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June 6, 2012

PUBLIC NOISE PRIVATE NOISE

Wild world of fandom

Recently, I was lucky enough to attend my very first WonderFest, Louisville’s legendary sci-fi and fantasy convention. My intrepid companion and I arrived with a rabid enthusiasm for model building, submarines, airbrush techniques, film arcana, action figures, latex monsters, superheroes, and all things otherworldly.

We were immediately greeted by two gentlemen (or were they ladies?) in full Stormtrooper outfits (to be more specific, speeder-bike Stormtroopers from the forest moon of Endor, featured in the film “Return of the Jedi”). More specific? They had a genius homemade helmet system that gave their voices the awesome walkie-talkie effect from the movie. Two more HALO-themed warriors were close behind.

This was my tribe, my “Han Shot First” T-shirt-wearing family who I have walked beside so many times in the venerated halls of Great Escape and at screenings of “Mad Max 2” (yes, I know it was “Road Warrior” when it was released in the USA, but we need to acknowledge the actual release history). (Oh yeah, did you know Mad Max’s real name is Max Rockatansky?)

My brother-in-arms suggested taking an overview of the massive “dealers’ hall” before diving into super-detailed inspections of the wares for sale and numerous displays. How can I be 40 years old and have waited this long to be part of this 23-year-old tradition? This was full-on science fiction fandom, and the guest of honor was none other than Joanna Cassidy, who played the replicant Zhora in “Blade Runner” and appeared in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

Meeting her, we were struck by her graciousness and warmth. We resisted asking every detail of her infamous “running through glass windows/Ridley Scott neon-death scene” and managed to keep cool and possibly seem halfway normal. She was seated beside classic actor Julie Adams, from the original “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” and nearby were horror icon Bill Moseley and “Battlestar Galactica” spacecraft designer Eric Chu. The day just couldn’t get any better. And then ...

While perusing the pamphlet, I did a double-triple take. WILLIAM STOUT was a guest of the convention, and he was in the same freakin’ room with us! Stout is one of my favorite illustrators: a master of comic books, production design, murals, album artwork … basically anything cool (like the posters for Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” and Ralph Bakshi’s “Wizards”)!

My co-adventurer and I approached with reverence, getting a chance to speak with Stout at length about his current work. He was truly generous with his time. Stout first grabbed my attention in 1981 with the incredible “The Dinosaurs: A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era” (re-released in a 2001 special edition as “The New Dinosaurs”). He also worked on Ray Bradbury’s fabulous collection “Dinosaur Tales.”

Cited as a direct inspiration for “Jurassic Park,” he’s worked closely with paleontologists for decades to assure the scientific veracity of the artwork. His style has evolved for more than two decades, including creating epic murals for the Houston Museum of Natural Science & the San Diego Natural History Museum, plus supervising life-sized sculptures for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. He’s worked with environmentalists and traveled to Antarctica and Patagonia to further inform his art, working to preserve these important climates. This is a guy who scuba dived under the polar ice!

With all this respectability, he’s still found time to work with countless music weirdos and subversive underground magazines like Bomp! and Heavy Metal. Stout has worked as a conceptual designer and made storyboards for little projects like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Conan,” “The Mist” and “The Prestige.”

Especially near and dear to my decayed heart: the ultra-midnight movie “Return of the Living Dead” (featuring zombies, punk rockers, government cover-ups, the Uneeda Medical Supply Co., and the nuclear destruction of Louisville, where the film is set). Directed by Dan O’Bannon (co-creator of the first “Alien” film!), the movie is a virtuosic romp of really gory humor and scary basement shenanigans, a perfect fit for Stout’s robust imagination and versatile drawing technique. We called it a day, carrying our copy of Stout’s newest book, “Prehistoric Life Murals,” proudly, still wearing our visitor badges with honor. Live long, WonderFest!

Special thanks to Guy Furnish.

Jason Noble is a Louisville musician who has performed with the bands Shipping News and Rachel’s, among others.