The convention passes were not cheap. Neither were the train tickets. And the hotel room I magically pulled out of my bag of tricks at the last minute? Let’s just say it wasn’t a fair price for a Sheraton with a broken ice machine.
And after all the promise of seeing new movie trailers, meeting stars of films and TV shows and collecting as much free swag as we could stuff into a Dark Horse Comics tote bag – all my son wanted to do was meet NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar…
At some point in between Comic-Con 2015 and last weekend, my son’s entire level of interest in superheroes, comic books, and nerd culture shifted… to the NBA.
A year ago, he would have jumped at the opportunity to meet five guys dressed as Power Rangers, or been enamored with the voice cast of Teen Titans Go! who were greeting fans on the convention floor… His little nine-year-old mind would have filled with wonder to get a photo with a Stormtrooper or a guy dressed as Deadpool. He would have left with a Suicide Squad t-shirt and a fistful of comic books. But not this year. All that was over.
“It’s sort of kid’s stuff,” he said. “I want to meet Kareem.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has put out a diverse array of great books ranging from historical to kid’s fiction. He has also penned a Mycroft Holmes comic book and was set to speak at a panel on the first day of the Con – which is when we arrived.
Upon arrival, my son fooled around with some LEGO video games and spent ten minutes posting photos to his Instagram account bragging about being there. He then checked out the Square Enix booth and found that they were not giving anything cool away… unless you signed an email list. Then, you got a free tote bag.
In fact, it seemed everybody was giving away tote bags. That’s ALL THERE WAS.
Fantastic Beasts offered us a bag, so we grabbed one. Then we scored a Supernatural bag – which I’m sure was a network priority since the show has been on for 17 seasons and obviously needs to find an audience… Then we got a Walking Dead bag, a Legends of Tomorrow bag, an iZombie bag and finally a Supergirl bag. Within one hour of arriving, we had made it to nine booths… and had 45 fucking tote bags.
“What time is Kareem signing?” My son asked.
I looked it up. 1:30. It was 11:00 a.m.
“Should we just go to where he’s signing and wait for him?” He asked.
“No, dude – this is Comic-Con! Look at this place! Do you know how many kids would give a pinkie finger to be here?”
“Meh,” he said.
Dammit. Those pre-teen years had hit my boy early. He needed constant stimulation. We can all blame cell phones and everything else, but that’s just the way things are going. As a kid, all I had was the radio and an activity I called “staring out the window.”
All my son wanted to do was to post Kareem autographing his comic book so he could upload it to Instagram and make his friends respond with something like, “Dude, so jelly.”
I decided to find where the signing was taking place and make sure we were in the vicinity of where we needed to be once the all-time NBA scoring leader made his appearance.
“Do you know where booth 5537 is?” I asked countless employees of the convention center.
“There is no row 5500,” was a common response.
In the convention center, large numbers correspond to the booth numbers on the floor – beginning with 1000 and going to 5000. However, row 5500 was impossible to find.
Eventually, we discovered that row 5500 was located on the back walls of each convention hall. We found booths 5566, 5552, and then 5549. And then the numbers stopped. We asked again.
“Maybe it’s listed incorrectly,” An employee responded.
“No, Kareem is gonna be at 5537, the Titan Comics booth at 1:30,” I said, referencing the Comic-Con app on my phone.
Finally, we found the booth.
We walked up and my son came alive when he saw a sign reading Kareem Abdul-Jabbar signing today at 1:30.
He took out the glossy photo of Kareem in a Los Angeles Lakers jersey that we had ordered online a week earlier, hoping he might meet him. He showed the Titan Comics employee his item.
“Kareem’s not signing any Lakers stuff,” he told us.
“Yeah, he’s only signing his comic book,” he said smugly. “This isn’t a sports memorabilia shop… it’s Comic-Con.”
My son’s head fell. So did mine. Much has been read about my history of autograph collecting as a youth – and I know the feeling when a player refutes your request… It hurts.
“Let’s buy a comic and go meet him anyway,” I said. “Maybe he’ll change his mind.”
“He’s signing in Autograph Alley – upstairs,” the employee informed us.
We bought an issue of Mycroft Holmes and headed toward the escalator. I was convinced Kareem would see the look on my son’s face and sign his glossy photo anyway. Come on, I thought to myself. He’s Kareem! He was in Airplane!
Upstairs, crowds formed to meet one-time actors from Battlestar Galactica and Falling Skies. Other small crowds awaited writers and voice actors… but one line in particular had begun to form early and was noticeably over-crowded… And in the line were roughly 50 grown men wearing Lakers jerseys.
“Is this the Kareem line?” I asked a 40-something who was preparing to have a pair of cartoonish Kareem socks autographed.
“Yeah, the drawing was at nine this morning,” he said. “Did you get a ticket?”
Excuse me? Drawing? Ticket? For what?
Apparently, autographs have become so highly desired at Comic-Con, that raffle drawings are held in the early mornings to determine who is lucky enough to get a ticket that will allow them to get a signature. Around 100 people won Kareem tickets and were waiting in line. Nearby, roughly 200 people – many in Lakers jerseys – stood around looking dejected, mumbling about how autograph raffles had ruined Comic-Con.
My son buried his head in my arm as a security guard asked us to stand 20 feet away from the line.
“I’m sorry, buddy” I told him.
“Dad, it’s so unfair!”
“I know, I know… what a bummer.”
At that point, a really kind woman who had been managing the line saw me comforting my son. She walked over and whispered in his ear.
“Wait here and I’ll see if I can find you a ticket,” she said.
“Really?” he said, lighting up like the scoreboard during the Lakers’ 1985 NBA Finals win.
Sure enough, she came back with a ticket a minute later. There was good in the world.
“Thank you SO much!” He said.
My son waited in line for another hour to meet Kareem. The same nice lady even let me go in close to take my son’s photo with the six-time MVP.
Kareem was personally signing everything – meaning he was adding each person’s name to the autograph – as to foil would-be flip artists looking to sell an autograph on ebay the next day for a quick buck. Even the guy with his dumb Kareem socks had them signed “To Phil. Abdul-Jabbar.”
Finally, my son got his Mycroft Holmes comic signed. Then he pulled out his 8×10 glossy. Kareem looked at it and smiled and signed it. My kid shook his hand and came out and gave me the biggest hug I’ve ever received from one of my children.
On the train home the next day, my son was looking at something on my phone when he asked me a question.
“Dad, can we go to the Magic Johnson’s TGI Fridays in Baldwin Hills to get Magic’s autograph tomorrow?”
I took my phone back and told him to stare out the window…
Images: Titan Comics, Stance Socks, Zach Selwyn