Highlights of Comic-Con International 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
The Twilight Moms were back complete with camping gear, more than one Hollywood director made their first Comic-Con visit, and the lines were longer than ever! These are just some of the highs and lows we'll explore as we recap Comic-Con's four day celebration of the popular arts.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. If some of your co-workers look a little dazed today, just a little spacey, look for tell-tale signs, like a new Green Hornet mousepad or a “Twilight” tee shirt. They and others like them may be suffering from Comic-Con hangover. Tens of thousands of Comic-Con attendees once again made the four day event the biggest gathering of the year for the San Diego Convention Center. Generally speaking, movies were previewed, movie stars were sighted, comic books were traded, costumes were worn, but for the specifics we turn to our Comic-Con reporting crew. Beth Accomando, KPBS film critic and author of the Cinema Junkie blog on KPBS.org. Welcome, Beth.
BETH ACCOMANDO (KPBS Film Critic): Hi.
CAVANAUGH: Aaron McFarland is writing for the KPBS Comic-Con blog and has been attending Comic-Con for many years. Aaron, welcome to These Days.
AARON MCFARLAND (KPBS Comic-Con Blogger): Hi.
CAVANAUGH: And Angela Carone, KPBS arts producer, author of the Culture Lust blog on KPBS.org. Welcome, Angela.
ANGELA CARONE (KPBS Arts Producer and Blogger): Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And I just want everybody to know Beth is wearing a Godzilla tee shirt.
ACCOMANDO: Brand new. Got it at the Con.
CAVANAUGH: So overall, this is like a round robin here, how do you think this year’s Comic-Con was, Beth?
ACCOMANDO: Oh, I had a great time. And I think actually it was kind of front-loaded this year. I felt like the panels I was most excited to see were the ones on Thursday and Friday. And, again, because I’m such a Asian film nut, I loved the fact that they had Park Chan-Wook, the South Korean director, and Hia Miyazaki, who’s a legendary Japanese animation director, so that was great. And Terry Gilliam, and Peter Jackson, I mean, they were all like on Thursday and Friday and in the past it’s always been Saturday was the big day and that was the big day for a lot of the Hollywood panels and things like that and it seemed like it was much more front-loaded and I felt Saturday and Sunday I had more time to kind of cruise around the floor and…
CAVANAUGH: And just check out stuff.
ACCOMANDO: …with stuff, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting. Aaron.
MCFARLAND: Well, I had a great time. It – For me, Saturday was one of the big days. I got to stand in line for a very, very long time twice. It was “The Lost” panel and I got to see the”V” pilot and then “Fringe.” And I missed the “True Blood” panel so Angela could go. But…
CARONE: Thank you for that.
MCFARLAND: And – and then Terry Gilliam was just awesome.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Well, Angela, you have to say something bad now.
CARONE: Something bad. Well, you know, the lines.
CARONE: The lines were bad this year. I mean, you know, I haven’t been going as long as these guys so I’ve been covering it now for three years and the lines…
CARONE: I know, I’m such a newbie, it’s true. But the lines were bad this year and I did hear from a lot of people because I was standing in them, that was – everyone was talking about them and they were saying that they were worse this year than in years past. And I think it’s because there really was a lot of good stuff happening throughout those four days and, as Beth said, you know, Saturday used to be the day that was really the heavy-hitting day but Thursday and Friday had such great stuff that those panels were queuing – or, those lines were queuing up on Thursday as if it was Saturday in years past.
MCFARLAND: Well, the line situation is really interesting because the reason they’re so bad is because the convention center has gotten so good at making them happen. They’ve almost hidden the lines away so that you don’t realize just how long the line you’re getting in is so that you may wait in line, as I did for the “Avatar” panel, for over two hours and then not quite get in. The fire marshal is looking around but it’s too dark for him to tell if there’s…
MCFARLAND: …enough seats. Ohh…
CARONE: It’s such a bad excuse, the fire marshal can’t see, get a flashlight. I don’t understand. But you know, the other thing is, is that for Hall H, which is the big hall that holds, what, Beth? 6500?
CARONE: 6400. Where all of the big Hollywood blockbusters were shown, the line for that is actually – you know, winds around outside. And what they didn’t have were covered panels that they had up for Ballroom 20, so people are out in the hot sun, you know, and like beer trucks are rolling by real slowly, taunting and like Roller Derby girls for a new movie came and it was just – it got surreal, three hours in the sun and…
ACCOMANDO: Well, and, you know, people in line told me that people were paying extra at the Hilton for rooms with a view of Hall H line. Like instead of facing the bay front, oh, $25.00 extra, yeah, give me the one that faces Hall H so I can see when the lines start.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, when you actually get into something after you waited on line for a long time, did – You hear a lot about these panels. You just mentioned a panel for “Avatar.” What happens at panels?
MCFARLAND: Well, I – The first and foremost thing that Comic-Con tries to do is they want there to be exclusive footage of the new movie coming up, something that you can’t see on the internet until after Comic-Con. Of course, it’s up immediately after Comic-Con. But, you know, to be able to say that I saw the “V” pilot before anyone has seen it. It’s not online. It’s not going to be shown until November. Back five, six years ago, I saw “The Lost” pilot before anyone had seen it. It wasn’t a finished product. It had a different soundtrack. I saw the “Heroes” pilot. I saw the “Fringe” pilot last year.
CAVANAUGH: And at these pilots, you can actually speak to the creators of these TV shows or movies.
CARONE: It’s like a press conference for the fans.
CARONE: So when you normally see a press conference, right, the actors, the creative team, whatever, is at a – on a panel sitting behind a table answering questions. There are mikes in front of them, they have nametags. And they’re in front of 6400 fans asking them questions. So, you know, what the press usually have access to are now – is now accessible to the fans and so they’re like press conferences. In fact, Aaron quipped to me at one point, everybody here is press, what’re you talking about? Because I wanted special access for some…
ACCOMANDO: Well, because everybody…
CARONE: I wanted to not wait.
ACCOMANDO: …everybody can go online now. I mean, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter or MySpace or whatever, I mean, in a sense, everybody’s become this kind of a blogger and saying like they’re in panels and they want to talk about what it – I mean, I was at the Starship Smackdown panel and the guy next to me – and they – this is a panel where you propose like a ship and a captain and a situation and these people on the panel and the audience get involved in this, you know, kind of one-upsmanship game of who would win and who would be the best captain and who would be the best ship. But they vote on who – which ship it’s going to be and which captain it’s going to be and the guy next to me was like Twittering like who the nominations were, which ship had just been nominated, which captain had just been nominated, who just got voted on. And, you know, I mean, that’s what people were doing in the room.
CARONE: And, you know, the – Like that, I mean, people can – fans – So usually they show footage and then there’s a Q&A with a moderator and then fans can go up and queue up and ask questions of the people on the panel. And Beth mentioned Twitter, I mean, one of the things that’s really hard to do, I think, for the press that are there and there are a significant number of them now, is actually post content, you know, produce content while you’re there because it’s hard, you’re doing so much. And so what has supplanted that this year, I think more than in years past, is Twitter. I mean, I was up on Twitter the entire time I was there and I would be in one panel, you know, the “Dexter” panel or the “True Blood” panel and then downstairs is the “Ironman 2” panel and I’m getting Twitter feeds of something that Robert Downey Jr. said or so-and-so said. So people, like journalists, were definitely making a lot of use of Twitter this Comic-Con.
ACCOMANDO: And booths were encouraging people to Twitter. Like, you know, Twitter your photos of whatever, you know, this or that and you could win a free this, or whatever. So they were pushing that.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Angela just mentioned one of the common denominators that can unite us all at Comic-Con and that is Hollywood stars. And I was wondering, Beth, what you could tell us about the Hollywood luminaries that were in San Diego for the convention, including any surprise visits? Can you give us a quick overview?
ACCOMANDO: Oh, a surprise visit. That’s a leading question. I’m sure you want me to say, yes, it was Johnny Depp who showed up at the panel for “Alice In Wonderland,” the Tim Burton film. And, you know, it was so funny because – Well, I talked to some of these TwlightMOMS in line the night before and they were absolutely positive that Johnny Depp was going to show up and they were saying, oh, well, you know, Hugh Jackman made a surprise appearance last year and I just bet that Johnny Depp’s going to come out for – And I was like, I really don’t think so. And, sure enough, he did but it was the funniest surprise appearance because he comes out, he waves, the crowd goes absolutely insane, screams and yells, he tries to kind of say something, you can’t hear it because everybody’s yelling so loud. I think he was panicked by it, and then he waved and just walked off. You know, and I’m sure the studio flew him in, limoed him to the back of the convention center, popped him right back in and sent him back out. I mean, I was hoping he would come out for the Terry Gilliam panel because he’s in “The Imaginarum of Dr. Parnassus” but…
CAVANAUGH: Right. Right.
MCFARLAND: That would’ve been nice.
ACCOMANDO: And I thought that would have been a better venue for him to actually talk because there were all the “Twilight” fans in the hall for the panel when “Alice” was on because that was the panel, I think, immediately preceding “Twilight.” And those fans were just so revved up to scream and yell. And you literally couldn’t hear anything.
CAVANAUGH: Well, he was probably afraid someone would make him a Starship captain and so…
ACCOMANDO: Or look, you know…
CARONE: And, Beth, actually talk about “Twilight” because that was really, again, a big story this year.
ACCOMANDO: Well, last year when they had the “Twilight” panel, nobody was really – except there was one of the – and I talked to one of the people at Comic-Con, Faye Desmond. And she was going, like, I knew this was going to be popular and nobody else was really onto it and, you know, the press was onto it. So this year, everybody was kind of anticipating that it was going to be huge and there was a line. There was an ocean of people waiting to come in. But the funny thing was that in the panel, you could hardly hear anybody answer any questions because as soon as people like Robert Pattinson would open their mouth, like people would start screaming and yelling and, you know, yelling ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob.’ And so it was actually pretty hard for any kind of content to come across in that panel.
CAVANAUGH: And, Aaron, is that – does that add to the experience or…
MCFARLAND: Oh, no.
CAVANAUGH: …is it just like – Sounds like Beatlemania.
ACCOMANDO: For that one, it was.
MCFARLAND: That – that panel is, in my mind, it kind of ruined two other panels…
MCFARLAND: …because if they would’ve had that panel at the beginning of the day…
MCFARLAND: …everyone could’ve waited two days, gone to see “Twilight” and then left. But instead, they basically ruined the opportunity for anyone to see the Disney panel before it or the 3-D Showcase before it. And, ultimately, because of the stress of the day, I didn’t get in to see “Avatar”…
MCFARLAND: …most likely because of “Twilight.”
MCFARLAND: And then I got in just in time to see the end of “Avatar,” and I got in for “Parnassus,” which people don’t care as much about but, lo and behold, that’s Terry Gilliam, one of the, like, most visionary film directors ever. Although his last two movies maybe not so great.
ACCOMANDO: Oh, but still…
CARONE: There’s a lot of not anger but sort of dissing of “Twilight.”
CAVANAUGH: I got that.
ACCOMANDO: There were people with signs going “Twilight” killed Comic-Con.
CARONE: There was a guy with a tee shirt on that said ‘Buffy Stakes Edward Through the Heart. The End.’
MCFARLAND: That’s from a viral video of, a great matchup, footage from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with…
MCFARLAND: …Edward acting all creepy like he does in the movie…
CAVANAUGH: In “Twilight.”
MCFARLAND: …towards Buffy. And she has none of it.
ACCOMANDO: Yes, exactly.
CAVANAUGH: Well, speaking of vampires, there – On some of the TV-related panels that you went on, Angela, you saw your “True Blood” panel and…
CAVANAUGH: …tell us a little bit about those.
CARONE: I focused on a lot of the premium channel shows, just because those are the ones that I watch. So I went to the “True Blood” panel, which is an HBO show and Aaron helped me with that one. Thank you, Aaron, for getting me into that. But – And it was actually a well attended panel in terms of the cast. Almost the entire cast was there. The creator Alan Ball was there. He is the – You might know him from “Six Feet Under.” He was the creator and writer on that show. And then Charlaine Harris was there. She’s the writer of the books on which the show is based. And, you know, this is a very Comic-Con friendly show because vampires are the central premise.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah.
CARONE: Basically, the idea is that vampires can live amongst us because the Japanese have created this synthetic blood drink and so they no longer have to feed on human beings to survive. And so, as with – As they had mentioned, you know, the panel always wants to bring something exclusive to Comic-Con so Alan Ball, the creator, announced that in September they’re going to be introducing a “True Blood” drink, just like the True Blood drink on the show but with no blood. It’s going to be – like, it’s non-alcoholic but it’s apparently…
ACCOMANDO: No blood, no alcohol, I mean, what’s…
CARONE: I know, what’s the fun, I guess, right? But apparently it’s some like blood orange flavor, of course, and this was huge with the, you know, the crowd. They all screamed and there was talk of this last year on the panel, is there going to be a “True Blood” drink and so this is one of their marketing things. They announced that there will be likely another season of “True Blood,” an official announcement coming soon. Charlaine Harris announced that she was signed on for three more books in the series, and lots of other stuff. Probably the last thing would be that werewolves are soon going to be coming to Bon Ton, which is the Louisiana town in which the show is based. And they already have, in addition to vampires, there are shapeshifters and there’s this Pan creature that makes everybody party but there’s going to be werewolves soon, so it’s a very creature crowded little town.
MCFARLAND: Don’t forget Suki, he’s a telepath.
CARONE: And – and Suki is a telepath.
CAVANAUGH: You know, I want – I want to interrupt you because I know that you attended a lot of these TV panels but we do have some – you mentioned someone…
ACCOMANDO: Oh, is Rosey…
CAVANAUGH: …partying. Yes.
CARONE: Oh, yes, Rosey’s on the phone, too.
CAVANAUGH: And there are parties that have to do with Comic-Con. What do people do after hours at Comic-Con? Well, we know Rosey Bystrak knows. She is from sddialedin.com and she’s going to tell us what happened after Comic-Con. Rosey, welcome to These Days.
ROSEY BYSTRAK (Writer, San Diego Dialed In): Thank you. How are you?
CAVANAUGH: Just great. What are the parties like?
BYSTRAK: They’re amazing. I’m not really a person that goes to the panels very often so, for me, it’s more about the parties, it’s more about the afterlife. No vampire pun intended. But there’s all these parties that happen around the event, so “True Blood” hosted several happy hours. In fact, they had one at Prohibition and one at Rock Bottom on both Thursday and Friday, and it was all to launch the drink that was actually revealed on Saturday even though it won’t be available to the public until September or October in time for the season finale.
CAVANAUGH: So, Rosey, I would imagine that the eateries and the drinkeries in the Gaslamp just absolutely adore Comic-Con.
BYSTRAK: Oh, they do. I mean, they’re – people are spilling out onto the streets and especially around five or six o’clock everyone kind of leaves Con to go, you know, get dinner, get a bite and so a lot of the places, you know, in the past when there’s that many tourists in town, their prices sort of go up. But because of the economy and because of the kind of people that are there, I think bars were just fighting to get anyone inside, so there were drink specials everywhere, food specials everywhere. And then you have these events like the “True Blood” events where you wait in line for a little bit but once you’re inside… At Prohibition, it was free beer. They were bringing appetizers, like trays of appetizers out to tables, like one after another. I heard over at the Rock Bottom ones that there was just a free buffet of appetizers and then you got a couple of drink tickets.
CAVANAUGH: That’s amazing.
CAVANAUGH: What were some of the best parties that accompanied Comic-Con?
BYSTRAK: Well, definitely, I think the Saturday one at Bondi for me. They gave everyone a bottle to save of the ‘True Blood’ drink. And…
ACCOMANDO: Did you drink it? Did you taste it?
BYSTRAK: It is delicious. It’s blood orange soda. It’s got a – it’s got caffeine in it. But it – it’s just – it’s kind of like a Jones soda where it’s all natural, sugar cane, no corn syrup.
CAVANAUGH: Well, of course, it’s natural.
BYSTRAK: Yeah, and, of course, it helped that they were making blood orange – you know, the “True Blood and Skyy” vodka cocktails in pint glasses. So throw a little vodka in, I said this will be your new favorite drink. Forget, you know, Red Bull and vodka, it’s going to be all about True Blood and vodka when they come out.
CAVANAUGH: Rosey, I have to thank you so much for calling in. Rosey Bystrak from SDdialedin.com. Well, I want to ask you a little bit more about the TV panels, oh, Aaron. Anything you learned about something good that’s coming up?
MCFARLAND: Well, “The Prisoner” is probably the thing I’m most excited about, comes out in November on AMC. This is the original programming department that brought us “Madmen,” which is my new favorite show. I’m a little late on that wagon but “The Prisoner” is one of my all-time favorite 1960s television shows. Super psychedelic, a little bit weird.
CAVANAUGH: Patrick McGoohan, right?
MCFARLAND: Patrick McGoohan, yeah. I mean, PBS viewers should be pretty familiar with this. They play it over the – over my lifetime, it’s like every three or four years. It would seep into the late night programming. And in today’s society subjects of paranoia and surveillance and mind control and, you know, the collective versus the individual, it’s – it’s ready to go. I don’t know that I’m too psyched about the star of the show but Ian McKellen is incredible but Jim Caviezel is my – is I – I’m worried. But I think I’ll still love it. We’ll have to see.
ACCOMANDO: What? You’re not happy about Jesus Christ being in it?
MCFARLAND: Well, he’s just – I mean, if you know the show, Patrick McGoohan is fiery and he’s angry and he’s…
MCFARLAND: And Jim’s characters tend to be very…
CAVANAUGH: Well, now he’s got computer animation to go to help him in anything that he goes for. I was wondering, Angela, you spent time with a group of Comic-Con attendees called Steampunks?
CARONE: I did. I did.
CAVANAUGH: Who are the Steampunks?
CARONE: Well, the – What Comic-Con does is it allows people with similar interests to have what they call meet-ups and they give them a conference room. And they gave a conference room to the Steampunks for the Steampunk meet-up, and I went to that. And it was a room that held maybe a hundred people and there were at least 400 people in line trying to get into this thing. Steampunks, they’re a subculture that takes their inspiration late 18th century Victorian era times, before the invention of, you know, electricity when steam engine technology still ruled. And that inspiration comes in the form of the dress of the time, the technology, the kind of spirit of invention, and these folks dress in period garb, these really elaborate, beautiful costumes, and the sort of accessories. The way to sort of spot a Steampunk, the two major accessories would be the goggles, those old, you know, period goggles, and gears. There’s always gears involved somewhere, fastened to the clothing…
CAVANAUGH: Isn’t this from a Japanese anime?
CARONE: I’m sure there is a Japanese anime related to that but it’s not from that.
ACCOMANDO: There is Steamboy, which…
CARONE: Yeah, right.
ACCOMANDO: …looks like that and then there are a number of Japanese anime that fit into that kind of retro-future looking…
CARONE: Exactly, yeah.
MCFARLAND: There’s also a book called “The Difference Engine” that is very much like the cyberpunk world in the 1800s where everything was computers made out of steam engines and mercury and…
CAVANAUGH: So was it a good time?
CARONE: They do. Well, they actually mod – Just to play off of that…
CARONE: …they actually modify, what they call moding, you know, their computers sometimes to – with brass to make it look period. They build all kinds of things out of various parts. I mean, it’s very, you know, DIY. Even the costumes that are so elaborate are gathered from thrift stores and stuff. It was interesting, it was really fun. There’s a very large southern California contingent. It’s kind of a hub for Steampunk, and San Diego has a large group that has a new club night and lots of social gatherings. And I’m going to put pictures of a lot of these costumes…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah, do.
CARONE: …on the Culture Lust blog in the next couple of days.
CAVANAUGH: That sounds fun, and that gets us to costumes. Tell us which costumes at Comic-Con were most memorable for you, Beth.
ACCOMANDO: You know, I didn’t see that many costumed people.
CAVANAUGH: You were standing on line.
ACCOMANDO: No, oh, you know, but I – There was a Hello Kitty Darth Vader so, I mean, I find that fun, that it was morphing two things. I did want to add just really quickly that the director we had on for “Dig Comics” did win the Best Documentary Award.
ACCOMANDO: And there was a panel for the film “Nine” and that short film had played a couple of years back as part of the Comic-Con International Film Festival as a short film and it ended up Tim Burton produced that and it’s now a feature film so, you know, the films, even though they’re these Hollywood panels, some of them are starting from, you know, the – Talk about your DIY stuff, you know, young filmmakers making their short films and getting them picked up. And I believe the “Dig Comics” film, the director said that Edward James Olmos was interested in producing a feature-length version of that.
CAVANAUGH: That’s very good. That’s our guest Miguel Cima…
CAVANAUGH: …from last week. And I wonder, Aaron, which costumes did you see? You weren’t – You saw some, did you?
MCFARLAND: Oh, I saw all sorts of costumes. I – I really love the Stormtroopers and the Star Wars Imperial Officers. That’s one of my favorite things to see, especially when they gather together. The Steampunks are great. There’s a lot of naughty costumes which we don’t have to go in too far but also I – I was really surprised at just how many “Watchmen” inspired costumes there were this year as Rorschach was everywhere. And it really – You find that with the anime that I – A lot of them, I don’t have any idea who the characters are but then whatever the big movie that came out last summer was, you’ll see a lot of folks come as the character from last summer’s movies. So what are we going to see next year? I don’t know. What’s going on this year?
CAVANAUGH: Well, I want – I tell you we…
CAVANAUGH: …we’re bumping up against time but I don’t want to leave this without asking you, what kind of swag did you guys get? I mean, did you get free stuff?
ACCOMANDO: Yes, the “Resident Evil” shirt. There’s a video of it online. It’s – It says ‘let your dark side out’ and then you lift up the shirt, pull it over your head and it’s got a zombie face. That was my goal, to get that freebie. I was – That was my mission. And I got one.
CAVANAUGH: Any freebies you want to mention?
CARONE: You know, I’m kind of loser in the bunch. I didn’t -- You know, people try to hand you stuff. It’s kind of like Vegas, they’re always like handing you little cards and stuff.
CARONE: But I didn’t get any free swag this year. I tend to turn it down because I’m carrying a lot of gear. I’m carrying my camera and all that stuff, so I didn’t get anything. Aaron, please have something.
MCFARLAND: You’ve got to train better.
CARONE: I know.
MCFARLAND: I’ve gone to Comic-Con almost every year since I was a kid in the mid-eighties and I have – I still have stuff from those Comic-Cons. I tend to turn down a lot of stuff because they just – there’s not as much good stuff that’s free. If you buy something, you get something. Or – And, once again, it’s back to lines. You can wait in a giant line and get a free giant bag from Warner Bros. It’s not – it’s not the same as it used to be where you just are in the right place at the right time.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, right.
MCFARLAND: My eldest daughter loves Comic-Con and I took her on Sunday, as I have the last few years for Kids Day, and she wants everything. She wants every little card and then she goes through afterwards and it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s a postcard with something. You know, I have to be careful because Comic-Con isn’t always very kid friendly.
CARONE: You’re right.
MCFARLAND: But, you know, it’s got a cool character on it. Who is that? I don’t know. Do you want to go look at it online? That’s what they want us to do.
CAVANAUGH: I’m afraid we have to wrap it up and, Angela, get your priorities straight. Get that swag.
CARONE: Yeah, I got to work on that.
CAVANAUGH: Beth Accomando, KPBS film critic, thank you for being here.
CAVANAUGH: Aaron McFarland writing for the KPBS Comic-Con blog, and thank you for joining us.
MCFARLAND: Thanks for having me.
CAVANAUGH: And Angela Carone, KPBS arts producer and author of the Culture Lust blog on KPBS.org, thanks so much.
CARONE: You’re welcome, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And remember, you can post your comments about Comic-Con or anything else at KPBS.org/TheseDays. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.