By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The white-haired, wheelchair-bound Ray Bradbury, author of such fantasy classics as Fahrenheit 451, was being rolled around Comic Con. He wore chunky glasses and a tweed sport coat, and appeared virtually mute as he pointed his handler in the direction of the booth for Sonoma Gallery. “I know what he sees,” said the handler, “and I don’t think it’s Barbie.” The gallery’s specialty was sexed-up porcelain sculptures with names like “The Bride.” The tops of her stockings were visible, and her train was nonexistent.
Bradbury was not alone. The only reason I’d come to 2003’s Comic Con International was to get sexy with my fellow geeks, and it looked as if I’d blown my best chances: I’d missed the Klingon ascension ritual. I’d also missed Friday night’s Klingon Lifestyle presentation. And Halle “Storm” Berry and Angelina “Lara Croft” Jolie had already fulfilled their contractually obligated meet-and-greets and gotten the hell out of the San Diego Convention Center — two more instances when the hormone levels would have been running high.
Though 60,000 of us were here, we geeks are shy, and need all the social lubricant we can get. I knew I should have come in costume. How else was I supposed to start a conversation? All around me, pointy prosthetic ears poked alluringly through limp locks of unwashed hair; wan goth girls with lip piercings and 6-inch platforms abounded. But the mere scent of geek love was not enough. The scent, the scent . . . it’s a bit like the odor of non-archival Mylar, yellowing with mildew in a humid room.
Looking for some action in Artists’ Alley, I visited the booth for Who Wants To Be a Superhero?, a reality show set to debut on the WB in January 2004. The show’s producer, Aliyah Silverstein, had already lined up a bunch of prospects — Budget Man, Action Folk Singer Man, Man-Man — yet she continued to trawl for candidates.
“Are you interested in becoming a superhero?” she called to a freckled boy, about 15, wearing baggy shorts and a big gray T-shirt.
“I’m not really of the superhero build,” the kid said. He lifted an arm, weighted down with a plastic bag of convention swag, and indicated his pudgy chest. There are very precise notions about where superheroes are supposed to bulge.
A squinty-eyed blond guy with a week’s growth of beard and a sailor cap dropped by to say hello. His name was Steve Ruddy, and he had applied earlier that afternoon as Sea Wolf — pirate by day, wolf by night!™
“I’m from the Superfun Toy Company,” said Ruddy, as I accompanied him to his own booth, in row 4800. “We’re here hangin’ out and promotin’, trying to introduce the Toxic Teddies. They’re like New Age tools for living.”
At Ruddy’s booth, an idyllic diorama of figurines was laid out on a card table. There were eight to choose from, with names such as BiPolar Bear (complete with straitjacket), Rubba Bear (with leather bondage mask) and Smackie Bear (with hypodermic).
“Don’t take that one the wrong way,” said Ruddy’s partner, Joe Reginella. “He’s diabetic.”
Ruddy and Reginella had traveled all the way from New York with their bears. “Joe and I have been friends since high school,” said Ruddy. “We met because I’d heard Joe had every issue of Fangoria, the hora magazine.”
“Horror?” I asked.
“There are other products like this,” said Reginella. “You know, you squeeze the bear, and it curses.”
“But that’s a little lowbrow,” said Ruddy.
“We’re trying to bring it up a level,” said Reginella, folding the diorama into itself, to show how it doubled as a child-size coffin. “It was made by master carpenters,” he added.
I asked if any other exhibitors boasted comparable craftsmanship, and by way of answer Ruddy took me to the Plastic Fantasy booth. The Superfun duo had bonded with that company’s president, Jerry Macaluso, because they were all from Brooklyn.
“I like what Toxic Teddies are doing,” said Macaluso.
“And we love what he’s doing,” said Ruddy. We entered a backroom, shielded from the convention floor, containing an array of naked dolls based on full-body laser scans of famous porn stars. Each measured an impressive 7.5 inches — tall — with fully articulated sex organs modeled on the originals. Except for the Ron Jeremy doll.
“He couldn’t get it up,” said Macaluso. “I had to mold that one by hand.”
Weren’t porn-star dolls a bit out of place at a comic convention?
“At this point, it’s just another part of fringy pop culture,” said Macaluso. “These are available at Tower, Virgin and Spencer’s Gifts. One girl had Steph sign her tits.”
Outside, the kewpie-faced porn star Stephanie Swift posed for pictures, directing her come-hither gaze at each photographer in turn. As I walked by, we locked eyes. And at last I felt satisfied, having shared at least that one intimate moment.
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