AN EMPIRE OF ONE

If you don't think everything's really weird, you're not really paying attention.

Comic-Con 2012: the Geek Brigadoon

This is the front of the line on Friday night for the Saturday programming in Hall H. The first panel, Quentin Tarrantino and his film Django Unchained, was scheduled for 11:30 AM, more than 12 hours from the time this photo was taken.

Everyone knows that when you go to San Diego Comic-Con, you spend a lot of time standing in line. You stand in line to get your ticket. (Luckily, this is a process that has speeded up quite a bit the last few years.) Then you stand in line to get in. Then you stand in line at booths for signings, merchandise, swag, whatever. And a big part of all of this is knowing that just because you stand in line for hours does not mean that the thing you are standing in line for will still be there when you get to the front of the line.

By the time we got in line Saturday morning just before 7 AM (the line was moved to this location, and we’re still moving in this photo), we were more than a mile from the front of the line. This was not the earliest we have gotten on line, but it’s by far the longest line we’ve seen at Comic-Con. It was also the first time we’ve seen people say, “I give up,” and leave the line. Our prospects did indeed appear grim at this point, but we stayed in line, and those who left the line may have made the difference.

Standing in line for hours to see someone present what amounts to nothing more than a promo for something that they want you to buy tends to put you in a philosophical mood. It certainly makes you more conscious than you ever were of lines outside of Comic-Con. Is there any place where we don’t find ourselves standing in line: waiting for the bus, waiting at the bank to withdraw or deposit; waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store; we stand in line at the traffic light. Wasn’t it Socrates who said: “Life is just one fucking long line to the graveyard?”

A few hours later we had gotten close enough to begin to hope that we might get under the tents before the sun broke through the haze, and when we finally crossed the road that separated our line from the Convention Center and entered the tented area, it was like crossing Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, to get into Asgard. Yes, we got into Hall H, which should be known as the Hall of the Gods, where the gods of pop culture deign to address us mere mortals, but it was a very close call.

But it also makes you more aware of something else: that there are many, many people who do not even have the privilege of standing in line. The truth is that many people never get into Comic-Con. Most because they don’t have the money, but many simply because there aren’t enough tickets. In other words, there’s a shortage of resources at Comic-Con. There’s just not enough to go around. But isn’t this true everywhere we look? We live in a society of scarcity.

However, the mother of all lines is the line for Hall H. This is a relatively new development at Comic-Con. I believe Hall H opened for the first time in 2006, and it was built mainly because of the demand for certain panels which were relatively new to Comic-Con: movie panels where directors attempt to generate buzz for their latest films. I say directors because most of the time the directors are there. The first ones I remember seeing at Comic-Con came before Hall H was built, and the big one was Sam Raimi for Spider-Man. He was all by himself. I don’t even remember him showing any footage. All he did was answer questions. That was in 2001. This year Raimi returned to Comic-Con with Oz, the Great and Powerful.

I don’t go to panels to see footage. I go to panels to see the people behind the products, whether comics, films, TV; and I go especially to be entertained. This year any panel that was hosted by Chris Hardwicke fulfilled the entertainment quotient, but there were no panels (if you don’t count Trailer Park) where I was thinking, “I wish I was somewhere else.” They were all at least a little entertaining or of interest in some way. However, there were still a handful of panels that stood out. Here are the best ones I attended. (Everyone talks about how much Comic-Con has changed since its origin as a comic book convention. The fact that most of the best panels I attended were not comic book related suggests that the time has come to change the name of this convention. The most obvious? Nerd-Con or Geek-Con.)

  • The Campaign. This had the ideal combination: great host in Chris Hardwicke, entertaining panelists Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, and entertaining footage. They didn’t just show a trailer; they showed footage; and it was fucking hilarious. So, I’ll be first in line to see the movie, right? Nope. Why ruin the Comic-Con experience by seeing the film? And why ignore “The Comic-Con Effect, the scientifically proven psychological effect whereby all crap looks great at Comic-Con? (The people who line up to ask questions also help make panels entertaining. I felt sorry for the guy who said he was a failed stand-up comedian. They skewered him. Hopefully, he was a studio plant being paid to be humiliated.)
  • The Expendables 2. We saw the first Expendables panel two years ago, and were entertained enough to be looking forward to this year’s version. Stallone and his friends did not disappoint. If only he could bottle the spirit that comes through on these panels and put it in a film, we’d really have something. (We were saddened to hear about the death of Mr. Stallone’s son on Friday.)

Schwarzenegger is telling Stallone how much he loves him. Sly doesn’t look too happy about it. Arnie also joked that Stallone was his English instructor when he first came to this country.

  • Kevin Smith. There were a few dead stretches, but considering that this was mostly one man going non-stop for 90 minutes, it was amazing. Smith manages to be entertaining in a gut laughing kind of way without being a stand-up comedian. How does he do it? Perhaps it has something to do with his obsessions: body functions and fluids.

Did Kevin Smith tone down his language when he hosted a DC Nation panel the next day? The answer, according to my son? “Nope.” (A note to the future: what appear to be three bright dots at the bottom of the pic are, of course, phone screens.)

  • Jackie Chan. I loved it when he used his mouth like a jazz musician to make sounds describing what he said should be the rhythm of an action scene. (Unfortunately, the panel ended on a dull note when Chan introduced someone he brought in from France.) This was the only panel I heard anyone discuss later on when I overheard the owner of Giant Robot talking to Matt Groening about the panel. Groening’s reaction? “Jackie Chan was here?!” That was probably the reaction of many people when they heard the news. Sorry you couldn’t be there.
  • Marvel’s movie panel. Three words: ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. ‘Nuf said. But just in case it wasn’t enough, there was also Edgar Wright with the Ant-Man test footage we had heard about (the footage apparently was designed to answer the question: Can a ant-sized man still kick ass? A more interesting question: Would the Comic Con guards have been able to keep an army of ant-sized aliens out of Hall H? Of course, Wright should have shown his footage again); and Jon Favreau giving advice to new Iron Man director Shane Black (and Edgar Wright, wherever he was): “If you want to connect with the fans, you have to show your footage twice.” Black took the advice. (Is stuff like this scripted or truly impromptu? In any case, watching the footage again enabled me to confirm my first impression: it’s boring.)
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. If you’re going to live or die with your footage, this is the way to do it. Peter Jackson came all the way from New Zealand with more than 10 minutes of footage from The Hobbit. Bonus: we didn’t get to see Benedict “Sherlock Holmes” Cumberbatch on a Star Trek 2 panel because Paramount decided they didn’t have anything to show, but we did get to see  Martin Freeman, Cumberbatch’s Watson in the BBC series Sherlock, who, of course, plays Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.

Inside Hall H for The Hobbit. Does the “H” in “Hall H” stand for heaven or hell?

  • The other Warner Bros./Legendary panels. Zack “Awesome” Snyder and Man of Steel; a Godzilla concept trailer with narration by J. Robert “I am become death” Oppenheimer; and Del Toro and giant robots. What more do you want?

One of the fans who enlivened the panels. Could this one be asking Zack Snyder a question about Man of Steel? Awesome!* (*see below)

  • I was entertained just watching the hands of the directors as they talked.

Zack Snyder: his favorite word appears to be “awesome.”

Someone just asked Guillermo Del Toro: “Just how big are those giant monsters and giant robots in Pacific Rim?” (Not really. But if someone had asked, he’d probably have said something like, “Fucking gigantic!”)

Quentin Tarrantino said Django Unchained was influenced by Sergio Corbucci. But who influenced his fashion sense?

Sam Raimi demonstrated his low-key, but effective style while answering questions about his film, Oz: The Great and Powerful.

But Tim Burton remains the master of gesticulation. Behold the master at work.

There was a great exhibit at the convention of the props and puppets used in Burton’s film, Frankenweenie.

We were disappointed that there was no Entertainment Weekly Visionaries panel this year. Hope they weren’t implying that there were no visionaries in attendance.

A note on the Firefly panel, which shows up on some lists as among the best of the show: I’ve never seen Firefly and I didn’t even try to get into that panel, but I have to wonder if all those people trying to get in were there as fans of the show or primarily as fans of the post-Avengers Joss Whedon. I’ve seen Whedon in action before, and I doubt he made his panel as entertaining as any of the panels on my list. Even though we passed on the panel, we did have a Firefly related moment Thursday morning. While in line for Hall H, we happened to end up immediately behind a friend of my wife who happens to be the wife of one of the crew members on the Firefly panel the next day. We hadn’t known she was going to be in Hall H, and we never saw her again at the show. Weird coincidences like this happen a lot at Comic-Con. Why not? It is, after all, a magical place, a Brigadoon for geeks and nerds.

A note about the first panel of the show, the Twilight panel. As most everyone knows, Gisela Gagliardi, who had been camping out with other Twilight fans, was killed after being hit by a car earlier in the week. David Glanzer, who I had heard of, but never seen till then, came out and said a few words about it, then the show started as if nothing happened. The truth is that what Glanzer said, or the way he said it, was a bit distasteful. Perhaps it would have been better if nothing had been said.

On Wednesday night, comic book legend Neal Adams signed ThrillKill: Artist’s Edition (if you blinked, you probably missed him) and Darwyn Cooke signed the latest entry in his Parker series at the IDW booth. I asked Mr. Adams if ThrillKill had been published in a fanzine prior to its Warren mag appearance. Why? Because I keep confusing it with another Adams story that I think is called “A View from Without” which appeared in Phase #1. Why does my brain want to betray me? (Scott Dunbier, the man behind the Artist’s Editions, is in the top right corner of the photo, sitting next to Cooke.)

Gilbert Shelton came all the way from France just to make the sketch below of Fat Freddy’s Cat for me at the Fantagraphics booth on Friday. He was also inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame.

Fat Freddy’s Cat by Gilbert Shelton

Eddie Campbell, coming all the way from Australia, returned to Comic-Con for the first time in three years to sign our copy of Alec: The Years Have Pants.

Here’s Sergio Aragones signing my copy of Groo: Artist’s Edition.

Friday night we visited the Batmobile exhibit and was surprised to see Kevin Smith. He and Jason “Jay” Mewes had just recorded an episode of Smith’s “Fat Man on Batman” podcast, about the Batmobile.

Matt Groening talks to Brecht Evens (who came all the way from Belgium just for this convention) while getting his copy of Evens’ beautiful (or, as Zack Snyder would say, awesome) new book, Making Of, signed at the Drawn & Quarterly booth on Friday. Tom Devlin looks on.

On Friday we found ourselves standing in line next to Matt (Life in Hell/The Simpsons/Futurama) Groening. Here’s a making of video for the painting Brecht Evens did for Matt Groening. (I could have put up the video of Evens making the watercolor sketch he did below, but isn’t it more fun to use the one with Groening? Hopefully, Mr. Groening agrees.) Don’t expect to hear much talking – the audio mostly gives you an idea of how noisy it can get on the convention floor.

Brecht Evens and Matt Groening at SDCC 2012 from David Kilmer on Vimeo.

Here are some of the sketches that artists were kind enough to do for me:

A watercolor painting by Brecht Evens

John Carter by Ramón K. Pérez, who won an Eisner at the show for best penciller/inker on Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand. This is actually the only sketch I got myself. Kelly got the others.

Black Lightning by Trevor Von Eeden

You should be reading Superman Family Adventures by Art Balthazar and Franco which Art said should really be thought of as being Tiny Titans Vol. 2.

You should be reading Superman Family Adventures by Franco and Art Balthazar.

Roger Langridge won an Eisner at the show for Snarked, published by Boom! Studios.

The Image Comics 20th Anniversary panel was our last panel. I was at the first Image Comics panel at Comic-Con, which must have been in 1992. Robert Kirkman was not with Image back then and joked that he was filling in for Todd McFarland, who also was not on the panel in 1992. I only remember Liefeld, Valentino, and Silvestri from that panel, but it’s also possible that Jim Lee, whose name was not mentioned during this year’s panel, was there twenty years ago as well as Larson and Portacio.  I hadn’t seen any of these guys since that panel 20 years ago. They’ve aged better than most.

What a surprise it was to find Richard Kiel, who played Kanamit in The Twilight Zone episode, “To Serve Man,” signing at the Entertainment Earth booth on Sunday.

Kanamit from The Twilight Zone

If you want to win something big next year at the Marvel booth, here’s a hint: remember that Paul Bettany is the voice of Jarvis in the Iron Man movies.

Another Comic-Con has come and gone. Kelly tagged this setup for a photo near closing time, Sunday.

Every year people complain about this or that about Comic-Con. Some say they will never come back. I’m sure there are legitimate complaints to be made, but my only complaint was that it had to end.

But at least we know when the Geek Brigadoon will appear again: July 18-21, 2013. The countdown has already begun.

Brigadoon is a musical about two American tourists who stumble upon Brigadoon, a mysterious Scottish village that appears for only one day every hundred years. (revised slightly from the Wikipedia entry)

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

1. Every year people lose their badges. It even happened to me a few years ago. But there’s something you should do that will make it more difficult to lose your badge. This tip I comes from my wife’s friend.

When you register you get a badge and a badge holder. The reason most people lose their badges is because the badge holder falls off of the lanyard. But you can make the connection more secure by attaching the hook to the badge holder so that it goes through the hole in the holder AND through the metal latch/pin, as shown in the picture below.

2. My wife, Kelly, has more words and pictures about SDCC 2012 here.

UPDATE: JULY 19, 2012:

3. Even though I said above that I have no complaints, recent developments have led me to write this. My son desperately wanted a My Little Pony figure from the Hasbro booth. He stood in line for hours Saturday morning only to find it sold out when he got to the front. (He also wanted a Bruticus, which was also sold out, but that’s another story.) Not only was it sold out for the day, it was sold out for the convention. But somehow Hasbro has dug up some more and has been putting them on their site the last couple of days, but they sell out within minutes. The problem is that many of the people who buy these “exclusives” are not buying them because they want them. They are buying them to sell them on ebay. This Pony figure, for example, is going for more than $200. Even at the Convention you will see booths selling the “exclusives” at inflated prices. Hasbro has limits on the number anyone in line can buy. For Pony, it was three. Why not one? At least for the first couple of days to give everyone who wants one a chance to get one. (Image sold a collection of Walking Dead comics that could only be bought after winning a lottery. But they stopped using the lottery after the first two days.) And why not scan badges so that the same people cannot get in line again and again?

But this has been the status quo for years about which many have been complaining for an equal number of years. Therefore, I will not be holding my breath in expectation of any change in this system for the better.

4. I’ve heard that some vendors did poor business this year. This doesn’t quite jive with my experience of finding so many sell-outs, but in any case vendors should obviously note what does sell at Con: exclusives, or at least the perception that you are getting something rare and wonderful. The easiest way to do this is with a personal appearance by an artist who signs the book. Exclusive means rare. Habro’s Con exclusives turned out not to be exclusive to Con. As I said, they are selling some of them on their website. But they remain hard to get and rare. Vendors who come to Con with nothing more than what Amazon offers, especially if it’s at a higher price, than what Amazon charges, are unlikely to attract much interest at a show like this. We go to see things that we can’t see elsewhere. This includes toys, books, comics, as well as panel events and even swag. We don’t want to be reminded of our ordinary lives before and after Con. It all has to be special. Offer me something special, and I will not only buy it at Con, I will line up hours in advance just to get a ticket that gives me a chance to buy it. If you are not offering me some kind of magic for my cash, you might as well stay home.

5. I might as well mention this, too: we had problems connecting to the internet with our Droid this year. This was a new development. We ran into at least one other person who had the same problem, but someone with the same carrier, Verizon, did not have the problem. He suggested that it was because he had 4G whereas our phone used 3G. Who knows? But the problem was real and persisted throughout the show. Hopefully, the cause will have vanished by next year.

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