Thursday, October 25, 2007

Nashville con is fun for geeks, but on a smaller scale

As far as conventions go, the October Comic and Horror Fest is far from the largest.

Certainly, no one is going to confuse it with, say, Atlanta’s Dragon*Con or San Diego’s Comic-Con International, where tens of thousands of humans, Klingons, elves and other sentient life forms gather each year for weekends of revelry that threaten to knock the Earth off its axis.

But the Comic and Horror Fest, held every October in Nashville, is an eye-opening experience for convention newbies and a pleasant afternoon for geeks who would rather avoid teeming crowds.

This year, the convention returned to the Tennessee State Fairgrounds after a couple of depressing years during which the Fest took place at Nashville strip malls. It was definitely a return to form.

On Saturday, the fairgrounds’ Agriculture Building was filled almost to capacity. Fans browsed from table to table, where dozens of dealers hawked old comic books, vintage movie posters, DVDs, toys and other collectibles.

I managed, just barely, to resist a late-1940s “Phantom Lady” comic book with the $500 price tag. “Phantom Lady” became infamous in the 1950s as one of the comic books that crank child psychologist Frederick Wertham blamed for causing juvenile delinquency.

But I couldn’t pass up an original poster for the 1977 Clint Eastwood film “The Gauntlet,” painted by famed fantasy artist Frank Frazetta.

Speaking of juvenile delinquency, “The Gauntlet” has sentimental value for me, as it is the first R-rated film I ever saw in a theater. My dad took me to see it when I was 6 years old, and Dad isn’t known for his parenting skills.

This year’s guest of honor was John Saxon, and even if you don’t recognize his name, you probably know his face. Saxon played the heroine’s dad in the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” and, more importantly, co-starred with Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon.” More recently, he buried Nick Stokes alive in an episode of “C.S.I.” directed by Quentin Tarantino.

I got Saxon’s autograph and had my picture taken with him. Overall, I acquitted myself far better than the time I met Ray Bradbury and, for what I think was the first time in my life, was struck speechless.

One of the other guests at the Fest was Chris Durand, a stuntman and actor best known for playing Michael Myers in “Halloween H2O” and Ghost Face in “Scream 2,” in which he killed Sarah Michelle Gellar of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame.

“I killed her in ‘Scream 2,’ and she killed me in (an episode of) ‘Angel.’ So, we’re 1 and 1,” he said while signing autographs.

Such is the life of an actor who spends most of his career behind masks. It’s kill and be killed. And rise to kill again.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a comic/horror convention without a woman in a bikini. In this case, it was Thong Girl, the star of a series of no-budget films in which she fights crime. Or something. Mostly, I think, she poses while wearing a string bikini and a cape.

So, which is the more inappropriate crime-fighting attire, a bikini or a cape? You decide.

Thong Girl became something of a scandal for Gallatin, Tenn., Mayor Don Wright last year, when Wright let filmmakers shoot scenes for “Thong Girl 3” in his office.

City Council members and several little old ladies were not amused, and Wright lost his bid for re-election.

I guess some people just don’t appreciate the arts.

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