Heroes, and Villains, and Geeks, Oh My! Review of San Diego Comic-Con - part two

Host of Cartoon Network's "Destroy Build Destroy!" rock star/motivatinal speaker, Andrew WK

Hunting down and finding rare, vintage collectibles and discovering the newest, hottest things in all things geek is part of what Comic-Con is all about. The dark side is that, if patience is a virtue, there’s no bigger test than Comic-Con. The retail floor is one thing – even casual collectors know that it’s “every person for themselves,” “You snooze, you lose,” and just about every other survivalist cliché one can think of. It’s even accepted – after all, it’s just the ugly truth. But like I said, it’s only part of the Comic-Con experience.

Wrestling legend "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and The Incredible Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno

The uglier truth is that Comic-Con would be great, if it wasn’t for an overwhelming majority of the people. With the exception of the professional attendees, there are two kinds of Comic-Con goers: fans (diehards and casual); and people who attend popcult conventions (whether it’s Comic-Con, Star Trek conventions, Weekend of Horrors, Transformers Botcon, or pretty much anything else) in hopes of getting an answer to a desperate plea for attention.

MY Moment…

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone

Let’s start with the positive: The selection of panels had something for every taste, and in a major way. Fans of comics could attend spotlights/retrospectives on a wide variety of comics talent ranging from icons like Jim Steranko and Roy Thomas, to legends like Grant Morrison.  There were similar panels for pretty much any related topic you could think of, from cartoons, to fantasy novelists, and even panel discussions like Christian comics creators, and comics in the classroom. More and more each year, properties that have, at best, a tangential connection to comics are making more of a showing, but I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. After all, the purpose of these things is to drum up interest, and if TV shows like Community and Glee are courting a geek audience – well, purists tend to forget it’s a trade show first and foremost.

From left to right: "30 Minutes or Less" director Ruben Fleischer; and cast members Nick Swardson, Michael Pena, Aziz Ansari

The big attraction, as I mentioned in the last installment, as of late, Comic-Con is ground zero for pretty much every major announcement for, and sneak peek at, upcoming movies. There were also plenty of panels for films whose only connection to the comics world is a potential crossover audience – in order for there to be a Ghost Rider panel, 30 Minutes or Less had to come along for the ride. [That’s not a knock on 30 Minutes or Less, by the way. It actually looks hysterical.] But, again, what some describe as the “Hollywood Intrusion,” to me, is major studios realizing the value in a geek audience. It’s a large group, and they buy lots of related product when they love something. For instance, I had no idea there were so many Big Bang Theory t-shirts in the world.

Idris Elba and Nicolas Cage at the Ghost Rider: Spirits of Vengeance panel

However, there’s a problem so rampant that between every panel, on the three giant Diamond screens in Hall H (the biggest hall, and therefore, the site of most major announcements) as well as the huge screen over the stage, the following request (paraphrased) was displayed: Please do not make personal requests for autographs, pictures or hugs. You’d think that written requests (on four giant screens), and repeated verbal requests (over the loudspeakers) might effectively telegraph that, perhaps, asking a celebrity to grant a personal request in a room full of hundreds, if not thousands of people, might be a tad self-indulgent – and counter to the spirit of a Q&A session. After all, wouldn’t everybody in the room want an autograph from Colin Farrell, or a hug from Kate Beckinsale? Yet at virtually every panel I attended, somebody inevitably would come up to the microphone (ostensibly having faked out the staffer on mic duty with a phony question), and it would begin:

“This question is for Colin Farrell. I just want to say that I love you, I’ve seen all your movies and wanted to know if you’d sign your name card and give it to me.”

The cast of Len Wiseman's "Total Recall", left to right: Kate Beckinsale, Wiseman, Jessica Biel, Colin Farrell, Bryan Cranston, and John Cho

I don’t believe it’s an innocent mistake in the least (remember: Diamond screens and loudspeakers). These people know that most celebrities don’t see the harm – especially first time Comic-Con’ers like Colin Farrell, and Steven Spielberg, whose “biggest fan” asked for an autograph via his t-shirt. Most of them just think that a personal request is kooky. Another part of the “anything can happen and usually does” nature of Comic-Con. But this is the same thinking that leads baseball fans to reach over the fence before the ball has gone out of the park. “Who cares about the rules of propriety, specific requests from management, or even basic manners? This is MY moment!”

"Lost" creator Damon Lindenhoff, and Charlize Theron at the "Prometheus" panel. ["Prometheus" is the Alien prequel directed by Ridley Scott]

Which is why I have to give event staff a pass - slightly. At first, I was going to say that the volunteers who weren’t completely clueless were exceedingly rude. On several occasions, I was directed to the wrong line, only to have an exasperated volunteer point me toward another, which a lot of the time was still wrong, only to end up too far down in the correct line to see what I wanted to see in the first place. Then again, as I wrote this review, I realized that distinguishing between a confused friendly and a self-indulgent fire hazard in that environment must be pretty difficult. Either way, organizations like Comic-Con get what they pay for when it comes to volunteers looking to exchange a little time on the doors for a few hours in the retail environment.

Stop crying! Your Joker makeup is running!

You've got to love the Wonder Twins! Nostalgia powers - ACTIVATE!

If I had to boil the Comic-Con experience down to one overriding image, it would be a pre-ambulatory child, in Joker makeup (Heath Ledger version), with her hair dyed green, crying and kicking as her father (not in makeup or costume) held her up for the crowd to take pictures.

“Stop crying! Your eyes hurt because your makeup is getting in them.”

I don’t have a picture of this. I thought it was inappropriate. It didn’t stop a lot of other people though.

“Oh, how cute! She’s scowling like the real Joker!”

Every so often, you see a fusion costume. Perhaps, Darth Munchkin?

Child exploitation to satisfy one’s own ego aside - another big reason people go to Comic-Con is to see some of the most incredibly creative and complex costumes this side of a Renaissance Faire. Cosplay (short for “costume play”) holds a huge attraction for popcult fans. Whether or not a person intends to enter the official costume contest is arbitrary. Some people go simply with the intention of being seen. And for those on the spectator side, it’s all part of the fun.

Most of the time.

Sure, the Red Queen isn't from a comic, but I'll still take this costume! Nice Work!

I’d really hate to be the fire marshal in San Diego during Comic-Con, and further, I’d hate to be the Comic-Con liaison to the fire marshal. Unless you’re a junior high teacher, nobody willingly signs on for that level of punishment, disrespect, and people completely ignoring everything you have to say. Cosplayers are fun to look at, but the more elaborate of a costume one has, the more setup it requires, and a lot of the time, more real estate needed to show it off. The problem is that lot of people seem to be hell-bent at debuting their costume in the middle of crowded aisles at Comic-Con. [“Hey everybody! Look at me! I don’t care what you want to do!] It doesn’t seem to matter that, as cool as costumes might be, some people might be frantically trying to make a time window at a booth on the opposite end of the hall.

As awesome as this costume is, it gets a lot less awesome every second it holds up the flow of traffic

Case in point: The 501st. They’re a huge group of Star Wars fans who go to great trouble and expense to make realistic Stormtrooper armor (and variations like Clone Trooper, Shadow Trooper, etc.) so they can march around, in formation, at popcult conventions. They don’t really “march” so much as they skulk around “in character.” And they really don’t care if you’re trying to maneuver a crowded floor, or where you have to be. They’ve got a costume on, and for the first time in their lives, nobody’s giving them a swirly for it. So everybody else just has to step aside until the thugs have satisfied their “mission” of a show of force.

I know it's supposed to be intimidating, fellas - but it's really just annoying

And that’s just one of literally dozens of such encounters in the aisles of Exhibition Hall.

 And in the end…

Yes, comic culture is only for nerds...

All things considered, I’d still have to say that my experience at San Diego Comic-Con was relatively low key and hassle free. I worked in a comic shop for many years. I'm used to rude people. No matter what, the San Diego con is still the oldest, and best, destination in Southern California (arguably, the world) for all things pop culture. It’s still a place where you can find old and rare comics and toys as well as hot and cutting edge product. Until things are better organized, just remember to bring your patience along with the money you’re going to need to buy all that cool stuff.

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