Bossk? Check. IG-88? Yeah, that’s him. Boy his head seems big. And there’s Dengar. Hmm. Is that one supposed to be Zuckuss or 4-LOM? I can never remember which is which. But I don’t see a Wampa—that’s what he really wants. Does Lego even make a Wampa? It would have to be bigger than the others, wouldn’t it? Well, I guess since these are hand painted, the guy can make whichever figures he wants. But I don’t see—
“Hey buddy. Finding what you need?”
“Er, yes. No. I mean yes. Yes, I’m fine. Just … just picking out something for my son. You know. There are so many. Figures that is. Not sons. It’s just hard to …” I trailed off when I realized that the guy had already turned his back and was talking to someone else.
It was opening night at Wizard World’s Nashville Comic Con and I was a little surprised that things seemed so slow. When the company scaled back on their touring schedule last year, Nashville was one of the cities they dropped, so it had been a couple of years since a large-scale convention had been here. I had assumed that there would be a larger-than-normal burst of excitement for the opening, but it looked like most Nash-villains, as Eric Powell once affectionately termed us, were saving their convention-going for Saturday and Sunday.
All of which was fine with me. Since I was only attending one panel that evening, I had decided to take advantage of the thinner crowds to do a little shopping. Now, with a genuine, hand painted, unofficial Lego Bossk figure in my bag, I dutifully made my way to Artists’ Alley.
When I came across Danny Fingeroth’s table, I paused to say hello. Fingeroth was a longtime writer and editor at Marvel and has since written some very influential non-fiction books on comics. He’s a mainstay at these conventions, putting together or moderating many of the panels that focus on comics as opposed to movies and television.
I had met him before, so I figured I’d play it cool and we could reconnect. “Hi Danny. You probably won’t remember me but we’ve met a couple of times. I’m Greg Carpenter. I write a little for Sequart. And I’m always looking forward to your panels. I … um … I go to them.” Gee, that didn’t make me sound weird, did it?
Fingeroth’s eyes squinted and he made that face you sometimes see on adults who don’t really like children but are forced to chat with them anyway and who clearly have no idea what the kids are talking about.
Realizing I had come across a little awkwardly, I figured it would help if I just worked harder to clarify what I was trying to say—because that always works. “I was meaning the panels. You know. The panels that you do. Moderate, I mean. For the convention. They’re … you do them … usually about comics?” This last part came out as a question, though I’ve no idea why. Fingeroth blinked a couple of times and gave a hesitant nod as if to say, “Why yes, it’s true that most of my comics panels are on comics.”
He then glanced down at his supper plate. That’s when I realized I was apparently talking to him during his evening meal. So I figured here was another opportunity to bond—one comics scholar to another. I could put him at ease and show him that I understood the lay of the land, that I was hip. “Oh, hey. You’re eating. Right. Gotcha. You know, I’m not going to hold up your dinner. Is it good by the way? Whatever. I just wanted to drop by and hi—I mean, well, drop by and say hi. So … yeah. I’ll just … I’ll, you know, probably see you later. At a panel?”
Well, that went pretty well.
As I wound my way up and down the aisles of Artists’ Alley, I tried to manage that delicate task of noticing people’s work without making eye contact. Most of the creators seemed just as uncomfortable with the whole process as I was, but I’ve learned that in every group there are always a few of those art-of-the-deal types who believe in the hard sell. I was reminded of that fact when I suddenly heard a voice say, “Hey, nice hat.”
I should probably clarify that whenever I’m overdue for a haircut, as I was on this evening, I like to wear a hat. In the past, I might’ve opted for a baseball cap, but I’ve boycotted baseball caps since the Presidential election. Instead, I’ve opted for what they call in Europe a “flat cap.” It was a good choice too, since one of the primary subjects of my dissertation, August Wilson, always wore a flat cap. Not that any of that was relevant to this guy at the table. Nor, I guess, is it particularly relevant to you, now that I think about it.
So, back to the table. “Thanks,” I said. Now just keep moving. Go on. Keep it simple. Don’t talk. But before I knew what happened, my mouth was open and words started coming out: “Yeah, I just started wearing this type of hat.” Stop talking. “You know, I used to wear baseball caps.” Why am I talking about this? “Yeah, I was a baseball cap guy. But I decided after last November that I couldn’t wear those anymore.” Why am I telling him any of this? This is so wrong.
“Yeah, I hear ya.” The guy seemed non-committal on the whole election/baseball cap issue. I guess he had books to sell. “Do you like to read?”
“A little,” I muttered. You’ve already overshared. Don’t tell him you have a Ph.D. in literature. Don’t tell him you have a Ph.D. in literature. Don’t tell him—
“That’s great. What kind of books do you like to read?” He started sliding a copy of a high fantasy paperback toward me.
“Oh, a little of this, a little of that,” I answered, my mind racing with possibilities. I’ve read a lot of August Wilson. Actually, I wrote a dissertation on him. He was a playwright. Did you know he wore a hat? It was a flat cap. Much like the one I’m wearing now. But that’s not why I started wearing this one. Do you wanna know why? Well it all started last Nov—
“Well, since you like to read,” the guy said, interrupting my internal monologue, “you should take a look at this. Especially if you like fantasy. Just read what it says there.” He flipped the book over and handed it to me. My eyes glazed over the back cover blurb, but I was so in my head I couldn’t absorb any of it.
“Sounds great, man. Good luck,” I said. I figured it was time to leave Artists’ Alley before I did any more damage.
Conventions always have their ups and downs, but I felt like I had bungled every part of this one, and it was still only Friday night. Glumly, I headed towards a place in the back with some tables so I could sit down and look over the convention program again. Along the way, I had to pass by the autograph booths. If you haven’t been to one of these conventions, it’s a little surreal to walk past familiar faces like Sam Jones from Flash Gordon or the legendary Lou Ferrigno.
I thought I had gotten used to this. But that night was different. There, in the next booth, was someone I felt like I had known my entire life—Nichelle Nichols.
I froze. I had known she was scheduled to appear, but it’s one thing to see a famous name on a piece of paper and quite another to be standing 20 feet away from Nichelle Nichols. And then it happened. She looked up. And in that instant, I completely forgot about all the insecurities and awkward moments of the evening. I felt strangely confident. It was like standing on the bridge of the Enterprise, knowing that just a few feet away, the ever-reliable Lt. Uhura was keeping those hailing frequencies open.
And for the first time, I knew just what to do. I crossed both my arms over my heart and then motioned towards her. She smiled and waved back.
Nothing else mattered for the rest of the night.