Since its inception in 1970, San Diego Comic-Con International has spurred dozens of similar conventions around the nation. This year, Jacksonville joins the ranks with Collective Con, a three-day pop-culture and music festival held at Jacksonville Fairgrounds.
“With the convention hall, Collective Music Fest, Old World Faire and traditional beer garden, it may be hard to decide what to hit first,” says co-founder Christopher Major of this impressive and, he hopes, inaugural yearly event. “As for the Con, there will be hundreds of comic book characters, anime characters and even Disney princesses walking the floor.”
In addition, popular genre artists and actors and voice actors from shows like The Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica will be on hand to greet fans, smile for the cameras and sign autographs.
One of these guests of honor is voice actor and comedian Phil LaMarr. LaMarr was one of the original cast members of Mad TV and has voiced hundreds of video games as well as animated series like Samurai Jack,Static Shock and Justice League. LaMarr also portrayed “Cowboy Curtis” in the 2010 stage revival of The Pee-wee Herman Show both on Broadway and in the Emmy-nominated HBO special.
Folio Weekly caught up with LaMarr to chat about the evolution of Cons, the Grateful Dead-Fan Con paradigm and one particularly creepy autograph hound.
Folio Weekly: You’ve been going to Con events for years. How have you seen them evolve?
Phil LaMarr: It’s interesting because there are so many more than there used to be. I’ve been a big comic book fan since I was a kid, so that’s always the biggest draw for me — to meet comic book artists and writers. It’s really interesting because there are different levels of fandom. I’d joke that Everybody Loves Raymond had 10 times more fans than Futurama, the animated show that I did a voice for on FOX. But I’m pretty sure that nobody is buying an Everybody Loves Raymond statue. You know, there’s a different level of engagement and the Cons take that energy of fandom and put it all into one room. Have you ever been to a Grateful Dead concert?
No. I’ve seen Phish a few times.
OK, so you go to The Rolling Stones and people really enjoy the songs and the music. But there are other bands like the Grateful Dead or Phish where it’s even more than that. Those people are not just like, “Oh, let’s go see the record outdoors.” They’re engaging on a whole ’nother level. They’re like, “We not only want to be there to support this band. We want to be around other people who dig this band as much as we do.” It’s the community as much as the thing that they love. It’s a hard thing to describe. But with Comic Cons, you’ve got the costume aspect, so there’s the fantasy element. Even before this explosion in the comic book conventions, the Star Trek people have been doing this since the ’70s.
Is there anything in your personal life you have that level of commitment to?
Um, that’s a good question. Not quite all the way there. I do have a sketchbook that I take to the conventions and, when I have the courage and I meet one of my favorite artists, I ask them if they will do a drawing in my sketchbook. I’ve actually collected some pretty amazing stuff. It’s to the point where I’m kind of afraid to bring it with me because, what if I lose it?
What do you do when you’re a guest at a Con? Do you sit at a table and sign things for fans?
Usually, a convention will bring a bunch of us in and people buy tickets and we do question-and-answer sessions, autograph sessions; sometimes there are photograph sessions or we just take photographs with people at the table or as you walk around. And sometimes we do just sort of sit there, which is not as much fun. I prefer to be a part of the overall event where you’re talking to people and meeting people and getting to share some of your experiences. Collective Con I’m actually really excited about because some of the other guests are friends of mine — people I’d like to have dinner with in Los Angeles, but we never find the time, so now we’ll fly 2,000 miles so we can eat together. [Laughs.]
Do you ever get freaked out by fans? What’s the craziest thing anyone’s ever asked you to do, like, sign their boobs?
I don’t really ever get that. [Laughs.] I don’t know if it’s because most of the people that come to meet me are animation fans, but it’s not personal in that way. Or maybe it’s because I’m a guy, which is very different than actresses on camera. It’s a different energy. But I do remember I was coming to a city for a convention and I was getting in at, like, 11 p.m. at night and as I got off the plane, I went to use the bathroom. As I came out of the bathroom at 11 o’clock at night in a deserted airport, there’s a guy standing there with a bunch of things for me to sign. I was, like, “You had to buy an [airplane] ticket to get to where we are. Why didn’t you just buy a ticket to the convention?” That was sort of weird and kind of creepy. Other than that, nobody’s ever asked me to sign their boobs.