This past weekend was the first Alamo City ComicCon, San Antonio’s largest Comic Book and Pop Culture Convention yet, and it was HUGE. A good friend of mine, Julieann Chassey, had invited me to be a celebrity handler, taking money, keeping tally of autographs, and helping the guests get to and from their convention booths.
Babysit celebrities? How could I say no?!
I’d done this kind of thing before, working as a handler for the Shrine Con in Los Angeles back when I was 17, had the chance to work security for the likes of Christian Bale (pre-Batman) and Stan Lee. It was a 17-year-old’s dream. I had no idea what was in store for me this weekend, and I’m thrilled to say it was a once in a lifetime moment, a thirty six hour sleepless moment, but hey, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I was assigned to Jim Cummings, that name might not mean a whole lot but I guarantee you that he has touched your life as the voice of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Monterrey Jack, Ed from the Lion King, the list goes on. I sat with Jim Friday for a few hours before the event promoter Zach (under whom I was able to attend) mentioned that Jim would get more attention if he had some sort of banner above his booth as some others did.
“You need a banner?” I asked, having no idea what I’d just done.
I hopped on the phone to the office, as this was Friday and we were still open, and got hold of Andrew who drove down with Rafael and my backpack so I could get on my laptop from the booth and build a banner design for Jim. I’m literally sitting at the booth collecting autograph money with one hand, and designing a banner with the other.
No soon as the first banner is done, does Zach pop up again and say “You know, this looks great, but Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and Daniel Logan (young Boba Fett) don’t have banner either and I bet we’d sell more autographs…” so I snuck over to Peter’s booth and his wife hands me a wad of cash and says “Love it, get it done!” So back I go to Jim’s booth and I’m assembling banners for Chewbacca and Boba Fett. Nerd heaven.
This whole time I’m trying to keep a low profile, the last thing you want to be at one of these conventions is the volunteer that uses that ALL ACCESS badge to hound celebrities in the green room, and in another life I’d been that guy, and been chewed out plenty because of it. But now, no good deed going unpunished, I’m face to face with half the big names in the show and they’re all thanking me for doing them this favor. WHAT?! You’re freaking Darkwing Duck! How could I not flex some Photoshop muscle to do Darkwing Duck a favor? He’s the terror that flaps in the night afterall!
Friday wrapped up, I’ve got banners hanging for Jim Cummings, Daniel Logan and Peter Mayhew. Feeling great, I went from “cash tally boy” to “on-site designer” and I’m loving it. Decided not to make this a one day thing and I volunteer to return for the rest of the show, especially because hearing Jim do voices for his fans is something I’ll never forget.
Saturday rolled around and before the doors opened an incredible voice started to say my name, I looked up and see a shorter man who kinda sounds like Gilbert Gottfried trying to get my attention. He didn’t have a banner and I had no idea who I was talking to. Turned out it was Richard Horvitz, famous for his work on Invader Zim and most recently as KAOS from a family favorite video game: Skylanders Swap Force. He’d heard I was the banner guy, and he was coming to me directly to get one done so he could drive more attention to his booth (of course Jim now had a line because people could easily find him and see the dozens of characters he was known for).
Out comes the laptop and I get to work. Peter’s and Daniels banners look great, Jim’s got a big line of excited fans, and now their having me do one for Invader Zim’s Richard Horvitz, James Leary and George Hertzberg from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Carel Struycken most famous for playing Lurch in the Addams Family. I WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO BE TAKING CASH AND MARKING DOWN TALLIES!
Richard swaps tables and suddenly I’m sitting between Invader Zim and Winnie the Pooh, both of which are giving feedback on Richard’s banner design, which characters to add, etc. My goal of keeping a “low profile” was blown and an hour later I’m bringing news to Richard in the green room that his banner is on its way from the printers.
I sit down next to Richard, and he immediately introduces me to Adam West, the original TV Batman from the 60s. They’re engaged in a conversation about being stars and the different labels the world puts on them, and how it can come and go in the blink of an eye. Adam tells us of how he ran into Frank Sinatra on a beach in Hawaii and he was looking down, he’d said “Adam, it’s all over, my career is done”. This is freaking Frank Sinatra, being… insecure?! How can that be? He’s Frank Sinatra?!
I listen on feeling like I should be bowing with a Wayne’s World “WE’RE NOT WORTHY” to this whole exchange, but you can see that these aren’t celebrities, these aren’t stars, they’re people just like we are. They audition for roles the same way we apply for jobs, or pitch to clients, and they’re just as grateful when they succeed. So much of what Adam was saying about the importance of perseverance and just showing up rang true to what we talk about mentoring startups, just keep pushing forward and you’ll find yourself miles ahead of your peers who gave up when it got tough.
Amazing. As you can imagine I’m on cloud nine at this point, but I’m running around getting prints made, getting banners put up, replacing 8x10s that sold out of popular characters like Darkwing Duck or Invader Zim. I had the skills that were needed, and I was in the right place at the right time, but that isn’t what I was there to do. I didn’t wait until they said “hey come be our promotions coordinator this weekend” they’d simply asked me to write down tallies and collect cash, maybe make change. Yet here I am, for the first time in my life walking out of a convention with more money than I started, because there was a need, so I filled it. I’m a fixer, and I love it.
Saturday ended in the Green Room, I was facilitating an interview between local blogger Lisa Douglas and Sean Astin (Rudy, Goonies, Lord of the Rings) who was doing autographs and promoting a Kickstarter for his radio program Vox Populi. I provided a tiny bit of tech support to get Lisa going and I was treated to being present for Sean’s interview, where he also shared his insecurities, where he also told of how he was trying to do something that mattered, but that it was a huge challenge and often a discouraging one (watch the whole interview here, it’s excellent). He might be in the spotlight, but he struggles with these same fears that the rest of us do. “Will someone like this thing I created?” “Will this help or hurt my career?”
The interview ended around 9pm, and our job was to get Sean to his hotel. The cops had left for the night, the cars were no longer running, so we were going to have to take him back ourselves. We started talking about his Kickstarter, and a video that he’d done with some friends in Chicago. He showed it to us, and I liked it, but I felt it needed more Sean, if his was the name being used to sell the Kickstarter, he needed to be in the video for the thing to be more shareable, to have any chance of going viral. Afterall it was a parody of “What does the Fox say?” dubbed as “What does the Vox say?”.
“We could shoot some footage here, and cut it in?” I offered. We walked around the empty convention center and found an area we liked to shoot some clips, what followed was two hours of basically reshooting the entire song, with different cuts and different angles with Sean singing along to his phone playing the song in his jacket pocket.
We finished around 11PM and now we needed to find somewhere to edit this. Well, the Image Freedom office is only about ten minutes away, and we have all the best toys to get that editing done, it would certainly be better than trying to pull this off at a restaurant. So we all left, Sara, Sean and I, and walked to our car, drove to the office, and spent the next seven hours editing the two videos together (you can see the final version below) adding plenty more Sean for his fans to appreciate and also sharing some crazy Sean Astin dancing with the world.
It was a long night, and we both had to be back at the show around 10am, so we got maybe two hours sleep, but it was worth it as the video already has over four thousand views and we’ve added another $17,000 in backers to his Kickstarter.
I functioned Sunday on Adderall and Adrenaline alone, having too much fun to really feel the lack of sleep. I’m helping Sean compress videos to promote the Kickstarter while still doing double duty printing 8x10s for the coolest voice actors in the world, but most importantly I saw behind the curtain. I’d heard from Adam West of his ups and downs, heard that even a legend like Frank Sinatra felt that way, that Sean Astin felt insecure when he shared something with the world, that even Jim Cummings and Richard Horvitz have to audition, and hope for the best.
Very different jobs, much bigger spotlight, but those fears are universal. The difference between these success stories and everyone else is that they never gave up. You’re 5 foot nothin’, 100 and nothin’, and you have barely a speck of athletic ability. And you hung in there with the best college football players in the land for 2 years.
That’s why Rudy is such an inspirational film, that’s why the Goonies never say die. That’s the message. Shut up and do it, because everyone, whether it’s just me, internet nerd with an SEO shop, or big names like Adam West or Sean Astin, they all fight the same fears you do, they fight the same fears I do, but they choose to do it anyway.
Feel the fear and do it anyway. You never know where it might take you, or who you’ll meet along the way. The only way to fail is to stay home.
BACK VOX POPULI ON KICKSTARTER – Only a few hours left to become a KickStarter backer for some truly awesome rewards. Everyone in the office is a backer and you should be too! http://www.StartTheVox.com/
IMPORTANT – While I was having the time of my life, the true hero of this story is my wife Sara, who was the legs and the wheels of this success. While I was being thanked and introduced to awesome people, she was running back and forth to OfficeMax to pickup my creations and shuttle them back to the Convention Center. We couldn’t have done it without her and ignoring every cool thing I’ve ever done and will ever do, it’s Sara that makes me the luckiest man alive (and quite possibly the most spoiled).