Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Comic Con 2008 - Sunday, and home

Sunday was a low key day – no panels for us (decided to skip Smallville and Supernatural as well as another Grant Morrison one), but we kicked it out on the floor. I bought about 200 comics from the bins, including the Marvel Star Wars issue 98 (the last one I needed – Avengers 4 completed my Avengers collection to, so it was a good week). I bought a Roboshark t-shirt off of Ivan Brandon (of NYC Mech, and chief of the best comics messageboard), and got lots of “cool, what is that”’s. We bought gifts for those who stayed home (my youngest son <5> got a Yoda lightsaber). I poked my head in the Owlship, saw NPH’s unicorn, and got some Chuck bags (out of Watchmen bags… rats – at least we got the Watchmen t-shirts after the panel). We talked to a few people and ate some nachos. I talked to Jerry Robinson for a while (the dude who created the Joker and and may have first drawn Robin - not sure about that last bit), talked to Mad Magazine marginalia and Groo artist Sergio Aragones, chatted briefly with Kyle Baker, saw Stephen King’s son (Joe Hill nee Joseph Hillstrom King) waiting in the Lego con exclusive set line, and generally took it easy.

It was a wierd con, in some ways. After last year's clean sweep of the independent comics area (I got everything I wanted, tons of sketches and signatures, and talked to lots of nice people), I was hideously unprepared this year and only snagged a few of the things I wanted, which I'm a bit bummed about. I missed the Scott Pilgrim color thing, the previous-post mentioned Tori Amos book, Eddie Campbell's Monsieur Leotard, the American Terrorist preview, a bunch of Picturebox stuff (I walked away with Comics, Comics 4 and the other newspaper thing and got Godess of War signed, but I didn't get back with more money for the Cold Heat specials, etc.), the new Tales Designed to Thrizzle, the F Grampa thing, the mini by Gilberto Hernandez's daughter, or the book by that North/South American collective group (who I LOVE - Cloonan, Ba, Moon, etc) that did 5 last year (was it Pixu? Are those two different things? See, I'm unorganized). The stress caused by spending more money than I have ever spent in one place, added to the worrying about the kids at home, the lack of my usual I-ain't-commin'-back mid-Friday cathartic meltdown (I always feel better afterwards), my somewhat illusionary feeling of being squeezed for time on the floor, and the fact that this week is a bitch at work, made me feel a little down coming out of the con.

Then we piled in for the trip back to Vegas, and the stories started. We buzzed all the way home, bubbling with the fresh memories. I gradually (somewhere around Victorville) realized I had had a pretty frickin' awesome time, but it took everyone else (whose heads were not as far up their asses) to remind me of that. By the time I got back to the house, I was ready to collapse into a satisfied heap.

Good times.

Comic Con 2008 - Saturday

Saturday began with me waiting from 8:05 in line for the 10:30 Heroes panel. That time got me, estimated, 3,000-3,500 people from the door. Several people slept at the Hall H door for it. Weird. I waited in line with several other perennial con goers, and discussed the way it used to be before all these johnny-come-latelys ruined it.

They aired the first episode of the third season of Heroes in its entirety at the panel. Tim Kiring brought the the disk with the episode in a metal suitcase handcuffed to his arm. Very hammy. The cast was late (elevator mishap was given as the cause), and so there was only about three minutes total for questions, which were squandered by several people doing the old attention seeking explain-a-thon, with no real question in mind. One dude went on forever trying to let the room know he got in line early both this year and last year. Yeah, glad I found that out.

Heroes seemed desperate… they brought the whole cast of regulars (which was kind of wasted… see above), and were practically begging people to watch (which the did before the first season started, so, yeah, a bunch of whores, those producers). However, the episode was the best season opener they’ve had, and I didn’t get any of the big danger signals (that they didn’t know what they were doing) that graced last year’s opener. Might wind up being as good or better than season one. Good use of an hour at the con, but I wish (because the airing used up so much time) that they could have staked out an extra half hour.

Lost followed Heroes. The Lost panels are always great, but this was not the best of them. The surprise reveal of Matthew Fox being there was telegraphed, and seemed a bit underwhelming given the prior Heroes panel that had everyone acting in the show. It is always nice to have comic con (which I feel connected to) get more tied in to the Lost mythos (as in 2006’s appearance of Rachel Blake as an audience member, asking probing questions, which was closely tied to the endgame of the Lost Experience multimedia game), and this year gave us Dharma’s recruitment drive (yeah, I talked to the recruiters, but didn’t get into the booth) in which Dharma “sponsored” the panel (with promotional cups, just like American Idol), had the head of recruiting address the crowd, and had one of the candidates that had reached the ”next level” of recruitment, smuggle in a video camera, and get chased out of the con. Now the DVD supplemental features will wind up actually having con footage as part of the Lost “universe,” which I think is great. But the actual address by the recruiter, and some of the stuff with the recruitees was a bit boring, and the Marvin Candle video they showed didn’t do much for me (was that Faraday asking questions?). The main thrust seemed to be to introduce that some of the characters on the show (mainly Faraday through his notebook and people in the same division of research as Candle) have some knowledge of how the future is going to turn out, at least in certain areas, and that some events may be changeable, while others are not.

The giving away of prizes to the attendees was funny and cool, but added to the feeling of the panel being a little light on them telling us anything. They need to bring back he bell (they used this a couple of prior years for the producers to “gong” each other when the answers started to reveal too much). A so-so Lost panel is a good panel, though. Matthew Fox said almost nothing.

After that, it was straight to the Battlestar Galactica… line. As you may have guessed, casual panel changing is now impossible, and we waited in line for Battlestar from before the preceeding Dollhouse panel started (which I would have loved to see, but face it Jake, that’s comic con). This was one of the better (quality, not length) lines, with several women dressed like Starbuck and Boomer behind us, a Seven in front of us, and an incessantly chattering girl (who went on and on about how much she loved British accents, and when she’s around the accent she just wants to start talking that way and is that a Red Bull? oh that looks disgusting which reminds me, they have such an awful idea of where you can smoke in America and on and on) on the side of us – it sounds weird, but it kept getting funnier.

Aside – every year, I have seen Joss Whedon. He has built up the con (and the con him in a NASCAR drafting kind of way), as much as any specific “staple” personality. When I haven’t seen a panel with him in it, I have always bumped into him on the floor. This year it was passing him in a line, where he was complaining about all the sweating. But, as much as I wanted to, making any of the 4 or 5 Whedon panels/events was impossible due to lines. The con needs ideas for a better way to run things. Some of our traveling companions made the big Dr. Horrible screening (it subsequently screened 4 more times after the "big" one), and said the room was electric. Seeing it on the web, it seemed a bit slight to me, which might be due to my recent my recent Whedon ennui (more accurately ambivalence: I’ve liked everything the guy has ever done, but the tone of Whedon admiration as of late has given me the willies - it’s like, I can’t stand certain strains of guy geeks, and Whedon has emboldened a generation of their gender-opposite number: equal opportunity, but now there are twice as many icky people). The reaction at the con, though, seems to suggest this is a major thing. I heard 4 different people on the floor singing “with my freeze ray I will stop... the world.” It could explode into a phenomenon. For my part, I wore a WWNPHD bracelet.

The Battlestar panel was the best one ever. Only Edward James Olmos' (he wasn't there) infuriating, but ultimately hilarious, tendency to babble awkwardly could have made it better. Kevin Smith moderated (marking the only time I have ever seen a panel moderated by someone more famous than the panelists), and a lot of the cast was there (Lee, Gaius, Six, Anders, Helo, Starbuck) along with Moore and Eick. The questions were raunchy, causing Anders (I think) to put his place holder card (the ones they put in front to identify the panelists) backwards on top of his head, revealing the “remember, some audience members may be less than 18” printed on the back. The footage was scant, and showed a lot of the cast on earth moping, which was not par-tic-u-lar-ly promising. The Caprica trailer was OK, but made it look like Falcon Crest in space. I don’t know if this all bodes well. It seems like they have finished shooting the series (given their comments), so I also think it’s odd that it won’t start airing for so long. The vibe of the room was awesome, with everyone relaxing and answering Smith’s expletive laden questions candidly (except for Jamie Bamber, who always seems a little uptight). Great panel.

Chuck followed – the interplay between Zachary Levi and Josh Gomez was as funny as last year, but they didn’t push it quite as far (the “69” McG made them do on the top of the panel table last year was only reenacted with their hands, which was... weird). Yvonne (emitting a really cute Australian accent) was sweet, and the sister and Captain Awesome were good. The clips were nice, and suggest a LOT of guest staring next year. Yvonne challenged Chuck (who had already done 5 or 6 impressions) to do an Australian accent prompting him to give a lesson into how to speak Australian (“No is not n-o, it’s N followed by all the vowels run together really fast… try it, slow at first – naeiou, then speed up”).

We stayed for the Fringe panel, mainly to see JJ Abrams finally show the hell up in person. Nothing wasn’t presented we hadn’t seen in the pilot, but they assured us that the pilot was tough to do, and is a little rough in some ways to watch, but the show (3 more episodes have filmed) has gotten better and better. So, I don’t know if apologizing for the pilot is good, as a rule, but I’m hopeful.

Saturday night, it was off to the Masquerade! The Masquerade is one of the most hotly anticipated activities of any year, and is hard to describe. The line is long, but we have one perennial companion who loves it so much, she waits in line all day for us! YESSSS! The event is the costume contest to end all costume contests. It is judged by a year-to-year-stable group of people who all work costuming in movies, and Magenta from Rocky Horror. The costumes are AWESOME, and the atmosphere is like nothing you’ve ever seen. There is unbridled hysteria, with 20 some-odd beach balls (which look like Pokeballs) being bashed around the room, people cheering and freaking out, chants from prior years spreading in the crowds (e.g. “beast boy, beast boy,” “all hail brain”), and people screaming out random statements (both before and during the competition). Numerous people in the audience are costumed. The MC (Phil Foglio, a portly gentleman dressed like an 1890's mayor or the dude on the Monopoly set) lays down the rules of showing restraint and dignity, followed by high decibel noise from the audience. He folds his arms and waits… he can be here all night, he’s got nothing better to do. The audience shouts the counting of the entrants, leading to "contestant number (unbelievable roar of whatever the next number is, like) TWENTY!!!!" fourty, fifty times. The costumed contestants work all year on incredible stage presentations (e.g. last year's Harry Potter, in Grease the musical, in 5 minutes). People shout “Hermoine’s hot” at the top of their lungs.

It’s like the Disney World psych ward busted out and went to see Gwar. And it’s AWESOME!

That said, this year's costumes and acts were not quite as good as last years, which was a high water mark. There were these people behind us telling everyone to shut up (they sounded like 1970’s oriented geeks – they liked any Monty Python and LotR’s references out of proportion). I don’t think they understood the environment they were in. Still, a blast. Best moment – the Super Smash Brothers Brawl Opera moment when the Kirby costumed one flapped her arms, and everyone on stage slid on the floor as if being sucked in. Chants of “Kir-by, Kir-by” ensued for the rest of the night. Again, unbridled hysteria.

We ate chips and smuggled in wine. No official meal.

Comic Con 2008 - Friday

Friday started with the Watchmen line. As you may have speculated from earlier posts, the big panels had worse lines this year, but the increment of worsening has slacked off. Along with the new hi def projectors in the biggest rooms (hall H and ballroom 20), they got new people-tracking software to help with the head counts, so the lines moved a bit faster, but there is no way to make it into any of the larger rooms (not just H and 20, but also any of the room 6 subdivisions, or rooms 2 or 3) without “missing” a panel waiting. I was in the Watchmen line at 8:30 for the panel, which started at 11:55 (it was the main panel I wanted to see, so forgive the excess), so I was about 1,000 back from the door (hall H holds 6,500). The line reportedly stretched about 3/5 of a mile, which I believe.

The Watchmen panel was better than expected. The material that they showed was a million percent better than the trailer, which wasn't really bad itself (just limited in what it presented). Several of the actors are panel naturals (the Nathan Fillion effect – some people just know how to work a room) – Billy Crudup, the British guy they cast as Ozymandias, and even Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Carla Guigino had a weird look on her face while the british dude (imdb says his name is Matthew Goode) was talking about getting high in Vancouver that was priceless. Zack Snyder has the same con affect he has always had – awkwardness overcome by enthusiasm that gets to be really funny 20 minutes in. I liked the fact they had Dave Gibbons on the panel – Jeff Jensen (who was hosting) asked him did he ever want to “just slap Alan Moore and tell him to lighten up,” and the diplomacy of Dave’s answer (something like “I wish Alan could enjoy the process of these things coming alive as much as I do”) was nice. The questions were good, and generally came from people in costume, which led to Snyder saying “awesome!” after just about every question was asked. They used Philip Glass (I don’t know the name of the piece) over the new footage which worked better than you could imagine. The "extended" footage showed Nixon, the beginning of the “flashbulb” scene, Dr. Manhattan blowing a lot of people up, the Comedian’s swan dive, Rorschach’s mask effect (a lot of it - it had a nice ink-diffusing-through-canvas, non-CGI feel), Dan, expertly shot watches… just great stuff.

Good panel but, due to the timing, it almost killed the day. We did some floor stuff (including the small press booths, where I bought some nice stuff, missed a hell of a lot including the new Tori Amos book(Comic Book Tattoo) and signing (the book looks phenomenal, by the way - I bought it when I got back home), saw most of the floor, but didn’t really get anything done, which probably saved my con-sanity, now that I think about it. We went early to see 24, and wound up getting into the panel before (Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files). I didn’t know his work, but he was an engaging speaker, and did the panel solo. He had that crazed but friendly hippy affect, like a thinner American Hagrid.

The 24 panel – some nice footage from the beginning of the prequel movie 24: Exile, and some time with Keefer, who came off as exceedingly gracious and good natured (he knows how to treat the crowd), and the actor that plays Tony, who was a little to gum-smacking-attitudinal. Many of the questions concerned the ethics of torture and when Jack pees (the on set joke is that every time they cut to the White house, Jack takes a leak, drinks, and eats a sandwich), which had relatively thoughtful and/or funny answers. Very pleasant panel.

In contrast, the Prison Break panel was pretty bad. They aired the beginning of the first episode (with insert cards still in – like “insert hand holding photo of Sarah” – which got some laughs due to their unintendedly absurd nature), which was actually fine, on par with Prison Break openings of the past. It looks like they are going in a more secret agent-ish direction this season. No prison yet (but hey, it’s an even numbered season). The bad part was that Dominic Purcell was a loathsome panelist, checking his Blackberry and sending waves of negative energy at the audience, and the actress that plays Sarah was a bit quiet, and didn’t know how to play the crowd (her answers were to serious, and she had a tendency to bring everything back to her theater work… blech!). The producers weren’t the engaging super-producers comic con crowds have come to expect. All in all, a lousy use of my time. One interesting thing – Dominic Purcell notes that comic con is the only place anyone ever says “I love John Doe” to him.

Friday Night is the Eisners, the Oscars of comics. I always go, and my comic book retailer always gets me a spot at the tables (thanks, Ralph!). I was a little over 50/50 guessing the winners, which was pretty good. I waited in the booze line with the Reno 911 guys for the second year in a row (Dangle and Junior - we must have the same drunk clock), who also presented some awards, giving George Foreman grills to the runners up (“Cash value? Bigger than then actual award”). Last year, I met Jane Weidlin, but this year she was escorted in by a cadre of Stormtroopers so, no. Sam Jackson gave some awards. I was sitting near Gerard Way (front man of My Chemical Romance, who won two Eisners for Umbrella Academy), who I did not talk to (what am I gonna say? I loved that “teenagers scare the living shit out of me” song?). The awards were nice, and many were deserving, though I cannot understand how Len Wein gets into the hall of fame before Mort Weissinger. Always a nice night.

I didn't eat till I got back to the room at nearly 1 o'clock, where I ate some of what was left of the "Giant NY Pizza" we had ordered (28" - it was pretty good).

Comic Con 2008 - Thurday

Thursday was a bit of a slow start. I went solo to the Grant Morrison/Stan Lee panel (the wife's hair wasn't ready to go yet) which, surprisingly, turned out to be a monumental event in the history of anti-chemistry. The thing was hosted by Virgin comics CEO (Depak Chopra’s son, incidently) who was not a strong enough moderator to get the discussion functioning well. The panel had Lee, a god of self-aggrandizement (with a sliver of self-deprecation), at his most self aggrandizing, and Morrison, a very interesting speaker, being reverential (I think in an attempt to get out in front of Lee’s shtick, and maybe have a real discussion) and not much else. So Grant’s good speaking qualities were nullified, and Stan played the irritating huckster end of his persona.

Morrison is working for Virgin on a motion capture/CGI animated (videogame-looking) version of a 10,000 year old Hindi myth about a family of deities going to war. This will be released as installments for cell phones. Interesting project, I guess, but I don’t really want to spend time watching anyone, even someone very interesting, play World of Warcraft.

Lee is working on a new universe for Virgin, and nothing of the past 35 years suggests this will be any good. The dancing around subjects was interesting, and the bit comedy (mostly concerning Lee’s inability to understand Morrison’s Scotts accent, and Morrison’s impression of a New York Cabbie – this included prop comedy, when Lee inserted an earpiece in his ear, saying it was like the ones they used at the UN) was well received.

It’s always nice to see either Lee or Morrison, but I think they worked against each other here.

I did get to the EW Visionaries: Comic Books panel (Note: I know some EW people so, on Friday, I tried to get into the EW showrunners panel, but couldn’t get in the room – so much for my connections - and there was no way I was getting into Saturday’s EW filmmakers panel, so I didn’t even try). I don’t know quite what to say about it. Some creators I love dearly were on the panel (Jim Lee, John Cassaday, Matt Fraction, Mike Mignola, Robert Kirkman, Colleen Doran, Mike Mignola, Grant Morrison); however, all but Mignola seemed a bit estranged from their usual charm (not that Hellboy creator Mignola's that charming, but he seemed to be at least as chatty and foul mouthed as he usually is). Morrison (again, after the Virgin panel) and Fraction were particularly an issue, as they are usually very engaging subjects, and were almost entirely shut down. Part of this was, maybe, panel size (too many people means less time to speak), but it was mostly the poor moderation. There were some boneheaded questions (I think the “why comics” question was frankly insulting… they don’t ask Christopher Nolan or even Kevin Smith “why film”), the creation of a vibe the creators didn’t feel comfortable with, and a general lack of encouragement in moments when the discourse could have taken off (panel dynamics are weird sometimes). I hate to complain, but that one didn’t go well. EW's Jeff Jensen (on Watchmen, discussed later) and E!'s Kristin Dos Santos (on two panels I saw) did a lot better than whoever handled this one (I forget the moderator’s name).

I missed the True Blood panel (my wife left EW early to get in line, but got in the wrong line… thanks Elite security!), but I talked to a producer in line for a while, which was kind of neat. He got the news of the Paramount Vantage firings on his Blackberry while we were waiting (you know, I just had to be a stupid doctor instead of getting a cool job). We stayed in the line to catch Dexter. I heard from some of our travel companions that True Blood was good.

The Dexter panel was a nice, middle of the road affair. Michael C. Hall was witty and engaging (not a surprise) as was Julie Benz (a surprise, but I guess that’s a testament to her acting abilities). The footage from the third season looked good (best “trailer” material so far at the con), and suggests the direction of the next season is this:

Dexter does something (possibly killing an innocent) that sets off a chain of events “like a pebble dropped at the top of a mountain, starting an unstoppable avalanche” (producer's words). This includes the introduction of Jimmy Smitts as a new superior involved in the investigation, who becomes Dexter’s first real friend. The overriding motif of the season is growing into new relationships and becoming you own man, as Dex learns to make father Harry’s "kill only the deserving" code his own, steps up with Rita's kids, and “figures out” sex.

Not an “I’ll always remember” panel, but nice to see, and pleasant. The female writer (showrunner?) was low-key-funny. The panel was hosted by Kristin Dos Santos (of Ask Kristin on E!) who did a nice job, but may be crosseyed.

Thursday on the floor was mixed. It was more crowded than I’ve ever seen Thursdays in the heavy trafficked part of the floor (by WB, DC, Star Wars), but lighter elsewhere. This rule held essentially all weekend, except Saturday when the lighter areas became a ghost town in the late afternoon (unusual), and Sunday, which was much heavier than usual everywhere. The actual comic book dealers (yes, there are still comics at the con) had fewer key books than usual, and I only saw 2 copies of Adventure Comics 247 (1st Legion of Super-Heroes), and I looked at every booth. They told me it was because they were all wiped out at the recent Wizard World Chicago convention, which is threatening to become the big actual comic book convention in the US. It was apparently verrry busy there.

I bought my first ever painted original art on Thursday, which is a nice shot of the Justice League blooming out towards the “camera” that I thought was a great piece by an up and comer. I almost bought an Alex Ross original later, but I’m just not ready to spend as much on a picture as on a car.

Wizards of the Coast, who does card games like Magic the Gathering and who owns TSR (D&D) didn’t show up, which bummed my 12 year old out, who loves to play in miniatures and card tournaments. He did a Super Smash Brothers Brawl tournament insrtead. I don’t know if this shows a permanent shift for the con brought on by simple economics or not. Paramount didn’t show for a panel this year, which I hear is related to bad treatment at the hands of con employees (one of the people I was travelling with witnessed Hiro’s friend from Heroes - Ando? - being turned away by panel personnel from getting into a room… these stories are legendary, and over time, some of the studios probably get a bit pissed).

My oldest son, who works for Paramount (oddly enough), left a friend's condo in Irvine, which is usually about an hour away from the con, but it took him 4.5 hours to get there due to a burning Von’s truck blocking the highway. Many panels were missing people who didn’t make it due to the accident, and several actors in later panels talked about being trapped in the traffic. The same thing happened 4 or 5 years ago due to forest fires.

Didn’t do anything at night but eat at Bucca Di Bepo’s. Nice meal, though.

Comic Con Report - introductory Remarks and Wed (preview night)

I’ve never written a formal San Diego Comic Con report before. I’ve gone for 7 straight years (coinciding with the “explosive growth” phase of the con… attendance was 51 K the first year I went and is just north of 125 K now) and figured, hey, why don’t I get off my butt and get some of this stuff down. This is the first year we left some of the kids home (the baby and the 5 year old), which added some mobility, but felt kind of weird. We drove up Wednesday during the day, and got badges easily (much easier than any other year) in time to hit preview night.

The free wi-fi on the floor was a bit of a surprise (I think it's the first year for that), so much of the following was originally typed in Hall H and other rooms while waiting for the Watchmen and other panels. The con keeps getting busier in some areas, but seems to have topped out in others. Later in the con, we were shut out of the True Blood panel (30 from the door - rats), which may be the first time I haven't gotten in a 6CDEF room panel. The lines for the 6-ballroom subsections were busier in general.

Preview (Wednesday) night had scheduled events in the rooms for the first time. My preview night consisted of going to the Fringe pilot screening, and dropping thousands of dollars on two comics: Amazing Fantasy 15 (1st app of Spider-Man), and Avengers 4 (1st silver age Captain America). Got a decent deal. I still feel dizzy about the purchase, and smile everytime I think of it.

The Fringe screening may have been a mistake on the part of Fox… con screenings usually whip people into a frenzy first (by having cast members present, handing stuff out, etc) which helps the audience get all screamy and irrationally into it. The Heroes pilot was not “in shape” at the con a few years ago, but the stars (especially that Milo guy, having hailed from audience beloved Gilmore Girls) sold the thing, and the room was very positive about it. The cold (no one from the production staff was there) Fringe screening with bad audio led to a chilly audience reception. There was a ton of negative body language in the room.

So, Fringe itself. This is a further edit/tightening than the leaked, bit-torrented version, and is better. Even so, the pilot was too much a “modern” pilot – it wanted to be a full story and a cohesive origin at the same time, but wasn’t honed as well as a movie. So, it dragged like crazy in the middle, tried too hard all over the place, and had an opening sequence too like the openings of the Lost and Invasion pilots. However, the lead actress was good (like Joan Allen, but more conventionally sexy), the father/son stuff was good (the comedic stuff between Pacey - everyone kept calling him that - and Theron from Lord of the Rings - no one called him that - and the two action sequences were the high points of audience involvement for the entire event), and I left thinking that it was a good premise for a show. I’ll try it, so, mission accomplished, I guess, but my standards aren’t terribly high. I think much of the audience might not be as responsive, and the screening may lead to some mezo-mezo buzz.

We ordered pizza the first night, had some wine, and went to bed, with the comic books safely snuggled in the room's safe.