Seeing how ‘better late than never’ is such an overused phrase for the punctually challenged like myself, I’m going to instead apply the term “better truant than before the zombie apocalypse” to this SDCC 2012-related post.
This go-round I’m going to serve up a nice heaping of my SDCC celebrity encounters. I use the plural form of the word since my encounters totaled two people. This despite the fact that I’m not quite the geeky star struck autograph hound I never really used to be. Makes perfect sense, right?
Over the years I’ve learned that actors, musicians and athletes are just like the rest of us – minus their exorbitantly large incomes and incredibly vast amounts of worldwide fame. They’re just your everyday average Joes and Janes that are stalked by adoring – and in many cases, emotionally unstable – fans that would do anything within their power to own a piece of bubble gum that may or may not have been chewed by a person that may or may not have been sitting next to Angelina Jolie’s 23rd adopted child’s ant-farm.
For example, there are guys like Warehouse 13 star funnyman, Eddie McClintock. You would think he was signing his autograph in gold ink at SDCC as he was asking close to $30 for his John Hancock on a photo along with a quick camera snap with the witty star himself. Of course his booth reflected this pricing strategy as I could have pulled up a cot and took a peaceful four-hour siesta without anyone bothering me. Mind you, he was also providing a custom-designed Warehouse 13 shirt in the deal, so maybe the Jew in me is being a tad too critical.
Fortunately, talking to him and shaking his hand was still gratis, as was taking his picture while he ate lunch. To his credit, he’s a nice guy, and had he offered me some of his burger I would have “thought” about buying an autograph and shirt.
There are, however, a few specific individuals that I would instantly melt into a pile of non-toxic goo over if I ever had the pleasure of being within a football field’s distance from. That list includes the likes of: Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, Dan Castanella (voice of Homer Simpson), Bill Murray and the guy who cleans Bill Murray’s motorcade.
What do they have in common you ask? Outside of the fact they have all cost me countless hours in front of a radiation-producing light-emitting death box, they all have had a tremendous impact on my childhood and the ‘Geek’ now writing before you.
Well it just so happens that a few of those people I just described happened to be at Comic-Con this year. Allow me to get right into both of those life altering, underwear-changing events.
The “Sharp-shootin’ wise-crackin’ monster fightin’ everyday man” of Sci-Fi
If you were to ask most Bruce Campbell fans, they would immediately remember the actor for fighting his way through demons and the walking dead (better known as politicians) in Sam Raimi horror flicks such as Evil Dead and Army of Darkness.
More importantly though, if you were to ask “me,” I would immediately point to the short-lived Fox series (NOT named Firefly) called The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Due to the geeky outlaw DNA coursing through my veins, I was immediately drawn into the shows melding of both sci-fi and western genres. However, what truly sold it for me was Bruce Campbell. Campbell brought Brisco Jr. to life with a subtle mixture of humor, intellect, innocence humanity and an understated badassness (the creation of that last word is all me) helped to create one of the most likeable characters on TV.
The way the sci-fi west was won.
In addition, it just plain goes with out saying that Campbell’s cameos in Raimi’s Spiderman flicks were some of the funniest moments of the entire trilogy. It was like extra fudge icing on an icing only cake. (Mmmmm… fudge icing….)
As comic-con fate would have it, I happen to be at the right place at the right time as I found out about Campbell’s appearance at the same Activision booth I had just finished battling my way through in the hopes of meeting the ‘real’ Optimus Prime (See below). Compared to that experience - which I outline in detail below – meeting my favorite TV outlaw proved about as easy as it would have been to toss an ewok anywhere within a three-foot radius in the comic-con convention center and manage to hit a virgin over the age of 45.
The line moved super fast and Bruce was not spending too much time chatting with each person. We were basically a line of Campbell cattle. I initially wanted to shake the man’s hand until I heard him deny the same request to a person right in front of me saying, “Shake your hand? That’s kind of cheesy… what are you, a politician?”. DOH! Change of plans.
When I got my 10 seconds of Campbell time, I quickly explained to him that I loved him in Brisco and was bummed about it getting the Firefly treatment (albeit this was before Firefly). He agreed and proceeded to comment on the less than stellar IQ level of many entertainment executives that tend to make ‘final’ decisions on those matters.
I was also able to mention how Brisco County Jr. played a part in inspiring my blog for Geek Outlaw, and I graciously gifted him with not just one, but two of my very limited edition Geek Outlaw stickers. (Including having him sign one for myself). He actually smiled for what felt like half a nano second and seemed genuinely interested in the concept… or genuinely confused.
Despite the impromptu nature of the experience, it did send a bit of a tingle down my leg to meet the cowboy that helped open the door to my western sci-fi geekiness. I will remember it always as I’m positive he will too… for as long as it took him to autograph the next Spider-Man poster.
The “Voice” of Optimus Prime
Correction: Peter Cullen is more than just the voice of the legendary Autobot leader, he IS Optimus Prime. I’m not going to get too much into the history here, but all one needs to know is that Cullen has voiced ‘almost’ every incarnation of Optimus Prime in TV, film, and video games for the past 28 years.
“Prime Cut”: If this doesn’t send chills down you’re spine, you are probably a cold non-transforming robot of a human.
Since T’s TV debut in 1984, I grew up on a healthy diet of watching the G1 (as in Generation 1) Transformers every chance I had. I loved the show and toys so much, that if you cut me open back then I would have bled a combination of motor oil and Energon. Peter Cullen became akin to a second dad to me… albeit one that looked like a cartoon and transformed into a mac truck when the situation required it.
Thus, when I learned he was going to be doing a special panel interview with the 147-year old Larry King, I lost a significant amount of motor control. Let’s just say Geek Outlaw needed to transform into a new pair of jeans. When I learned that he was actually going to be signing autographs the following day at SDCC, new jeans quickly became the least of my worries.
Unfortunately, the always well-prepared Geek Outlaw found out about his signing approximately 30 minutes before it was to take place. Lucky for me, the location of the signing was clear across the opposite corner of the two-mile long main hall. I’m fairly certain I set the land-speed record for an individual crossing the San Diego Convention center in a holster, boots and spurs.
Upon my arrival, of course I was made aware I needed a ticket (that was handed out 30 minutes prior) to take part in the signing since there was a limit on time. I was told by a nice young lady that only those with tickets were guaranteed a meet & greet; however, the signing schedule was set for an hour and if there was time, I should be able to participate.
Also in the same boat as myself was an Indian fellow that I met at the Peter Cullen – Larry King interview panel the day before. Suffice it to say, we (and by ‘we’ I mean I) waited in line ever so patiently, letting all of the ticket holders go head of us. The Indian line-acquaintance and I were the first two in line for non-ticket holders.
He was a bit antsy as he couldn’t help but ask every booth representative – at approximate intervals of 15 seconds – if we would have enough time to get Peter’s signature.
As we moved closer, new booth attendees got into the mix and quickly started shooting down our hopes and dreams, saying that Peter Cullen and his two Transformers: Fall of Cybertron video game voice buddies ‘probably’ wouldn’t have time to sign any more autographs outside the ticket holders.
The Indian gentleman – and I use that last word loosely – was so hell bent on getting a recent Optimus Prime cardboard toy box signed for his girlfriend, that he virtually lost all control at one point and started flat out exchanging not so PG-13 words with a few of the booth attendants. I honestly couldn’t believe it… this guy had a girlfriend?!
I on the other hand took the more sympathetic approach. In my most innocent voice, I calmly reiterated that Mr. Cullen meant a lot to my childhood years, and I just wanted to shake his hand and thank him… nothing more. No autographs or pictures necessary. While everyone behind us left in frustration, I stuck it out.
My good fortunes paid off as I met another, much better dressed attendant with a suit, at the very front of the line that was now closed off. I explained to him my story, and he basically said, you hang here with me and I’ll make sure you at least get a chance to say hi. At this point, I don’t know where my angry Indian friend went or may have been detained to.
As I stood waiting for all three voice actors to wrap up video interviews, Nolan North (voice of Bruticus, Brawl and Cliffjumper), whom was literally sitting 24 inches from me at the end of the table, commented on what an awesome jersey and outfit I was wearing (blush). He then asks me if I would like a signed Bruticus character poster. While I had zero clue as to who in the hell Mr. North was, I wasn’t about to turn down free autographed swag! Not to mention it was very classy to offer it up despite the session being over.
Next to Mr. North sat the infamous life-long voice of the popular Dinobot Grimlock (Gregg Berger). Seeing as how the transforming T-Rex is second on my list of all-time favorite Transformers behind only Prime himself, I kindly asked Mr. North if he could grab me a Grimlock poster as well. Nolan (I still had no blooming idea who he was) one ups himself in the awesomeness department and not only grabs a Grimlock poster, but has Mr. Berger sign the damn thing for me too! (Again, all of this is happening after the signing session was shut down).
On top of that, Mr. Berger (Grimlock) turns to me, also comments on the awesomeness that is the Geek Outlaw getup and then proceeds to ask me, “Do you know if Brad is here?” The expression on my face must have looked close to the word ‘HUH?’ as that is what I initially wanted to exclaim. However, steady nerves took over and I decided to take the ‘yeah, I’m cool and I know what you’re talking about’ approach despite not having an iota of knowledge about who in the civilized world he was referring to.
In my most cool, calm and collected voice, I responded; “Yeah, he is here!” That elicited a response of, “Very cool, tell him I said hi if you see him” from Mr. Berger. After that intriguingly odd exchange, my time with Prime had arrived. I was just about to walk up to shake the man’s hand when in swooped the squeaky wheeled Indian who was with one of the booth attendees that he had previously chewed out.
Admittedly, I was a bit frustrated that Indian anger-management worked his way up the way he did. Alas, he got what he wanted and Mr. Cullen, being the true gentleman that he is, signed the box for the Indian patron’s girlfriend – whom apparently had a name that was at least 32 letters long and all consonants. It was quite humorous watching Peter’s facial expression as the angry Indian kept throwing out random letters like a Wheel of Fortune bonus round contestant.
Once done, I knew my time was now or never and I slid directly in front of Peter Cullen at the signing table, started shaking his hand, and said what I wanted. While not verbatim, I think my words were along the lines of, “Mr Cullen, I just wanted to let you know that I grew up listening to you as Optimus Prime ever since I was a little boy and you truly helped to shape my childhood in an positive way and I want to thank you for that as it has meant so much to me even to this day. You are a legend. You are and will always be the voice of Optimus Prime.”
A LOOONG interview, but well worth it to find out the true origins of Prime’s voice and all else Peter Cullen.
I could be mistaken, but I think the man started to tear up a bit. While he may have been trying to hold back a laugh attack, he honestly seemed sincere in his response. As Mr. Cullen continued to shake my hand, he thanked me for all the kind words and told me how much he appreciated hearing what I had to say.
With a warm smile on his face, he lifted up one of the leftover Optimus Prime posters and asked me in these exact words, “You want one of these young man?” It took everything inside me not to pass out across the table into his crotch. Of course I accepted the offer and I thanked him profusely while letting him know that all I really wanted to do was say thank you and shake his hand.
Having gone past the allotted signing time and ticket count, contractually Peter didn’t have to do what he did, let alone take a few moments to chat with a guy dressed in a Ghostbusters hockey jersey and a cowboy hat.
Furthermore, it wasn’t like he was doing something he hadn’t done for others.
However, it was a rare instance – these days anyways – where you find out that the celebrity or icon that you grew up admiring really is the genuine class act of a person you always thought they would be.
Peter Cullen IS Optimus Prime, and vice versa. It was the role he was born and manufactured to play.
And with that outlaws, “transform and roll out!”