Although the major studios and networks have taken over the cavernous assembly halls at Comic-Con, the autograph pavilion remains one of those last vestiges where the fans hold sway. So it’s always interesting to patrol that part of the annual convention — which kicks off in earnest Thursday — to see the famous, near-famous and fleetingly famous on hand peddling their signatures and memorabilia.
Among this year’s newcomers: Jason Williams, who will be making his first Comic-Con-related pilgrimage to San Diego, he says, tied to the 40th anniversary of a movie that was once a staple of the confab’s smoke-filled latenight screenings: “Flesh Gordon,” a softcore-porn knockoff of the Flash Gordon serials that featured a who’s-who of future big-name special effects talent — including Rick Baker and Jim Danforth — providing its much-better-than-expected visuals. (The poster carried a disclaimer that read, “Not to be confused with the original ‘Flash Gordon.’”)
The irony for Williams, now 63, is that if he has any success at all as an autograph-signing attraction, he will likely earn more money this weekend than he did on the movie, for which he received $500 a week. He fared considerably better on a follow-up erotic version of “Alice in Wonderland,” and went on to star in and produce “The Danger Zone,” a biker movie that spawned several sequels. There was also a much-belated “Flesh Gordon” sequel, made without him.
Williams said the notoriety surrounding “Flesh Gordon” lasted a few years (people would occasionally come up and say, “Hi, Flesh”), and noted that the movie itself produced some offscreen drama, with police fleetingly confiscating the film because it contained snippets of hardcore footage. As Williams noted, the movie was made by “a bunch of kids from USC,” many of whom went on to better things.
His own story, he says, is almost a Hollywood cliche. A former athlete, he decided to get into acting, finding a few small parts before stumbling into the softcore genre. “I was real green when I came down here,” he says. “My whole life changed for a while.”
Still, Williams says he’s done little to trade off his connection to the genre (he’s continued trying to produce and is working on a book), and isn’t sure what to expect at Comic-Con, having been cajoled into attending by a friend.
Obviously, as Comic-Con commodities go Williams isn’t exactly one of the Avengers, but frankly, he’s on par with a lot of talent who populate the pavilion — a varied and eclectic group, sometimes known for little more than a single episode of “Star Trek.” And yes, most of them have fans out there who justify the trip, eager to take a picture, ask a question or get an autograph.
So for those who spend their time in San Diego packed like sardines into Hall H panels with 6,500 sweaty friends, take a stroll into the way-back machine for a taste of the convention’s past, and see how the autograph hounds live. Who knows? You might even get to meet Flesh in the, er, flesh.