Saturday, April 3, 2010

Armageddon, or how I spent Easter Saturday

Yesterday, I went with my friend Morgan (Morgue) (or even to Armageddon, to a touring Australasian expo devoted to comic books, sci-fi and fantasy, gaming and gaming technology, and other genres of interest to the young, disaffected intellectual.There's also a big pillow fight.

I've never been to anything like this before. It was interesting as a phenomenon, even though most of the products on display weren't created with me in mind. (What does somebody do with a 2-metre long pounded steel battle axe anyway?)

My experience of the event was divided into two roughly equal parts. The first had been, for us, the major draw card: the appearance of Paul McGann, the actor who'd played the Dr Who (the 8th Doctor, for any you who might be counting). I'm a fan of Dr Who (though not a Fan), and it was fun to see one of them in person, especially knowing him from "Withnail and I" way back in 1987.

Here he is back in the day...

Having just seen one of my favourite authors, Neil Gaiman speaking as part of the Wellington Writers and Readers Festival, I was expecting the kind of thoughtful feedback provided to Neil by a compere (in his case Kate De Goldi, one of New Zealand's leading authors). Unfortunately, poor Paul was left up there by himself, to sink or swim as his fortunes dictated. For somebody who confesses to be shy, it seemed a little ungraceous of the organisers. As a result, he launched right into a protracted question and answer session.

Yesterday's session...

McGann's career as the Doctor was cut short almost as soon as it began. The series, intended for the American market, was never made. While a huge hit in the UK it, like so much of British cultural product, was completely lost on Americans. I never heard why they didn't go ahead with in the UK, but never mind.

The main point I got from the talk was that McGann is pretty bitter about the lack of follow-through. Stories that  he was coming back were at odds with his saying he'd never got a single phone call from Russel T. Davies (the man behind the series relaunch), or even the invitation to a beer since the failure of the TV pilot. The whole thing must have been really upsetting for him. He would have thought in 1999 that his place as a major film star was confrimed; instead he's spent the last ten going to conferences talking about six weeks of his 25 year acting career. A good compere (or possibly even an indifferent one) might have spared the audience the discomfort of sharing the pain of his rejection.

Having arrived just as the McGann's talk began, when we staggered out an hour later the rest of the expo was something of a suprise. An ocean of of people, many of them under ten years old (they don't show up so well in the photos) milling around buying, reading, talking about what to the unitiatied was a hugely improbable array of stuff: dire 90's comic books, Iron Man masks, action figures from nearly forgotten TV shows. I was reminded of the space port at Mos Eisley. The guys walking around in storm trooper uniforms might have contributed to that.

The highlight of the day was becoming reacquainted with Dylan Horrocks, author of the highly acclaimed Hicksvile Comics.

Looking around at the seething masses, and knowing that this representsthe tiniest microcosm within the whole phenomenon, I couldn't help wondering why this genre (if I can be forgiven for lumping it all together) is such a draw to people. Avatar was 2009's biggest grossing movie. More people play Dungeons and Dragons than go to football games.The most obvious answer to me, is that people are looking to depart from the mundanity of normal life and be, at least vicariously, heroic, invicible, to reach perfection. Identification by the audience is critical to the success of stories.

Is that desire to identify with something grander innate? While the Tudors were busy finding innovative ways to use the Arthurian mythos to substantiate their titles to the throne, in Italy, Ariosto was weaving the characters into amusing, bawdy and highly fantastical stories. Are the Canterbury Tales the Babylon 5 of the 13th Century?