A Niven Fan Travels to Comic Con for Costuming Fanac

by Carol Phillips

Comic Con Logo
August 2-4, 2002
San Diego, USA

Arrival at Convention Center (Friday)

I had to get up early to catch my plane. Ellington is close small, so I only had to be there an hour before my flight to Houston Intercontinental then on to San Diego. I lost two hours, so it was still early when I arrived in San Diego. I had to wait longer for my bag than I had to for the hotel shuttle. My favorite fanac is costuming, and waiting to makes sure the airlines didn't lose my bag was probably the longest part of the whole weekend. The shuttle was waiting for me, and took off as soon as I got in. At the hotel, I left my luggage with the porter, then walked to the pier. I toured the Star of India, a ship dating from the mid seventeenth century, then the two ships beside it, the Berkeley, and I don't remember the name of the pleasure yacht. I thought about going straight to the convention, but I didn't feel like trying to figure out where the convention center was right then. A woman stopped me admiring my hand made hair sticks. She suggested that I could make some money marketing them to re-enactors. I got sunburned slightly. I never did check on what I missed during those four hours I spent looking at the ships, but I'd already missed Thursday.

I started walking back to the hotel around 3 o'clock, but within about a block managed to hire a jitney to take me back to the convention center, a little cart for two powered by a young man on a bicycle. I'd already been walking for 4 hours, and I knew there would be more walking at the convention center. I'd made prior arrangements with Larry Niven to dress in costumes, and I wanted to meet up with him early. And I was wasting time!

Last time I was at Comic Con, possibly 1990, it was at a different place, MUCH closer to the hotel we were staying at, just catty corner across the street. The convention center is much further away, but it is big enough to hold the growing crowd. Registration is up to around 50,000 people, growing, and there is room for more exponential growth! There wasn't a very long line, however, and even though I hadn't bothered to pre-register, it only took a couple minutes to register.

Larry's Panels at the Convention

  • Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, 4.30 Friday
  • Mars: Past, Present, and Future, 11.30 Sunday

Larry Niven wasn't mentioned in the program book at all, (nor was he listed as a Special Guest on the Con's Website either - Nesssus) the perfect bound souvenir book (as opposed to the side stapled newsprint program guide listing what all was going on.) He might not have told them he was coming in enough time to get him in the program guide, or one part of the committee didn't tell another part what changes were happening. I would think that they'd get Larry listed, but if he was late in announcing he was coming, I guess I can see why they didn't. He was listed in the newsprint guide. There was 45 minutes to look over the programs, before Larry Niven's first program. With up to 16 tracks of programming, there was certainly lots to choose from.

"Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy" Panel

His first panel was on Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. My first glimpse of Larry was across a large room, but I could tell even THAT far away that he is growing out his beard a little, the goatee part is an inch longer than the rest. He usually keeps his beard trimmed, short and manicured. This is a BIG change for him, and he isn't sure he likes it. There were so many other people on the panel, David Gemmell, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, Peter David, R. A. Salvatore, and Maryelizabeth Hart, that Larry didn't get to say much. They could easily have made two panels in two rooms, and I would have gotten a seat! But everyone deferred to Larry, and he did at least get first dibs at every question, sometimes seconds too.

Larry did say that his favorite book he has written is THE BURNING CITY. Last time I heard him give a preference, he claimed DESTINY'S ROAD as his favorite, and that was his life's definitive work, what all his skills led him up toward. The youngest is the favorite, I suppose. When asked which of his book is his bastard child, i. e. the one he likes the least, he says "They all seemed worthwhile at the time," refusing to name a least favorite. However, I remember hearing Steve Barnes announce that ACHILLES' CHOICE is his least favorite of his collaborations with Niven.

Then, Larry had an autograph session. Even though he wasn't listed very prominently in the program guide, there was a list of who was autographing when, and enough of the 50,000 saw it that he was kept fairly busy. I over heard Larry and the other pros talking about stacks of books/vs. comic books which fans bring up to sign, how comic writers and artists get approached with an armload of comics, and there are a hundred things to sign! An armload of books of Larry's can be few more than seven or eight. Larry pointed out that as he is literary, he makes it a point to keep his signature legible, rather than a quick scrawl someone else might make to save time. One person got Larry to sign electronic copies of his work on his PDA! I asked him to sign my near mint edition of THE FLYING SORCERERS, already inscribed by David Gerrold in an illegible scrawl.

The Costumes

I'd planned with Larry to bring Star Wars costumes for us to wear, Senator Padme Amidala and Jedi Anakin Skywalker. I was enchanted by Episode two, and this Comic Con is celebrating 25 years since George Lucas announced the original Star Wars at Comic Con.

Carol and LarryIn the mid 1970s I was in HS and Star Wars first came out I'd made one of my earliest efforts at a costume with an Obi-Wan Kenobi costume. For some "Spirit Week" celebration, the cheerleaders had announced a "Star Wars Day." The other days, people dressed funny for inside out day, and whatever else, I didn't think it would be unusual to dress up in a costume. It turned out that only two people, unbeknownst to each other, dressed up, a friend of mine and I dressed up respectively as Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi! No, sultry Princess Leia for me, I went straight for who I considered to be the hero, and the cross gender thing didn't bother me at all.

I’ve entered a masquerade before with Larry. I make hall costumes, but the con organizers MADE us enter the show, claiming that they just don’t’ GET costumes like that. We won! This time however, they were JUST hall costumes.

Masquerades seem judged more entertaining skits, and I've never seemed good at figuring out good skits, especially as I'm usually alone. I did enter a contest a couple years ago at a rather small con in Tulsa when I had a friend with me in a group costume. We made people laugh, even though we lost, so I guess it was a success.

There is also a problem of who these characters really are. Obviously, we are both of different generations than the Anakin and Amidala we are portraying. So, we are in a different timeline, one where Anakin didn't turn to the dark side, or he turned back, where Anakin's mother wasn't killed by the sand people, or Anakin didn't slaughter the tribe who killed her, or he found some sort of forgiveness in his fearful heart. I've been assuming that Amidala must have died soon after giving birth to Luke and Leia, or soon after having hid them from their father, the new dark lord. If Amidala didn't die, since here I am, where are the twins? They've got to be 20 to 40 years old now, depending upon whose age we use to judge how much time has gone by. If they reproduced in this time line as early as we did, we might be great grand parents. Or maybe since this is a different time line, we never had kids. Maybe if Anakin never turned over to the dark side of the force, the force was balanced with him, and there wasn't any universal need for another generation, Luke and Leia may never have been born. Maybe the time of episode 2, if Anakin doesn't become the dark lord, there are a few more battles to bring the balance to the force, but the events of episode 3, 4,and 5 never happened.

There's a lot of story there, but I don't know about a 15 to 90 second skit for a masquerade. But I didn’t write anything, and neither did Larry.

In a few weeks, I'll take my newest Star Wars costumes to World Con, where I'll get to dress my Aussie e-pal, Ted Scribner, who I'll have gotten to meet for the first time. But here, Larry was going to take my Anakin costume on a test run.

When I started making these costumes, Keegan, my seven year old son, didn't have a light saber, and I'd instructed Larry got his own. We tested Larry's light saber. He hadn't taken it out of the box yet, but had gotten batteries when he ordered the light saber, the wrong size unfortunately. We'll blame Amazon for that one. I'd planned for that possibility, and had extra C's. I'd forgotten a screwdriver, and Larry, not used to dealing with children's toys, had no idea that we'd need one. However, I have this GREAT pen, that has 6 blades, a saw, nail file, tweezers, an awl, and a tiny little slot and Phillips screw driver, and several tools I've forgotten. The little Phillips screw driver was sufficient, if difficult. I love that pen. I avoid carrying it on airplanes. I want to KEEP that pen. Now, we had working Light sabers! I'd brought Keegan's with me, just in case Larry forgot his, and we played with light sabers for a few minutes. The room was really too small for it, though.

Above: Larry "attacking" a statue of an Imperial Stormtrooper - "playing" with his Lightsabre.

Saturday morning, it took us over an hour and a half to get into the costumes. Since I had to alter Larry's costume, it took longer dressing him than it might have.

The hair piece, the little braid that Jedi seem to sport these days, that I made out of my own hair, looked really good on Larry. Too bad it isn't visible in the pictures. I'd thought his hair was more gray than mine, and that I was more gray than my hair looked in that braid, but it was all a good match. Actually, the most noticeable hair is in front, and it is more gray than the rest, but I was afraid that would show too much if I cut all I needed from there, so I'd cut what I needed from what I hope are less obtrusive areas. I'd managed to attach my hair to the clip so that very little of the clip showed, but I was still afraid there wouldn't even be enough hair to clip the alligator clip onto, let alone hide the rest of the clip. He used to keep his hair cut closer, and it was just long enough. One had to look rather closely to see the clip at all. Anakin's braid was a simple three part braid, and shorter. Seeing as I was sacrificing my own living hair, I made it as long as I could. Another of my design decisions was to use a different braid, a Herringbone, which is really lovely and delicate, and lost on everyone except me, and excepting Larry also, since I pointed out to him exactly how exquisite the braid was. He commented later that he was amazed at how little he noticed that it was even there.

I'd forgotten the inside shirt of the Anakin costume, but Larry had a t-shirt he wore backwards; it didn't look too bad. It was probably cooler too. I used my quilting baster to make the shoes I made (slippers really) fit better. Still, I had to re-tie them ALL DAY LONG. They lace up the leg, so it took awhile each time. Many people saw Senator Amidala squatting or sitting on the floor, playing with one or the other of Anakin's legs....

Larry kept commenting that it SHOULD bug him, possessing little patience, having to have is shoes re-wrapped and tied over and over, but it didn't. He just thought of it as part of the experience of wearing costumes. I think I've figured out a re-design that keep me from having to re-make the shoes. They should fit Ted better.

Since I think Ted is more slender than Larry, I put a cord in the pants instead of elastic. Unfortunately, I decided this after I had prepared the pants for elastic rather than a cord, so it had to tie in the back, rather than the front. I can change that.

I had to move the frog closure on Larry's jacket over, tighter. I hot glued it, and put in more Velcro inside, hot glued that too. I might have to come up with another way of making that smaller for Ted, maybe basting in the sides.

Larry doesn't wear a wrist watch anymore, but one of these watches that dangle for the belt. After some fiddling, it fit nicely on the frog waist closure. Even though I'd put pockets in the pants, Larry carried a (very masculine) shoulder bag alternative to a belt pouch.

Mine was quick to put on, as I had little last minute basting to do for it, and those I just left in. While I do want to do some altering on it before wear it again, I don't HAVE to. I had a little string back pack purse that I could easily hide under my costume.

Larry had brought a cape to wear, very reminiscent of the ones the Jedi wear. He wouldn't consider wearing it though, not even carrying it, too hot, and the convention center was NOT that heavily air conditioned. Other men/boys dressed as Jedi mostly had thin cotton "cloaks."

My cloak was part of my dress, inseparable, but at least it was cotton. Still, I had 6 layers of material on my body, two on my head, 8 on my shoulders. I was warm enough.

We might have only worn the costumes in the evening, but we'd been invited to go out to a restaurant with a bunch of other professionals, and we might want to dress up in the more conventional sense, so we wore costumes during the day. Lots of people did, all the con long, especially Star Wars costumes, being the 25th anniversary of the first announcement of Star Wars by George Lucas at Comic Con. We still had to tell lots of people who we were. Gee, do you tell people that we are Anakin and Amidala, or Larry Niven with.... well, no one important. There were lots of storm troopers and lots of Jedi knights. I do think I was the only Amidala, at least in hall costumes. I certainly saw no girls/women as silly as I was wearing Jedi costumes. (where are the FEMALE Jedi Knights?) I didn't see all the masquerade.

Picture Taken by a Fan at the Con

Comic Con (Saturday)

Larry didn't have any panels all day, so we got to just walk around, have fun, look good, and pose for pictures. Lots of people wanted pictures of us, and I think few of them realized they were taking LARRY NIVEN'S picture in a costume. At least one woman did, besides the one who took our picture together, [above].

We walked around the dealers room, a room so large that, filled with people and displays, you can't see three walls at one time. We walked the span of it, found the art show at one end. It would have taken a VERY long time just to walk up and down all the aisles. I'm sure there was an incredible amount of talent in that hall.

Larry made an appointment to sign autographs at the Del Rey booth on Sunday. They had a box of copies of RINGWORLD to give away. We got some coffee, shared some breakfast, posed for photographs. Throughout the day, we went to panels, walked in the dealers' room, posed for more pictures. He commented at least once that he was having more fun in costume than he thought he would. Even if most of the people taking our picture didn't know who he was, he still got attention. He likes getting attention. Who doesn't?

He told me about a comic strip book he had written an introduction for, SUPERNATURAL LAW, by Batton Lash. They didn't have a copy of the one Larry had his introduction in, FRIGHT COURT, but Larry bought me a copy of one of the other collections.

We went to a panel with Ray Bradbury and Julius "Julie" Schwartz. After Julie got started talking, the moderator was truly unimportant, and he stayed rightfully quiet watching the older men share their stories. Larry told me the story about the first time he met Bradbury. They shared a doctor. While sitting in the waiting room, they got to talking about Science Fiction. Bradbury gave Niven a signed copy of his new book, THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. Larry was probably around 12, the Golden age of Science Fiction, and this would have happened when the book was newly published in 1950 when Bradbury, born in 1920, was about 30. By the end of 1950, Bradbury had well over 150 short stories published!

Bradbury told the story, guided by Julie, about how he borrowed $90 from Forrest Ackerman to attend an early World Con. Julie found him selling newspapers on a street corner to pay him back, a dollar a week. Bradbury bragged about how he sold a novelette to Playboy, starting off the career of the men's magazine with a three part story, and paving the way for it to still be a good place to publish science fiction. (Larry's published there twice!)

Julie was a literary agent for years during the age of the pulps. He was involved with early fandom and fan publishing, and is credited with being responsible for ushering in the "Silver Age of Comic." He edited Superman comics. Julie Schwartz was trying to impress me at a party one year, in the mid '80s I think. He was going over and over his favorite pick up lines "Let me introduce you to someone. I know everyone, who would you like to meet. Guess how old I am, go ahead, guess." Wishing he wanted to actually talk to me, I finally just took a guess. I guessed right. He was mad. I guess he thinks he looks much younger, and that it matters. He wanted to know how I guessed. I told him that I compared him to R. A. Lafferty, who I knew, and thought he might be the same age. He was. That made him madder. Larry seemed to understand exactly why Julie got mad. I guess Larry and Julie both thought Ray Lafferty looked older than his years, and that it mattered!

Later, in the Dealer's room, I noticed a large crowd of people, with flashes going off. Ray Bradbury, in a wheel chair, had come into the room. So many people packed around him, Larry declined to bother him, and I missed my opportunity to meet Bradbury. Ah, well. What would I say? "Gee, Mr. Bradbury, I love your stuff. My whole family are fans of yours. I have an audio copy of "The Sounds of Thunder" which my 7 year old son, though afraid, made me play a dozen times through. Oh thank you, thank you..." Surely nothing he hasn't heard a million times before.

Just before 4 o'clock we went to the green room to look for something to drink. Someone wasn't paying much attention, as all there was left was water. No afternoon coffee, not even decaf. We met up with some of the people we were supposed to have dinner with, and told us to meet them HERE, at the green room, in an hour. This got rid of the notion of changing before dinner. They said they wouldn't be embarrassed being seen in Mundania with people in costumes. After some confusion about where we were going, and whether we could get in, we walked over to a bar for drinks and appetizers, then to an... Animation Writers Association (or something) meeting where they were serving drinks and appetizers.

Saturday Evening

On the way out to dinner, appetizers, we saw this one guy in costume. We'd been hearing rumors of him, a demon. This tall, slender, very dark man, wore HUGE wings, some wonderful make up and eye piece and head piece, and.... not much else. There was some small asymmetric thing across his chest, and over one arm, and a chain mail... cod piece with a few small pieces of material. He was having lots of fun posing for pictures, and gnashing his teeth at people. Larry accosted him with his light saber, getting him once from behind, and once from in front.

On the way over to the bar, Larry told us about a costume he designed (implemented?) once, which consisted of parts of several different articles of clothing, he mentioned half a pair of tuxedo pants and the other half of Bermuda shorts. I suppose the top would be the other half of a dress shirt and half a T. He called this something like "Time travel implosion." Wish I had a picture. Frank Gasperik reported a costume Larry wore once, this must have been soon after his collaboration with David Gerrold was published, of him in a wizard's robe, and a HUGE pencil. I gather it was some sort of display pencil. I think Frank said it was called after the original title of THE FLYING SORCERERS, THE MISPELT MAGISHUN.

This bar was rather fun. They teach the servers ("waitrons" <wink>) to have attitudes with the customers. One guy ordered a half coke, half diet coke, (the best of both worlds) and she put a dozen straws in it, and told us to pass that one over for "pain in the ass." She also made anyone attending the convention draw something on some paper she brought out. We may well have managed to avoid that, but as at least one of the guys was an artist, he started something and we continued it around the table. In the spirit of abuse, I made our little cartoon flip a bird, and Larry put on some brass knuckles. LOL.

After the Writers meeting, one of the writers, Jimmy Diggs, swore he could get us into the masquerade, even though it is a (free) tickets only event, as so many of the 50,000 want to attend it. We didn't bother to take him up on it, as we figured it was already started, and we would just go into the overflow room and see it on the screen. The videography wasn't very good, the sound was worse, and few of the costumes were really up to World Con standards, which is what I would expect at a con of this caliber. After all, it is nearly ten times the size of World Con! I'd over heard someone complaining about the quality of the costumes in the masquerade, suggesting that the Queens should get involved. We're talking gay men who like elaborate dress and costumes, often dressing up as caricatures of women. I think the Master of Ceremonies was Gene Simmons, of Kiss fame. I knew he was a guest, and I thought it looked like him, although he was wearing a tuxedo, rather than leather chains and make up. I didn't recognize him until he stuck out his tongue, though. On our way out we bumped into some of the people we'd been snacking our dinner with. One of them took the picture of us standing together.

"Mars: Past, Present, and Future Panel" and Goodbye

Got the con in time Sunday for a 10:30 panel, but only because the artist was late starting the panel. Basically, he, Eric Drooker, was giving a slide show set to music. The main sequence was basically a re-telling of the myth of Noah and the Arc, set in modern time, and focusing on the evils in our society part. It rained throughout all the drawings, and ended with the main character's CAT getting rescued.

Larry's last panel was at 11:30, on "Mars: Past, Present, and Future" presented by the Mars Society of San Diego. Besides Larry, the other people on the panel included John Carter McKnight, Kevin J. Anderson, James W. Benson, and Dr. Michael Caplinger. Just before the panel started, I snuck up for a quick good-bye to Larry. I had to leave for the airport in the middle of his panel. Basically, I got to hear them introduce Larry, talk about how he has published "Rainbow Mars" and a little bit of the history of Mars (the canals, the Burrough's tales) and the present state of Mars exploration.

I was taking the LAST flight back to Houston I could, and I had to leave the con at noon. Having to head west really hurt my timing. Heading to the airport, all my bus and shuttle connections went smooth as silk, no lines or waiting anywhere. At the gate, I had TWO HOURS to wait. I could've stayed for the rest of the Mars Panel, just a half hour. I bet I would've had to wait for the hotel shuttle, the airport shuttle, the curb side check-in, and airport security, and I would've MISSED my plane!

Long, lonely, and totally uneventful flight home.

Read Larry's Comic Con account in his Letter.