Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jerry Day

Jerry Day is an annual celebration of Jerry Garcia’s birthday. His real birthday is August 1, but the celebration is held on the next day, Sunday. It’s a free event held in McClaren Park. McClaren is a big park with hills and wooded gullies and some sweeping views. You can see the Bay at certain points. Compared to Golden Gate Park, McClaren is remote. Usually it’s only the locals that know and use McClaren Park. I’d played softball at nearby Crocker Amazon, and have gone to some of my nephew Daniel’s soccer games at the new fields there, but I’ve never seen the amphitheater. It was named The Jerry Garcia Memorial Amphitheater a few years ago. It’s near The Excelsior, the neighborhood Garcia grew up in. It was a blue collar, working class part of San Francisco.

We took the right exit from 101 South and soon spotted some cars, vans and small trucks parked by the roadway. Bumper stickers for ecology and peace told us this must be the place. We heard an earnest young woman warning others that, “No glass is allowed.” We took heed of her righteous warning. We found out they were serious about the no glass thing. There weren’t many people heading down the road, but there wasn’t much doubt about which way to go. Just follow the tie-dye.

It was a steep walk to the Amphitheater. Then we went through a wooded area with pines. We missed the first act, Loco Bloco. They are a youth development organization trying to get youth involved in music and theater and give them an alternative to the gang life. The Hendrix tune “The Wind Cries Mary” drifted up. The terrain leveled off. A young security guard was on the trail to the Amphitheater. She searched our bag. I’m glad we didn’t gamble. It’s a steep walk back to the car. There was another bag check before entering the amphitheater area. They really are serious about keeping glass out.

The stage is concrete with some risers in the back. It’s in the middle of a natural bowl. There is some seating on concrete bleachers, but they’ve been all been taken. There were tie-dye backdrops onstage and a painting of the whimsical Jerry. Two official looking San Francisco Street signs were onstage: Excelsior, and Jerry Garcia.

Check Engine Light were playing as we arrived. The Jerry Day web site says they are “an acoustic band from Marin” that plays “Geezer Rock.” I heard someone say Garcia’s brother Tiff is in the band.

We went up the hill and around to the other side, stage right. The crowd was laid back. It wasn’t a huge crowd like a Dead show of old. This was a free local event that wouldn’t have the intensity of an actual Grateful Dead appearance. I wondered how many fans would show up if a single surviving member of the band showed up.

The hill was dry and dusty. Most of the grass had been burned away. We spread a blanket. Search Engine Light did a humorous number. “Mothers Don’t Let Your Children to Grow Up and dance Disco.” Then “Sunshine Superman” with a little of the “Put the lime in the coconut and stir it all up” song. There were five musicians onstage and a kid banging on a small drum set. He couldn’t have been more than five.

The crowd really does have a Sixties attitude. There are grizzled veterans in long gray hair, reliving the old days, at least for today. It was scary to see how old some people looked. People seem to be aging with each event. There were some younger people. Some were part of the gypsy caravan that lives on Haight Street. There are family groups making a day of it. Mom and Dad taking the kids to the Rock Show. There are young clean cut couples with babies. They struggle up and down the hill with strollers. There are a lot of dreads. Kathy later remarked that one age group that was missing were teenagers. Maybe they’re waiting for Outside Lands. There were enough younger people there that it certainly looks like the Beat will go on. Many people brought their dogs.

There was that odd cross section of Deadhead types. I’m sure there are computer programmers in this crowd next to other fans that look like they’re either living on the street or a step away. There were old aging biker types. People set up around the edges of the hill, using what little shade there was. There were familiar faces from other free shows, but no one we really know. Many obviously knew each other and there were joyous reunions during the day.

Onstage Check Engine Light wonders what song to do next. Did they forget what song they were going to do next? “It’s an older guy thing,” the singer tells us. They play “Dee Dee.” “Dee Dee thinks she’s Jesus Christ.” Then they play “Mister Charley.” Load up the shotgun!

Check Engine Light is good. Maybe they’re a little too laid back. The sound is great. There is a natural bowl, but it sounded like they really worked on the sound. It is great all day.

Two young women are walking around the crowd with a ripped cardboard sign saying, “Phish” and “We Also Need Ride” in Magic Marker. I assume they’re trying to find tickets. One of them has her legs completely covered in tattoos. It’s something you’d only see in the circus years ago.

A guy sets up to our right. He’s sixty, I’ll guess. Gray hair, beard. He takes off his shirt so everybody can see the electrode things on his beer belly and chest. He still has a hospital ID on his wrist. Did he just escape to get to Jerry Day? He’s wearing a Yankee hat and taunts anyone with a rival baseball hat. He holds his we’re number one finger up.

Vendors wander the crowd. Pinwheels. Ganga cookies. A black guy in dreads and Rasta clothing is selling “The best brownies in San Francisco.” There is quite a variety of bongs, roach clips and other trinkets. Some just lay out their wares on a blanket in front of their spot. There is much smoking, but I don’t see open selling until later. I only saw two San Francisco cops all day. There are private security guards. I do see a guy wandering around later offering buds in his outstretched hands.

A young couple settles in near us. The guy has long dreads. They lay out some small art objects for sale. Most have already set up camp, but some people are still coming in.

A grizzled biker type sets up next to them. He wore a Harley-Davidson of Merced tee shirt, “The Gateway to Yosemite.” It looked like the colors of a biker gang with a picture of Yosemite Falls. (What are the odds? Kathy grew up in Merced.) He sits on a small cooler. Later, he tells war stories of epic Dead shows he’s gone to in the past. Sounds like he’s talking about Watkins Glen. The Biblical epic of a show that had about a billion people at it. “I live four blocks away,” he told the youngsters.

“We live in our van. So, we live right here too.”

During the break there’s a spiel from Rock and Dog Rescue. They tell us of their fine dogitarian work. There are a lot more abandoned pets these days. There were other calls for support and funds for other causes. Help is needed in these dark times. It wasn’t too bad. It reminded me of the endless political diatribes we had to listen to during equipment changes in the old days.

Stu Allen and Friends are warming up onstage and do a version of “CC Rider.” It’s an admitted sound check while they wait for Stu Allen to arrive from the airport. Allen will have a full day playing here with two bands and then he’ll play the After Party that night at The Boom Boom Room. He makes it just in time.

I have to depend on Kathy for many of the song titles. She’s the real Grateful Dead fan. There is the inevitable Google.

“Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo” Across the Rio Grandio.

Stu Allen’s guitar playing and voice sound like Garcia. OK relax, I know he’s not Jerry, but he does sound like him. He’s played in other Grateful Dead related bands including Working Man’s Ed. I think he’s the founder of Working Man’s Ed.

“That Lucky Old Sun.”

Kathy says the next one is from Blues for Allah, “I Will Stay One More Day.”

“Roll Away the Dew”

“Trucking” and “Good Loving.” There’s a great band of “friends” onstage with Allen. Again, the sound is crystal clear. The keyboards, a Roland 700 and a Hammond B3, sound great. The music is much better than I expected. A growing number of people are dancing in an area in front of the stage.

I wondered how long it would be before this event will be posted on YouTube. When would pictures appear on Flickr?

Event security in black jackets wandered around. They didn’t have much to do today. They looked like professional wrestlers with shaved heads and big biceps. What security staff does NOT look like pro wrestlers now?

Sandy Rothman is paged to the stage. He and another guest (A guy in a straw hat that played guitar. I never did catch his name.) will join for the encore.

“Friend of the Devil.” A long version, each song has a lot of jamming.

A guy wandered around with those protective wraparound shades. He had a cane and it looked like he was legally blind. I had spotted him earlier. He kept wandering around the crowd. Maybe he was looking for someone. He stumbled around bumping into people in that “It’s not my fault, I’m blind” kind of way. Another guy stopped near us. Maybe he really was an acid casualty of some kind. He seemed to have a hard time walking. Like he had either forgot how to walk or there was some kind of brain motion disconnect. Maybe he was just old. Why don’t these guys just get a spot and settle down?

An attractive young woman was looking for a place to put on her hula hoop display. It wasn’t that crowded, but there wasn’t enough room for a whirling hula hoop. She did find a spot later when things started rocking more.

Most of the tee shirts today were from old Dead or other shows from the past. Some of the shirts were getting pretty old. There were many from Dead tours in the post Jerry era. Phish was well represented.

There’s a delay and some equipment changes. Melvin Seals and the Jerry Garcia Band take the stage. Melvin is a big man and sits behind the keyboards. Two large black women sing backup. Stu Allen returns to guitar after “rehydrating.” The first song sounds like “Long Way from Home.” They do a great, interesting cover of The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There.” It’s a crowd favorite. Everyone knows this one.

Yankee Electrode guy is waving his drivers license and some other form of ID back and forth in the air. It’s some kind of celebration of survival, or persistence.

They do the Chuck Berry song: “You Never Can Tell.” It’s the one Travolta and Uma dance to in Pulp Fiction. It’s another great cover version. Don’t hear too many Chuck Berry covers nowadays.

“That’s What Love Will Make You Do”

“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” I see a young guy fervently singing along. He couldn’t have been born when that song came out. Still, he’s into it. The torch is passed.

Sitting on the side of the hill is OK, but it is getting dusty. It’s steep enough that there is that slow, gradual slide down the hill. We make a move to get a different perspective and to make sure we’re on the side of the crowd where we entered before the end. We estimate 2,000 in this crowd. (The San Francisco Chronicle also estimates 2,000 in an article the next day.)

At the top of the hill kids have congregated, climbing the trees. As people reach the top a young guy leans over and in the hushed conspiratorial tone of the street dealer offers “Doses.”

We listen to a couple of songs at the top of the hill. The stage isn’t that far away. People have started to leave and we find an empty spot near the bleacher area. It’s closer to the stage than our hillside perch. We get a good view of the finale.

The dance area in front of the stage is getting jammed. “After Midnight” brings more people into the relatively polite Hippie mosh pit. People flail their arms. Many are spinning. I see a guy I’ve seen at other shows. His white hair is pulled back in a bun. He looks very serious as he spins and spins, barely in control.

They do another great Beatles’ cover, “Dear Prudence.” The two female back up singers sound great. They slow it down a bit with a “male torch song,” “Tore Up Over You.” Then it’s another Dead song, their version of the Charlie Poole song “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues.” Just about everybody is rocking now.

We start back to the car during “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You.” It’s been a great little event. As we go up the hill we hear the crowd sing Happy Birthday to Jerry.

I check Flickr and YouTube after a couple of days. There are a few photos. There is a short clip from this year already and clips from Jerry Days from the past. The Jerry Day web site is at http://www.jerryday.org/

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

When Conventions and Comics Collide

The gloom and doom stories kept coming. The Virgin Mega-Store in downtown San Francisco had just announced that they would be closing. I knew the trend to buy music online had undercut the brick and mortar stores, but the results still seemed unreal. The empty building would be a huge gap on Market Street. Stacy’s Book Store is a few blocks away. It was closing. I popped in for a last look. The shelves were nearly empty. I was getting tired of all the economic disaster stories.

It was time for Fantasy! The comic book convention, WonderCon, was in town. I joined fans heading to the Moscone Center. It was easy to tell where these people were heading. Banners on the light poles along the way said: WonderCon/Celebrating the Popular Arts. Superheroes in latex costumes mingled with wizards, fairies and alien creatures. There was a strange mix of medieval and outer space characters. It was Friday, day one of WonderCon.

How would WonderCon in San Francisco survive the economic storm? What would attendance be like? Would people be buying? If there would be any sign of economic recovery, it might be seen here and not in the real estate market.

By a confluence of events, I was able to spend most of the weekend at this year’s WonderCon. I’ve been a comic book fan for a long time, but I’ll admit I rarely buy comics now. The convention is when I catch up with what’s going on in the comics world.

This would be a true busman’s holiday for me. I’ve worked at many conventions at Moscone. I know my way around the building. I’ve worked computer tech and medical conferences. I’ve registered Eye Doctors, Real Estate agents, Urologists, Geophysicists, and Anesthesiologists. I’ve worked Oracle, Cisco and MacWorld. There were IRS conferences and World Wide Developer gatherings. I’ve been a line monitor for Steve Jobs Apple Keynote speech. I’ve worked Linux and Google, The Audio Engineering Society, The Fancy Foods show, and maybe the strangest of all: The Wealth Expo. At The Wealth Expo many rich entrepreneurs, including Donald Trump and Anthony Robbins, were sharing their knowledge with hundreds of attendees who paid to hear how to make a fortune.

The Moscone convention center is all steel, glass and concrete. It’s starting to show its age. Imperial Storm Troopers from a Star Wars re-creation group are in perfect uniform. They act as line monitors, directing people downstairs. I see a huge line downstairs and wonder if I should bail out and come back later, but it turns out the exhibition floor hasn’t opened yet. The line is for people already registered and waiting to be the first to get onto the exhibit floor. The line for registration isn’t very long at all. I found out that some people had been waiting for four hours so they could be among the first on the exhibit floor. Again I hesitate to get in the big line, but decide to just go with it. The line is let in a few at a time to avoid a stampede.

It’s all about the swag. A few tables near the front entrance offer sample comics, posters, badges, cards, buttons and other free items. It’s like any other convention. People love free stuff, no matter what it is. Someone is offering free tickets for a preview of a new TV show, “Sit Down, Shut Up.” Henry Winkler, The Fonz, will be there. I pass on that one.

The area used for the exhibit floor is smaller. Some of it is curtained off. It doesn’t dull the enthusiasm of the vendors or fans. I’ve learned that at many trade shows, the first hour is when the vendors buy and sell from each other. I’ve heard some dealers say that’s when they make the most money. It’s half the reason they come.

I’ve been on many comics convention exhibit floors. Seeing all those comics displayed still arouses the comic lust. It seems you could find just about any comic on this exhibit floor. Boxes and boxes are set out. What if comics really do rot your brain?

The really good expensive issues are hung in plastic at the back of the booths, where the vendors can keep an eye on them. One vendor displayed a copy of Zap #1. It was for sale at $950!

The DC booth is giving away some great stuff including a reprint of the first Watchmen comic: “Re-Presenting The First Issue of the Groundbreaking Series.” After over twenty years of development and false starts, the highly anticipated movie will hit movie screens in less than a week.

You could spend days going through each vendors treasures, but I’ve learned that the best part of a comic book convention is the programming. It’s at the lectures, panels and other events that you get to see and hear the artists of the comics and the stars of TV shows and movies the comics are based on. This year’s programming is over the top. I’ve also learned to use their web site to see where and when the events I want to see are happening. I see there will be some tough choices.

I meet long time colleague and comic book collector Mike Pavlik. We wander the exhibit hall. It’s comic book heaven. Pavlik reminds me of the first comics conventions in the Bay Area. Another trader we knew, Bob Borden, was involved in running the first conventions when they were held in Oakland. “We should have been comic heroes!” Pavlik says. We were, or at least we thought we were. I’ve got to get those old copies of The Dip online!

Near the back of the hall we come upon Autograph Row. There are celebrities selling photos and autographs. The huge but friendly Richard Kiel is at the first table I see. He had many roles, but is best remembered as “Jaws” in the Bond movies. Nearby is Jon Provost, Timmy Martin from the Lassie TV series. It’s great to get a glimpse of icons and idols of the past, but the bottom line is that they want a contribution for an autograph or picture. Most of them charge $20. Can’t blame the celebrities for making a buck, but there is a weird dynamic going on here. They’re friendly, but it’s going to cost you for that treasured memento.

There’s a big surprise on Autograph Row. It’s The Honky Tonk Man and next to him at the table, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine! Two professional wrestlers who were with Vince MacMahon’s World Wrestling Federation when he revolutionized professional wrestling on cable TV. I’d just seen the movie: “The Wrestler.” Valentine looked like the Mickey Roarke character. The Hammer looks a bit beefy, but he still looks like a man not to be trifled with.

There is an area for the comic book artists to show and sell their work. Many will do an original drawing for you, for a price. The energetic Sergio Aragones, the creator of Groo the Wanderer, has a booth. I think I’ve seen him at every comic book convention I’ve been at.

Almost anything Star Wars related still sells and commands a high price. People are lined up to get a Mark Hammill autograph for $100. You can buy a second autograph for $90. People are lining up. Carrie Fisher will be appearing and signing autographs on Saturday and Sunday.

There are others on Autograph Row. Don Pedro Colley was one of the futuristic beings on the second Planet of the Apes movies. Barbara Luna of Star Trek fame is there. Others include: Ray Park, who played Darth Maul. Gary Lockwood who was in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sean Kenny was the original captain of the Enterprise. He was Captain Pike in the Star Trek pilot. The sexy alien from FarScape, Gigi Edgley is here!She’s unrecognizable without the makeup.

Some of the attendees look stranger than the inhabitants of Autograph Row. This is a great place for “costume play.” It’s a chance to be Catwoman, Green Lantern or Super Girl for a day.

I soak in some of the first day buzz on the floor, but it’s time for the first event I’ve planned on going to. It’s part of “The Comics Art Conference.” It’s the conference within a conference, offering a more academic look at the comics industry:

“The conference is designed to bring together comics scholars, practitioners, critics, and historians who want to be involved in the dynamic process of evolving an aesthetic and a criticism of the comics medium.” It’s funny to see the scorned and reviled comic book getting a scholarly, academic approach.

The first session is “Between Two Flashes: A Survey of American Superhero Comics.” The speakers are Doug Highsmith from California State University, East Bay and Chuck Huber from the University of California, Santa Barbara. It’s a look at Superhero comics of the early Fifties 1951-1956, “An era that is largely ignored in comics history.”

Both speakers say they’re Baby Boomers, born in 1952. (Same as me.) They missed the comics at the time they came out, but read them later. They explain that this was because they lived in the relative isolation of Central Illinois. They only mention it because they had limited access to comics. It made me feel lucky growing up in Chicago. I had a whole route to check on new comics at neighborhood stores and the drug store magazine racks. Comic books were despised back then. There was still a backlash from Dr. Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocent.” For most Baby Boomers comics were the first contraband.

They’re surprised at how big the room is. It’s a big conference room with tables. It’s a classroom setting. He hopes the conference can fill the room up later when some of the opening day excitement is over. It’s a small audience, but The Batman is here! Sitting next to him is a Heath Ledger Joker.

“We are fans, not scholars.” You could have fooled me. The lecture is a bit dry, but the slides of comic covers and Superheroes from the Fifties keeps me focused. There’s a handout of a chart of relatively obscure comic book characters from the Fifties and their publishing fates.

My attention starts to drift. In the early Sixties my family would rent a cottage in Wisconsin. We’d get away from the concrete for a week. It would be a great adventure, but we were city kids and sometimes the week got a little boring. We discovered someone’s secret stash of comics jammed under the cushions in an old sofa. I was just really getting into comic books back then and realized these old comics were just what I was looking for. There were old issues of Showcase and The Brave and The Bold with The Flash, Green Lantern and Adam Strange. Some of the characters discussed today were in those comics. I found stories I had only read about in the letters to the “Mailbag” columns. It was like finding buried treasure. I realized that comic books had a history.

A big turning point in the speaker’s attitude towards comics was Jim Steranko’s book, The History of Comic Books. The book got him interested in looking at comics in a more academic way. Not too many people thought that way back then.

We take a look at the superhero landscape of the Fifties. The early Fifties were a tough time for superhero comics, but other genres flourished. The repressive Cold War times were reflected in censorship. The pulp magazines were dead, but it wasn’t a dark age for everybody. EC and Dell were prosperous. Television was just starting.

Comic artists didn’t have ownership of the characters they created. Many were paid by the page. The medium itself was meant to be ephemeral. It was “junk art” as Art Spiegelman said, that was meant to be thrown away.

DC and Marvel weren’t the only comics companies back then. Smaller companies like Harvey and Charlton gave us some strange characters. There was The Fly and Captain Atom.

In the late Forties the popularity of Superheroes diminished. The Axis had been defeated and readers were tired of stories about Hitler and the Japanese. When the Axis were no longer a threat, Superheroes lost their attraction. Captain America was killed off! They tried the Red Menace Communists as a new villain, but it never worked with comics fans. It just wasn’t the same.

There were some Superheroes who survived and overlapped the two eras. Captain Video was a character who bridged from early TV to comics. There was the strange case of Blackhawk. Blackhawk was the leader of a group of paramilitary fighter pilots usually involved in saving the world from some super creep or apocalyptic catastrophe. Blackhawk #107 was put out by The Quality Company. The character was sold to DC and issue # 108 was the first DC Blackhawk. It was one of those publishing oddities that drive comic collectors crazy.

Other genres that thrived in the Fifties were Romance, Horror and Crime comics. This was the golden age of Romance comics. There were still “Humor” comics. A slide shows covers of Scrooge McDuck and Archie comics. Both are still being published. The “funny little animal” books were still popular. Mad magazine was a big influence. There were still “Hodge Podge collections of a variety of comic stories. Western and Detective comics were still big.

AGC comics gave us “the spawn of Prince Valiant.” Tales of knights in shining armor were popular for a while. DC gave us The Brave and The Bold, an anthology series with stories about medieval adventure and romance. There was The Black Knight, a character that survived into the Silver Age.

The Lone Ranger and Zorro combined two genres, the Western and the masked Superhero. The slide shows The Lone Ranger in a red shirt. In the next issue he had the blue shirt that he wore from then on. It’s another piece of collecting minutiae.

“The lawsuit had a big effect.” DC sued Fawcett, claiming their costumed characters were a bit too similar to the DC superheroes. The courts agreed and Fawcett went out of business.

Despite DC’s legal win, more characters were created by rival companies. Plastic Man thrived. Airboy was revived. There were short series. Harvey had Captain 3-D, a one shot by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. Fighting American was another short, patriotic series. Johnny Quick was the last Superhero to survive from the Golden Age. He had been in DC comics since 1939.

Why did the Superheroes come back? Movie serials were still popular. Kirk Allyn starred in Atom Man versus Superman. The serial was a big hit, but it was the success of the Superman TV show that saved comics. Comic book sales skyrocketed. Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s pal, was a long running success. Superman had saved the day again.

In the early Fifties some Superheroes would avoid using their superpowers until desperately needed. J’onn J’onzz, The Martian Manhunter, tried to solve cases by crime detection alone, even though on Earth he had superpowers like Superman. He only used his superpowers when in dire need.

One of the reasons the backup characters in comics got cut was a change in the page count. Comic books went from 48 to 40 pages to cut costs. They had to drop some backup characters. The stories with these characters usually appeared in the last story of the book. Some of these minor characters had “convoluted publishing histories.”

The last slide is of Mighty Mouse. Does he belong in this discussion? Is he a superhero? Of course he is. Mighty Mouse is one of the few continuously published superheroes.

I left the academic comic world and wandered the exhibit floor again. There were people parading around in impressive costumes. Most of them were excellent and showed attention to detail. I saw Gumby walking around and the Wookie. Three women were the fairies from Sleeping Beauty. There was more than one enigmatic Rorschach from the Watchmen lurking around.

Mike Pavlik takes me to meet a buddy of his, Al Kizziah, who owns a comics store on Market Street. He’s manning a booth. Pavlik says that Al and I “were separated at birth.” He does have a point and there is a resemblance, although it might be in our attitudes. There are people browsing in his booth. Pavlik and I are curious about how business has been. Al is upbeat and says it’s been good. I’m a bit surprised. It’s easy to see that not many people are spending. Many vendors don’t seem too happy.

Later, I learn that Al’s shop is having the financial difficulties that are plaguing most of us these days. Al’s store is something of a social center for comics fans. There is a web site dedicated to keeping him in business, www.savealscomics.com.

I was going to justify my weekend here by going to some of the more “business” oriented lectures. Unfortunately the “Everything You Wanted to Know About Comics Retailing” panel was at the same time as “The Real Indiana Jones.” I didn’t make it to the panel on copyright law either. There was always something more interesting or entertaining to go to.

It was time for: “The Real Archaeology of Indiana Jones.” The speaker is Daryl G. Frazetti, a teacher in Anthropology at Lake Tahoe Community College. We’re in one of the smaller rooms and it’s packed. I’ll guess two hundred in attendance. The Batman and Joker I had seen at “Between Two Flashes” are here! I must be in the right place. Frazetti says his talk will be about “When Indiana Jones meets reality.” Frazetti is a small guy. He leans over the raised panelist’s table, beaming with obvious enthusiasm. An interesting slide presentation guides us along.

We know Indiana Jones is a fictional character, but how much of the films have some basis in reality? Frazetti uses this presentation as an introduction for Archaeology 101 students. “Is Archaeology exciting?” There are no Nazis chasing you. No blonde bombshells trying to seduce you. It’s a lot of tedious work. Frazetti asks the crowd, “How many here have done REAL Archaeology?” A surprising amount of hands go up. “Was it exciting?” Many say yes, it was exciting. It was a different kind of excitement, but there were rewards. Frazetti quotes Indy from The Crystal Skull: “To be a good Archaeologist, you have to get out of the library.”

There is a time limitation, so the lecture is fast paced. We start with the search for the Ark of the Covenant. There are so many legends and theories about the Ark that we could spend all day just talking about them.

We do know the Ark was made from the wood of the Shittah tree, what we call the acacia. Almost everything else about the Ark is subject to speculation. There are different theories about what it looked like, how big it was, what it was for and where it wound up. Tradition says the Ark was an impressive object covered in gold. Some say the Ark was a wooden box and not very ornate.

It’s believed the Egyptians took it to Tanis, a small town outside of Cairo. It may have been smuggled there to keep it out of the hands of conquering Romans. This is why Indiana Jones went to Egypt in the movie. There is a legend that King Mekelik I took it to Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church says they have The Ark in a church near Axum in Ethiopia, but they will not let anyone see it. “Why won’t they let anyone see it?” The Church says it is sacred, but some say The Church fears it will lose some of its mystery if it is seen. The Church could lose some of the mystic power it has over its believers.

It may have wound up in Ireland. The home of Ireland’s ancient chieftain rulers was excavated, because it was thought The Grail might be there.

Frazetti encourages questions and comments at any time. “How could the Ark physically survive for three thousand years?” Wouldn’t it just rot away, no matter what it was made of? The Ark was considered sacred and so it was probably better preserved than other artifacts of the time. It may have been hidden for years, and that would have helped preserve it.

Any discussion of The Ark could go on for a long time. Frazetti pushes us on to the next movie, The Temple of Doom. Did we know the filming of The Temple of Doom was banned in India? Some planned scenes were considered racist by the authorities. It was feared scenes of gruesome sacrifice would create an image problem for the Hindu religion. They particularly objected to the ripping out of a human heart while the victim was still alive. This doesn’t happen in the Hindu religion where the whole sacrifice, including the spilled blood was offered to the gods. The Aztecs ripped the heart out as part of the sacrifice, not the Hindus.

Kali, the god worshipped by the cult in Temple of Doom was not considered evil in the Hindu tradition except to the lower castes. She was the goddess of death and destruction, but she was a Hindu goddess who protected the believers from their enemies. To the upper castes Kali was a gentle mother goddess who was fierce in protecting her followers. The lower castes had more fear of Kali as the evil bringer of destruction.

The Thugees were real. They made the Guinness Book of World Records for murder. The Thugees were notorious for joining groups of travelers, gaining their trust and then robbing and killing them. We’re shown a picture of their longtime leader, Behram. He led the cult from 1790 to 1830. He must have been a remarkable character to lead the original thugs for that long.

The Sankara Stones that were stolen from the village in the movie are real. The stones showed no signs of being shaped by tools, like the Crystal Skulls we’ll talk about later. They are considered powerful objects. The Stones are said to have strange mystical powers.

Was the Holy Grail real? That is a question for the ages. It’s a debate that has gone on for almost a thousand years. Much of early English Literature and folklore is about the story of the search for The Grail.

There is a legend that after Lucifer’s coup failed, he hurled his crown to Earth. The Grail was made from the emeralds of the discarded crown. It was used at the Last Supper. Joseph of Arimithea caught drops of Christ’s blood with it at Calvary. Many believe it was taken to Glastonbury.

We’re shown a slide of Petra, shown in the movie as the hiding place of The Grail. It was a very successful trading city in modern day Jordan. It was a crucial rest stop for caravans. The Nabateans who lived there were very successful trading myrrh. The winding stone entrance to Petra that is shown in the movie is called the Shiq. Tradition has it that Moses found water when he threw his staff at the rock and a spring burst out.

The Ark and the Holy Grail weren’t the only relics Hitler searched for. There was a part of the SS, the Ahnenerbe, that was devoted to searching for other iconic relics like the Spear of Destiny and the Crystal Skulls.

There are evil Archaeologists in the Indiana Jones movies. There is the strange story of Otto Rahn. He was already looking for relics with spiritual power. Hitler heard about him and bankrolled him. There is mystery surrounding his fate. He just walked off and was found frozen in the mountains of Germany. The SS claimed he just walked away, but it’s suspected they did him in. “You don’t blow off Hitler.”

The discussion of The Crystal Skulls starts out by questioning the movie’s ending. Frazetti says he “doesn’t feel right with The Area 51 theory” in the movie. The aliens are just too convenient of an ending. It doesn’t explain the mystery of the Skulls. It seems too quick and easy a solution.

A young guy in the back of the room disagrees. So, you don’t have a problem with the wrath of God stuff, but you don’t like the alien theory? This young guy is mad that the visitors from the stars have been dismissed so easily, but divine intervention seems to be OK. I see this guy later talking to a couple of guys in their booth about it. He’s still mad that the alien deux ex machina has been rejected.

“There’s another Hitler tie-in. There’s a lot of Nazi tie-ins.” Hitler was fascinated by the theories of the Hollow Earth Society. They believed a master race lived inside of our hollowed out Earth. The Nazis spent much time and effort trying to find the entrance to the hollow earth. Were the Crystal Skulls a sign or a test? The lucky or worthy that found the skulls would be guided to the advanced civilization inside the earth.

One thing Frazetti says he wanted to cover in more detail was the use of Archaeologists in espionage. “There’s actually a lot of truth to this.” Governments did use Archaeologists to get information, especially in remote areas. Archaeologists knew the local terrain and had a cover if suspected. They were just exploring to find artifacts.

What were the skulls? They’re believed to be 5,000 to 35,000 years old. They show no signs of being made by machine. The carving ignores the natural crystal axis. It’s claimed they were made by an unknown, advanced technology.

An Archaeologist, Mitchell Hodges found many of the skulls. In a strange twist, his daughter claimed that they had predicted the JFK assassination.

The strangest thing about many of the Skulls is that some of them were sent to museums anonymously. They would just arrive in plain packaging. It’s said The British Museum has some of them. Some were auctioned in 1943. Crystal skulls have been found in Tibet. Do they have a link to the Hindu god, Kali?

It’s been an interesting lecture on a fascinating subject. I have to wonder how long it would go on without a time limitation.

I went to the premiere of a new documentary on Bob Wilkins, the long time host of Creature Features. Wilkins brought new life to late night “Monster movies.” “Keep America Strong: Watch Horror Movies” chronicles his career. Tom Wyrsch started collecting clips of the old show and saved them from oblivion. Wilkins had recently passed away. There would be “A Tribute to Bob Wilkins” on Sunday.

I gathered my swag and called it a day. There would be two more days of WonderCon.

Saturday. Day Two. I had a delicious brownie and got on the bus going downtown. The Geeks are gathering. At the convention center there is one of the longest lines I’ve ever seen at Moscone. It wraps around the side of the building and goes a long way down Third Street. It’s funny though. No one seems to mind getting in line. It’s part of the fun, I guess. There is an odd spirit of camaraderie, but I’m glad I have my pass and avoid the line.

The biggest, most anticipated event of the weekend is a panel on the movie, The Watchmen. The expected blockbuster will be hitting the screens in less than a week after the convention. It’s assumed some footage will be shown. The event is in a large ballroom called The Esplanade. There are two big screens at the front of the room. The crowd buzzes like before a rock concert. While we’re waiting the lights dim for a few seconds and the crowd reacts with applause, shouts and a scramble for seats. It’s a false alarm.

The seats are filling up, and they have to get the crowd to fill the empty seats in the middle of the rows. “Your backpack doesn’t need a seat.” They ask people to hold up their hands if there’s an empty seat next to them. They expect the room to be full.

It’s show time, and after a short introduction a clip from the movie is shown. We expected a trailer length teaser. The opening credits last at least twenty minutes and they are a sweeping history of the alternate universe The Watchmen live in. It’s very similar to our Earth, but Nixon is still President. There would be a pause between scenes. We expected the clip to end, and then another scene would begin. They showed about forty-five minutes!

One of the opening scenes shows one of the Watchmen, The Comedian, on the Grassy Knoll. He’s just done some shooting and is calmly making his getaway. Conspiracy buffs can tell he’s facing the road in plain sight of witnesses. It’s a conspiracy goof, but in an alternate universe anything can happen.

Another scene is the wild celebration at the end of WWII. In a takeoff on the famous kissing photo, one of the Watchmen heroines walks up to another young woman in the raucous crowd and gives her a long lingering kiss. The preview audience reacts with cheers. It is San Francisco.

After a short discussion of the movie there is a Q&A. The first guy in line is quite a knucklehead. The clip is awesome. They all did an awesome job. The acting is awesome. The special effects are awesome. “That’s an awesome question,” one of the panel quips.

Dave Gibbons and the director Zach Snyder are here to talk about the movie. Allan Moore is known to be very displeased with most movie treatment of his work. No one expects him to be here. There is some discussion of the problems of bringing Watchmen to the screen. The project had many starts and delays. It’s quite a preview of a movie fans have been waiting for years to see.

There are unique photo opportunities all over the convention center. Wonder Woman and Lara Croft mingled with characters from Manga Anime. There were several groups with a Batman, a Robin, a Joker and Nightshade.

There was a guy wearing a particularly meticulous costume of The Vision. He posed with a group of Superheroes including a Batman in front of the convention center. Two guys dressed as The Mario Brothers ran up to the group. “Can we get in?” The group posed for more pictures. The Mario Brothers gave each other a high five. “Where else can that happen?” one of them exulted.

I wandered the floor some more. I noticed a small group in Star Fleet uniforms. A group of four Klingons in accurate costumes were approaching. They looked kind of beefy under their prosthetics. They drank from large Klingon mugs. Not a bad way to get away with walking around drinking beer. A skinny Star Fleet officer approached the Klingons, “Would you do us a favor?” he asked, holding a camera. This could be trouble. “We are NOT in the habit of doing favors for Star Fleet!” one answered in a robust manner. They left the Star Fleet officer hanging for a minute, but they did pose for a picture.

Near the back of the exhibit floor were the Steam Alchemy guys. I thought they were a theater group until I went by their booth later. They were dressed in Victorian era costumes with early technological gadgets. They had Steampunk monocles and other gadgets that came right out of the old Wild Wild West TV show. Their table offered “Wild West guns” and “Bracer Flame Cannons.”

The men’s room was crowded. It’s not Rock concert crowded, but busy. Batman came out of one of the stalls. “Look man, Batman’s taking a crap!” I have to admit I haven’t given this Superhero problem much thought lately. The young man’s friends protested. “C’mon man!” Yeah, give a guy wearing a Batman costume a break. “Well, he IS coming out of a stall!” Batman went to the sink. He adjusted his utility belt, tipped his cowl straight and walked out, with the dignity that only someone wearing a cape and cowl could have.

I was trying to spend no more money than the admission price, but copies of The Amazing Spiderman #583 with Obama on the cover caught my eye. Marvel must have printed a zillion of these. It’s an odd collector’s piece, although with all the copies printed there probably wouldn’t be much collector’s value. I learned later it was one of Marvel’s highest selling comics ever. Still, I had to get one. For three bucks it made a good conversation piece even though the Obama pictured in the story didn’t look like Obama.

There will be a new Star Trek movie coming out soon. Another Star Trek movie? I had my doubts, but I heard several people say it looked great, and would bring new life to the franchise.

The exhibit floor is big enough that I had missed “The Museum of Lost Wonders” booth. They draw a small crowd. “What is this?” It’s one of the best and strangest web sites I’ve ever seen. It’s another alternate reality. They’re selling books, calendars and models of the Lost Wonders. They are doing some business.

There was a panel on “The Death of DC.” What does that mean? I’d lost track of the apocalyptic crises of the DC universe after they had split and shattered the DC world way back with the Crisis on Infinite Earths series. That was over twenty years ago. “The repercussions of Final Crisis are here!” “Could the days of the DC Universe be numbered?”

On my way to “The Death of DC” panel an image on the screen in the Comics Arts Conference catches my eye. It was from the “V for Vendetta” movie. I popped in for some of the talk. “Should Governments Be Afraid of Their People? Fascism in V for Vendetta.” The confusing Apocalypse of DC comics would have to wait. The speaker was Kate McClancy from Duke University. The political and sociological analysis was interesting. I hadn’t planned on seeing this, but stuck around for the talk on another Allan Moore work.

The only problem with all the great programming was that there was just so much of it, that I was missing stuff I really wanted to see. Hanging out at the “V for Vendetta” talk made me miss the trailer for “Alien Trespass.” It’s an independent film that is a tribute to the Science Fiction movies of the Fifties. It does have an impressive cast for an independent film. Eric MacCormack, who was the Will in the TV show Will and Grace, is in it. During the Q&A, a fan calls him Will. The room went quiet for a minute. It’s got to be irritating to an actor. Like a spiritualist of old, MacCormack tried to channel “Will” to see what he thinks. It looks like he’s tempted to go into character, but he doesn’t.

How’s this for a combination of high and low brow culture? It’s a presentation on a new computer game based on Dante’s Inferno! A panel of the game developers talks about adapting the classic poem to the world of computer games. There were some problems, “All they do in the book is talk.” The game takes us on Dante and Virgil’s trip through the circles of hell. The developers admit there is more action in the game. Another difference is the character of Dante, who looks like some kind of medieval Transformer. They admit Dante wasn’t this musclebound, but they had to make some concessions to the world of computer games.

There were so many events going on, that it was sometimes hard to pick. I missed “Comic Book Heaven” and “The Power of Comics.” “It Came From 1979” sounded interesting. “Re-appreciate the camp classics of 1979 ... the films that didn’t change a nation.”

Another event that sounded interesting was “The Amazing O-Man! Barack Obama and the Superhero Metaphor.” Science Fiction fans were very excited to have someone in the White House who has been seen flashing the Vulcan salute.

Daryl Frazetti was giving another talk on “The Anthropology of Star Trek,” but I didn’t think I could sit through another lecture. I also took a pass on the Costume Contest. Maybe I needed a little dose of reality.

It’s Sunday. Day Three. I’m really pushing myself just to get downtown and show up for more. It’s not as crazy as Saturday. Saturday had brought in big crowds with The Watchmen event and the Costume Contest. People in costume are starting to look normal to me. I’m starting to wonder who’s in costume and who is not.

I pop into a room to see “Super Capers” a feature film that will be released in the spring. I don’t have much interest until I see Adam West on the panel! West doesn’t say much, leaving others to hype the film, but during the Q&A he’s asked the dread two part question: What does he think of the new treatments of Batman? What is his favorite version of Batman? West admits a bit of jealousy for the newer versions of The Caped Crusader. He didn’t get to stretch out much as an actor, like most of the new Batmen could. “My favorite is me,” he says to applause.

I go back to the Comics Arts Conference for “Superhero Science 101.” Comics weren’t always centered on Science Fiction. There were a lot more “Outer Space” and Science Fiction stories in the Sixties. Comics writers at least tried to give some kind of scientific explanation to Superheroes and their adventures.

The first obvious problem, pointed out by letter writers to the comics, was that space is a vacuum. There was no sound in outer space. So the Zaps and Booms in outer space were not scientifically accurate. The sound panels were too much a part of comic books by then and they stayed.

Even some of the more improbable plot lines like alternate universes are starting to get some credibility from modern Physics. What would happen if the Irresistible Force collided with the Immovable Object? What if The Flash smashed into Superman? The debate raged on.

The Nineteenth Century was the Chemical Age. The Twentieth Century was the Physics age. The Twenty-first Century would be the Age of Biology. The use of genetic mutation in comics made it easier to create more characters. Mutations were caused by “The X Gene” in the Marvel world. DC had “The Meta-Gene.” There was little limit to the imagination to create new heroes and villains.

“It took a long time for comics to be accepted as art. Why did it take so long? Is it really accepted now?” These are the questions asked at “Comic Art in the Gallery” by Kim Munson.

Roy Lichtenstein and Warhol used comic book images in some of their art, but “It was an aberration.” A slide showing “Lucky Strike” a painting by Stuart Davis from 1924 shows that comics were affecting art. The Whitney Museum of American Art gave comics some credibility with a show in 1983. The Art world was still slow to accept any comic book images as Art. We hear the Art Spiegelman quote again about comics being considered junk, not art.

There was the High and Low Show at MOMA in New York in 1990. It caused an artistic and political split. Critics claimed it was “the end of History.” Los Angeles had the “High and Low Show: Masters of American Comics” in Los Angeles in 2005. There was a search for a “canon.” Fifteen Masters were named. Art Spiegelman was among them, but he got mad when some of his pieces were censored. He sent his art to the Jewish Museum’s show.

Spiegelman does not leave any art to MOMA. He’s still mad, but he’s also afraid there is “no context” to the work he would leave. If his work was censored, it would just wind up in the basement. “It’s the worst thing for an artist, to have your art stored in a museum basement, out of public sight.”

In Art, the emphasis is on technique. Most comics are more concerned with the story, the narrative. Early comics exhibitions had a problem “framing the entire sequence.” Galleries had been designed with huge canvases in mind and had problems displaying comic art. “Comics are about story.” There was no narrative context. The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco got around this problem by showing whole stories in its Tezuka: Master of Manga show. Hey! I saw that show!

Maybe it’s not that big of a deal to have comic books accepted as Art. Comic books are a world of its own.

“A Tribute to Bob Wilkins” is held in one of the smaller rooms. People are lining up early and it’s going to be a full room. Wilkins still has many hard core fans. It’s hard to explain how much Wilkins meant to fans of Horror and Science Fiction back in the days before Star Wars. His deadpan humor and sarcasm kept us watching some horrible films.

The tribute starts with an old animated Toyota commercial featuring Bob Wilkins with the ever present cigar. There is a short clip of him in a cemetery. He had brought some films to be buried. They should not see the light of day again.

John Stanley is our moderator today. After Wilkins walked away from Creature Features, he helped Stanley continue the show. Stanley encourages us to share personal memories and anecdotes about the man.

Wilkins was a small guy with sandy blonde hair. Horror hosts usually have an outlandish Halloween appearance. Wilkins wore a suit and tie. He was soft spoken but had a savage wit. His punch lines were delivered with an expressionless deadpan delivery. He usually smoked a cigar. The bigger the cigar, the worse the movie was.

Wilkins worked at a TV station in Sacramento. An executive at the station thought he would make a good host for the horror movies they were recycling on late night TV. The first movie they showed was “Attack of the Mushroom People.” Wilkins decided that he wouldn’t try to talk people into watching the dreadful movies they were showing. He knew if he tried to talk people into watching, they wouldn’t watch. He would try to talk them into watching something else. He’d bring a TV guide and read what was on the other channels. The time was right for his unconventional sense of humor. People started watching to have a laugh and “to see what would happen.”

It was a different time. There is so much about television and media that we take for granted now. You couldn’t tape the show. You had to be in front of a TV on Saturday night to see it. Not only was there no TIVO, there wasn’t even VHS then!

In 1971 he moved to the Bay Area and KRON TV. The programming director at KRON put the Creature Features show on a little earlier, at 9 p.m on Saturday nights. They were surprised by huge ratings.

Wilkins was an advertising agent. He did all the advertising for the Chuck E. Cheese pizza franchises. Oddly, Wilkins was a day person. Creature Features was taped during the day. He wasn’t a fan of “Monster” movies, but he did have a 16 mm projector at home and he did watch all the movies. He admitted he didn’t know much about the movies until he started working for the show. “Now, thanks to people like you, I’m an expert.”

Another Wilkins memory for fans was The Captain Cosmic TV show on KRON. There are cheers from the audience. He would wear what looked like a San Diego Chargers football helmet and a cheesy caped super hero costume. Wilkins wasn’t too happy with the arrangement. “Were there any personal appearances as Captain Cosmic?” No, he never left the studio in that costume. It was obvious who Captain Cosmic was, but Wilkins rarely admitted he was Captain Cosmic.

Next up is Mr. Lobo. A panelist slips and calls him “Eric.” “It’s Mr. Lobo,” we’re reminded. There are a lot of secret identities flying around the convention center this weekend. Mr. Lobo is trying to continue the Horror Host tradition on his show Cinema Insomnia. He first met Wilkins when he interviewed him for Planet X Magazine. They hit it off and he started writing bits for Wilkins’ show. Wilkins suggested that Mr. Lobo should be a Horror Host.

Like most in the room Mr. Lobo has memories of watching Creature Features as a kid. He tells of watching the old movies in his Spiderman pajamas. It was a rare bonding experience with his father. He never imagined he would be a Horror Host himself.

Mr. Lobo is asked about bringing back a Creature Feature type show. He had a lengthy conversation with Channel 20, KTEH. They asked about his demographics and got much information, but never hired him.

Mr. Lobo’s parents weren’t thrilled with his new career choice. Wilkins realized this and called Mr. Lobo’s mother. She was worried about her son, but Wilkins reassured her about her son’s strange career choice.

“Bob was special, and more important he saw the ‘specialness’ in people. There were different Bobs.” Mr. Lobo concludes with, “He was the man I’d like to be.”

John Stanley heard that Wilkins was retiring from the Creature Features show. He called Wilkins. Wilkins asked him why he called. Stanley was a reporter for The Chronicle and said it was a news story. “Have you thought about taking over my job?” Wilkins asked him. Stanley said he never thought of it, but soon he was in the yellow rocking chair. Creature Features went on for another nine years.

Stanley tells the story of his first show as host. Wilkins was at the first show in the control booth. He said he would “save” Stanley’s ass at some point. The first movie Stanley showed was “a snake movie” called “Stanley.” Continuing the tradition of strange guests, Stanley had a snake expert and his python on the show. The snake slipped away from his handler and bolted for Stanley. “Watch out!” Wilkins yelled from the safety of the control booth. He did save his ass.

Wilkins helped create a community with Creature Features. In the days before the Star Wars phenomenon Creature Features was one of the few places that you could find out about new Science Fiction and Horror movies or other events. This was before the revenge of the nerds.

Wilkins presented many strange guests in his years on Creature Features. Most were Horror and Science Fiction stars plugging their latest movie. Among the elite of Science Fiction and Horror who were interviewed on Creature Features were: Forrest Ackerman, Ray Harryhausen, William Shatner, Christopher Lee, George Takei and Buster Crabbe!

There were bizarre guests. UFO enthusiasts told us that aliens could be seen every day wandering the Bay Area. A young guy wearing antennae regularly saw “Venusians and Jupiterians” walking the streets of San Francisco. There was a young couple who had spent much time and money producing a robot.

Wilkins was contacted occasionally by “vampires” who wanted to be on the show. “Can you come down to the studio tomorrow afternoon at two o’clock?” Wilkins would ask the supposed bloodsucker. Of course he would! “Then you’re not a vampire!” Wilkins had caught him. A real vampire would not come out in the daylight.

Wilkins was once asked if he was a bit patronizing to his more unusual guests. Was inviting them on the show and giving them exposure encouraging psychosis? No, Wilkins answered, “Psychosis has been in the Bay Area a long time before I arrived.”

Wilkins was once given a plaque from George Lucas, praising his early influence on the director. “Whatever happened to George?” Wilkins dryly wondered.

The Creature Features show was taped once a week. They only had two hours of studio time and they couldn’t go over. God forbid that Betty Ann Bruno’s “On the Square” TV show would be delayed.

There’s a Q&A, and again Stanley asks for personal reminiscences and stories of Bob Wilkins.

There was a fan who went to Reno. He had a copy of the just published Bob Wilkins Scrapbook in the car and noticed an address on the back. Well, he was in Reno anyway and went to the address. Wilkins answered the door. The fan explained how he found the address and Wilkins asked him in. “This is the house that Horror built,” Wilkins told him. He was very gracious and they had a nice conversation.

Stanley asks a young black guy for his memories of Wilkins. The guy appears to be a bit challenged. Maybe it’s a speech impediment. He struggles a bit, but gives a heartfelt speech. He says it’s sad that Bob isn’t here physically anymore. It’s a sad moment. “Bob was the greatest man I ever met.”

Underground comics veteran Trina Robbins is sitting right behind me. “Why isn’t there programming like that anymore?”

John Stanley explains the system of syndication packages. There was always a contract to get a package of films for a station’s broadcasting. Some films had to be shown at least once in prime time. After that it was up to the station’s programming department. The “film department” decided what movies Wilkins would show. They were usually the bottom of the barrel.

Another problem was the boom in infomercials. Stations were paid to show them and this was a double bonus for them. They didn’t have to provide any programming and got paid for airtime. It also became harder to find two hour slots of time for the movies that were still available.

In 1980 KRON was sued for violating some of the agreements regarding transmission rules. They had been bouncing their signal off a satellite and broadcasting into areas outside their syndication area. They lost and had to cut their territory back.

Cable TV changed everything. The old syndication rules went out the window, but increased competition and the spread of infomercials doomed a show like Creature Features. Lobo says it’s hard to get films now, even though some are in the public domain. It’s hard to find good films that the licensing has expired on.

Bob did like “Night of the Living Dead.” He broadcast it in 1972. It was one of the most daring films he showed and had high ratings. There was a “Bob Wilkins” print, the original cut of the movie. “Remember the scene were the little girl kills her mother with the gardening tool, the trowel?” When it was first shown, there were about thirty strikes from the daughter. In repeat showings they had to tone it down a bit. They cut it down to five to ten strikes with the gardening tool.

Stanley has another humorous tale. A new programming executive at KRON had seen the ratings numbers for a showing of “Night of the Living Dead.” There were scenes in “Night of the Living Dead” that had some “accidental nudity.” They had gotten away with showing it in the middle of the night. The new executive wanted to show the movie with such high ratings in prime time, at seven o’clock on Saturday night. They had him watch the movie. He couldn’t believe they had broadcast some of the scenes. They did not show it in prime time.

Wilkins championed independent film makers in the Bay Area. He showed Ernie Fosselius’ Star Wars parody “Hardware Wars.” Many local filmmakers owed Wilkins a debt for their first exposure on TV. Wilkins promoted bizarre independent films like “The Monster from Milpitas” and “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.”

There is another event scheduled for the room and our time is up, but no one wants to leave. We don’t want it to be over. Chairs shuffle. Stanley tells us of a tribute to Wilkins that will be held soon at Auctions by the Bay in Alameda.

It was a bit like a wake and had its sad moments, but it sure had some laughs. It was a fitting tribute to a man who had become a unique entertainer.

That was it for WonderCon 2009. I’d spent three days there and knew I had still missed a lot. There had been some escape from the economic meltdown for many fans. Maybe we need Fantasy and Superheroes now more than we ever did before.