Cthulhu Coffee at MadCon 2001
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A mere two weeks after the fabulous ICON 26, Ted and I grabbed a couple fine friends and headed off into the wilds of Wisconsin to check out MadCon, one of two new conventions based in Madison (the other being Odyssey Con). The weather was full of that vintage late-October Midwest chill and our spirits were high as we departed for this convention, which promised such stellar guests as Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Peter David, and a gaggle of TV and film luminaries. We returned to Minneapolis awed at how much fun we had despite the convention's rather apparent chaos.

Here's my nutshell abstract of what MadCon is all about. Due mostly to an incredible amount of bad luck (not incompetence), MadCon 2001 was poorly advertised, poorly organized, and had an unfortunate convention space in many ways. However, these guys have an amazing talent, which is getting guests that will knock your socks off, and programming the hell out of them. So, the weekend went sort of like this: we would go to an event at the advertised time, wait for 15 minutes while someone searched for the guest/hooked up AV equipment/apologized profusely, and then get treated to something amazing and entertaining. Wonderful things rose out of the chaos on a regular basis throughout the weekend, and we walked away rather pleased. Besides, I have never been at a convention where I had the opportunity to gripe about greasy breakfast food with Harlan Ellison, or to sample guava paste with Babylon 5’s Jerry Doyle.

I really want to see this convention succeed. After GenCon leaves Milwaukee for Indianapolis after next year, Wisconsin will have no major sci-fi conventions whatsoever. It will be left with Odyssey Con (also in its infancy), WisCon (which has turned completely to feminist issues in fandom), and a tiny get together in Janesville (JVL-CON). If MadCon can get its act together (or at least please the gods of luck), it has potential to be amazing. MadCon has a good group of people (just not enough of them), some great innovations to the usual convention fare (including an all-night LAN games room and a banquet that gives fans an opportunity to eat dinner with the Guests of Honor), and noble intentions. What they really need is good buzz, more attendees, more volunteers, and just more experience. This year, the Guests of Honor made this convention more than worthwhile; it would have been quite below par otherwise.

Now, just a little bit of history, which I extracted with the help of a gentleman named George Krivkovich, who was aptly listed in the MadCon 2001 program as the "Insanity Coordinator". MadCon is a spin-off of the now-defunct Mad Media Con (which ran for five years before it was closed for questionable business practices). Mad Media Con, in turn, was a spin-off of WisCon, which, as I mentioned before, now has a feminist bent. MadCon 2001 was only the convention's second year.

If you're reading this wondering whether to sign up for the next MadCon, this is my current advice. If you're looking for fun parties and a lot of good social events, MadCon probably isn't it (it might be a few years down the road, just not yet). If you are a fan of any of the guests or if you really dig LAN games, definitely spend the bucks, hop in the car, and go.

One more thing before I get to the good stuff. Keep in mind that these are my own personal ideas and experiences at this convention. There were aspects that I missed entirely (the gaming room, the LAN room, etc.) and don't have an opinion about. Hopefully, I can find other folks out in the world who have other views of MadCon 2001 on the web, and I will post links here if/when I find them.

Now, without further ado, here is the wild tale of Cthulhu Coffee at MadCon 2001. (Warning before you proceed: one of the photos lower down on the page contains a common obscene gesture. You have been warned.)

10262001 It was a brisk, windy day in Minneapolis as Ted and I cruised around Dinkytown in an effort to find Joe and Erica's abode. Joe and Erica, representatives of the PIGS party room at CONvergence, were to be our partners in mischief for the weekend. It was around 9:00 AM when Ted drove completely past their apartment and discovered that he was apparently cursed with a lack of spaces to turn the car around in. After several turns and a lot of grousing, Ted finally managed to pull the car in front of the apartment building. We loaded Joe and Erica and their stuff into Ted's car and… off we went!

FRSCAPE License PlateWell, not really. We first had to make an opposite-direction detour to Joe's parents’ abode to drop off his keys. Then… we were off!

Er, not really… We then decided to have a smashing breakfast at the uber-Perkins in Edina, at which we discussed such wonderful things as hermaphroditic cows on ice (I'm serious) and the merits of what was possibly the best waitress on the planet Earth. After that… off we went!

Well, no, not really. We then swung back to Joe's apartment to grab a few things he and Erica forgot, which was okay, since we were driving back in that direction anyhow.

It was 11:10 AM before we finally got on the road to Madison in earnest. The four of us whiled away the five-hour road trip with various CDs, humorous stories about boarding schools, and at least one cubic pound of Nerds candy. At one point, we marveled that we were, at 70 mph, driving at twice the speed of light (click here for explanation). At another point, we marveled that a van that passed us had a license plate that read, "FRSCAPE".

"Do you think they're going to the convention?" one of us commented.

We found the Hawthorne Suites in Madison at around 4:00 PM, and were immediately amused that the placard in the lobby read: WELCOME: WI STATE FIRE ASSN., MADCON. We checked in without incident, and then hauled our copious amounts of luggage up to our room on sixth floor.

Now, if you are ever in Madison and need a hotel, I heartily recommend the Hawthorne Suites. Our room, as it turned out, had a nice little kitchenette, with a fridge and a microwave, along with a VCR and a sofa and free breakfasts among the other usual hotel room fare. My only problem with the room is that there were only two towels in the room at any one given time (a situation I repeatedly tried to remedy, but it just never got fixed).

Hallway from The ShiningThe four of us arranged our gear around the room, stretched a bit, then decided we should find registration and pick up our convention badges before striking out for dinner. We then left the room and noticed the profound quiet of this hotel. In fact, the hall we were in had a striking resemblance to the halls of the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s The Shining, and we were all expecting a kid on a trike to come wheeling around the corner…

We took the elevator to the first floor and tried our best to figure out precisely where the convention actually was. (I had forgotten to bring any of the registration materials along.) The hotel was adjacent to the Alliant Energy Center complex, and we figured if the convention wasn't in the hotel, it was probably in the exhibition hall. We then struck out across the windy planes of the vast parking lot in search of the convention.

Upon reaching the doors after being whipped around in a veritable hurricane for most of our brief trek, we were treated to the amenities of a vast, apparently very new convention center. The grand hallways stretched out on either side of us, freshly waxed floors glinting in the afternoon light. For once in my life, I wished I had roller skates so I could cruise around in this vast arena. This all would have been fine if there had been people there, but the place was, as far as we could see in either direction, absolutely empty.

We stood around for a few moments, a little bewildered and unwilling to strike out across the vast, frigid tundra of a parking lot in further search of the convention. Then we saw a few people straggling around on one end of the huge hall, and we decided that would be a good place to check.

We were right. The few stragglers turned out to be the convention. A couple people were staffing a registration table, but that was about it… no one else in sight, except for a couple people in the half-stocked dealers' room. I envisioned tumbleweeds. Of course, opening ceremonies hadn't happened yet, but still…

Alliant Energy Center, Madison, WIThe four of us picked up our badges and our manila envelopes, which contained a mastodonic program (but no schedule), the receipts for our membership purchases (which was nice), and the tickets for the banquet. Even though nothing seemed to be going on, the staff looked a touch harried and disorganized, and we soon discovered that there were no schedules at all due to printing problems. We were assured that some poor panicked staffer was out at a Kinko’s somewhere printing schedules off the web page, and that they would arrive later. We found out that opening ceremonies were at 6:00 PM, which was fine by us, since that gave us time to get some dinner, and gave them some time to figure stuff out.

We walked back down the vast hallway of the Alliant Energy Center towards the hotel, and gleefully discovered an enclosed tunnel/Habitrail that led directly to our hotel. No more frozen tundra parking lot for us! As we walked through our newfound haven, we murmured softly about the apparent situation of this convention. Ted, who basically only attends conventions for the parties and social life, whispered, "The horror… the horror…"

We stopped briefly at our hotel room, picked up our jackets, and embarked for dinner. We found a Noodles restaurant within a couple miles of the hotel, and gladly scarfed down large amounts of carbohydrates, washing it down with some utterly divine Sprecher Root Beer.

By about 5:30 PM, we had wandered back to the convention. The dealers' room was now about three-quarters full of dealers, and we gladly perused their wares for a while. I chatted a while with one of the book sellers, who had a copy of the new Acolytes of Cthulhu book, edited by Robert M. Price. I pawed at it for a little while, then wandered on.

At 6:00 PM, the four of us reconvened for opening ceremonies, hoping to catch our first glimpses of any of the featured guests, which we didn't get. Instead, it was more of just a summary of what was planned for the rest of the weekend, delivered by Insanity Coordinator George, who looked a little anxious and uncomfortable. The only real highlight of the ceremonies was a song performed live by filker Luke Ski, during which I got to watch Ted squirm uncomfortably (he doesn't care for filk). (Actually, Luke Ski was quite good as far as filkers go… pretty entertaining, really.) The ceremonies, though, taken as a whole, were pretty sad. I would venture there were only about fifteen people in the room witnessing this, which made the four of us in the Cthulhu Coffee/PIGS group a significant percentage of the audience. It didn't seem to bode well, but at least it was brief.

Dark Star ViewingAfter that, we managed to obtain a makeshift schedule, and saw that John Carpenter's Dark Star was going to be playing at 7:00 PM in the movie room. Fortunately, Joe had thought ahead enough to bring a pack of cards, and the four of us killed time until 7:00 by playing Hearts.

The movie room, as it turns out, was a rather decent setup with some nice speakers, an LCD projector creating a ten-foot image on the far wall, and about fifty chairs. Unfortunately, when we ventured in there at 7:00, the film had already started, despite the utter vacancy of human life in the room. We sat down anyway and enjoyed the remaining antics of the film.

By 8:00 PM, we were playing Hearts again.

Somewhere around 8:30, somebody in the atrium announced that something called Babylon Park was about to begin playing in the movie room. We all shrugged and walked into what turned out to be the first real treat of the convention.

Babylon Park, as it turns out, is a spoof of both South Park and Babylon 5, expertly executed by animators/producers/writers Brian Roe and Christopher Russo. Brian Roe himself was there to present the film. After a brief introduction, he put in the first tape and let it roll.

It was absolutely hysterical, though the first tape (which contained the original 5-minute short and a half-hour episode named "Frightspace") was a more solid offering than the second (which pit the Voyager crew against the Babylon 5 characters). The "Frightspace" episode had the bonus feature of lots and lots of H. P. Lovecraft references and humor, which I felt were just fabulous (i.e., Nyarlathotep nicknaming himself "Ihop", Cthulhu playing Go Fish). About halfway through the showing, Joe and Erica vanished off to the CBLDF panel to catch Neil Gaiman and Harlan Ellison in action, but Ted and I were far to enthralled with this fine parody to leave the room before watching all of it.

After the end of the second tape, Brian Roe hung out to answer questions, most of which were about how he can create such a parody not be sued out of existence. After the Q&A session, I walked up and struck up a brief conversation with him. It was a pleasure to talk to someone who also deals in parody like we do, and I was thrilled to find out that yes, he was selling Babylon Park tapes at the convention. I made a mental note to grab my cash card from the hotel room.

After that, Ted and I both wandered into the tail-end of the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) panel, at which both Neil Gaiman and Harlan Ellison were busy plugging the virtues of the organization, which supports first amendment rights for writers and publishers. This was my first sight of Harlan Ellison in person, and it was really a treat, especially since he was right next to Neil Gaiman, who couldn't be more different in demeanor. Harlan is a loud, arrogant, energetic, often foul-mouthed old coot, but he's one of those humorous and lovable loud, arrogant, energetic, foul-mouthed old coots. His energy and drive would put Robin Williams to shame, and his high-speed references could make Dennis Miller pause. He could have been a comedian if he ever decided he didn't want to write anymore. Harlan engulfs any room in the force of his personality whenever he walks in. Neil Gaiman, on the other hand, is rather quiet and has a very gentle demeanor, and he generally just sat back with a bemused look on his face and let Harlan run for a while, occasionally interjecting briefly.

Sadly, I am poorly versed in the comics world, so I remember very little about the lawsuits the panel touched upon, but I had a great time watching Harlan froth at the mouth as he lit into various tax authorities, publishers, and companies.

At the end of the panel, it was announced that Harlan would be doing a reading at 11:00 PM at the hotel to benefit the CBLDF, and tickets were only $5. Ted, Joe, Erica, and I all gladly forked over five bucks apiece for tickets.

11:00 PM rolled around soon enough, and we wandered into one of the conference rooms in the hotel. We sat pretty close to the front. (Oddly enough, we wound up sitting directly behind Jeremy Stomberg, who is one of the directors for CONvergence. Author Peter David was sitting directly behind me.) Pretty much right away, Harlan came in and continued on his ranting from the CBLDF panel. This rant was one of the more spectacular rants I have ever been privy to, and it went on for two hours before he finally got around to reading something. The rant, as far as I can reconstruct, touched upon the following topics, in this order:

  • Apparently, he has been using thousands of dollars of his own money to go after Internet pirates who publish his work on the web without permission. Internet pirates piss him off.
  • George W. Bush also pisses him off. One direct quote from Harlan: "What a jerkoff..."
  • He was stopped in Logan Airport for carrying a peppermill, by a security guard who didn't know what a peppermill was. This pissed him off.
  • A kid working at a fast food place in the airport refused to give him a breakfast sandwich at 10:45 AM, even though they stop serving them at 10:30 AM. This pissed Harlan off.
  • Getting back to his lack of cash from suing Internet pirates, Harlan remarked that the cardboard tubes from rolls of toilet paper are actually quite tasty, especially with butter.
  • He said something fairly offensive regarding the use of Tinkerbell (the fairy from Peter Pan) as a sex toy, but I can't remember what it was.
  • Somehow he got onto singing praises to a butter substitute called Smart Balance.
  • He told a story about seeing comedian Eddie Izzard with his friend Robin Williams, an engagement that almost ended quickly with Harlan lynching Gus Van Sant for remaking Psycho. Yes, Gus Van Sant pisses him off.
  • This, of course, led to him to sing praises to Eddie Izzard, then to Zero Mostel.
  • He then somehow wound his way onto the subject of fountain pens. He produced an $1,800 pen, filled with orange ink, that MadCon supplied to him as part of the incentive that brought him to the convention.
  • Somehow he got onto the topic of his favorite writer, Jerald Kirsch, for a while.
  • After this, his references began to get more and more remote, to which he finally commented, "My mind is a vast rat's warren of shit." I thought that was great. I wrote it down.
  • Finally, he got onto the subject of his favorite movie, Lost Horizon with Ronald Colman, which finally, at about 1:00 AM, created a rather graceful segueway into the story he was about to read.

Lost Horizon features a scene with the main character climbing up a snowy mountain peak in blowing snow, which inspired Harlan to write "Good-bye to All That", a tale featuring a man searching for the truth of life at the peak of a mountain, only to discover that the mountain is capped with a familiar American icon of commercialism. Before he set about reading the tale, Harlan explained some of his references and brought around a beautiful illustration for the tale. He then read the wryly humorous tale in his raspy, heavy, New York accent.

The reading was absolutely wonderful, and the story (not yet published) was a lot of fun. However, after Harlan finished, he became a little irate that we weren't laughing, and began lamenting, "Why didn't you GET it?" The audience became very quiet and a bit pensive after that. The truth is that he gave away all his punchlines before he even read the story... but no one was brave enough to say so. (I was deliberately oblique in my description so you can track down the tale and read it for yourself without being spoiled. The story is going to be published later this year in Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor.)

Finally, Harlan said, after a vastly entertaining 2 hour, 45 minute show, "Did you get your five bucks worth?" The whole audience heartily agreed and applauded. It was certainly more entertaining than most movies I've been to recently.

It was 1:45 AM before we all wandered up to the hotel room to turn in for the night. Just watching Harlan Ellison for that long is enough to tire anyone out. I swear, I could hook him up to electrical cables, and he would power Las Vegas for years.

10272001 Around 9:00 AM, Ted and I were out of bed and ready to take advantage of the free breakfast that came with the room. We went down to the little buffet area on first floor and looked at the fare: scrambled eggs, sumptuously greasy sausage, and hashbrowns, along with coffee, english muffins, and cereal. The cook was preparing a fresh batch of eggs, so we patiently waited in line. Suddenly, I realized that Harlan Ellison was standing right next to Ted, and that Ted, at only five-foot-eight, towered over him.

Before I knew it, Ted and Harlan were bitching to each other about the high grease content of Wisconsin food. Various small-talk ensued, which eventually wound its way around to the subject of Harlan's reading the previous night.

"I figured out why nobody was laughing!" he gleefully announced. "I gave away all my punchlines before I started!"

We both heartily agreed with him. By that time, the eggs were ready, and we all stocked up on food and went to our separate tables.

A few minutes later, Joe and Erica also appeared in the buffet area. Apparently, Joe wound up showing Peter David how to get hot water out of the coffee machine. I have never been at a convention where the attendees had quite this much contact with the guests of honor.

The four of us gladly ate large amounts of food and made generous use of the coffee machine. When we were full, Joe and Erica went back to the room to shower and clean up. Ted and I, already washed and ready to face the day, went back to the convention to peruse the now-filled dealer's room, with a goal of finding Babylon Park tapes firmly in mind.

The dealer's room was now completely full of dealer's tables, and though small, it offered a nice array of items. Ted particularly enjoyed the Dreamhaven table (they're based in Minneapolis, we just never get over there to shop), which sported a number of the new Harryhausen action figures. Ted practically drooled over the Ymir figure.

I asked around a little, but I didn't find the Babylon Park tapes. I then went out to the registration table and asked about them. Promptly, one of the MadCon staffers ran and grabbed Brian Roe himself, who gladly supplied me with two copies of the first tape for a nominal fee.

Goal accomplished, Ted and I then went into the movie room and watched Starship Troopers Roughnecks for a while. Since I don't watch the series regularly, I never realized how much it rips from the Alien movies. Oh, well. It was fun for an hour.

A little later, we found Joe and Erica again, and I finally broke down and bought the Acolytes of Cthulhu book from the dealers' room. Ted broke down and bought the Ymir figurine. We went back to the hotel room to drop off our spoils. Ted then spent a good 15 minutes trying to fit the tail onto the body. He did not succeed. We went back to the convention.

We burned some additional time by playing cards.

Neil Gaiman and Harlan Ellison in the Human ZooBy that time, there was a small area cordoned off in the atrium area where Harlan Ellison and Neil Gaiman were supposed to be collaborating on a story. There were signs up that read, "Artists at work! Do not disturb!" and all that. It just looked like a little Human Zoo. I toyed with the idea of putting up a sign that said, "Do not feed the authors!" But I decided to be nice. They didn't look very comfortable. It was kind of funny, though, because Harlan had a big old typewriter, and Neil had a glossy, wafer-thin black notebook computer. I kept thinking how different they seemed to be, yet they seemed to get along so well.

Ted and I looked at the schedule and noted that another showing of Free Enterprise was about to start in the movie room. Besides being a fun movie for fans, the producers/writers of the film were in attendance at the convention, and since Joe and Erica had never seen the film, we decided it would be fun to attend the showing.

We walked into the movie room a little early, into the tail-end of another showing of Babylon Park. I said hi to Brian again, who was hanging out in the back of the room.

Almost immediately after Babylon Park ended, Dan Vebber, one of the writers for Futurama, stormed in and announced that he had an un-aired episode of Futurama to show. We all looked at each other and shrugged. This was supposed to be Free Enterprise's slot, but Futurama is also a nice diversion. So we hung out and watched that and were pleasantly surprised. It was a rough cut -- it was the "first color" version of the episode, which has all the animation, but not all the voices, music, and sound effects -- but it was still thoroughly enjoyable. The plot involved making the robot character into a beer distillery, among other things.

Almost immediately after Futurama ended, the Free Enterprise guys stormed in, wielding not only their film, but a dozen brand-new trailers for various upcoming films. I'm always up for a bout of good trailers, so I gladly reveled in this. These guys had some great stuff, including trailers for:

  • Ocean's 11, which stars about a dozen A-list actors and is based on an old Frank Sinatra film. Looks like it might be fun.
  • Ice Age, which is possibly the best trailer ever made. Ever. It's the new uber-animation flick, and I am anxious as all hell to see it.
  • The Majestic, yet another Jim-Carrey-as-a-serious-actor vehicle.
  • The One, Jet Li's new Matrix-esque kick-fest. I'm still not a believer in Jet Li.
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which I am not all that excited about, but dammit, the new trailer makes it look just about irresistible.
  • The Brotherhood of the Wolf, a very pretty-looking French film which has an immense amount of promise
  • The Scorpion King. Spare me.
  • Bones, yet another bland-looking blaxploitation sort of film
  • Lord of the Rings, which I am utterly drooling over solely because I am a rabid Peter Jackson fan. The new trailer is spectacular.
  • Jason X, which puts the Friday the 13th slasher Jason Voorhees firmly into new territory... outer space! Lines like, "Oh, it's okay, he only wanted his machete back... *gurgle*" and, "This sucks on so many levels," make this movie an almost inevitable rental for me.

So, after all that excitement, Free Enterprise began, well over an hour late. By that time, we had lost Joe and Erica, who wandered off to see Harlan speak again. Ted and I still hung out and watched the movie, laughing at every Logan's Run and Space: 1999 reference.

After the movie, I realized that Neil and Harlan were going to begin signing books fairly soon, so I ran back to the room to grab my copy of Angry Candy (I have no idea why I didn't grab Neverwhere at the same time).

On my way back to the convention space, I hopped into the elevator. There was a guy already in there who had not only a convention badge, but one of those little ribbons that denoted him as someone who was important. I asked him if he was staff, because I actually wanted to talk to a staffer to get some history of the convention.

"No," he said. "Actually, I'm one of the guest speakers."

It turns out, I was talking to Ashley Miller, one of the writers for Andromeda. I made small talk best I could, which was a challenge since I do not watch Andromeda because of my bizarre work schedule. That's bad considering I come from Sorbo country.

We chatted a little awkwardly on our way back to the convention through the Habitrail, during which I mentioned that I had actually asked if he were staff because I wanted to ask about the history of MadCon.

Ashley said, "Hey, I know just who you should talk to... Hey, George!"

George, the Insanity Coordinator, had appeared in the hallway. Ashley introduced me to him and then went on his merry way. George looked a little preoccupied, so I told him that I just wanted to ask about the history of the convention, and that I would catch up with him later.

When I finally got back to the atrium, Ted and I grabbed a couple soft pretzels at the concession stand and munched away as we watched the Free Enterprise guys sign posters at the next table. I kept thinking I should have them sign one for me, but I couldn't think of what I could do with a full-size poster with their signatures on it. I decided to wait until I see them at CONvergence in 2002 for them to sign something.

Ted wandered off into the dealers' room, leaving me with a few quiet moments in the atrium. I enjoyed people watching for a few minutes, concentrating on the ambient noise. In one of the panel rooms behind me, Harlan Ellison began singing something.

Peter David, Harlan Ellison, Neil GaimanWhen Ted returned, we both went into the panel room behind us where Harlan was obviously holding court for a while. In fact, he was in there with Neil Gaiman and Peter David, and the three of them were having a grand old time just chattering away. Ted and I were treated to only the last few minutes of this discussion, during which Harlan ranted a bit about how lousy most literature was these days. For the record, he despises Anne Rice and adores Donald Westlake.

Immediately after the panel wrapped up, Neil and Harlan both walked out into the atrium and began signing books. Erica and Joe, armed with several of Neil's works, both staked out spots in Neil's line. Armed with both my copy and Joe's copy of Angry Candy, I stood in Harlan's line. Ted, who has yet to read anything written by Neil Gaiman or Harlan Ellison, sat at a table and managed to entertain himself for a while.

Harlan had the table well-decked with many copies of his works, all for sale. His beautiful wife, Sue, was cheerfully manning the sales duties while he signed away. I had never been to a book signing before, so I wasn't sure if I was supposed to buy a book from him before he signed something, so I watched the people ahead of me to see what they did. A new purchase seemed to be optional.

Harlan's line was slow-going. One of the guys in front of me had a bag full of books for him to sign, and another guy had his mother along, who insisted on taking photos while he signed her son's books. Before three or four people were done, Joe's Gaiman books were already signed, and he joined me in Harlan's line.

Joe Meet Harlan EllisonFinally, it was my turn in front of Ellison, and I couldn't think of anything to chitchat about. I figured it was best if I just kept quiet then, and merely thanked him after he signed my book in orange ink from an $1,800 pen. I did manage to snap a photo while Joe got Harlan's official bright orange endorsement.

That done, I looked at Neil's line. He was going to be there for a while, so I decided to run back to the room and grab my copy of Neverwhere to have him sign. I felt a little lame having him sign it -- I haven't even read it yet -- hell, I've never read anything by him other than Good Omens -- but I figured that as long as he was here, I might as well. So I grabbed my paperback copy of Neverwhere that doesn't even have a crack in the spine yet, dashed back to the convention, and got in Neil's line. Good thing, too... the guys who got into line just behind me had a grocery bag packed full of Neil's books. After seeing that, I swore that if I ever became a famous author, I would have a two-book limit for signing.

For several more minutes, I entertained myself by listening to the people around me. (One of the guys behind me actually had Harlan sign his thesaurus, which I thought was rather clever.) I then finally sprung upon the idea of actually reading the book I had in hand to while away the time.

I had read through the first couple chapters of Neverwhere by the time I came near the front of the line. I was about the fourth person back when I began watching Neil Gaiman sign other people's books. In each one, he would scrawl little sketches and comments, and would make sure to enscibe the person's name in the book. It was fun to watch... In a copy of The Sandman, he made a beautiful little sketch of The Sandman himself underneath his name. In a copy of Good Omens, he made a little sketch of a winged hourglass and wrote, "Burn this book!" remarking that if the owner had the same book signed by Terry Pratchett, she would get the punchline to the joke. I swore to have my copy of Good Omens signed at the World Horror Convention next year.

Finally, it was my turn. He signed Neverwhere with the legend, "Mind the gap!"

With my new prize, I walked back to the table where Ted, Joe, and Erica were playing cards. We played Hearts until 6:30 PM (I was losing very badly, Ted was winning). By was then time to get ready for dinner, so we hit the Habitrail back to the hotel.

On our way back, Ted was chatting with a short, young, blonde fellow who was also heading back to the hotel. I thought Ted just knew him from somewhere. (I found on Sunday, when recognized this guy's photos all over the place in the dealers' room, that we were actually walking back with Gordon Michael Woolvett, one of the actors on Andromeda. I've got to start watching that show.)

Eventually, Ted, Erica, Joe, and I all made it back to the hotel room and raced to get ready for the dinner.

The dinner, I should explain, is a rather interesting innovation by the MadCon crew. For an extra $40, you get a gourmet banquet dinner where you get seated at a table with one of the guests of honor at the convention. All four of us signed up for this rather exciting opportunity. I had brought along one of my evening dresses just to get it out of my closet for a while, and I was prepared to use it.

At 7:00 PM, we were ready and waiting at the doors to the banquet room, which was the same room in which we had listened to Harlan Ellison rant for two hours the night previous. It had been transformed into a dinner hall by bustling caterers, with tables decked out with folded napkins and divine, chocolate-loaded desserts. The room was now also decorated, rather cleverly, with black crepe streamers strewn together to look like spiderwebs. It looked quite good, but the general chaos of the convention intervened. See, there was nobody around who actually knew what was happening. So we all waited out in the hall. There were about fourty hungry diners all waiting in the hall for instructions. We all had numbered tickets, but we didn't know what the numbers were for, and we didn't know how the seating was supposed to go, and et cetera. So we waited.

Finally some of the guests of honor began showing up, including actor Jerry Doyle (who, we were informed earlier, would only arrive shortly before the banquet and have panels only on Sunday). After a few more minutes, a convention staffer named Jon assumed a leader-like role, explained the situation, and began seating all of us. The lower numbers would get to pick their seats first, so he just began calling out numbers. Joe and Erica were lucky enough to have numbers 13 and 14, so they got pretty good picks: they got to sit with Neil Gaiman. Ted and I had 24 and 25, so by the time we got in there, Harlan's table was filled, and so was Neil's. However, only one person was sitting at Jerry Doyle's table, so we gladly sat there.

The one person already seated at the table was a very nice guy named Mike, who was wheelchair-bound and had some difficulty manipulating his hands. I sat down next to him and throughout dinner helped him situate his plates, butter his dinner roll, and get the attention of the waitress when he needed something. We were soon joined by a very quiet woman named Sarah (I think), a lovely lady named Roberta (who seemed to know Jerry) and Jon, the staffer who led us into the room. Finally, Jerry managed to get settled in enough (he still had his coat on from travelling from the airport, from which he produced several bottles of beer for Peter David) to shake hands with everyone, introduce himself, and sit down.

From there on, dinner was great. We all feasted on fish and prime rib while Jerry merrily chatted away with us. He's an absolute riot, just a regular guy who somehow seems to have stumbled into acting on accident (upon further research, it turns out he was a pilot and a stockbroker before he went into acting). He's one of those beer and hot dogs and baseball sort of guys, and he's really a lot of fun. During dinner, he talked about being surprised by seeing his ex-wife on CNN (as a reporter), related tales about a wild weekend in Vegas, and ranted a little about the new OJ Simpson acquittal (which also got Jon going -- apparently, he's a lawyer).

About midway through dinner, Jon disappeared for a few minutes and then reappeared with about four boxes of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. We all thought this a little odd. Finally, somebody at the table asked what it was for.

So the story goes, at a different convention a few years ago (Mad Media Con?), Harlan Ellison and Peter David were both in attendance as guests of honor. Harlan has this thing about serving cream cheese and guava paste as a dessert, and insisted that he serve this treat himself at a dinner at that convention. As Harlan was serving, Peter David got up and began shouting, "NOOO! Don't you know? GUAVA... PASTE... IS... PEOPLE!" Peter was hauled out of the hall kicking and screaming.

Evidently, the four boxes of cream cheese were for Harlan, who, once again, wanted to serve up guava paste and cream cheese for dessert.

Not long after that, Ted was engaged in lively conversation with Jerry, which is a dangerous thing in itself. They were getting along pretty well. Somehow, we got on the subject of cherries, possibly because the decadent chocolate cake slices at the table were each adorned with maraschino cherries. Unfortunately, they didn't have stems, and Ted remarked that if they did, he would be able to tie the stems in a knot.

Jerry looked amazed. "You can actually DO that?"

"Actually, we both can." Ted indicated both himself and me.

Jerry was awed.

This led to a segment which I will call Stupid Human Tricks, which involved everyone at the table trying to figure out what stupid little things we could all do with our tongues. This involved a lot of silly facial distortions and great awe from Jerry, who was amazed that we could do any of this stuff. It went something like this:

Ted: "We can roll our tongues, too. See?" He would roll his tongue into an O.

Jerry: (to me) "Wow! Can you do that?"

I rolled my tongue into an O.

Jerry: "Dear God, it's like the Lincoln Tunnel in there!"

And so on.

After a significant amount of time spent doing facial tricks, Jerry finally commented that Ted and I were the perfect couple, to which we grudgingly admitted that we had actually broken up over two months ago. This led to an even more bizarre conversation, which covered the unusual broken-up-but-still-very-affectionate nature of our relationship. Snippets:

Jerry: "So... a couple days later you just went back to him and said you were sorry and then f*cked him blue?"

Me: "Well, I didn't say I was sorry. But yeah."

Jerry: (wistful) "Wow!"

Another snippet:

Jerry: (to Ted) "So, do you have exclusive drilling rights, or what?"

After a good ten minutes of this, Harlan and his wife began serving up slices of guava paste and cream cheese (remarking, "Contrary to what you might have heard, GUAVA IS NOT PEOPLE."). If you've never tried this, just grab yourself a tin of guava paste and a bit of cream cheese, mix small amounts of them together, and taste. I thought it was absolutely divine.

After a few more minutes of chatting, the caterers cleared up the rest of the plates, and everyone began to disperse. Joe and Erica were still caught in the thrall of talking to Neil, so Ted and I let them be and walked up to the room so I could change into something warmer. I changed from my evening dress to a black vinyl one. I then covered that with a long cardigan for further warmth. Now I was ready to face the rest of the evening.

We went back down to the lobby. Jerry was there watching the Yankees game on TV.

I should explain here that I had an agenda when I came to MadCon that involved Jerry Doyle. Jason, Cthulhu Coffee's server guru, has a wonderful glossy photograph of the entire Babylon 5 cast... who are all giving the camera the finger. Jason loves that photo.

Melissa making obscene gestures with Jerry DoyleSince I'm not the type to pass up an opportunity, I waited for a commercial break during the Yankees' game and asked Jerry for a favor. I handed Ted the camera, and... well, you can see the result at right. [10/30/01: Apparently, I now rock Jason's universe.] I thanked Jerry and left him to his baseball game.

Ted, Erica, Joe and I then all managed to reunite, and, after showing off my photo with Jerry, we all agreed that it might be fun to check out the Masquerade. Thus, we all headed through the Habitrail back to the convention hall.

We were actually about half an hour late to the Masquerade according to the schedule, but we figured that, the way things were going, we would probably be right on time. When we got to the Program 2 room, we saw only about three people in there, and thought that we might have actually missed it. But no. The Masquerade was still yet to start. So we walked in and sat down.

I never thought I would see a Masquerade that sucked worse than the one we saw at WindyCon last year. WindyCon 2000's Masquerade had six entries.

This Masquerade had four entries...

...and one person's costume consisted entirely of putting scotch tape on her chin...

...and she won third prize, which means she actually beat somebody in competition.

Poor Insanity Coordinator George had to come up with running commentary for this thing. It was hard to watch. It's no fault of his that no one signed up for Masquerade. It was just... sad. They actually had some decent little prizes, too.

To be fair, the first prize winner actually had a very nice costume and far and beyond deserved her prize. It's just the other three entries... Scotch tape! And the vampire forgot his fangs at home!

We all walked away from this sad exhibition, vowing to hug and thank everyone involved in running CONvergence's Masquerade.

The four of us went back to the hotel room for a while. We had some time to kill before 11:00 PM, which is when Neil Gaiman was slated to do a reading in the hotel conference room. We decided to spend this time drinking heavily. Ted had the foresight to bring a bottle of Oban, and we quickly polished off the entire thing.

11:00 PM rolled around very quickly, and we rather drunkenly weaved down to the first floor conference room with our $5.00 tickets in hand. Again, we sat very close to the front. We marveled at the black crepe spider webs while we waited for the A/V equipment to be set up for Neil.

After a brief wait, Neil showed up and began reading.

Neil GaimanIf you ever have the divine chance to hear Neil Gaiman read his own work, especially live, DO IT. His voice is as beautiful as his writing. He sounds just like Alan Rickman, same accent and everything. His wry sense of humor is further magnified by his voice, and it's just a real treat to hear him interpret his own work.

He began with a poem about his "crazy hair", which was written for a little girl who happened to be sitting in the audience that night (according to Joe, she was his daughter, but we have no confirmation as of yet). Apparently, this little girl -- around 7 years old, as far as I could tell -- had written a note to him that started, "Dear crazy hair...," and that just inspired him. This little poem talked about all the wild things that lived in his crazy hair... bears, lions, and creatures galore. It was whimsical and utterly wonderful.

After the poem was over, the little girl was led off to bed by her mother. Neil then embarked on reading of an entry that he wrote for a book of imaginary diseases, which he prefaced with the comment, "This is the only thing I have written where I have gotten an acceptance letter that began with the words, 'You bastard...'." The brief essay was brilliantly funny, being about a disease afflicting authors who write about imaginary diseases.

After a great giggle at that, Neil then read parts of a work in progress, which I enjoyed immensely. He is currently working on a manuscript with horror author Gene Wolfe, about a "walking tour" of a fictional area of Chicago named "The Shambles". The work will apparently be completed at the World Horror Convention next year, which I was already looking forward to even before this announcement. Neil read three or four sections from his own contributions to the tale. If all goes well, the finished piece will be wry, hilarious, and exceptionally odd. It has definite touches of Lovecraft, with finely polished touches of humor. I'm in love with it already.

Neil then did a request for Joe (!). He first asked that if anyone was recording the reading, that they turn off the recorders. He then read the poem that he wrote for Tori Amos's daughter, which a billion Tori Amos fans would love to get hold of, since it never has been published in any form. I will only say that it is a very lovely, touching poem, and that Neil will gladly read it aloud if asked to do so. He just won't publish it.

Neil followed that by a very funny, very cute poem he did about fellow author Martha Soukup, which appeared in her book, Arbitrary Placement of Walls.

Finally, Neil finished by reading a full story which has a very interesting tale behind it. Around two years ago, he informed us, he was contacted by a Hollywood studio to do a story as a teaser for a film. He had automatically said no, preferring not to do commercial works. They kept bothering him, he rebuffed them. They then offered him $1,000 for a short story. He asked for $10,000, expecting them to go away. Instead, they said, "all right." It was the most money Neil has ever received for his writing.

Shocked, he finally opened the pack of materials the studio had sent him, and he was actually rather impressed by the concept of the film.

Neil said, "...and this movie was named The Matrix."

Everyone in the room sat up straight and perked their ears up.

So Neil wrote the tale named "Goliath", and read it for us that night. (If you are interested, the story can be read online at www.whatisthematrix.com. Go to either version of the site, click on the "comic book" option, and look for Neil Gaiman in the list of authors.)

He finished up at about 12:30 AM. By that time, Joe, Erica, Ted, and I were all extremely bleary-eyed and ready to sleep (yeah, I'm sure the alcohol had nothing to do with it at all). We all staggered back to the room and swiftly fell asleep with visions of The Shambles in our heads.

10282001 Ted and I, for some godforsaken unknown reason, woke up at 8:30 AM. We showered and dressed very quietly, so as not to disturb our roommates, and were down at breakfast by 9:00 AM.

At least, we thought it was 9:00 AM. Really, it was 8:00 AM. We forgot to set our watches back that night for Daylight Savings Time, but we hadn't realized that yet. So, we had a very early breakfast and filled ourselves on mini-pancakes and Cheerios.

We then went to the Habitrail again. During our traversal of the hallway, we decided to rename the Habitrail to The Hallway of Infinite Shocks, or something like that, since we got a static shock every single time we touched the doorknobs on the doors at either end of the hallway. Thus, we received a minimum of two electric shocks every time we used the Habitrail.

When we reached the convention space once again, we found that there was almost nobody there (we still didn't realize that we were an hour ahead). We killed a little time by reading the first six pages of "Shoot Day for Night" (the result of the Human Zoo collaboration between Neil and Harlan), and then by basking in the early morning sunshine streaming in the two-story windows in the hall. We spent some time making idle chitchat with some of the LAN gamers who apparently had just been released from about 30+ hours of computer gaming.

After deciding that we'd had enough sun, Ted and I wandered back through the Habitrail back to the hotel. This time, we shuffled our feet to see if we got a better shock at the last set of doors. We did.

We eventually wound up in the hotel lobby area, watching Warner Brothers cartoons until about 10:00 (or what we thought was 10:00 AM). We then shuffled through back through the Habitrail (shocking each other this time) to the convention's movie room.

The schedule said that, at 10:00, the movie room would show the embarrassing Star Wars Holiday Special, which was aired at some point the 1970's and featured Chewbacca going back home to his Wookie homeworld to see his family. I was too young to remember it, and Ted never saw it, and to most people, the rather awful episode in Star Wars history was lost in 70's oblivion. So when we saw the Holiday Special on the program, Ted and I both vowed that we would be there to witness the notoriously awful debacle.

Unfortunately, there were two flaws in this plan. The first was that it was really 9:00 AM, not 10:00 AM. The second was that the video tape had never showed up at the convention, as a part of the general chaos and bad luck that MadCon 2001 was apparently prone to. Instead, the A/V guru of MadCon (we had seen him scrambling around with cords and things at other MadCon events) offered something nearly as cheesy...

...animated Star Trek episodes.

Ted and I watched two episodes of animated Trek follies before we remembered we still had to pack up the room. We went back to the hotel through the Hallway of Infinite Shocking.

Ted with YmirJoe and Erica were sill in the room, dressed and in the process of packing. We all set about the mundane duties of cleaning up, except for Ted, who took his new Ymir toy into the bathroom so he could use the hair dryer as a tool for tail attachment. After several minutes, Ymir's tail was fully attached, and Ted played with him for a bit before packing up his own stuff.

The four of us checked out at around (what we thought was) 11:30 AM or so. We loaded our goodies into the car and went back to the convention to see if there was anything else we needed to see.

After looking at the schedule, we thought it might be fun to hang out until Jerry Doyle's panel at 1:00 PM. We got our pack of cards ready and went to the concession stand for a little food.

This concession stand served up the best cheap, greasy hot dogs and hamburgers on the planet. They also knew what time it really was. It was 10:45 AM, not 11:45.

To make a long story short(er), that hour difference changed our minds about hanging around. We wasted a little time by finishing up our Hearts game (Erica won, I had the worst score) and perusing the dealers' room one last time, but we eventually decided that the five-hour drive ahead of us would be daunting enough without driving it later in the day.

I should note, though, that just as we were preparing to leave (I mean, just as we were literally walking out), George the Insanity Coordinator popped up and asked if I still wanted to ask him some questions. I am grateful that my cohorts sat back down and let me talk with him a while, because he provided me with the entire history of the convention and a pretty good summary of the bad luck, mishaps, and other maladies that MadCon 2001 had suffered so badly from. We had a great little chat, and that was when I decided that this convention really could be phenomenal with a little extra TLC. I thanked George for spending a few precious minutes with me (while he was talking to me, three or four of his cohorts were desperately trying to track down Tracy Scoggins for a panel), and then hit the road back to home.

And, really, that's it. MadCon 2001 wound up being a very fun convention in spite of its inherent problems, simply through the force of its very strong list of guests and a few very intrepid staffers. It needs some time to develop into a really strong convention, but I look forward to seeing its mature form in action. What it really needs is a stronger fan base who would be more willing to volunteer for staffing jobs, panels, and room parties, and that sort of thing comes through time and perseverance. If they continue to get guests like they did this year, that fan base should grow like wildfire. I had a great time here, and so did my partners in crime.

I want to especially thank both George the Insanity Coordinator and Brian Roe for taking time out to chat. I also want to thank Joe and Erica, who put up with the fact that Ted and I wake up way too early in the morning for our own good.

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