Gremlins in the Garage!

Wonderfest 96

Review by Kevin O'Connell
I am back from Wonderfest 1996. Anybody who went to Chiller missed a fantastic convention! It was much bigger and better than last year!

My adventure began when I and friends arrived friday night. We could not located any fellow Gremlins attendees, but did encounter many resin breathers who were busy stuffing bags for tomorrows festivities. I looked in the empty convention hall and stood amazed to discover that it was about 2 1/2 times larger than last year's exhibit hall! This year's convention was held at the Executive West Hotel and last years was held at a Holiday Inn. The Executive West is a huge hotel that is decorated with a faintly Old English flair. It has names for rooms like: Bagpipe, Scots, Sherwood, Gaelic etc. We tromped around the hotel floors, hoping to find a dealer selling out of his room, but after failing to flush one, we settled into our hotel rooms and waited for Saturday morning.

I've never encountered this before, but at Wonderfest, you can buy a privilege called an "early bird" membership. This is a convention membership that lets you into the dealer's room before it opens officially! Yes, it costs about $20.00 more than the usual entrance fee! You personally have to decide if it is worth to you to buy this pass. I bought one and it paid off- sort of. I was not into the dealers room for more than 7 minutes when I spotted an old 1/4 Tuskuda Lum figure in it's box! This is the same figure that was reissued by Tsukuda as a painted doll only this was the original, unassembled, model kit. I'll be damned, just as I was heading to that table, this guy walks up to the table first and buys that kit for ---$25.00----! For what ever reason, I yelled at John Weber to come over to witness this INJUSTICE! I was just flabbergasted that I should come accross such a rare model, at a cheap price, only to have it bought right out from under my nose! I was fit to be tied! I was not mad at the man at all, just the situation! The guy just said "this is the way it's done." I soon discovered he was a dealer, purchasing from other dealers to resell at the show, not really a fan of Lum at all, he just called it "an old Tsukuda kit!" He knew it was valuable. After asking the original dealer if he had any more, (he didn't) I quickly made an offer on the kit. John just looked at me and said "I'll let you finish this deal." ( It's unfortunate that John and I, being good friends, are usually looking for the same kits. Sorry John.) The dealer claimed it was worth $100.00 but we settled on a lot less. I walked out of the room with the kit under my arm, shaking from the adrenaline, and with very mixed feelings about the whole thing. Fate is a funny thing as you shall see, it is both kind and cruel.

My only other purchase of the convention was a 1/6 nude figure by Remix that vaguely looked like Sailor Mercury! Everything else was just too expensive to buy!! $90.00 to $220.00 for anime garage kits! Many of them recasts! At noon, I entered my 1/6 Kurama, 1/8 Catty and 1/8 Pai into the model contest. It was weird seeing them on display before the public! There were many nice kits on display, I'll let you imagine the sight of of about 230 kits kits on display!

I attended David Fisher's panel on painting. He actually had an airbrush this time to demonstrate his techiniques. The two things I learned from this panel is that Dull Coat dries flatter if you hit it with a hair drier and that I probably need to thin my paint more to keep it from clogging my Model Master airbrush. David builds up layers of paint on his kits instead of trying to put the color on in a couple passes.

Saturday night I went to the Vouge Theater to see the 1933 film King Kong! It was introduced by the convention guest of honor Ray Harryhausen who cited this film as one of his boyhood influences that propelled him into his career of stop-motion animation. King Kong is one of those films you must see on the big screen. Watching it on a TV doesn't do it justice! I was struck, however, by how dated the film was. Racist stereo types and outdated words abounded! 'Square' meant that you were trustworthy. It had a 'chinese cook' played by someone who was not chinese. All the blacks were played as savages-cowardly and cruel. The audience laughed at most of this absurdity while patiently waiting for the true star of the show to make his appearance. Ironically, guest Bob Burns had brought with him the actual metal skeleton they had used to animate Kong in this film and it stood on the podeum during the introduction. (I'm sure Bob took posession of it when the lights went down) What more can I say about King Kong the film? The film speaks for it's self, you'll just have to watch it on one of those little boxes until it comes to a theater near you!

I expected Sunday to be one of those days where I would just wander around looking at all the merchandise I had looked at the day before. I thought I would perhaps just take some pictures and chat with the dealers. I brought my camera down and photographed several of the great kits that were on display and some that were only on display at the dealer's tables. One dealer had some beautiful female figures inspired by Boris Vallejo(SP?) that I thought should have been in the artshow, but I think they may have been painted by Professional, David Fisher who was a judge!

As I was walking up the ailse, I saw that con guest Chris Walas was introducing an oriental fellow to some of the dealers. He introduced him as Shuichi Miyawaki (I'm not 100% sure of the last name) of Kaiyodo! I'm the sort of guy that gets tongue tied when I meet famous or important people. I promptly forgot any Japanese I new and could only say that I liked Kaiyodo's kits, and that I wanted him to set up a booth here. (I don't think so kids.) I resisted the temptation to follow him like a puppy, mostly because my mind was blank and I didn't have any other cool dialog. He, his fiancee Noriko and Chris Walas disappeared into the crowd. I had just met the man who runs Wonderfestival in Japan! What to do? I tried to be cool and just take some more pictures and look through the dealers tables, but I really wanted to meet this man again and do some serious shmoozing! I resolved to do this! I had some photo's of my models, some of which, like Iczerone, are old Kaiyodo kits. I knew he whould get a kick out of seeing them. I retrieved my photos from my hotel room and came back to look for him. Gone! No where to be found! I knew he was still at the convention, but was probably just meeting all the IMPORTANT people. I just decided to mingle again in the dealer's room. I was walking down an aisle when I spotted another oriental fellow whome I instantly suspected was was part of "the Kaiyodo group." I wanted to write a report about the events of Wonderfest for Gremlins, so I moved closer to get his name. Yukihisa.....Fujt..... Fujita Yukihisa!!!! ALARMS, BELLS and WHISTLES! 99% of American anime fans don't know who this guy is, but I am a BIG fan of this man's work! For those of you who get Animage magazine, look in the March issue at the cover of the GAINAX insert. It's signed YUKI, which is his pen name. Here I am, a big fan of this man, ( we are both about the same age, it seems strange to call him a 'man'.) and he is standing before me! Before I went totally into fanboy mode, I rattled off some of the projects he had worked on, just to be sure I had the right guy. As soon as I was sure, I addressed him as Sensei and bowed very low, whether it was apropriate in this counrty or not. I really hope I didn't embarrass him, but this encounter took me so off guard that I just lost my cool! He spoke only words of English and I only spoke words of Japanese. ( I will take Japanese now so I will never be this helpless again.) He did a couple of sketches for me on a small piece of paper he had. We communicated as best we could. All I could do was drop names and establish that I knew of his work. It was an encounter of both joy and frustration. Back home I had photocopies of his work that I wanted to ask questions and make comments about, but that was a two hour drive away and I hadn't come down in my own car so I couldn't go back and get them. At last I decided that I had communicated all that I could, so I graciously parted company and left him alone to enjoy the rest of the day. I encountered him on a few other occasions, and they were less frantic and more fruitful. Latter in the day, I also met Osamu Kishikawa who works for Kodokawa Publishing. He spoke more English and for the life of me, I can't figure out why I didn't try to use him as an interpretor and talk more with YUKI. Osamu is the editor of the artbooks for Shinseki Evangellion. I can't figure out why I didn't engage Osamu in deeper conversation about the projects he is working on. (Dumb, dumb, dumb!) They were very nice people. I suppose I was just too excited by these encounters and my brain shut down! Mr.Miyawaki had brought with him a built-up and painted figure of EVA-1 that he gave to Chris Walas he also gave him a pre painted 1/4 scale school girl figure with red hair(very cute!) John Weber made a comment to Mr.Miyawaki that he liked BOME (BOAM-eh)'s(a GK sculptor)work and he gave John a copy of the Complete Works Of BOME!! He gave a built up figure of the Wonderfestival mascot ( I didn't see it) to Wonderfest V-P, Lee Stanton who inturn gave Mr.Miyawaki a built up figure of Nestor The Wonderfestor! (a copy Lee said he would never sell) As an anime figure modeler and anime/manga fan this encounter was one I will never forget. Fate is indeed mysterious!

After meeting Yukihisa-san on Sunday. I spent the rest of the day kind of aloof of the convention. Determined to enjoy the rest of the convention, and not just thinking about my encounter, I browsed the aisles and took pictures.

One thing that I'm going to include in my camera bag next year is one of those collapsable monopoles with a camera mount on it. I use a telephoto lens with a flash and holding it steady can be tricky. My photos came out okay, but some had feet or hands chopped off at the boarder!

I encountered a scratch built BGC Priss figure that I had seen many years ago at Capricon in Chicago. I had thought it was a great job then but seeing it again with a seasoned eye, I saw some aspects about it I thought were not so great. Strange what time does to your perspective. I still think he should have put it in the artshow. I was taking a picture of this kit when I caught the shadow of someone about to walk in front of me. Being hyper already, I barked an annoyed "Hey!" as I looked up to see who was going to pass between me and my subject. It was David Fisher with a beautiful Volks-Sorayama-Commando figure! (geez, why does this feel like something out of a sit-com!) David Fisher is a cool guy so I'm sure he didn't take offense at my reprimand ( you have to be pretty far away with a telephoto lens to take pictures- I should have been more carful.). I took the oportunity to get a picture of him with his kit that he had painted for the folks at Puff-N-Stuff.

Latter that day, I finally got to meet fellow modeler, Larry Brackney. It's so hectic at the conventions that it is sometimes hard to catch up with people. Fortunately, John Weber saw Larry's name badge and was able to flag me down.

At last, the model contest winners were announced! Larry Brackney walked away with several Bronze medals for his Iria, Zeiram and Guin kits. John Weber won a bronze for his 1/8 Madoka and an Honorable mention for his Vampirella. I got an honorable mention for my 1/8 Catty model, but because I failed to fill out the entry form completely (baka!), I wasn't called to the stage! (no 15 minutes of fame this time! ) The surprize winner was a gold medal for John Tyson's 1/6 Devil Hunter Yoko kit! This kit definitely falls into the anime figure kit category and was judged a winner! It was indeed a beautiful paint job; the shading on the clothes was especially good!

The highlight of the evening was the banquet. Guests Ray Harryhausen and Bob Burns gave a nice talk about Harryhausens work. We watched some unseen footage of Harryhausens early work, including a strange WWII training film he made showing jeeps and bulldosers moving by themselves and a hut building it's self! Ray, not being young anymore, retired for the evening. We then watched some home movies Bob Burns made of the sets he built around his house to entertain trick-or-treaters on Halloween! Bob, being associated with the movie industry, had the donated help of a lot of movie professionals, so these sets were very elaborate! I was most impressed with the Martian War Machine they crashed into the side of the house! It had a martian that looked exactly like H.G. Wells description! Their coup-de-gras though was a set for the Nostromo from ALIENS that went from the driveway and into the back yard! I think it had $25,000 worth of materials in it, including a panel from the frist Startrek movie! They built an Alien costume using the only known photograph of the monster at that time. This whole affair was free to the public. I don't remember how many people passed through Bobs yard that day, but it was in the thousands! (he had gotten a reputation around Halloween by that time.) We watched some more of Bob Burns, behind the scenes film footage which I won't go into here. It was wonderful way to wind down the show!

That's all for my report of Wonderfest 96. I hope that next year, Wonderfest and Chiller don't clash so that more dealers can make it to Wonderfest, though I don't know where they would put them. All the tables in the dealers room were full! Wonderfest is definitely a garage-kit oriented convention where as I've heard chiller described more as a horror-media show. Hopefully I'll be able to make the compairison my self someday.

Kevin O'Connell a.k.a Lumraptor


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