The annual Motor City Comic Con is HUGE--I think they attract something like 15,000 people over a three-day weekend. This con is focused mainly on comic books, but it also offers a fantastic assortment of guests from all kinds of film and television science fiction and "classic TV" projects. This year, René was there from DS9, Nichelle Nichols from Star Trek, Roxann Dawson from Voyager, Keegan de Lancie (his dad John was scheduled but couldn't make it), Alan Ruck (the captain from Star Trek: Generations), Virginia Hey from Farscape, Jerry Doyle and Mira Furlan from Babylon 5, Billy Dee Williams from Star Wars, Bill Mumy (who was listed as a Lost in Space guest along with Angela Cartwright, but who would equally qualify under Babylon 5 or DS9), Vaughn Armstrong, who has played eleven different Trek aliens on various series and now has a recurring role as Admiral Forrest on Enterprise...and then there was Larry Storch from F Troop, Hank Garrett from Car 54 Where Are You? and Max Headroom, and probably over 20 other celebrities, including a trio of WWF wrestlers who were seated right across the aisle from René's table and provided us with several moments of entertainment when the one named "The Iron Sheik" went into his routine for a visiting TV crew.
The whole event had little in common with the kinds of Trek cons I've attended before. Most of the floor space was essentially one big dealers' room-comic books on sale, of course, plus various toys and collectibles. And there were a ton of comic book artists, pencilers, writers, and other creative people from the comic book world who all had their own autograph tables. There were two smallish rooms where they scheduled panel talks during each day. Nichelle Nichols had a talk to herself, but René was on stage with Roxann, Vaughn, Keegan, and Eugene Roddenberry for a generic Trek panel. There was an amateur art show of some kind, which I thought was cool and fitting for a comic con, and also a costume contest (costumes based on everything from Trek to Earth: Final Conflict to animé to Batman and Spiderman), and possibly some other stuff that I missed hearing about entirely.
As I said, a HUGE convention!
The celebrity autograph area was large enough that each person had their own table space for the entire three days. This was a significant difference from other cons I've been to. Anyone who has attended a Creation or Slanted Fedora con is familiar with the sort of schedule that might have René doing a Q & A from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. and then signing autographs from 4:00 to 6:00--and that's all you would see of him for the whole day. At this con, though, the actors (or wrestlers or writers or whatever) could, if they wished, sit at their table from the moment the convention doors opened until closing time; or put in an appearance for a couple of hours, take a couple of hours for a break, come back again...or any other arrangement that suited them.
This lack of a set schedule was both good and bad for the fans. Only rarely did any really long lines form. Nichelle had lines most of the time she was at her table, but she never stayed for more than a couple of hours at a stretch, so people wanted to catch her when they could. René and Roxann and the Babylon 5 people also regularly had people queued up, but rarely more than five or six at once. Any time you wandered through the autograph area, the odds were good that you'd find someone with little or no line who you wanted to at least chat with, even if you didn't want to buy a photo. And because there wasn't this huge urgency to get through a line before time was up, fans and actors both were more relaxed, more likely to chat for a minute or two, and pose for photos, and all that.
The bad side of this arrangement was that, if your timing was off, you might miss seeing someone you wanted to see, if you happened to come by only when they were away having a break.
Friday and Saturday, the days my husband Mike and I were there, were fun and highly lucrative for René's fundraising efforts. Friday the con opened at 1:00, and we had René's photo table set up from the start. For the early part of the afternoon, we answered the same question from most of the people who came up to the table: "Is he going to be here today?" All we could say was that he was on his way, and we expected him late in the afternoon.
René did arrive a bit after 5:00, with confirmation that John de Lancie had canceled. So René promptly appropriated John's table space in addition to his own, and spread out a slew more photos that he had brought with him, in addition to what we already had out.
Once the tables were arranged to René's satisfaction, he settled in and signed for about two hours, and posed for photos, and shook people's hands, and chatted, and we raked in the dough. Many people were quite pleased and surprised to learn that all the money they paid was going straight to charity (I get the impression many of the celebrities pocket autograph fees as part of their income), and more than one would buy a $10 photo or one of René's drawn-while-you-watch "Odo's Bucket" cartoons, then hand me a $20 bill and say "Keep the rest-it's for a good cause." Very cool.
In addition to being a very successful con for charity fundraising, this was also a great con for simply enjoying the company of friends. We had a large turnout of RAFL and ORACLE members, and the relaxed atmosphere made it easy for almost everyone who stopped by to share some conversation with René. Chris Bichler was there with her husband Jeff Kaplan and their 4-month-old son Ross. René never seemed to get tired of making faces and funny noises at Ross--he even got the baby to laugh out loud, which was delightful. Chris and Judy and Beth (Ethan Phillips's Web site person) and Mike and I acted as table helpers, and Gary, Ray, and Karen came and visited at various times.
I agree with Marguerite's assessment of this convention as basically a big dealers' room--and since comic books, for the most part, aren't an interest of mine, what I did was mainly window shop and people-watch with my four-month-old son in tow. A good part of my fun was watching the baby reacting to new experiences, and I must say that he handled the noisy and crowded environment really well. I noticed a couple of things: a) Parents seem to have instant rapport with each other, even when they've never met before, and b) I must have one cute baby, because he got attention wherever he went. One perfect stranger even asked permission to photograph Ross snoozing in the baby carrier strapped to my chest. The little guy broke into one crying fit the first time he heard the loudspeaker, but after he got used to it, he was fine, and in fact, he spent a lot of the convention sleeping.
Most of the first day was spent hanging out with Mike and Marguerite at the ORACLE table. I did prowl around the other autograph tables a bit, bought a Spock T-shirt (reading "Pointy ears turn me on") and introduced my son to Leni Parker, formerly of Earth: Final Conflict. She took a real shine to the baby, which made me like her even more than I already had before meeting her.
People stopped by the ORACLE table throughout the day to ask for René, and he arrived around 5:00 p.m. The table became my "pit stop" throughout Friday and Saturday, whenever I needed to take a break from wandering the con. Several of my local friends stopped by at various times, so I was rarely bored. René spent some time during "breaks" in the line chatting with fans--also making faces at Ross.
Saturday began with a small breakfast for RAFL/ORACLE members with René, with conversation ranging from the new Enterprise series and the Trek anniversary issue of TV Guide to adventures in visiting foreign countries and the vagaries of road-repair in states that have six months of winter. René was great fun, and seemed to enjoy being with the folks in the club, who were generally just enjoying each other's company as well.
My favorite moment at breakfast was René's nearly immediate question about Ross, which was (drum-roll, please): "Is he sleeping through the night?" (Answer: yes, mostly). This, in my opinion, is the mark of an experienced parent. Only people who have also endured
2:00 a.m. feedings ever ask this.
After our breakfast, we all proceeded to the convention center, where René was basically at the table from 10:00 until 6:00, with only a couple of 5-minute breaks, plus the group Trek Q&A session. The panel members fielded fairly dull questions (for René, most were old chestnuts like "How long did it take to put on your Odo makeup?") for only about 45 minutes. René even got his lunch sandwich from the green room and brought it out and ate it between autographs at the table, so as not to miss any fans who might come by.
The convention was busy Saturday, and Jeff and I went to talks by Nichelle Nichols and by four of the actors who've been in "modern" Treks (René, Roxann Dawson, Keenan de Lancie, and Vaughn Armstrong). The acoustics were really horrible, with the loudspeakers on the main convention floor constantly interrupting and drowning out the audience questions and the actors, but Nichelle had some interesting stories to tell, both about working on the original Star Trek and in the recent Disney flick Snow Dogs (I just saw this recently--the script is pedestrian, but animal lovers will find it amusing, and Nichelle's character is a hoot).
The later panel with the four Trek actors was, as Marguerite has said, pretty disappointing. Almost no one asked any interesting questions--except ORACLE'S own Gary, who asked what the folks on the panel thought about the fanfic being written about their characters. Only René had a good answer, speaking of the "high quality" of the Odo fanfic he'd seen, specifically the stuff that went into the Odo-Files fanzine. Vaughn Armstrong told a very funny story about how he damaged a multi-million dollar helicopter while working on a film (he was trying to get the door open), but other than that, the panel was kind of a bust. Jeff and I did get some great pictures of René with Ross and with us, though. Later, my family went out for lunch with friends, where we spent lots of time talking Trek and Broadway. Talking with other fans face-to-face is really a joy after months of being limited to online chat. In some ways, this was the best part of the con for me.
During the course of the day Saturday, René got into several interesting conversations with people who visited the table. For instance, one of the artists at the convention brought his entire portfolio over to show to René. They spread all of the drawings, paintings, and sketches out on the floor behind the autograph table and René leafed through them as he and the young man talked.
At another point, when there was a lull in the autograph line, René talked a little bit about the new Broadway play he had been invited to be in, and very quietly sang part of the lyrics of his character's major song, which he had already started to learn, even though his involvement with the play, at that point, was not yet official. A few days after the con, the announcement came that he had, indeed, been signed to appear in Dance of the Vampires--and six months later we had a chance to hear that song again, this time sung in full voice, in character, and at full, breakneck speed: "Logic."
Mike and I had to go home first thing on Sunday morning, so we missed the final day of the convention. But we're glad we were able to be there for most of the weekend, because we had a great time from beginning to end.
Sunday was the day that I got to, er, "manage" the autograph table--if you can call it that (my managerial skills being minimal at best). I found it fascinating to watch the different fans come through. Once, during a lull, I got into conversation with a woman who had been a big fan of the soap opera Days of Our Lives--which was the first place that either of us had ever seen John de Lancie. I got to meet a couple other ORACLE folks whom I hadn't met before, and very occasionally was called on to snap a picture of someone with René. Of course, being the technologically challenged person I am, I found many of the cameras downright threatening. And I openly admit here and now that on at least one occasion I tried to take a picture looking through the wrong end of one fan's camera. René thought this was very funny, and he didn't let me forget about that incident the rest of the day--all in good fun, of course. (As Leonard McCoy might say, "I'm a feminist post-structuralist literary theorist-not a photographer." Or something like that.)
Foot traffic at the con was a little slower on Sunday than it had been the day before, so René got a chance to chat a little with those of us working the table, which was fun. Lots of different topics came up for discussion: movies, sci-fi cons in general, but my personal favorite moment came during my discussion with René about my own weirdly pronounced surname (which is said "Bick-ler" even though it looks like something else). When I explained how my grade school classmates used to deliberately mis-pronounce it, René gave a letter-perfect imitation of a snotty seventh-grader taunting: "Hey, Bichler!"--spoken like someone all too used to having his own name mangled by others. It was so funny. You know, it's true. Laughter really is the best revenge.
By the end of the con, I think everyone behind the ORACLE table was bone-tired. I know I came away with a lot more appreciation for all convention guests who patiently autograph for hours on end. René was unfailingly sweet and polite to everyone who came through the line, and folks who were lucky enough to show up at the table when there was no line often got to exchange a bit of conversation with him. Plus, the fans behind the table kept up a steady chit-chat of our own when the line wasn't busy. This, to me, is nearly always the thing that makes any convention worthwhile-that strangely tribal connection that occurs between total strangers who find they have an interest, however weird or esoteric, in common. The community that is fandom never fails to fascinate me in this way, and I love being part of the tribe.
René finally left to catch his plane late in the afternoon, after a round of hugs for all of us who'd worked the table. Afterward, I took care of some last-minute business with the con, closed the table, and made a final pass through that enormous dealer area, where I found a very nice Farscape t-shirt that I bought, allegedly on sale, just to appease my own inner Ferengi.
All in all, not the usual convention experience for me, but very much worth the time I spent there with other fans and with René.