22 March 2017

Salt Lake Comic Con FanX 2017

I mentioned yesterday that we went to the Salt Lake Comic Con FanX 2017 over the weekend. We had a pretty good time, and here's my rundown of the experience. The first day, we had one scheduled event, a photo op with "Weird Al" Yankovic. Because there are five people in our family, and the photo op rules stated you could only have four people in a photo, our plan was to have my wife and the kids in the picture with Weird Al on Friday and me and the kids in the picture with Stan Lee on Saturday. The line for passes was very long, but some con worker came down the line and said people who ordered Gold or VIP passes could skip the line. We had Gold passes, so we walked past thousands of people and it took about 3 minutes to get our wristbands and get in the door. Good stuff. I'm glad we paid the extra for Gold passes, as you only get so much time before the kids get out of control.

One of the first booths we saw upon getting inside the convention hall was Agnes Garbowska. She's worked on quite a few things, but I know her for her work on the My Little Pony franchise. I'd seen her name on the list of attendees, but I figured she'd be overrun with Bronies and that I wouldn't be able to get a sketch from her. I was wrong on one point, as her line was short that early in the day, and she did this Fluttershy / Philomena sketch for me. She was also overrun with Bronies, though, as the guy in front of us definitely met the stereotype. As we walked by her booth throughout the weekend, we saw more of them gathered near her booth. This is my second Fluttershy / Philomena sketch by a My Little Pony cover artist, as Mary Bellamy did one for me a while back.

We also snagged a couple of her business cards, which have some artwork and all the details about her various social media accounts. I would have liked to get more sketch commissions while I was at the convention, but it just didn't happen. It was disappointing to just get the one sketch, but at least it was from my favorite artist on the guest list. She was really nice, too, talking to the fans and interacting with us while she worked on the sketch.

We looked around a little more, but then it was time to go and check out Celebrity Row and the lines for photo ops. That area was too small, as the lines to and from photo ops doubled as the access halls for celebrity autographs. It wound up being just a solid mass of people pushing forward in an attempt to get to their photo ops on time. Our kids hated it, especially the leftmost one in the photo. He has a hard time with noise and crowds, and we were surrounded by those things.

Just as I got the wife and kids into the line for the photo, a voice came over the P.A. system saying that Stan Lee had cancelled his appearance. That meant we wouldn't be getting our photo op with him. I tried to purchase an additional Weird Al pass online with my phone, but they were sold out online. Then I went to beg my case with the people at the service desk so that I could purchase a spot in the photo with my family, but they were cash-only and my wife had the cash. I went back through the crowd to get the money at an ATM, and just as I got back through the crowd to pay, my wife texted that they were probably too close for me to get there in time. I went back out through the crowd so I could meet them at the exit, and she texted that she had gotten out of line so that we could go together. Again, I pushed through the crowd and we went to buy an additional ticket. The people at the counter said that our kids looked like they were pretty big for being three years old (kids under three weren't charged), and that we could get by on the pass we already had. So we rushed to the line again, and got in just as they closed it off. We were the last Weird Al photo in that group. I should have stood closer to him in the picture, but I have personal space issues. I'm glad that we were able to get the family photo and meet Weird Al. His music was a big part of our childhoods, and my kids know him from appearances in kids' shows and music videos we've shown them.

Once we got through the photo op, the kids were about to go into full meltdown mode, so we walked to the mall next door for lunch. There is a creek that runs through the mall, so the kids were excited about that. They played in a big fountain and spent some time looking at fish in a pond. Once we got back to the convention we went to Kid-Con, which had some face-painting and craft stuff set up, as well as an obstacle course and a Harry Potter quidditch game. The quidditch game was geared for older kids, but the Wizard Training obstacle course was about right for our children. They went through that and got certificates and capes with the Subaru logo on them. Once we got through with Kid-Con, we decided that we should go back to the house as the kids just weren't going to last much longer and all the walking had worn us out, too.

We took the trains to and from the convention, as parking costs about as much as train passes anyway, and taking the train is convenient and acts as an adventure. The train station we went to is in the middle of the street, so you only go partway across and turn to go up onto the platform. Once we got up there I did a headcount and one of the twins was missing. We started looking around for him and told the police officer standing there that we were missing a kid. While we were doing that a train rushed past, which is pretty much the worst thing to see when you've lost a kid at the train station. Luckily, we spotted him after the train passed, crying and running around on the far side of the street. We are usually very good about keeping track of everyone in parking lots and public areas, but in that split second we turned into the train station and he continued across the rest of the crosswalk. I'm glad he stayed off of the train tracks.

Late in the day on Saturday, I wanted to get Weird Al's autograph and say hello. The line was pretty short when we walked by, so we were able to pick our items and head into the booth. He looked pretty tired and frazzled after being run ragged for two days by the convention folks, but he was friendly enough. He signed a copy of his latest record for us, and we also got him to sign one for my wife's brother, who let us stay at his house over the weekend. We also left the kids home on Saturday, so we picked up some Dr. Who prints for my wife's mom, who watched all the kids on Saturday. I haven't listened to the record yet (no record player), but it does include a free download, so I'll have to get that going soon.

While the Agnes Garbowska sketch was the only original art I picked up, I did get some other things. These Leia prints from C Wilson Art are too big for my scanner, so I borrowed images from the artist's website. These are pretty cool. I might have to find frames for them and put them up in my office. He had a lot of neat stuff. The original for the older Leia was hanging in his booth. I was afraid to ask if it was for sale. I might still ask him, though. That would be a cool piece to hang on the wall. My wife made several purchases from his booth (and life) partner, artist Holly Randall of Flying Frog Illustration. I thought her work was pretty cool, but I was more drawn to his side of the booth.

Matt Loveridge had a booth set up nearby, and I was drawn in by his art style and specifically these playing card illustrations he had hanging up. Very cool stuff, and he is also a pretty nice guy. I purchased a deck of the cards, which feature superheroes on the Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Aces, as well as Deadpool on all of the eights and Joker and Harley Quinn on Joker cards. He also has the jester frog on a Joker to act as his business card. I may have to see if he will do a commission or two through the mail.

We saw an artist going by the name Xinophin working on a Leia sketch in between C Wilson Art/Flying Frog and Matt Loveridge, and my wife noticed she was doing quick sketches for $5. My wife is pretty reluctant to spend money on art, but she wanted to get a Nightcrawler sketch done at the convention in honor of the baby we lost a couple of weeks ago. I think it turned out nicely.

The other main event of Saturday was to get Verne Troyer's autograph. Part of the draw for buying the Gold passes was that you got autograph vouchers that could be exchanged for autographs from a list of several celebrities. You could also exchange an autograph voucher for $10 off on a photo op, which we used on my wife's pass to save a little on the Weird Al photo op. Troyer was the only celebrity on the exchange list that I was really interested in meeting, so I picked up my official photo and got in line for the signature. It took a while for him to come out and he looked pretty worn out by all of the running around, but when it was our turn to go up to the table he was super friendly, talked with us for a few seconds, and gave us fist bumps after he signed the picture. I definitely left the autograph line as a bigger Verne Troyer fan than I was previously.

And that about does it for my Salt Lake Comic Con FanX report for 2017. Supposedly the FanX in the spring is smaller and focuses more on pop culture in general, while the larger Comic Con in the fall is larger and more comic-focused. I would like to attend either convention again, but I would like it if the convention staff would put out artist alley information more in advance of the event so that I could line up commissions online beforehand. That usually works better for me with my social anxiety issues. This convention likes to roll out the guest list in waves, like it's all a big secret. Some people get off on the anticipation and excitement of all that, but I want all of the information as early as possible so I have time to plan. I had a pretty good time at this convention. There were plenty of cool cosplays to gawk at, lots of neat artists and merchandise to browse, and I got to meet a couple of famous people. We also got to ride the train, go out for ice cream, and see my wife's family. The kids especially enjoyed playing with their cousins.

21 March 2017

Leia and R2-D2 by Michael 'Locoduck' Duron

I haven't posted for a bit, so I'm going to knock out a lunchtime post today. We spent the weekend going down to Utah to see my wife's family and to attend Salt Lake Comic Con FanX 2017. Once we got to the in-law's house, I realized that in the rush to get everyone out of the house, I'd left my backpack and laptop at home. While I could have written posts from drafts on my phone, that is a huge pain in the butt. I also was pretty wiped out each night, either from traveling or from walking around the convention hall. Eventually I will get all of my convention loot scanned and photographed for a post.

Yesterday was the day that Out of the Park 18 released for people who pre-ordered a copy. I wound up downloading it after work and playing well into the night, which I am paying for today. It is mostly the same game as last year, but there are some new features and obviously there are new rosters. I played two complete seasons as the Houston Astros, and won the World Series both years. I don't think I will be able to keep that run going, though, as some of my guys are getting old and expensive, and I pretty much cleared out my farm system to bring in the pieces that won me those titles. The budget is a huge deal when you're running a baseball franchise.

Today's card is another Princess Leia sketch. There was an eBay seller who was obviously clearing out a rather large collection of sketches featuring Leia as Jabba's slave. Usually I try to get sketches featuring Leia in one of her other Star Wars costumes, but this guy had a lot of popular artists at prices you don't usually see for them. I had to get a few of them to fill some artist gaps in my collection. This sketch card is from an artist that's been on my list for a long time, Michael 'Locoduck' Duron. I actually added one of Duron's licensed Star Wars sketches a while back, probably around the time I got this one.

I believe his day job is doing caricatures at a Disney park, and you can kind of see that influence in his artwork. A lot of his sketches feature chibi characters, but he also does more conventional stuff. There is a guy who does (did?) a charity event each year, gathering sketches and selling them on eBay to raise money for The March of Dimes. This sketch was done on some of that card stock, with a bonus doodle of R2-D2 on the back to go with Leia and R2-D2 on the front.

15 March 2017

A Passel of Joshi Wrestling Autographs

I still haven't done my review of the three boxes of 2017 BBM True Heart Japanese Women's Wrestling cards I opened, but that is a post that requires a lot of research and typing. I picked up a handful of joshi autographs from other years to fill out various personal collections recently.

First up is a couple of Dash Chisako ( DASH・チサコ ) cards from the 2016 BBM True Heart set. I didn't really intend to win two of these, but somehow I managed to bid on two copies of this card. I won't complain too hard, as I've been trying to get one of her autographs for a while now.

Up next is a cheki photo of Rabbit Miu ( ラビット美兎 ), who retired at the end of last year. I think I read that she decided to retire because she is getting married, which is a pretty common thing in these wrestling promotions. I think I had most of her base autographs from the 2012-2017 sets, but I wanted to get one of these autographed photos to close out the collection. She was one of the shortest wrestlers in the game at around 4'6" tall. These photos are pretty rare, and this one from 2012 is numbered # 7 / 7.

I also grabbed a couple of Ayako Hamada ( 浜田 文子 ) autographs. She has gained some fame wrestling for U.S. promotions, as well as her work in Japan and Mexico. This one from 2006 BBM True Heart is numbered # 03 / 93. The earlier BBM True Heart sets featured casual photos on the fronts and wrestling action photos on the backs, but a couple of years ago they moved away from the casual photos aside from the occasional subset.

I also got a 2016 autograph, with a couple of ink colors and some inscriptions. This one is numbered # 041 / 100. Her signature remained remarkably consistent from 2006 through 2016. I wonder if I could say the same about mine?

I picked up a few other autographs, with most of this quartet coming from the 2015 BBM True Heart set. The card in the upper left is Hiroyo Matsumoto ( 浜田 文子 ). I don't know a lot about her, but I thought it was funny that she signed as 'Lady Destroyer.' Today I learned that she got that nickname because she broke a wall during her debut match.

Next up is a 2016 base autograph of Makoto ( 真琴 ). I pulled her rare parallel autograph and a cheki photo of her from the set, but I still hadn't picked up Makoto's base autograph. It's nice to complete the set.

On the bottom left is a 2015 autograph of Meiko Satomura ( 里村 明衣子 ), probably one of the more respected joshi wrestlers. Along with Dash Chisako and Cassandra Miyagi, she won the 2016 Chikara King of Trios tournament over a team made up of Command Bolshoi, Hanako Nakamori, and Manami Katsu. I would love to attend a King of Trios tournament, but Pennsylvania is pretty far from me. This year's King of Trios event is even further away, being held in England.

The lower right autograph is Lin Byron ( リン・バイロン ), the unmasked alternate identity of the wrestler known as Ray. Ray / Lin Byron is still fighting a brain tumor, and the JWP promotion holds benefit events for her pretty regularly.

Here are the card backs. Most of the print runs are around 90 cards apiece, with some wrestlers signing more and some signing fewer. In the 2017 set the print runs have been standardized, with nearly every wrestler signing 95 cards. There are a couple of wrestlers with 89 or 90 autographs, and Ray only signed 55 cards.

14 March 2017

Sketch Card Commissions by Danielle Gransaull

I follow a lot of artists on Facebook. I follow artists elsewhere, too, but Facebook seems to be where I see the most posts from artists. One of the artists I follow is Danielle Gransaull. She's got a pretty distinctive art style, typically focused on cute pin-up/cheesecake renditions of characters. She's done sketch card work with most of the major card companies, including Cryptozoic, Upper Deck, 5finity, Breygent, and Perna Studios. She also does the convention circuit and sells art out of her webstore. Her comic hero roller derby illustrations are pretty popular, even inspiring cosplayers to dress up as the characters from her art. The bio on her site mentions some comic book and web comic work, but I'm not familiar with her stuff in those realms.

A while back, she announced on Facebook that she was doing 20 sketches for $20. I know a good deal when I see one, so I ordered a couple of sketches featuring the two main characters I collect, Princess Leia and Power Girl.

I recall the turnaround being pretty quick, and I spotted the Power Girl sketch in a Facebook post prior to shipment. These are both great renditions of the characters in her signature style, and I'm very happy with both of them. It's always nice to get a good piece of original art, and these turned out really well.

She also included a business card in the package, with her contact information. She usually has some art available for sale, and it seems like she is pretty open to taking on commissions.

13 March 2017

Topps WWE Slam Attax: TakeOver

Topps has a European division that offers some things we don't get here in the Unites States, or that were discontinued after short runs in the US One of these offerings is the 'Attax' line of trading cards. These have a game element to them, with the most popular product being the soccer-branded Match Attax cards. You can get them on the US Topps website, but I don't really know of any American collectors who collect them. A while back there was a baseball Attax set, but again, there didn't seem to be a lot of interest from American collectors and the brand went away. Other versions include Marvel Hero Attax, Top Gear Turbo Attax, and Star Wars Force Attax.

The wrestling version of the set is called WWE Slam Attax, and it looks like there have been nine iterations of the product released, with a set appearing approximately annually starting in 2009. Apparently the first couple of sets were available in America, but they stopped distributing them here after a couple of years. The sets are: 1st Series; Evolution; Mayhem; Rumble; Rebellion; Superstars; Rivals; Then, Now, Forever; and TakeOver. Although the soccer and wrestling cards are part of a game, it seems that most people are in it for the collecting aspect. Each release typically includes a starter pack with a basic 9-pocket album, and there are chase foils and other special cards with limited seeding.

I thought it would be fun and different to chase an overseas WWE set, so I found an eBay seller in the UK who would ship them here to the US. I watched a couple of box breaks online to get an idea for what to expect. The seller I found had three boxes of TakeOver (released in September 2016) in stock, and I also ordered a starter pack to get the binder and other promotional material. Shipping was pretty expensive, but the box prices weren't too high and it balanced out.

The boxes were pretty beat up by the time they arrived. Each box contains 36 packs, with 8 cards per pack. There is a foil card in each pack, with Limited Edition foils falling one per box and a Gold Metal Championship Belt relic falling very rarely. MSRP on the packs is pretty cheap, with this product being marketed at budget-conscious collectors and kids, probably the same marketplace that chases Panini's sticker offerings.

The package was inspected by Customs on the way to my house. They opened up one of the boxes of cards and taped it back up with their green 'Examined By' tape.

Within that box they also cut open one pack, which they helpfully sealed back up with their tape. There were eight cards in the pack still, so they didn't take any souvenirs that I am aware of.

Here is the starter pack inside of its polybag. It includes a collector binder, a pack of cards, a gift card for a store I can't buy anything from, and a couple of other items.

This big poster folds out and explains the rules of the game along with a playmat, it shows some of the cards you can pull, and also features a complete visual checklist of the set.

The binder is pretty basic. There are enough pages to hold the set if you double the cards up back-to-back in the pockets. The front and back covers are sheet protectors for the inserts that are included in the package.

I accidentally scanned the poster instead of the front cover for the first photo. If you replace the words 'Game Guide' with 'Collector Binder' it is basically the same picture. The back cover features some contest and festival information.

The inner covers feature another checklist. The set has 299 cards in the basic set, plus 5 limited edition cards and 1 metal belt relic.

Here are some of the other items in the starter pack. There is a gift card, a transparent pack of cards with the Limited Edition Brock Lesnar/Dean Ambrose card on front, and a Championship card stand. Apparently there are stands featuring other WWE belts available in other packaging, like collector tins and blister-packaged multi-packs. I didn't get any of the tins or multi-packs, so I don't have any other stands.

The final inclusion in this package is this Wyatt Family sheep mask, for people who are into that kind of thing. The instructions say to have an adult help me put it on, but I think I would be embarrassed to ask any of the adults I know for help with it.

There are three different pack designs, each with a selection of different WWE stars.

The back of the pack contains seeding information. The Red Foil cards are slightly more common than the Gold Foil cards. NXT Graduate/Title Belt cards are pretty common, and the Metal Belt relic is apparently so rare that it doesn't even get odds.

This may or may not be the contents of the first pack of cards I opened. You get to see most of the basic card types here. Each wrestler has a logo appropriate to their era. The NXT Graduate cards are foiled. There are Tag Team cards and Signature Move cards. The only things really missing here are some of the other foil types and an Objects card. Each card features numerical ratings for use in the game, as well as a number of stars for use as a quick reference as to the wrestler's quality.

The card backs repeat the logos from the fronts, as well as the star ratings. The game rules say you can use this to help decide which card to play against your opponent, as cards are played face-down.

The first 16 cards in the set are the Gold Champion Foil cards. Those same 16 cards are repeated for cards 17-32 as Red Champion Foils. You can see by the ratings on the bottom that the Gold Foils are better. I believe Gold John Cena is the only 100 - 100 card in the set. I pulled a fair number of doubles in my three boxes, and the only card I was missing from the basic set was the Finn Balor Gold Champion card. I was able to source one pretty easily, with the cheapest option being from an eBay seller in Germany.

The backs of the Champion Foils are the same as the backs on any other card, but they are more likely to have a 5-star rating.

Cards 33-48 make up the NXT Graduate set. These are printed on foilboard, and feature wrestlers who came up to the WWE through the NXT developmental promotion.

Cards 49-56 feature various title belts, which don't do anything in game terms. The rules say, though, that you can raise the stakes of a match by putting a belt on the line.

Cards 57-88 feature wrestlers' Signature Moves. The wrestler's name takes center stage, with the name of the move in the upper corner and the usual Defence - Attack and Star Ratings. In game terms, I think these are treated the same as a wrestler card. I am not too concerned with that, as I am more collector than gamer. There is a prescribed type of gameplay (Wrestlemania Rules) that mandates selecting only a certain number of cards from each subset, with Signature Moves being one of those.

Cards 89-177 make up the WWE subset, featuring current wrestlers. There are plenty of long-time favorites in this subset, along with other wrestlers that have come along more recently. I do like the card design on these, with a foreground posed photo and an action shot in the background. The cardstock on all of these cards is pretty thin, to the point where you might try to peel a corner back and see if they are stickers. This is a budget set, though, so that is to be expected.

Cards 178-208 are NXT wrestlers, with a fair number of names I am familiar with included. 209-216 are the NXT Rookies, who are the newest of the new wrestlers.

Cards 217-275 are the Legends subset, with wrestlers that people of my generation might be most familiar with. I know the Iron Sheik is pretty popular among bloggers, but there are many others here who you might feel some nostalgia for. The big notable exception is Hulk Hogan, who still hasn't been accepted back into WWE products after the racist comments from his sex tape went viral. I don't think Andre the Giant is in the set, either.

The Tag Teams subset fills out cards 276-295 in the set, and there are four Objects (Ladder, Steel Chair, Table, Trash Can) that fill out the end of the set with cards 296-299. There are five Limited Edition foils in the set. I had hoped to pull most of them between my starter kit and my boxes, but there was a double and so I only wound up with 3 of the 5 from my break. I was able to get the final two from a UK eBay seller without spending too much money. There is also an error in the base set. Some versions of Kalisto's card feature a picture of another masked wrestler, Sin Cara. I don't know how many of each version there are, but I got some of each in my break.

I also didn't get the Roman Reigns Commemorative Championship Plate card in my break, but I found a seller with one at a relatively reasonable price. That probably closes out my chase of this set. It would be cool to get the tins and remaining championship stands, but the cost of doing so outweighs the benefit. I have all of the cards that are available, and that's the main thing.

I will be interested to see if there is another set released for 2017. If I can find a good source for boxes, I might go ahead and try to put this product together every year.