Friday, March 9, 2012

calling 1984

The middle of the 80s brought many new shows to the Atlanta convention scene.  Well, okay, two. 

One of these was the "Creation Atlanta" convention, which is a name that will bring sighs of recognition and eye-rolling from many of our more experienced con-goers, most of whom first experienced fan conventions at a Creation event. So let's not get all superior. Creation was and is a business that's in the business of running fan conventions, which they've done more than two thousand of around the nation. Mostly consisting of a dealers room, an events hall, and a table behind which celebrities can sign autographs, the Creation business model carves out a unique territory somewhere between your local car and/or boat and/or RV show, an industry trade convention, and the local arts & crafts event that sets up in your local park and kills the grass.

My first convention was a Creation convention that Dad brought us to as the dealers were closing up on Sunday afternoon, somewhere in downtown Atlanta. A giant room full of people selling comic books?  I'm in heaven. It was not, however, the show I have this schedule for.

This Creation event is from 1984, as we can tell from the events hyping the upcoming "Supergirl" and "Dune" movies, and it was in the Omni Hotel, unless there was another Atlanta facility with a "Knollwood Room".  And maybe there was. As there are six different Star Trek themed events happening on Saturday one might surmise their big guest was a Star Trek actor, and it was indeed - Walter Koenig "beamed down" to sign autographs and deliver a stirring lecture to the crowd on the need to vaccinate your children and spay and neuter your pets. Actually he didn't speak on those topics but it's a good idea to mention them anyway.

Sunday's schedule is pretty close to Saturday's - Creation was aiming at a one-day crowd that would buy a ticket, wander through the dealer's room, get Chekov's autograph, laff at the mandated-by-law screening of the Holy Blooper Reels, and go the hell home.

Another Atlanta event from 1984 with a different focus and a different feel was the Atlanta Comics Festival.

This two-day event is mostly remembered today as being host to the Jim Shooter Roast, a chummy comics industry event in which the popular Marvel editor was given the Don Rickles treatment. This was claimed to be "the ultimate in fan entertainment." This explains the cover of the program guide - you see, Jim Shooter is a tall guy, and that's the Marvel character "Nightcrawler" sawing him off at the knees. And boy! Just try to explain this to anybody not immersed in the trivial minutiae of the mid 1980s comic book industry! Now THAT'S the ultimate in fan entertainment!

Sponsored by a local comics distributor, this event had many Marvel guests like John Byrne, Bob Layton, Bob McLeod, Mark Gruenwald, and John Romita Jr.  as well as a dealers room and videos. A video of the Shooter Roast was available on YouTube there for a little while but got removed, as most YouTube videos do eventually.

Please note that, as required by law, the Star Trek Blooper Reel was shown on both Saturday and Sunday. This is how ubiquitous Star Trek was in the fandom scene of the 1980s - a convention with no connection whatsoever to television, to film, or to print or media science fiction in general still felt compelled to inflict the Starship Enterprise upon cash-paying audiences. 

How many of these comic shops are still in business? Survey says 'zero'.

By the way, at the time I was buying most of my comic books at a store in Smyrna's Belmont Hills Shopping Center - actually at the back of Belmont Hills, by the bowling alley - called the Book Trader. The owner was a man named Benny, who put up with a customer base made up of women bringing in shopping bags full of romance novels for trade and kids such as myself pawing through his comic books for hours, and channeled his irritation into a series of handwritten notes posted throughout his store reminding people that "others may sell for less but *I* know what my product is WORTH!" and similar passive-aggressive mottos. 

If this was held in the hotel I think it was held in, somewhere around 14th Street in downtown Atlanta, the site has long been turned into part of the Atlantic Station development. If memory serves the hotel was some kind of a mid-range franchise place. Maybe a Radisson. I was there for the Saturday and spent most of the time watching the anime film "Phoenix 2772" in the "Cabinet Room",which would pretty much be the template for the rest of my fan experience, ignoring American comic books in favor of Japanese cartoons. I regret nothing!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

AFF 1983 newsletter

Here's some images of the 1983 Atlanta Fantasy Fair newsletter, sometimes referred to as a "progress report". In addition to flyers, conventions would find it necessary to publish 16 or 20 page newsprint booklets to really "sell" the show to a world that was decades away from web pages - it's hard to show the appeal of a costume contest, a film festival, or a giant downtown hotel in just a few lines of type.



I believe the 1983 AFF was the first show I was allowed to attend in any meaningful capacity - I roamed the halls of the Omni, bought my first Judge Dredd comics, watched five or ten minutes of "Robinson Crusoe On Mars", and purchased a full set of Elfquest comics that had me in a Pini-derived elfy-welfy haze for weeks.


I think that's a costume of the Godzilla movie-monster Angirus! That would have been something to see in the early 80s. Honestly I can't remember if we were allowed to stick around long enough to see the costume contest that year. Probably not. I did catch the amateur film festival, which as I recall featured a wonderful if overlong movie about a teenage magician titled "Summer Magic" that climaxed with a Houdini-style escape from a swimming pool. The next year's amateur film festival featured "Summer Magic II", a much shorter parody of the first film in which the underwater escape doesn't go quite so well. Also screened was a movie titled "Drugs From Deep Space" and the thrilling "Galactic Avenger", 30 seconds of cut-paper spaceship animation followed by three minutes of family home movies. You just don't get amateur films like this any more.


I probably made it to the con suite - what 13 year old doesn't want free soda? - but I didn't play any role playing games, see any auctions, or witness any awards ceremonies. Most of my time was spent poring through the entire dealers room, wishing I'd mowed a few more lawns that summer.


If you hurry you can get your membership to the 1983 AFF for only $13!! Or you might have to buy it at the door for $19. While you're at it, you can get a room at the Omni for $44. That's cheap even for 1983! Of course you have to spend the entire weekend worrying about getting mugged or killed while in scary dangerous downtown Atlanta, but that's a small price to pay.


Don't forget to pick up your AFF T-shirt and show the world you're proud to be a fan!

newsletter courtesy the Devlin Thompson National Archives