by Chris Tobias
My relatively lengthy palaver with Summer Glau on Sunday morning was definitely one of the highlights of my experience at Wizard World Philadelphia, but by no means did it mark the end of the memorable moments I had on the convention’s final day. After all, there were still three other cast members from Firefly and Serenity present at the con, and I was determined to get all of them to autograph the Dark Horse graphic novels I intended to auction off for Equality Now at Can’t Stop the Serenity Pittsburgh.
Compared to what I went through to meet Summer, getting Adam Baldwin’s and Gina Torres’ autographs was very easy. Neither of them had exceptionally long lines during the early hours on Sunday (it probably helped that Adam Baldwin had been there since Friday, having arrived one day earlier than the other cast members), so I didn’t even bother to brandish the VIP pass. (I can understand using the VIP pass if I’d have been be standing in line for hours without it, but flashing it so I could cut in front of eight or ten other fans just seemed pompous to me.) To their credit, the handlers at more than one booth reminded me that I could jump to the front of the line when they saw it, but I explained that it was no big deal. Turns out I would need it again later at Jewel Staite’s booth, but with Adam and Gina, good timing would suffice.
Though my conversation with Adam Baldwin was shorter than the one I had with Summer Glau, it was still long enough for me to come away with a really positive impression of the man they call Jayne. To be frank, Adam Baldwin is a man’s man. I can’t imagine any fun-loving all-American boy not wanting to hang out with this guy. (I am well aware that his being so outspoken online when it comes to his political views has turned off some folk, but it was my experience that when meeting with the fans face-to-face he has an amazing way of staying true to himself without ramming his viewpoint down anybody’s throat. His references to playing with his dogs and shooting his guns in his free time during the Firefly panel seemed uniquely fitting for a man that has made a career playing characters who are valued for their special brand of “public relations,” and I doubt that there’s any way anyone could have felt threatened by them, especially with his good-natured reaction to the way Gina Torres and Jewel Staite were teasing him.) I’m not sure I’ll be able to describe the vibe of our meeting adequately, but suffice it to say that when I met Adam I felt like I was talking to an old high school buddy even though I was speaking to him for the first time. He was also the only celebrity I met at the con who made it a point to ask me my name right from the get-go, and that made a lasting impression on me. We spent most of our time talking hockey, actually. I noticed he was wearing an LA Kings hat, and I asked him if it was because he had lost a bet with Wil Wheaton (who is a huge Kings fan). I figured being a native of Chicago he’d be cheering for the Blackhawks, who were playing the Kings in the playoffs at the time. He said he was still a Hawks fan, but that in the three years he’d been living in LA he’d become a supporter of the Kings. As someone who has never just cheered for Pittsburgh teams because I happened to be born there (I’m a fan of the Pirates, but not the Steelers or Penguins), that made perfect sense to me. When he found out he was signing a graphic novel for CSTS Pittsburgh, he remarked that he was surprised how the Bruins were taking it to the Penguins in their series. I confessed that as a long-time Buffalo Sabres fan (that got a fist pump from one of the handlers, who was probably a Western New Yorker) I had seen the Bruins manhandle more skilled Sabres teams in the playoffs so many times that it didn’t shock me in the least. When Adam shook my hand and said it was nice meeting and talking to me, I knew he meant it. Like Summer, he is very sincere and down-to-earth, and it’s easy for him to engage the fans because he genuinely enjoys it. The only thing that was missing from our conversation was a couple of beers. Adam, if you ever read this, I want you to know that if you’re ever up for sinking a brew or two after a con, I’m buying!
One of the things that make the Firefly cast so great is that they are so tightly knit despite being so diverse as individuals. Nothing demonstrates that more than talking with Adam Baldwin and Gina Torres in the span of a half hour! Unlike Adam, who met with fans dressed in an Iron Maiden t-shirt and a baseball cap, Gina arrived in an elegant blue dress, her hair perfectly coiffed. I never detected the slightest bit of arrogance or any air of superiority from Gina, but what I did feel is that she simply exuded class in everything she did and said, both at the panel and when meeting fans one-on-one. We didn’t talk long. I thanked her for coming, as I did all the cast members, and our conversation was mostly focused on the previous day’s panel and CSTS. She was pleasant, polite and professional, and I can tell you with certainty that she is one of the classiest and most sophisticated ladies I have ever met. The other Browncoats tell me it’s a rare thing for her to make appearances at cons, so I feel grateful and fortunate that I had the chance to meet her, and I think even more highly of her now that I did.
Jewel Staite was the last cast member I met that day, and she was also the one for whom I had to wait in line the longest. That was entirely my fault, because I had to jump out of line near the front when I realized at the last minute I didn’t have enough cash in my wallet! (Even though it was for CSTS, I never asked the cast members to sign for free. I figured I’d get my money back when the graphic novels were auctioned off, so I simply paid for the autographs unless the actor offered to sign free of charge, which Summer did. Have I told you I think the world of Summer Glau? Oh, that’s right. I did– in over two thousand words!) By the time I’d run to the ATM and back, Jewel had left for a break, and her line had tripled in size. (Let this be a lesson to you con-goers: always make sure you have the cashy money before you get in line!) At this point I felt it was time to flash the VIP badge, so I did just that and took my place at the front of the line. (I felt mildly guilty because I was using it to make-up for my own mistake at the expense of the others in line, but hey, it was for charity, right?) I ended up talking to the handlers and the other fans in line behind me for about an hour while we waited for her to return. Some people at the back of the line got impatient and drifted off, but the wait didn’t bother me. After all, it was her birthday and her boyfriend had flown into town to see her. I couldn’t really blame her for being a little distracted, and I wasn’t going to hold it against someone who was already graciously spending her birthday at a con meeting and greeting thousands of strangers! When Jewel finally came back, she was every bit as pleasant and cheerful as I’d imagined she’d be. I thanked her for being willing to come to Pennsylvania and meet with us fans on her birthday, and added that I was especially impressed by her willingness to do that because I’d made it a point not to work on my birthday for nearly twenty years. She brushed it off as no big deal, though with her boyfriend there waiting for her in a hospitality room somewhere I find it hard to believe that was really the case. She was happy to sign the graphic novel for CSTS, and expressed (mock) frustration with Summer for having already “stolen her line” that she wanted to write along with her signature! I thanked her again, and was off to the Take Back the Sky table once more, having finally accomplished my mission for CSTS and Equality Now with five autographs (Summer’s twice) and some great personal experiences to show for it!
Overall the experience at the Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con could not have been a better one, both for me personally and for Take Back the Sky. With the help of those at the con we eclipsed 1,000 signatures on our online petition and gathered over 100 pen-and-paper letters to Elon Musk asking him and SpaceX to name the next manned US spacecraft Serenity, not to mention the fact that we successfully presented a panel at one of the premiere comics and sci-fi conventions in the country and made a lot of new friends. Wizard World does an exceptional job of organizing their conventions, and their treatment of the vendors and other groups like ours was first-class. The convention was extremely efficient, and the volunteers and professional staff were very helpful and polite. The variety of activities, panels and merchandise was excellent, and it seemed to be a great value for the money. I was also pretty impressed with what little I experienced of the city of Philadelphia. I found the atmosphere enjoyable, the food very good and the locals to be generally shiny folk. I can honestly say I’d go back to Wizard World Philly in a heartbeat, even if I were just going as a regular attendee.
And as for the cast of Firefly and Serenity, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Joss Whedon sure knows how to pick ‘em! My encounters with Summer, Adam, Gina and Jewel only strengthened my love for the show and the movie, and for the cast and crew who helped bring those exceptional stories to life for us to enjoy. Now more than ever I want to see a US spacecraft named Serenity as a lasting tribute to those special people, and to the Browncoats around the world who have so passionately embraced the spirit of everything they created.
Next Up: My visit to the Johnson Space Center!