Sunday, July 15, 2012

Comic-Con 2012 wrapup

Comic-Con has gotten so big that it's almost impossible to give a sense of scale for the crowds.

The past four days I’ve been in San Diego at Comic-Con 2012. It’s been a good experience, and I was privileged to spend much of the weekend with my old friend Rob Roy.

After many hours of line waiting the last four days, I stand by the assertions I made in my last blog about the need for clearing rooms and panel reservations. But in general, I think the folks with Comic-Con and the San Diego Convention Center have done the best job they could with the massive crowds.

Comic-Con has taken over much of downtown San Diego, so much that even nearby supermarkets have set up junk food refueling stations (below) outside their shops for hungry geeks.

Arriving at the convention about mid-day on Thursday, I took a quick tour of the floor, where the always-impressive costumes encouraged me to make the following observation:

One of my first panels was an appreciation of the late Ray Bradbury. A number of prominent authors, including the esteemed Margaret Atwood outlined the impact Bradbury’s writing had on their work. As an example, Atwood noted that Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” influenced her acclaimed novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” in regards to “who (is allowed) to read.”

Authors Margaret Atwood and Joe Hill talk about Ray Bradbury.

Following that, I stayed for a panel about 1982 -- called “the greatest geek year ever.” And with flicks such as Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Tron and E.T. released in 1982, it’s hard to argue. After a couple more panels, Rob and I got into Phil Plait’s roundtable about science in science fiction. Good discussion. I think the best point was about explosions in space: No, you really shouldn’t hear noise when they go off. But you don’t (usually) hear music during important moments in real life either, and music is prevalent in movies. Explosions, like music, are non-natural sound elements that accentuate drama. I think I can buy that.

Matthias Harbeck, of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, discusses German stereotypes in comics since WWII.

On Friday, I eschewed the long lines for Firefly and Hobbit panels and spent most of my time at the Comics Art Conference, where serious academics present papers on serious comics topics. I sat through a series of lectures on how comics view nations (“Captain America: Court Jester or Patriotic Icon?” the portrayal of Germans in comics from World War II to the present day, etc.). I made an interesting point, I think, with one presenter whose paper was on Alpha Flight (the Canadian super team). Instead of most super teams, which are an assemblege of archetypes (tech hero, science experiment gone wrong, Norse god, etc.), I argued that Alpha Flight was composed instead of Canadian stereotypes: the angry Quebecois (Northstar), the noble First Nations (Shaman), the mysterious northern beast (Sasquatch) and the white Inuit (Snowbird). The presenter, from Carleton University in Ottawa, came up after the session and personally thanked me for my points.

Rob and I went to a strange panel for an Adult Swim-like Marvel cartoon called the “All Winners Squad,” hosted by Morgan Spurlock (of Super-size Me fame) for some reason:

That was weird.

Rob and I took advantage of the Comic-Con atmosphere later that night to watch The Amazing Spider-Man at a downtown San Diego theater. Rob was unhappy with the changes from the source material, although further conversation indicated to me that he was probably still upset with the reboot from the Toby Maguire series. I quite liked it. I thought the chemistry between Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy was well above that between Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. I liked Garfield’s performance, which brought some humor that Maguire had trouble portraying (at least in his first and third movies).

Saturday was a day lost in lines for me. I tried to get into the "Futurama" panel (right) by joining the Ballroom 20 line almost two hours before the noon panel, but didn’t get in until about 1:45, where I watched the Family Guy presentation. I then moseyed across the convention center to the Avengers vs. X-Men panel, which presented little new information about Marvel’s ongoing crossover.

But noticing that the same ballroom was to be used for the ever-popular “Mythbusters” panel a few hours later, I decided to stay in the room. As a result, I was subjected to the whims of TV marketers. First off, I watched the pilot of Fox’s new drama “The Following.” Kevin Bacon (below right) plays a retired FBI agent consulting on taking down the copycat followers of a serial killer he arrested. In this endeavor, he is being “assisted” by the manipulative serial killer himself. I actually enjoyed the pilot a lot. Good acting, good tension and some nice twists. I don’t see what the premise has to do with Comic-Con, however.

(On a side note, if there’s any panel video with me in the background, my Bacon Number has dropped to one!)

The other pilot, for NBC’s “Revolution,” was also promising, but less so than “The Following.” This series has a premise that some mysterious force knocked out all the power in the world 15 years previous. Setup was good, but execution was a bit clunky. It did bring up one sobering thought for me during the panel:

The “Mythbusters” panel itself, hosted by John Landis, was great. It featured some interesting back-stage stories. My favorite was one where the crew tried to test the myth where a drunk man asked a blind friend to drive him home with his guidance, under the assumption that a ticket for driving without a license was not as bad as one for a DUI. They found that a sober person, describing when to turn, brake, go, etc., could indeed guide a blind person quite well, but a drunk person made the blind person drive like a drunken driver!

The "Mythbusters" panel. From left: Director John Landis, Tory Belleci, Kari Byron, Jamie Hyneman, Grant Imahara and Adam Savage.

Sunday, I took no chances. I got up shortly after 6 a.m. and hopped an early train, getting into the massive Hall H line at about 7:05 a.m., hoping to get into the 12:30 p.m. “Doctor Who” panel. It didn’t look promising at first, as the linked snaked through the outdoor queueing area, long behind the convention center and around an artificial island/marina in the back. But I got into the hall about 10:30 and sat to enjoy the presentations.

While not a watcher of either "Fringe" or "Supernatural," the two panels I had to wait through, it was apparent those shows have an enthusiastic fanbase. But they had nothing on the love the audience showered on "Doctor Who" producer/writer Steven Moffett and stars Matt Smith, Karen Gillen and Arthur Darvill. We got to see some intriguing extended clips from the upcoming season, including one appropriately titled, "Dinosaurs in Space."

The "Doctor Who" panel. From left: Moderator Chris Hardwick, showrunner Steven Moffett, Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy), Arthur Darvill (Rory) and producer Caroline Skinner.

After the "Who" panel broke up, I headed over to a panel featuring another beloved genre powerhouse, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. Celebrating 20 years since the (poor compared to the almost-unrelated television series) Buffy movie started the franchise off and made Joss Whedon an entertainment powerhouse, the panel featured actors from the movie (although not the promised Kristy Swanson) and TV series and writers and artists from both the TV show and comic series. With the panel followed up by a sing-along showing of the musical episode "Once More, with Feeling," Whedonites left satiated.

At the "Buffy at 20" panel: actors Nicholan Brendon (Zander) and James Marsters (Spike) and writer Jane Espenson.

I did have a nice fan-interactive moment on Sunday, when I tweeted that I'd been right next to Plait while leaving a panel. Plait wrote back that I should have introduced myself, and I replied that I didn't want to interrupt his phone call. That brought on this reply:

That's what's great about what I still refer to as the "San Diego Comic Convention" -- despite the now-huge scale, fans can still have direct contact with celebrities.

My first Comic-Con was in 1992, a much-more restrained affair. It's gotten more crowded, more expensive and less about comics each year. But it's always (except for lines and frustration over not getting into certain panels) been a fun event overall. It's just taken a bit more adaptability on my part and forced me to lower my expectations over what I'm going to do in San Diego. For example, this was probably, save for a whistle stop in 2004, the convention in which I've spent the least time on the floor (less than 90 minutes over four days) and the Con where I bought the least -- one measly comic.

But where else can you take a picture with the Adam West-era Batmobile?

Just a note: I'm still trying to find the owner of the camera I found last year!


Rob Roy said...

As much fun as I had, I will never wait in lines again! Also, ice cream was around long before electricity.

John C. Baker said...

I found the lines manageable with proper planning, books (or comics) to read and a fully charged smart phone. But, yeah, it sometimes felt like the hour-wait at Disneyland for a 45-second ride -- except here it was the three-hour line for a 45-minute panel.

That's why the camping out early in rooms and sitting through panels you have little interest in for a panel you want hours later has become popular.

As for the ice cream, yes it can be made. But without speedy transportation (cars, trains, etc., are dead in this world), its presence will be effectively limited to places that have milk, flavor, sugar and -- especially -- ice on hand.