Friday, May 22, 2015

Chronology of Fanfiction - The Golden Age

Below is a list of links to fanfiction I have written (some of it uses pastiche characters as substitutions), in order of when the stories occur, with notes for which stories have yet to be finished or written.  Work in progress!

Dr. Mystic
Dr. Mystic lies dying on the sands of Egypt during the final battle with Koth, but he has one more favor to ask of Zator.

6/38 - Superman
"Superman and the Comic Book"
After reading about comic book adventures, Superman reflects on what he can do to change the world.

7/38 - Superman
"Superman vs. Walter"
Clark has a jealous rival at the Daily Star and decides to do something about it.

8/38 - Superman
"Superman and the Radio Show"
Mutual tries to put Superman on the air.

9/38 - Superman
"Superman vs. Curly"
Clark takes care of the prankster on the Daily Star staff. 

(All four Superman stories above can be found on the Superland Yahoo!Group, in the files section, collated in a document called "Superman 1938"; membership required to access)
10/38 - Superman
“Superman’s Race”
(also available here)
When Superman tries to help a man in need, it leads to a race Superman may not be able to win.

11/38 - Superman
Superman meets the true crime genre as he confronts Eliot Ness and tackles the mystery of the Torso Killer.

3/39 - Superman
Superman intervenes in the Spanish Civil War and makes a difficult decision with unexpected help. 

12/39 - Batman
"Curse of the Ruby Idol" (unfinished)

1/40 - Superman
“The Chase”
(also available here)
Superman thinks this is the final battle with the Ultra-Humanite, but Ultra has other plans, if the Japanese Navy will help him.

2/40 - Superman
Terry Curtis is the bait -- but for Superman's trap or the Ultra-Humanite's?

3/40 - Superman
“The Dover Affair” 
(also available here)
Old friends try to help Lois and Clark escape spies in England. Guest-starring Black X!

4/40 - Superman
Superman is trying to help liberate Norway when an old thorn in his side turns up again...

5/40 - Superman
“The Path” (unfinished)
6/40 - Superman
“Superman in the Hidden Valley of Yu-Atlanchi” (planned)
7/40 - Superman
“Superman and Adana” (planned)
8/40 - Superman
“Superman at the Face in the Abyss” (planned)
9/40 - Superman
“Superman in the Cavern of the Lost Wisdom (planned)
10/40 - Superman
“Superman in Colombia” (planned)
11/40 - Dr. Occult, Sandy Kean of Radio Squad
"Dr. Occult -- Wanted for Murder" (planned)

1/41 - Sub-Mariner
When Namor the Sub-Mariner doesn't think you're watching his back, he shows up to tell you off!

3/41 - Sub-Mariner
“Sub-Mariner vs. a Stroll through Manhattan”
Namor and Betty Dean take a walk to discuss some things.

5/41 - Sub-Mariner
“Sub-Mariner vs. Sub”
Namor wrecks a German U-Boat, just because he can.

6/41 - Captain Marvel/Major Magus
“Invasion of the Scorpions from Space” (published in The Trophy Case v. 2, no. 3)
The first alien spaceship since Superman's rocket appears over Earth in modern times!

7/41 - Sub-Mariner
“Sub-Mariner vs. the Killer”
Betty gets abducted while on the job. Namor to the rescue!

8/41 - Captain Marvel/Major Magus
“Skala’s Paralyzing Gas” (published in The Trophy Case v. 2, no. 4)
Skala's adult children have returned from the Moon, one intent on revenge and the other intent on romance.

9/41 - Yarko the Great
"Yarko vs. Dispater" (planned)

10/41 - Captain Marvel/Major Magus
“The Question of Hitler” (published in The Trophy Case v. 2, no. 5)
The Mysterious Stranger summons Major Magus, Prince Inaros, and Yarko the Great to discuss what they should do about Hitler. Also guest-starring Spyhunter! (Inaros and Spyhunter stand-in for Ibis and Spy Smasher respectively)

12/41 - Major Magus
“The Volcano King” (published in The Trophy Case v. 2, no. 6, costs 50 cents)
Major Magus and other heroes have responded to the Pearl Harbor attack, but now must deal with an even more insidious attempt to erupt volcanoes on the U.S. mainland.  Guest-starring Sterling Steel and Sir Destiny!

1/42 - Major Magus
“Boolevi the Unseen” (published in The Trophy Case v. 2 no. 7, costs 50 cents)
A radio show host with a grudge against Bobby Bauer summons ghosts with an agenda of their own.

2/42 - Major Magus
“Major Magus and the White Room” (published in The Trophy Case no. 8, costs 50 cents)

3/42 - Major Magus
“The Curse of Rath Debo” (published in The Trophy Case no. 9, costs 50 cents)
Freed from the White Room, the spirits of evil men form a champion to combat Major Magus.

4/42 - Major Magus
“In the State of Japan” (published in The Trophy Case no. 10, costs 50 cents)
Major Magus goes toe-to-toe with the Japanese Emperor in single combat, but not all is as it appears.

5/42 - Flame & Samson
untitled (planned)
6/42 -Dr. Fate
"The Wax Museum Killers" (planned)
7/42 - Dr. Fate
"The Deadly Designs of Mr. Who" (planned)
8/42 - Dr. Fate
"The Octopus" (planned)
9/42 - Dr. Fate
"Hall of Lost Heirs" (planned)
10/42 - Dr. Fate
"Luck for Sale" (planned)
11/42 - Dr. Fate
"The Two Fates" (planned)

12/42 - Ibis the Invincible & Dr. Fate
"Murgh the Merciless" (planned)

1/43 - Spacehawk
untitled (planned) 
2/43 - Justice Society of America
"The Man Who Created Images" (planned)
4/43 - Superman, Lois Lane/Superwoman, USA, Spacehawk
“Lois Lane - Superwoman” (incomplete)
6/43 - Justice Society of America
"Brain Wave Goes Berserk" (planned)
9/43 - Justice Society of America
"Insects Turn to Crime" (planned)
12/43 - Justice Society of America
"The Crimes Set to Music" (planned)

1/44 - Black X, Jane Arden, Joe Palooka
untitled (planned)
3/44 - Plastic Man & Spirit
untitled (planned)
4/44 - Captain America, Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, and Young Allies
“Battle of Central Henan” (planned)
5/44 - Shock Gibson & Black Cat
“Battle of Terni” (fictional, planned)
6/44 - Sandman
“The Tough Guy”
7/44 - Black Terror
untitled (planned)
8/44 - Sandman
“Sleep for Sale” (incomplete)
9/44 - Scribbly, Red Tornado, Mr. Weed, J. Worthington Blimp
“The Return of Mr. Weed” (planned)
10/44 - Sandman
"Reincarnation for a Rogue" (planned)
12/44 - Sandman
"Sandman - Prisoner of Emperor" (planned)

2/45 - Sandman 
"Invasion Plan of U.S." (planned)
4/45 - Sandman
"Scientist Warns of Invasion from Space" (planned)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

My First Ever C2E2 Report!

It didn't start out great. Coming from Parking Lot B, on the south side of McCormick Place, there was no signage saying where to go for will call or registration. Even when we got to the exhibit hall, there was no signage. We spent 40 minutes looking for the room where the ticket booths were tucked away out of sight and then, because we had split up to look for them, spent another 20 minutes finding each other. I found it so upsetting, I couldn't even enjoy all the cosplay I was seeing. We also made the mistake of not bringing anything to drink, so we bought a $4 water bottle at the Starbucks. Then we found the free water upstairs by the panel rooms later. Oops.

But after that, things improved immensely. The exhibit hall was packed with a full day's worth of interesting viewing. The artist's alley was packed with a full day's worth of interesting viewing. We had to cut some corners to combine the two. I, of course, pursued spending money at a convention in my normal, thrifty fashion -- haunting the dollar bins (where I did pick up some amazing bargains). This was Megan's first comic book convention ever and, it turns out, she is a fairly expensive date at a comic book convention. She was finding t-shirts and posters and games everywhere that she wanted.

We geeked out over lots of celebrities. The autograph booths were 200' away, so we could not get good photos of Sean Astin and Sylvester McCoy -- but Megan managed *okay* photos of them. Conversely, while I was waiting for Megan at will call, Scott Adsit walked right by me. I thought "That guy looks just like the guy from 30 Rock" -- but I didn't know he was scheduled to be at the con today until I got home tonight.

We attended the "Unmasking the Hero" panel and got to see Jewel Staite, who was funny and charming, and David Ramsey, who was a lot more funny and charismatic than he ever seemed to be on Arrow. And what a lot of Arrow fans in the audience! I was surprised. Favorite moments were Jewel faking a smarmy attitude and saying, "Oh, you guys don't have action figures?" and the generous response of the moderator who invited a couple on stage after a man popped the question to his girlfriend in the audience.

I wasn't planning on staying in that room for the special sneak preview of M. Night Shyamalan's first TV show, Wayward Pines, since I wasn't interested in seeing it. And neither was Megan, but when she learned yesterday that Matt Dillon would be there she told me we were going. She moved us right up front so she could be about 25' away from him. Oh, and M. Night was there too. Now, Wayward Pines itself was making me want to hurl -- but not why you'd think. Sitting so close to the big screen was disorienting and made both of us nauseous, though me more so.

Creator Connection was a networking event for people who need collaborators on their comic book projects, which would include me! I was disappointed, though, in how disingenuous some of the people there were. Like, one artist wasn't there looking for work at all; he was there to give sales pitches for his own already-published graphic novel. I wasn't meeting anyone with an old school vibe, and Megan told me that the exhibit hall closed at 7 and she wanted to get back there first, so we left that early.

I wish we had reserved more than 45 minutes for Artist's Alley at the end of the day. I was looking for Angel Medina at 6:30 for an arm wrestling match, but he was away from his table then. I saw Ali Cantarella, who I had met at the Schaumburg Township District Library's comic book convention. I didn't have a lot of cash left on me to spend, but she always comes up with such imaginative ways to part me from my dollars. Last time it was art magnets, this time it was the "$1 Mystery Box". I was really impressed with Sean Archer's Milo the Cloud and bought a copy. Scott Larsen traded me an issue of Femforce he was in for the information that Big Bang Comics is going to come out with their first issue published by AC Comics soon. And the lucky dog is making a comic book with Len Strazewski!

Also impressive were Spinner Rack Comics and Mindwave Comics, both of which promised good old-fashioned fun superheroes, like the big companies used to know how to do. Adam Fotos impressed me. Jenny Parks Illustration blew us both away with her cat-pop culture character mash-ups. Hugely ambitious, and way beyond what I could afford, was a $120 tribute book about Little Nemo in Slumberland released by Locust Moon Comics, in the same size as the original newspaper strip. The nice man at that booth said they were going to re-re-release it in softcover sections that would look more like old newspaper comic sections -- I'm there when that comes out. The last of my cash went to Aw Yeah Comics' table, where I picked up a Tiny Titans I was missing -- the only comic book on my 46-issue shopping list I managed to find while I was there!

We had both lunch and dinner at the McDonalds in the convention center, which only gave us the novelty of paying $11-15 for meals that would normally cost us $5-8. I had hoped to dine in the Connie's Pizza there for dinner, but they were closed by 7.

The last thing we did was go to a panel about Comixology. I asked some questions about what I could submit if I *did* have a finished comic book for sale and got a free t-shirt for my troubles. Pretty sweet! Also, Art Baltazar was there talking about his experience using Comixology. The whole time he was staring at the audience, but doodling with his hands. At the end, he had all these sketches of Adventure Bug on Aw Yeah Comics stationery to give away -- and they looked great!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

My Top 10 Comic Book Collections

I already have a whole bunch of lists on this blog, so it seemed appropriate to do some more. This subject is particularly apropos because Megan has been after me to give her more early birthday present ideas. So, looking at just my collection on shelf (as opposed to things I've read from other sources, or would just like to own)...
Top 10 Marvel Comics
1. Fantastic Four. From Lee & Kirby's literally fantastic 102-issue run to John Byrne's equally remarkable 64-isssue run, to also-great runs like Englehart & Pollard's or Walt Simonson's -- this is the comic book that has always been the brain of the Marvel Universe.
2. Amazing Spider-Man. Lee & Ditko's 38-issue initial run has never been eclipsed, though Stern & Romita's 29-issue run came close. Micheline's long run with McFarlane and then Larsen is an also-great. Spider-Man has always been the heart of the Marvel Universe.
3. Avengers. The Avengers was always a whirlwind of fun but, at its best -- like the 20-issue run of Thomas & Buscema, and virtually every issue from 1977 to 1988 by various combinations of writers and artists -- this was an epic saga.
4. Incredible Iron Man. From David Micheline's 41-issue run, to John Byrne's 20-issue run, followed by Len Kaminski's 42-issue run -- all with various artists -- Iron Man has always emphasized the writing.
5. Mighty Thor. Walt Simonson's 30-issue magnum opus. DeFalco & Frenz aping Lee & Kirby for 5 years. Thor has been a grand epic almost as big and as long as the Avengers.
6. Incredible Hulk. Peter David's magnum opus.
7. West Coast Avengers. Englehart, reminding Marvel how to make comics fun.
8. Alpha Flight. John Byrne's superhero-soap opera mash-up masterpiece.
9. Silver Surfer. Englehart again, this time doing Marvel's best space opera ever.
10. Captain America. The aborted Stern & Byrne run set the bar too high to top, but Mark Gruenwald spent 10 years trying very hard and sometimes coming very close.
Top 10 DC Comics
1. Superman. Siegel & Shuster. The superhero genre at its most basic and primal. Pure magic in the making.
2. Batman. Not the dark and gritty stuff, but the joking, smiling Batman, and his pal Robin, of the 1940s. Pure fun.
3. Flash. Mark Waid's amazing, definitive run of the Wally West Flash.
4. Justice Society. Kaminski & Parobeck's canceled WAY-too soon 10-issue masterpiece.
5. Batman Adventures. The magic of the Animated Series, captured on paper by various hands, but principally Mike Parobeck.
6. Power of Shazam. The best use of Captain Marvel by DC, ever. Jerry Ordway's magnum opus.
7. Legion of Super-Heroes/Legionnaires. From the reboot. No, not that reboot, the one after that. No, no...more to the left. That's it. Mainly the ones Roger Stern wrote.
8. Kingdom Come. I know, I know. It's hardly fair to include this if Marvels didn't make my top 10 Marvel list. But this is still amazing stuff.
9. Tom Strong. Alan Moore's best/least cynical/most inventive work ever.
10. JSA. Geoff Johns' celebration of a multi-generational superhero community that feels like one big family.
Top 10 Independents

1. Bone. Couldn't be anything else.
2. Usagi Yojimbo. Such a remarkably intelligent, well-researched epic for one man to have produced monthly.
3. Thieves & Kings. Mark Oakley's fascinating (and hugely inspirational to me) fantasy series.
4. Kurt Busiek's Astro City. Kurt's continuing love letter to the superhero genre.
5. Akiko. Mark Crilley's amazingly inventive sci fi/comedy series.
6. Knights of the Dinner Table. Simply the best comic about D&D ever. Even better than mine!
7. Big Bang Comics. Uneven, but sometimes brilliant homage to the superhero genre.
8. Groo the Wanderer. Maybe should have gone on the Marvel list, but Aragones & Evanier's comic masterpiece had to be one of these lists somewhere. Mulch!
9. Radioactive Man. A brilliant and funny homage/parody of the superhero genre. Too few issues to rate higher.
10. Scott Pilgrim. A beautifully absurd look at the world through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, obsessed with teen-oriented popular culture. Or a gonzo superhero love story. Or both.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Best of Simon and Kirby reviewed

Or is it?  With such a slim selection – only 26 stories – there are bound to be worthies left out.  But how does this “best of” list stack up?

“Captain America and the Riddle of the Red Skull” (from Captain America Comics #1, Mar. 1941).  Grade:  B.  You can see the Red Skull’s potential dripping from the page, though this early Simon/Kirby work looks fairly primitive compared to what comes later, and the story itself has its weaknesses.  Cap’s origin story from the same issue is much, much better.

“The Vision [vs. the Werewolf]” (from Marvel Mystery Comics #14, Dec. 1940).  Grade: B.  Rushed, sometimes confusing story, but with a great backstory to it that would have been even more exciting.

“Sandman: The Villain from Valhalla” (from Adventure Comics #75, Jun. 1942).  Grade: A.  Here is the fantastic, dynamic art that we expect when we see Kirby. The fight scene is all of one page long – but what a page! You just wish there was more, or that the villain didn’t have to wind up being so ordinary in the end.

“Stuntman: Killer in the Big Top” (from Stuntman Comics #1, Apr. 1946). Grade: A. Great art, a terrific set-up for a series filled with excitement, humor, and mystery – the only weakness is that Stuntman himself is a little boring (and his origin seems to be cribbed from Robin!).

“Fighting American: Assignment: Find the King of the Crime Syndicate” (from Fighting America #2, Jun. 1954). Grade: B-.  A fun little story, though too short and strains the suspense of disbelief. Though this was generally true of Fighting American, several of his stories would have been stronger choices.

[The Fly:] “Come into My Parlor” (from Adventures of the Fly #1, Aug. 1959). Grade: B+. A technically proficient preview of the Marvel Age of Comics Kirby would soon introduce…but there’s just not that level of excitement here.

“Solar Patrol [vs. The Tree Men of Uranus]” (from Silver Streak Comics #2, Jan. 1940).  Grade: D.  Kirby barely had a hand in this very early, very campy tale, and it shows. Almost unintentionally comical, in a Fletcher Hanks way.

“Blue Bolt [shrinks]” (from Blue Bolt Comics #4, Sep. 1940).  Grade: B+.  There’s a surprising amount of moral ambiguity here.  Which is the evil one, the Green Sorceress, who wants to conquer, but loves Blue Bolt; or Dr. Bertoff, who will stop at nothing – even murder -- to thwart the Green Sorceress? It’s almost a shame that a character as boring as Blue Bolt is stuck in the middle.

“The Thing on Sputnik 4” (from Race for the Moon #2, Sep. 1958).  Grade: B+. Perhaps based on the Arthur C. Clarke stories 2001 a Space Odyssey would be based on, this story is about as confusing as 2001, though mainly because of its brevity. 

“Satan Wears a Swastika” (from Boy Commandos #1, Win. 1942).  Grade: A-. What a wild ride! In the meta-comic part of the story, Simon and Kirby are in trouble at DC Comics when their best-selling characters, the Boy Commandos get killed in Germany. They get the news from their other characters, the Newsboy Legion, and get help from their version of the Sandman to find out what happened! This part is spliced not-quite seamlessly with a more normal story of midgets being mistaken for the Boy Commandos, while the Boy Commandos hunt a club-footed Nazi killer. 

“The Duke of Broadway: My City Is No More” (from Black Cat Comics #5, Apr. 1947).  Grade: A. More of a parable against nuclear weapons than a real adventure story, which is good because it’s pretty weak on details.

“Booby Trap” (from Foxhole #2, Dec. 1954). Grade: A. Short, but near-perfect story about the senseless carnage of war.

“Weddin’ at Red Rock” (from Western Love #1, Jul. 1949). Grade: C-. It’s a Western! It’s a love story!  It’s got a twist ending! But, at 3 pages, it’s not much of any one of those things.

“The Savage in Me” (from Young Romance #22, Jun. 1950). Grade:  B.  This one’s a weird critter. It starts, rather remarkably, with the attempted rape of a pretty missionary in Southeast Asia, and then follows her descent into shame for the first three pages. That’s all well and good by today’s standards, but then the would-be rapist “turns out” to not be such a bad guy, saves her and her dad from invading soldiers. Now she sort of feels obligated to love him and, more disturbing still, her father practically pushes her on the guy. In the middle of all this weird “love” garbage is a pretty suspenseful story about the political scene in Southeast Asia circa 1950.

“Trapping New England’s Chain Murderer” (from Headline Comics #24, May 1947).  Grade: C-.  I kept expecting a twist ending! This is a fairly pedestrian police procedural, worthy of the first half of an episode of Law & Order.

“Mother of Crime” from Real Clue Crime Stories v. 2 #4, Jun. 1947.  Grade: B-.  A mundane mini-bio for Ma Barker is elevated by its framing device of Ma speaking to the reader from Heck.

“The Case against Scarface” from Justice Traps the Guilty #1, Oct. 1947.  Grade: C+.  I’m not that impressed by this Scarface bio. It also makes me think that maybe Kirby couldn’t draw a pie…

“Apache Justice” from Kid Cowboys of Boys’ Ranch #6, Aug. 1951. Grade: B+.  A sometimes intriguing cowboy ranch soap opera with some action and adventure mixed in. The Indian stuff is horribly cliche, but the mystery of Angel is intriguing and I wonder if more was ever revealed.

[Bulls Eye:] “Doom Town” from Bulls Eye #4, Feb. 1955.  Grade: A.  An intriguing scenario, plenty of action, and some compelling backstory are marred, mainly, by Bulls Eye being upstaged by the more interesting Major Calamity.

“Scorn of the Faceless People” from Black Magic #2, Dec. 1950.  Grade: B-. An intriguing dream sequence segues into a dull love story.

“Up There!” from Black Magic #13, Jun. 1952.  Grade: A.  An effective supernatural mystery, mildly horrific, but with a powerful ending; marred only by being too short and not having a more interesting protagonist.

“Woman in the Tower” from Strange World of Your Dreams #3, Nov. 1952.  Grade: B-. Atmospheric and creepy, but way too abbreviated -- almost as if they found out while drawing the last page that they had a smaller page count than promised and had to rush an ending.

“Rainy Day with House-Date Harry” from My Date #4, Jan. 1948.  Grade: C+.  Eh.  Really only mildly amusing.

“20,000 Lugs under the Sea” from From Here to Insanity #11, Aug. 1955.  Grade: A.  Quite funny and visually inventive -- if not original, since it reads just like a Mad magazine parody. The lines they give Kirk Douglas’ character from the movie are laugh out loud funny. Could have used a stronger punchline ending, though.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

GaryCon 2015 Report

GaryCon: Day 1 (Friday)

I started the day psyched about the con and happy to be going to it. Indeed, getting there was my favorite part of the trip; I love the drive up Rt. 12 to Lake Geneva. So pretty and scenic, with towns along the way like Volo and Richmond with so much character.

And the convention started well for me. I made it there when I expected to, just before 10 am on Friday. I played AD&D (“Magic Magic Magik!”) run by Seth Warfield, whose claim to fame was getting an article in Dragon magazine when he was 15. It was a simple scenario, like the short pieces in Dungeon magazine back in the day, but for a 2-hour time slot, you knew you weren’t getting an epic storyline. It was light and entertaining and Seth is a whiz with funny character voices. And I got to play it with Will Schumacher and his son David. The rest of the players were fine too, but Will figures prominently in this narrative again later.

If there was a problem at all so far with GaryCon, it was the noise level. It was crazy loud in that room -- GaryCon seriously, SERIOUSLY needs to invest in curtains to hang between tables to absorb sound.

My expectations were high going into the next event, as famous RPG writer/editor Harold Johnson was running AD&D (“Help Me Out Here”). Though I was not actually going anywhere, as by chance this game was at the very same table in the very same room. Six hours into the convention and I still hadn’t seen more of the con than this room! And, remarkably, the room was even louder now. Harold had to shout at us and, if we weren’t sitting in the direction he was facing, we could not hear what he was shouting. As for the scenario...let’s say I had issues with it. Harold’s play style seems heavily influenced by LARPing and we were expected to set aside the mission we thought we were on and hang out in an inn interacting with the NPCs there for a solid hour of game play. I’m glad I got the chance to talk to him later and give him some input on putting more motivation into the scenario.

Real, crushing disappointment came next. I had scheduled to run my Hideouts & Hoodlums game from 5-7 pm. Because of complications when I pre-registered, I did not make it into the online or paper event catalogs. I was hoping to be a pick-up game in the open gaming area and get at least 3 players.

There was a significant downturn in the number of pick-up games available in the open game area this year as opposed to two years ago when I was last there -- and yet people seemed just fine with that. Hardly anyone seemed to be looking for a game to play. This nice lady named Laura came and waited with me for awhile, and Harold Johnson stopped by to chat with me (which is when I got to give him some feedback on his scenario). We talked about the poor visibility of pick-up games at GaryCon vs. other cons (though -- to be fair -- GaryCon had added a markerboard for advertising them this year, which was an improvement over just letting people sit out sheets of papers on tables). After waiting an hour for players, I gave up.

I had skipped the exhibit hall at 4:30, because I had slipped outside to eat a sack dinner in the car. At 6, when I was finally free to see it, I found the hall was already closed for the day. I had Dawn Patrol to play at 7, so I went down to the wargaming room early.

Now, I had played Dawn Patrol twice in the past, but had always shown up late and had to jump into the game without proper instruction. This time I had lots of time to get told how to play the game. I would be sitting at the table with legends David Wesley, who ran the wargame scenarios for Dave Arneson that inspired the creation of Dungeons & Dragons, and John Pickens, who was an editor for TSR for at least 14 years. I had recognized the names, but had not remembered their resumes at the time, so I was not overly concerned for my German pilot’s safety. Indeed, having scored some good hits in turn 1, I was feeling confident going into turn 2.

And then someone scored a lucky hit on my engine, it malfunctioned and stopped because of some bad dice rolls (just like my traditionally bad luck with saving throws in D&D!), and I had to land in a field -- effectively taking me out of the entire scenario in turn 2. Now fed up Dawn Patrol -- and everything else that had gone poorly with my day -- I left the convention two hours ahead of schedule, drove home...and missed my turn onto Rt. 12 in the dark. Luckily, I was able to find my way home via Rt. 31, feeling confidence returning to me once I reached Algonquin and familiar territory.

That night, before I went to bed to rest for the next day, I resolved to lower my expectations for Saturday. Would it help...?

Day 2 (Saturday)

Project Lowered Expectations began by letting Megan sleep in until 9 am before we left for Lake Geneva. Our leisurely drive north included the pleasure of paying Wisconsin gas prices, one last stab at paying under $2.40 a gallon, as Chicagoland prices climbed back above $2.80. We drove around Lake Geneva for a bit, admiring the scenery and the downtown (though failing to find Harold Johnson’s bookstore). This leisurely pace was intentional, for it was my plan -- my scheme -- that we would eat lunch downtown before heading to the convention and hence save money over the convention food prices.

However, the “casual dining” sign outside the downtown Popeye’s fooled me. We clearly had different definitions of casual dining -- mine was that we would find some sort of high-end fast food place inside like Portillo’s, and theirs was that suit and tie was not required. I wound up paying twice as much on lunch there as I would have at the con, but...oh, what a lunch! That ultimate smoked pork sandwich was amazing, and I hope I am able to recall the taste of it for a long time still to come.

Now, I had been warned the previous day about how bad parking would be on Saturday and had been advised to take the shuttle across town. Neither Megan nor myself much cared for that notion, though, so we decided to take our chances at finding parking just after noon on the busiest day of the con. The entire parking lot was, of course, full. To our surprise, though, overflow parking was allowed on this side street leading to a nearby apartment complex. We were able to park a block away down this road and walk back to the con. Undaunted by this short stretch of the legs, we finally reaching the con and registering Megan for the day.

We headed first to the exhibit hall which I was anxious to see, having missed it the day before. I had a load of fun in there, pointing out people I recognized to Megan, saying hi to Allan Grohe of Black Blade Publishing, drooling over Rob Kuntz’s Bottle City module (and wishing I still had my lunch money to put towards buying it), buying a copy of the Gangbusters rulebook for $6 (another guy was selling it for $25!), and chatting with Terry Pavlet about his comic book work and library-hosted comic book conventions after buying his special GaryCon print. We also bought Megan a new set of dice.

A low point of the day also came in the exhibit hall, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Darlene was at the exhibit hall -- famous artist of the original Greyhawk map -- but I mixed her up in my mind with Jean Wells, author of Palace of the Silver Princess. So I’m standing there, gushing over module B3 to her, and she politely doesn’t say anything, but must have been thinking, “What is this nut talking about…?” My mistake eluded me until hours later when I had a head-slap moment.

With the exhibits all seen, we headed out to find some gaming, confident that, with more people at the con today, we would have no problem finding pick-up games to play. This proved NOT to be the case. We played a demo of Brick Wars, a strategy game about building with Legos, that was surprisingly challenging. But after that, there was nothing. Nor were unsold tickets for scheduled events available at the registration table, as in years past. We went to the open gaming area and picked out The Great Space Race -- a fantastic board game -- and set it up, hoping that it would attract *somebody* to play with, but no one passed by and showed any interest. We also found out why you’re supposed to play the game with 3+ players; with 2 players, it was too easy to maneuver around each other and our mines on the game board.

Would we ever turn things around? No -- but Will Schumacher did. You might recall he was supposed to figure prominently in this story.

So, Megan and I had given up on gaming before 4 pm, just 3 hours into our day at the con. We had settled into sitting and listening to Dan the Bard perform -- NOT that there is anything wrong with listening to Dan the Bard, but, you know, we sort of had our hearts set on gaming at a gaming convention. I was even thinking about calling it a day and heading home, beaten and rejected by the con that didn’t want us. That was when we discovered we were sitting next to Will’s wife, Paula. Not that either of us recognized her, having not met her before, but we did when their son Bennett walked up to her. Soon the whole Schumacher clan showed up and we all got the chance to talk and make acquaintance. But no sooner had they left than Will returned to us with a ticket -- our golden ticket. It was for “Revenge of the Over-Kobold”, an AD&D scenario with young but spirited DM Dave Olson. Dave was quite shaky on the actual AD&D rules (surprising, considering he planned to publish this scenario in 1st ed.-compliant rules), but the scenario was fun and Dave was hugely funny when in character. Further, Ringo the Charmed Kobold will go down in my personal history as a favorite NPC (“I get to burn things? Best day ever!”).

Buoyed by this turn of events, we could have left the con at 8 pm feeling much better about our day. We just had one wrong turn left to go -- giving the open game area one more try, we returned and set up the DC Comics Deck-Building Game that Megan had her eye on earlier. We shared a table with a man who condescendingly mocked us for finding the rules overly complex and lacking in explanation before we gave up on the game.

Around 9, we made one final round of the tables to say goodbye to a GaryCon with some high highs but many lows, and left for a late supper on the road home.

Lessons learned: Will I go back for a fourth GaryCon? Possibly. But --

1. Attending a convention on a tight budget is hugely stressful. I had hoped to keep to a $120 budget and we went about $50 over. I would not go again unless I had at least $180 to spare.

What are the other gamers doing? Since I was there last, there has clearly been a shift away from open gaming to pre-registered events, trying out new games to playing known games (with a huge emphasis on D&D and, for whatever reason, Werewolf and Dungeon Crawl Classics) and just mingling and socializing without gaming at all. So where does that leave me?

2. Making it into the event catalog is no longer optional -- it seems like it will now be mandatory for getting players. I would have to register earlier to make sure there were no problems like there were this year.

3. If I want to make *sure* I get to play, I’m going to have to bring the games myself. I would schedule much more than just 2 hours for me to run games. And I would divide my time between trying to run H&H and running other, more traditional fare.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Avengers of the Dinner Table

If only the Avengers had D&D back in 1963...