Tuesday, July 15, 2014

G-Fest XXI: Part 1

For more than ten years now I've wanted to go to G-Fest. I found out about it in college from one of my professors, Dr. Joyce Boss, with whom I spent many hours after class in commandeered empty classrooms watching kaiju movies on the big pull-down projector screens. Of course, there was always another Fest in Chicago a few letters up the alphabet that took priority and the money was never there. This year the financial stars aligned and the kids and I attended our first G-Fest.

For those unaware, G-Fest is a convention held in Chicago every summer, focusing solely on Godzilla and his kaiju brethren. This year was their biggest attendance by quite a wide margin, no doubt from a combination of word of mouth, press articles, and of course the popularity of the new Godzilla movie with not just us die hards, but general audiences as well. Despite the unexpectedly large crowd, things seemed to go pretty smoothly for the most part (the autograph lines were a little chaotic on Saturday, but by Sunday things got much more organized), and we had a great time. It's a very family-friendly environment, warm and welcoming, with lots of kid-oriented activities as well as panels and autograph sessions with the stars of Godzilla movies.

We started out Thursday morning and I finally got to eat at Shark's Roadhouse in Elizabeth, Illinois. We drive by it on the way to B-Fest every year, but it's always at an odd, non-meal time of day. It's a little barbecue joint that looks like it was pulled into the real world right out of the movie Roadhouse, except for the big fiberglass shark hanging in the parking lot, and the numerous other sharks scattered around the inside, dominated by the massive great white head made to look like it's smashing through the wall behind the bar. And the food is great, too.

The Pickwick Theater shows kaiju movies throughout the weekend, but none of the movies playing Thursday were tempting enough for me to fight traffic and trying to find parking after already spending 7 hours in the car and dealing with all the road construction. Besides, from Thursday to Monday the hotel's internal TV channel plays 24/7 kaiju movies and TV programs, so we walked to a McDonald's for supper (there was a Giordano's next door but of course the kids weren't interested in actual good food twice in one day), and retired to the room. Joyce stopped by to say hi and meet the kids, she introduced me to J.D. Lees, G-Fan Magazine publisher and the man behind G-Fest, and we picked up our registration packets to avoid the massive line Friday morning. Hooray for pre-booking.


Friday morning we headed downstairs to take a look at the tokusatsu room, where Dojo Studios were setting up to shoot some sequences to the Gfantis (kaiju mascot of G-Fan). Phoenix has been making a series of kaiju comedy shorts he calls “Monster Island Buddies” with his Nintendo DS camera, so he was really interested to see what fans with experience and a budget can do with their amateur movies.

Next it was off to Artist's Alley, where Isabella impressed one of the artists selling some non-Godzilla prints by recognizing the ogre from Pan's Labyrinth. Apparently she doesn't meet many little girls into stuff like that. I got to meet Sean McGuinness (formerly of Twisted Kaiju Theater and now doing art as That Godzilla Guy), Matt Frank and Jeff Zornow. Bought some great prints off all of them, and got Zornow to sign the exclusive poster he drew that came with the limited edition 7 inch vinyl single of “Thy Foulness Cum” by Satan's Almighty Penis, a killer black metal band from Iowa. That was probably about the last thing he expected to see at a Godzilla convention. We chatted for a bit and took our leave to put our art back in the room before getting in line for autograph tickets.

We wanted to be sure to get tickets to the autograph sessions as there are a limited number, and the line to the dealer room was already getting pretty long even though it was only 11 o'clock and the doors didn't open until 2. Joyce came to the rescue again when she let us know most of the people in line were there for very specific and rare toys, and the autograph sessions wouldn't sell out that fast. Sure enough, we came back an hour or so after opening and got right in and got everything we needed. Then came one of the things I was most looking forward to about G-Fest; meeting Bob Eggleton. His art table was set up in the dealer room. If you don't know who he is, well, what the hell are you still doing here? Go educate yourself! Bob is maybe best known for his Godzilla work, but he does lots of other fantasy and horror stuff, as well as dinosaurs and land and seascapes. He was the first artist whose style I could recognize on sight and whose name I knew (who needs Picasso or van Gogh when you've got Bob fucking Eggleton!), and to me he is every bit as much a part of Godzilla as the casts and crews who make the movies.

Ah, the dealer room. It's heaven for a collector. Wall to wall kaiju toys. Maybe it was the small fortune I spent on art, but I managed to restrain myself pretty well and didn't buy anything too expensive. My favorite find was made rummaging through a bin of still-bagged but un-boxed mini figures and dioramas. It's a snap-together figure of King Ghidorah in the middle of forming from the fireball that shoots out of the meteorite. It's translucent orange and yellow, and the body and wings look like they're made of fire, with heads and legs and tails sticking out. No idea what series of figures it's from or even what company made it, but I really dig little high-grade and hyper figures like that.

From there we went downstairs to Minya's Place so the kids could do some coloring and crafts, and then to the video game room. Phoenix is a video game fiend, and that was one of his favorite parts of the whole thing. Another quick recce through the dealer room led me to the Tempting Toys table, which I missed the first time because it was so packed. Tony the proprietor is a friend of the owners of Now and Then Comics where I get my four color fix in Mason City, and we had met once briefly before when he stopped through on his way home from a G-Fest years ago. We talked for a bit and he gave me a great deal on a really bizarre cotton candy colored Varan figure from Y-MSF toys. We caught part of the Godzilla: Battle Royale fan movie before heading back to the room to unload toys (the kids both made quite a haul too) before getting seats for the opening ceremonies, where the special guests are introduced.

This year's guests of honor were Don Frye (Captain Gordon from Godzilla: Final Wars), Koichi Kawakita (special effects director on the Heisei series of Godzilla movies, including one of my personal favorites and my pick for best effects and Godzilla suit of the whole franchise, Godzilla vs. Biollante), Tomoko Ai (Katsura from Terror of Mechagodzilla), and Katsuhiko Sasaki (Ichinose from Terror of Mechagodzilla and Goro Ibuki, creator of Jet Jaguar in Godzilla vs. Megalon), as well as sculptor Hiroshi Sagae and Robert Scott Field (M-11 from Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah). Sasaki and Ai were pretty clearly taken aback and very pleased by the seemingly endless standing ovation they got when they took the stage. It was a very cool feeling to be cheering for these actors who I've watched since I was a little kid, and the swell of emotion and love in the room was enormous. It was an incredible evening. Each guest spoke briefly and then left the stage, and the day was ended with amateur fan shorts, which covered a range of quality, from enthusiastic but poorly executed, to quite stunning.

We were all pretty beat by the end of the day, but the weekend was just beginning.

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