“We 1983 midwesterners will repel bullies. We will shelter freaks and outcasts … and those who have no hope. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters. And when we are at a loss against the hypocrisy and casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will – as per Chief Jim Hopper – punch some people in the face.”
As told to a room full of his peers and beamed across the TV and Interwebs, actor David Harbour of Stranger Things let loose his inner activist while receiving the SAG award for Best Ensemble. The award was well deserved — Stranger Things is an absolute masterpiece in homage, acted with a level of craft that elevates the ridiculous into the sublime. The acceptance speech is deserving of an Emmy, and perhaps some kind of Flaming Trump Tie award for its severity and passion.
It should come as no surprise to you, my dear readers, that I was bullied growing up. My mother, assured that my hereditary flat feet would cause me future issues, kept me in orthopedic shoes through adolescence. And long before the contemporary version of the term hipster was a known commodity, I was rocking saddle shoes like it was 1957. I was an easy target. My choice of friends did little to stifle the beratement of bullies as well. My best friends in grammar school were just like me: concerned more with the minutiae of role playing games and Star Wars then participating in little league and the like.
By middle school, bullying was simply part of my life. I was lucky enough that those who picked on me chose only mild verbal abuse. As my sense of humor would soon be cut against their barbs, soon I could figure out that self-deprecation was an ever-effective diffuser of torment. Make fun of my shoes? Good! I hate them too. You negotiate with my mother! That didn’t make the hurt less, but it certainly forced my tormentors to move quickly to their next target (often my best friends standing right next to me).
High school dissolved bullying to a non-factor. With honors and AP classes built to separate the future workforce, the villains of my life faded from view as they discovered weed and beer were far preferable to making a fat Jewish kid feel bad about himself. But, hey, the damage was done, and here I am coming full circle on the subject, a few decades later.
Harbour’s words hit me hard. “We … will repel bullies.” To stand in the face of those who knock you down takes fortitude I know I don’t have alone. To phrase his speech in the plural, surrounded by his costars, his message rang loud and clear. We can accomplish what I never will. It’s a lesson to us all. There is power in numbers, as is becoming clearer with each passing protest. It’s not the 1960s, but civil unrest is nigh. Collectively, we’re dividing ourselves between colors, ideology, religion, and even gender. Per the fine sheriff’s words … we can overcome the bullies of this world.
Make no doubt about my opinion. Donald Trump is a bully. He takes the worst traits of Lex Luthor and Doctor Doom and mashes them fully with dullards like Rhino and Bizarro. With his mighty pen, and a lack of foresight, in mere weeks he has done more damage to the collective psyche of the world writ large than perhaps any other world leader in as little time he’s had in power.
The time is not for self-deprecation. It’s not time for soulful reflection, or meaningless shivas served in front of our smartphones. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters. We will deal with the bullies of this world together. Trump may have the office and title, the congress, and soon the courts… But he doesn’t control the will of all people. When we consider that barely half the country voted, and amongst them, less than half voted for him … it stands to note that this bully may control the schoolyard, but we own the school.
“Oh my god Oh my god Oh my god Oh my god” • Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson in Stranger Things, created, written, and directed by the Duffer Brothers
“‘Twas the Monday before Christmas,
“And Hanukah, too,
“And ye olde columnist
“Suggests presents for you.”
Oy. I’m cringing as well. So let’s forget that horrible, incredibly feeble attempt at poetic holiday humor and get on with what this season is really about – debt!
Ah. Strike that, too.
Okay, here’s the truth: I’ve got a serious case of writer’s block, just in time for my deadline.
Fellow writers out there, you know what I’m talking about. It’s sort of like being back in school, and you’re sitting at your desk, and the teacher is passing out the test, and the only thing you do know is that you don’t know shit, and that you’re gonna get a big, fat F, probably circled in red with a “See Me!” written in the teacher’s handwriting at the top of the sheet, and it’s gonna mean detention after school.
Worse, you’re thinking that there’s a strong possibility that you’re gonna fail Algebra and then what? I mean, I get that if a = b and b = c, then a = c, but past that everything just becomes alphabet soup, especially when it’s if a = b and b = c, then what is x?
I was gonna talk about Stranger Things, which I finally watched in a mighty binge explosion last week on my day off, but it’s almost six months after it debuted on Netflix, and six months is a looong time, and what haven’t you heard about it or read about it that I wouldn’t just be repeating? Besides, I’m sure you’ve already seen this story of four boys who are into Dungeons & Dragons and ride Huffys in the woods like in E.T. the Extraterrestrial, a girl in a hospital gown who is a mix of Carrie and the X-Men’s Dark Phoenix and Drew Barrymore in Firestarter with a father – well, maybe he’s not her father, but the girl calls him “Poppa” – who experiments on her on behalf of the government in a monolithic building on the outskirts of the town – it’s called Hawkins, and it’s in Indiana, somewhere outside of Indianapolis – that is surrounded by a chain link fence and signs that say “Keep Out.”
And I’m sure you already know that one of the kids disappears, and that his mother is convinced he’s alive somewhere, even though his body is found and there’s a funeral and everything, and that everybody thinks she’s nuts because she says that he is talking to her through the walls of her house and through the phone, which is sort of like the television in Poltergeist – until the town’s chief cop discovers that her son’s body is fake, and stuffed with cotton filling.
And I’m also sure that you already know that meantime the other three boys and the girl are looking for their vanished friend, and at the same time the girl’s “Poppa” is looking for her, too – with help from men with guns. And that there is this great scene in which the three boys and the girl are riding the bikes right into a barricade set up by “Poppa” and his men with guns and….
Never mind. I don’t want to spoil it for you.
And anyway, I’ve got a serious case of writer’s block.
So the only thing I’m gonna tell you this week is that I wish all of you a merry, merry Christmas, a happy, happy Chanukah, and a joyous, joyous Festivus For The Rest Of Us. And remember…
“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his [or her] wings.”
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat. Time to frantically decorate your home, buy everyone presents, and pretend you’re going to get your Christmas cards out before the New Year this time. Well, at least that’s the plan if you’re me.
One of the challenges I face every year is what gifts to get for other adult family members, because as a friend pointed out recently, usually if it’s something they really need they’ll just go out and buy it themselves! Which leaves you guessing what they might not need but might like, or going for the more extravagant gifts that they wouldn’t buy on a whim.
There are lots of holiday gift guides out there, even for geeks and nerds like us (well I assume you’re a geek or nerd too, if you’re reading this). And for fandom convention-goers. But if you’re going for the bigger-ticket holiday gift, here’s a suggestion for something you couldn’t have bought in past years because it didn’t actually exist; but could totally get now for your con-going friends (or for yourself, because let’s be honest, sometimes we buy ourselves Christmas gifts too. Because we’re worth it!) And that is, dun dun duuuuun: a ticket to a comic-con cruise!
Yep, that’s right! I’m talking about Fan2Sea, the cruise ship comic-con that’s sailing out of port this January 19-23! I’ve talked about the cruise before with one of the team who created it, as well as interviewing one of the cool cosplay ambassadors who will be featured, but if you missed all of that: Fan2Sea is a four-day cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship, leaving out of Tampa, Florida before hitting Key West and Cozumel, Mexico as well. It has been designed and created by an amazing team of folks who generally spend their days designing the coolest theme parks out there; and it features a metric ton of excellent guests and panel programming from some of the hottest geek properties out there: The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, and Guardians of the Galaxy on the TV and movie side, and Deadpool and Batman on the comics side. The guest list is super exciting; and just from previous interactions or interviews I’ve had with some of these guests, I know the programs are going to be fun, interesting, educational, unpredictable (I’m looking at you, Michael Rooker), or all of the above.
Now that the full schedule for the con is out, I can see just how many unique and cool things are going to be happening, including a ton of stuff that goes beyond the usual panels – from themed cocktail or pool parties, DJ nights, and pub quizzes to comics masterclasses, cosplay tutorials, and gaming panels. And they’re even offering some super-special things I’ve never seen done at another con, like dinner and a movie with Sin City creator Frank Miller. Not only that, but the main panels themselves are scheduled in such a way that if you have to miss one because you’re out and about enjoying the cruise or shore excursions, you’ll have the opportunity to catch it at another time. That soothes my FOMO a little bit; and is also a very savvy programming move given how much is going to be on offer here.
Of course, all of that doesn’t even count the part where you’re going to be on a cruise! Themed around all the stuff we like best and populated entirely by Our People – guests and other fans of this stuff. Imagine doing all the things you’d usually do on a cruise – hanging by the pool, rock-climbing (yep, there’s a rock-climbing wall!), relaxing at the spa, playing mini-golf (they’ve got that too!), shooting hoops, going to the casino, chilling at the bar, catching a movie…but doing it all in a genre con atmosphere themed just for you. Just…wow. This cruise is going to be so cool. Not to mention it also gives people the opportunity to, e.g., visit Mexico, something I’ve never done, and maybe even explore some Mayan ruins (or zipline through the forest. Not going to lie, I totally want to try that)! Plus chill on the beach in Key West, explore the Cuban district of Tampa… Man: this is going to be the best thing ever! I am so excited to be going. And you could be, too!
So if you want to make your geeky con-going friends (or yourselves!) super happy with their holiday gifts, give a think to buying a ticket to the best con adventure you could possibly have. Ticket pricing begins at $399, and includes meals, taxes, port fees, panels, parties, and more. And if you use the code “IRONMAN” on your purchase, right now you can also get 10% off! You heard it here, folks.
Now get out there and book your adventure so we can sail away together.
And until next time, Happy Holidays and Servo Lectio!
I’ve always wanted to go on a cruise. I love being out on the water, and have even joked that I’d live in a tiny house surrounded by water if I could. So it’s kind of silly that I’ve never been on a cruise, isn’t it? And I love comic-cons, as anyone who’s ever read my column will know. So when I first saw that someone was organizing Fan2Sea, a comic-con on a cruise ship (and one with an adorably punny name, at that!), I thought, “What? I have to go! Also, this absolutely sounds too good to be true! Because it’s a comic-con. On a cruise ship. How can this be?!?”
So when I went to look up the details of Fan2Sea, and I saw that their line-up includes cast members from Stranger Things, The Walking Dead, and Guardians of the Galaxy, and also Deadpool and Batman comics creators, my mind pretty much exploded from excitement. Add to that the excitement of going on a cruise, with all the cool experiences that has to offer; and port stops in Tampa, Key West, and Cozumel, Mexico (I’ve never been to Mexico! But I’ve been meaning to go!); and it’s a wonder I’ve even been able to pick up all the little brain-pieces.
Fortunately, I recovered my wits enough to determine that I had to know more about Fan2Sea. Like: where did it come from? Who had this marvelous idea? Is it going to be as awesome as it sounds? More awesome?!? (Which I might not be able to handle, but I’m willing to take the risk.)
To get answers to all of the questions swimming through my overheated brain, I got in touch with the people who are putting on this wondrous event, and Stefan Lawrence of Rethink Leisure & Entertainment sat down with me to give me the lowdown on everything all of us con-goers need to know before we decide that we must embark on the grand Fan2Sea adventure. Read on for all the details!
ESW: So who came up with the idea for a comic-con on a cruise ship, and what was the inspiration behind it?
SL: We were brought this project by one of the investors who had the idea of a boutique-style comic-con on a cruise. It’s a response to some of the larger comic-cons. They’re delightful, they’re amazing, but there’s also so much friction involved – there’s the waiting in lines, there’s the crowds – a lot of it can be a little bit stressful even if you love this stuff. So we have partnered with a travel agency that specializes in themed cruises; and had the idea to do basically a boutique comic-con – where it’s a limited number of people, and you’re eliminating all of the standing in line, waiting around…all the bits and pieces that make comic-con both maddening and delightful at the same time. We want to take all the good stuff and eliminate all the other bits. So you’re staying at a luxury hotel, on board this ship. You’re not waiting in line forever to get to huge panels. We’re running the big panels twice so that everybody will get a chance to see all the big panels on the ship. It’s a lot about making this the most artist-friendly and the most fan-friendly convention that anyone’s ever attended.
ESW: I know some of you come from a theme-park background; and it sounds like at least some of you have gone to enough comic-cons to know what they’re like and know why something else is needed. Can you talk about the background of the team that is making this happen?
SL: I work for a company called Rethink Leisure & Entertainment. We’re a theme-park design company made up of a gang of ex-Disney Imagineers, ex-Universal creatives… So the thing that we’re really good at is customer experiences; basically creating fun events and experiences for guests. So that’s always our focus. Because whether you’re master-planning an entire theme park or you’re doing an attraction, you’re constantly thinking about how an experience is from beginning to end. So that’s been our focus from day one. We don’t want to welcome you on board the boat and be like, “Here’s a bunch of celebrities – have at it.” We want to make sure that the experience is fun the entire way though. So for instance, we’re working with the 501st in Tampa so that the moment you get on board, there will be storm troopers that are welcoming you on board the ship on the gangway. We’re going to have themed parties every single night. We really want to make sure that it’s…kind of a “surprise and delight” thing. So that you feel like this is a party that was created and curated just for you.
ESW: It sounds like your Rethink staff comes from some of the best companies geeks are familiar with; what are some other things that Rethink has done that we may have heard about?
SL: We ourselves are a fairly young company; we’ve been around for about three years now. In the sort of comics space, we designed the world’s largest toys and collectibles store, which is in Dubai – it’s called Comicave. It’s 17,000 square feet, it has themed areas – we actually have a full Iron Man hall of armor in there; there’s a Star Wars collectibles room that looks like the Death Star; there’s the “rooftops of New York,” which is where you can buy all of your single-issue comic books; there’s an otaku anime and Gundam area – so that’s one example, and the whole store is pretty spectacular.
In terms of our team here, they’re the people who have worked on everything from – we have the show writer from Harry Potter in Orlando, and Universal Studios Orlando and Hollywood. They wrote all the scripts for the rides for Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. One of our senior creative directors here was on the opening day team of Universal’s Islands of Adventure. The President and CEO worked on Disneyland Paris. People here have worked on Transformers, the ride. Everyone here in the office lives and breathes pop-culture – so shifting over into this realm of things really is not much of a stretch.
ESW: So are you guys super excited to be getting into this area?
SL: Speaking just for myself – I love this stuff. I love comics, I love movies – this is all stuff that I do anyway – it’s all completely up my alley. So to be in this playground is a delight for me personally. But we also have an office full of people who have desks covered in toys, and we all make the pilgrimage down to San Diego every year and come back with mounds and mounds of stuff. So it’s all a world that we love already. It’s tangential to what we have done in the past, but it’s completely in our wheelhouse in terms of what we love.
ESW: You’ve talked about your goal, which is making sure everyone has an amazing time. Can you give me both the immediate picture of what this particular cruise experience would be like for a fan; and then what goals Rethink has for the future?
SL: The immediate experience is that we want this to be like a big geeky slumber party. As opposed to a comic-con where everybody is on the show floor during the day, and then you have to disperse and go find parties or whatever else you feel like doing. We’re going to be running panels into the evening; but then when the evening time comes, we are going to transition into parties. We’re having cosplay karaoke; themed DJ parties; outdoor movie nights on the pool deck that are going to be themed, with themed cocktails – so like the first night we’re doing a double feature with Jaws and Piranha, and so we’re going to have Blood in the Water themed cocktails that go along with that. We’re going to have complete Stranger Things ‘80s themed parties. So we’re looking to extend the entertainment, so when you come out of your panels and you’re like, “What’s next?” there’s a full array of things to do.
We’re working with the chefs on board the ship to provide special menus – so that you can have a Game of Thrones menu that you can choose in the dining room, or you can have a Bladerunner-themed future Asian fusion-style thing that you can choose as part of your menu. We’re running movie marathons all day every day – so there’s always going to be something to do. And even when you go back to your cabin, we’re partnering with a company called Monster Channel that runs late-night monster movies as programming, so there will be a bespoke monster movie channel that you can turn on in your cabin at all hours of the day. And there’s no one else on the ship except comic-con attendees. Some ships will buy a block of rooms for a themed event – but we have the whole ship; so everybody on the ship is going to be there for this one thing.
ESW: You know what it reminds me of, in a good way, is the way Dragon Con works, in the sense that you get to stay in the place where everything is happening, as opposed to trekking to a convention center. But again, Dragon Con is a big, big show; and the Fan2Sea experience sounds like a more intimate experience without the hassle of the habitrails or anything. That sounds amazing.
SL: Exactly – and we are filling every single venue that we can fill with programming. We are taking over almost every single open bar or space. So you can just wander through the ship and see something cool that’s happening.
ESW: That is amazing and brings me to the question of: what with being on a cruise ship, that has a comic-con, and stops in ports and everything – how in the heck are we going to overcome our FOMO, our Fear of Missing Out? Because it sounds like the sort of thing where I just want to do everything, immediately. Any tips for people who are like, “This sounds good, but I’m overwhelmed by all the potential awesomeness?”
SL: Not to worry: well before the cruise sails, we are going to be releasing schedules and checklists you can put together. I know people who go, for instance, to Disney World, and they program everything to within an inch of its life, and that’s how they vacation; and I know people who want to go on a journey of discovery, and they’re like, “I just want to go out and see whatever I want to see, as I want to see it. We are going to give you the tools to be able to plan everything beforehand, if that’s what you want to do; or if you just want to wander into the cinema and see what’s playing, or wander down to the pub and join the trivia quiz that’s happening, or head on over to cosplay karaoke because you hear it from down the hall; the ship is set up to accommodate both things. You can rigorously plan your day; but then you can also take it as it comes.
We are being careful to get out of the way of some of the bigger stuff – so if you definitely want to see a Stranger Things panel, we are not going to be doing something exactly in that category somewhere else at the same time. We’re trying not to cross programs so that there are two blockbuster programs at once. We are trying to make sure that the program gets out of the way of itself. But, you know, you are going to miss something, because there’s just going to be too much happening for you not to.
ESW: Sure – and that happens at every con. So I’ve been to a ton of comic-cons, but I’ve never been on a cruise. For those of us who are cruise newbies, are you going to be putting up tips for that, and if you want to experience everything on the ship, are you going to feel like you’re losing out on that if you take time to explore the ports?
SL: The ship gets in to port usually at about 8:30 in the morning for both Key West and Cozumel. We are delaying our big programming until later in the morning on those days; so the big panels will probably start around 11 or 12, although that’s not final yet. So that if you would like to go to port, you can do so. You can get off, go check out Key West, go check out Cozumel; but necessity dictates that we will have to start the panels sometime. So we are giving some windows of exploration if that’s what you want to do. We are also cognizant that we are programming things to go late into the evening – most of the programming will last until three or four in the morning. So you can also sleep in a bit, because the earliest programming will start around 9:30 or 10:00. So there’s no crack-of-dawn programming.
ESW: So if this all goes well, what’s next?
SL: Our goal is to be the comic-con destination of the year. Like, we’re never going to be San Diego Comic Con, or that scale; we’re never going to be New York Comic Con. But outside of that, we want this to be the coveted destination so that when this goes on sale, people are excited, and they can’t wait to see what the line-up is. We want it to be something people look forward to every year, and get excited about; and they can sort of make their own, and it can be something special that happens. We want this to be a yearly tradition. And our goal would be to start with one a year; but a West Coast and East Coast launch would be something else we’d be interested in doing – but we’ve got to get this one done first! But I think people are going to be surprised to see what a good-quality experience this will be, for fans and guests – and the quality of our guests is top-notch, as well. And then we want to grow this as an experience every year.
ESW: I like that. So if you are someone who has been to a ton of comic-cons, but you’ve never been on a cruise, what would you tell people about why they should try this experience?
SL: If you’ve never been on a cruise ship before, you might be surprised by actually how nice they are. We went and did a visit to one of the sister ships earlier this month; and the ship is absolutely spectacular, the venues are gorgeous and themed, the cabins are really, really nice, the restaurants are fabulous; it’s going to be completely unlike staying at the Marriott and going over to a con. The actual experience is going to be completely different than your usual con experience – but in a good way.
ESW: It sounds amazing, Stefan; and thank you for this great information!
After our interview, Stefan also let me know that the con has just implemented a fab booking feature for those of us who want to experience Fan2Sea but aren’t sure who else might want to go and be our roomie, and who can’t afford to just book a whole room without roomies. Now, if you go to the Eventbrite page, the ticket choices include several room options where you can book a bed in a four-guest cabin, and roommates will be assigned by gender. The individual bed ticket includes all fees, too, so it’s easy to know what you’re paying for the whole experience. Pretty cool!
Well that wraps up this column, but stay tuned for more Fan2Sea news in the upcoming weeks – and also, when January rolls around, for con reports from yours truly, because I’ll be goingon this amazing comic-con cruise, experiencing everything so that I can share it with you, my faithful readers.
…But really, you should go too and share it with me in person, because OMG why wouldn’t you?!