Hello! Welcome to what is the first of hopefully many installments of Con-Man, a series of articles that will focus on the many facets of the most wonderful of nerd-Meccas: horror movie conventions.
From (hopefully) funny anecdotes to interviews with genre stars and convention regulars to spotlights on special vendors, Con-Man will bring the convention experience of this writer directly to you, my dear Dreadfuls. Our first episode is titled “Guillermo del Toro” (for what I should imagine will be an obvious reason). Here’s hoping you enjoy!
It was 2002. I had just flown in to the wonderful little city of Pasadena to attend my first-ever horror convention, thrown by my favorite horror movie magazine. For a kid from a relatively small Midwestern town, the view of the city and the gorgeous weather were sights to behold. Still, sightseeing be damned, I had a convention to go to. I rushed directly to the Pasadena Convention Center, eager to begin a horror-fan experience not readily available in my neck of the woods at that time.
I found the convention space to be large, the crowds there already full of fellow horror fans. Vendors sold all manner of rare and cool horror-related items. Genre stars could be glimpsed at every turn.
I was home.
Over the course of that weekend I sat in on several Q&As, attended a premiere of a fairly high-profile (yet ultimately disappointing) studio horror film, chatted with my favorite horror celebs and bought my weight in cool merchandise from the numerous vendor tables littering the convention hall.
Mind you, not everything about this trip turned out to be pleasant. While the majority of the people at the convention were totally cool, a few of them nearly soured the entire trip with their rampant douchery (yeah, it’s a word).
Firstly, there was the legion of convention workers running the con – each selling tickets, wrapping armbands, and corralling attendees into various areas. All of them curt, mean-spirited, outright bastardy little balls of misery, who I imagine are just as miserable at their day jobs.
Then there was the horror movie action hero – He Who Slays Zombies and all manner of fiends. A man who starred in one of my favorite 70s horror films (hell, one of my favorite movies, period). A guy I’d always wanted to meet until… well, untiI I met him. And, unfortunately, I found him to be a rather snide little man whose autograph I ultimately saw as a blight on my prized movie poster.
Finally, there was the special effects wizard, a man I’d idolized since I was a teenager. Hell, when I was fourteen, I wanted to be this guy. And then, at this convention, I met him finally, only to discover that he was cold, rude, and entirely disinterested in his adoring fanbase. He hardly muttered more than a couple of words to each person in line (unless the fan’s line of questioning involved his newly-opened makeup school).
Rather, he just half-heartedly dashed out autograph after autograph while collecting cash and trying to make as little eye contact with his supporters as possible. I would’ve been willing to give the benefit of the doubt and chalk this up as simply a bad day for the man, except this is pretty much his M.O. for every convention I’ve ever seen him at, and stories I’ve heard from fellow fans and convention-goers don’t do him any favors, either. To be fair, it’s entirely possible that he just takes a while to warm up to people. But, if that’s the case, maybe he shouldn’t be a convention regular, y’know?
Still, those instances aside, the people at the convention were mostly fantastic. The host/horror magazine editor-in-chief was as nice and cordial as one would hope he’d be. I was able to speak to George Romero (my hero), Bruce Campbell (an utter blast), Bill Moseley (super-nice guy), Patricia Tallman (sweetheart!) and a number of others who absolutely lived up to my expectations about them.
But then…then there was Guillermo del Toro.
I’d been a fan of Del Toro’s ever since I’d seen Cronos and Mimic as a kid. I’d recently viewed The Devil’s Backbone and Blade II, and was as excited to meet this director as anyone else at the con. Both he and Mike Mignola were attending the convention to drum up interest in Hellboy, which was about to go into production later that year. The two men took to the stage in the convention center’s main hall and proceeded to keep the audience in stitches, non-stop, for their full half-hour. Well, actually, it was mostly Del Toro who entertained, as poor Mignola barely got a word in edgewise.
Among the highlights:
– Del Toro was very colorful all while recounting various tales in his charmingly rough-hewn Mexican accent. At one point, a family of four (yes, young children in tow) actually got up to leave the hall. He saw this, then begged them to stay, pleading – “Please! Don’t go! I say ‘motherfucker’ only four more times, I swear! It’s all your fault, you know,” said Del Toro joking with the crowd. “What’re the first words you teach a foreigner when they come to America? How to swear!”
– On location scouting in Prague for Blade II: “We got down into the sewers to take reference photos, only to find this white, gelatinous goo hanging from the ceilings. We got it in our hair, in our clothes, by the time we were finished we looked like Ginger Lynn!”
– Del Toro recounted a meeting with a Universal exec where he tried to secure a green light for Hellboy. The exec suggested Vin Diesel for the lead role (the audience’s “boo” at this was damned near deafening). It was also suggested that Del Toro rewrite the script so that Hellboy would start out looking like a normal human, and would only turn into the big, red, demony crimefighter when he became angry. According to Del Toro, he just stared, speechless, before mustering up the ability to point out the ridiculous similarity to The Hulk.
– Concerning the casting of Hellboy, Del Toro said that, for him, it could only ever be Ron Perlman. When he first met Hellboy creator Mignola, the comic book writer told him that he only had one actor in mind to play his creation. Del Toro quipped – “Well then, we have a problem.” Any potential argument between the two was defused when it was discovered that Mignola’s only choice for the role was Perlman as well.
The Q&A was a blast. Del Toro regaled the audience with fascinating on-set tales, lamented the fact that he let his initial vision of Mimic get compromised (telling us that, after having actually directed and edited the imposed changes upon his film, that he would never again “make somebody else’s mistakes for them”), and catching everyone up on his upcoming projects. Among these were an adaptation of the manga Ranma ½, a project which would eventually become the brilliant Pan’s Labyrinth, and his long-mooted H.P. Lovecraft adaptation At the Mountains of Madness. He spoke about this last project lovingly, even detailing an action set-piece he had in mind for the film involving an unlucky human getting trapped underneath a sheet of ice while a Lovecraftian beastie waited for him just above.
After the talk, both Del Toro and Mignola sat at a nearby table to sign autographs for the crowd. As the rules were set (and repeated, over and over, by the convention trolls), the featured talent at the convention would not charge for autographs, but could only sign one item per person. No exceptions. And here I had both a copy of the first Hellboy trade paperback, and a poster for Blade II, which Del Toro had directed, and Mignola had provided conceptual artwork for. I was torn. Sure, the Hellboy trade was cool, but I hadn’t yet seen the film. Blade II, on the other hand, I adored. And I was an avid poster collector. Decisions, decisions.
Ultimately, I decided to get the trade signed. I stood in line, finally made it to Del Toro, and shook the Great Man’s hand. I told him how much I loved his work, especially the brilliant Devil’s Backbone. He was quite gracious, auto’d my book, and told me he hoped I would enjoy the upcoming film.
I moved down the table to Mignola, who thanked me for reading his work. He signed his name next to Del Toro’s, and then proceeded to sketch an image of Hellboy onto the first page. I was ecstatic. This would clearly be the prized item of this nerd’s collection.
Del Toro saw this. “What the fuck?!” Both Mignola and I turned to him. He stared at the Hellboy sketch inside of my book, then shook his head. “Motherfucker’s always trying to upstage me,” he laughed.
Del Toro swiped the book away from Mignola, then began sketching. He drew an image of himself underneath Mignola’s Hellboy, looking up at the hero with wide eyes. He even drew a word balloon and scribbled in the line “Look at him!”
He passed the book back to me. I was overjoyed, thanking them both. This, surely, would be the coolest thing to happen to me at this convention. I slid the paperback into my backpack, tucked my Blade II poster under my arm, and began to walk away when I heard – “Ehhh, What is that?”
I turned. “I’m sorry, what?”
Del Toro nodded to the poster under my arm. “That. What is that?”
“Oh. It’s my Blade II poster.”
“Ah,” he said. He nodded. We just stood there for a moment, staring at one another.
Finally, smiling, he broke the silence. “Am I going to sign it?”
“Uh, yeah! Sure!” I walked back as he apologized to the next person waiting in line. He grabbed the poster, put his silver autograph pen to it, and started to sign his name.
The pen broke. Silver ink shot out onto the bottom of the poster. Del Toro’s eyes widened. He looked at me, then the poster, then back to me. “Gah!”
He looked around frantically, searching for…a napkin! He put paper to poster, then began scrubbing away, trying in vain to clean away the quickly drying silver ink.
He scrubbed, looked at me, looked at the poster, looked at me, scrubbed. “Gaaah!”
Mignola resisted the urge to laugh. He quipped – “I told you not to buy the cheap pens.”
Del Toro spun on him – “Shut up!”
I didn’t know what to say. Here was one of my heroes, nearly having a panic attack over my potentially ruined poster. Understand, here was a guy who, not thirty minutes before his presentation, was elbow-to-elbow with fellow fanboys at a bootleg DVD table, rifling through tons of titles with glee (he ultimately wound up with a black garbage bag full of movies). Point is, here was a fan’s fan. A guy who was genuinely upset that he may have ruined a fellow horror geek’s poster.
He looked up at me, realizing that he wasn’t going to be able to fully clean the ink away. He stammered out an apology. I laughed and assured him that it was no problem, that it was worth it for the story.
He grabbed another pen (from Mignola’s pile), then drew yet another picture of himself, this one with a word balloon reading “Sorry for the mess!”.
He passed my poster over to Mignola – “Sign that!”
Mignola did, laughing all the while. He passed my poster back to me.
I thanked both men (Del Toro still apologizing), waved, then headed on my way, certain that this would be one of my favorite moments I might ever have at any convention.
And y’know what? It still is.
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