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Bristol Renaissance Faire: Revisited

Two years ago, I wrote about my Bristol Renaissance Faire experience. In case you missed it, the post can be found here. I went back to Bristol today, squeezing in a few hours of anachronistic fun between the Faire’s opening and the skies unleashing holy hell.

Rather than rehash the points I made before (which still hold true: the dollars add up fast, and it’s an honestly great time), I thought I’d share some of the pictures I took today.

Found in a pirate-themed souvenir tent, located in close proximity to a replica pirate ship:

Seconds after spying that mug, I found the most metal drinking vessel ever:

That’s a man’s mug; the kind of mug you should be drinking grain alcohol or the blood of a defeated warrior from.

People-watching is the engine that drives the entire Ren Faire experience. My calves hurt sympathetically as I watched the man on stilts wind his way through the Faire:

The man on stilts made me think of the not-so-threatening Daredevil bad guy Stilt-Man. This is how my mind works, I’m afraid.

On accident, I learned how glass is blown (heh) during a public demonstration.

Shortly after the glass demo, I threw throwing stars into a wall (an old ninja Renaissance tradition) and followed that up with a round of pirate knife-throwing.

After my brief round of weapons-hurling, I decided that the centerpiece of my lunch should be the Ren Fair cliché: the turkey leg.

I was quickly reminded that I’ve never once enjoyed a turkey leg. Turkey’s the blandest of all meats, and eating it in “leg form” is a messy, feral, experience that feels incredibly awkward in public.

After lunch, we walked over to the jousting arena, where knights on horseback showed their jousting prowess. It was like the dinner show at Medieval Times, only without the awful plot.

Once the jousting was over, it was impossible to avoid Vegetable Justice, located just twenty feet away. To reiterate the concept, a topless man in a stockade spews insults at people who pay to throw tomatoes at his head. It’s amazing.

There were more curious Faire denizens than I remember from last time. Straight outta Atlantis, this guy:

And then there were wood nymphs, or something.

I’m not totally sure what they were doing, but I felt like I was reading Elfquest as I watched them.

Nothing says “family fun” like a petting zoo, so I took the kids into the gated, goated, landscape beyond the general food area. Here’s a real goat:

I don’t think I could have washed my hands more obsessively after the petting zoo experience. For that moment in time, I was a 15th century Howard Hughes.

By 1:30 p.m., the skies looked menacing, like, this kind of menacing:

We took that as our cue to leave. In a case of perfect timing, a deluge hit within five minutes of pulling out of the fairgrounds.

I’ve already decided that I’ll be going back again. In fact, I’ll probably grow a beard and wear a cloak for the next trip.


This blog has bounced around a lot of sites. As a result, you may see missing images and/or goofy formatting on older posts. I’ll get to it all eventually.


The End of the World’s Greatest Hits

Last week at this time, I was fearing impossible scenarios that could arise from Chicago’s hosting of the NATO summit. That’s not surprising for me: the apocalypse seems to be a common theme in the entertainment I consume.

I started to think about all the different end-of-the-world things I enjoy and put together a starter list for your armageddon-themed entertainment. This list is in no way meant to be exhaustive–if you have additions, let me know!


Time Zone “World Destruction”
Afrika Bambaataa and John Lydon teamed up to list the reasons why we’re all pretty much fucked.

“Mother Nature is gonna work against you / Nothing in your power that you can do.”


Morrissey “Everyday is Like Sunday”

“Armageddon – come armageddon! Come, armageddon! Come!”

To paraphrase: “Bring it, bitch!”

Iron Maiden “2 Minutes to Midnight”

Legendary metallers synchronize their watches with the Doomsday Clock:


I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Forget the Will Smith movie–this desperate, lonely, nailbiter about a vampire apocalypse is a quick and unforgettable read. George Romero even acknowledged its influence on Night of the Living Dead (I’m getting to that one in a few).

If books aren’t your thing, the movie looks like this:

World War Z by Max Brooks

Brilliant idea–take a zombie apocalypse and have the story told, oral history-style, by its survivors. Brooks took the concept from Studs Terkel’s The Good War.

The Stand by Stephen King

The Stand isn’t perfect, and it’s not even King’s best book (I prefer It and Carrie). However, the post-superflu world King created–and the good vs. evil story he tells–are as good as post-apocalyptic fiction gets.


12 Monkeys

In all seriousness, this is my favorite movie ever. Terry Gilliam directed this sci-fi masterpiece that brings together a world-ending virus, time travel, Bruce Willis, an early Brad Pitt performance, and monkeys.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Not far behind 12 Monkeys is my love for this 1978 remake of the 1956 horror film (which itself was based on a book). I’ve been told that this movie’s one big allegory, and I couldn’t give less of a shit about that. The bottom line is that this is a tense, creepy, flick with knockout performances from Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy.

Spoiler warning: this is the end of the movie. It’s awesome.

28 Weeks Later

I prefer this to its predecessor, 28 Days Later. The best of the modern-day zombie movies, in my opinion:

Night of the Living Dead

There is nothing–nothing–I can say about this b&w classic that hasn’t already been said.

Fail Safe (1964)

The television play remake in ’00 was pretty great, too, but this version resonates more. It’s the U.S. vs. Russia, during one of the Cold War’s most tense peaks:


I remember watching this one with my parents when it came out–generally the same time when the world was buzzing about The Day After. Testament takes a sobering, more personal, look at the devastating aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. No embeds allowed; click here to see one of the film’s early distressing moments.



Jack Kirby’s Kamandi tells the story of “The Last Boy on Earth,” living in a post-apocalyptic (the Great Disaster) world. Every page during Kirby’s run screams of invention and insanity, as the titular boy finds his way in a world run by highly-evolved animals.  The first 20 issues are collected here.

Also recommended: The Walking Dead, Y: the Last Man, Wasteland, Deathlok.

At some point down the road, I’ll cover Dystopia’s Greatest Hits (another favorite of mine).

The Avengers: Ten Things You Should Know

Saturday night, my son and I left the house an hour early to catch a local screening of The Avengers.  I figured that the theater would be fairly crowded, and I have a long-running fear of having to sit in one of the penalty rows in front of the screen, generally reserved for late arrivals.

We got to the theater at 4:45 for the 5:40 show. When we arrived, there was a line of people roughly 50 deep waiting to get into our one-of-16 screen local cineplex. I don’t know the weekend box office numbers yet, but the final stats should place The Avengers somewhere between the last Harry Potter movie and “are you f-ing kidding me?”

I went into this movie, as I do all comic movies, with a little more working knowledge than the average citizen. For a kid weaned on Avengers comics, seeing this movie was kind of like  getting a lifetime achievement award for being a dork.

Here are my thoughts:

1. This is the best Hulk movie to date. Mark Ruffalo was something Eric Bana and Ed Norton weren’t: a likeable Bruce Banner. As for the Jolly Green Giant, he smashes a lot of stuff, and its done to great comic effect in a few sequences. Though The Avengers was a leap forward for Hulk, I’m still not sure he deserves a third solo film. He plays much better in an ensemble.

2. The plot is flimsy. The MacGuffin of the film, the dreaded COSMIC CUBE, drives Thor’s wicked half-brother, Loki, to lead an army through a wormhole in an effort to subjugate humanity.

The nice thing about the movie, however, is that every time I started to linger on some of the plot’s silliness, I was distracted by something much more interesting or awesome on the screen. Which brings me to the point that…

 3. The Avengers is a truly fun movie to watch. Credit Joss Whedon for two and a half hours worth of verbal interplay worth quoting around the water cooler:

Thor: He’s my brother.
Black Widow: He killed 80 people in two days.
Thor: He’s adopted.

4. There are no Easter eggs. The Marvel movies leading up to The Avengers: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America, were loaded with in-references and hints of the larger Marvel universe. I scrutinized every computer monitor and piece of scenery in the movie and came up with nothing. After years of being conditioned to look for that kind of stuff, there was nothing to find. I was hoping for at least a nod to some of the “classic” Avengers like Ant-Man, Wasp, Vision, and Black Panther.

5. Captain America sucks. I went into the movie expecting Black Widow or Hawkeye to be the weak link of the team, but holy hell, Chris Evans has zero charisma.

6. The final battle scene is pretty epic, in the non-overused sense of the word. Seeing the assembled team take on Loki and his Chitauri minions–while destroying New York City in the process–was big fun to watch.

7. Before we get the big fight at the end, we’re treated to a dozen mini-fights, most of which pit Avenger vs. Avenger. The three-way between Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America was pure fan service and wholly kickass.

8. While there were no Easter eggs, there were two post-movie scenes. The first one is placed fairly early in the credits sequence, and the other runs after the credits have finished. You don’t need to stay until the bitter end, but I was happy I did.

9. Nick Fury finally kicks some ass. After seeing Samuel L. Jackson’s Fury pop up as a cameo player in the lead-in movies, it was nice to see him do more than talk.

10. The ensemble cast never feels too crowded. One of the film’s greatest achievements is that it allowed each one the principal characters to shine. Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, Nick Fury … each got a respectable amount of character development–no small feat for a team movie like this.

C2E2 2012

c2e2 sign

Since the last time I went to C2E2, it’s become a really big deal.

Everything about the event felt bigger this year: bigger hall, bigger stars, bigger attendance.

You’ll probably read and see lots of reviews from mainstream sources over the next day or two about how C2E2 legitimizes nerd culture, or some such thing. In a world where Hunger Games, the Amazing Spider-Man, and the Avengers are anticipated to be among the highest-grossing movies of the year, the notion of “nerd culture” is unfairly reductive … if not altogether ignorant. C2E2 reflects pop culture and has the admission sales to prove it.

I got there at 10 a.m. today, right when doors opened. I had a feeling that the crowds would thicken up in short order–since I get easily claustrophobic, I decided the earlier, the better.

I have an irresistible temptation to start buying every cool thing in sight when I walk into C2E2. Sure enough, the first booth I saw was Graphitti Designs, the company that makes the coolest (and frequently, the most obscure) comic-themed t-shirts. Within seconds, I was ready to part with $21 for a Swamp Thing logo shirt. They didn’t have my size, so the money burning a hole in my pocket got a reprieve. In hindsight, I feel vindicated–Graphitti marked their shirts up $2 from what they cost on the Graphitti website.

The beauty of events like C2E2 is running face-first into a happy surprise. After failing to get my Swamp Thing t-shirt, I turned the corner and ran into a DC Comics autograph table where Len Wein, co-creator of Swamp Thing, was signing autographs next to legitimate comic book legend Joe Kubert. The line to meet them was only “two deep;” that’s it. Two people. I didn’t question it, and got right behind those fans. It was a thrill to meet the near-90 year-old Kubert and the ever-personable Wein. Wein, it should also be noted, co-created a few other familiar characters you may have heard of: Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, and the Human Target.

I was totally unprepared to meet them, so I had them sign both my C2E2 program (instead of, say, this or this):

It didn’t occur to me until I walked away that I should get a picture of Kubert. Here he is, peeking out from behind the bearded gentleman in black:

Within seconds of leaving Kubert and Wein, I ran right into Kevin Brown, a.k.a. “Dotcom” on 30 Rock. He was there promoting a “Dotcom for President” campaign. I’m not sure I understand what he’s running for, but he was easily the nicest celebrity I met today.

 Dotcom: You were a switch hitter?

Jack: Switch hitter, pitcher, catcher. Whatever the boys needed.

Props and costumes used in Captain America were on display near the entrance. They were featured in an auction geared towards those with lots of disposable income (as well as large open spaces in their homes):

There were smaller props on display, too, like Thor’s hammer and the dreaded Cosmic Cube:

And then there’s Cap’s-shield-on-ice, first seen as a completely-missed Easter egg in The Incredible Hulk.

Moving C2E2 to a larger hall at McCormick Place this year was a good call; there was a lot more humanity trickling through the aisles and displays this year. From what people told me today, the crowd situation yesterday was insane, a can’t-breathe-totally-packed-oh-my-God scenario.

One of the benefits of the new hall was easier access to food. Last year, con-goers had to walk up to a second floor food court to get their $5.75 hot dog/soda combos. Not a hardship by any means, but it was nice to only have to take a few side steps for my encased meat needs.

The real fun of C2E2 is Artist Alley, where creators, wannabes, and big-name pros mix it up with the masses. Artist Alley is a great place to meet people on their way up (like Ryan Browne, whose work I adore), and those who’ve already “made it,” like cheesecake artist Adam Hughes. I made a point of going to Hughes’ table–he wasn’t all that personable when I met him, but I still bought his sketchbook (his signature, seen in the corner, is “AH!”):

And when I say Adam Hughes draws “cheesecake,” I mean, well …

Drawing a crowd in Artist Alley was recent Shark Tank success story Steve Gadlin and his “I Want to Draw a Cat For You” work:

I interviewed Steve about his business a year and a half ago. If you’ve never heard the interview, check out my summary and the audio link here.

Some celebrities charged a shit-ton for the privilege of getting something signed by them. Anthony “C3PO” Daniels wanted $40 for the pleasure. I settled for a long-range photo instead. That’s him, blurry with white hair, in the back:

Meanwhile, back at the DC booth, I was reminded how much I love Mad Magazine.

No story here. I just like having an excuse to drop Alfred E. into my blog.

Hey look, it’s that guy from One Tree Hill and Freaky Friday! The line was insanely long to meet Chad Michael Murray.

c2e2 chad

Chad was there to sign his Archaia comic Everlast. I think it would be awesome if former House of Pain star Everlast wrote a comic book called Chad Michael Murray.

The Ted DiBiase-less Virgil was manning an Artist Alley table. Here he is, organizing something or another:

On the way out, I walked right past Neal Adams, one of the most influential comic artists of the past 40 years. Seriously–Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, X-Men, Superman, Deadman–the impact of this guy’s work can’t be overstated. I decided to wait in line to buy a sketchbook from him, but there were too many fans abusing their window of opportunity: they wouldn’t fucking leave the table.  That seemed to be a common trend at the con today: fans not knowing when to make their exit. I got impatient and resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t meet Neal. This is all I got for a souvenir:


And for reference … Neal Adams is a comic book god:

Surprisingly, I didn’t spend as much money on comics and memorabilia as I did last year. For perspective on my spending, I was pretty psyched to pick up these two Essential Marvel collections for four bucks each:

I could’ve spent longer on the floor–maybe even taken in a panel or two–but by 2 p.m., it was hot, sweaty, and maybe even a little smelly in the hall. Showbiz 101: quit while you’re ahead.

C2E2 is an awful lot of fun. The close proximity and access to writers, artists, creators, and stars that it provides makes it a truly memorable experience. See you there next year.

Smoking Popes/Josh Caterer: New interview coming Wednesday for the Steve Dahl Network

I just finished producing my latest podcast episode, featuring an interview with an old pal: Josh Caterer of Smoking Popes. Since I’ve interviewed Josh dozens of times, I decided to take a different angle with him–I asked him to prepare a top 5 list to share on the show.

The result? You’ve honestly gotta listen when the episode hits next week (update 3/1/12: it’s up!). I wasn’t necessarily surprised by the list he made, but I was really impressed with how passionate and articulate he was about the topic.

The interview clocked in at over an hour, and I swear it’s entertaining throughout.

In addition to talking about topics related to Josh’s top 5 list, we also talk about the band, Iggy Pop, Alkaline Trio, Morrissey, the academic credibility of Columbia College, and … Steve Dahl.

In the meantime, please follow these Popes links and support the band!

The band
The band on Twitter
Josh on Twitter

Butch Walker interview: New episode posted on the Steve Dahl Network

Butch Walker is one of the hardest-working guys in entertainment. He’s a successful solo artist, producer, author, and subject of a new documentary. He’s also a humble, congenial, funny guy to talk with.

On the latest episode of the James VanOsdol show on the Steve Dahl Network, I talked with Butch about his latest album (The Spade), the pervasive influence of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, his role as producer for the likes of Fall Out Boy and Pink, the Metallica factor in documentaries, his new autobiography (Drinking With Strangers), the first Kiss album he ever bought, and how Matthew McConaughey ended up in the video for “Synthesizers.”

The episode can be found here.

For more on Butch:

Jennifer Lopez

Who, exactly, are the people who care about Jennifer Lopez? Her flawed social wiring and resultant relationships are constantly front page news in print, discussed on the 10 o’clock news, and featured in scattered conversations across the AM and FM bands.

Out Of Sight was a great movie, but I think my interest in her stopped after that.I wish the rest of the country agreed with me.

The Paris Hilton phenomena is even stranger to me.Why middle-America wastes any of their time caring about an essentially unlikable, narcissistic, not-so-bright, heiress is a good question. What’s that? The amateur porno film with Paris comes out today? Forget I said anything.