Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

Hopefully Heading Toward ToyLanta (Hopes Dashed)

The PopCulteer
March 13, 2020

This has been one of the strangest PopCulteer essays I’ve ever had to write.

As everyone knows, we are most definitely living in interesting times at the moment. The original plan for today’s column was to tell you all about ToyLanta, the big toy convention that I go to every year now. It’s supposed to start next Friday, and as I write this, it has not yet been canceled or postponed. I will tell you more about that in a bit, but first we have to address the sick elephant in the room.

The last few days have taught us not to count on things remaining stable. As I sit here in my office on a stormy Thursday night, the whole country is joining together to make a sacrifice for the good of the weakest of us. Sporting events, concerts, plays, film festivals, pop culture conventions and any other imaginable gathering have been canceled so that we can hopefully “flatten the curve” and stem the proliferation of Covid-19, which is a pretty lethal virus. I think we can all agree now that this is not a hoax or a political stunt, and all serious-minded people need to work together to stem the tide of this horrible disease.

Update…11 AM: Demonstrating the fluidity of the situation, we have a statement from ToyLanta…

We understand your concerns and our priority as always is for everyone to have a safe and happy experience. We are meeting multiple times each day when we have new information. Buddy, one of our board members, has met with the Cobb County Board of Commissioners to seek their counsel. We commit to you that we will advise you of any change as soon as we have any update.

Update…5 PM: Larry Hama, creator of the “Real American Hero” GI Joe, has pulled out of the event due to concern over Covid-19. He will attend virtually, and take sketch requests, if the event goes on.

Update: 7:20 PM: The show has been canceled.

With an ache in our heart, we announce that after an extremely difficult deliberation, meetings with the hotel, and meetings with local officials, we regretfully have come to the conclusion that we need to cancel Toylanta/Joelanta this year.  We are working on plans for refunds and we have already booked the dates for ’21 and ’22 and will be announcing those shortly. Please forgive us. It is with a heavy heart that we arrived at this decision but we believe it is the best decision because we love you all and want to keep you safe. We will be announcing some details shortly. Please bear with us in the interim.

About eight hours ago (as I write this), I posted a review of the play, Bug, which is running at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. Or rather, it was. All remaining performances of Bug have been canceled, along with every other play at a major theater in Chicago, as well as Broadway and off-Broadway, and just about every other large event in the country. All that stuff I said about making sure you don’t miss it?  Nevermind.

Wednesday I posted a long “Stuff To Do” column, plugging local events, and to be honest, I’m wondering now if it was a good idea to even do that. I don’t know how many of those shows are going to happen as planned. There’s certainly a strong argument to be made for postponing everything scheduled for this weekend. It seems like the whole world is changing every five minutes or so, so maybe the best advice I can give anyone is that this is a good weekend to watch Netflix and chill. We don’t really need to be out gathering in large crowds.

The reason for this is to keep the Covid-19 virus from spreading and killing the eldery, sick, young or immuno-supressed among us. This is not panic. It’s common sense, and after spending way too much time trying to explain it to way too many people today, I just don’t have the energy to do it again without getting insulting.

Instead, let me remind my longtime readers and inform any new readers that I suffer from Myasthenia Gravis. MG is an auto-immune disorder that causes your muscles to not respond to the signals your brain sends to them, and leaves you with paralysis. The more you use those muscles, the weaker they get. I am lucky enough to have a mild case, but I still take some pretty heavy-duty meds to allow me to do things like see straight and use my fingers.

I am immuno-suppressed. My immune system was attacking my body, and I have to weaken it in order to function. I’m one of those people for whom events are being canceled. I take a medicine that is normally used for organ transplant patients so that they don’t reject their new body part.

Yet, I still hope to attend ToyLanta. This is a show that’s so special to me that I am literally willing to risk my life to go there. As I write this, the show’s organizers are gung-ho that it’s going to go on as planned. It’s the 20th anniversary year for the show, which began as “JoeLanta,” and it’s their first time in an exciting new location. I hope to be sitting in that new hotel a week from now, trading toys and shooting video and having fun.

This could all change in an instant, so keep checking PopCult for updates.

I will not be shocked if a number of guests and vendors make the decision not to attend this year. This is a most unusual situation. I’m sort of prepared for it because the water crisis in West Virginia back in 2014 was a bit of a dry run for coping with previously unthinkable dystopian conditions, but this is quite different. I don’t blame anyone who decides to change their plans, and if the organizers decide not to have the show next weekend, I absolutely understand.

Melanie and I are still going to Georgia next weekend. I need a road trip (Chicago was a train trip–it’s a different thing completely). If ToyLanta doesn’t happen, we’ll find plenty of things to get into down there, and we plan to take a day to run to Senoia for Walking Dead fun for Mel regardless. We don’t have to stop living. We just have to stop living all in the same place at the same time.

If ToyLanta does happen as planned, I will be there, taking precautions, video camera in tow. I will not be doing interviews with anyone this year. Thanks to the NBA, we now know that microphones can pose a risk of transmission. We’ll steer clear of physical contact, eat our meals in our room and maybe keep to ourselves more than we normally would, just to be on the safe side. It’s not because I’m anti-social. It’s so I can stay alive.

And licking fuzzy-headed GI Joes to check the quality of the hair is right out. We’ll have none of that.

It’s going to be a fun show, if it happens. It always is.

As the event page says, “Join us for our big 20th Anniversary Celebration at our NEW LARGER LOCATION! 2 Floors of TOYS of all kinds, including GI Joe, STAR WARS, MOTU, TMNT, Captain Action, Hot Wheels, Monster Toys,MEGO, Transformers, Marx Playsets, Marvel Legends, Anime, Games, Comics, Records and much more! Plus Special Guests, Custom Figure and Diorama Contests, Cosplay Contest, Exhibits, Demonstrations, Workshops, Film Festival, Musical Guests and more!”

As a reporter, I’m a bit conflicted about how to tell you about the show. There are all kinds of great guests and panelists scheduled, but things are changing so rapidly that I could write about them tonight and before this post goes live, things could have changed completely. I don’t like that my review of Bug ran after what turned out to be the final performance. I don’t want to feel like I’m wasting your time here. Things can change at a moment’s notice, and the city, county or state could declare that the show not go on despite the best intentions of the good folk who produce ToyLanta.

So I’m going to be lazy and post some graphics below. I believe these are largely the work of Bambi Lynn, from Radio Cult and Buddy Finethy (correct me if I’m wrong, guys), and this way if a guest cancels at the last minute I can just edit that graphic out to avoid confusion. Stay tuned for further updates.

Update…Saturday morning: The show has been called off, so I’m removing the graphics and replacing them with this…

So there you have a whole slew of cool stuff that I really really hope we get to experience next week. I will be telling you more about ToyLanta up until the show, so if there are any changes you can read about them here. Sunday we’ll bring you more videos from back in the JoeLanta days, and we’ll also have all our regular features. That’s it for this week’s PopCulteer.


  1. Tim Weedn

    Thanks, Rudy. Well stated and thoughtful.

  2. Thomas Wheeler

    I hope the show still goes on, and at the very least, you get to attend that Mego panel!

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