Friday, December 31, 2021

original Ron Wilson art from The Thing #20!

Let's talk for a moment about how weird the 1980s solo Thing series got before it ended. The series started out as you might expect, chronicling the exploits of Ben Grimm directly following the end of the Marvel Two-in-One series. It served as a companion series of sorts to the main Fantastic Four title for most of its first year and, for the most part, told traditional superhero tales in familiar FF surroundings. But as 1984 and the event series Secret Wars came to be, the title changed in location and in tone relatively dramatically.

At the end of the Secret Wars series, the Thing makes the decision to stay on the Battleworld planet created by the Beyonder, ostensibly to explore this new planet. For about a year, the Thing series attempted to explore the psyche of Ben Grimm instead, though, taking on many qualities of a fantasy adventure comic. The Thing fought classic literary monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein, and he found that he could change to his human form (mostly) at will.

During this time, the Thing met and fell in love with Tarianna, a redheaded warrior who co-starred in the book for a while. As the stories got stranger and stranger, it was finally revealed that Ben Grimm's traumatized psyche was transforming the planet and everyone on it - and that he was creating all of the people who populated the world. There were monstrous versions of the Thing, a mysterious "Grimm the Sorcerer," a moloid-like band of Takers, and the aforementioned Tarianna, whom Ben created to be his ideal partner. He later learned that she was based on his memories of Sharon Ventura, later Ms. Marvel.

This sci-fi/fantasy approach to the Thing, once it came to an end after Grimm returned to New York and, eventually, the Fantastic Four, has rarely be revisited or even mentioned, despite, or perhaps because, its wild departure from what readers were familiar with. Plainly said, it was a really weird time for the Thing, as a character and a series.

I was recently able to purchase a page of original art from this strange period for our hero. Here is it below!

At first glance, this might not look like a page from The Thing, but as we just learned, looks can be deceiving. This page features artwork from Thing stalwart Ron Wilson, with inks from Mike Gustovich and letters by John Morelli.

Here's the cover from this issue, #20, with the Thing's red/black outfit that came with the boots I dislike so much. The cover date on this was February of 1985.

Tarianna is featured heavily on this page. In the story, she's been captured by Grimm the Sorcerer and, in her mind, is journeying through Ben Grimm's distorted past. Here she meets a young Grimm who has broken a familiar-looking toy.

The toy's bottom half is the only appearance of the Thing in his rocky, heroic form on this page, and it's a rather obvious attempt at some psychological symbolism, as Grimm's emotional trauma and desire to heal is on display. The final panel on this page directly precedes Tarianna's triumphant escape from the sorcerer's trap.

All in all, this might seem like an pretty unremarkable page, especially in the context of what we usually know the Thing for, but I am excited to own it, if for nothing else than to grab a page from what is undeniably the strangest period of the Thing's long history.

Here's a quick peek at the back of the page, with the requisite copyright information. It also looks like someone was trying to figure out how to properly spell the word "intrigue"...or maying "intriguing"? Anyway, that word doesn't appear anywhere on this particular page, so we'll just have to leave this...intriguing detail for some other time.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

pictures from the 2021 Comic-Con Special Edition, part 1

Having Comic-Con return in November was a big deal for me. The timing - the weekend after Thanksgiving - was criticized by a number of people, and I get why, especially considering the large circumstances surrounding COVID and the holidays. But as soon as the convention was announced, I knew that I was going to try and be there, so on Thanksgiving day, I got on a plane for the first time since 2019 and flew to San Diego. The next day I went to Comic-Con Special Edition, and here are some pictures from that weekend! 

For the first time, I took the trolley into San Diego. In previous years, I had always rented a car, mostly because I was transporting others and so I could use it as a place to dump all of my many convention purchases while at the show. This time, I went by myself and I knew I wouldn't be buying as much, so I decided to give public transportation a try. It went pretty smoothly! And the train is a common sight around Comic-Con, so it was about time that I took a ride myself. I'm glad that I did.

I realize that the convention center is just a big concrete multipurpose structure, but I love its distinct look. It was great to see this place again.

Unlike most previous years, I attended this show as a professional and not an exhibitor, so I had no early access or special privileges. A few hours before the show floor opened, I made my way to the convention center, where I had to get a wristband that signified that I had been vaccinated. This was a very easy process, after which I went to pick up my show badge.

There were quite a few people walking the sidewalk in front of the convention center, but the number was vastly smaller than in recent years, where the closed-off street in front of the building would be swarming with people.

I picked up my badge in Hall H. I had never actually been in Hall H before! This was also the first show in a long while where people could just walk up and buy badges and enter on the same day. 

Here we are in Hall H. I followed the blue line on the floor to pick up my badge. Look at all of this space! It was incredible to see.

They pulled the Comic-Con photo background out of storage, I see.

I got in line about two hours before the show opened on Friday. There were probably a few hundred people in front of me, and soon the lines grew to the point where the hall was filled. This is the view behind me at around 11:30, a half hour before the show began.

Once the doors opened, I did my best brisk walk (no running!) through the aisles. It was markedly calm.

It probably took over an hour before it started to feel at all similar to Comic-Con. No one was in a rush to enter on Friday. The whole thing reminded my of my first year attending, in 2006. If you wanted to go somewhere and see something, you could do it without a crush of humanity standing between you and your destination.

There were also more than a few empty booths, where vendors hadn't set up yet. 

As you can see, there was no carpet this year at Comic-Con. I'm sure this was a cost-saving measure.

Before too long, though, more people made their way in, and things started to pick up just a little bit.

This show had more displays than, say, the New York Comic Con from October, though they were often more scaled back. I think I've seen this Iron Man before, but I don't care. It was still fun to see some of the Comic-Con extravagance I'm used to!

Some updated Special Edition banners hung from the ceiling.

These hallways are usually packed with people in costume. 

The Comic-Con lines made a modest return, and I did my best to get in some of them. This one is for autograph tickets and wound around the back of the convention center!

There was a total of one big outside banner this year, for the HBO show The Peacemaker.

Perhaps the most important vendor of all returned for 2021 - THE TACO TRUCK! I was so glad to see this food truck. It was like seeing a friend. I ordered a burrito.

I took a lot of pictures of the signs. I do not apologize.

Friday wasn't a big day for costumes, but there were still some to see. Dr. Strange's floating cloak was well done.

Hall A was the most sparsely populated area of the convention center. To fill up some space, the convention set up these canvases to take pictures in front of.

There were still a number of big, impressive displays on the show floor. I have no idea what this one was for, but still...there it is.

Star Trek actor Brent Spinner had an autograph signing for his new book! I was able to get a ticket by getting in line and then going back through the line three times. Spiner remarked at how stupid he felt getting pictures taken when you couldn't see most of anyone's faces. But this was my first Comic-Con in over two years, so hey - we're taking the picture.

There was a big and impressive Pac Man booth on the show floor, there to promote the upcoming Pac Man Museum video game.

The booth had a few displays, but was mostly set up as a way to let attendees play the new game!

This was a popular booth for the duration of the show, and one of the few booths with long wait times to enter. I did get to play the game for a while at the end of one day.

Are...are these...more Stranger Things "Scoops Ahoy" costumes? After all this time? It's like going home again.

For the first time, I finally found enough time to volunteer at the California Browncoats booth while at the show. They're a constant presence at this convention and they had an enormous booth this time around. It was a lot of fun spending time with these folks.

Here's a vaccinated Rosie the Riveter!

Look. I like taking pictures of these signs.

The Funko booth took up the most space on the show floor without question. They had a big chunk of Hall A to themselves, and they made the most of it, with two big display booths, long lines, a gameshow activity area and a DJ that played really loud music nearly the entire time (you could hear it all the way on the other end of the convention hall). I never tried to get a wristband to get some of the more hard-to-find exclusives, but I did manage to sneak in line on Friday, near the end of the day.

And here's a place where you could...slay...some demons. I think.

There was absolutely more Squid Game paraphernalia at the show than anything else. I can only imagine what it would have been like if this were a more normal year. Maybe there would have been actually Squid Games, with actual murdering.

I went to a few panels this year! This one was a Family Feud game hosted by the San Diego public library. I guess I was sitting behind Wayne and Garth?

Here's a guy who kept his mustache, just as Cesar Romero would have wanted.

The weather this weekend was, as you might expect, lovely. It was in the 70s and mild every day. The big difference from this and the July shows is that it was already dark by the time the show ended on Friday and Saturday.

I took a walk through a much quieter Gaslamp district on both Friday and Saturday. The streets were still blocked off most of the way, and there was a lot more outdoor dining happening, which I believe is a new permanent fixture.

Bait, which had the giant Squid Game display on the show floor, also had an offsite shop open during the convention. In true Comic-Con fashion, the line for this place was outrageous and the main store feature was buying things, so I waked by and didn't attempt to get in.

But I did get a picture of this Batman thing in one of the windows!

One of the few outside exhibits was a promotion for the NBC show "La Brea." It was closed by the time I walked by, but here it is, all lit up. I would get to go through the exhibit on Saturday.

This Klingon looks familiar. Maybe he's part of my house? It's always possible. This noble warrior waited for the train like all of us as the first night of Comic-Con came to an end. It was noticeably smaller than in years prior, but I still had a lot of fun (and bought a bunch of stuff, proving that some things never change). There'll be more pictures to come soon!

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Is this the greatest Thing costume of all time?

I walked the halls of the 2021 Rhode Island Comic Con and saw the rocky visage of Ben Grimm looking back at me.

The Thing is a tough costume to pull off. It's a big, bulky, full-body costume, with detailed, segmented rocks over most of the figure. I always appreciate it if an attempt is made, and I've seen a number of different tactics: lycra orange body suits with the rocks drawn on, a mask with a hat and trench coat doing most of the work, and exoskeleton-looking armor that clanks around when the person underneath moves. But this costume from this year's RICC is by far the best I've ever seen:

The level of detail, the individualized rocks and the round, somehow natural proportions set this amazing costume apart from any other I've ever seen. The time spent on details like skin tone, fingers and teeth make this a true work of art.

Needless to say, I was flabbergasted when I saw this guy at a relatively small show, looking his orange best and saying hello to all of the passers-by. Our eyes locked. I knew that this was someone I wanted to get to know. He was helping attract attention to a charity booth. I was able to get a picture and chat for a little while, but I didn't want to take up too much his time, so I followed up later when he was out of costume.Thing

Here I am with Bob, the man behind the suit. As you might hope, Bob was a great guy who loves the Thing so much that he decided to make the costume. Bob doesn't have a team of helpers or any professional background - he just went to work with a fabric base and foam accents, using a few layers of spray paint for the rocks.

Bob mentioned that he was local to the area and hadn't traveled much with the suit, but that he had taken it to the New York Comic Con once, and this sparked a memory from a couple years ago. I think it was 2018 or '19 at NYCC: I was riding the train back to New Jersey with several other con-goers, one of whom was playing a video of that year's costume contest. I was eavesdropping watching the video as it played across the aisle, when I saw an absolutely amazing Thing costume on display. If I remember correctly, it was a second-place winner, which is a travesty of justice and very much a revoltin' development.

Bob was really friendly and just an overall nice guy. I asked him if he had any social media channels that I could follow, and he said no - which, if we're being honest, is probably what Ben Grimm would do, too. I was so excited to meet him and wanted to prove my own Thing bona fides, so brought along my Thing sketchbook to show him. If I ever see him again, I have to figure out a way to get him to do something in the sketchbook. Glue a piece of foam? Spray paint some orange rocks? I'm still figuring it out, but I do know that he's a guy who deserves a place in the book, and some wider recognition for his amazing skills with this, the best Thing costume I've ever seen.