Sunday, January 28, 2007

AFF XXI -the final curtain

This was the program book cover for the last AFF. Note the SF/fantasy characters on the cover- nobody even remotely connected with these properties was at AFF that year. A nitpick, but one indicative of the total cluelessness infecting the higher-ups at the convention in its last few years. The convention had some high-profile media guests- Claudia Christian from the popular SF series Babylon 5, two A-Team cast members - but you wouldn't know it from this program book cover. On the other hand, in the Dirk Benedict bio one learns that a macrobiotic diet saved him from prostate cancer in 1975.

The Castlegate was in fine form this year; the convention was allowed the use of the former nightclub as a consuite, which became the most entertaining part of the show. We shot darts at each other in the halls, abused the Vampire players (one player, outraged that we would poke Vampires with sticks and proclaim them "dead", said that he expected us to treat them with a "modicum of decency". One con staffer got into a bar fight with cowboys, starting the brawl with a beer bottle to the head. (He later said, "He knew I was going to fight, and I knew he was going to fight, and I knew it would wind up with a beer bottle to the head, so I just got it over with").

I was in charge of the anime room and we showed Porco Rosso, Ah My Goddess, Streetfighter II, Giant Robo, Macross Plus, Prefectural High School Earth Defense Force (as we were calling it in those days), Urusei Yatsura, Akira, Rose Of Versailles, and Future Boy Conan, among other titles. I even ran an Anime Hell, though I couldn't tell you what I showed. Other events? Hollywood movies like The Flintstones, True Lies, Total Recall, and Rocky Horror (of course); episodes of genre TV like Wizards & Warriors, Logan's Run, Friday The 13th, The Night Stalker, and The Flash; and panels like "Q&A: Comics Guests" and "Panel: Fantastic Art", and cookie-cutter every-con-has-one stuff like "opening ceremonies" and "costume contest."

And yeah, that was it. So if you paid $35 for this convention you would feel completely ripped off. We didn't feel too great about it and we got in free. It was obvious to most of the staff that the convention was having a real problem getting guests of any stature - nobody busts down your doors to see B-movie legends, regardless of what the fans tell themselves - and while we had a lot of suggestions for events that might not require airfare from Hollywood, they were always shot down in favor of yet another scream queen or pro wrestler.

The fandom was becoming younger and more interested in things like computer and video gaming, live-action RPGs and Magic, and of course the Japanese cartoons. AFF reacted to this new surge of interest by ignoring it completely; they allowed people to play the games, but they did not capitalize on it in the slightest.

Another problem was that the AFF had generated massive amounts of bad publicity because of the bad blood between it and Dragoncon. Right, wrong, whatever; the practical matter is that people don't want to go to a convention percieved as shrill, self-serving, petty, politicky, and jealous. AFF was percieved as all those things. Having public tantrums in the halls of your own conventions, scheduling AFF a week away from Dragoncon, engaging in vocal smear campaigns - all that stuff keeps people away from your door. (re: MOC)

So we'd been keeping our eyes open when we started AWA, and we managed to avoid most of the pitfalls - we had a raft of cheap, involving activities for everybody, we kept a tight rein on our budget, and we never relied on guests to sell tickets, Plus we never feuded with other conventions in public. Will AWA last 21 shows? Who can say? All I know is that AWA will never have Darth Vader, Spock, or The Crow decorating its program book, and that's good enough for me.

Atlanta Fantasy Fair would not return. The owners divorced, and while one party wanted nothing to do with conventions, the other party wanted to keep going, yet at the same time deny the first party any convention money that would have to be paid if the name "Atlanta Fantasy Fair" was used. So the next year saw an exciting new convention, "Starcon And Comics". Comic book artists, B-level celebrities, and - this will really get people in the door - an Elvis impersonator. Scheduled on the same weekend as AWA 2 in November 1996, it became a living example of the Old And Busted being destroyed by the New Hotness. You know, guys, a damn phone call is all it would have taken to get us to change our dates, we would have worked with you guys, we had a lot of sympathy and goodwill. But nooooo, you had to act like big shots. I sure hope you felt like big shots watching the dealers pack up on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

the atlanta fantasy fair

Okay, so there was this convention in Atlanta called the Atlanta Fantasy Fair, and according to the internets it might as well not have existed. But exist it did, from 1975 until 1995.

AFF started in 1975; location unknown. "At the first Atlanta Fantasy Fair in 1975, the guests were Stan Lee, Kenneth Smith, and me, with my Superman collection." M. Hirtes

1976 Atlanta Fantasy Fair II
Location? Guests?

1977 Atlanta Fantasy Fair III
Location? Guests?

1978 Atlanta Fantasy Fair IV.
Location? Guests?
1978, first convention: Atlanta Comics & Fantasy Fair. Stan Lee, Starlin, Chaykin, Steranko. For some weird reason, Robert Conrad was hanging around the lobby on Saturday night.

1979 Atlanta Fantasy Fair V.
Location? Guests? - "In 1979 Deni and I had the table next to John Byrne at the Atlanta Fantasy Fair and we made a fortune on back issues and sketches... " (Dave Sim) Visions #1 was published.

1980 Atlanta Fantasy Fair VI.
Location...? Guests? Visions #2 published.

1981 Atlanta Fantasy Fair VII
Castlegate. Guests Al Williamson, Michael Whelan, Bob Burden, Mike Jittlov? Visions #3 published.

1982 Atlanta Fantasy Fair VIII August 13-15
Omni Hotel & World Congress Center, Atlanta GA Guests Frank Miller, Ray Harryhausen, Will Eisner, Philip Jose Farmer, Forrest J. Ackerman, Bob Burden, Mike Barr, Dick Giordano, Brad Linaweaver, Somtow Sucharitkul, Len Wein, musical guests "Axis". 4000 copies of program book (Visions #4) published.

1983 Atlanta Fantasy Fair IX, August 5-7
Omni Hotel & Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta GA. Guests: Theodore & Jayne Sturgeon, Gerald Page, WSFAns Ted White & Forrest J Ackerman, Bob Burden, Forry Ackerman, Bob McLeod, Wendy and Richard Pini& more. Rooms were $44 a night, 3 day passes were $19.

1984 Atlanta Fantasy Fair X
Omni Hotel & World Congress Center, Atlanta, GA. GOH: Larry Niven. With: Forrest J Ackerman, Robert Bloch, Sharon Webb, Richard Pini & others. Membership: $25. Write to: Atlanta Fantasy Fair. P.O. Box 566, Marietta, GA 30061

"Not only saw Buckaroo Banzai, but I have a real polyester Buckaroo Banzai headband given out as a freebie at the Atlanta Fantasy Fair in the summer of 1984. I wonder if anyone's insane enouW^W^W^^W what it would go for on Ebay? (jackd) "

1985 Atlanta Fantasy Fair XI
Omni/WCC. Newt Gingrich and Fredrick Pohl are guests.

1986 Atlanta Fantasy Fair XII

1987 Atlanta Fantasy Fair XIII
Omni /WCC. Lamar Waldron displaced as con chair before the 1987 convention.

1988 Atlanta Fantasy Fair XVI, June 24-26
Atlanta Hilton & Towers in Atlanta, GA. Convention location displaced due to Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. Steve Jackson is a guest.

Atlanta Hilton and Towers, Atlanta, GA.

1990 Atlanta Fantasy Fair XVI
Date? Location? Guests - Jack Kirby

1991 Atlanta Fantasy Fair XVII
Location? Guests?

1992 Atlanta Fantasy Fair XVIII June 20-21
Hyatt Atlanta Airport Guest: Peter David

1993 Atlanta Fantasy Fair XIX June 25-27
Hyatt Atlanta Airport, Atlanta GA. Guests David Prowse, Grace Lee Whitney, Caroline Munro, Monique Gabrielle, Jeff Rector, Gunnar Hanson, Irish McCalla. Memberships: $27 until 6/5, $30 at door.

1994 Atlanta Fantasy Fair XX June 17-19
Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, Atlanta GA. Guests: Sarah Douglas, Bruce Campbell, Jeff Rector, Geraint Wyn Davies, John Russo, Ted V. Mikels. Memb: $27 until June 5, $30 at door. Rooms $79 sngl/dbl, $99 tpl/quad.

1995 Atlanta Fantasy Fair XXI, June 23-25
Castlegate Hotel, Atlanta GA. Guests: Claudia Christian, Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz, Jeff Pittarelli, Don Hillsman II, Wayne VanSant, Joe Phillips. Memberships $35 for 3 days. Rooms $69.

So, as we can see, the convention went from being Atlanta's premier SF/Fantasy gathering with top-notch guests and venues (Stan Lee, Al Williamson, Jim Steranko, Ray Harryhausen, the Omni, the Hilton) to a confused mish-mash of scream queens, airbrush artists, and B-movie personalities, operating out of the Castlegate (!). More information about the Castlegate may be found here.

There are many gaps in my knowledge of the AFF, and I welcome those with the foresight to save their T-shirts and program books to bequeath their information unto me. Locations, dates, guests, anecdotes... they're all welcome. You can leave comments here or email me at .