One of the highlights of any con is the chance for attendees to hear from celebrity guests in person. This year Denver Comic Con has several big name celebs who are willing to dish about their careers. Nathan Fillion, Weird Al Yankovic and three of the actors from the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things” were DCC 2017’s biggest draws.
Here are some highlights from a few of the panels I attended. I’ll be updating this post periodically.
Panel name: Weird Al Yankovic
Panel moderator: Clare Kramer
Highlights: The legendary parody musician spoke for about an hour with panel moderator Clare Kramer. He discussed how he ended up playing the accordion (his mother wanted him to learn how to play it instead of the guitar) and how he got his Weird Al moniker (it was a college nickname that stuck). Con attendees learned that in the fall, Al will be releasing a huge compilation of his work consisting of 15 albums. Fourteen of the albums will be his previous work, the extra one will be all new material. When asked what advice he would give to the younger self, he said. “to invest in Pixar and Google.” The favorite song from his own work is “White and Nerdy” and the parody song that got away was James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful,” which he was going to turn into “You’re Pitiful.” He said that Blunt had given him permission and that he recorded the song but Blunt’s record label said they didn’t want him to release it. It’s never been formally released, yet the song is available online.
Panel name: Nathan Fillion
Panel moderator: Clare Kramer
Highlights: I’ve been going to Denver Comic Con for years and the Nathan Fillion panel is by far the best I’ve experienced. To be fair, I’m a huge fan so I went in expecting him to be good. But he far exceeded even my expectations. Besides being incredibly humorous, he was stunningly gracious. Unlike most panels, Fillion’s consisted almost entirely of Q&A. He knows his fan base wants to interact with him and knows precisely how to be a bit of a sly, parody of himself, yet make the experience fun for everyone. He made eye contact with people asking questions, asked people their names and used them, and gave compliments freely. Fillion knows how to work a room.
The entire panel was great, but here are some highlights. When he bought his current home it came with a trophy case. He didn’t know what to do with it so decided to use it to store all the action figures he has of himself. Recently Fillion cleaned it out and has a bunch of extras, which he is going to autograph and sell for charity…He played the “Firefly” themed Monopoly game with his family and used the Serenity game piece. Fillion won the game, but said it’s in the instructions that if “you’re playing with Nathan Fillion, he automatically wins.” …At one point he was asked to call his buddy Alan Tudyk. Fillion got an automated message, signaling that Tudyk hadn’t set up his voicemail. At the end of the message it started to give out Tudyk’s phone number, which the audience could hear. Fillion quickly moved away his phone as the crowd laughed…Fillion is currently working on the second season of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” with Neil Patrick Harris….Fillion auditioned for the role of Angel on “Buffy,” something I’d never heard before….He said he appreciates every job he gets after being unemployed for a year…In regards to his role on “Rick and Morty,” Fillion said he’d love for McDonald’s to bring back Schezwan sauce and would love to be the spokesperson for it, but only as his bug character from the show.
And finally, my favorite Fillion one-liner, “If you have to be typecast, be typecast as the super cool space captain. Or a gynecologist, I’ve played that twice.” Overall, a fantastic panel.
Panel Name: The Colorado Symphony Presents The Music of Star Wars
Panelists: Tristan Rennie, Matt Krupa, Bejamin de Kock, Kyle Kamrath, Austin Larson
Highlights: What started out as panel for music nerds turned into an informative breakdown of the musical scores from the two latest entries in the “Star Wars” series. John Williams, the famous composer for all the previous films, continued his musical mastery in “The Force Awakens.” Michael Giacchino took over the conductor's baton for “Rogue One.” Moderated by Tristan Rennie, 2nd/Assistant Principal Bassoonist in the Colorado symphony, along with other members of the symphony, they compared and contrasted elements from the new films to those first created by John Williams for the earlier films. Aside from playing snippets of certain themes, they broke down the actual music and showed how some of the new songs used certain elements from the old.
Panel Name: Stranger Things
Panelists: Moderated by Chris Parente, Caleb McLaughlin and Gatten Matarazzo
Highlights: Caleb McLaughlin, who plays Lucas Sinclair, and Gatten Matarazzo, who plays Dustin Henderson, are two of the young stars of the hit Netflix show and chatted about their crazy success and how it has changed their lives. They both met President Obama and were blown away by the fact that he was a fan of their show. Someone in the crowd asked the boys what the biggest change was and Caleb said it was standing in front of a huge crowd and talking about the show. Both boys were very congenial, funny, and success does not appear to have gone to their heads. Ironically, both Caleb and Gatten came from live stage work prior to working on “Stranger Things” and that has helped both with TV series work. On Broadway you have to give 100% every time because it’s the only take you have, so you have to get it right the first time.
Caleb played Simba in the Lion King and one of the bigger differences is the schedules. Broadway is always constant whereas series work is never the same and always changing, so shooting times can be all over the place. Caleb told a story about when the show first aired and it was released at 3:00 a.m. on the East Coast. He warned his parents well in advance and when the day came he was up begging them to get out of bed. It took a while but they finally got up and they all ate popcorn while binge watching the show. Prior to the panel the crowd was informed that they couldn’t ask any questions about season two, which is coming out around Halloween. Interestingly, the boys revealed that there was only a handful of shows written when they started filming the first season so their characters literally evolved as they filmed.
Panel: Luke Cage and Iron Fist
Panelists: Mike Colter and Finn Jones, moderated by Claire Kramer
Highlights: The tonality of Marvel’s Netflix shows is different from the big Marvel films. Colter and Jones said they feel they are more the "real deal," and can tell a long form story over time that shows how their characters evolve and develop. Mike Colter said he had to bulk up for the role Cage, but Marvel never said just how much. Now his work out and eating regime, which is pretty brutal, has become a normal routine. As for researching his role as Luke Cage, he really didn't do much because he wanted the character to be grounded in the current era, not the 1970s when he first appeared in Marvel comics. Mike said it was initially difficult laying the groundwork for the character. He's this guy who can kill, but has a morale compass to not kill and doesn't want to abuse his powers. He's more of a reluctant hero. No one else will step up and help, so he has to.
Finn Jones did read all the comics to get the tone of the character, but didn't really allow it to influence his portrayal. He's reading the new series and is taking notes because he likes the new, more mature take on the character. There has been a lot of training involved on his part from learning martial arts to Tibetan philosophy. The martial aspects of training has been really intense since he didn’t have a lot of time to learn. And when they were done filming “Iron Fist” he rolled right into filming the upcoming “Defenders” series, which brought together Jones, Colter, Charlie Cox (aka Daredevil) and Krysten Ritter (aka Jessica Jones).
“The Defenders” has a different feel from their individual shows. They all had a lot of fun acting alongside each other and they all clicked on set. There was no hierarchy on set with the other actors despite Colter and Jones being the newest additions to the Netflix Marvel universe. Fighting together is awesome, but the stunt choreography is crazy and intense. Stunts take so much time to film; a major scene takes days to film. Both guys had great camaraderie on stage and really seemed to enjoy working together.
Panel name: Content Literacy: Teaching STEM with comics
Highlights: Pop Culture Classroom is a significant part of Denver Comic Con and I’ve always been interested in how comics can be used as an effective part of instruction. The three panelists, all instructors in one form or another, discussed how comics can be used to teach science but also in social studies and reading. Education and comics may seem like an odd combination, but according to panelists comics can be a good way for students to show a true understanding of a concept. Students who struggle expressing themselves with words, panelists said, are particularly attracted to comics which allow for another way to explain what they understand but can’t convey.
Panel name: Weird Worlds of Saturn
Highlights: Not only does Denver Comic Con have panels hosted by educators, it also has a number of panels with people from NASA. This panel was hosted by two NASA scientists who talked about the Cassini spacecraft and its trip to Saturn. They discussed the Saturn moons Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Titan and Iapetus. I learned quite a bit. For example, Titan is the only other place in our solar system that has liquid on its surface, consisting of lakes of methane. We've actually landed on Titan and panel attendees were treated to some short video clips and pics of the surface.
Cassini also discovered, via UV cameras, that surface temperatures of many of Saturn's moons are different than anticipated, creating something one of the scientists called "the Pac-Man effect" (see picture). The Cassini spacecraft will end its mission on September 15, 2017 as it will slow make its way into Saturn's atmosphere. By then it will have made 220 orbits around Saturn.
Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.