San Diego Comic Con 2019, final Megapost: Memories of Apollo 11, the Star Trek pilot, and The Night Gallery…

Another San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) is in the rearview mirror, and once again, it was (as usual) another grand, exhausting, epic celebration of pop culture. As readers of this site may or may not know, I usually don’t wait in line all night for the ‘big ticket’ events, such as those held in the infamous 8,000-seat Hall H. I usually spend most of my time taking pics of cosplayers, attending the secondary events in the smaller venues, and leaving enough wiggle room in the day for random encounters with who-knows-who. This entry will focus on Days 3 and 4, Saturday and Sunday, the final two days of SDCC 2019. It was also the 50th anniversary of the event as well, which began as San Diego’s Golden State Comic-Minicon, on March 21, 1970 at the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego.

Now, it’s become California’s own Cannes Film Festival. Arguably bigger.

Recaps.

Here are the two links to my coverage of the previous days of SDCC 2019:

https://musingsofamiddleagedgeek.blog/2019/07/19/san-diego-comic-con-2019-megapost-preview-night-and-cosplay/

https://musingsofamiddleagedgeek.blog/2019/07/20/san-diego-comic-con-2019-megapost-2-star-trek-space-command-and-a-big-shark/

And now onto the new stuff…

Saturday, July 20th; the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

NASA’s booth at the San Diego Comic Con Dealer Hall. Go ahead, stick your head in the helmet hole, and see if you’ve got ‘the right stuff.’

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin (whom I met about 10 years ago), and Michael Collins prepare to transfer to the launch tower and board the top of their Saturn V ride to the moon…

Tried not to over-plan Saturday, because, as a bona fide space nerd (23 years of membership in The Planetary Society), there was one event that I absolutely had to attend… a panel for the 50th anniversary of the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon in Room 5. One of the panelists was an engineer named Lovell Stoddard, who worked on the heat shields to the Apollo command module which allowed to astronauts to return safely through the intense, fiery friction encountered during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

Failure is not an option.
Retired NASA engineer Lovell Stoddard got a little choked up (as did we in the audience) when he recalled the instant level of respect and admiration given him whenever he mentioned his work on the heat shields of the command module of the Apollo lunar program. Those heat shields were directly responsible for the safe return of the Apollo astronauts to Earth, since the command module was the only component of the Apollo/Saturn V launch stack to return to Earth. Next to Stoddard is the voice of The Planetary Society (http://planetary.org), Mat Kaplan, who hosts Planetary Radio. The Planetary Society is a non-profit space exploration group I’ve belonged to for the last 23 years, cofounded by the late Carl Sagan and currently headed by our CEO Bill Nye.

A prototype Apollo command module (with Stoddard’s shields in place) is tested for splashdown in 1964. The Apollo Command modules were built by North American Aviation-Rockwell in Downey, California; the current location of the Columbia Memorial Space Center.
Mat Kaplan looks on at an actual piece of the Apollo 4 command module heat shield presented at the panel to Stoddard as a token of appreciation for his role in the Apollo program (note the honeycombed design used to disperse heat between individual cells of the material). Apollo 4 was an automated flight of the Apollo Command module that took place after the Apollo 1 launchpad fire in 1967 and before the Apollo 7 manned flight which relaunched the Apollo program to its successful flights and landings on the moon with Apollos 11-17.

This event was far more meaningful to me than a big, glossy, overcrowded, by-the-numbers movie press junket in Hall H.

Clerks Encounters of the First Kind.

Of course, Comic Con wouldn’t be Comic Con without a nice trip to the upper deck “Sails Pavilion” area, where a good chunk of the autographs and celebrity meet-and-greets take place. The sails along the ceiling further go well with the nautical feel of both San Diego as well as the actual marina behind the center.
“I’m not even supposed to be here today!”
I ran into a couple veterans of the legendary indie movie “Clerks”; the 1994 directorial debut of talented comedy filmmaker Kevin Smith (aka “Silent Bob”). On the left is “Dante Hicks” himself (Brian O’Halloran) who starred in “Clerks”, “Clerks 2” and the 1999 “Clerks” cartoon series. He is also going to appear in the “Clerks” reboot as well. To the right is Marilyn Ghigliotti, who played Dante’s arguably undeserved girlfriend “Veronica” (who puts with a lot of his s#!t in the movie). Both actors had a sense of humor worthy of their on-screen characters. I was lucky to catch them both at once!

Speaking of Kevin Smith…
Outside of the Sails Pavilion, docked at the marina itself, was Kevin Smith’s “IMDboat”; (it’s the big boat with the giant video screen on the aft deck) where Smith conducts a live-streamed event throughout much of Comic Con with a rotating crew of famous folks coming aboard for interviews, or just to hang out with Kevin Smith. I’ve seen the boat (up-close) many times, but sadly, have yet to come aboard…it’s more or less VIP only.

Panel for Rod Serling’s “The Night Gallery.”

“Welcome art lovers…”
Rod Serling’s “The Night Gallery” was a full tank of nightmare fuel when I was a little kid. This criminally underrated show began as three-segment pilot film in 1969, and later went to series in 1971. It ran for three seasons, with the first two running an hour in length (consisting of several segments each), while the third season was reduced to a single, half-hour segment. Rod Serling wrote occasional scripts for the series (“Little Girl Lost” “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar”) and hosted each segment in a surreal, after-hours gallery. All 100-plus paintings in the series were done by a single artist; the incredibly talented painter (and director) Tom Wright. Here, the late Serling introduces a segment called “The Waiting Room”, featuring one of Wright’s many disturbingly vivid objets d’art. The creepy electronic musical score by Gil Melle used to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up…

One of Tom Wright’s many disturbingly macabre paintings for the series. This one for the third season episode “Something in the Woodwork”, which saw Geraldine Page as a lonely alcoholic divorcee who plots with a murderous ghost in her attic to exact revenge on her ex-husband…

Panelists for the Night Gallery retrospective; prolific artist Tom Wright (who produced all the paintings for the series!), author Scott Skelton, who wrote what I believe to be the definitive book on the series, “Rod Serling’s The Night Gallery: The After-Hours Tour” (coauthored with James Benson) and Taylor White, who has written a forthcoming coffee table book on the artwork from the show called “Night Gallery: The Art Of Darkness”, due this fall. I must have that book!

Artist Tom Wright did most of the paintings for “The Night Gallery” when he was in his early 20s. The prolific and talented artist had the unique challenge of interpreting the show’s scripts into art that appeared to be the work of multiple artists in wildly varied styles. He succeeded. After initial disappointments (and long drying periods) with oils, the preferred medium for most of the paintings in the show was simple acrylic on masonite boards. Wright is also an accomplished director for television as well, having produced episodes of “Space: Above and Beyond”, “Supernatural”, “Angel” and “Firefly.” He is still highly sought for television work today. It was an honor to meet him!

Sunday, July 21st. Last Day of Comic Con 2019.

Two panels for two legends marked my final day at SDCC 2019; first, a panel for famed pop artist William Stout, and a chat with the original director of Star Trek’s first pilot, “The Cage” (1964).

William Stout.

Legendary artist William Stout, who has produced memorable art for album covers (The Who, The Beatles), magazines (very memorably for MAD), film posters (“American Graffiti”) is also a noted artist/production designer for films and TV as well (Ralph Bakshi’s “Wizards”, “The Hitcher”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Masters of the Universe”, “Return of the Living Dead”, “Buck Rogers”).

William Stout’s artwork is so ingrained in American pop culture that you’ve seen it, even if you have no idea who produced it. Unfortunately, the technician who was supposed to aid in Stout’s slide presentation unexpectedly walked out (!?) during the talk, leaving Stout to have to run much of it as well as narrate. The technician returned (about 20 minutes later) and resumed his work. Stout deserved much better treatment, and I was a bit angry for how this icon was left to fend for himself at his own presentation. At the end of his talk and slideshow, Stout was moved to tears when the packed auditorium rose for a standing ovation. Much deserved!

Larry Nemecek (“Dr. Trek”) chats with Star Trek’s original pilot director, Robert Butler.

“Check the circuit!”
55 years ago, in December of 1964, director Robert Butler took the reigns of the pilot episode of Gene Roddenberry’s legendary Star Trek pilot, “The Cage” (later incorporated into the two-part classic, “The Menagerie” when the pilot went to series in 1966). The pilot featured many of Trek’s iconography, including the main bridge, the transporter, and even Leonard Nimoy’s “Mr. Spock” (the only character to survive the pilot and make it to the series). The pilot starred the late Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike (a character later played by both Bruce Greenwood & Anson Mount in 2009’s “Star Trek” and “Star Trek: Discovery,” respectively).

Author/podcaster Larry Nemecek (“The Star Trek Next Generation Companion” “Portal 47”) hosts a fascinating chat with Robert Butler, who was still quite lucid and opinionated, even at age 91. He had many memories of working on the show, as well as fond memories of the professionalism of the late Susan Oliver (“Vina”) who broke the glass ceiling to become an accomplished TV director herself, before her untimely death from cancer in 1989. Butler, who also directed the pilots of “Batman” (1966) and “Moonlighting” (1985) approached Star Trek as he did any other assignment; he didn’t sweat the small stuff, and focused on telling the story as best he could. Budget and other concerns were left to the producers and the front offices. He was offered a chance to direct Star Trek’s 2nd pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (starring William Shatner as the familiar Captain James Kirk) but turned it down, because he’d “already done that.”

A rare makeup test shot of Leonard Nimoy as Spock, sans pointed ears.
Butler spoke highly of the then-young Nimoy, whom he characterized as a solid, ‘hits-the-marks, speaks-the-lines’ kind of actor. Butler said that Nimoy played Spock more as a curiously dispassionate scientist, but not quite the emotionless character Spock became under Shatner’s Kirk.

An overhead slide shows a glimpse of the chaos behind the scenes of “The Cage”, as dollies, lights and bulky 1960s-era TV cameras litter the stage of Desilu Studios (which were later incorporated into Paramount Television Studios, which were later absorbed into CBS only a few years ago). Butler said that this was how he recalled working on the show, and that he chose to ignore much of the chaos and simply tell the story. A funny bit occurred as Butler mistakenly referred to the episode’s creatures as “the Laotians.” Nemecek corrected him by interjecting, “the Talosians.” Considering the breadth of Butler’s career, it’s perfectly understandable that he’d forget a few names here and there…

A half hour after the panel ended, the 91 year old Butler quickly downed a candy bar for energy and immediately began signing autographs for the crowds. I got my ‘big damn Star Trek’ book (1994’s “Star Trek: Where No One Has Gone Before”) signed as well. That book now includes signatures from Leonard Nimoy, Majel Roddenberry, Grace Lee Whitney, Nichelle Nichols, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Le Var Burton, John de Lancie, David Gerrold (“The Trouble With Tribbles” writer), Catherine Hicks (“The Voyage Home”), Mike/Denise Okuda (Trek production artists/historians), and many others. I’m honored to add Butler’s name to that book, and am glad I had the foresight to bring it!

Cosplay!

Once again, one of my single favorite parts of SDCC; the cosplayers…

My wife’s own “Muriel” from “Courage the Cowardly Dog” (1996-2002) cartoon series. She made the costume, as well as the stuffed “Courage” dog (her first attempt at a stuffed animal, and it’s a spitting image of the cartoon dog). My wife was inspired by one of her students’ suggestion for the cosplay, and quickly did research on the show. This is quite possibly my favorite of all of her cosplays she’s ever done. It’s so adorable, and millennials just LOVE it!

My wife also took this picture of brilliant SDCC cosplayer Blair Imani, who cleverly combines her own Islamic faith with a Star Trek Next Generation Geordi La Forge cosplay to came up with a unique design that is both clever and culturally apropos. This cosplay is the very embodiment of Star Trek’s IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) philosophy. Well done!

An Admiral James T. Kirk cosplayer. He looks quite a bit like Bill Shatner…

A family of “Guardians of the Galaxy”; with Rocket Raccoon, a pint-sized Gamora and Starlord Peter Quill.

When Marvel and DC Comics meet: Daredevil Matt Murdock shakes things up with Batman villain Poison Ivy!

Speaking of Batman…
Batman and Robin, with a clever bit of cross-play as well.

Wonder Woman, “Firefly” engineer Kaylee Frye and Hawkman meet!

LEGO versions of The X-Files’ FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully!

Crossplay versions of demon Crowley and angel Aziraphale from Amazon Prime’s adaptation of the Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett novel “Good Omens.” My wife cosplayed as the show’s archangel “Michael” for two days of Comic Con, and participated in a “Good Omens” group cosplay, before she re-donned her Muriel (“Courage the Cowardly Dog”) costume for Saturday.

Clever San Diego Comic Con “Bag Lady” cosplay, stitched together from Comic Con ‘swag bags’ that are given as you first walk into the event. Star Trek’s original pilot director Robert Butler, background, is preparing to sign autographs.

Crossplay cosplayer Bob Ross prepares to paint a ‘pretty picture’ on a human canvas. For me, gender is meaningless to good cosplay, so long as your interpretation gets the gist of the character, which this particular cosplay does so ably.

A Willy Wonka family!
The spoiled Veruca Salt, candy mastermind Willy Wonka, an Oompa Loompa and poor ol’ Charlie Bucket. Cheer up, Charlie…you got the golden ticket!

Leaving San Diego Comic Con 2019. Until next year!

So long, San Diego.

Thus ends another San Diego Comic Con.

My wife and I, and our dear friend Alison, had a blast. There is just so much to see and do at SDCC that the sad reality is you’ll have to miss some cherished events in order to see other equally cherished events. Sometimes you have to wait through some less-than-scintillating panels on marketing and sales promotion in order to see those panels of your favorite TV shows or movies, otherwise you might not get a seat. There are also many off-site events at surrounding hotels, theaters, libraries and local businesses, such as the CBS Star Trek exhibits at the Michael J. Wolf Fine Arts Gallery. Behind the convention, along the marina, there are free events for attendees as well as those who couldn’t get Comic Con badges (they are infamously difficult to get, that’s no exaggeration). You can also participate in similar interactive exhibits at San Diego’s Petco Park stadium, or near the bay bridge.

Sometimes you’ll spend most of your day (and nights) in lines, or you can choose to whittle down your schedule and just see where the day takes you. Personally I prefer the latter approach, but I can also appreciate the allure of seeing one’s favorite celebrities in person at live events as well. It’s a heady and often daunting mix, but even after 15 years I still love it so.

Until next year…

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. sanzbozo says:

    Thanks Sebastian! You took amazing pics, and I must concur Julia was adorable. My favorite’s probably the Bob Ross! Failure’s not an option with you my brother, great ‘musing’!

    Liked by 1 person

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