Story by Falk and Martin
Here in Victoria, Australia’s so-called “garden state” (if you like your garden infested with feral blackberries and the odd nest or two of European wasps), we celebrate the Queen’s Birthday with a long weekend on the second Monday of June. The only problem is, this isn’t actually the Queen’s real birthday. We’re not the only one confused either – in other Australian states and Commonwealth realms around the world they celebrate Bessie II’s birthday on a heap of different dates. For some Victorians, the Queen’s Birthday long weekend means going camping. Others go to footy matches. But only the coolest people go to the biggest pop culture convention in the country – Oz Comic-Con! And this year Games vs Play was pretty chuffed to be going once again
KJ Apa Panel (Falk)
Having recently finished the very enjoyable second season of Riverdale, the chance to see a panel featuring KJ Apa was an opportunity not to be missed. Riverdale (available through Netflix) is based on the long-running Archie comics, and presents a dark re-imagining of the setting that combines high school drama, detective stories, and a gothic murder mystery.
Riverdale has attracted a huge fanbase, and it was clear that this panel was going to be something big, with people starting to queue long before the session was due to start. The waiting crowd included people sporting Southside Serpent jackets, Jughead beanies, and River Vixens outfits.
The air of excitement eventually moved into the auditorium, where KJ Apa — who plays the (comics’) titular character, Archie Andrews — was greeted with lots of cheering as he walked onto the stage. The panel was dynamic and lively, with many questions from the audience. KJ shared his thoughts about acting, reflecting on his first major role on Shortland Street (a soap opera set and produced in his home country, New Zealand), and what it was like to move to the USA, at only 18 years of age, to expand his career. He thanked his parents and agent for their support, and also acknowledged that good luck has a role to play in getting a big break, which was refreshing to hear.
While he explained that he often misses NZ, KJ seemed to be truly happy to have found a home on Riverdale, and he repeatedly referred to the friendships that have developed between the actors, who have become as close as a family. Among many other things we found out that KJ enjoys learning new skills (such as wrestling) as part of the show, that he is a huge fan of Spider-Man (and wishes that there would be a cross-over!), and that there is great catering on set (maybe that will convince more people to take up acting :-)).
The number of people wanting to ask questions was huge, but due to time constraints the session was over all too soon. The good news is that Riverdale has already been renewed for Season 3, and in parallel a new series Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, based on Sabrina Spellman (a.k.a. Sabrina the Teenage Witch, another character from the Archie comics) will be launched, likely in 2018.
Occupation panel (Martin)
One of the highlights for me at this year’s Oz Comic-Con was going to the panel for Occupation, Luke Sparke’s upcoming alien-invasion movie set and filmed here in Australia. I’d seen the trailers for Occupation before coming to OCC, which looked super high-quality and boasted a fine cast of Australian and international actors, so I was pretty primed to find out more about the movie. Also, UFOs and alien invasions are right up my alley, so as a semi-retired ufology-ologist I couldn’t really miss this panel, could I?
The Occupation panel featured the film’s writer and director Luke Sparke and most of the primary cast members including Dan Ewing (Home and Away), Stephanie Jacobsen (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Battlestar Galactica: Razor), Rhiannon Fish (The 100, Home and Away), Zachary Garred (NCIS: Los Angeles, General Hospital), Izzy Stevens (Puberty Blues, Underbelly) and Charles Terrier (Neighbours, Blinder). The cast also boasts well-known trans-Tasman stars like Temuera Morrison (Star Wars, Once Were Warriors), Jacqueline McKenzie (Deep Blue Sea, Romper Stomper) and Aaron Jefferey (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but presumably these guys were still mopping up aliens in northern New South Wales and couldn’t make it down to Melbourne.
The premise of the movie is this: in the middle of a worldwide alien invasion a group of survivors from a small Australian country town band together to bring the fight back to the extraterrestrials. Luke described the movie as “Red Dawn meets Independence Day,” which sums up the feel from the trailers pretty well with a bit of Tomorrow When the War Began (book, movie or TV series) thrown in to give it an Australian flavour. When the invasion actually begins it happens during the middle of a game of Australian Rules football, filmed on location on a real sporting oval in the NSW town of Murwillumbah. I loved it – not a kangaroo in sight but still about as Aussie as you can get!
The CGI in the trailers looked great, and the practical SFX for the aliens in their grim-looking body armour was done very well, even if it meant for what sounded like a grueling shoot for the stunt-people. Dan Ewing told us about how on one especially hot and humid day of filming he literally had to pour a bottle of Mount Franklin mineral water through the eye-hole of one of the alien’s masks to relieve the actor inside the sweltering costume.
But it was also good to see that the story will be character-driven and told through the eyes of an ensemble cast. All the actors on the panel were clearly excited about the character-arcs they’d portrayed in the film, with Stephanie Jacobsen talking about how proud she was to play a character that started off unsure of herself and lacking in self-belief to become (in Stephanie’s own words) by the end of the movie “a gun-toting, ass-kicking leader of the human resistance, yeah!”
I’ve got high hopes for Occupation, and clearly I’m not the only one who’s seeing potential in the film as the sequel has already been green-lit and will be going into production barely a month after the release of the first film. I wish Luke and the rest of the cast and crew the best of luck (that’s me mugging with them above), and I know I’ll be lining up to see the film when it’s released in Australia on 12 July.
Keiynan Lonsdale panel (Martin)
Sometimes you go to a guest panel at a con and think, “Wow, the guy who plays Podrick Payne is really different in real life.” Other times you’re left thinking, “Wow, I had no idea Bruce Campbell could be such a jerk.” But it’s pretty rare – for me at any rate – when I go to a panel and come away saying loudly to anyone who’ll listen, “That guy Keiynan Lonsdale is sooo nice, I just really want to go up and give him a big squishy hug!”
Which is exactly how I felt after seeing this panel. Up front confession: I had not actually seen any of the movies or TV shows that Keiynan has been in, like The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow where he plays Wally West aka Kid Flash, or the LGBTIQ-themed teen comedy drama Love, Simon. Or so I thought, for as he walked onstage to a huge applause from the heavily packed out theatre (obviously most of these fans had seen his work) I realised, oh wait, isn’t he in Dance Academy? Actually, that’s not a show i’ve watched a lot either, but my librarian partner Priscilla Jane absolutely loves it. If only she’d known Keiynan was going to be at Oz Comic-Con, then perhaps she’d be writing this rather than me.
Anyway, I digress. It happens. The 26-year-old actor, dancer and singer from western Sydney seemed like he was doing his best to adapt to the rigours and pressures of international stardom. Keiynan answered the questions of his fans with humility and respect, and I never really get the impression at any stage that he was inwardly rolling his eyes or talking down to the audience. Most of the questions were around his DC Comics character Kid Flash and his role as Bram Greenfeld in Love, Simon. It seemed to me that Keiynan viewed being cast as Wally West as his big break, and it was obvious too that he’d had a lot of fun playing this character, hough he did describe how difficult it was to get used to his Kid Flash costume. Despite looking on point for the character it was apparently anything but comfortable to wear, with the first versions of the suit feeling so tight that Keiynan found it difficult to breathe in them, let alone run faster than the speed of sound. The costume department got onto this straightaway and made the necessary changes so that as Keiynan put it, “Eventually I grew into the suit and it kinda grew onto me.” Which I think is a great metaphor for how real-life actors can make established superhero characters their own creation, in the way that Christian Bale did for Batman or Tobey Maquire did for Spider-Man.
But it was probably his work on Love, Simon and his rising music career that Keiynan was most proud of. Keiynan seemed very passionate about using his artistic endeavours to spread the message of understanding and acceptance for all types of love between different people, and was especially pleased (and a little surprised too) that Love, Simon had become such a sleeper hit. Like I said he seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and I’m betting I wasn’t the only person leaving that panel who wanted to give Keiynan a big hug despite never having seen him kitted up as Wally West.
One of the highlights of Oz Comic-Con is always the cosplay, ranging from individuals who are celebrating their favourite characters while walking around the event, to organised processions and even competitions. This year included themed cosplay meetups, with assemblies of comic-book favourites from Marvel and DC, as well as from games such as Final Fantasy (of course including series favourites Cloud Strife, Lightning, and the Chocobros!).
The Community Stage, located in the main exhibition area, included a panel on Geekabilly, a cosplay mashup of retro-style pinup modeling and pop culture geekdom. Hosted by Bambi L’Amour, the session explored topics ranging from sources of Geekabilly inspiration (examples from panel participants included Pokemon, Tinker Bell, and Jughead Jones), to tips on costume design (hint: check out Spotlight (not a sponsor!)), and the unbridled enthusiasm of the Geekabilly community shone through the entire time.
Games vs Play would like to thank the Melbourne organisers of Oz Comic-Con 2018 and the media team at Rocket Comms for access to this year’s con. To find out more about the latest reviews, stories and other cool things in the world of games, like us on Facebook. And remember – if you’re game, we’ll play!
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