by Chris Tobias
Sunday, June 2 was the final day of Wizard World Philadelphia and the shortest day of the con. We had already been working at the Take Back the Sky table for three days, and our crew had seen pretty much everything the event had to offer. The Firefly panel and my photo op with Summer Glau had already taken place the previous day. Truthfully, my expectations for Sunday were somewhat low. We’d collect a few more signatures for our online petition and letters to Elon Musk asking him and SpaceX to name the next US spacecraft Serenity, say goodbye to our new friends from the PA and NY Browncoats, pack up the vehicle, and head home. That is, of course, exactly what happened, but along the way Sunday would become the most memorable day of the con for me.
You may recall that my brother Michael and my sister-in-law Kelly were part of our Take Back the Sky crew at Wizard World Philly. They used the event as an opportunity to visit with Kelly’s cousin, who lives in the area. Her cousin’s wife, Jamie, is a veteran con attendee who likes to splurge on VIP experiences at Wizard World, and this year she’d opted for the Firefly VIP experience. She and her friends had stopped by the Take Back the Sky table on more than one occasion during the con, and we had all gone to dinner together on Friday evening. While talking with them, the subject of trying to get the cast members to autograph some items for auction at Can’t Stop the Serenity Pittsburgh had come up, and a gentleman in the group by the name of Wayne, who was not going to be able to be there on Sunday, offered to lend me his VIP pass so I could bypass the long lines at the cast members’ booths and get the autographs more easily. On Sunday morning Jamie stopped by our table and dropped off Wayne’s pass, along with instructions as to how I should mail it back to him after the con. Naturally this opened up a whole new window of opportunity for me, and I intended to take full advantage of it. (It also demonstrates the special bond that Browncoats have. Wayne had just met me, yet he was not only willing to lend me his badge, which was no doubt a special souvenir of his con experience, but he also trusted me to keep my word and mail his badge back to him at the end of the con, which I of course did.)
Since by now even a well-trained ape could figure out (without the training) that Summer Glau’s line was going to be the longest, I headed to her booth first. I had with me two hardcover Serenity graphic novels that Dark Horse Comics had donated to CSTS, and my intention was to get Summer Glau and Jewel Staite to sign the one that had River and Kaylee on the cover and Adam Baldwin and Gina Torres to sign the one that had Jayne and Zoe on the cover. I also had a print of Jason Palmer’s painting of River battling Reavers, which I had purchased and he had signed the previous evening after the Firefly panel. (He’s not only a very talented artist with a real passion for his work, but also a very personable guy and very interesting to talk to.) That was for my personal collection, and I was hoping to get Summer Glau’s signature to go along with the artist’s.
It was early, and Summer had not yet arrived at the booth. When I flashed my newly acquired VIP badge and took my place in the short line of the lucky ones, I found myself standing next to Jenny, the Jersey Browncoat I’d met the previous day at the Firefly panel! That was a pleasant surprise, and being able to talk to her and her friend made the time spent waiting in line pass more quickly.
While we waited I took the opportunity to enlist the help of Summer’s handlers by asking them to let her know that I had multiple things for her to sign and that I was there on behalf of CSTS. (I thought it would be a good idea to give her a heads-up so that I didn’t look like someone who was collecting multiple autographs just so I could put them on eBay.) I complimented them on the excellent job they’d done the previous evening in managing the chaos when Summer’s booth had unexpectedly been moved out into the lobby, and I wasn’t just saying that because I thought it would be a good idea to have them on my side. The people who work the celebrities’ booths at cons are mostly volunteers, and they work long hours just like the celebrities they’re assisting. Summer’s group had worked overtime the previous evening right along with her, and they had been very fair and professional in the way they managed the crowd.
And that must have been very difficult at times, based on some of the behavior I witnessed in the lines. Some of the young male fans were giving me plenty of material for future blog posts about what not to do when meeting your big damn heroes. One such fan actually shouted out, “Summer Glau, soon you shall be mine!” It was really loud and sounded just serious enough to generate a really awkward moment for everyone who was in earshot, and I was thankful that Summer wasn’t there to hear it. Jenny found it creepy too, and we joked about what would happen if she pistol-whipped the guy with the QMX replica of Mal’s gun she was carrying as part of her gender-flipped Malcolm Reynolds costume. She thought the odds were good that with her diminutive size and youthful quickness she could drop the creep and then go all Parkour on the con security, and I told her that that it would be so worth seeing that I’d risk getting thrown out to run interference for her if she did it! Another man was busy informing everyone around him that he’d come straight from work, was badly in need of a shower and hadn’t been able to find any clean clothes to change into for his photo op! And as if that weren’t bad enough, he was also proudly showing others in line pictures on his cell phone of his dog supposedly watching Firefly! I hoped that he wasn’t going to subject Summer to the same display, but later when it came his turn to meet her, he sure enough did. I was impressed with how calmly, gracefully and patiently she handled it. I’m sure it helps that she’s a professional actress, but I still wonder how many times a year she has to endure uncomfortable situations like that at cons. Anyone who thinks what these celebrities do at conventions isn’t hard, or that they don’t deserve to be remunerated for it, needs to go to a major con and stand in line so they can experience what goes on firsthand!
When it came my turn, I tried my best to make things easy for Summer. I already had the Palmer print out of its protective plastic and on the table ready to go while she was still with the person in front of me, which actually drew some praise from the handlers. When Summer came back to the table, I thanked her again for coming to the con and for staying overtime the previous night to meet with us and provide photo ops. She actually responded with an apology for how everything went the previous evening, and I of course told her she didn’t need to apologize because she had gone above and beyond just so it could happen at all. When I told her I enjoyed the Firefly panel, she thanked me but insisted that it was because her cast mates are always so very entertaining. I asked if she minded if I photographed her signing the graphic novel for CSTS, and she said that’d be fine. It was then that I realized that I had shut my phone off, so I turned it on and apologized somewhat sheepishly for the delay. (Anyone who owns an iPhone knows why I had to. So much for making things easy for Summer and being praised by her handlers!) She took it in stride, and said it would give her time to fix her coffee. While she stirred the cream and sugar into her still-steaming coffee and I tried hard not to think of the lyrics to the second stanza of John Mellencamp’s Key West Intermezzo (if you don’t get the reference, you can figure it out for yourself here), the ‘verse rewarded me for my stupidity by giving us a little extra time to talk. (Isn’t it funny how things often work out that way?) We commiserated about the volume of noise in the convention hall and how it was causing us to lose our voices, and discussed whether her upcoming film Knights of Bad-Assdom would overcome the problems that had been plaguing its post-production and finally make it to distribution. (I’m happy to report that since the con it looks like it has, and we should be able to see it sometime in 2014.) When my phone was ready to record the moment (note to Apple: I’m now inclined to think the iPhone starts up too quickly), she signed the graphic novel, and since it was for an auction at CSTS Pittsburgh to benefit Equality Now, she generously offered to sign the other one as well. When I informed her that the Palmer print was for my personal collection, she asked me if I wanted her to personalize it, but I told her that it wasn’t necessary, and that just having her signature on it along with Jason Palmer’s would make it perfect. (In case you’re wondering, I would never even remotely consider selling it! I just think it looks classier on the wall without my own name on it.) She obliged, scrawling her signature very prominently with a silver metallic Sharpie marker. I thanked her again and headed off to Take Back the Sky’s table feeling pretty elated.
Looking back on the whole thing, I realize that at no point did I ever feel intimidated or nervous around Summer Glau, even at that moment when I discovered that I had very stupidly shut off the iPhone I would need to use as a camera. Summer deserves full credit for that. She may be one of Geekdom’s more radiant stars, but she is incredibly humble, easy-going and down-to-earth, and our conversation didn’t feel awkward or forced at all. She makes it easy for you to feel at ease around her, and it was obvious to me that she didn’t treat what she was doing as work even if technically it was. She was also not overly concerned with or protective of her own image, which endeared her to us fans even more. (When the handlers asked us not to take photos of her while standing in line, for example, she quietly and politely corrected them and said we were welcome to take as many as we liked.) I’m not ashamed to admit that I have had a pretty healthy crush on her for years (as if you haven’t figured that out already). Now that I’ve met her in person, though, I am completely convinced of the fact that she is a truly wonderful person who deserves every bit of the success she’s attained and will attain in the future. (I’m thrilled that she’ll be joining the cast of Arrow this season and hope she enjoys a long run on the show.) Before I met her, I would have watched Summer Glau read the San Antonio phone book. After meeting her in person, I’d walk barefoot over glass to do it! Joss Whedon, you really know how to pick ‘em!
I certainly never intended for this to become a five-part blog series, but then I never intended to still be writing about Wizard World Philadelphia in August either! In my next installment, which I promise will be my last on this topic, I’ll talk about meeting Adam Baldwin, Gina Torres and Jewel Staite and give some summary thoughts about Wizard World Philly in general. Then I’ll move on to my summer visit to Johnson Space Center and its effect on my attitude toward American space exploration.