comic book convention scene is much different now than it was in 1983, when I
first started going to Larry Lankford’s late, lamented Dallas Fantasy Fairs,
which had begun a year earlier. Back then, the Dallas Fantasy Fair was one of
the biggest comic cons in the country, drawing around 2,500 fans. According to
some reports, only San Diego Comic-Con and Chicago Comicon were bigger, the
former bringing in around 5,000 people (grown to more than 160,000 today).
that to my experience over the weekend at Fan Expo Dallas, where close to 50,000
fans (according to pre-show estimates) converged on the Dallas Convention
Center. In the old days (the last Dallas Fantasy Fair was in 1996), comic books
were king—most of the guests were comics-related, and most of the vendors sold
movie and TV celebrities have taken over the bigger comic cons. There are still
plenty of comic books for sale (along with action figures, trading cards,
T-shirts, and the like), but today’s shows have a different, more corporate, more
mainstream vibe than those older, more intimate shows, where you felt like you
were part of a secret society.
this column devolves into a “get off my lawn” type of rant where I lament “the
good old days,” where we would stay at the Dallas Fantasy Fair all weekend
without renting a hotel room (the back row of the all-night film room made for
a good place to sleep), I’ll try to stay focused on the here and now of Fan
of my kids were home from college for the event, so that meant I would likely
have a great weekend no matter the quality of the convention.
set out Saturday morning and arrived a few minutes after the show opened. We
had media passes, so we didn’t have to hassle with getting tickets, but we
still had to wait in a pretty long line just to get in (lines for pretty much
everything else were long as well).
taking a brisk survey of the vendor’s room, we made a beeline to the celebrity
area, where several rows of movie and TV stars were meeting, greeting, and
taking pictures with fans. One reason my son Ryan wanted to go to Fan Expo was
to collect autographs for Hearts of Reality (www.heartsofreality.com), an annual
non-profit charity event that helps support Give Kids the World. Located in
Orlando, Give Kids the World provides children with life-threatening illnesses
and their families an all-expenses-paid trip to Orlando to visit the area theme
paperwork in hand, and with my daughter Katie and I acting as backup support
(at least part of the time), Ryan waited in each line, bravely approaching the
celebrities’ handlers, managers, etc., telling them what he was doing,
explaining the charity to them, and hoping they would comply. Since Ryan had
never done this type of thing before, we didn’t know what to expect.
to our delight, a number of celebrities happily agreed. Among others, Ryan
collected autographed glossies from such Hollywood types as Jason Isaacs
(Lucius Malfoy from Harry Potter), James
Marsters (Spike from Buffy the Vampire
Payton (King Ezekiel from The Walking
Dead) and Robin Lord Taylor (The Penguin from Gotham). Several cast members from The Rocky Horror Picture Show also complied, including Tim Curry (Dr.
Frank-N-Furter), Patricia Quinn (Magenta), Nell Campbell (Columbia), and Barry
autographed photo Ryan collected will be auctioned off, and 100% of the
proceeds will go to Hearts of Reality. While Ryan won’t benefit monetarily from
the autographs he collected, he was the benefactor of a super fun day talking
to celebrities, in addition to the good feeling one gets from charitable works.
Even some of the celebs who didn’t fork over a photo were a blast to speak
with. For example, Rocky Horror cast
member and rock and roll icon Meat Loaf didn’t donate a signed pic, but it was
pretty cool talking to the legend up and close and personal.
of Meat Loaf, the highlight of Saturday for me was attending his Q&A panel,
where he waxed eloquent about his long career, which includes numerous movie
appearances, a brief stint with Ted Nugent (he sang lead vocals on five tracks
on Free-For-All), and collaborating
with lyricist Jim Steinman on several records, including 1977’s Bat Out of Hell, one of the best-selling
albums of all time.
only did Meat Loaf tell interesting stories, he was downright hilarious,such as when
he mimicked his “moronic” self being absolutely star-struck and unable to speak
when he met Elvis Presley and John Lennon (on separate occasions).
the floor was open to questions, I tossed out one of my own, inquiring about
where he got the idea for combining operatic vocals with rock and roll. Meat
replied, “No one. I didn’t want to copy anyone else. I didn’t want to sound
like anyone else.” A little later he said, “The only other people who could do
what me and Jim Steinman did were Brian May and Freddie Mercury of Queen and
Pete Townshend with The Who.”
in all, Saturday was a blast, and I even found some graphic novels for $2 each,
a small stack of old MAD magazines for
$2 each, and a large stack of recent Marvel and DC comic books for 75 cents
each. I bought these things to resell in my antique mall booth, but I did find
one item for my collection: an official Tron
joystick (1983) for the Atari 2600 for only $10 (they go for about $25-$30 on
and I had decided not to go to Fan Expo on Sunday, since we were both
exhausted, and since Ryan figured he had collected about all of the signatures
he could. However, Katie talked us into going by insuring us that we would have
fun, reminding us that she had driven five hours from Lubbock just to go to the
convention, and telling us we’d be crazy to miss the Rocky Horror Picture Show panel scheduled for that afternoon.
was raining like crazy on our way to the show Sunday morning. While driving in
those conditions was a hassle, I was glad I was at the helm and Katie wasn’t
driving there by herself. I’m sure she could have handled it, but, even though
she’s 19, I’m not ready to give up the role of protective father just yet.
Katie predicted, we had an amazing time on Sunday, and Ryan even managed to
snag a few more charity autographs. The highlight was meeting Jason David Frank,the
original Green Ranger in multiple seasons of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. We’re not really Power Rangers fans, but we immediately became huge Jason David
Frank fans when he signed FIVE photos and insisted that we pose for a picture
with him free of charge. His energy and generosity were awesome.
coolest part of the entire weekend, as Katie predicted, was indeed The Rocky Horror Picture Show panel.
With no need for a moderator, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell and Barry Bostwick
kept a room full of fans mesmerized and howling with laughter. If you’ve seen Rocky Horror at the theater or on DVD,
you can imagine some of the ribbing Quinn and Campbell gave Bostwick about his
panel was poignant as well. During one especially moving moment, a young woman
said that watching The Rocky Horror
Picture Show, which is a musical about a “sweet transvestite from
Transylvania,” saved her life. Feeling suicidal after her parents had rejected
her when she came out as gay and transitioning, she watched the film, and it
gave her some measure of comfort and a sense that she wasn’t alone.
got many more stories to tell about Fan Expo Dallas 2017, such as James
Marsters bursting into song at his panel, but those will have to wait until another
You can donate to Ryan's Give Kids the World page HERE.
I was doing some research the other day and found this article in a 1993 issue of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Considering how the Sega 32X failed in the marketplace, it's interesting to note how the console got a feature write-up in a major metropolitan newspaper. There was a lot of hype surrounding the add-on all over the country, but many gamers just didn't feel like titles for the system offered enough of an advancement over standard Genesis games.
For those of you who don't follow me on Facebook, you may not know I'm working on a Super Nintendo book. I've actually been working on it for several years, on and off, but the end is finally in sight--the manuscript is due at the publisher this summer. In addition to descriptions/reviews of every original SNES game released in the U.S. (more than 700 games in all), the book will have personal stories, anecdotes and the like by prominent retro gamers, including programmers, reviewers, YouTube celebs, convention organizers, etc. My memories will be included as well. This will be a full-color hardcover coffee table book with hundreds of photos and screen shots. If you're involved in the video game industry in a professional capacity and would like to submit your story about an SNES game or two for inclusion in the book, send me an email, and I'll fill you in the details and let you know what titles are still available (mostly lesser known games at this point). Your story could be beating a particular game, getting it for Christmas, bonding with a friend or family member over a game, finding a rare title in the wild, beating a world record, special hate for a game, etc. Recent as well as distant memories will work. My email: brettw105 [AT] sbcglobal.net One of my favorite stories so far is from my wife, Charis, who became an industry insider, whether she like it or not, when she married me. Here's her inclusion in my forthcoming SNES book:
When I married into the whole gaming world, I was such an imposter. My video game experience was limited to post-football Friday nights at the Mazzio’s Pizza arcade with my fellow marching band buddies, and even then, my playing time was limited by my shortage of quarters, not to mention my lack of eye-hand coordination. I didn’t get a lot of practice at home, either, since our only game console was a Sears Pong knock-off. Even through college, I spent more time playing cards and watching movies than firing digital missiles or jumping pixelated barrels.
Then I met Brett. Brett, the guy who knew every old and new game. Brett, the one who kept a running tally of his high scores in a spiral notebook. Brett, who owned more than a dozen old consoles.
I could’ve just cut my losses and left the gaming to him, but I happened to like spending time with him, and if a round or two of Street Fighter II could make him happy, I could oblige. But there was a problem: I happen to be a tad competitive—OK, a LOT competitive. What were supposed to be cozy evenings spent bonding over the SNES turned into unrelenting beat-downs when the experienced gamer pummeled the n00b. Our “together time” was overshadowed by cussing and yelling, and yes, tears, all because E. Honda never gave poor Chun-Li a chance.
Then Donkey Kong Country changed my life and saved my marriage.
Pardon the hyperbole (and the ridiculous undersell of our love), but my savior was that one blessed word: COOPERATIVE. Finally, we had a game we could play together. With Brett as Donkey Kong, I could tag along as his Diddy. Off we’d go through Ropey’s Rampage or the level that warmed my roller coaster-loving heart, Mine Cart Carnage. My Diddy happily played second banana (so to speak) to the master gamer, tagging in when we needed to jump extra high, tagging out when the big bad boss showed up. We’d work together to collect our emus and swordfish, and we’d take turns playing those fun bonus rounds.
Knowing that we could bank those extra life balloons made DKC even better; sometimes one of us would fire up the game before the other was even in the room to build up a bunch of lives before we returned to our saved game. Added bonus: DKC was linear enough for my old-school brain to get, unlike some of the more spatial wandering games that lost my interest along with my avatar.
Brett’s video game collection has grown over the years, but nothing in his big ol’ gameroom will ever take the place of the cart that soothed my Street Fighter II-broken heart, Donkey Kong Country. ~ Charis Weiss, journalism teacher and wife of gaming author Brett Weiss.
during The Great Depression, when Americans needed cheap, escapist
entertainment, pinball has been around almost as long as the talkies, but there
are very few books on the subject when compared to the film industry. Fortunately,
there are some worth recommending.
are seven quality pinball tomes—impressive volumes that you’ll be proud
to display in your office, library or game room. You might even want to keep a
couple on your coffee table for company to flip through.
Roger C. Sharpe
E. P. Dutton
pinball collector, designer, licenser, and competitive player, Roger Sharpe is
an industry icon. In 1976, when pinball was illegal in many states, he demonstrated
before the New York City Council that it was a skill game—not a gambling game
of chance—by nailing a clutch plunger shot.
addition, he authored Pinball!, one
of the earliest books on subject. Now an out-of-print collectible, it is a
virtual trip through time, bringing to life in text and gorgeous color photos (by
James Hamilton) not only the machines themselves, but also the places where
they were played in the United States and in Europe, such as arcades, bars,
restaurants, and laundromats. Sharpe’s experience with and love for the hobby
Pinball: The Lure of the Silver Ball
Gary Flower and Bill Kurtz
Flower and Bill Kurtz collected pinballs, contributed to various pinball magazines,
and were active participants in pinball festivals for years before penning Pinball: The Lure of the Silver Ball.
The book is a sturdy hardcover with color photos on most every page,
documenting our favorite hobby from 1930 to 1988. There are also chapters on “Pinball
at Home” and “Pinball Ephemera,” along with an appendix listing every pinball
manufactured in the U.S. from 1939 to when the book was published.
book is relatively slim at 128 pages, but it gives readers a nice overview of
the industry and brief commentary on many of its key machines, including such
classics as Mirco’s Spirit of 76, the
first digital pinball, and Williams’ Firepower,
the first digital pinball to feature multi-ball play.
Encyclopedia of Pinball: Vol. 1
Richard M. Bueschel
late pinball historian Richard M. Bueschel plumbed the depths of the Great
Depression when penning Encyclopedia of Pinball: Vol. 1, which covers 1930-1933, including such early machines as Whiffle and Rocket. In addition to a wealth of pinball history (origins of
pinball, mechanical marvels, the pinball patent wars, payout machines, etc.),
this hardcover book features photos of vintage flyers, sales literature, patents,
and the pins themselves.
followed a couple of years later with Encyclopedia
of Pinball: Vol. 2, which covers 1934-1936 and features such topics as
bells, kickers, lights, buttons, and electricity. Both books are out of print,
but well worth hunting down.
The Complete Pinball Book: Collecting
the Game & Its History
thick coffee table book with tons of color photos, including extreme close-ups
of art and playfields, The Complete Pinball Book: Collecting the Game & Its History was first published in 1999, but is now in its third edition. Rather
than list the games by title or company, the book focuses on the evolution and
implementation of particular pinball components, such as art, scoring, tilt
mechanisms, voice effects, flippers, bumpers, and ramps. A convenient index
helps you locate pics of specific machines.
all the recent pinballs produced by Stern, along with a couple from Jersey Jack,
we’ve got our fingers cross that this book will be expanded into a fourth
The Pinball Compendium: 1982 to Present
(Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition)
Shalhoub likely devoted hundreds (if not thousands) of hours to his series of
pinball books, the most current of which is the revised and expanded edition ofThe Pinball Compendium: 1982 to Present. Instead of
focusing on detailed rules of the games, Shalhoub shines the spotlight on the artists
and designers, such as Ted Estes, one of the programmers on The Twilight Zone. Estes is given two
pages in this massive hardcover book to discuss his history in the industry, accompanied
by two color photos: one of Estes in his office and one of him standing in
front of The Twilight Zone.
on your preference, this emphasis on the creators can be a good or bad thing,
but we like the format as it sets the book apart from the pack.
The Pinball Price Guide, Ninth Edition
the price values of more than 2,000 pinballs released for the U.S. market from
1931 to 2012, The Pinball Price Guide, Ninth Edition distinguishes itself by dividing pricing into three condition
classes: 1 (best), 2 (good), and 3 (okay). A Condition Grading Guide helps you
determine the grade of the pinball you are trying to evaluate, from its
backglass to its cabinet to its playfield.
addition, the book has tips on caring for and maintaining machines, along with
four articles: “Electro-Mechanical Games of the 1960s and 70s” by Brian
Saunders, “Woodrail Pricing: The Big Picture” by Gordon A. Hasse, Jr., “Prewar
(Flipperless) Pinball Machines” by Rob Hawkins, and “Bingo-Style Pinball
Machines” by Dennis Dodel.
Pinball Machine Care and Maintenance
B. B. Kamoroff
Bell Springs Publishing
machines are fun to play, but with all their moving parts, they do break down
from time to time. If you have one or more pinballs in your game room, or you
are responsible for maintaining the machines in an arcade, grab a copy of Pinball Machine Care and Maintenance 3rd Edition (third edition), which offers easy-to-read instructions on fixing flippers,
checking fuses, identifying pinball parts, protecting the backglass and playfield,
disassembling and setting up a machine, general cleaning and maintenance, and
much more. This is a useful tool for beginners and veterans alike.
In the 1992 feature
film, Wayne's World, which is based
on the Saturday Night Live skit
starring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, Garth Algar, speaking to Wayne Campbell,
compliments Cassandra—the film’s requisite bodacious beauty—with the following
epithet: “If she were a president she would be Babe-raham Lincoln.”
So entrenched is Abraham Lincoln in the collective consciousness of America that even a mindless
Hollywood comedy can—without hesitation and with nary a lick of context—name-drop
the 16th president in a joking manner and expect everyone in the
audience, even younger viewers with little care about what happened before they
were born, to immediately get the reference.
Widely regarded as the
best president in the history of America (numerous surveys, including a 2007
Gallup poll, have ranked him number one, ahead of such luminaries as George
Washington and Thomas Jefferson), Abraham Lincoln deserves his posthumous
fame and his reputation as a great leader, thanks in no small part to his
brilliant leadership during the most trying time in the history of the country:
the Civil War.
While in office
Lincoln had his share of detractors, including many slave owners in the South
and those who violently opposed his suspending of the writ of Habeas corpus during
the Civil War. However, these days you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who
doesn’t love Lincoln, who, as anyone with even the most rudimentary
understanding of American history is all too aware, was assassinated by actor
and Confederate spy, John Wilkes Booth, on April 14, 1865.
One of Lincoln’s
most ardent admirers is Dan Weinberg, owner of the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop,
which, as the name suggests, specializes in Lincolniana. In addition to rare
books, the store carries autographs, manuscripts, prints, paintings,
sculptures, stamps, pamphlets, and much more.
Weinberg, who began his involvement with the store in 1971 and in 1984 became
sole proprietor, Lincoln was indeed the greatest American president.
“When I came to the
shop 40 years ago,” Weinberg said, “I knew about Lincoln’s major
accomplishments, of course, but when I began studying him in depth I discovered
that the ‘mythology’ surrounding Lincoln is essentially correct. His honesty,
ethics, and morality were second to none. He was an amazing leader and a true
Abraham Lincoln was
born on February 12, 1809, in a one-room cabin in Kentucky. In December of
1816, the Lincoln family, who lost their land partly due to a faulty title,
moved to Indiana. Abe’s mother, Nancy, died of “milk sickness” when he was only
nine years old. In 1819, Abe’s father, Thomas, married Sarah Bush Johnston.
Thomas was a
frontiersman, meaning Lincoln grew up doing exhaustive, physically demanding
labor, including splitting fence rails, chopping firewood, and plowing fields.
Despite his rural upbringing, Lincoln had an aversion to killing animals,
meaning he didn’t care for hunting and fishing.
limited formal education and was primarily self-educated, literally reading everything
he could get his hands on (books were a rare commodity in largely illiterate frontier
Indiana), including such volumes as Robinson
Crusoe, Dillworth’s Spelling-Book,
and Life of Washington (it should
come as no surprise that Lincoln greatly admired the founding fathers).
In 1842, the tall
and gangly, yet athletically adept (he was a renowned wrestler) Lincoln married
Mary Todd. Prior to being elected the 16th president of the United
States on November, 16th of 1860, Lincoln held a variety of jobs,
including general store owner, postmaster, county surveyor, congressman
(initially a member of the ill-fated Whig Party, Lincoln later helped shape the
new Republican Party), and lawyer (practicing law under Mary Todd’s cousin, John
“Part of Lincoln’s
brilliance is that he was self-taught,” Weinberg said. “Through self-directed
study and innate genius, he was able to understand issues and the law. He
learned how to write speeches, how to be a lawyer, and how to be the Commander
during his presidency are the stuff of legend. His famed Emancipation
Proclamation helped ensure the freedom of more than three million slaves and
provided the groundwork to outlaw slavery altogether. His concisely elegant
Gettysburg Address, which typified his rarified oratory skills, remains one of
the most quoted political speeches in history. And, of course, there’s that
little matter of preserving the state of the Union. “We [as a nation]
were very lucky to have him in office at that tumultuous time in history,”
Weinberg explained. “A lesser president might have let half the country go. Or,
on the other end of the spectrum, inclined toward real dictatorship (as opposed
to merely suspending Habeas corpus and shutting down a newspaper or two).”
While Lincoln has
been elevated to virtual sainthood over the years, he, like all presidents
before and after him, wasn’t perfect, something Weinberg freely admits.
“I wish Lincoln
would have learned the military aspects of being president more quickly,”
Weinberg said. “Strategy he understood almost immediately, but I wish he would
have found a general more quickly. Maybe then the war could have ended a year
or three earlier.”
Also, while it’s
generally understood that Lincoln was fond of children, he didn’t necessarily
take to parenting right away.
“He had to learn how
to become a father,” Weinberg said. “I don’t think he was a good father in the
beginning. He was away a lot, and I think Robert [Lincoln’s first son] may have
felt that. It really wasn’t until Willie [Lincoln’s third son] came along that
he learned fatherhood.” (Lincoln had a total of four children—all boys).
perceived shortcomings, Lincoln remains largely above reproach. And, in
addition to being regarded as the greatest president of all time, he’s the most
collected as well. Collectors all over the world clamor for original Lincolnalia
from the 19th century.
Weinberg, some of the rarest, most valuable Lincoln items are letters written
by Honest Abe. “I had one spectacular letter that sold for hundreds of
thousands of dollars. It was written to Thomas Corwin during the presidential
campaign of 1860. Lincoln succinctly explained that he was against slavery and
that he would do something about it.”
In addition to
selling Lincoln items, Weinberg is a collector as well. “Hanging on my wall
right now is the only known instance of Lincoln misspelling his name. He
crossed it out, and it became ‘Linclon.’ He crossed it out and did it again
until he got it right.”
Lincolnalia, such as the aforementioned letter, are clearly out of the price
range of the average collector. However, there are many vintage Lincoln items
that are highly affordable, including such mass produced items as books, electoral
tickets, and pamphlets. Even more affordable are replicated items, such as archival
quality reprinted photos, which can sell for as little as $55.
Easily the most
common Abraham Lincoln collectible is the Lincoln Cent, which was commissioned
by President Theodore Roosevelt, designed by Victor David Brenner (who placed
his initials conspicuously on the back of the coin), and released into circulation
on August 2, 1909. Prior to the taboo-busting Lincoln Cent, it was considered
indecorous by many to feature the image of a person—living or dead—on a
circulating coin (despite, or maybe because of, such precedents as the infamous
Julius Caesar coin).
The 1909 Lincoln Cent—more commonly known as the penny—featured a profile of Abraham Lincoln, an
image still used today, making it one of the longest-running coin designs in
the history of the world. The reverse side depicting “wheat ears” was changed
in 1959 to a depiction of the Lincoln Memorial. While most so-called “wheat
pennies” are only worth a few cents each, certain issues with die flaws or with
Victor David Brenner’s initials are worth considerably more. (For more info on
coin values, consult the 2011 Hand Book
of United States Coins: The Official Blue Book by R.S. Yeoman and Ken
One of the more
colorful Lincoln collectibles is Classics Illustrated #142 ($30), which tells—in comic book form—the tale of Honest
Abe’s personal and professional life. Released in 1958, the issue was reprinted
in 2010 by Jack Lake Productions.
Also released in 1958 was Dell’s Abraham Lincoln Life Story #1 (1958,
$20). More recent sequential art offerings include the graphic novels New Adventures of Abraham Lincoln (1998)
and A Treasure of Victorian Murder: The
Murder of Abraham Lincoln (2006).
Whether you’re a
serious student of presidential history, or you’re simply a fan of Honest Abe
and would like to acquire a few mementos, the collecting possibilities are
virtually endless, ranging from vintage campaign items to post-assassination
commemoratives to modern day kitsch.
Weinberg has advice
for the aspiring Lincoln collector. “I always tell people ‘quality over
quantity.’ Of course, it’s a hobby, and you have to collect in a way that makes
you happy. I don’t recommend collecting Lincolnalia solely for investment purposes,
but if you do then you’d better collect top of the line stuff, something that
has spectacular content or a great story behind it.”
Here’s a look at the
selling prices of a recently completed run of eBay auctions for various Abraham Lincoln items:
Lincoln/Hannibal Hamlin ferrotype campaign pin: $993.57.
*1861 CDV photo by
Mathew Brady: $416.92.
*1865 “pewter rim
type” mourning piece with a Mathew Brady albumen photograph: $2,940.
*1865 silk mourning
*1866 Memorial Address on the Life and Character
of Abraham Lincoln (George Bancroft, Government Printing Office): $199.00.
*1867 15-cent U.S.
postage stamp: $70.39.
*1890 first edition
10-volume book set, Abraham Lincoln: A
History, by John G. Nicolay and John Hay: $1499.99.