Thursday, July 31, 2008

Karen's report from the San Diego Comic Con

Let me start by saying I hate crowds. I get anxious and a bit aggressive when stuck in a jostling pack of human bodies. It's that old 'fight or flight' instinct which kicks in to high gear when I feel surrounded. So going to the San Diego Comic Con is always a trying experience for me.

However, the rewards typically outweigh the frustration and irritation I feel when swept along by the (literally in many cases) unwashed masses, so I find myself going back, year after year.

This year's con was not graced with the same number of high profile movie previews as was the last two years, but it still had much to offer. A big part of it for me is being able to purchase a lot of back issues from the 60s and 70s, and I had a great time doing just that. The dealers are really feeling squeezed though. I spoke with many of them, and I get the feeling that the con is pricing them out (I was told by one that booth prices are going up $150 next year). There's alot of animosity towards "Hollywood" from the dealers, as they feel they have been shuffled off to the corner of the hall while the big names, like Lucasfilm, Mattel, NBC, Fox, etc, get the best spots in the show. They may be right; I often wonder if the day will come when comics dealers disappear from the con.

I certainly hope not. The convention should be able to keep all of the disparate groups that give it an appeal to so many different people. It's definitely a big enough venue. The view from our hotel balcony shows just half of the center! It must be a couple of football fields long, with the dealers/exhibit area on the first floor, and meeting rooms on the top one. Here's a tip if you ever go to Comic-Con: wear the sturdiest, most comfortable shoes you've got, because you will be doing a lot of walking. And standing. A whole lot of standing.

We got in on preview night and this was the busiest preview night I have ever seen. Typically, it is a lighter crowd, but this crowd was huge; it felt like a Friday or Saturday crowd. The exhibition hall runs the length of the convention center and reminds me of a casino with all the bright lights, displays, and cacophany of sounds. While it was packed, we still were able to get around to a lot of booths.

The term booth is misleading. Some of these areas are really huge. Take the Sideshow Collectibles area for example. They had some really wonderful displays of stuff too expensive for me to buy. A huge banner over their section had pictures of Hellboy and Darth Vader, among others. Similar set-ups were present for both Marvel and DC, as well as Lego, Mattel, all the movie studios, and video game companies. Monitors were everywhere, with ads, previews, demos, and schedules. You are constantly bombarded with information. Preview night is just preparing you for the next four days.

Thursday was the first day of panels. I went to both the DC Nation and Mondo Marvel panels. Although I have always been more of a Marvel fan, every year the DC group makes their panel more fun and more interesting than Marvel. I know Dan Didio is much maligned, and I must admit I feel like DC has dropped the ball the last year or so, but the man comes across in person as genuinely caring about what the fans think. When people expressed dislike of Countdown, he asked them all to tell him what was wrong with it. Then he, and Mike Carlin, explained that they knew some of the problems, and regretted that they hadn't been able to do a better job on some things. You certainly would never hear that on the Marvel panels, which are much more smart-ass about things.

On Friday I attended a couple of interesting panels. One was a spotlight on Jim Starlin, and the other was called "That 70's panel" and had a number of comics creators from the 1970s present. I was excited about the Starlin panel, because I was meeting him later that day to say hi. A couple of months ago I interviewed Jim over the phone for an article on Adam Warlock, which will be published in Back Issue #34. He had been very gracious, insightful, and funny in our interview and I really looked forward to thanking him personally. His panel was moderated by Ron Marz, and covered every aspect of his career. Jim had told me to come see him after his autographing session later that day. I didn't want to take up too much of his time, so we chatted briefly. He was every bit as nice in person as he had been over the phone. Just a great guy.

The 70s panel also included Starlin, as well as Mike Grell, Joe Staton, Mike Barr, Bernie Wrightson, and about halfway through, Len Wein. Mark Evanier moderated. When asked which comics pros who came before them they had respected the most, Jack Kirby's name came up again and again. Asked if there were any problems with any of the "old timers", Starlin mentioned that artist Gil Kane said too many of the younger artists practiced something he called "masturbatory rendering"! But for the most part, the pros who came before them embraced them and mentored them.

Saturday was the huge Heroes TV show panel in the cavernous Hall H. Hall H is the largest room in the convention center. It can seat 6500 people. You'd think there should be no problem getting a seat inside. You'd be wrong. With 100,000 people in attendance, getting into Hall H became a holy quest. The Heroes panel was scheduled for 10:30 am that day. We thought by getting in line at 8 am, we'd be OK. Little did we know how insane some of our fellow convention goers were. When we got over to the con Saturday at 8, at least 2000-3000 people were in line. Some had been there since the previous night! The line snaked back and forth on the side of the hall, then wrapped all the way around the outside, behind the convention center! After a 15 minute walk around the building, we ended up right behind the con loading dock. I was confident we would still get in, but I felt badly for the people who came after us, many of whom were lined up past the convention center, all the way down to the Marriott hotel next door. However, the convention staff did a very good job of managing the line. We did get in, and it was worth it: the whole cast was there, and they brought the next season's first episode! This episode was fantastic; after the second season last year, I wasn't sure if I would be interested in Heroes this year, but they have wiped that thought out of my head. Funniest moment of the panel: when a little kid addressed actor Zachary Quinto, who plays the psychopath Sylar, and enthusiastically yelled, "Sylo! you're the best hero of them all!!"

After that was the Lost panel, which was amusing but (as usual) provided no information on the upcoming season. But Lost was so good last season, I can forgive them for a lack of detail.

My final panel of the con was Saturday night's Legion of Super-Heroes 50th anniversary tribute. We were surprised to see a long line for the panel, but the fans of the Legion are, well, legion. The panel included Paul Levitz, Colleen Doran, Keith Giffen, Mike Grell, Geoff Johns, and Tom and Mary Birnbaum. Although there were no major announcements (Johns saved his Legion on Smallville announcement for Sunday), the Legion love was on full display (although a snarky comment by Giffen about a flustered fan seemed just cruel). Most of the panel was spent on fan questions and adulation. Johns did mention that Duo Damsel would now be Duplicate Damsel, able to make many copies of herself. Hey, it beats just two.

So there you have it. This year's show was a little more low key (at least for me). Admittedly, I was not able to attend a couple of the bigger events, like the Watchmen panel or the surprise Hugh Jackman/Wolverine appearance (thank god for YouTube). But that's one of the truisms of Comic-Con: invariably, events you wish to attend will be held at the same time. But still, the show was fun, exhausting, exciting, and aggravating, all at the same time. Typical Comic Con.


Dr. Pym said...

Sounds like you had a fantastic time, Karen!

I hate crowds too, so I never go to these Comic Con places. Although, it probably doesn't help that I don't know as much about comic books as some of these people that sleep, dream and eat Marvel and DC! And, it probably doesn't help that I have flat feet, so I can't really stand around for more than an hour or so before having to sit down. And considering how long the lines must've been, my feet would've been killing me!

I don't know, I think the last booths I'd go to would be the ones like NBC and FOX... I'd tend to think that comic books would be everyone's first priority, not watching some lame preview for a god-awful show on FOX!

Love the view of the Hilton balcony! That thing is friggin' huge!

Glad you got to attend and enjoy yourself, Karen! I'm annoyed that I didn't go myself... if not to attend the panel on Watchmen! Oh, and getting good books to read, of course. ;)

Karen said...

Hey Doc, glad I could give you a little taste of this year's comic con. I feel like I have a sort of love-hate relationship with it, but it must be more love, 'cause I keep going back!

But I do think there is real reason to be concerned about the future of comics dealers at the con. With all the major studios and companies there, the independent dealers find themselves in a situation where the costs of coming may outweigh any profit they can make. There was far more room to navigate in the areas with the comics dealers, because the vast majority of folks were over at the Lucasfilm area, or Sideshow, or Warner Brothers, etc.

What I would like is way to keep it all, the big guys and the little guys, and to see the comics dealers treated with respect, because without the folks who sell us our comics, would all of these movies and games have gotten made in the first place?

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