If only I was able to tap my heels together three times and find myself back in Metropolis, surrounded by the friends that I see only four days each year.
Having arrived back home just yesterday, I'm already experiencing withdrawal symptoms. And the yearly countdown has started once again.
The 29th annual Superman Celebration, held in this Midwestern U.S. town of 6400 people, was a fantastic success. Once again, thousands of Superman fans from around the world converged to celebrate their shared passion. Old friendships were rekindled and new ones were born. After all, there are no strangers in Metropolis... only friends whose names you just don't yet know.
Like comic artist Lin Workman, 41, of Memphis, once told me, "Being a Superman fan and not going to Metropolis is like being an Elvis fan and never visiting Graceland."
Truer words have never been spoken.
Many new events were found on the schedule this year, including a Friday night artist's party, artist's Q&A session, Saturday night block party, fan films, baseball game, superhero parade, comic book show, and a revamped adult costume contest. Thanks to some of the creative schedule changes, the festivities continued late into the day on Sunday, which was a welcomed change from previous years when attendance often plummeted on the final day.
This was my seventh consecutive year attending the Celebration (yes, it's highly addictive!), and the eighth for the official town Superman, Scott Cranford, a 39-year-old actor from Los Angeles. Sadly it will also be his last, as he is hanging up his cape and will not be returning to wear the red and blue next year. Scott will be missed by the many friends that he has made over the years in Metropolis - as well as the many children that he has inspired.
"It's empowering", he explained to me with a boyish grin. "There's no better feeling than walking around as Superman, having kids recognize you as that character, and being able to pass on his values to them."
Cranford is currently involved in a documentary film project, chronicling his embodiment of the Man of Steel at the Celebration. Filmmakers Kevin James, Craig Shannon and Matt Sinclair were busy following Scott around all weekend, and interviewing celebrities, friends, and attendees. Their cameras seemed to be everywhere.
This year's celebrity guests included Helen Slater ("Supergirl"), Jerry Maren (who played one of the Mole Men in 1951's Superman and the Mole Men, and also starred as the leader of the Lollipop Guild in The Wizard of Oz), and perennial favorite, Noel Neill (the "original Lois Lane"). Comic book celebrities included Len Wein, Jon Bogdanove, Lin Workman, Kevin Williams, Steve Stanley, Jake Black, Andrew Chandler (who also appeared in costume as a truly wicked "Joker"), Jay Chuppe, and Anton and Janet Wade.
Unfortunately, Smallville star Erica Durance and comic book legend Murphy Anderson were unable to attend due to health reasons.
But all of the celebrities who made the journey to Metropolis seemed to enjoy the visit immensely.
"I'm having the best time ever! I'm just loving the town. I love the energy, I love the people, I love the sense of community. I hope they'll invite me back!", said comics legend Len Wein, as a Joker-like smile washed over his face. "I've had a spectacular time!"
Jerry Maren, who was accompanied by his gregarious wife Elizabeth, attended all four days and even joyfully sang the Lollipop Song during the ribbon-cutting and children's costume contest events.
So as I sit here with the Lollipop tune still playing in my head, I'll continue to tap my heels together in hopes that something magical may just happen. And I'll find myself transported back to Metropolis, where my heart still remains.
The following is a chronological summary of events that took place during the four-day 2007 Superman Celebration. Hopefully it will bring back joyous memories for those of you who were there, and inspire those of you who missed it to come out and play with us next year.
As usual, festivities started with the ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5:00 pm at the 15' tall Superman statue. Once again, Superman (also known as Scott Cranford) accepted the honor of officially launching the 2007 Celebration, accompanied by Jerry and Elizabeth Maren, as well as Billy McDaniel, the mayor of Metropolis, and Chamber of Commerce employees.
Following the ribbon-cutting, Superman was called to action to battle Lex Luthor (played by Kevin Williams) and Brainiac (Hugh Troyer), who threatened not only to control the world through its dependence on oil, but also to shrink Metropolis and all its inhabitants.
Thanks to Shane McNichols you can watch the opening performance via YouTube.
Following Superman's triumph over the evil-doers, he made the announcement that he would be stepping down from the role after this year.
"I will always love Superman and what he stands for," said Cranford, his voice crackling with emotion.
Afterwards children were busy rehearsing for the Superboy/Supergirl pageant, while awards were being given out to local volunteers and sponsors at the main stage.
Later in the evening, a surprise birthday party was held for Hugh Troyer, a regular at the Celebration and long-time volunteer. His 50th was celebrated in style, with a large Superman cake, plenty of Superman decorations, and dozens of friends and family - including Noel Neill herself!
Those who didn't partake in Hugh's party were able to enjoy Gospel music at the main stage, or participate in the Super Road Race at Fort Massac State Park.
But those who didn't leave enough time for a good night's rest would soon learn an important lesson!
The madness began!
The Comic Art Gallery officially opened at 10:00 am, and became a popular destination for the fans - and for many reasons aside from the air conditioning! This year the artists ran a silent auction, and provided many giveaways and goodies to those who attended.
I joined the queue to get a head-shot sketch of Superman by Jon Bogdanove (and also asked him to sign some of my Man of Steel comics). I also got a sketch of Wolverine by none other than Len Wein, the character's co-creator! Makes me wish that I had started collecting sketches 35 years ago!
As always, the artwork on display by Steve Stanley, Lin Workman, Kevin Williams, and the others was candy to the eye. Pocketfuls of cash would certainly come in very handy within these walls!
The artists and writers met on the main stage for a Q&A session at noon. This was a great new addition to the schedule, and I hope that it will become an annual event. Fans enjoyed questioning Len Wein, Jon Bogdanove and Jake Black about the comic book industry for about an hour. They talked about the changing marketplace for comics over the past twenty years, the need for escapism through comic books, and the use of comics as "idea farms" for movie companies and studios. Because these men were very down-to-earth, humorous, and candid in their responses, they were well received by their fans.
A myriad of events continued throughout the afternoon, including BMX bike stunts, "Super Silly" games for the kids, "Superman Jeopardy", kid's karaoke, video tournaments, comic seminars, magic shows... and the children's superhero contest.
About thirty kids took part in the costume event this year, representing a wide range of superhero characters and villains. "Muley" the Super Mule emceed the event, and kept kids and adults alike entertained throughout the show.
A baseball game organized by Steven Kirk and Larry ("Loose Pants") Ward (Noel Neill's friend and biographer) was threatened by early morning rain. However, although the park was reportedly very muddy, the players soldiered on and shared a barrel of laughs. The first pitch was thrown by none other than the First Lady of Metropolis herself, Ms. Noel Neill!
At 5:00 pm country music played on the main stage while the carnival opened halfway across town. Everywhere you looked flocks of people were having a blast - whether they were browsing the street vendors, eating funnel cakes, sharing stories, or posing for pictures by the Superman statue. Fun was in the air.
Unfortunately I missed the Omega Force Christian Strength Team show while costuming up for the Superhero Parade. But I have seen the show before, and the feats these guys do are simply amazing. Pulling vehicles, ripping phone books in half - stuff that makes your muscles ache just from watching them!
The Superhero Parade along Market Street in downtown Metropolis featured many tributes to DC and Marvel characters. I joined the parade with my 4-year old son Michael, and I'm sure it looked absolutely ridiculous to see Wolverine holding Superboy's hand. But it was a special father-son moment for us.
After the parade, some of the action moved into the Comic Art Gallery, where an Artist's Party was underway. Free food and drinks, giveaways (including door prizes every 15 minutes!), costume prizes, and friendly faces were available to all who entered. Not to mention the air-conditioning!
Fan films were shown outside on a big screen after dark. Although some technical issues delayed the start of the films, once they were rolling the laughter could be heard across town. Some great shorts were shown, many featuring familiar faces and characters. I'm not sure what time they finished, as I bailed out about 11:00 pm to rest up for the next day's events. I've learned my lessons the hard way.
My day started by lining up to meet with Helen Slater ("Supergirl") at the Mid-County Bank. Signings were to start at 10:00 am, so I was in line by about 9:00 am. Upon my arrival, I found that many more fans had elected to get a much earlier start.
I was surprised when the line started moving at about 9:45 am. I was later told by Chamber staff that Helen had insisted on starting early to accommodate her fans. Not only that, but she also stayed for about thirty minutes beyond her commitment to avoid turning her fans away. She is truly a class act.
Helen was selling autographed copies of her new CD, Crossword, which is a delightful collection of easy-listening jazzy tunes. My only complaint is that at thirty-one minutes, it leaves you wanting more!
Helen told me that, in addition to her music, she's currently pursuing more acting roles now that her daughter is in seventh grade. "I was wary about getting back into too much work when she was younger. I just didn't like being away from home for too long," she explained.
Meanwhile, Noel Neill and Jerry Maren were busy signing autographs at other locations across town, and the Comic Book Show was opening for its 2-day run at the Amerihost Theater.
Following the signings, all of the celebrities got together at the main stage for a Q&A session in front of a standing-room-only audience. Taking questions from audience members, the celebrities recounted stories from their past, shared anecdotes, and displayed the affection towards their fans that made them the icons that they are today.
[NOTE: Andrew Gancsos also attended the celebration and has uploaded 5 videos to YouTube. Four videos show 99% of the Q&A with the Special Guest celebrities (part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4), while the 5th video shows Andrew's meeting Noel Neill].
Events continued at such a pace that no-one could possibly partake in all of them. From washer pitching to comics seminars and garden walks, from pool tournaments to weightlifting competitions and BMX stunts, from "Super Silly" games to Superman Jeopardy and the Superdog Show, there was something for everyone.
While the celebrities returned to the Chamber of Commerce building at 2:00 pm to continue meeting fans and signing autographs, magic shows, baby contests, the Superboy-Supergirl pageant, and more events took place at other venues around town.
Later, my oldest son and I continued a tradition of attending the Saturday night Super Auction and Dinner, which was held this year at Harrah's Convention Center. Over 250 Superman collectables were available to bid on.
While the dinner and dessert was good, the auctioneer had the undesirable quality of hypnotizing the audience into a stone-cold comatose state. After enduring three years with this guy, the organizers should really give the paying audience a break. Also new this year was a 10% "buyer's premium", which was a little discouraging to some of those in attendance.
My son and I chose to leave the auction after only a couple of hours (they were about half-way done at that point), to join those at the family-friendly "block party" back at Superman Square. A collector car show had been set up there earlier in the evening, and balloons, face-painting, and giveaways continued.
We pulled up our lawn chairs to once again watch some great fan films in the open air, with snacks and drinks provided by the artists.
What a great way to end a busy day!
While collector car buffs hung out at the Super Car Show at Fort Massac State Park, and fellow comic geeks continued to hang out at the Comic Art Gallery, I was busy registering for the Superhero Costume Contest, and suiting up as Wolverine.
This was the first year that the costume contest was held on the Sunday, and as a result the crowds remained in strong numbers. Kudos for the organizers!
In fact, I remained so busy posing for photos with kids and adults alike that I missed Scott Cranford's farewell reception. I wasn't able to take more than a couple steps without stopping for more photo requests. But I love the reactions that the costume gets, particularly from young children. A combination of star-struck amazement, respect, and various degrees of fear. (Scott later told me that his reception was captured on tape by his camera crew, so I will at least get to see it after the fact!)
This year there were five costume categories: Superman/Clark Kent, Supergirl/Lois Lane, Heroes, Villains, and Creatures. The winner of each category received a $250 prize, then competed against the other category winners for a $1000 grand prize, $500 second prize, and $250 third prize.
The 1st place winner was Jeff Holland, as an incredible Mr. Freeze. He had strolled around town the day before in a beautiful custom-made Captain Marvel costume. (I'd love to see this man's garage, basement, Batcave, or wherever else he stores these wonderful treasures!)
I was truly shocked and honored when Wolverine won second place overall. While the true prize was all of the fun and attention that I received that day, the prize money was certainly some nice icing! And it was extra special knowing that my boys and family were in the audience watching me.
Third place went to The Flash, while Crowd Favorite was awarded to Spiderman.
After the contest, I spent some time rehydrating (thanks to the Chamber for providing bottled water to all the contestants this year!), and hanging out with Len Wein in the Comics building.
Meanwhile, "Elvis" had taken the main stage and was keeping my mother entertained, while the kids were coloring a giant comic strip back at the Smallville Tent.
We headed down to the Comic Book Show at about 3:00 pm, but found that it had closed early due to poor attendance. We were still able to make some quick buys before the boxes were taped up, but were unable to meet with Gary Friedrich (comics legend and creator of Ghost Rider) who had already left the building.
The next stop was Jim Hambrick's Americana Hollywood Museum, which showcases a collection of items relating to Elvis, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Classic Horror, Justice League, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and many others. Several additions have been made over the past year, and the museum is now beginning to burst at its seams. (We noticed a second-floor "Pirates" section that is still under development, but looks as though it is nearing completion!)
Of course those who have not seen Jim's Superman collection at the Super Museum definitely need to reserve a couple of hours for their eyes to enjoy the feast. This testament to one man's obsession with the Man of Steel has a collective value of over $4 million, with more than 75,000 items on display. It is billed as the largest Superman collection on the planet.
When asked if she had seen the Supergirl room at Jim's museum, Helen Slater responded, "I can't wait. I hear he has my costume and all kinds of memorabilia!"
Sadly, we pulled out of town at about 4:00 pm, and headed back to the Great White North. As with previous years, the four days of activities had passed faster than a speeding bullet.
Plans are already underway for the 30th anniversary of the Celebration in 2008 - which will also mark the 30th anniversary of Superman: The Movie, the 70th anniversary of the creation of Supes, as well as the 60th anniversary of Noel Neill playing Lois Lane.
The long-awaited unveiling of Noel Neill's statue will take place next year - it's still not too late to order your own personalized brick for $75 (contact www.metropolischamber.com). A Friday night "Old Hollywood"-style nostalgic ball will commemorate Noel's illustrious career. And a fan film competition is also in the works.
It'll certainly be an event not to be missed.
See you there!
|Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Q&A with Celebrities||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Q&A with Celebrities||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Costume Contest|
|Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Costume Contest||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Costume Contest||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Costume Contest||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Costume Contest|
|Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Scott Cranford wins George Award||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Helen Slater (Supergirl)|
|Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Helen Slater (Supergirl)||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Helen Slater (Supergirl)||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Scott Cranford||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Scott Cranford Cake|
|Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Super Car||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Super Car||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Super Car||Superman Celebration 2007 Metropolis Illinois - Steve Kirk as General Zod|
Mark Bailey also emailed in this collection of 4 photos from his time at the 2007 Superman Celebration and wrote...
My dad had just retired and was driving down to Florida. I asked him to delay a week and we could go to the festival together, and I would fly back. When I told him Noel would be there he agreed (he grew up on that show). On Friday we were sitting in the main tent and I saw Noel over my dad's shoulder. I've never seen him so nervous, he was following her all over the city. I told him that either he asks her if he can have a picture, or they're going to think you're stalking her. The look on his face in that picture was worth the whole trip, and meeting Helen Slater.