Friday, July 30, 2010

My (delayed) San Diego Comic-Con Wrap-Up

Well, I return to you after 6-ish days in San Diego, with 4 within the halls of the San Diego Convention Center. First off, a deep apology for the lack of blog entries since, and during, my trip. My original intention was to blog as much as possible from the convention floor. This, alas, ended up being more of a pain than expected (my laptop gets HEAVY). When I would return to the hotel, there was always some nighttime adventure in the offing, and a blog seemed less than important.

As always, The San Diego Comic-Con was exhilarating, exhausting, annoying, laughable and downright fun.

We flew out of Chicago early on Wednesday the 21st, and arrived in San Diego about 11:00 AM. I have to admit the experience of walking outside was a little less than it had been on my previous trips. In 2006 and 2008 the weather was absolutely gorgeous the entire time I was in San Diego, and this year was a bit overcast and cooler. (I even had to buy a jacket.)

The "new" hotel this year, San Diego Hilton Bayfront, was absolutely gorgeous. It was also, literally, right next door to the Convention Center.

It also looked like the set of Logan's Run.

It was absolutely convenient, but I have to say, for future trips, a return to our San Diego Doubletree Downtown may be in order. I was kinda shocked to find out I had to pay $14 each day for internet, and $15 each day if I wanted to use the gym. Both amenities that were free at the Doubletree.

It's really a hard call. Being so close made going out after a day on the floor really easy, and our hotel hosted many of the guests. I caught the entire cast of Chuck in the lobby on Saturday morning. I think staying where we did made our evening social time much more enjoyable. The hotel bars, after vainly searching the Gaslamp for convention people in '06 and '08, are where it's at.

I guess I'd always try to get one of the big convention center hotels from here on out, but I wouldn't feel so cut off a little further out anymore. The Doubletree served us well. Also...with only three of us this year, the Hilton Bayfront was a little pricey, but that's what I've been saving all year for, right?

Day One;

My initial Thursday schedule was really, really ambitious. I had my time packed with 10 "first choice" panels, and several back-ups. Of course, as I always say, SDCC is all about planning and being flexible enough to throw that planning right out the window. Sean, Zach and I decided to take a spin around the main floor, and I immediately zeroed in on original art booths.

Original art has become my "thing" when I go to San Diego. I rarely see any well-stocked art dealers at the other conventions I've attended, so Comic-Con is where I can usually find something nice. I found two nice pieces by Mark Bagley and Darwyn Cooke, respectively. I circled and circled, and kept coming back to them. Finally I just dropped the cash, figuring they were such nice pieces I didn't want to let them slip away.

Mark Bagley is probably my personal favorite artist, and Benjamin J. Grimm, a.k.a "The Thing" is crown jewel for Marvel Comics. Truly one of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's greatest, single creations. I hadn't even known Bagley had done a Fantastic Four run, but a nice, dynamic page like this? Could not pass it up.

Darwyn Cooke is certainly in my top 5 of favorite artists, and Jonah Hex is my pick for the most consistently great book on the market today. (Seriously, if you are not reading it...GO GET A COPY!) This is a really nice, clean page from Jonah Hex #50. There were a couple of other pages that were more busy, but this seemed to evoke the John Ford western feel so well.

Long story short, I'm just beside myself to have such great pieces from two of my favorite artists to go on my wall.

The traipsing around the floor put a serious crimp on panel time for Thursday, and we only managed to see one:

3:45-4:45 TV Guide Magazine And The Paley Center For Media Present: A Leap Of Faith, A Quantum Leap Retrospective— Moderated by TV Guide Magazine Executive Editor Craig Tomashoff, this panel will take a look back at the cultural phenomenon of the hit series Quantum Leap featuring clips from the Paley Center collection and a discussion with series star Scott Bakula (Men of A Certain Age, Star Trek: Enterprise, Chuck). Room 6A

Scott Bakula was charming and witty, and, while I didn't really learn anything I didn't already know about the series, I was really happy to be in that room with people who really loved Quantum Leap, and weren't just trying to get a picture of a huge star.

Later that night, I also sampled some convention nighttime programming, which I'd kind of avoided. I always figured nightlife was more exciting. I managed to get into

7:30-9:30 First Look! Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics— Behind the amazing tales of Superman, Batman, Wonder WomanWatchmen is the equally impressive story of the challenges, creativity and triumphs of the company that brought those characters to life. Warner Home Video and DC Entertainment present a first look at the new documentary Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics, a compelling insider's tale and a 75th anniversary celebration as seen through the inkwells of those who created and lived it, balanced with insights from key historians and filled with interviews, archival footage, and a dazzling parade of those forever riveting and splashy DC covers. Included in the premiere event is a panel of distinguished representatives of DC's storied history. Produced by the Academy Award–nominated team behind Spellbound, this documentary is narrated by Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern) and will be distributed by Warner Home Video in November 2010. Room 7AB

This was a really excellent documentary about the history of DC Comics as a company and a brand. Lots of great interview moments, and some information I hadn't known. It could've been a cheap publicity scam, but, while it certainly wasn't "hard hitting journalism," there felt like a lot of honesty was on the screen. It's definitely something I'm planning to pick up.

The rest of the evening was spent at a "Drink and Draw" with LA friends TonyD and HattieD. Then off to the Hyatt lobby bar. Great evening.

Day Two;

Friday turned out to be an even lighter panel day. SeanH and I did manage to catch:

1:00-2:00 Bloom County's Berkeley Breathed: The Secret Sex Tapes— The creator of the Eighties' most enduring strip act, Comic-Con special guest Berkeley Breathed, reveals all the behind-the-scenes shockers...and some never-before-seen tests of the Miramax Opus movie that was eventually killed by the Deptartment of Homeland Security. Plus, Bill the Cat's private home videos of Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Diane Sawyer, and Barbara Bush. Room 6A

...And, after, we hustled down to the convention floor to get Sean's Bloom County book signed.

Breathed had never been to SDCC before, and it kinda sounded like he'd never been to any comics convention. He should do more. He had a wonderful presentation full of humor and honest appraisals of his industry and other cartoonists he had known. I probably could've listened to another hour of his stories.

We spent the rest of the day on the floor, taking in the sights, and I decided to pick up a convention-exclusive toy set.

It's a re-creation of The Brave and the Bold #28, the first appearance of the Justice League of America, where the five original League members confront Starro the Conqueror. I had bought it because I figured it would be easy to break apart and pack into my suitcase for the trip back.

Yeah, well...

The thing talks. Giving a history of the story and the comic, and all the heroes on the front. With that, I knew leaving the packaging behind was not an option.

The rest of the day was spent kicking around the floor, and I got lots of great pictures at the Sideshow Toys booth, including one of a Raiders of the Lost Ark fertility idol prop replica that I find myself coveting...

We also managed to check out:

5:30-6:30 Shout! Factory: Roger Corman: King of the Independents— If your idea of fun is watching wild and outrageous cult flicks, you will not want to miss this! Oscar recipient for Lifetime Achievement and legendary director/producer Roger Corman takes center stage to share insights on his incredible filmmaking career. Notable Corman alumni will also be in attendance to reflect on their involvement during his New World Pictures era in the'70s and '80s, at a time when grindhouse theatres and drive-ins were the place to see over-the-top sex and violence. Panelists include Joe Dante (director of Piranha), Sid Haig (The Devil's Rejects), Mary Woronov (House of the Devil), and Allan Holzman (director, Forbidden World). Moderated by Alex Stapleton (director of King of the B's: The Independent Life of Roger Corman). Short Q&A if time permits. Room 25ABC

Which was kind of disappointing. First, the vast majority of the crowd was waiting for the Gears of War panel that followed, and, second, the microphones were crap, and we couldn't hear half the panel. Corman deserved much better.

Friday night we met up with John and Mary from LA, who had been in Sean's production of Plans 1-8 From Outer Space with me. We ended up at a midnight screening of Free Enterprise.

God, I'd forgotten how I hate that movie. No offence to anyone, as I hung out with director Robert Meyer Burnett a bit that night, and his crowd. Very nice people.

I just don't like your movie.

We all ended up in the Marriott bar.

Day Three;

Ah, Saturday. I briefly had a moment when I thought MAYBE I'd just plant in Hall H, to see the BIG movie panels. Green Lantern, Cowboys and Aliens, Green Hornet, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and, of course, The Avengers. I took one look at the line outside the convention center, and just wrote it off.

Sure, I could've seen Ryan Reynolds recite the Green Lantern oath for the first time in public, The first reveal of the Avengers line-up, and (most personally painful) Harrison Ford's first Comic-Con appearance. When it came right down to it, being in there, alone (Sean and Zach were not interested), didn't seem at all fun. (And how the hell would I pee and not lose my seat?)

What I want to applaud the Con organizers for is that they realized the wisdom of putting all the huge, rabid fan interest panels in Hall H on the same day. This was how it was in '06, but in '08, they seemed to spread things out. The advantage of everybody trying to pack into Hall H is...the floor does seem relatively lighter, and other panels are not quite as tough to get into.

I had a really pleasant time on Saturday and saw more panels than on any other day of the convention.

11:30-12:30 Shazam! The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal— Author/designer Chip Kidd (Mythology, Bat-Manga, Rough Justice), author/producer Michael Uslan (Archie Marries...), and Charles Kochman (executive editor, Abrams ComicArts) celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Big Red Cheese in this panel and slideshow discussion celebrating Kidd's upcoming fall release from Abrams ComicArts, Shazam! The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal. Room 9

This one was a little disappointing. Mainly it was an advertisement for a book on SHAZAM!/Captain Marvel collectibles from the 30's and 40's that Chip Kidd has put together. The other panel members seemed to just be there to reinforce the importance of this character. Which, sadly, needs to be done. People in line didn't seem to even know the most basic things about Captain Marvel. Made me a little sad.

The panel did make me very curious to try to pick up some trade paperbacks of the early Marvel family stuff.

Then I cut across the hall, and walked right into:

12:30-1:30 Spotlight on Brian Michael Bendis— The controversial Marvel writer and Comic-Con special guest Brian Michael Bendis turns his spotlight panel into a live taping of the popular Word Balloon Bendis tapes. Word Balloon podcast host John Suitress will moderate the panel and take questions from the audience, with nothing off limits. Bendis will also be giving away limited-edition variant covers of his new creator-owned series Scarlet. Room 6DE

I was kinda amazed that I could just walk right in. That said, it was a huge room. Bendis is a really fun personality, and can spin a good story. Jeph Loeb appeared in line and, with a kind of annoying "comic bit" announced Bendis would be a producer and writer for a new Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon series. (How many Spider-Man cartoons do we need, Marvel...there seems to be a new one every other year.) The weirdest bit of info was that Bendis had interviewed David Mamet, one of his writing heroes (the guy has taste), about a comic book Mamet had written and drawn. Who knew?

Then I jumped across and caught the end of:

12:30-1:45 DC Universe: Event Horizon— Ian Sattler, senior story editor, and your favorite writers and artists are here for the main event: The DC Universe! What lies ahead for your favorite heroes and series? Got a question for your favorite DCU creator? Come on by! There's no greater gathering of top-tier creative talent! Room 6A

Which, yeah...whatever....I was just waiting for:

2:00-3:00 Green Lantern: Emerald Empire— No evil shall escape this panel's sight as the top creative teams on the Green Lantern books drop hints on upcoming stories and take on your questions! Led by group editor Eddie Berganza with Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, The Flash), Tony Bedard (Green Lantern Corps), Joe Prado (Brightest Day), and Ivan Reis (Brightest Day). Room 6A

I'm gonna say this, this panel ended up being kind of frustrating in the way all Geoff Johns (who was absolutely the star here) panels are. Nobody wants to comment on anything in any contrete way. There's a few vague, sweeping announcements, and that's it. As much as I love John's writing (and that's a LOT), he's not a verbal storyteller. He can't seem to make his answers entertaining and funny like Bendis does, or any number of other creators do.

That's not to say he's not a great guy, because I have first-hand accounts that he is. I'd love to have dinner or coffee with him. Entertaining a whole room takes a little more extroverted personality, however.

I had originally planned to jump from there into the "DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection: Jonah Hex, Green Arrow, and Beyond!" panel, which was to talk about the new DC Showcase shorts being added to all the animated DC Comics direct-to-DVD movies. One look at that line, and I knew I was SOL.

That being the case, I went to wait for one of the panels that I was most looking forward to. I could walk right into the room, and sat through a panel I'd never planned to see, but ended up being very interesting:

3:00-4:00 Comics Reprint Revolution— For comics fans, the vintage reprint revolution keeps getting bigger and better! Comics Reporter's Tom Spurgeon talks with Craig Yoe (Krazy Kat, Popeye, Jetta), Dean Mullaney (editor of Library of American Comics for IDW: Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Secret Agent Corrigan), Daniel Herman (Hermes Press: Buck Rogers, The Phantom), Gary Groth (Fantagraphics: Peanuts, Prince Valiant, Captain Easy), Peggy Burns (Drawn and Quarterly: John Stanley Library, Walt & Skeezix), Steve Saffel (Titan Books, Beetle Bailey, Simon & Kirby Library) and Charles Pelto (Classic Comics Press: Mary Perkins, On Stage, The Heart of Juliet Jones, Big Ben Bolt) about their publications reprinting some of the very best of comic books and comic strips. Room 8

It was really cool to hear the ins and outs of trying to publish collections of classic comic strips, from rights issues to the basic lack of acceptable copies of the material. It was a panel of people passionate about what they were doing, and it was a great relief from the mass-media onslaught outside.

Then, it was time for the panel I'd been looking forward to all day:

4:00-5:00 Taking Back the Knight: Batman in the 1970s and Beyond— The 1960s Batman TV show -- fun as it was -- left the public thinking the Caped Crusader was more of a clown than a crimefighter. In the 1970s, editor Julius Schwartz, along with writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams (mostly in collaboration with inker Dick Giordano), decided to take back the Knight to his darker origins. The resulting character became the template for the next three decades, a time span marked by Batman's huge success in films and other media. Moderator Mark Evanier talks with Comic-Con special guests Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams about their rebirth of the Bat and with Paul Levitz on how that re-creation took Batman to even greater heights. Room 8

This was a great panel. O'Neil and Adams are really fantastic together, and Adams, in particular, is a big, boisterous voice for artistic integrity. I loved watching these guys talk about taking Batman back to what felt "right," even if the readers at the time had never experienced Batman "right." It had been camp antics and aliens for so long, that O'Neil and Adams' razor-sharp detective and crime tales were a joy. This is what Comic-Con ought to be about.

Spent a little more time on the floor after, and ended up joining John and Mary at:

6:00-7:00 Roddenberry Presents— Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry (CEO, Roddenberry Productions), Trevor Roth (head of development, Days Missing) and Tory Mell (production supervisor, Trek Nation) are taking the name that created Star Trek and bringing it to levels not seen since the original days of the genre-changing television show. Join them for some awesome discussions and a chance to win a free iPad! Also on the panel: Phil Hester (Days Missing, Green Arrow), Dave Marquez (Days Missing, Syndrome), Stephen Christie (Archaia Publishing), and Paul Morrissey (editor, Days Missing). Room 25ABC

Of which I'll only say....


The evening ended with a lovely prime rib dinner (Donovan's - totally worth it) and then drinks with John, Mary and their Trekker friends at the Hyatt Lobby Bar.

Day Four;

Sunday generally feel like a wrap-up day. Deals on the convention floor, and a general sense of winding down.

This year, it was also the day I stood in the longest line.

You may ask why?

I love Nathan Fillion:

10:30-11:30 ABC's Castle: Nathan Fillion & Stana Katic— Up close and personal with actors Nathan Fillion (Firefly) and Stana Katic (Quantum of Solace), creator Andrew Marlowe (Air Force One), and executive producers Rob Bowman (X-Files) and Laurie Zaks. BE sure to be on hand for the Q&A session, filled with exclusive videos and fun surprises. Whether you're a fan of the show or a fan of Nathan Fillion, you won't want to miss this panel! Room 6BCF

Fillion is built for conventions. He simply knows how to play the room, and what will make fans the most happy. Be it a dramatic reading of a sex scene from one of "Richard Castle's" novels with Katic, handing out his wristbands from various celebrity parties, and other assorted items (the clippings from his eyebrows seems like maybe a bit much, however), or turning the Double Rainbow YouTube phenomenon into a running panel joke. The man simply knows how to entertain people, and I have to say the Castle panel was the most fun I had this year. Worth the huge line.

After that, a quick walk around the floor, and off to another panel I was very excited about:

12:00-1:00 Spotlight on Dennis O'Neil— One of comics' most legendary writer/editors, Comic-Con special guest Dennis O'Neil is best known for his work on Batman. O'Neil's long career includes writing and editing at Marvel and guiding the Caped Crusader at DC Comics for many years. Dennis will talk about his career and what's up next for this fan-favorite creator. WildStorm's Scott Peterson moderates. Room 25ABC

O"Neil is a whip-smart and highly opinionated guy. He's also honest to a fault and willing to admit his failures and mistakes. It's was very cool to have him talk about all the superb work he did outside the Batman franchise. Great panel.

A lot of time on Sunday going back and forth to the main floor, I was trying to grab up some trades, and spent a lot of time at the Mile High Comics booth looking through their extensive (but dwindling) piles. I have to say that one of the biggest disappointments this year was the lack of places to just look for trade paperbacks. In '06 and '08, it seemed there were at least 3 different booths where you could just browse collected editions. (Organized collected editions...too many "scavenger hunt" booths, where there was no rhyme or reason to how things were laid out.) I know back issues are the bread and butter, but...trades make new readers. Trades let you sample new series. For all the non-comics people wandering that floor, potential readers...that's letting an opportunity slip.

We wrapped up the convention with:

3:00-4:00 DC Town Hall Meeting— All are welcome to join DC co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee for a relaxed Sunday afternoon discussion. Share your thoughts on what you love about comics now and what you hope to see in the future! Room 25ABC

Which had a couple of moments when I wanted to shout at Dan DiDio. His comments about not wanting to do "Elseworlds" books, because they're more interesting than the regular series, infuriated me. That just means you have the wrong teams on the books. That you, as editorial, have dropped the ball. Which also ties into what the kid, who said he wanted "deeper" stories about heroism, meant.

Both DC and Marvel are chasing "cool" right now. That's fine, to an extent, but it typifies the thought process behind the DC Universe Online trailer you showed. Instead of telling stories rooted in the greatness of your characters, you keep trying to show us their dark underbelly. Tear it down, and show the worst possible outcome, because it's "cool."

Solid storytelling. Regular schedules. A commitment to making the books the best across the board, rather than tying them into an "event" that will only provide a temporary, false, boost to sales. Geoff Johns is a great writer, but I wish he, and the entire DC staff would stop looking from crossover event to crossover event, and just tell some stories that begin and end in the same book.

Anyway...enough of that rant.

Closed out the Con at the Mile High booth again, grabbing a couple of John Byrne Fantastic Four: Visionaries trade paperbacks.

Sunday night, out to dinner with my friend Courtney.


Shipping the swag back to Chicago ($100 - ouch!), and then off to the plane.


Look, every year I hear the bitching about how Hollywood has taken over SDCC. It's a fact, you can't deny it. How the hell else do you explain a Glee panel?

However, as the Comic-Con has grown, and yes, it's outgrown the San Diego Convention Center, the excitement that's generated by those crowds cannot be denied. I love going, even if I spend too much time in lines, and I miss things I'd like to see. The experience of being there, and feeling that swirl of excitement around you is worth it all.

I generally go every 2 years. If, in fact, the show moves to Anaheim or LA in 2013, I have to go in 2012. It'll be a last hurrah for San Diego, which is as beautiful and gracious a host city as you can hope for.

Personally, I hope it stays right where it is.

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