By Jason Borelli
Comic-Con International is less than two weeks away. I have not been to San Diego since 2009, and I still regard the convention as Geek Mecca, even as it threatens to absorb the city into itself. Since I live three thousand miles away, missing out does not hurt that much. In the interim, I have found that fans can satisfy their cravings a lot closer to home.
Garden State Comic Fest turned out to be an hour’s drive from me, so I got two-day admission. The show was held in Mennen Arena in Morristown, NJ, which holds three indoor ice rinks. Two of those are (obviously) boarded up for the tables and guests, designated as “Heroes” and “Villains.” Not only was the third rink kept intact, it was open to fans for skating. Yes, that can be done in July. This was the first time I saw cosplayers on ice. It was a unique experience. There were also plenty of older arcade games, an air hockey table, and one of those knob-operated hockey games pitting the United States versus the Soviet Union. I had not seen that in decades, and it took me back to a childhood playing in arcades.
While GSCF was small, it managed to draw in an impressive amount of talent. The main headliners included David Finch, Keith Giffen Greg Hildebrandt and Barry Kitson, with Adam Kubert and Walter Simonson popping in on Saturday. The rest of the lineup was solid, ranging from known stars to local artists.
The panels were also unusually located. The “Lake Placid Room” was held near the entrance to the Villains Rink. “Main Stage” events were in the Heroes Rink, taking place on a stage where visitors sat to watch like a hockey game. The only reservation I can recall is that this was not a room, and you could see the goings-on on either side of the stage. That was mildly distracting, though, as fans were treated to such panels as one centered on inkers moderated by Bob Almond (yes, Chasing Amy was invoked, a battle of D-list characters pitting two groups of Geekade against each other (first match: Pyro vs. Condiment King), and the standard trivia contest with tickets to the 2018 GSCF on the line. Naturally, I did not play, because I am a wuss.
Unlike most second-tier shows, GSCF was light on celebrities. Normally, I see at least a dozen stars from yesteryear when I attend. This time, there were three: Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman; late of Supergirl), Loren Lester (best known for voicing Dick Grayson on Batman: The Animated Series), and John Wesley Shipp. I attended a panel on Shipp, who has played a Flash twice in his career (Barry Allen in the 1990-91 series; Jay Garrick in The Flash), and he brought a lot of joy with him. While he has a long resume going back 38 years, he was thankful for those runs. In front of a well-attended crowd, he went over the differences between costumes (the old one had to be emptied of sweat and cold air was pumped into it, and it cost $100,000 to make four of those), the surprise that he would go from playing Henry Allen (Barry’s father) to Jay Garrick (he was one of the last people on the show to find that out), and how he lifted only one item from the older series (a raincoat that he would wear in an episode of the new show). This is opposed to Mark Hamil, who took a lot of props during his appearances as the Trickster. He was also delightful during the Q&A period, including his explanation of what the Speed Force was like to a little girl. On another note, it turns out that Shipp will not appear in the fourth season premiere of The Flash. He told the audience, “If you want to see [Jay], tweet it.” Needless to say, Shipp was a big hit.
The cosplayers were also out in force at the show, though that is like saying water is wet. As a fan of Gail Simone (going back to the days where we posted on Jonah Weiland’s forum for Kingdom Come), I was ticked to see two ladies dressed as Ragdoll from Secret Six. The first one I met took an elegant tact, attaching material to her Renaissance Faire jester’s outfit. Both of them also simulated the character’s scars. I met a Dr. Mid-Nite with a pet owl that moved its head (apparently, you can get those for $15 at Home Depot to scare away pigeons). I saw offbeat combined characters, including a Sinestrio (Sinestro + Mysterio), a Starfire patterned after Barbara Eden from I Dream Of Genie, and a Spider-Spawn. At first glance, I thought it was “Spider-Man as Doctor Strange,” but he had a gun. The biggest characters present were Reinhardt from Overwatch, and a man who walked around as a mecha based on the Mystery Machine. I found this out at the adults’ cosplay contest, where he won Best Male honors. While he needed help getting on the stage, his costume’s detail was inspired. He even had the “Scooby Gang” in a window on his chest.
Once again, I cannot talk enough about seeing fans skate in July. I know that are so many things more surreal than people in costume skating around while “Party In The USA” plays. At that moment, though, I couldn’t think of any. It wasn’t scorching outside, but the cold was a pleasant surprise.
While there were a few disappointments for me at CSGF, as well as heavy traffic coming home (I was in a slowly moving parking lot getting off Exit 13 of the New Jersey Turnpike), I had a good time. I’m glad I found out about it, and I would like to go back next year. I enjoy the massive cons, and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t want to go back to San Diego. That said, GSCF shows that great shows can happen anywhere, even in unexpected places.