A couple of weeks ago, Monster Mania Con was held in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. It is just a stone’s throw away from me. The reason for going to the show was to really get our Sheldon/Leonard on. I should point out that there are three of us in my group of friends. I know that on “The Big Bang Theory” there are four, but we are only three. For that matter, we are really only a cross between Sheldon and Leonard. By the way, am I the only one who every noticed that Sheldon and Leonard live together and Sheldon Leonard was one of the legendary TV Comedy producers of his age, with shows like “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, “Make Room for Daddy” and “The Andy Griffith Show” to his credit? But, I digress.
The original Man in the Godzilla suit, Harou Nakajima, was going to be there. Godzilla had left King Kong in the dust for the three of us. Since “Godzilla 1985” we’d made it a point to be first-nighters for any theatrical release of a Godzilla film. We’ve come very close to keeping that tradition alive.
This was our chance to meet a legend.
Also going to be there was Bin Furuya, who wore the Ultraman suit from 1966 to 1967. When I was a younger kid, I pretended I was Ultraman.
This had become a WOW moment!
The three quickly became seven, as my youngest son, my brother-in-law and his oldest son, and my friend’s son, all were interested in attending. As we got closer, my friend and his son opted out and went to Niagara Falls for the weekend. My own son couldn’t get the day off. My brother-in-law’s son ended up “on call” and couldn’t go. And, on the morning of the Con, my brother-in-law was sick.
Down to two, I headed out to meet my friend, HTG, at the show. I got a late jump and phoned him along the way. He was already on his way, coming up from moderately deep South Jersey. I had already crossed the Turnpike Bridge and was headed for Route 295 to Route 70, where the hotel was.
Part way down the highway, my cell phone rang. HTG had arrived at the Con finding parking to be in short supply.
“I have never seen anything like it!” he exclaimed.
He gave me some brief instructions about where to go to hopefully find street parking. In the end, the office building next door supplied the necessary place to park. But he was right. The place was mobbed. Hopefully, everyone was there to see Neve Campbell and not Godzilla and Ultraman.
Now, I should mention that I am veteran of at least three Dr. Who conventions in the city, back in the 1980’s. I have seen both Tom and Colin Baker and John Leeson. I had also been to several comic book and baseball card conventions, not to mention several stamp shows, namely SEPAD. But, the last convention that I attended was at least ten years ago. I went there to see Luke Halpern of “Flipper” fame. It was quiet then and they were practically giving away his autograph.
This was something new.
I had decided to bring my Criterion “Godzilla” DVD and my Ultraman DVD, with the intent of getting them autographed. I have a number of autographed books (Stephen King, Clive Barker and Edward Gorey among them), so it seemed that getting DVDs signed was a natural progression. I was also thinking about getting Malcolm McDowell to autograph my copy of “A Clockwork Orange”, but I couldn’t seem to find it. I think one of the kids borrowed it.
The first thing I noted was the price. The autographs I wanted were $25 each. I was more surprised when someone ahead of me told me that that was cheap. Authors sign their books for free. The only cost is the price of the book. And that isn’t always the case. For King and Barker, I brought copies of books I already owned and they gladly signed them.
Stephen King, when he signed my copy of “Salem’s Lot” back in 1984, said he was working on a sequel to it. I’m still waiting.
I would find out that Neve Campbell’s autograph would start at $80 and Malcolm McDowell’s would range from $50 to $200, depending on what you had signed. I think Luke Halpern only cost me $5.
HTG and I got in line. He is not the autograph hound that I can be and was in line for two reasons. The first was to keep me company. The second was to meet Nakajima-san. Although he is a big Godzilla fan also, Nakajima was also in Akira Kurosawa’s seminal film, “Seven Samurai.”
HTG is a huge fan of Kurosawa. He is of the opinion that all film begins with Kurosawa; he just isn’t sure where “Metropolis” fits in the picture. His aim was to get Nakajima to say a line of dialog so he can brag that he and Kurosawa once worked with the same actor.
While in line, I began to look at the fans. It was interesting to note that most were younger than I was. It seemed that anyone my age was likely to be a dealer. I began to think about my years of being a fan.
I am only 55. I know that doesn’t seem old, but I could see that there were many at the Con who were still two or three decades away from that number. If you think about it, it was over 30 years since I stood in line for Stephen King at a B. Dalton Booksellers in Philadelphia. Not only is B. Dalton out of business, but the building it once occupied isn’t there anymore. Many of those in line with me were likely not even thought of thirty years ago.
When I was growing up, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were not only alive, but they were still starring in films that came to the first run theaters. Forrest J. Ackermann was still the editor of the “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine.
Television was only four channels, until we got the “rabbit ears” antenna and the number of stations we could watch exploded to seven! Anime on television, for which “cable” meant the power cord going from the back of the set to the outlet, was in black and white and had Americanized names for the characters. At that time, we likely could not have pronounced Naruto. He most likely would have been called Billy.
Comic books were only Marvel or DC. And there were no comic book shops. One had to go to the 7-Eleven and hope that they didn’t miss the new issue. Video games? I played “Pong” on a real ping-pong table.
I had seen all of the vendors in the other rooms before we got in line. I looked at the Funko Pop figures. Currently, I own three. Thirty years ago, I would have owned 33. I was surprised by the lack of comic books among the tables. Even more surprising were the number of homemade DVDs for movies and TV shows. I saw copies of two films that were ABC Movies of the Week back in the early seventies that I remembered fondly. Although there was a temptation to buy them, I could tell that the quality would not be great. I know that they had never, formally, come out on DVD.
The other things that I thought were cool like fake ID’s and key fobs for the Bates Motel, although inexpensive, would have ended up in a box somewhere. (My philosophy has become that if it’s just going to be put away, why buy it?) I was looking at the new “Big Bang Theory” Lego set. As I really don’t have anywhere to display it, it remains unpurchased.
I’m not writing this to point out that “kids today have it soft” or “kids in my day had it hard.” Neither is true. I really am fascinated by how much things have changed, and how the love for many of these institutions has remained, even grown since then. I was also surprised that I found myself looking back with a certain sense of loss as to those who I will never get the chance to stand in line for, or thank for my favorite childhood memories.
My time had finally come. I did my best to manage the amenities, by saying “hello” and “thank you” in Japanese. I had Nakajima-san sign the DVD. I also managed to get a picture taken with him. He is a sweet and patient man. HTG was also allowed to get a picture with Nakajima, even though he did not get an autograph. He told his interpreter to tell him that it was an honor to meet someone who worked with Kurosawa. At the mention of the name, Nakajima looked up at HTG quizzically and said “Kurosawa?” We think he may have been surprised that someone there knew about Kurosawa.
The line moved slower for Furuya-san. This was mostly due to a dealer at the head of the line, who had a number of plastic Ultraman statues that he was having signed. I am sure he turned a nice profit on them. We watched as Furuya would pose with each person, making the hand cross that Ultraman always made when he shot his death ray. He also corrected each person, so they got the stance right. He seemed very happy about the outpouring of fans to him. Needless to say, he also corrected me when my time came.
I didn’t get anything else while there. I remember other conventions where I came home with a full bag of swag and an empty wallet. But that “me” was a while ago. It was great to meet and to shake the hands of people who brought you great joy as a kid, even though they didn’t know it.
HTG and I topped the show off with a visit to the Japanese restaurant across the street from the hotel. Lunch was gyoza, miso soup and temaki. We wondered if any of the signers would stroll into the place for lunch. They didn’t.
I think these moments are necessary. As fans, just the sight of our heroes brings out the child in us. It reminds us of the fun that we’ve had. It opens up that little spot in our mind where we are still ten years old. It some cases, it opens that spot where some of us are still 25 years old.
There was once a store on South Street in Philly, which specialized in wind-up toys. Oddly enough, the place was called The Last Wound-up. Inside, they had a banner with some sage advice, that I think is still relevant, and should be an ongoing mantra for all you fans out there.