For over a month I have struggled to find an approach for my next Geek Dad entry. I initially wanted to write a sort of Comic-Con post script, as the first article in this series was advice for taking a child (a very small one) to Comic-Con. Yet, every single time I sat down to write it I found myself stuck. It wasn’t the writing, I had plenty to say, however, multiple mass shootings halted me.
Then, as I grieved and held my daughter (not always at the same time), in the dark shadow of multiple national tragedies I realized something. It occurred to me that the light of our silly little nerd stuff must shine brighter. This realization all fully came together for me in the most beautiful and profound weekend I have ever had at any convention, specifically Power-Con in Anaheim.
For those of you not familiar with Power-Con it is the official convention for all things He-Man and She-Ra related. I was born in 1982, the same year He-Man came into the world, and 37 years later (dang!) my daughter plays with my original He-Man figures (while supervised, but hey, they lasted that long how much damage could she do?). Power-Con is a special convention, because while it is very much endorsed by Mattel, it isn’t a Mattel convention. It is put on by fans for fans, and feels very much like a family affair.
As a parent, at times I feel isolated within my own family. This isn’t a complaint, but when you have a baby circumstance pretty much requires you to give them your full attention. I’d happily sacrifice a great deal for my daughter, including my already sparse social life. Nonetheless, my wife and I are slowly learning how to share what we love with our daughter (soon to be daughters). Counting the womb, my daughter Penelope has been to Comic-Con four times, and she is not yet three years old. This year, when we entered the floor, she actually squealed with delight. She is most definitely my kid.
The main reason I decided to attend Power-Con was because it was in my back yard, at the Anaheim Hilton, across from Disneyland. In previous years, it had been held in LA, which isn’t that far, but far enough when you have a two year old to lug around. I wasn’t just attending but actually going as an exhibitor. I was there promoting my work as a writer and as a collage artist. Penny, of course, came to help me set up.
During the actual convention, my family wasn’t able to attend. However, I very much felt part of a family at the convention. Everyone that came to my table chatted, and they were coming not just from all over the country, but all over the world. For a guy who didn’t attend in previous years because I didn’t feel like driving from Orange County to LA, I was thoroughly impressed. They are truly dedicated fans and awesome people. Their enthusiasm is why my friends Marcel and Jim came to help.
Neither Marcel nor Jim would call themselves fans of He-Man on any level. Marcel came simply to experience it, he didn’t even know Power-Con was a He-Man convention when I asked for help and Jim referred to the He-Man characters he knew as He-Man, Skeletor, and Snarf.
They both came to see people be passionate about something they love. I personally love He-Man, the toys were a significant part of my childhood and as I mentioned I still have several of my original toys (which probably belonged to my older brothers before they were mine). Yet, I felt a bit of a fraud when compared to these more “hardcore” fans. I also learned, that is perfectly fine. Power-Con and our greater Geek Culture, has space for fans of all levels. Sure we sometimes get fired up when someone gets a character name wrong or some other somewhat trivial detail, but for the most part we just move on in our common love of He-Man, Stormtroopers, Power Rangers, punk rock, or She-Hulk.
This was in part reflected with an encounter with our geek uncle, Kevin Smith. Moments before Kevin had just held a panel where he announced his Masters of the Universe series for Netflix. As quickly as it was announced the word and the buzz spread across the show floor. I first overheard my neighbor talking about it seconds before receiving a notification on my phone about it. Shortly after that word circulated that Kevin was at the Mattel booth. The next thing I knew, Uncle Kevin was standing behind my booth posing for pictures.
He purchased art from a neighbor on the row behind me (check out Patrick’s art, I also bought some of his fine work). For a bit of convention geography, rows 300 and 400 (which I was in) is a shared sort of back alley. After selling the art, Patrick asked if he could get a picture with Kevin at the table, to feature both him and the art. The result being, that he was now basically standing in my booth and blocking Jim. I politely asked Kevin to move out of the way. He was very sweet and funny about it with a comically exaggerated “I’m always in everybody’s way!” Jim suggested a picture and we took one. I didn’t have the presence of mind to do that, let alone anything else, such as “ask for a job,” or as suggested by my far more successful friend Bryan. The moment was spontaneous and spectacular, although as I look at the picture all I see is a copy of my short story book that I did not give Kevin Smith.
The real moment I cherish though, isn’t the picture with Uncle Kev, although I do cherish it. The real moment I cherish is what came after the others in our area got their pictures. We were suddenly a little family unit, created by our visit from Uncle Kevin. We laughed about how Jim pushed his way between Kevin and chair and we were impressed that he was happy Patrick asked him to pay for the art. The picture came just before that, but the moment of quiet excitement is why were are fans. It is why we’re in it together. Damn it though, I should have given him that book or at least showed him a picture of my daughter, or maybe my dog?
Finally, the convention brought me one of the most significant moments of my life. Pretty much directly behind me in row 200, the next proper row over, sat Mark Taylor. Mark is one of two people credited with creating He-Man. For clarity on the matter, watch The Toys That Made Us on Netflix. Regardless of where you fall, Mark is responsible for creating characters that still sit on my shelf thirty-seven years later.
Mark is a man largely responsible for the nature of my own imagination. I took the toys he designed and told stories only I could tell with them, as did every single one of the millions of kids who played with those toys in their youth.
I am rarely bold; when I meet people I admire I most often clam up. I’ve been in numerous pitch meetings where I can barely remember my own middle name, let alone the complex nature of my story. Despite, some force, perhaps the power of Grayskull drew me over to Mark’s table. I said thank you and shook his hand. He approached it and I assumed that was that. A few seconds later someone else came to the table and interrupted. As Mark spoke with him, I spoke with Rebecca. Mark’s wife, herself a brilliant artist and even more brilliant person. For whatever reason, I was my best self. When the interrupter parted, Rebecca turned to Mark and said, “You have to talk to Josiah. He’s the most interesting person.”
I was quite a bit more than taken aback. While trying to be charming, I replied, “I can’t possibly live up to those expectations, but I’ll do my best.”
Rebecca, more charming and intelligent than I could ever be said, “Just repeat everything you said to me and you’ll be fine.”
I don’t know what I said, but we talked at length. I ran back and forth from my table several times. I bought his spectacular sketch book and had him sign a few, including one to my daughter where I proved I’m still me and spelled my daughter’s name wrong. Mark asked me to write it to be sure he got it right, I wrote P-E-P-E-L-O-P-E. Rebecca asked, “who’s Pepelope?” and we laughed at my total lack of awesomeness. It was wonderful.
I returned to and from Mark and Rebecca’s table several times. We talked of Hemingway, Steinbeck, Skeletor, and suicide among both celebrities and friends. We shared about our dogs and my daughters. We even traded stories of Ray Bradbury (his is a better story, but I got a better quote). I showed them pictures of my family, and of course brought them a copy of my short story book (with that Ray Bradbury quote).
When I knew I was leaving the convention for the day, I went over to say one final goodbye to Mark. He shook my hand and thanked me for being open and told me to stay in touch adding, “really.” Even if I don’t, I’ll always have that day and a story to tell at the next convention with my ever growing geek family. That said, I hope to see Mark and Rebecca again soon.