DeFlip Side #44: Memories of I-Cons Past


Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

In keeping with the spirit of tonight’s I-Con performers preview, I thought it would be fitting to share some memories of I-Cons past, and regale you with tales—good, bad and ugly—of some of my more notable experiences with the Northeast’s largest Science Fiction and Fantasy convention.

I can still remember my first I-Con way back in 1989, when I was but a freshman wandering the hallowed halls of Stony Brook University, agog at just how ugly they were. Tacked up here and there among the Orwellian squalor were fliers for I-Con, which I had never heard of. I remember feeling a surge of excitement at the prospect of going to my first real, live Science Fiction convention.

Sure enough, the con’s first Friday night found me in the dealer’s room in Javitz Hall, surrounded by all things Science Fiction. I picked up a t-shirt emblazoned with the U.S.S. Enterprise that boldly declared, “Star Trek Lives!” I also got an Enterprise insignia lapel pin and a Wrath of Khan movie poster. Big doings!

Unfortunately, that first brush with the con world proved to be my last for quite some time. Being a student, and chronically short on cash, I only sprung for the Friday night pass, fully intending to return some time over the weekend, but never doing so. But I still have all the worthless crap from that night. The t-shirt, now unwearable, still sits in the bottom of my drawer. And the Khan poster is actually framed and hanging in my office at work.

It wasn’t until a decade had passed that I started going to I-Con again—in large part to this show, which reminded me that it even existed. And since then, I have attended every year—except last year, when I got my weekends mixed up and missed it entirely. (Note to self: Write things down on the calendar.) And while regular Destinies listeners know how much I like to complain about I-Con, it has provided its share of memorable experiences. Naturally, many of those involved media guests.

I remember a wonderful Sunday morning spent with Virginia Hey, who played Xan on Farscape. I barley recognized her, considering that she wasn’t blue and had a full head of long blond hair. Her tales from the set were hilarious, and the sincerity of her appreciation for the fans was evident. It was a shame that her character was killed off the very next week. She must have been busting to tell us that she was leaving the show. But she managed to keep mum, and give a wonderful talk nonetheless.

Another pleasant surprise was Robert Picardo, Voyager’s irrepressible Doctor. I’ve long felt that he was the only bearable part of that show and, as it turns out, he’s a nice guy to boot. If you get the opportunity to see him, take it. He’s glib, down to earth and has a ton of Jeri Ryan jokes.

One of the con’s more scandalous moments occurred during the first “Inside the SF Actors Studio,” panel moderated by none other than our hero Howard Margolin. Among the featured guests was Erin Grey of Buck Rogers fame, who breathily informed everyone in the audience (her son included) that having sex is her favorite thing to do. Only she used the f-word.

In fact, the only media guest to really disappoint me was Kenny Baker, old R2-D2 himself. I was hoping for some stories about working with Terry Gilliam on Time Bandits; instead I spent about an hour listening to how hot it was in the droid suit.

Media guests may come and go, but one thing I-Con has always excelled at—at least in terms of volume—is its author track. And being that books are my primary passion, some of my fondest memories come from the authors I’ve met over the years.

Perhaps my most iconic brush with literary greatness was with the legendary Arthur C. Clarke. I, along with hundreds of others, packed into a massive lecture hall to hear him speak from his home in Sri Lanka. Though the presentation was disorganized, and technically inept (a perfect snapshot of the incompetence that plagues I-Con), it still provided the only chance I will probably ever have to hear one of the great grandmasters of Science Fiction literature.

Another notable author I’ve seen at I-Con is Harlan Ellison. I was leery at first, since all the stories I’d ever heard about Ellison painted him as a first class jerk. But it proved to be one of the most entertaining afternoons of my life. He spoke for almost two and half hours before ever getting around to the story he’d brought with him. He is cantankerous, rude, loud and insulting—but in a good way. He is also hilarious, passionate and honest to a fault. It’s easy to see why he’s such a legend in the SF community.

But as nice as those two events were, my best author memories don’t really revolve around biggies like Clarke or Ellison. Authors Ron Goulart and James Morrow stand out for being exceedingly nice guys, and for their wonderful, personalized signings of my books. Goulart even dashed off a full page of original art for me. Talk about book geek euphoria.

Still, my best—and by far weirdest—I-Con moment had to be the time I pissed off Captain Galaxy. By Captain Galaxy, I mean character actor Richard Herd. He’s done dozens of guest shots on lots of Science Fiction shows, including playing Tom Paris’s father in Voyager and the lead alien in the mini-series V.

But I knew him best from his work on Quantum Leap. He appeared in two of my favorite episodes: The series finale, “Mirror Image,” and in an episode called “Future Boy,” where he played a character named Captain Galaxy.

So imagine my surprise as I was tooling around the dealer’s room at I-Con 20, and saw him seated at a table in the corner. I had no idea he was going to be there. I shook his hand, grinning like an idiot. “Hey! Captain Galaxy!”

He returned the enthusiasm. “None other! Would you like an autograph?”

“Sure!” I told him.

He pulled two glossy prints from the photos spread out before him and asked, “Would you like one of just me, or one with me and Scott?” He meant Scott Bakula, the star of Quantum Leap. I chose the photo with Scott.

“All right!” he said jovially. And then, he proceeded to just look at me. So I looked back. And so did he.

It was getting weird.

Finally I noticed that he was lightly drumming his fingers on the table. So I looked there instead, and saw a little blue sign that said “All Autographs $20.” My eyes almost fell out of my head. Twenty bucks?!?

He must have seen my expression, but he proceeded with the grace of an old pro, all smiles and enthusiasm. “So, who should I make this out to?” he asked.

I took a step back. “Gee, Captain Galaxy,” I said. For some reason I began scratching the back of my head, maybe to make it look like I was thinking. I probably just looked like a dope. “I don’t know,” I continued. “Truth is, I know about three people who would just love one of those.” It was the truth, sort of. I do know three people who would like an autographed picture of Captain Galaxy. But what I was really thinking was Are you out of your f-ing mind? I’m gonna spend twenty bucks on your autograph? I don’t think so!

“Well then,” he said, taking two more pictures off the stack, “maybe we can work out a deal.”

I continued to back away, finally stammering, “I’m gonna have to get back to you, Captain Galaxy.”

The smile disappeared, and he threw the pictures down. “Fine!” No more warmth. No more enthusiasm. Just the deadly seriousness of wounded pride. I practically ran away. Take it from me. If you ever see Captain Galaxy at a con, have a twenty ready, or walk in the other direction.

Well, there are more I-Con memories I could tell you about, like the anime porn film I unwittingly stumbled into once and just as quickly stumbled out of. Or the extremely smelly, rotund and obviously mentally disturbed man who seemed to be shadowing me from bookseller to bookseller in the dealer hall, crumpled legal pad in hand, making meticulous notes about god knows what. But I’ve gone on way too long already.

If my reminiscing proves anything, however, it’s that you never really know what I-Con has in store—performers previews notwithstanding. Hope to see you there!