It’s not every day you come face-to-face with a pop culture icon.
My encounter with one came on a Saturday afternoon on the west side of Manhattan, in a large room hidden away in the bowels of the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
It was the New York Comic Con, the unappreciated stepchild of the more publicized San Diego Comic Con. The Con has grown over the years, and if this day was any indication, the attendance was through the roof. By 2 p.m. the joint was hopping. There were hundreds of people both inside and out.
This is a unique group of people, showing their geek spirit with pride and cardboard. There were guys with grand guts and bulging love-handles decked out in Spider-Man outfits, as well as girls showing off their girlie parts as scantily-clad Harley Quinns. One guy in particular had a rather nicely tailored Superman suit (and donned it sans underwear, as his disturbingly pronounced manhood indicated).
But I will say I loved the old school cosplayers, like the chick dressed as David Bowie from Labyrinth, and the group decked out as the characters from Darkwing Duck.
I loved each and every one of these fellow geeks, though. They love these characters and express it proudly. More power to them.
That love started wearing thin, however, as I tried walking through the convention floor.
Making my way through the horde was like navigating a path through the Well of Souls. There were people everywhere, shoulder to shoulder, shuffling about. Some woman in a lacy outfit hit me in the head with her obnoxiously wide wings. I was then seconds away from cracking a Wolverine wanna-be in the face with my elbow for poking me in the ribs with his 99-cent plastic claws when I realized it was time to face Luke Skywalker.
I descended into the press rooms and found my way to the meeting place.
Inside were several round tables, several very attractive PR women, as well as a tall, red-skinned demon-like creature.
It was the press event for New Gen, a popular comic book title whose creators are working their way toward making a feature film. The multi-million dollar movie is an independent film working to get financing.
Luke Skywalker — also known as Mark Hamill — could very well play a part in the film. As such, he was there to help promote it. He’d done a panel earlier in the day along with the comic’s creatures — J.D. and Chris Matonti — but unfortunately I did not arrive in time for that.
When I entered, Skywalker — er, I’m sorry, I mean Hamill — was seated with a group of journalists for a roundtable interview. He was decked out in a leather jacket and jeans, animatedly talking about comic books (one of his passions).
But I was scheduled to have a one-on-one with him, so I decided to sit back and wait. I was one of about three others looking for a piece of the one-time Jedi Master’s time.
And so I waited… and waited… and waited some more. I have just a handful of talents, thankfully patience is one of them.
By the time I was able to talk with Hamill, my time was short. I had to toss away several of the questions I’d hoped to throw at him. He seemed to launch himself in my direction, speeding across the room to take the seat across from me.
Princess Leia was right, he really is short for a stormtrooper.
I shook his hand and we sat. He then proceeded to discuss the Jumble, a popular puzzle game found within the pages of the newspaper I was there to represent.
“I had this thing, whenever I did a Broadway show, that we’d have to do the Jumble before the half hour, and if we didn’t finish the Jumble we couldn’t go on,” he told me. “You get to the point where you could almost do it without a pencil. And then there’ll be that one that stumps you, like Larynx or something.”
It was ironic, as I recalled with him that when I first started at the newspaper a long time ago in what seems like a galaxy far, far away, I too was obsessed with the Jumble. I used to do it every night, tearing through it with joy. (I even kept them for weeks afterwards, but I did not share that with him.)
He then discussed the project that had brought us together, the New Gen feature film.
“I get approached by fans all the time who want advice, and I’m happy to give it to them,” he began. “I met these guys while I was doing Six Dance Lessons” — this is a Broadway show he did several years ago. “I thought it had a really fresh take and it appealed to the comic book geek in me. But then it organically grew from me just giving advice to formally vetting and reading the scripts, and giving my advice.”
Hamill said he thought the producers should probably make New Gen — which was first published as a comic book in 2008 — into an animated series before jumping into the feature film game.
“At the time I was urging him to make it into an animated series,” he said. “Do the comic books, because that was the most doable and I mean, you could probably get those published. And then you’d have a better chance getting it made into an animated series because it was a comic book. Take baby steps.”
“But [J.D. Matonti] is so ambitious, that the fact that he’s already talking about a feature film at this point… more power to him,” Hamill said. “He’s got an amazing passion for the project, and great tenacity, which I think is very important in this business.”
Hamill seemed unsure if he’d actually play an onscreen role in the film, however. He noted that at 60 he’s reached “geezer status,” and New Gen is about young people. “I’m open at this point to being involved behind the scenes if he likes,” he said, but “he’s still talking about me doing something on camera… And I gave him my word that if he stuck to it I would be available to him.”
The conversation quickly shifted to what Hamill hopes to be his next gig, directing a feature film of his vigilante-themed graphic novel, The Black Pearl.
“I’m much more interested in the art house movies, the little stories about little people and little problems, and Black Pearl is about a very unbalanced person who thinks its a good idea to go out into the real world and exact his own justice,” he said. “In one line its about how in reality there can’t be a Batman, because it’s like Fargo, where this one decision nearly ruins his life… I know this story, I know how to shoot it.”
Sadly, things were ended as Hamill’s family was standing nearby and anxious to head out. Before he departed, I asked him if I could get a photo of him which I snapped with my iPhone (and you can see above).
I’ve interviewed a number of celebrities over the years, both in person and on the phone. They’ve all been enjoyable and fun experiences. But after I made my way through the crowd and out of the convention center, it started to sink in that I just spent time chatting with a man I had grown up watching.
Star Wars was a movie I saw more than a dozen times in the theaters. I used to make my mother take me to the Midway in Forest Hills, Queens every Saturday for weeks (back when movies actually stayed in theaters that long). I have since seen the original trilogy dozens of times.
But meeting Luke Skywalker — er, dammit, Mark Hamill — was by far the most thrilling celebrity experience I’ve ever had. It put a smile on my face that seemed unwilling to go away. It was made all the more enjoyable to find him to be a friendly, sincere individual.