Rockin’ It at the San Jose Super Toy Show
By Dianthrax

When you think of Bay Area Backstage you think of interviews with rock stars, movie reviews, footage and reports of the hottest and most kickass concerts and events; pretty much a full behind-the-scenes tour into the entirely different world that exists behind the curtain and off the stage, something most people rarely experience. But a toy show? A toy show?? That brings to mind something like rampaging children with stressed out parents and ancient Barbie dolls sold at exorbitant prices to creepy serial-killer types by little old ladies. Who needs a backstage pass to that?? More people than you would think. Why is that exactly? Because “Toy Show” does such a poor job at explaining what the event is really like that it’s practically a misnomer. Yes, there are toys- there’s all the crazy things you used to play with as a child and some things your parents might have played with, too. There’s also vinyl records, sports cards, posters, video games, action figures, comic books ranging from Golden Age to so new they aren’t even in stores yet, Matchbox cars, your old Star Wars lunchbox, original art, that DVD you thought was impossible to find, autograph sessions with legendary authors, artists, and actors…and ridiculously priced Barbie dolls too. My point is that there are so many great things going on at these events that all kinds of people could enjoy if they only knew to look past the label of “Toy Show” and saw what it was really about! So that’s what I’m doing now; I’m doing what Bay Area Backstage does best and showing you what really goes on at these shows, giving you a glimpse at a world most people would never see. First off, let me give you some basic info about this event: It’s held at the Santa Clara County Fair Grounds inside The Pavilion. There’s an $8 parking fee and $5 admission price for adults and it runs from 11am to 4pm, though if you’re a serious collector/shopper you can pay extra to get in 2 hours earlier. The room looks something like a giant school cafeteria with harsh florescent lighting and linoleum floors, but that’s where the similarities end. All along the walls and in rows going up and down the entire room are tables and tables packed with stuff. Boxes of comics and records, elaborate displays of vintage toys, figures, all kinds of art- it’s like the most awesome stores you can think of exploded and all of their items landed in this room. It’s a bit overwhelming and not unlike a smaller version of the Main Hall at Comic-con, which is probably a big part of why I enjoy it so much. I’ve found all kinds of great gifts for people at this show and way too many things that I wanted to get for me. I try to control myself but I have come home with certain things I just couldn’t say no to… and if it wasn’t for the propinquity of Wonder-con and the fact that I need to save up for Comic-con I probably would have spent more.

If you aren’t really a collector and not all that into shopping I’d still say that attending is worth it for the chance to meet the artists that go. Some are unknown and trying to make a name for themselves, while others are established legends who helped shape the art world as we know it today. You can find all different types and styles, purchase original pieces signed by the creator right in front of you, or commission a one-of-a-kind piece to be created while you watch. It’s also your chance to talk to some amazingly talented people and ask whatever questions have been stewing in your head about them or their work. That’s if you’re not too star struck to remember any of your inquiries like I was with the first person I attempted to interview, John Stanley. Now you may have noticed in my profile a little banner that says “Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong!” But what most of you probably didn’t know was that it’s an ad for an awesome documentary that came out in 2008 all about Creature Features, the generic title that was given to horror TV shows during the 60s, 70s, and 80s and broadcast on local networks. These shows aired classic horror movies from the 1930s to 1950s, horror and sci-fi movies from the 1950s, British horror classics, and the Japanese “giant monster” movies, along with a charismatic host who gave commentary and conducted cast and crew interviews. These shows were what allowed us to enjoy later on such television uber-greatness as Elvira and Movie Macabre, Joe Bob Brigg’s MonsterVision & Drive-In Theatre, and even Mystery Science Theatre 3000. As the local host of Creature Features on KTVU Ch. 2 in Oakland, John Stanley is one of the commentators in the documentary. He’s also the author of a sort of pseudo-memoir I Was A TV Horror Host that chronicles his experiences and gives his perspective on the six years he worked for KTVU. I own both the book and the Collector’s Edition of the DVD. I think it goes without saying that I’m a fan of John Stanley and that meeting him was slightly gulp-inducing. Luckily Mr. Stanley is also a very affable and personable individual who was really quite easy to talk to. He noticed me loitering around his booth and said “You look like you’re a bit shy. That’s ok; I’m shy too.” Which made me laugh and ask how one can be shy and yet host a weekly TV show? To which he replied “Well it’s not easy but somehow I managed.” From there we chatted a bit about the documentary and the book while he was autographing my copies for me, exchanged formal introductions and email addresses, and then parted after he told me he’d be interested in meeting and doing an actual interview sometime in the near future. So I’m hoping that the next time I blog about John Stanley it will be to post the video of my one-on-one interview with him! In the meantime, you can check him out and learn more about the documentary and his book on his website: The next person I talked to went considerably better than my fumbled attempts with my horror host hero, and that was artist Eric Joyner. Mr. Joyner made a rare special appearance at Super Toy Fair to display prints of his paintings and sign copies of his new book.

Even if you think you don’t know anything about Eric Joyner you may have seen some of his stuff without knowing it considering he’s worked for companies like Mattel, Warner Bros, Showtime, Random House, Hewlett-Packard, Sprint, Hasbro, CBS, Cisco, Microsoft, Chevron, and BMG Music. Or you could have read about him in “The LA Times” or “The San Francisco Chronicle’s Culture Blog,” or own the copy of “Spectrum” published in 2004 where his work was used as the cover. Maybe you played one of the games he worked on at Mindscape or seen one of his exhibits that are too numerous to list in full but include The Museum of American Illustration, U.S.F Law School of San Francisco, The Artisans Gallery, and United States Air Force Exhibitions. But what I think makes Mr. Joyner so famous can be summed up in three words: robots and donuts. After World War II one of the main exports of Japan was tin toys and probably the most popular of these toys were the robots. From the 1940s through the 1960s these toys were all the rage in the US and remain a major passion among collectors. Eric Joyner’s artwork explores people’s fascination with, as well as the love that fuels his own collection, which he started in the 80s. Published by Dark horse, his book Robots and Donuts is a compilation of paintings that celebrates Mechanical Americans and the brief period in history where they captured the country’s imagination. Oh, and there’s donuts in there too. Why donuts? Well no one really knows- not even the artist himself. I approached Mr. Joyner while another attendee was flipping through one of three large portfolios containing printed copies of his paintings. For a while I just watched and listened as he gave little bits of information about each piece. Things like: “This is the winter one of the four seasons group I did” and “This one is called ‘Donut Redemption’.” When I finally spoke up it was to ask him if he had a copy of the painting he did for his contribution to the “Star Wars” tribute book that Lucasfilm Ltd. had commissioned. (One-hundred world-renowned artists from all over the globe each submitting one work of art to be collected and published in a book due out some time next fall, as well as shown together as an exhibit in a national museum tour in a year or so; nerd-ilisciously bad ass!) He said that indeed he did have that one with him and began flipping through the pages of one of the portfolios to locate it, then did a double-take of sorts and, sounding mildly shocked, said “Wait- how did you hear about that?? Do you read my blog?” To which I gave my best impression of a coy smile and a shy little nod. He smiled back and opened up about the project and his work in general, explaining that the representative from Lucasfilm almost didn’t accept his submission, claiming it was too similar to something that had already been submitted by another artist. It all worked out though, and George Lucas himself ended up buying the painting for his personal collection. He also informed me that the set designer for the CBS show The Big Bang Theory bought two of his pieces to hang on the walls in the main

characters’ apartment: one in the living room and one in the character Leonard’s room directly above his bed. Mr. Joyner also explained that most of his work is meant to be viewed in a certain order and is narrative, meaning that they are parts of a larger and more complex story that’s not contained within just a single image. (Side note- narrative art is what lead to popular ways of telling stories in the 20th century like comic strips, newspapers, and more importantly, comic books! :) Because of this, it is hard to get the true meaning and feeling behind the artwork in a situation like the Toy Show. He is currently working on a fairly large collection that is due to be displayed in early August, as well as preparing to exhibit at Comic-con 2010 and so has very little spare time. However he did say that if I wanted to meet with him in his hometown of San Francisco for a more in-depth discussion and interview he may be able to work something out… rest assured that I will keep you all posted on anything that develops. From there I went from a whimsical universe of robots and pastries to a hopeless, postapocalyptic Hell on Earth where the walking dead feast on living flesh… Introducing the Image Comics mini-series Dead Ahead and two of the men who helped bring it to life; Clark Castillo and Mel Smith. I must say that the conversation I had Mr. Castillo and Mr. Smith was one of the easiest and most fun discussions I’ve had at a convention. As a fan and collector of horror movies of all types as well as an audience member at the Comic-con panel with Max Brooks and George Romero I had plenty of input on the topic of zombie flicks, and being the authors and visionaries behind Dead Ahead as well as horror fans and all around intelligent and charming guys, these gentlemen and I had quite the talk. First off was the info they gave me about their comic that got my curiosity stirred up to where I had to buy it and read it for myself. Castillo started off saying that the concept is “Basically like ‘Dawn of the Dead’ on a cruise ship.” He also described their world of walking dead to be more like the ones seen classic zombie flicks. “Screw the whole fast-running zombies thing!” He went on to talk about how unlike other zombie stories, there’s offers no attempt at an explanation for why corpses just started getting up and attacking the living. “There’s no virus, no plague or sickness, and no cure. It’s like one average day it just started happening and the world ended. You know, ‘when Hell is full the dead shall walk the Earth’ and all. I think it’s scarier that way.” I have to agree, and after reading the three comics in the series I also have to say that the lack of an explanation left a whole lot more room for the writers to explore the more philosophical aspects of this type of apocalypse. The story is told from the point of view of the main character and captain of a small/medium sized fishing boat named Jack. As the reader you get to hear his

thoughts as to why all of this is happening and what it all means. Greed and the true nature of human beings are two themes his story explores in depth, a proper tribute to Mr. Romero’s original “Dawn of the Dead” vision. The writing style fits the story perfectly and really gives the reader a feel for the mentality of Captain Jack. It also perfectly compliments the artwork by Alex Nino; artwork that happens to be completely freaking incredible. When Mr. Smith jokingly said that Mr. Nino’s art was almost too good and dominates the comic I didn’t really understand. I asked if this wasn’t just a truth about comics in general considering you take in the images before you read the writing. “Not necessarily,” he said. “Some people pick up a comic and the first thing they notice is the art and that’s what they focus on. Other people are more into the story and that’s what sticks in their mind.” I shrugged and moved on with the conversation, still not really understanding what he meant. After getting home and reading Dead Ahead I now know exactly what he means. I couldn’t give you a direct quote from the comic off the top of my head if my cat’s life depended on it, but I sure as hell can describe some of the more vivid zombie action scenes. Talk about a picture within a picture within a picture! There is so much gruesome detail filling each page that even though I’ve read it three times I still feel secure saying that I’d find something new if I read it again. Alex Nino is a genius, especially considering this series was his first foray in zombie illustrations. I plan on watching out for his work from now on. I highly recommend picking up these three comics for yourself, or perhaps the collected edition set with a bonus 16 pages due out in December. Either way you should definitely read it before the movie comes out. Did I forget to mention that Dead Ahead is going to be brought to life for the silver screen and is scheduled to hit theatres in 2011? Oh, sorry. Well it is! In fact there’s a queue of directors who want to pick up this little gore-filled gem, including the Cohen brothers, Clive Barker, Miguel Sapochnik (director of “Repo Men”) and Wes Craven. “But the movie is going to be very different from the comic” explains Castillo. “It’s more like “Apocalypse Now” meets “Mad Max” or “The Road Warrior.” There’s scenes in there that make me wish I had come up with- like one where they’re trying to get supplies at a flooded supermarket and zombies are just walking around underwater and there’s zombie sharks swimming around.” He gave me a few other examples during our conversation but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. I’ll just say that I fully intend to see the movie version of the comic Dead Ahead

when it’s released and that I hope to see Mel Smith and Clark Castillo again at Comic-con this year. If you want more info about the comics you can check them out and keep up with all the latest news and developments at or at the Image Comics website. I went on and shopped, talked with merchants and some more artists, both known and new to me, but I’ll spare you the details; I think you have an idea of what this kind of event was really like now. The next San Jose Super Toy Show is Saturday August 14th, again from 11am to 4pm with early admittance starting at 9am. You can check out the blog at if you’re interested, and I sincerely hope that after reading this some of you who may never have been now are. Next up- Wonder-con 2010 in San Francisco! W00t! Until then, M.M.M. Dianthrax

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