July, 2006: The Heroes Convention in Charlotte, NC, reminded me that everything I ever do at a convention will eventually become a "convention horror story."
I have decided to revisit my sordid past for a few tales of merriment and mirth from the convention hall. All situations are completely real, and names have not been replaced to protect the innocent as I defy you to find an innocent person at a comic convention. Any similarity to any persons living or dead is entirely someone else's fault and simply means that the aforementioned person is probably a freak and deserves whatever is coming their way.
Now revisiting my sordid past is a lot like going on vacation to California: most of my convention memories involve the ground being quite wobbly, very little of the experience makes any bloody sense whatsoever, and naked girls crop up where you least expect them (assuming you didn't expect them to crop up in a strip club).
I have had a spotty career at these events, it is true; but none so spotty as this list of utterly mind-numbing and revolting experiences I have compiled in a little piece I like to call...
The Infamous "Spin the Wheel" Incident
The following story has become legendary among my mates at Wizard magazine, for reasons that will become obvious soon. I would like to state in advance that it was all a complete accident, and that while I come across looking like a complete dick, I am in fact just a complete moron.
It all began as I was wandering past the Wizard booth during the Chicago convention a few years ago. I chanced upon a large, spinning wheel that the Wizard staff had built for a little "game" they had invented for the fans. A long line of said fans was wound around the entire hall... each of them waiting for their turn to stump the expert and win a prize.
Well, I am never one to turn down a captive audience such as this and so I volunteered my services as "Guest Celebrity Wheel Spinner" for an hour or so while I passed the time away before my upcoming panel on How To Write for Vertigo. (I needed some slightly different preparation techniques, I had decided, since the only material I'd been able to come up with so far was the fact that I am British and sometimes swear at small children).
Now I must say that the rules are as confusing to me these five or so years later as they were that day: each person in the line was invited to provide a category, at which point I was supposed to provide a question pertaining to their chosen category. If the person guessed correctly they were entitled to spin the wheel and win any one of a large number of crappy items. If their luck ran truly foul, they would win every single crappy item available and would have to carry a large pile of pens, posters and plastic figurines all the way up to their hotel room. I had omitted to inform the Wizard crew that I know absolutely nothing about anything except football, beer, and sex. No matter, I thought... what was the worst that could happen?
I was about to find out.
For the next hour or so I gave away the farm. I mean I literally cleaned Wizard out of every single useless item they had in their warehouses for which they were, presumably, eternally grateful. The question and answer sessions invariably went something like this:
Me: You're the next lucky contestant! Please choose a category!
Fan: I'd like Yu-Gi-Oh, please.
Me: What the fuck is a Yoogeeo?
Fan: It's a card game.
(Fan now spins wheel, having answered correctly).
I was beginning to get frustrated. Surely someone was going to give me a category that I would know something about? Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sore loser unless there are kickbacks. (Had I played for the Italian National Soccer Federation, chums, I would have lived a happy life indeed. But I digress...)
Finally, my salvation arrived in the form of one unfortunate chap who hadn't been paying attention. Rather than ask me about Gundam Spider Warriors or whatever-the-hell that is, he decided his chosen category would be German Battleships of the Second World War.
Finally, I thought, something I can work with.
To cut a long story short, I asked a question about the Tirpitz, which completely stumped the poor sod who provided the category, since he was expecting something about the Bismarck. I figured I had finally scored a point and saved at least one fan from having to lug a plastic replica of Wolverine's exoskeleton ribcage around the convention hall.
I went back to talking with the other fans in the line. There seemed to be a lull in the process. Turning back to the wheel, I was informed that I was now supposed to provide the loser with a physical challenge, which, if completed, would allow even losing crybabies a chance to spin the wheel and win a prize.
Now I swear before I tell you this next bit that I was not paying attention. I was caught up in the moment and blinded by bright colored lights.
I asked the fan to walk on his hands to the next booth.
The entire convention hall went silent. Ten thousand fans stopped, aghast. I really couldn't see what the problem was. I turned back to the fan with the Physical Challenge and reminded him that he was supposed to have completed his task by now. How hard could it be to walk ten feet on your hands?
Very hard, as it turned out.
Slowly--and I will remember this moment until my dying day--the poor fan revealed that, unfortunately, he only had one arm!
My blood froze. My teeth began to swell. If I had been a raccoon at that moment then I was one of those raccoons who was going to spend the next few weeks lying upside-down next to a busy highway with a shocked expression on its face. I had absolutely no idea what to say to the poor dude.
The Wizard guys began to call their lawyers. Somewhere in the convention hall Gareb Shamus nervously fingered his poison ring.
I offered to load the poor fan up with every single prize on offer. He couldn't carry it all, naturally. I offered to take it all to his car. He politely declined and scurried away before I did anything more to ruin his day.
Dude, if you are out there, then know this: not a night goes by that I do not wake, screaming, thinking of that moment. My days are filled with remorse and my late afternoons are spent in confessional.
And if it is any consolation, the Wizard guys now practically beg me to run their spinning wheel, just so that they can have something to talk about.
And For an Encore...
Barely two months later I was at the Dragon*Con in Atlanta, describing the spinning wheel event to Bill Sienkiewicz. I was still mortified and in therapy. Bill suggested that I needed to reconnect with the fans... but I was gun-shy.
"Don't worry about it," said Bill. "What's the worst that could happen?"
Following Bill's optimistic--if somewhat Mephistophalean--train of thought, I decided to mingle for a while with my fans. My peeps. My adoring public.
I wandered through the hall for a while, smiling at Klingons (and thereby offending them) and generally looking like one of those desperate kids who wants to make friends on his first day at a new school. The fans picked up on this immediately, of course, and avoided me like I was a carrier of the Avian-Bubonic-Plague-Virus.
I made my way downstairs, to where the vendors were set up. They'd be stuck behind tables and thus obliged to try and sell me something. Perhaps I could strike up a friendship with a purveyor of Legendary Crystal Swords. I noticed a little booth selling spooky costumes and make-up, and made a beeline for a very tall lady leafing through a catalogue of alien wallpaper designs.
Now this was more like it! These guys had googly eyeballs and Wolverine slashes and Michael Jackson gloves! The lady at the counter was wearing a pair of those cavity-ridden Austin Powers goofy teeth! I decided to strike up a friendly conversation, and so I pointed at the lady's mouth:
She looked confused. I decided to press the issue.
"Nice one. Nice teeth!"
One day, gentle reader, when a comet is hurtling directly for planet Earth, you will look up into the sky at the flaming ball of death that is getting ready to descend upon your head and realize that you are well and truly fucked. When that happens--only then will you understand exactly how I felt at that moment.
For yes indeed... they were her real teeth.
Lacking the social skills to extricate myself from this awful moment--and still traumatized by the episode with the spinning wheel from weeks before--I did what any normal man would do in such circumstances:
I squeaked like a fairy and ran away.
How To Scare an Entire Family
This one is easy:
- You must be won in an auction to benefit A.C.T.O.R. [now HERO Initiative], preferably by a lovely young family with three small children who believe you are responsible for the penciling chores on Sonic the Hedgehog.
- You must arrive half an hour late for the breakfast date they paid three hundred bucks for, still hammered from the night before and looking decidedly queasy.
- You must excuse yourself to vomit and return with some of the aforementioned vomit still attached to the sleeve of your shirt.
- You must pick up the youngest daughter and give her a hug.