Friday, August 19, 2011

My First Convention, Mid-Ohio Con 2002

As I prepare to head off to my newest Comic Book Convention today I've been thinking about some of my previous experiences. I guess it's true that you never forget your first, and for me, Mid-Ohio Con in 2002 was it.

I lived in Japan from 1987 to 2001. Before that, I was a high school student in St. Louis and a college student in St. Paul (MN). So it's not like I had any chances to visit San Diego or Chicago or New York to go to the earliest Comic Book (or Star Trek) Conventions. It was during the 90s that the phenomenon exploded, and all of a sudden any big city not just the "major" cities, could and were holding conventions. From Japan I would hear about conventions in Atlanta, Charlotte NC, Dallas, as well as various other places on the East Coast and West Coast.

When I came back to the States I was living in a small town in Indiana located between Muncie and Fort Wayne (home of Maj. Frank Burns, from MASH). I had been on enough cyber chat-rooms to know about visiting with celebrities and getting your comics signed, etc. I was defnitely up for finally going to a convention. However, the biggest city in my vicinity, Indianapolis, didn't have one!

So a year or so goes by and suddenly I come across a notice somewhere about some comic-book convention going on in Columbus, Ohio. Now, remember, I was still living in Indiana at this time. I investigated and found that not one but TWO of my all-time favorites were going to be at this convention: June Lockhart from LOST in SPACE and Yvonne Craig, "Batgirl" from BATMAN (TV). Any red-blooded American boy growing up at that time had a crush on "Batgirl" (or "Robin", haha), and LOST in SPACE was definitely one of my all-time favorite shows growing up. I figured Ms. Lockhart was getting up there in years and if I didn't take the time and spend the money to go to this, I risked not seeing her *EVER*. (In fact, she has never come back to the midwest that I can remember, and Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith) has since died). So I asked my daughter Anna if she would like to join me in this one-day adventure; she said YES and we made plans to go.

Columbus is only about 2 hours away from my old town, so we got up early, drove to Eason Hyatt, and made our way to the Convention area. I'm a sucker for city skylines, and as I drove towards and around downtown Columbus, I thought to myself, "This is nice. It reminds me of St. Louis and Minneapolis."

We arrived after it had opened, so after walking around and acclimating ourselves to the whole "scene" (Look at all the stuff they're selling!!) we made our way to the Celebrity Corner. Now, if anyone has not been to a convention before, it's a lot like Job Fairs or things of that nature, except instead of trying to sell you as a student to ABC Inc, they are trying to sell you the newest (or oldest) issue of ABC Comics. The largest conventions (I've since found out) take up entire...well, the word they use is "hall" but the image I'm gonig for is "hangar." With that in mind, Mid-Ohio Con is what you would call "intimate." It was only a small warehouse sized room (thinking wedding reception) with off-shoots in the lobbies and branches around the room.

Using our program (which I swore I kept but now cannot find) we managed to locate June Lockhart and Yvonne Craig. Neither of them were too swamped with people. Both were behind two or three folding tables with various photographs lined up on them. Being a newbie, I wasn't sure exactly what was supposed to happen, so I did what all good anthropologists do: I watched. I eventually figured out that you pick out the photo you want, you hand it to the star, you pay her, she signs it and gives it back to you.

Armed with this new knowledge/theory of conventional behavior, we moved in. I graciously said Hello to her and asked her how much her autograph would cost. She said $20 which is what I had been told to expect. So my daughter and I then perused photographic evidence of June Lockhart's career: she was in Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland (which I knew but had forgotten), she was in LASSIE (which I never watched), LOST in SPACE of course, PETTICOAT JUNCTION (again, I knew but had forgotten), and then various other TV movies and an episode of MAGNUM PI with her daughter, Anne. I picked out a photo of her with Judy from Meet Me for my friend Greg, and then I had to decide which of the many good shots I wanted to buy for myself.
My eye allotted on a more recent photo (shown at left) of the LiS cast (except for the late Guy Williams). She told me that TV Guide had gotten them together for a photo shoot to commemorate the show's 25th or 30th or some reunion. We both talked about what a great shot it was, and how she had remained friendly with the cast. While we were chatting (yes, *chatting* with June Lockhart!!) my daughter came up to me and said, "I like this one." She had chosen some illustration of the LiS cast in their characters' costumes etc. I must have said something like, "Well, that's a good one, honey, but I like this more modern one and we can only get one." Anna, who was about 11 or so at the time must have said, "yeah, that is a good one....okay..." or something. I asked June Lockhart to sign it, she did, and told me to be careful until the permanent marker dried or it would smudge. I thanked her and we went on over to Yvonne Craig's table.

Now I have to tell you, I had heard horror stories about celebrities at these conventions. In my chat groups (pre-blog days in the 90s and early 2000) people had said that June Lockhart was a snob or worse, and that she wouldn't shake your hand or speak to you if she was out to sell her wares. So I have to say I was a bit nervous about approaching her. After the experience was so pleasant I literally let out a sigh of relief as I headed to Yvonne Craig. Now normally, I would have been *more* nervous approaching a long-time crush, but thinking that I had just gone through a gauntlet without any problems whatsoever, I must have looked really happy. And of course, Yvonne Craig was a pleasant, happy person to talk to. She was telling somebody about her experiences making a movie with Elvis as I looked over her photos. I already had a pose of her as Batgirl from way back (I told you I had a crush on her!) so I picked out a similarly themed photo to the LiS version, showing four of the stars as they had gotten together in the 90s to promote BATMAN on TVLand or NickAtNite or something. At the time I wasn't really sure the photo I ended up choosing (shown here) was the right choice, but now I'm sure it was. For one thing, the great Frank Gorshin has passed on, and I will now never have a chance to actually meet him face-to-face.  Sure, the Continuity Buffs out there will know my problem with it: Yvonne Craig and Julie Newmar never actually *met* on the show (by the time Batgirl came around, Catwoman was played by Eartha Kitt). But that is a small quibble about a really great photo! 

Now here is the best part of this story. As my daughter and I were looking at Yvonne Craig's photos, talking to her (talking to Batgirl!!!!), and getting her photo signed, June Lockhart walked up to us and said, "When you're finished here please come back to my table." 


Going through my mind were all sorts of different ideas, but nothing possible. Why in the world would she want us to come back to her table?!?! We made our good-byes to Yvonne Craig and slowly but surely returned to June Lockhart's area. Was she mad? Did we over-pay? What~!?!!

Well, it turns out that she had signed the illustration that Anna had taken an interest in and handed it off to us saying, "This is for your daughter. She was so polite and well behaved that I wanted her to have it."


THIS from a woman who is supposedly a snob and a bore?!?

We thanked her profusely, and I was on Cloud Nine. Not only had I met two of the women I watched on TV during my adoloscence, but they had both been SUPER nice to me and June Lockhart had *given* me a free autographed photo!

Needless to say, I have had some other convention experiences since, but this one is still by far my favorite. :-) A few years later when my job in Indiana began to go sour, I had a job offer in Columbus. I wasn't thrilled with the job itself but the idea of moving to Columbus was appealing, as it was a city that had been vedy vedy good to me. So, yes, I think this experience led indirectly to me moving to Columbus four years later. And of course I went back to Mid-Ohio every year I lived in Indiana and this year I'm volunteering there.

Off to Baltimore now to meet up with fellow Friends of AquaMan for a fun, dare I say it "outrageous" weekend. I'll take plenty of pictures and post the best ones.

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