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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Comicpalooza 2015

Attending Comicpalooza has been on my Houston bucket list for years, but every year it seemed like something would prevent me from going. This year I was invited to be an official blogger for Comicpalooza, and I wasn't letting anything stand in my way.
Now, I'm a proud nerd who grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends every weekend throughout high school, but my husband isn't so much into those sorts of things. He reads the Game of Thrones books and has a passionate crush on Wonder Woman, but he just doesn't get excited over the rest. He probably doesn't know the difference between Thor and Aquaman. I admit, I was concerned about how much fun he would have. However, I not only convinced him to tag along for one day, but three. Friday we went solo, Saturday we took our two daughters and Sunday we took our two younger sons. Monday we let our oldest son and his friends use the passes. The first day it wasn't as packed, as I assume many people had work that day. Some of the bigger name celebs weren't there, but there was still plenty to do. Saturday was insanely packed, Sunday less so but more than Friday. My son said Monday was not crowded, but again, many of the celebrities weren't there.
Neither of us really knew what to expect, but the Comicpalooza app helped us plan what we wanted to do and mapped out where the interesting things were. The George R Brown is gigantic! Without some sort of direction, we'd probably still be walking around trying to find our way. I was awed by the elaborate costumes most of the 'Paloozers were wearing, many home made. We weren't the only ones who weren't dressed up, but it seemed like most people were at least wearing some sort of costume, and quite a few had stunning, professional looking outfits. I saw a large number of women dressed as Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell was a guest), as well as people dressed as Deadpool, Harley Quinn, Spiderman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Poison Ivy, Captain America and, for some reason, pirates. If you plan to dress up next year and want to stand out as an original, maybe steer clear of those, but they were quite popular with the public. Be prepared to be stopped often and asked for photos if you do dress up, especially if you put a lot of effort into your look. If you are quite conservative, be forewarned that many people wear next to nothing, but my husband had no complaints about it.

Walking in to the main area on the first floor and walking to the right, you find yourself amongst an assortment of celebrities signing autographs and posing for pictures, from film and tv to wrestling, voice actors, musicians, and more. Featured guests this year included Jeremy Renner, Stan Lee, George Takei, Haley Atwell, Colbie Smulders, Laurie Holden, Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Shada (the voice of Finn from Adventure time), The Comic Book Men, TMNT creator Kevin Eastman, several cast members from Gotham, Barry Bostwick, Patricia O'Quinn and Lil Nell from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Summer Glau, Linda Blair, Peter "Chewbacca" Mayhew, John Schneider, GWAR, Marky Ramone, Henry "the Fonz" Winkler, wrestling legends such as Roddy Piper and Sting, Larry "The Soup Nazi" Thomas, and so many more that I will get a finger cramp listing them all. In order to get autographs and photos from the most popular celebrities (Stan Lee, the Avengers, and Haley Atwell) you needed to first purchase pass for that person or group, or stand in a mind numblingly long line to purchase a ticket before lining up in an equally horrible line to meet the celeb. For any other celebrity you could pay cash at their specific table. The lines for George Takei, Kevin Eastman, Laurie Holden, Summer Glau, Jason Isaacs and some of the Gotham cast got pretty long, but many of the other people had very short or no lines at all. Although some celebrities had assigned photo op times and said no photos at their tables, I discovered that if they didn't have a line and you were very polite, they were more than happy to take several pictures right then and there. Barry Bostwick, Larry Thomas, Marky Ramone and GWAR were especially friendly and chatted with us for awhile. While we did not get a chance to talk to Henry Winkler, every time we walked by we saw him up interacting with his fans, doing magic tricks for them and being extremely personable. There are ATM machines nearby the autograph tables so don't panic if you find yourself wanting a few more than you planned.

On the other side of the autograph section there are vendors set up as far as the eye can see. Again, many of these dealers (but not all) are cash only, so keep that in mind. The majority sell comic and anime related books,toys, and t-shirts, but we also found authors, artists, medieval looking weaponry, cosplayers, haunted houses, handmade soap, beauty products, ecigarette vaping products, samples of Virus vodka, and even a table where you could win tickets and t-shirts from the Texas Ren Fest (we got 4 tickets and two shirts, yeah!), There is a little something for everyone, even if you aren't a comics lover, like my husband.
Past the vendor tables are the food courts, options being Chick Fil A, sandwiches, stir fry, and snacks. The tables and chairs were all taken so you may need to find a spot on the floor to camp out and eat, but don't worry, you won't be the only ones doing so, unless more seating is added next year. Directly across from the food area are games and interactive areas for younger children, Our kids were older so we didnt really venture over too far into it, but I did see an area where kids could play with some fun robots, and sign up for classes to learn to build them themselves. There was also a spot where kids and adults could fence/swordfight with wooden swords and PVC, and an instructor on hand to teach them a few moves.
Now that alone sounds like plenty to keep you occupied, but believe it or not there was even more to do upstairs. All day there were panels and classes you could attend in any number of the rooms in the George R Brown, from Q&A sessions with the celebrities origami classes, advice on becoming a director from Houston's own Larry Wade Carroll, tips on writing, gaming and blogging, art, and a little bit of everything. If you are a gamer of any sort (video, computer, live action, board, role playing) there are areas set up for that as well. On the third floor, all the way to the left we were able to see my good friend Josh's band Jealous Creatures, roller derby, and wrestling exhibitions. Friday night Jackie Earle Haley (whom I had the pleasure of taking part in an interview with, which I will have up on this blog soon) showed a premiere of his upcoming movie Criminal Activies (more on that in another post), and Saturday night there was a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (though I don't think attendees were lucky enough to have Barry Bostwick, Patricia O'Quinn and Lil Nell as the shadow cast).
If you are under the impression you can come to Comicpalooza one day, stay for a few hours and see all there is to see, you are mistaken. I urge anyone interested to at least plan for two days, and get the four day pass if you can afford it. Your feet and legs will ache and your wallet will be empty, but you will have an absolutely incredible experience. My advice to new Con goers is to wear comfy shoes, bring lots of cash (or map out the ATMs), eat before you arrive, download the Comicpalooza app to keep track of when and where the many upstairs events occur, and plan to stay late to catch some great shows. Dress up and let your inner nerd roam free if you'd like, you will be in great company. If you are coming from out of town, or for what ever reason don't wish to drive back home at night, there is a Hilton hotel connected to the GRB and you may run into the celebrities at the bar or in the hallways. And if you are curious how my non-nerd husband enjoyed it, he's already planning for next year with me. I think I'll go as Lara Croft.

*disclaimer - I received four 4 day passes in exchange from Comicpalooza, but all opinions and thoughts are strictly my own*

Monday, May 4, 2015

Living Below the Line

This past week I participated in a challenge called Live Below the Line where participants agree with live off of $1.50 a day of food for five days straight, just like so many impoverish people around the world. You may remember Gwenyth Paltrow was in the news recently for doing this challenge on $29 a week. I raised $100 for a charity called American Foundation for Children with AIDS thanks to my amazing friends and family who supported me, which gave me a huge boost going into it. I started the challenge on Sunday, so Saturday I went shopping for my meager rations.  I shopped around at Kroger, HEB, Aldi and Fiesta, but Food prices ended up a lot higher than I expected them to be, so I purchased most of my items at the 99 Cent store. I chose dried pinto beans, white rice, a 5 pack of beef flavored ramen, a box with 6 packets of apple cinnamon oatmeal, half a dozen eggs, and a can of Vienna Sausages. Lesson number one - it's extremely difficult to eat healthy when you don't have much money to spend. No fresh meat, vegetables, fruit, or basically anything but starches, carbs and processed junk. The first day, Sunday, wasn't too bad because I discovered you can make a decent lunch out of just the free samples at HEB. My husband and children were kind enough to have pity on me and give me their free samples of sushi, guacamole and chips, crackers with different cheeses, and banana nutella crepes. My husband remarked at how crazy I must have looked to everyone else, gobbling down 4 helpings of every freebie the store offered. Lesson number two - never judge people eating all the free samples. They may not be greedy pigs, they may just be starving and not knowing when they will get to eat decent food again. At some point during day two I began to tire of eating the same bland overprocessed junk, a feeling which did not abate for the duration of the challenge. My kids would come to me to complain that there wasn't anything good in the house to eat, and I became irrationally angry knowing there was more than enough. And the waste, oh god the waste. Seeing their plates of dinners half eaten, snacks thrown in the trash, barely consumed drinks left out on the counter, things that never really bothered me much before caused me to completely lose it. Lesson three - we waste more food than most families get to eat all week. On day 4 my wonderful, amazing neighbor, who had no idea I was doing the challenge, brought over a plate of barbequed meat. I wasn't sure if it was allowed or not to eat this gift so I refrained, but it opened my eyes at just how huge a simple plate of dinner can be to a family who is struggling. Meat is so expensive, fruits and vegetables a luxury, and dessert, unheard of. Lesson number four - one small act of kindness could mean everything to a hungry person.
     I completed the challenge without cheating and felt pretty good about myself. It wasn't all that bad. And that is the difference between me and those who are struggling with this in real life. It wasn't that bad for me because I had the choice to do it for 5 days. I could've stopped any time I wanted. I was able to sit in a nice house, watch cable TV and Netflix to get my mind off of the hunger pangs, and I knew that come the weekend, I would be able to go to a restaurant and pig out on anything I wanted. Millions of people today don't have the luxury of telling themselves just a few more days and I'll be eating steaks and ice cream again. Although the real prize in completing this challenge is the $100 I raised for the children living with AIDS, the perspective I gained about people living in poverty will be invaluable for a lifetime.