September 21-22, 2019, the dates of this year’s Comic Con Baltics, had been on my calendar since probably sometime in April, when I had been invited to come and meet the organizers to talk about the project which would become Generation Geek.
As time went by, several Generation Geek videos were released and I was asked if I would participate in the con itself. Naturally, I agreed. Of course, I didn’t know what I was agreeing to, but sure, I’m game for anything.
The first thing was some promo shots of the various organizers giving off shadows as icons of geek culture. I went for Iron Man.
Then, as the dates were fast approaching, my role was made a little more clear: I was going to conduct a few of the celebrity interviews and also, in my Prof. Jaq role, give updates and reports from the convention floor.
Okay, I was in and it sounded good.
The only problem, really, was I didn’t know much about the guests, so the week before the convention started, research was my friend. I looked up tons of web comics and watched hours of videos (okay, maybe like 20 minutes) to prepare to interview folks like Maya and Yehuda Devir (One of Those Days), Rob DenBleyker (Cyanide & Happiness), and Landon Meier (Hyperflesh).
Eventually, the weekend was looming and I headed over to Vilnius for the Friday set-up, and was asked to do a bit of filming to get people excited for the weekend. I got my cameraman Rytis and away we went.
After a bit, the Devirs showed up, we were all introduced, and I ended up taking them around on my tour, showing them the sites same as I was showing the people at home. For me, that’s where the weekend really started.
To begin with, Maya and Yehuda are beyond anyone’s expectations of what “nice” is. Then there’s Eli, who doesn’t show up much on camera but is their third arm and (of course I didn’t figure this out until much later) Yehuda’s brother. They just exemplified that talented and humble can go together. In fact, later in the day, we took them to the offices of Bored Panda, a Lithuanian website which originally broke the One of Those Days illustrations, reaching between 12-20 million views and literally changing the Devir’s lives.
It was such a cool thing to see, creators meeting people who liked and shared their work and the content sharers seeing the impact they had on one couple from Israel. Just fabulous.
By the time Friday ended, I’d shot a lot of video and hung out with Agnė Juškėnaitė, an icon in Lithuanian geekdom. By then, though, it was late so I ended up getting a hotel room in Vilnius, something I hadn’t planned on or prepared for, and calling Rasa to see if she wanted a weekend away. She wasn’t sure, but did volunteer to come and bring me some clothes and supplies and even check out the convention with Monki. That sorted, I crashed out for the night. Saturday was going to start early.
Saturday morning we hit the convention floor early, before anyone else got in. Rytis and I were shooting video for a “Welcome to Day One” video, including shots of the crowd standing in long lines out in the rain. Then it was time to hit the opening ceremonies.
This was the first time I had a chance to meet the rest of the guests and do some quick interviews, as well as meet some pretty big name Lithuanian celebrities! It was really an exciting moment, and the energy in the room was huge!
Almost immediately after that ended, though, I had to head upstairs for my first panel, formally interviewing Yehuda and Maya. The only problem was that Rasa and Monki were headed over from Kaunas and they should have been there already. Rasa had been nervous about driving to and in Vilnius on her own and the weather wasn’t great, so when they were overdue by 30, 45 minutes, I began to get a little nervous. I kept calling, but the phone kept switching almost immediately to “person not available,” which did nothing to ease my concern.
Eventually, just before I had to go on and do my interview, she called and said they were there, in the parking lot, and just looking for a place to park. Whew! Okay, so with that settled I was able to relax and have fun with the chat. And honestly, these two made my job easy. I would get halfway through a question and they would answer it and more.
With that done, I was finally able to meet up with the family…who were a bit overwhelmed by the amazing turnout. For Rasa and Monki, it was a bit too many people so we hung out for a minute or two, I was able to briefly introduce Monki to Maya (who has just had her own daughter) and then Rasa had had enough. I walked them back to the car, grabbed my clothes, and bid them farewell, sending them back to Kaunas. Ultimately, it was for the best, but it was still sad.
The rest of the day was spent doing interviews, walking around, seeing things until I had to go and interview Landon Meier. Really cool and interesting guy, and his masks are out of this world. As a long time Face Off fan, I knew the work and skill which had gone into these creations – and then being able to try one on was just icing on the cake.
But the real joy of Saturday, for me, was the group of us (some of the organizers and the guests) all going out for a traditional Lithuanian dinner at a brew pub called Būsi Trečias. This was an incredible evening. For me, it was a much needed break from a number of things, and the ability to have interesting discussions with people who didn’t look on me as a “teacher” or who were from my culture and generation was invaluable. Talking to Steven Ogg and Maya about instant nostalgia and why people get autographs and selfies was fantastic. Chatting with David Faustino about both of us having three-year-old daughters was just easy. Having a few more drinks than required with Georgia Hirst was a nice way to relax. And that was just the “names.” Eli Devir, Yehuda’s brother, is just awesome, Heather Denbleyker, Rob’s wife, is amazing and a brilliant conversationalist while Brett Parker (who was representing both Steven and David) and I bonded over a mutual love of Disney and old school comic books. Watching Georgia trying to teach Lithuanian popstar Vaidas Baumila some London club dance moves had those around them dying with laughter. Landon brought one of the “crying baby” masks and everyone, especially Steven, had fun trying it on.
Honestly, it was one of the best night outs I’d had in a long time. When people here ask me what I miss most about America, it’s this. The easy camaraderie with people who are a joy to be around. It’s those random deep conversations and knowing that if you lived in the same city you’d definitely hang out again and might become good friends, beyond just friendly acquaintances. I miss the ease of knowing how to navigate that world, how to maintain the connections made with people who live half a world away.
Sunday was more of the same. Some great interviews and footage, like this one of Captain America, which was great! And getting some final words from Steven Ogg, Georgia Hirst, David Faustino, and Rob Denbleyker!
All in all, the three days were (at least from my vantage point) perfect. I had fun, met some great people, did a good job, and helped out where I could. It’d been a while since I was involved in a production like this, it reminded me of my days working on a film set, with that kind of frenetic energy and scope (yes, working with Aga-Boom is right up there, but that’s more theatre energy).
Come Sunday night, though, I was ready to be home, sleeping in my own bed, and getting ready for the coming week of classes and reality.