Coincidences…and WonderFest

I used to believe in coincidence. At what point, though, do coincidences occur so often that they are no longer considered to be coincidences? This is where I’ve been at in my life for quite some time now.

This weekend, for example.

I ran into Dolph Lundgren at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Thursday. Dolph was the star of a film I production designed (“Masters of the Universe”) back in the 1980s.

On Friday at LAX (don’t ask why I was at LAX two days in a row; blame United Airlines) I heard my friend Jean Giraud being paged. Jean is better known to comics fans by his pen name, Moebius.

Today I had a meeting with Kyle Newman. That was not a coincidence; that was a scheduled meeting. Kyle is my director on the new film I’m production designing, “War Monkeys.” His film “Fanboys” was just released on DVD. On the way home, however, I stopped at Amoeba Records (the largest record store in the world, I believe) in Hollywood. After checking out the “Oldies” section I wandered over to the “Blues” section, where I ran into Robert Plant. Robert and I had a nice little chat. I complimented him on the quality of his recent releases and the bravery of taking a new musical direction. He grinned, thanked me and said, “Yes; now I can finally act my age!”

This stuff happens to me all of the time — and, honestly, I don’t get out much.

A couple of weekends ago I was location scouting in Iowa for “War Monkeys.” In EVERY SINGLE PLACE I walked into there was either a monkey sculpture or images of monkeys on the walls. Monkeys! In Iowa! What are the friggin’ odds?! And then it turns out there’s a Primate Research Center in Des Moines! Des Moines???!!

Part of our film is based upon a fictitious military program that trained apes and monkeys to fight in combat in order to save on casualties in the field. At WonderFest in Louisville, Kentucky I was approached by Shawn Tabor, whom I talk to every year at WonderFest. Shawn licenses military footage for use in movies and TV. I mentioned my film project and he lit up. “I’ve got U. S. Army documentary footage from that project!”

Wha—?!! It’s fictitious!! Isn’t it??!

The next time you see me at a convention, ask about my most amazing coincidence (an astounding double coincidence, actually). It is so completely improbable, the odds are so astronomically against what happened happening, that I’ll probably draw it up as a true-life comic book story.

Speaking of WonderFest…
I just gotta say this: WonderFest is the best science fiction/horror/fantasy related convention in the United States. This show is so unbelievably special that it’s almost not to be believed.

What makes it so great?

In a word, heart. Dave Hodge, Donnie Waddell, Dave Conover and Lee Staton are incredibly passionate about putting on the best convention possible. Yes, they have movie stars at WonderFest. But the show also focuses on the Behind-the-Scenes folks as well, especially the Special Effects people and the Make-up guys. WonderFest treats these people as the unsung heroes they often are. Brief film documentaries are lovingly put together on their guests’ film careers and are shown at the Banquet.

The guests are invited to relax in the Monster Kids Clubhouse, a hotel suite decorated to look like you just stepped into the Captain Company advertising pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. I always have long, illuminating chats over drinks & snacks with Video Watchdog publisher/editor Tim Lucas up at the Clubhouse.

Downstairs is the Lizard Lounge, named after the informal group of friends christened by Al Williamson as The Good Lizard Men. By Al’s definition, a Good Lizard Man is anyone who is skilled at drawing or painting dinosaurs. “Ahh, Charles R. Knight,” Al would say. “He’s a good lizard man.” Al, Mark Schultz and I toured conventions around the country as The Good Lizard Men. We even had tour shirts printed up which we sold at our tables. Good Lizard Men merch!

The great Bob Burns wouldn’t miss a WonderFest. He and his wife Cathy are there every year, health permitting. Actor, writer, painter, cartoonist and caricaturist Frank Dietz is there every year. I think the two of us consider WonderFest as our second home. I see lots of movie make-up and effects guys from L. A. all throughout the weekend.

WonderFest is a relatively small show (compared to, say, Comic-Con in San Diego), although word is rapidly spreading. This year they had attendees from Europe and Japan.

A huge focus of WonderFest is on building models. Fans work all year long on their WonderFest Model Contest entries. The quality is high and the judging is tough. If you won a prize there, you earned it. So it’s not just a bunch of old guys like myself participating, WonderFest sows the seeds for future generations of modelers. They have a room set up for kids where youngsters are given free model kits. Then model building experts help the kids, giving them tips on building and painting the models. WonderFest continues to take pride in being a very family-oriented show.

WonderFest to me is like a big part of my extended family. The people they like get invited back year after year. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been a guest at WonderFest. The guests are very accessible to the fans. Unlike lots of other shows, we get to have real conversations with each other.

WonderFest has the coolest T-shirts of any convention. I don’t say that because Mark Schultz and I draw their T-shirts every year. I say that because WonderFest founder Lee Staton takes our raw original art and with computer color separations, typography and exquisite design, he turns our ink scribbles into something wonderful, precious, tasteful and, ultimately, desirable. I think I wear at least one WonderFest shirt every week. They are that cool…

On top of that, sculptor Mike Parks always creates a staggeringly beautiful three-dimensional interpretation of my two-dimensional WonderFest T-shirt piece and casts a tiny limited edition run of each year’s design. And, he tops himself every year! This year’s “Alien”-themed piece fires on all burners. Plus, Mike has the good taste to always bring along his beautiful wife Danya. Mike and Danya quickly became two of my favorite WonderFest people and, beyond that, two of my favorite people in my life. Good hearts and souls, both.

Dinosaur film expert Mark Berry usually shows up; if I’m lucky, he brings his sweet mom, too.

Donnie Waddell is WonderFest’s point man in regards to guests. Having Donnie meet you at the airport is like being greeted by Jonathan Winters if Jonathan winters was your cousin. Donnie is one of the funniest people I have ever met. He is WonderFest’s Robin Williams. If you get him going, in short time you will be gasping for breath you’ll be laughing so hard. Donnie is also one of the kindest, most thoughtful persons in my life.

Dave Conover serves a lot of functions at WonderFest. One of them is making sure that WonderFest gets pristine prints of the Guests’ films. Then he has them run at their full king-size on the big screen at the Baxter Theatre. Dave is often involved in putting together those touching documentaries I mentioned. His wife Janet and relatively new daughter Ally are WonderFest regulars. Ally probably (at age three, I think) already knows the names of more dinosaurs than I do.

WonderFest’s main honcho Dave Hodge has a day job as a big mucky-muck keeper at the spectacular Louisville Zoo. Dave is in charge of, amongst other things, the Big Cats and the seals & sea lions. He always gives the WonderFest guests a Behind-the-Scenes tour of the zoo the day after WonderFest.

With all that goes on at WonderFest it’s a wonder I get any sleep. I don’t get much, actually — I don’t want to miss anything or anyone!

When I mention I’m going to a convention in the South, people’s eyebrows often raise. There still exists a real prejudice against Southerners. Each time, I patiently explain the error of their presumptions. The South, I tell them, is the last place in this country where people still have manners. And, it’s also the last place in this country where people still read. There still exists a strong literary tradition in the South, something that has pretty much disappeared in general over the rest of the country. You will get more intelligent, better-educated conversations at WonderFest than at any other convention (except for maybe Dragon*Con, another southern convention whose guest emphasis is on writers).

The Edgar Rice Burroughs Memorial Collection is also nearby at the University of Louisville. Mark and I usually try to find time to pay a visit to the Collection and its curator, the gracious George McWhorter. It is well worthy visiting, if only to talk to the gregarious and charming Mr. McWhorter or to see the Collection’s clippings files of great ERB illustrators.

Do I have any complaints about WonderFest? Yes, just one. The hotel shouldn’t have changed the bar when the place was overhauled and refurbished! PLEASE — change it back!

That’s my only complaint.

I’ve been meaning to write about WonderFest ever since I returned. Now that I’ve done it, I hope you’ll be intrigued enough to visit with me at next year’s show.

See Ya!

5 Responses to “Coincidences…and WonderFest”

  1. Shawn Ormes says:

    Wow! Moebius and Plant in th span of a couple of days. My head would still be spinning! Thanks for the update.

  2. jeremy says:

    Well Mr. Stout Wonderfest this year was a great bit of fun for myself in the fact that I was able to pick up a lovely zombie sketch from you on saturday. Oh and by the way Mr. Stout, I won that heritage auction I was telling you about, I’ll send you a pic of me with the articale in mention as soon as it arrives.

  3. Jeff Doten says:

    I am in shock and awe. Plant in the record store ? And Wondercon, I need to go. I need some new t-shirts…

  4. To Jeff: Please don’t confuse San Francisco’s WonderCon with Louisville’s WonderFest. It’s WonderFest I was raving about.

  5. Jeff Doten says:

    That’s me being overwhelmed by the presence of Mr. Plant. And not reading carefully enough.

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