This is how you know someone loves you: when they are willing to drive 786 miles to a place hotter "than the devil's ball sack," as my friend and fellow Couch Soup contributor Maria Kinnun would describe it. The Tampa Bay Comic Convention (July 29-31, 2022) ran from a Friday through a Sunday. Maria and her husband, Jake Kinnun, left Thursday morning. Maria had made a promise a month prior, and she had every intention of keeping it. I was finally going to follow through on the dream I've had since before I wrote my first article: attending a comic con and meeting our Couch Soup Patron Saint, Nolan North.
It all started when I saw pics and videos of friends from the Couch Soup community going to fan conventions and meeting up, and I wished I could go myself one day. Maria heard my wish and made a promise that she would make it happen if Nolan North was to come my way. In the spring, she found out that he would be in Tampa at the end of July. We spent June making a plan to go and meet up with another friend (and Couch Soup contributor) Jake Brown, his wife, and daughter.
On July 29, 2022, the Kinnuns pulled into my driveway. I couldn't hold back my tears. After two years of Zoom calls and Discord chats, we were finally face to face! All the hugs were passed around. My mom showed Maria how to help me into the car and fold up my wheelchair, then we were off… boldly going somewhere I have never gone before!
It was a 30-minute drive from home to the Tampa Convention Center. We didn't have much trouble finding a parking space thanks to my "VIP parking tag." Once we got into the convention center, Maria and I made a beeline for the ladies' room for an adventure that, we both agree, was like trying to solve a puzzle in the game Uncharted.
Nolan was scheduled to arrive at 2:00 p.m., and that was a couple of hours away, so we decided to mill around for a bit. I got thirsty, so we stopped at Wild Bill's Craft Beverage Co.—try the black cherry, it's so good!
I saw some unique artwork, and I saved a few artists' business cards to check out later (and I think you should, too). For those that don't know, one of my favorite animals is an octopus, and I think once you see Monty (created by T. Kyle Gentry), you'll see why I like him. Also, if you are a big fan of The Haunted Mansion, you need to check out The Mc Morbidly's Family Album. Plus, Stranger Things fan art was everywhere. I don't have Netflix, so I know nothing about the show, but this Rob Reep piece called A Stranger Take on Me got my attention. Plus, being a lover of yarn, I was hoping to see some hand-dyed yarn or a fellow fiber artist with their own crafts for sale. I only found one, LettuceCrochet21, and the artist Lauren Mangine and I got to nerd out together over yarn. Her signature piece there was The Child from Star Wars: The Mandalorian.
After passing the time enjoying the convention experience, the big moment had arrived: time to meet Nolan North!
A little background: I have been a fan of Nolan since I saw the first episode of Retro Replay. Even my first article as a contributor was about my love for the show and Nolan. Here I was, five years later, getting the opportunity to meet him in person! To show my appreciation, I loom-knitted a stuffed toy octopus. Upon the appointed hour, we took our place in line. Tears welled, and I shivered with antici—pation! Maria kept asking me if I was alright as we inched closer and closer to Nolan. I replied, "I think so." A lady asked, " Are you getting photos and something to sign?" Maria piped in, "Yes, we are."
I knew Maria had something she wanted him to sign, but I didn't. I wanted to find a Nathan Drake Funko Pop, and we had searched the con vendors to no avail. All I had was my gift and card for him. I told myself, "Getting an opportunity to talk to him and give him the gift is more important than getting his signature."
When I rolled up, Nolan smiled at me. "Hey! I see you have a Retro Replay shirt!" he exclaimed. I told him about Maria and Jake bringing me to the con, and I gave him his gift. He loved it and said it was going in his office.
Then, after Nolan's signature selfie-taking, he asked, "So what am I signing?" I replied, "Maria has something." Then, he added, still looking at me, "Oh yeah, you have the Nathan Drake Pop, right?" I was confused, and before I could answer, he said, "Well you have one now!" He pulled out the Nathan Drake Pop figure in its box and set it on the table for signing. I was flabbergasted! It turns out that Maria had bought both the Pop and Nate's ring and brought it to con to surprise me! I then gave Nolan a big hug and told him I would see him Saturday, too.
Knowing that Friday was such a blast, I could hardly wait for Saturday! We had planned not to stay too long but this day we were on a mission: we would go and visit Jess Harnell and then Nolan again before heading over to the Twisted Toonz panel. We milled around again. No sign of Jess, so we headed back to Nolan's table to fulfill the second part of our mission: to get Nolan's autograph on the tiniest Ironman action figure I had ever seen! For a look at that hilarious moment in Nolan's autograph history, check out the video of the Tiny Ironman signing:
Once this mission was complete, Nolan told us that Jess was sick and the panel was canceled. Sure, I was disappointed, but after all the fun I was having with Maria and Jake, this weekend the disappointment is so small in comparison. Surprisingly, my favorite moment from this experience was after the con on the drive home on Saturday: Maria picked up her ukulele and sang Iz Kamakawiwo'ole's famous medley of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and "What A Wonderful World." This moment captured the feeling of love and friendship that I felt during this experience. I definitely want to go to more comic cons, especially with friends like Maria and Jake!
We all love one another like family. With a supportive "Uncle" like Nolan, how could you not! I am proud to be a part of Couch Soup! I would encourage anyone that is looking for such a community to join us!