“The Circus is in town! The Circus is in town! The Circus is in town!”
Back in the days of Pulp Fiction, Barnum and Bailey’s Big Top was all the rage…from strongmen to sword swallowers to lions, tigers, and bears oh my!
You may think the days of the Big Top are gone…but you’re wrong!
The Circus is still with us in today’s world…
These days, we call it Comic Con!
WHAT I LEARNED ON CREDIT
I stumbled upon the absolute good fortune to attend the Motor City Comic this year in Novi, MI, held from May 13-15, 2022 AD.
At the start of the week I had no idea that the Modern Day Circus would be setting up shop close to my humble abode. I found out in the strangest of ways…
While visiting some old friends at my former place of employment, a former co-worker by the name of Fred…the greatest credit card salesman this side of the US-Canada Border…revealed to me in great excitement that he received tickets to see the man many know as Capt. Kirk…
The space-faring Shakespearean star William Shatner himself!
I cocked a brow and narrowed my gaze quizzically.
“Where are you going to see him at?” I intoned.
“At the Motor City Comic Con this weekend at the Suburban Showplace in Novi!” he blurted out.
Behind square black glasses my blue eyes gleamed.
I had weekend plans!
I’LL KEEP MY ARM AND LEG
I had no interest in seeing William Shatner. I sure like the guy, and it’d be a treat to meet him…but not to the tune of an arm and a leg!
The same went for fellow celebrity guests like Danny Trejo and Jamie Kennedy.
While I sure do laugh at Daddy Day Care 2, Malibu’s Most Wanted, and most especially Kickin’ It Old School, I don’t laugh hard enough to give up my appendages to meet their stars!
No, I had a different goal in mind…
THE STORY BEHIND THE SAFARI
My plan in attending Comic Con was to go on a safari of sorts. To get the lay of the land, feel the atmosphere of the room…the energy, the people, the products.
What characters captured the imaginations of the Con’s thrill seekers?
What costumes were they wearing to pay tribute to these super-powered alter egos?
What comics, books, and memorabilia were being sold by the vendors to the vast mass of humanity teeming within the convention center’s towering concrete walls?
And most importantly, who were the creators? The writers, the illustrators, the visionaries?
What were their passions?
What was their process?
What was their story?
Their “story behind the stories”, if you will!
GET YOUR EYES OFF ME, YOU DANG, DIRTY SNAKE!
Upon entering the ticket gates I was not disappointed…everything from Vikings to Stormtroopers to Harley Quinns were all present.
Lots of Freddy Krugers, Michael Meyers, and Screams all made their ghostly visages known down the haunted convention halls.
There were many Anime Characters I did not know.
But one convention-goer would forever remain imprinted upon my mind…
Why, you ask?
For around his neck was coiled a red-eyed, sallow-scaled white albino snake, its sickly pink tongue flicking in morbid delight…
And this snake was a living thing!
It was no prop!
I will tell you now that the old stories are true…
When you see a snake and look into its crimson eyes, it will momentarily transfix you in shock and dread…
Closer and closer it comes, until your wits return and you quickly and deftly step aside!
OUT OF THE CAGE
After my misadventure with the serpent I quickly by-passed the Escape Room exhibit.
While I love Charlton Heston’s heroic defiance in Planet of the Apes far, far more than the next guy, I figured I didn’t need to be locked in a cage while literal zoo animals ran around outside free and untamed!
It just didn’t feel right…
So instead I browsed the vendor halls…there were the old comics that I loved…the John Carters, the Sgt. Rocks, the Black Hawks.
They were aimed at the older generation, the Boomers, the demographic I grew up around and admire greatly.
One got the sense that they were aging cowboys, the last of their dying breed, riding what’s left of the range as the railroad ramrods through the once vast and pristine wilderness prairie of the imaginative mind.
Then there were the “trinkets”…all manner of action figures, toys, statues, and memorabilia. Star Wars was well-represented, with figurines dating from the GenX days of the 70s and 80s on up through my own childhood of the 90s and 2000s.
Days that seemed not so long ago to me are now fast fading history in the collective mind, and it seemed to me that the appeal of these “trinkets” to the convention-goers is that they act as a conduit to a simpler time that is quickly slipping a way into the mists of the forgotten past.
My 7 year old brother?
He just thought the legos were cool!
MERMAN, FATHER! MERMAN!
Deeper and deeper into this jungle of the imagination I treaded as I weaved my way through the vendor hall.
There were the stage prop swords, forged of glittering “steel and chrome” as Sinatra sang, and in all manner of styles.
Battle axes, broadswords, daggers, and kimuras…they could all be yours for the price of that existing arm and leg you’re hobbling around with after giving the first pair to see Shatner!
There were the $1 and $2 and $10 and $20 bins of comics of long ago past from every era under the sun up to today, arranged in white cardboard boxes in far-reaching rows, their contents chronicling the history of the medium so beloved amongst the convention-goers past, present, and future alike.
There were the leather works and the brass works, the pocket watches and pimp canes, the Role Playing Games and the Custom 20-sided die.
There were Christmas Ornaments of Mermen…yes, Mermen!…and even a twin silk sheet print flags of Robert Downey Jr. languidly lounging upon a beach shirtless…with octopus tentacles sprawled out upon the sand in place of where his legs should be!
With so many depictions of Mermen around, I couldn’t help but think Derek Zoolander’s dad would have been proud!
One thing was for sure:
PT Barnum in his heyday had nothing on Comic Con!
THE ICEBERG YOU DON’T SEE
My sojourns so far had led me to see many strange things, and yet I felt as if I were no closer to the most important of my goals…
Understanding the passions, processes, and stories behind the creators present at this madhouse menagerie.
You see, everyone has a story. When you meet a person at this present point in their lives, all you are seeing is the tip of the iceberg.
But years of hard labor, research, experimentation, and yes, most important of all, imagination…all these things led them up to this point.
And the path through all these things for each person is unique.
When a creator makes something…a book, a picture, a song, anything, they put a little piece of their soul into it.
It was these souls I wanted to dig deep to understand.
HOW I LEARNED WHAT NEITZSCHE KNEW
Audra was the first vendor I came across. Her paintings drew me to her booth immediately…at first glance they were old-time landscape paintings, of river valleys and mountain crags and cabins in snow storms.
You know the type.
They were the kind of comforting, Hudson River School-esque paintings in the Romantic Tradition that the ivory tower overlords of today’s Art World derisively label “Kitsch.”
The kind of beauties long forgotten and relegated to languish in dust-laden antique stores and deep-fried Cracker Barrels like Prometheus chained to the rock upon the Mountains of Armenia.
But these paintings…they were Kitsch with a twist!
For in each image, a Lovecraftian creature burst upon the canvas in a clawing, sprawling, gaping invasion, disturbing the tranquility of the natural homestead scenery!
I eyed the scene before me quizzically.
There was Cthula, that many tentacled devil in deep dark crimson blasting through a moonlit river.
There he was again, in iconographic format, its flesh painted in pink upon a field of green stretched across a vast canvas.
And then there was something else.
Ever more quizzically my gaze narrowed as I advanced to comprehend the thing before.
It was some manner of blasphemy cast in black outline, with the towering lanky, sulking body of man dragging its slender yet powerful limbs upon the snow, a moose’s skull and antlers atop its bony shoulders in place of a head.
Its dark eyes stared out from the distance of the canvas like deep wells of formless death, gazing darkly into the viewer’s soul.
Strange and formless I felt myself looking upon it, like an astronaut gazing into the suffocating blackness of all-consuming space.
I knew then Audra had captured in oil upon the canvas the truth that Neitzsche had captured in words upon the page:
“When you look into the darkness, the darkness looks back into you.”
THE TRUTH AUDRA POSSESED
Quickly I shifted my gaze from this devilry and a steely feeling of serenity returned to me. I had broken the image’s grip upon my soul.
As Dracula himself said to Jonathan Harker, something dark can have power over you only if you let it.
A pleasant feeling of kinship suddenly overcame me and my blue eyes gleamed happily.
“You like Lovecraft,” I asked.
“Yes I do!” said Audra knowingly. She had found a fellow fan.
“That’s fantastic!” I said. “Now–do you like Conan the Barbarian?”
“I do! I am a big Robert E. Howard fan!”
“That is absolutely fantastic!” I said. “I absolutely love Pulp Fiction! Lovecraft, he’s great, but he’s a little dark and scary for me!”
“Sometimes it is good to be scared!”
“Indeed it is!” I grinned.
For across my mind flashed an eternal truth.
STEELY SERENE DELIGHT
I couldn’t help but think you have got to have a bad guy for the heroes to slay. And as we have documented many times on The Pulp Fiction Renaissance Podcast, Lovecraft was the master of the bad guys.
But it was Robert E. Howard who was the master of the hero…valiantly resisting the forces of darkness with gleaming eyes and steely swords.
H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard were two sides of the same coin. The real life friends and fellow writer’s need each other’s imagination to keep the action in their stories going.
And these pictures before me masterfully captured that Lovecraftian side of the coin in a way that other images at this convention couldn’t.
They represented a world of beauty savagely invaded by the forces of Predatory darkness.
In its deliciously symbolic form, these pictures perfectly captured the reality of the world when evil bursts upon the scene and disturbs Order’s tranquility.
And while I don’t root for the bad guy, I know that it takes a Predatory ambush to set up the big showdown for the Noble Honor-based Hero to set things right again!
For me, these images represented the opening scenes of the eternal tales of the Confrontational Western Warriors of Old.
My blue eyes gleamed happily in steely serene delight.
And for this weekend it would not be the last time.