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Con Gestion

Work is soon to start on a massive expansion of the convention center in San Diego. Assuming Comic-Con remains there after the current contract expires, which is what I assume, it will allow even more people to attend and for those who do attend to not be as crowded. However, according to this article, there could be some inconvenience before the expansion is completed.

By the way: I may be alone in this but this year, though there were theoretically as many admissions as ever, the hall did not feel as crowded to me as it usually does. Now, granted…

  1. I am 6'3" and rather wide and I walk with great purpose and a GUEST badge on my chest. So even with my imperfect knees, I may still have an easier time getting around that hall than others.
  2. I'm upstairs a lot doing panels. I didn't even set foot in the main hall on Sunday. And…
  3. I have the good sense to stay away from some of the more congested areas, especially those relating to gaming and videogames. There's a reason it's impossible to get through those aisles and this is it: They want it that way. The gaming exhibitors want everyone in the business to see that their product is so hot and awesome that their booth is mobbed all day…and they design their exhibitions and plan giveaways with that in mind. It would not surprise me if booth managers have been fired because it was possible to get through the aisles around their display. Don't venture over there and then complain to me that it's impossible to move. That's like going to a Gallagher concert and whining that you got watermelon juice all over your pants.

I have more to say about Sunday at the con and about the con in general. I'll try to finish up the report later tonight.

The World's Foremost 100 Year Old Comedian

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Two days ago, comic "Professor" Irwin Corey hit the age of 100, thereby making him about as old as a lot of people thought he was, thirty years ago. I wish some of his funnier talk show appearances were still available for viewing. He was always hysterical even though he had a tendency to make a shambles of any show foolish enough to invite him on. I remember Mike Douglas just sitting there, unable to ad-lib or even comprehend what was becoming of his program…but the audience was laughing too hard to call a halt to any of it. That's probably why no one's had him on since Mike Douglas went off.

Corey still gets around, performing occasionally and giving interviews. When he isn't doing that, he's been known to walk the streets of New York, panhandling like a common beggar…but he takes all the money he collects and donates it to worthwhile charities. Nice to know that at his age, he can afford to do that. Here's a little preview of a birthday party for him that has since occurred. Funny man.

Today's Video Link

Mr. Sondheim's "Instructions to the Audience"…

Recommended Reading

As Mark Joseph Stern explains, the folks arguing against Gay Marriage have pretty much run out of any argument beyond, "We don't like the whole idea of it." Which is not something that can or should fly with the courts. In fact, it's the same argument I'd have to use if I ever launched a campaign to ban cole slaw. I may still try it.

The Stupidest Thing A Human Being Could Do

Trust Dick Morris with their retirement income.

That this man still has an audience (and an occasional place on Fox News and other Conservative media outlets) is stunning. When I write here that right-wingers are being gouged by pundits who get rich telling them what they want to hear…this is the kind of thing I have in mind.

Sunday at the Con With Mark

Charles Kochman

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Photo by Bruce Guthrie

The photo above is from this year's Jack Kirby Tribute Panel at Comic-Con and the guy in it is Charlie Kochman, editorial director at Harry N. Abrams Books. Charlie is my friend and editor — two designations that do not always go together — and he's showing a mock-up of that new book I assembled for his firm, The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio. As I've said, I'll write more about it when we're closer to its release date.

I always enjoy the Sunday morn Kirby panel at the convention.  This year's featured, along with Charlie, Len Wein, Scott Shaw! and a gent named Paul S. Levine, who is the attorney for Lisa Kirby, trustee of the Rosalind Kirby Trust. We sat and talked of Jack for 75 minutes, which is always fun.

Following those 75 minutes, I had to scurry over to Room 6A, which is one of the big ones, to do Cartoon Voices II, and I need to explain something here. As Moderator of many panels, I have many duties. You can kinda figure out what I do in terms of introducing panelists and posing questions to them…but as I tell people who ask, the two toughest parts of my job there are (a) getting the panel to start on time and (b) getting the panel to end on time. The latter is pretty simple: You just watch the clock, know when you're supposed to be outta there and start wrapping things up when you're within about five minutes of that moment.

Starting on time is tougher. Panelists may be late. There may be some set-up that takes time. (At Quick Draw!, we have to place and configure those projectors that put what the artists draw onto the big screens.) And then there's the most likely problem, especially in the big rooms: The panel before may just not care about finishing on time. Or they may think (wrongly) that just because they somehow started ten minutes late that they're entitled to go ten minutes into the next panel's time. I have occasionally had to get nasty about this…which is rare for me. I almost never get nasty about anything but I do it for having my panels start more or less on time. One year, I had to threaten to cancel Quick Draw! and blame them to get the preceding panel to vacate the stage.

So as I entered 6A, someone on the con staff says to me, "They're going to go over," referring the the preceding panel which was still going on. I didn't know what the panel was but I said, "No, they aren't." I didn't care what it was or why but I was steeling myself to get nasty and to demand they finish on time. And then I saw what the panel was…

It was Cookie Monster.

On the stage were three Muppeteers from Sesame Street — Eric Jacobson, who was operating Grover; Joey Mazzarino who does Murray Monster and David Rudman, the current operator of Cookie Monster. The moderator was Chris Hardwick, who hosts the @midnight show on Comedy Central — all folks I think are terrific. I met Eric on the set of a Muppets taping back in 2008 and told him how good I thought he was. I wrote about that here.

Well, I don't know about you but I don't have the heart to throw Cookie Monster off a stage, especially a stage on which he and Grover are entertaining a roomful of very young children and their parents. I'd throw DC Comics or Marvel or Lucasfilm or even one of my own employers off…but not Cookie Monster. I decided that just this once, maybe my panel didn't have to start on time.

They had a couple of kids waiting at the audience microphone to ask questions and I figured to let them finish. Before they could, a lady who worked for the con in that room, ran up and began doing her job. Perhaps because she knew how militant I was about panels finishing on time, she grabbed the mike and told them there wasn't time for the people who'd been waiting in line, probably for quite some time, to ask their questions. The audience groaned and booed…and I yelled out that they could go over.

Chris Hardwick announced from the stage that the next panel had generously agreed to allow them to finish and there was a big cheer. And then Chris did something wise and classy. In a non-condescending way, he reminded the kids present that the lady they'd booed didn't deserve that; that she was just doing her job and enforcing the rules. I thought that was very smart of him, turning the moment into a teachable one, perhaps helping the children present learn something about following the rules and about cooperation. Anyway, it just felt nice to me.

The last questions were answered. The last one was a young man who wanted to know when there'd be a transgender Muppet — which is what I always thought Ms. Piggy was — and then it was over. I wish I'd seen all of that panel because what I did see was wonderful.

In the curtained-off backstage area, someone from Sesame Street thanked me and I introduced myself to David Rudman. I really think he and Eric are amazing. It's tough enough to just do an impression of someone as gifted as Frank Oz — to sound enough like him that it won't jar when they intersperse newly-recorded segments with his old ones, as they do on Sesame Street. Just the match is impressive. But then the new guy has to also give a performance in someone else's skin, being funny and (in this case) ad-libbing in character without losing that match. That is very difficult and Messrs. Rudman and Jacobson are amazing at it.

As I was speaking to David, a photographer started snapping photos of us. Instinctively, I guess, he brought up the Cookie Monster puppet to get into the shot and Eric came over and added Grover to the mix. Here's the photo of me, two of my favorite characters and two superb puppet performers. I was a lot happier about this than I appear to be in this picture. (Like I told you earlier, I was exhausted for the entire convention.)

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Photo by Bruce Guthrie

Within moments, they were gone and I had to set up for Cartoon Voices II. I host two Cartoon Voices panels at each Comic-Con and I've been doing this long enough to lose count. The following statement is selfless because I am not the reason but they have all been good and some have been outstanding. This one, I think, was the best. The panelists were Gregg Berger, Vanessa Marshall, Fred Tatasciore, Debra Wilson, Robin Atkin Downes and the surprise addition, late in the proceedings, of Bill Farmer. And by that, I mean it was not just a surprise to the audience that I brought up the voice of Goofy. It was a surprise to Bill, too. I saw him seated in the front row and decided our reading of the story of "Snow White" could use an extra performer.

For the last umpteen Cartoon Voice panels, including the one the day before, I have the panelists read (and enhance with their performances) this lame script of "Snow White" I found. I announced at the outset of Sunday's reading that this would be the last-ever time I'd use that script and as it turned out, I'm not sure I can use it again. When you see the video, you'll know why. Everyone on the panel was brilliant but I'm sure the others won't mind if I single out a stellar performance by Debra Wilson in the title role.

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That's Gregg Berger and the two ladies next to him are Vanessa Marshall (top) and Debra Wilson (below). I'm in the back, Bill Farmer's in the front and then we have Robin Atkin Downes and Fred Tatasciore. Yet another photo by Bruce Guthrie.

Debra drove down to the con that day on her motorcycle and hit some freakish California weather, en route. After three thunderstorms, she was drenched to the skin but like a good trouper, she still took the stage, wet and shivering. Other panelists and several audience members donated articles of clothing and she pressed on, delivering a stunning and hilarious display of talent. The other folks had been on my panels before so we knew how good they were. Debra, on her first panel, was a delightful discovery.

There are some partial videos of the panel on YouTube. They were shot with handheld Smartphones and have weak audio and I suggest you not watch them as they don't do the panel justice. I know of a good one that's coming and I'll embed it when it's there. Trust me on this.

And I have to go get some stuff done so I'll tell you more about Sunday in the next posting.

Today on Stu's Show!

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Today (Wednesday) is Stu Shostak's big season-ender…the last broadcast before Stu's Show goes on a well-deserved hiatus. His guest is our pal Jerry Beck, who is one of the world's greatest authorities on animation and he'll be discussing, among other topics, what cartoons we can expect to see released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the coming months. Tune in. Listen. Enjoy.

Stu's Show can be heard live today at the Stu's Show website and you can listen for free there. The webcast starts at 4 PM Pacific Time, 7 PM Eastern and other times in other climes, and runs a minimum of two hours and sometimes three or beyond.  Shortly after a show ends, it's available for downloading from the Archives on that site. Downloads are a paltry 99 cents each and you can get four for the price of three.  So if you miss today's show, you can still hear it. It's just gonna cost.

Mark's Latest Battle

Some time ago here, I recommended — because it was working pretty well back then — the Avast Anti-Virus program. I would like to withdraw that recommendation. The program has started flagging false positives, trying to delete programs that I know are not infected. They also have a module that when employed, insists on popping up from time to time and demanding that you change your home page to Bing. This is the kind of annoyance that your Total Internet Security packages are supposed to eliminate, not initiate.

The last straw came last week when I was trying to solve a tech problem with them. They have a 24/7 Tech Support line which is manned by people who don't seem to know their product very well. Because I wasn't getting anywhere without doing so, I let one of them have remote access to my computer so he could perhaps fix something and all he could do was (a) try to delete any competitor's product I had on my computer and (b) convince me with double-talk that my computer needs an expensive tune-up from the Avast company.

It was at that point that I decided to part ways with the Avast people and I'm finding that to be quite difficult. The only departments you can reach on the phone are Tech Support and Billing, and no one there can tell you anything about cancellation except to steer you to a hard-to-find crevice of their website so you can submit an online Support Ticket. (There is a section there where you're supposed to be able to manage your subscriptions online but though every other part of their enterprise recognizes my e-mail address as valid, that section doesn't so I can't do anything there.)

I almost don't mind the program not working well. I mind a lot that they make it so difficult to cancel…and impossible to talk to anyone who can help with that. When I pick software from now on, I'm not only going to research which one will work best for my needs, I'm also going to look into how easy any program that involves a subscription is to get rid of.

There will be more posts about the Avast problem as things develop.

Koo Koo Roo, R.I.P.

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For some time now on this blog, I've been predicting the extinction of the Koo Koo Roo chain, a (mostly) Southern California concern that served very healthy "fast food." Outlet after outlet has closed over the last decade or two and last time I wrote about them, I think there were only three left. That's down from a high of 38. Two more closed and then in the last week or so, the last one — which was out in Santa Monica — went away and I see the company website has also disappeared. The S.M. location is turning into a Fuddrucker's, the hamburger chain owned by the same corporation.

I'm assuming that's the end of Koo Koo Roo, though I wonder if anyone will salvage their signature menu item, which was a great skinless grilled chicken, marinated in a top secret recipe of fruit and vegetable juices. Most outlets also had fresh roast turkey and a few other entree items, all available with an array of great, fresh side dishes. I thought the food was great but there were a lot of problems over on the business side. The company kept being sold and reorganized and you had various new managers introducing new menu items that somehow didn't fit in and, well, it sure wasn't hard to predict the demise of this chain. At one point, Lee Iacocca — the CEO of Ford and later Chrysler — was the guy in charge and he sure didn't save them.

I'll write a longer post soon for our sister site, www.oldlarestaurants.com. I think I need to sort out the chain of owners and that could take some time. Maybe some reporter will research and compose a fitting obituary and save me the time. After they closed the one nearest me, I could never quite get out to the surviving two stores so I already miss those places.

Today's Video Link

An interview with David Copperfield. It's a little about the "business" of magic but more about his inspirations…

Monday Evening

Comic-Con 2014 is behind us, it's time to start planning for 2015…and I'm home. I'll post a report on my Sunday either later tonight or tomorrow morning but right now, I've decided to go public with a minor matter. Several folks who saw me at the con wrote to say they were concerned I looked exhausted and maybe not well. This is about nothing that won't go away on its own in a couple of days but, yes, I was exhausted. I was exhausted before the con, too. Every so often, it happens…a combination of Too Much To Do and Not Enough Sleep.

I get like that once a year or so, if that often, and ordinarily I'm back to M.E. before you know it. Oddly enough, the best way for me to relax is not to take a break from writing but to just write what I feel like writing at the moment, which is usually stuff which I may or may not ever offer to a publisher or producer. Writing on this blog is also nourishing, especially things like those essays about my family. Unfortunately, the timing didn't work this time. Instead of taking a few days off to do that, I had to get packed, go to San Diego, host 11 panels, be on two more, present three awards, accept one for someone else, do one signing, do four interviews, take three business meetings, etc. And I don't sleep well at cons because my brain is already introducing tomorrow's panels.

So, yeah, I looked beat. I felt beat, too. But I assure you I'm fine…or will be by the time this week is over, and I thank all those who wrote in to express concern.

And I had two other problems. One was my right knee. One of the smarter things I've done in my life was to get that Cortisone shot in it last Tuesday. They take 24-48 hours to "kick in" and mine miraculously began working about the time I had to walk to the convention hall Wednesday evening for Preview Night. Still, neither knee was always functioning properly.

Other problem: Because of said knees, I decided to secure space in the hall so I'd have a place to sit between panels. Big mistake. There are many people in my profession who can do things I cannot do like drawing and coloring and inking. Another is to sit behind a table at a con. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I may have to learn to tolerate this when I get older but I discovered this year how much I don't want to do that. By early Friday, I'd abandoned my spot and if people wanted their copies of Groo Vs. Conan #1 signed, they had to catch me while I was in Roaming mode.

Anyway, that's why I looked like one of those zombie cosplayers but without makeup. And I want to apologize to several folks I promised to talk to and didn't get around to visiting with like David Spurlock, Thom Zahler and Arlen Schumer. This won't happen next year…I hope.

Go Read This…

Guy walks into a bar…

Late Night Stuff

Back in this post, I predicted that Stephen Colbert would not do his new Letterman-replacing Late Show from the Ed Sullivan Theater, at least at first. Well, it's been announced he will. I'm curious how that will work. I figured Colbert would need a new set and a major building renovation, plus time to just plain move in and then do some practice shows from his new stage. I also figured CBS would want Dave to do his last show on a Friday and then have Stephen commence the following Monday so as not to concede the time slot for several weeks with Letterman reruns or some sort of filler programming. Let's see how they manage this.

And I may also have been wrong with my prediction that Colbert would do his first show on March 2 so Dave's last show could close out the February sweeps rating period. Letterman writer Bill Scheft on his blog recently posted…

THE SHOW has ten months left, give or take a week. I am just focusing on the journey and not the destination, which a Zen-like way of saying I’m repressing. That said, I am thrilled with the news Stephen Colbert will be doing his version at the Ed Sullivan Theater because all the union guys will be retained. I continue to be amazed at the number of people, and people who should know better, assuming I will be going to work for Colbert, like it’s GM just getting a new President. That has now morphed into people, the same people, asking me if the Colbert people are in the building yet. Yeah, I got a file cabinet and a rack of his suits in my office.

Ten months suggests the May sweeps…which perhaps not coincidentally is when the last Johnny Carson Tonight Show occurred. Colbert's last Comedy Central show is just before this year's Christmas break so he might be off the air for more than six months.

Go Read This!

Elaine Stritch left us twelve pieces of advice for creative folks.

Sunday Morning at Comic-Con

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The Cartoon Voice Panel, photo by Bruce Guthrie: Jim Cummings, Sherry Lynn, Arif S. Kinchen, David Sobolov, Colleen O'Shaugnessy, Josh Keaton, me in the back.

Quick Draw! seemed to go well yesterday. Sergio Aragonés, Scott Shaw! and Floyd Norman drew rapidly and humorously. They were joined for one game by three more cartoonists — Bill Morrison, Carol Lay and Tom Yeates. To play our "Secret Words" game, I brought up two funny friends of mine — actor-writer Jim Staahl and Simpsons scribe Tom Gammill. Tom more or less took over the proceedings, which is kinda what I expected.

The Cartoon Voices panel went well, too. We had Jim Cummings, David Sobolov, Sherry Lynn, Arif S. Kinchen, Colleen O'Shaugnessy and Josh Keaton, all of whom have some wonderful credits and of course the talent to destroy (in a good sense) the script I handed them to read. Today at the second Cartoon Voices panel, the cast will be reading the same script — "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" — and then I plan to retire it…to the probable cheers of those who attend these panels.

I spoke briefly on a panel for Abrams ComicArts about The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio, a forthcoming book of art from back when Joe Simon and Jack Kirby not only wrote and drew great comics together but hired others to work with them doing this. I'll tell you more about it one of these days.

Due to overlapping panels, I left that one, which was deliberately placed as far as possible from my next one, and hustled over to moderate "That 70's Panel" all about comics from that decade. We had on the dais Elliott S! Maggin, Steve Leialoha, Walt Simonson, Louise Simonson, Anthony Tollin and Len Wein. It seemed like a pretty interesting panel but I can't think of anything to quote here other than this: When all of us got into comics, it was widely predicted that the industry didn't have long to live; that plunging sales would soon doom the form. At a time before anyone invented Direct Sales Distribution, that was a pretty sound prediction and we all to some extent believed that. All but Len Wein. Len said — and this is an approximate quote — "I was always certain comics would survive because I wanted them to survive." Happily for us all, he was right.

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The 70's Panel: Front row is Steve Leialoha, then Walt and Louise Simonson. Back row is me, Elliott S! Maggin, Tony Tollin and Len Wein. Photo by Bruce Guthrie.

In the evening, I went to parties and such. Downtown San Diego was so busy that Uber declared one of its "surges" where their rates go up due to a shortage of drivers on the road. Last time I looked, they were charging 2.75 times their usual fares, making them actually more expensive than cabs.

On the way back to my hotel after my last panel of the day &;mdash; this was before the parties and such — I witnessed something disturbing. A gent dressed as a "serious" barbarian — but who seemed to have the I.Q. and concern for humanity of Groo — was wielding a realistic plastic sword, swinging it about, apparently under the impression that since it was plastic, he could not possibly hurt anyone. I saw him come darn close (too close) to unknowingly sticking it in the eye of a small child in a passing stroller. Another two inches to the left would have done it and it was just chance that no injury occurred. Just chance.

I really like the cosplayers. Most of them show ingenuity and talent and passion. I do sometimes tire of hearing people who only know Comic-Con from news segments on TV assume that everyone at the con must be costumed because that's all the news camera usually show. Still, I think the con would be greatly diminished without those who dress up as characters. (Though I will admit: I've never quite understood the urge, either at cons or at Halloween, to make oneself up as a zombie or walking dead. In my entire life, I've never thought, "Gee, I'd enjoy looking as repulsive and sickening as possible.")

The best one I saw today — and if anyone got a photo of him I can post, please send it to me — was a gent in a Star Wars storm trooper suit, only just from the neck down. His head was covered by a Cookie Monster mask. Very funny. About 95% of the cosplayers are terrific.

All that said, I think it's time someone also said this: About 5% are spectacularly inconsiderate of others. Swinging around a plastic sword in a crowd is bad enough but to do it around kids in strollers? I think some of that body makeup has closed off the pores that feed oxygen to the brain.

Can someone please tell these people that a guy with a Smartphone who says, "Hey, can I get a picture of you?" does not give you the right to suddenly stop in the middle of an aisle and block traffic for your photo-op? I've been seeing a lot of near pile-ups at the con because these folks don't even look around to see what hazards or congestion they're creating. Twice yesterday, I had to play Unappointed Traffic Cop and suggest someone take two steps to the side to pose so that wheelchairs and scooters for the disabled could get through.

But of course, the guy with the plastic sword bothered me more. When I pointed out to him what he'd almost done, he just shrugged and said, "Hey, it's plastic, man," with an unspoken subtext of "Hey, don't bother me! I'm Conan!"

A dealer at the Phoenix Comic Convention told me he hated the cosplayers and wished conventions would oust them. He said, approximately, "They clog the aisles in front of my booth and make it difficult for customers to see my wares, and none of them ever buy anything. They're just here to get attention. Hell, most of them don't even have pockets and wallets!" I don't side with that guy. I think they're great and so what if they don't buy anything? And like I said, 95% of them do it right. I just think 5% of them need to learn some consideration for others, including the fact that even plastic weapons can jab passers-by and even injure someone.

Off to the final day of the Con where it's a four-panel day for me.