Pat & Alex (didn't get their last names) from Wizards of the Coast They, of course, were there in part to promote the card games "Magic: The Gathering" and "Netrunner." Magic, of course, needs no promotion.
- - Steve Sansweet from Lucasfilm He was there to give the Star Wars presentation Saturday night and Sunday morning. Cool stuff. Look down further for more info from it.
After the ceremonies (which was really nothing more than each person telling what they were going to be up to that weekend), one Carl Grody conducted an interview with JMS. I have no intention of replicating it here, as I'm sure there are copyright issues and I had heard a lot of the information before on the Internet. (It actually turned out that, when JMS asked, the great majority of the people there were on the Internet.) Some of the highlights were the fact that the B5 softball team all have 5's as their team number; that JMS and company try to create a set where laughter is the most common sound; there are three more major movements in the B5 story; and all contracts are for five years instead of the usual seven in order to create a "time bomb" so the show cannot continue after that. My second objective was fulfilled (but more JMS talks would be occurring.)
After this, I saw this really neat Kosh costume that a fan had made. Wow. I motored away after a while to the art show, and spent a while perusing it. There were some pieces there that were pretty neat, but usually out of my price range.
I then arrived at the 24-hour video rooms about 10:15, where I sat and watched the live action City Hunter movie starring Jackie Chan. (I missed the first 15 minutes or so.) This was hilarious! City Hunter is an comedy anime series about a lecherous private detective, and the few that I've seen are a hoot. Live action makes the martial-arts-type stuff even more funny. Unfortunately, the subtitles were white, often disappearing in the white clothes most people were wearing. But the story could be followed pretty well without them. My favorite part was when Chan's character (he's playing the detective, obviously) falls into a video game during a fight sequence, and the fight is finished off with both combatants in Street Fighter costumes. The best part is when Chan's dressed up as Chun Li. He even had the victory dance down. If you haven't seen "Rumble in the Bronx" or the forthcoming "Supercop," go see them! Jackie Chan movies are great!
The next morning, I arrived bright and early to catch some anime (yep, 24-hour anime room, but I gotta have my sleep). The schedule said "All-Purpose Multicultral Cat Girl Nuku 1-3," (I've heard good things about this one) but what was playing was an OVA that I didn't catch the name of. ("Whisper of Your Name," or some such.) It was about a little girl that befriends the elderly owner of a curio shop and his grandson. She is encouraged to pursue her talent in writing, and the grandson to study in Italy to follow his dream of making violins. One of the major plot elements is the grandfather's statue of an anthropomorphic cat in Victorian attire, which becomes the focus of the girl's story. Strangely enough, the translation of John Denver's "Country Road" into Japanese is another major plot element. A well-done story. If you for certain know the name of this, please email me. After this, and a low-quality copy of a Captain Harlock show, was "Gundam F91." This was a pretty good show, though generally I'm not into giant robots.
At noon was an hour with JMS. It was held in a room that certainly could have been bigger for the number of people who wanted to be there. Initially, the only microphone was a flat one for putting on a podium (and JMS doesn't use podiums), so there was a slight holdup while a handheld one was procured. This was a Q&A session with questions from the audience instead of an interviewer, so some of the questions were a bit more... interesting. For example, there was the following exchange:
"You must be good at multitasking," says JMS in response to a question about how he gets the show done.
"OS/2!" shouts someone from the audience.
"Sorry, that's warp, and we don't do warp on this show."
There were other good comments, for example how the show would not last long on a network. For example, in the first season, Londo's method of cheating at cards would be sure censor-bait. (For those not familiar with it, Centauri males have six... appendages on their abdomens. Londo was using one to furtively take cards off the deck. JMS commented that he had to write about what he knew. When asked about what he wanted on his tombstone (pepperoni?), said simply, "He told good stories."
Next up was an hour with Patricia Tallman. A lot of the questions revolved around her stunt work. She had just been working the previous day as a stunt double for Geena Davis in her forthcoming movie "Long Kiss Goodnight." (That's why she wasn't at the opening ceremony Friday.) She was also Laura Dern's double in "Jurassic Park." At the end of her talk, the Klingons from the Jail & Bail appeared and arrested her for a total of $7. It seems that Richard Biggs had done this.
Richard Biggs was next. He told a bunch of stories about fellow cast members (Bruce stays in character a lot, Jerry is very nonchalant, Jason was following Michael York around like a puppy). He also showed one of the blooper reels, and had a little contest for some signed pictures. He seemed rather excited that Franklin would be getting out of Medlab a lot, would find a love interest. Actually, he seemed mainly excited that he had a bed scene. At the end, the Klingons reappeared and hauled him off. It seems that Pat and JMS paid $67 for this to happen. I followed (as the events I was interested in in that room was done) and found that soon after, this one woman offered to pay the tab. He wasn't in there long. More objectives were achieved. (Yes, most of the objectives were B5-related.)
Then, I scooted over to one of the video rooms to catch the last half of "Mystery Science Theater 3100," a live version of the popular series (now picked up by the Sci-Fi Channel! Woo hoo!). The movie this time was "Ator." Most of the riffs were from the people on stage to the side that had prepared them, but the audience got some in, too. (Another objective.)
About 4:15, I inserted myself into the autograph line for the B5 people. Good thing I did, too, as even that took an hour to make it through the line. When I left, the line was still about twice as long as it was when I got into it. But, I understand that the B5 people stuck it out and signed for everyone in the line. First of the three was JMS, who wasn't selling pictures, but copies of the script to "Severed Dreams" for $20. I thought a few moments, then went for it. It's hard to get an actual script from the series (and there are parts cut out of every episode for time reasons). As there was a limit of two things, I had him sign his trading card. (I also had Kosh and Zathras cards ready, but the script took precedence over either one. The latter was because JMS identifies strongly with Zathras, and the former because he speaks as cryptically as a Vorlon. Given the events in "Interludes and Examinations," which he showed Sunday, and "War Without End," I think that maybe I should have substituted one of those cards for the JMS card. Oh, well.) Next was Pat Tallman, and I had her sign the Alexander card, as well as buying a photo from her. Finally, there was Rick Biggs, and I had him sign a second Franklin card and the Medlab card. (Well, after waiting almost two hours, I wasn't going to waste an autograph opportunity, despite the fact I already had him sign stuff. (Another big objective achieved!)
After that was dinner in the convenient in-building food court (the convention center must be commended for this). Then came an hour of Ranma 1/2 in the anime room. Yes, I can see what foundation the complaints about the dubbed version have. I think only Kasumi's voice seemed right.
At 7:30, I slid over to the Lucasfilm presentation line. Even half an hour before it was destined to start, the line was looping around a lot. I sat down and perused the "Severed Dreams" script until shortly before 8:00, when the people were ushered in. I faked left, and slid up around the far wall to get perhaps a dozen rows from the front. This was a fairly good seat, though definitely a lot better than way in the back. For this presentation, four rooms were put together (that had been split into 1/1/2 previously, the 2 together being where the B5 stuff had been earlier in the day. Because of video and slide projector problems, it started about half an hour late.
It was put on by Steve Sansweet. What he said was that he had accumulated the world's largest collection of Star Wars merchandise, and then had been hired by Lucasfilm to be the Director of Specialty Marketing. The presentation was mainly about two things: the Shadows of the Empire "everything but a movie" event, and the Star Wars special editions coming out next year. It all looked neat, including the footage of a CGI Jabba in the first movie walking next to Han Solo. (They originally filmed this scene with Jabba being played by "a large Irish gentleman," but lacked the funds to substitute in the appropriate Jabba appearance.) When our heroes get to Mos Eisley, a lot more ships and activity will be added to the film. (Including one Dash Rendar's ship, who figures prominently in SOTE.) There were several minutes recorded from a satellite hookup with Lucas talking with the SFX team. The main impression of Lucas that I got from this was that he's a bit of a prima donna. Not all that good of an impression, really. I wouldn't want to work for him. Now, JMS is also a stickler for detail, but I can't really say who would be better to work for. The evidence seems to point to JMS, as he doesn't seem to be so obnoxiously perfectionist as Lucas. But, both products are really cool, and I really am digressing.
There were slides of the SOTE trading cards, which look neat, being done by the Brothers Hildebrandt. There was also some footage from the video game coming out this fall (on the new Nintendo 64-bit system, I think). The footage was, honestly, really bad. It looked like it could be neat, but it was mainly white with a little bit of black around the edges of the vehicles. I don't know if this was a video projector problem (it worked fine later for the satellite feeds and Jabba footage), or if simply it was rendered that way. The freedom of movement looked good, in any case. In the game, you get to blow up AT-ATs in a snowspeeder, among other things. (Another, non-B5, objective achieved.)
After this was over, they retooled the room for the masquerade contest. I was planning on leaving, but decide that as long as I was there, I'd stay. I'm glad I did. Unfortunately, none of my pictures turned out (the room lights were out, and I forgot my camera's flash doesn't work that well under those conditions). Some of what I got were some very good Star Wars costumes (Darth Vader, Boba Fett and stormtroopers) that weren't in the contest. One that was in the contest was a a very good one (that won an award) of a Dark Trooper from Dark Forces.
After the twenty-some entrants crossed the stage, there was an interminable wait while the judges made their decision. Fortunately, we were regaled by one person (that I don't know the name of) with stories about rocket fuel and cops. They were very funny, but I didn't take notes or note down the book that the rocket fuel stories came from. It sounds great, though.
And then there was pain, with the name of Luke Ski tattooed upon its face. OK, that's a bit dramatic. Luke Ski's Psycho-Potpourri was originally going to be the intermission show for the contest. However, he was busy graduating college in Missouri earlier in the day, and his plane was late. So, even though the judges were ready, we heard an abbreviated version of the Potpourri with a Star Trek theme. While don't want to complain too much, I kind of wish I had Dr. Forrester's Thorazine-laced waffle launcher for some target practice. (It's a joke, son! A joke!) Definitely not the sort of show I'd pay to go see. Anyway, after this was the announcement of the winners. Then was the masquerade dance, and I snuck out.
It was about 11:45, and I boogied over to the anime room again (sense a theme?), and saw the first "Gunsmith Cats" OAV. This is really good. A good dubbing job, too. After that, I watched a couple episodes of "El Hazard". My enjoyment of this was greatly hampered by fatigue, and even recourse to the Dr (Dr Pepper, that is) didn't help. It looked good, and I hope to see it again, because I couldn't form a very informed opinion based on my mental state. After this, I zipped back to the motel room and crashed.
I returned to the convention center a bit later than on Saturday, despite some cool anime like "You're Under Arrest 2" showing a bit early. (I've since bought it, so it's not that big of a deal.) The convention was dead around 10 AM. I ended up in the Columbus Zoo seminar, where they showed us some of the animals. (The Columbus Zoo was one of the charities getting money from this year's Marcon.) Among the animals were a black-footed penguin named Rodney, a red-billed toucan named Beaker, a binturong/bearcat named Casey and a clouded leopard named Odo (pictured).
Next, I spent some final time at the dealer's room. I picked up some good deals on comics, like the first Dark Horse "Oh My Goddess!" for only three dollars. Cool. I did see a B5 cap there for about $13 (too much, I thought) that I regret not getting as I haven't seen one since.
At noon, I scampered into the "Return to Mars" seminar for two reasons. One, I wanted to see the stuff about actually going to Mars, including the lotus-flower lander that bounces off the surface to land. And Two, it was in the same room that Babcon TV was going to be in. A lot of other people had the same idea, but I managed to get a fourth-row seat. Originally, this was to be in the same room as Saturday's B5 events, but the organizers were prevailed on to keep three of the four rooms from the Lucasfilm presentation/masquerade of the previous night together. Much schedule shuffling later, it happened.
So it was at 1 PM (Well, 1:15, as the Mars seminar, which was right after the second Lucasfilm presentation, itself started late) that JMS, Pat Tallman and Richard Biggs took the stage. We saw a lot of things. There were three blooper reels and a music video, and the whole episode "Interludes and Examinations," to be broadcast later that week. (JMS wanted to bring "War Without End Part I," the next week's episode, but the sound was not done yet.) The audience reaction was great! It lent a surreal quality to the show, especially the scene where Sheridan and Kosh are having an animated discussion. (I watched it again, the Sheridan indeed said to Kosh what I thought he said.) This was the first time that Pat Tallman had seen it, and she was moved to tears (I won't say why, if you've seen the episode, you know). It certainly was a good episode to show there, as it was a major WHAM!, and it also had some good Richard Biggs scenes. JMS also described the teaser for "War Without End Part I," which stunned the audience. After all these, there were some questions asked and answered.
And then it was over. Whew, what a weekend. It's easy to see why it's one of the top sf/fantasy cons in the country. If I lived in the area, I think that I would volunteer to help. I'll certainly make every effort to be there next year.