|Artwork by J.D. Lees.|
I said at the end of my last B-Fest writeup that it had become more of a family reunion than a movie marathon. I can tell G-Fest is the same way for a lot of long-time attendees, and after just two years going myself I can see why. Despite some unforeseen technical hiccups, I think I enjoyed this year even more than my first excursion to G-Fest XXI.
The Japanese guests this year were much less high-profile than last year, at least in my book, with the exception of Kow Otani, composer of the scores for both GMK and the Heisei Gamera movies. Masaaki Tezuka, director of Godzilla X Megaguirus, Godzilla X Mechagodzilla, and Godzilla, Mothra, Mechagodzilla: Tokyo SOS was the guest of honor, along with Tokyo SOS actor Noboru Kaneko. Kaneko is more famous for starring as the Red Ranger in the 2001 TV series Gaoranger. Not being a big any-kind-of-Ranger fan, and not loving Tokyo SOS on a level that made me feel I needed its star's signature, I decided to opt out of the autograph sessions.
I love Godzilla X Mechagodzilla, in fact it's a movie I put on when I'm home sick or feeling like crap, because it cheers me up. However, since the two guests had a major connection they were tabled right next to each other, and I felt it would be disrespectful to get Tezuka-san's autograph and ignore Kaneko-san. For some reason, my brain translated “no autograph fees this year” as “what mortgage, you never had a mortgage, stop with this mortgage nonsense”, and I wound up spending way too much in the dealer room, but we'll get to that.
Thanks to a friend from B-Fest, I found out that the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois, was hosting a traveling exhibit called Savage Ancient Seas (which is there through September 7 and I highly recommend you go if you're within reasonable distance because it's really cool). Fossils of horrifying ancient sea monsters abound.
The kids and I left town around 8:00 in the morning in order to make it to Shark's Roadhouse in Elizabeth, IL, shortly after opening time. I more or less covered the place in last year's write up so I won't spend a lot of time on it here, except to say that it was such a big hit we had to go back. I'm thinking a stop here for lunch is going to be a yearly G-Fest tradition. If you happen to be passing through the area and like barbeque, you'd do well to stop here and grab some food. It's excellent.
I recently switched jobs a couple of times, and I work for Coca-Cola now. Before that I got the hell out of my much hated gig at the ethanol plant by jumping ship to selling cars for a few months. I really liked the place and the people I worked with, but pay on commission was just too uncertain for me so I felt I had to move on. Before I did, I traded myself out of my Volkswagen (If you're thinking of buying one, don't. They cost a bloody fortune to maintain.) and into a 2014 Ford Taurus. It's the quietest, smoothest-riding car I've ever owned by a long chalk, and I would highly recommend one to anybody looking for a big family sedan. I could just about park my old Jetta in this thing's trunk! Anyway, it came with on-board navigation, but for some reason it wouldn't recognize the street the Burpee was on as existing (a problem I've had with it a few times, which is why I still take my trusty Garmin along for major road trips). This was the first of the aforementioned hiccups, but aside from the suction cup refusing to stick to the damn windscreen, the Garmin got us to the museum and there were even plenty of spaces in the free lot right out front.
If you're a fan of prehistoric creatures (and if you're reading a blog post about G-Fest, I refuse to believe you aren't), this museum in general and exhibit in particular are a real treat. And hey, if you don't believe me, just check the photos below! The museum is also home to Jane, the most complete juvenile T-rex in the world.
Having seen our fill of prehistoric monsters, it was time to head to the hotel. We ended up in the check-in line just ahead of Dr. Joyce Boss, my professor from Wartburg who was presenting a panel this year. The concert of live kaiju music, Symphonic Fury, was moved from Saturday to Friday this year, so Thursday night when nothing con-related was going down seemed a good time to catch up with B-Fest compadre and fellow reviewer Gavin at the Giordano's near the hotel. An emergency trip to Walgreen's revealed there was at least one interesting-looking Chinese restaurant in quick driving distance of the Crowne Plaza, so next year a change of dinner venue will be in order.
Having finally experienced Chicago-style deep dish pizza after only 13 years of visiting the city, it was time to grab our registration packets and settle into the room with some kaiju action on the in-house TV channel and rest up for the start of the first day of G-Fest XXII.
We eased into the con without having to worry about waking up to an alarm. The first panel that I absolutely had to be a part of was the Origins of Twisted Kaiju Theater (if you don't know what that is, GO HERE, laugh your ass off, buy some of Sean's artwork, and come back when you're done) at 1:00. Once we were all up and had breakfast (a tip to any readers planning on hitting this event at some point: buy a bunch of groceries to stash in your room's refrigerator and you will save a fortune on your trip costs), we figured there wasn't much point in just sitting in the room until 1:00, so we headed down to check out the tokusatsu room where Dojo Studios was setting up to shoot some scenes for their latest G-Fantis movie.
After watching flying saucers dangling from sticks for a while, it was off to Artist's Alley, where once again I spent way too much money. At this rate, another couple of years and I'll have to forgo trying to frame everything and just use the prints as wallpaper (I would never actually do that, so artists, no hate mail). One highlight of the Alley this year was making a new friend in Keith Foster, writer of independent kaiju comic Kodoja, and member of the band Big Pimp Jones, who also recorded a companion soundtrack CD for Kodoja as well as an audio-play prequel and soundtrack for same. It's funk meets giant monster music, and it's a real treat for the tympanic membrane. Another was being regaled with the tale of the time Jeff Zornow talked Paul Naschy in to strangling him at a horror convention, after asking me if I'd ever shown Beez any Waldemar Daninski movies (we were discussing how my kids get to see movies most people would never show their children, and how she's a werewolf fanatic and two of her favorite movies are Dog Soldiers and Ginger Snaps).
Cash reserves significantly depleted, there was just enough time to haul the goods up to the room and get back downstairs in time for Sean's TKT panel. The first of many this year I wish could have run more than an hour, the story of the web comic told by the man himself was every bit as poignant, revealing, frank, funny, and irreverent as the comic itself. Sean is also a helluva nice guy. We chatted for a while before and after the panel, and Beez drew him a piece of fan art, which he told her he was going to hang in his personal gallery. She was pretty stoked about that.
Once she had given Sean her drawing, we went back to catch the kaiju comics panel, with creators of independent comics talking about their stories and how they got into comics. Friday was a very comics-heavy day, because right after that, the Kaijucast did a live show called Remembering Rulers with artists Matt Frank and Jeff Zornow. Kaijucast host Kyle Yount had a slide show of panels from the comic displaying on the ballroom's screen, and every time Matt or Jeff would start talking about something they'd see a picture and it would remind them of another story and off they'd go. It was without a doubt the most energetic panel I've seen there yet. Those two guys are so passionate and enthusiastic about Godzilla and it all just came blasting out like a stream of superheated radioactive plasma and burned the faces off everyone in the room. The episode is up at the Kaijucast website, and you should go download it right now.
For the last panel of the day, we headed downstairs to the Big In Japan discussion. Big In Japan is a book written by fellow Midwesterner Timothy Price. We met Tim last year at a kaiju writing panel, when we bugged out early with him to buy a copy of the book. He's currently working on volume two, and had illustrator Alan OW Barnes and Android M-11 himself, Robert Scott Field, in attendance with him. They discussed the origins of the story and the process of hammering out all the ideas into their final forms, and a fine time was had by all. I also got one of the last Polaris figures from Robert. Polaris is an original kaiju he sculpted and painted himself, and will be one of the featured creatures in Big In Japan 2.
The panels were done for the day, but the most exciting part was yet to come. After grabbing a bite to eat in the room, we jumped in the car and headed for the Pickwick Theater, site of Symphonic Fury. The expedition started off a little rocky because there's some local outdoor street fair/music festival right next to the theater. It was there last year too, so apparently they do this on the same weekend as G-Fest every year. Navigation doesn't do much good when half the streets are closed and the ones that are open are so congested that you have to move through them at idling speed and park at least a quarter of a mile from the venue in an unfamiliar neighborhood.
Still, once we were in our seats it was all worth it, as John DeSentis, Chris Oglio, and their fantastic orchestra put on a show that was even better than last year. Akira Ifukube is my favorite film composer, no doubt. His music conjures the monsters and is inextricably tied to kaiju movies in a way that no other is or ever will be. That said, the man recycled a lot of stuff. Probably a dozen or so themes show up with slight arrangement changes in movie after movie. This year, the show was split into two halves, with the first being the kaiju music of Kow Otani in the first half, and the three movements of Symphonic Fantasia (a sort of Ifukube greatest hits from all his kaiju and science fiction work, not just Godzilla) in the second. The variety really livened things up, and the suite for GMK in particular was absolutely crushing.
Cooler still, Otani got to be there to see his music performed. Never before, even in Japan, has his kaiju music been recreated in a live environment. Not one to play the rock star, he sat in a regular seat in the audience just like the rest of us, and was only too happy to stand in the aisle taking pictures and signing autographs all the way through the intermission. My phone battery had gotten too low to use the flash, so I missed out on getting a picture with the man, but I did get my concert program signed.
Back to the room to wind down with a little more all-kaiju-all-the-time TV, but things were kicking off early on Saturday, so before long we were all snug in our beds, with visions of Ultramen dancing in our heads.