Tuesday, July 27, 2010

San Diego Comic-con: the Nerd-Herd rideth

Through the infinite kindness of friends, I was able to get a) a free all-weekend pass to the San Diego Comic-con, and b) a free place to stay while down there. All I had to pay for was the plane ticket, transportation and food, which, I'm still living on ramen for the rest of the month, but ENOUGH OF THAT REAL-LIFE WHINING. To the con report!

I missed Thursday night, unfortunately, and thus didn't catch Tron, The Walking Dead, or the Avengers panels. Boo. My plane landed around noon and I got to the con at 1:30 or so. After picking up my pass I went straight to get in line for "The Joss Whedon Experience," which started at 3:00; but when I got there the line was so long that it wrapped from one end of the convention hall to the other. Security told me point-blank that I wouldn't get it. This was my first brush with The Doom Ballroom. A warning to future con-goers: if you're seeing any show in Ballroom 20, get in line three hours in advance. I never tried to see anything in Hall H, but I suspect it comes with the same warning.

Suffering that early defeat, I wandered out onto the exhibition hall and immediately regretted that life decision. It was terrifying! I've always had a problem with crowds but HOLY JESUS, this was bad. Honestly the biggest problem wasn't even the sheer number of people, it was that people would stop to take pictures of the Halo soldiers squad, or the Slave Leias, or a Big Daddy from Bioshock, and the clumps of picture-takers would swell like tumors as more people stopped to see what the excitement was about. I had decided at the last minute not to take my digital camera with me as I haven't got the money to buy an SD card and thus wouldn't have been able to take many pictures anyhow. I had planned to buy a disposable camera; but at the con I resolved against even that, and instead put my head down and slogged through the crowds. If you want some better pictures than I could have took, here's a good set.

I headed back upstairs for more panels, dropping in on the "Spotlight on Stan Lee" for some batshit ramblings--most disorganized panel I saw, but charming in its own way--including Stan Lee's history of writing "romance stories" and how he got his start as an office bitch in his wife's cousin's publishing company. An interesting tidbit to me was the details of how the Comics Code got started: it was all really due to Dr. Frederic Wortham, a psychiatrist who wrote about the harmful effects that comic-book violence and sex had on children, and was quoted as saying, "If I should meet an unruly youngster in a dark alley. I prefer it to be one who has not seen Bonnie and Clyde." Dude was really scared of kids.

I slipped out of that panel halfway through and rather abruptly ran into Zachary Quinto, aka Spock in the new Star Trek, rather randomly hanging out in the hall taking pictures with fans and signing autographs. He was unexpectedly tall, but just as good-looking. Probably sensing the oncoming nerd-herd of fanboys and girls, security whisked him away before I could get any closer. The security down there was kind of ruthlessly effecient, yo.

I continued on to "Graphic Novels: The Personal Touch," with Gabrielle Bell, Howard Cruse, and Jillian Tamaki. It mostly told me stuff that I already knew. I left some samples of A Teenager's Guide and Nevermore with the panelists, then left the con to forage for food. The surrounding restaurants were, surprise surprise, ridiculously pricey. The Gaslamp District was full of steakhouses and lobster houses and the like; if you're at SDCC and trying to eat cheap, be prepared to walk a ways up 5th Street (the street that the convention hall lets you out onto). If you go up far enough there's pizza by the slice and a Subway, or if you get all the way up to Broadway then take a left and walk two blocks, you'll find Horton Plaza, a big mall with plenty more options including a Panera where I ate a very good breakfast on Monday. Basically, bring good shoes and expect to walk a ways for your cheaper lunch.

Heading back to the con, I went straight to get in line for the "Girls Gone Genre" panel, which was the best life decision I made at the con. GREAT panel, featuring women from many different sides of the entertainment business: Felicia Day, Kathryn Immonen, Laeta Kalogridis, Marti Noxon, Melissa Rosenberg, and Gail Simone. Annalee Newitz, the EIC of I09, moderated. They talked a bit about being women in their respective fields, and had very different reports. Marti Noxon called Joss Whedon "a bigger woman than I am," and had a very positive, even sheltered experience writing on his shows; Melissa Rosenberg definitely had met some resistance and was usually the only woman and least-paid member of a staff. A very interesting comment that several of them made was that they were not taken seriously if they were at all "glamorous." If they showed up in a dress their opinions were brushed aside; but if they wore sweats and didn't wash their hair, they'd be listened to in the writing room or wherever they needed to convince men to hear them.

Kathryn Immonen gave Marvel credit for several initiatives that had brought in more female writers, and scoffed at accusations of "stunt casting" on the creative teams of books. Laeta Kalogridis was once fired from Bionic for "not writing women well," and was replaced by a male writer; yet Jim Cameron is her biggest mentor and ally. Gail Simone initially passed on Wonder Woman because she didn't want to be the chick writing a chick book, but she says now that she doesn't write for one or the other, she just tries to write good stories. They all agreed that the idea of writing specifically for female or male readership is pretty ridiculous. Kathryn Immonen reported that in certain sections of the comic book industry, "female readers" are synonymous with "non-readers," and Melissa Rosenberg reported that it's always a shock to movie studios every time that a product is driven by women, like somehow they forget that women exist in between those peaks of involvement. On the subject of a Wonder Woman movie (they were all frothing at the mouth for one), Laeta said that while movie studios want a star to drive up box office, that's a mistake: superhero movies don't need star because the character is the star. Melissa is launching her own production company called "Tall Girl Productions," geared towards female-friendly projects.

After the panel was over, there was a huge giveaway of books and sweatshirts for Marti Noxon's next project I Am Number 4. (I tried to read the book that it's apparently based on, but it was pretty bad. Concept was cool, but the prose was awful. Here's hoping she can translate it better to a different medium.) The hoodie giveaway was a nightmare: all the boxes were stacked at the back of the room in one location, which created a huge tumor of panel-goers all trying to get a shirt. After watching in horror for a bit, I took action and climbed up on top of the box mountain, ripping them open and throwing hoodies out into the crowd. It was kind of awesome, the best part of which was when Gail Simone--in an elegant dress and hair do-dad--elbowed her way through for a hoodie. I said I'd trade one for a hug; she obliged and I told her she was an inspiration. She asked what I was inspired to do and I said "write comic books!" and we engaged the High-Five before I returned to Hoodie Mountain.

(It should be noted that the entire time I was waiting for and in this panel, my friends Kristen and Lauren were waiting for the True Blood panel in the Doom Ballroom. After waiting in line for 2.5 hours, they didn't get in. SERIOUSLY. Ballroom of DOOOOOOOOOM.)

After getting dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe with some of the boys from the Dark Horse booth, Kristen, Lauren and I headed back (passing director Edgar Wright on the way) for "Worst Cartoons Ever." And dear God, they were so bad. This is a long-running panel, so if anyone goes again, DO NOT MISS IT. Aside from old crowd favorites like Mighty Mr. Titan, there was this one...the one with the monkey. That's all I can call it. The title was actually something like Experimental Animation, and Jeff Beck, who was emceeing the panel, said it would give Guillermo Del Toro nightmares. He wasn't kidding. It was the creepiest shit I've seen all year. Everytime you thought the creep factor was at 10, it went to 11. I can only hope that they show it again next con, because the crowd freaking loved it, even as we were cringing backwards in our seats.

I started off Saturday bright and early with the "Marvel Comics Writers Unite!" Which was actually something of an accident on my part, but turned out to be an awesome accident because Matt Fraction! Does anyone else out there know the awesomeness of Matt Fraction? I will confess I walked away with something of a boycrush. Dammit, he had scruffy hair and snarky wit and a skinny black tie and nerd spectacles and big leather bracelets on both his wrists and spent the entire panel staring at the table in front of him rather than making eye contact with the audience, even when he was being witty and fanboying the other panelists. He also mentioned having a daughter and how much that has affected his desire to write strong female characters, because he knows that he and his wife will raise her to be an independent thinker and if he writes exploitative crap he'll have to answer for it one day. In other words, precious! I wanted to put him in my pocket and take him home with me. I'm only human, dammit! Gonna have to look up his stuff now.

Next was "Spotlight on Gerard Way," which was kinda underwhelming. Besides Way, Scott Allie and Gabriel Ba were on hand, but no one really had too many new projects that they could talk about. Way called himself lame and said that he couldn't talk about the movie at all. They did confirm that Killjoys is coming out next year for sure, as is Way's album with his band. There was a cute moment when a little boy in the audience presented Way with little Lego versions of The Umbrella Academy characters, and he admitted that he gets so shy when people do that or when they cosplay his characters. They all wanted to see someone do a Spaceboy cosplay. The umbrella represents protection, Way wants to see Gary Oldman as Hargreeves and Jared Leto as Kraken, he and his wife had a geekout over Joss Whedon the night before, and if Gerard ever wrote The X-Men, he could only do it if the cover read The Motherf'ing X-Men.

After that panel ended I braved another trip into the exhibition hall to visit Artist's Alley and try to network a bit, then swung by the Dark Horse booth to check up on my peeps. It was super-crowded so I jetted, but I was told later that during the Gerard Way signing that transpired shortly after I left, one girl was so excited to see him that she spontaneously started bleeding from the nose and mouth. The Dark Horse peeps did their best to take care of her, but she apparently had to lie down on the floor of their booth for a while. Which, whoa. Also later that day, someone got stabbed with a pen. There were all sorts of rumors about this flying around the con, including an inter-fandom argument between zombie-lovers and Harry Potter fen in which someone's eye got gouged out, but the truth is that two grown men got into an argument during the Resident Evil panel about one sitting too close to the other, and one of them stabbed the other near the eye with a pen. I can't even qualify that with a joke.

ANYWAY. Kristen, Lauren, and I went to the "Queer Press Grant Roundup Panel." The folks behind Prism Comics are giving out $2,000 to encourage LGBT comic book creators. I'm totally going to try for this! This is exactly what I need.

After that I warily headed toward the Doom Ballroom. Miraculously, there wasn't a line for once and I slipped into the end of the Fringe panel. I don't watch the show but the cast seemed absolutely charming, especially Joshua Jackson. Whenever someone asked them a question, they would respond and then someone on the cast would come up with a trivia question; if someone in the audience got it right, they got a free shirt; if they got it wrong, they got a free shirt anyway. One of the questions pertained to the secret ingredient of some kind of compound used on the show, and Joshua Jackson was all, "Hey, I've got a great hint for this!" before taking a sip of water and leaning close to the mic to burble it between his lips. The audience member guessed marijuana and Jackson chirped, "You win a t-shirt! And a five to fifteen year prison sentence!" Like I said, charming. I should really watch that show.

The next panel in the Doom Ballroom was "The Vampire Diaries," which I do watch and was thoroughly excited for. Most of the cast was there, and were hilarious. For some reason I didn't take notes on this one, so I'm relying solely on memory. Nina Dobrev and Paul Wesley were gorgeous and immaculate while Ian Somerhalder looked like he'd just had sex in a broom closet. Which, come to think of it, Matt Davis kind of did, too. Make of that what you will. Davis and Steve R. McQueen sat at the end of the table and spent most of the panel snickering at the others, particulary at any comments that could remotely be construed as dirty. Writer Julie Plec described them as "Beavis and Butthead." Somerhalder said he hates playing scenes in which Damon is being a good guy; he doesn't know what to do with himself (which probably works for Damon). McQueen wants a girlfriend who doesn't die. They confirmed that we'd be seeing werewolves then played an exclusive sneak peek at next season, which mostly consisted of people stabbing each other and Damon telling Stefan that he kissed Elena and Damon making out with Katherine (OR ELENA?) and then Katherine telling Damon that she didn't love him, then her telling Stefan that she DID, and Stefan telling her that he hates her and then her GUT-STABBING STEFAN, and H'OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS, IT IS ON. SHIT IS GONNA GO DOWN AND KNOWING THIS SHOW, THAT'S ALL FROM THE SEASON-OPENING TEASER.

Ahem. Annnnnyway.

Next up the girls and I went to "Gays in Comics: Year 23!" As a quick aside, I've heard that Westboro was protesting the con; apparently they did it Wednesday, the first official day of the con, so I missed them. I'm strangely regretful about that. From the sound of it, the counter-protests were awesome. Most of this panel was devoted to talking about developments and the expanding roles of gay characters. An audience member came up with the best question of the night: do people feel like it's important for gay characters in comics to actually come out and say "I'm gay," or is it enough for it to be strongly implied? Some of the panelists (the straight ones, actually, not that I don't feel like this could be a valid viewpoint) felt that it's not important for us to know right away that a character's gay, and that a person's sexuality shouldn't be their defining characteristic; Howard Cruse, the godfather of gay comics, though, raised the excellent point that the default assumption for all characters--and for society at large--is that everyone's heterosexual, and for us to be able to find one another requires some identification. I fall into the latter camp, but I acknowledge the former as the ideal scenario. We shouldn't have to identify ourselves becuase it shouldn't have to matter; but until it stops mattering to the Westboro Baptist Church, we're going to need to speak up if only so that we can find and support one another. That's my .02 cents.

Got up bright and early to brave the Doom Ballroom with Lauren for Glee. We spent probably two hours in line, and got in at the end of American Dad, which I really wasn't too happy about. I had always known that Seth MacFarlane was something of a smug prick, but wow. He's a monumental smug prick. He and the other panelists started making fun of the people who were coming up to ask questions. One guy had a monotone and MacFarlane asked him if anyone had ever told him he had a robotic voice, then answered the question in a robot monotone. I'd feel worse for the fans if they weren't a bunch of pricks, too: as we were hanging out in line a guy in a makeshift 300 costume walked by and one of the American Dad fans yelled sarcastically, "Yo, way for half-assing your costume, dude!" It was like a bunch of frat boys invading a Magic: The Gathering party. I wanted to summon the Nerd-Herd Security Squad and have them thrown out.

Flip that whole vibe around and that was the "Glee" panel. Ryan Murphy was there, as was Chris Colfer, Amber Riley, Heather Morris, Kevin McHale, Jenna Ushkowitz, and Naya Rivera. (No Mark Salling, though he was scheduled. Alas! Hope he didn't get sick or something.) Before the cast came out they rolled a highlight reel of season 1; the crowd loved all of it, but especially Burt Hummel's anti-"fag" speech. Everyone kept bursting into spontaneous applause and yelling, "That's right!" and "I love you, Mr. Hummel!" The cast were lovely. Chris Colfer was wearing a Transformers t-shirt and told us that he felt right at home as he is "a huge, awkward nerd" himself; he'd love to do "Time Warp" on the show, and Ryan Murphy teased us with the possibility of a Rocky Horror episode. Jenna is a Vampire Diaries fan as well and was in an actual glee club in high school. I want to be Amber Riley's friend in real life. They have the post-Super Bowl timeslot and will be doing some kind of tribute episode there. Oprah was scarier for them to meet than Obama. Next season will be more intimate with the characters and at some point we'll be seeing Mercedes go to church and taking Kurt along. Chris got veeeeeery nervous, all wide-eyed Bambi, so apparently that was the first time he was hearing about that one, too. I spent the whole panel waiting in line to ask a question: I thanked Ryan Murphy and Chris Colfer for their work then waved a threatening fist at the panel and demanded a boyfriend for Kurt. They promised that we'd see one soon but didn't give specifics, the buggers.

After that was over, we barely had time to eat lunch before the con started shutting down. Kristen, Lauren and I parted ways and I wound up sticking around the Dark Horse booth to help break everything down (usually they throw out everyone without an 'exhibitor' pass, but they had an extra one at the booth and so for the latter half of the day I was 'Brian'). My primary function was putting boxes back together and loading things up. It was long, exhausting work, but actually a lot of fun for me and my "must-be-helpful" instincts. The exhibition hall was almost nice without all the people packed in there. I wound up getting a Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Panel to Panel book that had a page torn out and was gonna be thrown away. One of the ladies organizing the company dinner invited me along and I wound up going to a very nice steakhouse/lobster restaurant right across from the convention center with about half of Dark Horse. Most excellent food, and marvelous company. Unfortunately I had to leave them before the party got into full steam, but such is the way of it.

In all, a fun but exhausting weekend. By the end of it, everyone was desperate to get home to their own beds, and Oregon water. Walking away from it, I'm most excited for the Vampire Diaries season premiere. SHIT'S GOING DOWN.

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