Taking Nerdom in Stride
I never figured myself to be a fan-convention guy, but sometimes there's a calling.
Ever since my family and I attended Fan Expo (formerly Comic-Con) in Denver last summer, my targeted ads and “suggested posts” on Facebook and Instagram have looked… quite a bit different. I’ve been shown less product and music-related content, and a lot more television and cinematic fandom-type stuff… mostly related to the handful of shows, movies, and celebrities I follow on social media.
In other words, my online spaces have gotten nerdier.
A couple months ago, with the algorithms clearly keying off of that nerdiness, I started to see a ton of ads for a science-fiction themed fan convention in Denver called GalactiCon. I’m talking every day, multiple times a day. But the ads weren’t really an annoyance. In fact, I was kind of intrigued by what I was seeing… despite questioning just a few months earlier, after Fan Expo, if I’d ever attend another such event.
Don’t get me wrong. There were things I liked about Fan Expo, specifically meeting and listening to people whose work I’ve long enjoyed. But for the most part, it wasn’t really my scene. There were just too many people there (including thousands of fans dressed up like their favorite super-heroes, aliens, and monsters), too many long lines, too many crowded areas, and too many conflicting items of interest on the schedule. Not to mention that some of the celebrities my family and I wanted to see ended up bailing at the last minute.
Missing out on Richard Dreyfuss, who was going to talk about my favorite film, Jaws, was a real bummer. But my wife was clearly more upset about not seeing, and not having her planned picture taken with, actor Jon Bernthal. That’s because she has the hots for him (so that loss didn’t bother me so much).
Anyway, GalactiCon was clearly going to be a much smaller spectacle, taking place at a Marriott (not an enormous convention center)… with only about ten celebrity guests… most of whom I’d never heard of. But the headliner was of interest to me — a guy I’d become an overnight fan of earlier this year: actor Todd Stashwick.
Stashwick’s brilliant, break-out portrayal of Captain Liam Shaw in the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard deservedly won him a starship-load of attention and praise (you may remember me carrying on about his intro-scene in the Daly Grind back in April). I’ve been following Stashwick on Instagram since then, and enjoy his regular video messages to followers. He’s a very cool, interesting, and gracious dude, and I liked the idea of meeting him (and perhaps, after decades, finally winning the elusive approval of a Starfleet captain).
Still, I knew my family wasn’t particularly interested in going, and I was having some trouble rationalizing the hour-and-a-half drive and costs involved, over a holiday weekend, just to shoot the breeze a little with Mr. Stashwick. I was familiar with a couple of the other guests, but with all due respect to them (and I mean that), they weren’t tipping the scales for me as a fan.
Once the GalactiCon guest list was finalized, I decided against going. I remember thinking to myself, “If only there was one more person I’d like to see…” But then, just a couple weeks before the event, a last minute guest was added: Ross Marquand, best known as “Aaron” from The Walking Dead.
Now we were talking. Marquand, who grew up here in Colorado (about ten miles from where I did), was great on The Walking Dead… even after the show itself was no longer great. His addition compelled me to buy a Saturday pass for the weekend event. My son had to work, and my wife and daughter had other plans, so I went solo… but I’m glad I went, because I really enjoyed it.
I said up top that GalactiCon was poised to be a “much smaller spectacle,” and that turned out to be an understatement. While Fan Expo draws around 100,000 attendees every year, GalactiCon — at least the day I was there — hosted probably just a few hundred, amounting to lots of empty seats at the forums, and virtually no lines in front of the celebrity booths. Like Fan Expo, a good number of attendees were dressed up like super-heroes, aliens, and monsters, and some of the costumes were extremely impressive (like in the photo up top). But again, there weren’t many of them. Attendance wasn’t helped by the fact that there was a snowstorm outside, at least during the morning; it got sunny later.
I’m guessing the low turnout was a big disappointment to the featured celebs (since at least part of their compensation from such events comes from photo-ops and signing autographs). But you wouldn’t have gathered that from watching and listening to them. They all treated their fans graciously, and took extra time with each one of them.
As a novelist who’s done countless book signings (not all of which are well-attended), I can certainly empathize with that empty “Why did I even bother doing this one?” feeling they were probably experiencing, but — like I said — they handled the situation like pros. And from a fan perspective, it was pretty cool engaging in casual, laidback conversations with these folks.
Todd Stashwick did not disappoint. He put on a very entertaining and insightful Q&A, where he treated the crowd of dozens as if they were thousands. It was interesting to learn more about his work, which includes writing and directing. He was also a regular on the television series, 12 Monkeys, which I’ve always meant to check out (I love the film), and now will. He sounds like a good family man as well. I talked to him more a little later, and walked away with this memento:
Like I said earlier, there wasn’t much going on at the celebrity booths. When I first walked into that area of the hotel, I turned a corner and immediately saw Ross Marquand sitting behind a table just a few feet away. When he looked up at me, I reflexively said, “Oh, hey,” or something to that effect, as if we knew each other. It was kind of funny.
I introduced myself and the two of us and his assistant had a really good conversation about growing up in Colorado, which amusingly included the infamous Greeley stench… which he and his fellow CU students would catch wind of whenever a snowstorm was about to cover the the Front Range. I assured him with confidence that those days are no more. Marquand said he now lives in Nashville, which gave us something else to talk about.
Interestingly, Marquand came across a lot like Aaron in the character’s first Walking Dead appearance — friendly, polite, and unassuming. He’s a very personable, down-to-earth guy — honestly one of the more real celebrities I’ve ever met. He impressed me so much that I bought some autographed photos for my kids; my daughter’s a Walking Dead fan, and my son’s a big Marvel guy (Marquand played the Red Skull in the last two Avengers films).
Plus, he was up for a silly pose:
(I’d asked Marquand if we could do an “angry” shot, as if we were about to “smash some zombies”, but I regrettably look more constipated in the photo than anything. Oh well.)
By the way, what ever happened to actors being short? I stand about six feet tall, and felt like a prop next to Stashwick and Marquand.
Someone I was taller than was actress Denise Crosby, perhaps best known as Security Chief Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation (though she’s done lots of other fine work, including in the opening scene of one of my favorite film comedies, Skin Deep). I had a fun conversation with her too, after she walked inside from playing in the snow (living in California, she doesn’t see much of it). She’s a very nice lady.
Overall, it was a fun day of casual nerdom, and a good escape from some much more serious things I’ve been dealing with lately.
Ever go to a fan convention? Tell me about it in an email, or in the comment section below.
Obligatory Dog Shot
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