- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

In the second installment of a special two-part report, Zadzooks focuses his mighty, omniscient eye on the Wizard World Convention, held minutes from Chicago.

Rosemont, Ill. — The cinematic celebrity firepower at this year’s Wizard World Convention came off more as a pop from a B-list firecracker with the only big name, Sean Astin — Samwise Gamgee of “Lord of the Rings” fame — slated to appear in an upcoming, guaranteed blockbuster.

Ooops … I shouldn’t even mention his name because the media were forbidden to talk to him, shoot pictures of him or stare intently at him because of an imposed publicity lockdown centering on an upcoming project. Somebody needs to tell Mr. Astin’s public relations reps to lighten up.

With Mr. Astin off limits, I had my choice of bantering with stars such as Lou (“The incredible Hulk”) Ferrigno, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig ( commanders Uhura and Pavel Chekov, respectively, of TV’s original “Star Trek”) and former wrestling star Joanie (Chyna) Lawler. Also, as per annual tradition, C2 Ventures, an artist representation company, offered “Star Wars” folks — who for just $20 each would sign an autograph.

Cordoned off in a box-shaped booth area behind tables, a cashier eagerly accepted credit cards or cash from hungry autograph seekers as 11 pseudo-celebrities waited to sign just about anything fans presented them as long as they had purchased a ticket.

This gaggle of greatness included Amy Allen (Jedi Aayla Secura), Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Zach Jensen (Jedi Kit Fisto) and obscure Mara Jade model Shannon Baska — with the only real payoff coming in the chance to meet Ray Park, the man behind Darth Maul. Mr. Park, who was inexplicably shrouded in the back of the celebrity exhibit, is a very pleasant guy with a very promising future. However, he needs to tell his manager to get him in front of the fans and not worry about the pair of sawbucks for signing a Darth Maul action figure.

Now back to a few more observations from this year’s pop-culture spectacular:

• Among the dozen or so panels held in various rooms of the convention center, eager readers learned that artist Jim Lee would be illustrating Superman next year, that Marvel would work on bringing back letters pages to its monthly titles, that Mark Waid would be writing more Fantastic Four and that Ultimates writer Mark Millar has a propensity for introducing Hitler into every book he writes. At one point during a Sunday meeting with fans, Mr. Millar sarcastically asked Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada if an Ultimate Hitler miniseries was feasible.

• Getting an exclusive action figure at the Mattel booth was akin to getting through security at a major airport — with everything short of a body-cavity search being conducted before lucky collectors with a raffle ticket could plunk down $20 to get a coveted plastic sculpture from the famed designers, such as the 4 Horsemen, the Caped Crusader in his 1960s gray-and-blue garb or a Master of the Universe Skeletor from his early years.

Hey Mattel, I’m glad you have two really hot licenses, but take a long, deep breath.

Also, let’s discuss the contrast in styles between the multimillion-dollar corporation Mattel and Art Asylum, the Brooklyn-based toy company. Hawking some deliciously exclusive items, including a Frodo Baggins Twilight with Ringwraiths three-pack, Ultimate Hulk and Spider-Man Mini Mates and Captain Kirk with phaser rifle, guys from Art Asylum, whom I usually see at Toy Fair wearing business suits and brokering the major deals for the company, were in T-shirts and baseball caps and breaking change for a $50 bill while smiling to the sounds of a cash register.

As long as they break even at the shows, which they easily did in Chicago, director of sales Deihl Betz and Vice President Adam Unger consider the chance to get Art Asylum product in the face of fans paramount to getting it stocked in major retail outlets. This couldn’t be an easier way to accomplish that goal. By the way: The Lord of the Rings miniature stuff put out for display looked amazing … fans could buy as many exclusive items as they wanted.

• Finally, a plea from a writer who has been covering the comic-book industry for a decade and reading comics for 35 years. Comic books are taken very seriously these days by Hollywood studios and most every other entertainment medium. It would be nice if a certain segment of the audience understood this and stopped looking like immigrants from a distant planet, desperately in need of a bar of soap.

Let’s cut the white or black socks worn with sandals, jeans that look as if the wearer’s gluteus maximus has been carved from his backside, the long, unkempt hair with perfectly positioned bald spot in the middle and the “busting at the seams” Punisher T-shirt doing a poor job of containing the rolls of fat pouring into the midsection.

Enough already. I can dig the bohemian stylings, Daddy-O, but let’s get on a hygiene kick.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail [email protected]imes.com; or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.

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