by Chris Tobias
I know it’s been almost two months now since this year’s Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con, and I honestly didn’t expect to be writing about it still. (I can already hear those late-summer cicadas buzzing in the trees outside as I write this. I guess I should be thankful I didn’t have a deadline!) Though they may be later than I’d like, I nonetheless want to share some final thoughts with you about one last aspect of the con before I move on to other, more current topics.
Before the con I talked a bit about my wanting to meet Summer Glau, and I expressed both excitement and apprehension regarding that possible encounter. What I could not have anticipated at the time is that I would not only end up meeting Summer Glau, but also Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite and Gina Torres! It would be remiss of me not to share my memories and impressions from that experience with you now, considering how much I’d built up the anticipation in my writing just prior to the con.
As some of you may already know, I am not only involved with Take Back the Sky, but I am also the organizer of Pittsburgh’s Can’t Stop the Serenity charity screenings. While I was at Wizard World, I had the chance to network a bit with other CSTS organizers from all over the east coast, and they all impressed upon me the fact that I should not pass up the opportunity to get the four cast members who were in attendance to sign some items for auction at Pittsburgh’s CSTS event. To my knowledge, Pittsburgh had never had signed items for auction at one of its events before, and I honestly couldn’t say when I’d be at a con with four of the cast members again, so the prospect was very tempting. The problem was that since I was there to work the table for Take Back the Sky, I couldn’t spend an entire day standing in line to get autographs. In the end that problem would be solved in a way that would make the final day of the con a very memorable one for me. I’ll talk more about that later, but it’s probably best if I don’t get ahead of myself and recount my experiences in the order in which they happened instead.
Saturday, June 1 was the third day of the con, and the day of the big Firefly panel. It was also the first of two days on which I could redeem my voucher for the photo op with Summer Glau that I’d purchased. I spent the majority of the day working behind the Take Back the Sky table, but I knew the cast members had arrived and were signing less than a hundred yards behind us. (In fact, all I had to do to get a clear view of Gina Torres was turn around.) Early in the day my friend and fellow Pittsburgh area Browncoat, Bob Averell, was already busy collecting signatures on a t-shirt he intended to donate to CSTS (he’d already met Adam Baldwin the day before), and he informed me that Summer Glau’s line already wound around her booth, across the convention hall and out the emergency exit! It was pretty obvious that with Nathan Fillion’s cancellation, she was one of the biggest draws at the event, and it was going to be tricky finding the time to see her without standing in line for hours. I suppose this is one of the drawbacks of purchasing your autograph or photo op ahead of time online. You may avoid being shut out if they sell out (as Nathan Fillion’s did before his cancellation), but then you’re basically forced into finding the time to stand in a long line so your money isn’t wasted. In the end I decided I’d have to wait until later in the day to make the attempt, perhaps an hour or two before the Firefly panel, which was scheduled for 5PM.
In the past couple of years I’ve come to look to Bob for counsel the way Malcolm Reynolds looked to Shepherd Book. Through his work with various fan groups and at conventions he’s had occasion to meet and work with cast and crewmembers from various shows, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Lost, and I can always count on him for an entertaining story or a perspective I hadn’t thought of. One of the things he told me while we were working the Take Back the Sky table was that it was not only appropriate, but also customary for fans to refer to celebrities by their first names at cons. You may recall that I was in favor of a more polite approach, but Bob seemed to think that would be out of place, and I didn’t want to come across as creepy, so I made a mental note to scrap the formality. It would not be the last time I would find that some of the things I had theorized didn’t fly in practice.
Saturday was a very busy day for Take Back the Sky. It turned out to be our best day of the con for collecting letters to Elon Musk and signatures for our online petition asking him and SpaceX to name the next manned US spacecraft Serenity. We also had the chance to catch up with Wendy from the UK Firefly podcast Sending a Wave and do a follow-up interview with her. By 3PM it was apparent that Summer Glau’s line wasn’t getting any shorter, so I decided I’d have to try to get my photo op on Sunday. At 3:30 we decided we’d better head to the ballroom for the Firefly panel. It was the only panel I considered a must-see that weekend and I didn’t want to get left out. Leaving the table in the capable hands of Flynn and Michael, Jeff and I headed to the ballroom.
The ballroom lobby was a scene of controlled chaos; thanks to the fact what were arguably the two most popular panels of the con, The Walking Dead and Firefly, were scheduled back to back. I was very glad we’d decided to head down early. While there we met up with Wendy again, and she joined us for the panel. We also met a young New Jersey Browncoat named Jenny who had a very shiny print of a painting by Jason Palmer depicting River’s battle with the Reavers from Serenity. I asked her where she’d gotten it, and she informed me that Jason Palmer was at the con and had a booth not far from where the celebrities were signing. I made a mental note to seek out one of those prints for myself. We didn’t get to talk to Jenny long because she had a VIP pass and was able to wait in a line that would guarantee her entrance to the panel, but as fate would have it both she and the painting by Jason Palmer would play a role in the events of the following day.
I’m not going to discuss the events of the panel in great detail here. If you’d like to see what we experienced firsthand, click here and enjoy. What I will say is that it was an absolute thrill to finally see a panel live after watching so many of them online, and I consider myself fortunate to have been at a panel with so many cast members present. I will never forget how much laughter there was, or everyone in the hall singing “Happy Birthday” to Jewel Staite (one day early). Nor will I forget the awkward moments caused by a couple of the “fans” during the Q&A who asked some questions that perplexed and even mildly insulted the cast! (I think it’s safe to assume they hadn’t read this.) In the end, though, the panel was every bit the experience we’d hoped it would be, and the hour flew by much too quickly. It was also a real pleasure to have Wendy along with us, both for the panel and for the wait before it. It was a joy talking with her “off the record,” and I really wish that distance and time zones didn’t make it so difficult to do it more often.
We returned to the table after the panel, where I learned (and I honestly can’t remember from whom) that Summer Glau and The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus were going to relocate their booths to the lobby area outside in order to try to accommodate the massive number of fans they’d attracted for autographs and photo ops. I was surprised and even a bit skeptical to hear this, since the Firefly cast was supposed to be finished for the day after their panel. I was growing a little nervous, though, about the possibility of never getting the opportunity to redeem my photo op voucher due to the size of the lines, so Bob and I decided to head out to the lobby to see if it was true.
It was. In fact, both Summer Glau and Norman Reedus would stay past the closing of the con that Saturday night, and both were still signing and posing for pictures with fans long after the lights had been shut off on the convention floor. Neither of them was under any obligation to do this, but both put in extra hours at the end of a long day so as to ensure that their fans didn’t come away from the con disappointed. I thought it was a very classy move on their part.
In Summer’s case, Bob had informed me that part of the reason why her line moved so slowly was that she insisted on spending what seemed like at least five minutes talking to each fan who approached her, and unlike most celebrities at the con, she was also doing her photo ops right there at her booth rather than in the designated photo area. I wondered on more than one occasion during the weekend if this didn’t drive her crew of “handlers” crazy. In this case, though, they were really taking control because she was working overtime, and you could see that they were doing their best to hustle the fans through as much as possible, and that Summer, who was no doubt already exhausted, wasn’t entirely comfortable with the situation. After a while they restricted the line to pre-purchased photo ops only and informed the others that they would have to return the following morning. (They were nice enough to issue them rain checks so they could move to the front of the line on Sunday.) At that point Bob dropped out and joined the rest of our crew, who had packed up the table for the night and were just waiting on me.
Eventually the line in front of me cleared and the moment of my photo op arrived. Summer greeted me with a smile and I thanked her for coming to Philadelphia and staying so late to meet with us fans. She thanked me for waiting. I asked her politely if I could put my arm around her waist for the photo with a simple “May I?” She didn’t seem to notice the request, and I thought to myself that it’s probably so common for people to do it during photo ops that she barely even thinks about it anymore. (I still think I’d do it again. Better to be thought overly polite than even slightly creepy!) With the tap of a touch screen and a digitally generated shutter snap, it was all over. I thanked her and moved on. She gave me one last smile, and that was it. I wasn’t disappointed with the photo or Summer, who was polite and professional and had gone above and beyond for her fans, but at the time I couldn’t help thinking back to my own advice that one should avoid building up expectations. I’m as human as the next guy though, and I’d be lying if I said that the photo op wasn’t anything like what I had expected.
And that would be the end of the story, if not for a very fortuitous and memorable sequence of events on Sunday, June 2, the last day of the con. Since this post is already running much longer than I’d anticipated, I’ll write about that in my next entry…