Rants And Raves: Reflecting On The 43rd Annual Comic-Con
A Geek Scrapbook
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Credit: Tony Weidinger
Well the dust and Kryptonite have settled on Comic-Con #43 and I'm reminded of the line from Charles Dickens, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
Don't get me wrong, I love Comic-Con but like everything in life, it's not perfect. It keeps getting harder and harder to get tickets, the crowds can be overwhelming, the lines are insane, and San Diego businesses (hotels, the Starbucks in the Conventions Center) keep jacking up prices. On the other hand, every year I discover new artists, meet up with friends I only see at Comic-Con, and enjoy great neighbors at my booth (Troma guys rock!).
So some of the exhibitors I know said they had their best year ever while others were struggling to cover the cost of their booth. One vendor was running a stop watch between sales and when I walked up it had been 41 minutes since someone had stopped at the booth. Hollywood studios flooded the floor with freebies running from "Dexter" buttons to "Fringe" fedoras, from "Dredd" metal badges to an assortment of movie posters. So exhibitors in small press, who sell their buttons and posters as a business found themselves constantly telling people, "No, that's not free." Attendee expectations for swag and freebies sets up certain expectations as they move through the exhibit hall and that can hurt vendors trying to sell the type of things studios are handing out for free by the thousands. But exhibitors with fun or snarky t-shirts were doing well; Mondo's limited edition posters had lines forming all day; and Steam Crow sold out of some steampunk goggles by Thursday. A few vendors complained that between cuing up for Hall H and lining up for all the Hollywood swag, attendees had less time to spend walking around the floor and exploring the less traveled areas of artist alley and small press. Perhaps, they suggested, this was also a factor in lower sales for some.
The booth I run for Film School Confidential, a non-profit showcase of student and San Diego and Tijuana filmmakers, had its worst year ever raising money for a scholarship administered by the Media Arts Center San Diego. On the other hand, the booth had the Twisted Twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska signing autographs for hours and talking up their new film "American Mary."
So while we may not have been raising money, we were true to our purpose of highlighting talented filmmakers who push the artistic envelope. And while I wasn't able to get to the panel with Jackie Chan or the one on the forensics of zombies and vampires, I did get to moderate a panel on the Soskas' "American Mary" and got to talk about horror, practical effects, and women who kick ass.
This was also the year my 19-year-old son almost made me cry because he told me that after a bad experience with a rude person he told me, "Comic-Con was always magical to me and now it's lost it's glow." On the other hand, he went shopping for comic books for the first time and used his own money to buy some "Spider-Mans." In the past he had only been interested in manga. Plus, on his own he went to Quick Draw (cartooning improv) and had a great time.
I was also saddened to hear about a bad experience a pair of friends had because of their costumes. On July 12 Katie O'Bryan (who's cosplaying at "Re-Animator the Musical" is what prompted me to become friends with her and her husband on FaceBook) posted this:
So Tony and I were not allowed to enter Comic-Con because our Super Security costumes were "authentic." The security people confiscated his short and cape, threatened to not only arrest us, but also slap us with at $5000 fine. At the same time, they wanted their pictures with us, and commented on the awesomeness of the idea. Eventually, this will be humorous.
Katie and Tony Wayne O'Bryan decided to do a parody of security guards and created the San Diego Super Security Squad: Comic Con Division.
According to Katie, "Tony took the logos of both companies [CSC and Elite, the security companies from last year], entered them into Photoshop, and tweaked them to look more Super Hero-ish: flames, enlarged logo, etc. For his CSC costume, he wore bike shorts, a polo shirt, helmet, knee and arm pads, and a cape. I wore a bright red leotard, fishnets, arm gloves, tall boots, a tiara and a cape for the Elite hero. It was all supposed to be a joke: all these super heroes in the building, yet the Con needs hundreds of security guards to ward off potential threats."
Although some of the security people enjoyed the costumes and wanted photos, others decided to stop the couple, and then according to Katie, "One man sternly told Tony that his costume (specifically the shirt and cape) were copyright infringement, a threat to National Security, subject to a $5000 fine, and potential arrest if he refused to relinquish his outfit. He was told to remove his shirt right there on the street and fork it and his cape over. I was told I was fine because 'Elite isn't here this year.' When Tony asked what the potential threat was, he was told that someone MIGHT think he was a REAL security guard and ask him a general question, which would put CSC at risk for lawsuit if the answer were incorrect."
Here's Tony's costume. I'll let you decide if there was any danger of mistaking him for a real security guard. (I was not able to speak with anyone from the security companies for additional information.)
"He was told again to relinquish his shirt and cape, because CSC corporate office demanded it. We offered to return to our car, and were also denied that as a reasonable option, and told that if we attempted to leave, they would call the police," says Katie, "Someone went off to get Tony another shirt and we were forced to stand there for another 30 or 45 minutes while that happened. Eventually, Tony was presented with a Star Wars shirt of the Rebel Alliance of all things, a handshake and a 'hey man, you know how it is. We are just doing our job.' This whole interaction took 90 minutes, plus the time it took for us to walk back to the car, drive back to the hotel, change, return to the parking, and walk to the Con. We missed all the panels we wanted to see in the morning, and the whole event soured the mood for the rest of the day. The next day we dressed as Tatyana and the Outrider from Venture Brothers. No problems there (isn't that also copyright infringement?)."
Katie concludes, "This isn't funny yet; I don't know when it will be. For now, we were humiliated, detained, leered at (me), and had personal property confiscated for no real reason. I asked if after the Con we could have our stuff returned, and was told absolutely not. This whole experience really cast a dark cloud over our Con. All weekend long, we saw people dressed as FEMA, military personnel, politicians, and of course all sorts of non-licensed, copyrighted super heroes, comic and anime characters, game characters, movie characters, pop culture references, and other types of things. People can walk around with fake guns, to which a paper wristband is attached to show it is 'safe,', but we can't dress as FAKE superheroes?"
Tony can't find it funny either: "This kind of stuff is not funny. Violating a person's civil rights is not funny, nor is it something to be taken lightly. These people are thugs and bullies. Many people look forward to their SDCC experience for their entire year, and spend tons of time and money planning their trip and organizing their costumes. What these 'security' people are doing is essentially attacking the spirit of the con itself."
This was the worst fan experience I heard about.
But on the other hand, Hobbit fans camping out overnight in the Hall H line were treated to a nocturnal visit from none other than Gandalf or as he's known outside of Middle Earth, Sir Ian McKellan (one Tweet reported that he could not sleep and came down from his hotel in a pink bathrobe, I cannot confirm this but I hope it's true). Maybe that's why McKellan got such a boisterous standing ovation when he entered Hall H for Peter Jackson's panel on "The Hobbit."
Although Hall H had some good movie panels -- in addition to Jackson, there was Guillermo Del Toro, Quentin Tarantino, and some of "The Expendables 2" -- film felt dwarfed by both TV and gaming. With the exception of a small "Total Recall" banner adorning one hotel, all the big building wraps highlighted games ("DC's Injustice") and TV ("Revolution"). "Walking Dead" had a large booth on the exhibit floor as well as taking over Petco for an extracirricular zombie event. "Twilight," "The Hobbit," "Django Unchained," "Iron Man 3" (see Robert Downey, Jr.'s entrance in the video above, I think he IS Tony Stark) and "Pacific Rim" all generated huge lines but there were also people camping overnight for the "Psych" TV panel and "Game of Thrones" held its panel in Hall H along with the big movies.
Capcom, Resident Evil, and South Park gaming booths were all big and drawing heavy traffic, and people cued up early morning to get a shot at playing a demo of the new "Resident Evil" game. It felt like there was a discernable shift in energy and excitement towards TV and gaming but a few of the vintage movie poster sellers at the Con reported that sales were up and a younger crowd seemed interested in collecting vintage movie posters in a way that was not as evident in the past.
An informal survey of vendors in the web comics and small press area suggested that indie artists and comics were struggling a bit, and selling books was a bit tougher than selling t-shirts or costume accessories. But with hundreds of dealers on the floor that might have been an issue for vendors on certain parts of the floor (there are dead zones where people don't travel as much for inexplicable reasons).
I didn't make it to many panels but I did have a blast at the Troma panel about branding. Troma happens to be my booth neighbor on the floor and those folks work hard and their high spirits never seem to wane. Troma is a truly independent film production company that has managed to survive and succeed for almost 40 years with titles like "Toxic Avenger," "Poultrygeist," and "Father's Day." Lloyd Kaufman, Troma's fearless leader, is always entertaining and always selling the Troma brand. The panel also boasted porn star Ron Jeremy. The biggest surprise might be that the panel actually provided good information about being a small company and making branding work for you.
As usual the floor was a thrill to walk. I got to see Jason on Friday the 13th and had Ash cut my hand off with a chainsaw. I saw male slave Leia's that were hilarious. Once again Sideshow Toys, Weta and Gentle Giant had spectacular displays including Han Solo in carbonite (for sale) and life size giant trolls that could stomp you.
There was also an amazing booth showcasing the animation work behind the new Tim Burton film "Frankenweenie." You could see all the props and dolls used in the stop motion animation, and begin to appreciate all the painstaking work that goes into creating a film like that. You could also find Bond vehicles at the Bond 50 Booth, where you could also pre-order a collection of all the Bond movies on BluRay.
And Bandai brought back its Godzilla display and showcased a new line of highly articulate toys. Needless to say I bought the Comic-Con exclusive meltdown Godzilla that perfectly matches the Godzilla my friend got for me from Japan so that now I can do a stop motion animation and create a Godzilla meltdown. I am also the proud owner of a Wampa hat and soon to be owner of a "Little Vampires" Wolfy (he was only available for pre-order). I went on preview night with a pair of 7-year-olds and that has to be the best way to explore the exhibit hall. Kids remind you just how much fun the floor can be.
Other bits of craziness: One of the Batmobiles was taken out for a spin on Harbor Drive; there was a sail barge from "Return of the Jedi" cruising down Third Avenue; someone got tickets because a man died and his Comic-Con four-day passes were distributed in his will; and of course there was a zombie protest march courtesy of San Diego Zombie Walk.
It was deliciously ironic to see zombies demanding everything from a ban on head shots to more brains, less taxes marching just across the street from Bible thumpers warning us that the end was near and turn away from evil. The religious protesters were out in small numbers for most of the Con but Con goers had the right attitude. They created their own signs -- like "Kneel Before Zod" and "Galactus is Nigh" -- as counterpoint or sported t-shirts -- like "I'm so gay I shit rainbows" -- and stood next to the religious protesters.
The protesters inspired me to visit the Zombie Jesus booth and buy t-shirts for my roommates and son as well as the self-published comics (including titles like "Zombie Jesus Vs. Vampire Elvis" and "Zombie Jesus Vs. Robot Hitler"). The artist at the booth said that he still goes to church every Sunday and his Zombie Jesus is a champion of good. Next year they hope to make shirts to address the protesters.
This year seemed to have the most activity outside the convention. There were a bunch of Batmobiles out in front of the Bayfront Hilton; "Adventure Time" took over the Children's Museum, Yahoo Movies opened a lounge, Gam3rCon entered its third year, and you could find Comic-Con related activities as far away as Adams Avenue (ArtLab had the Unmasked show and there was a mini-con of people who could not get into Comic-Con).
Comic-Con is contracted to stay in San Diego through 2015. If there is no expansion to the Convention Center, there's a chance they will look for a new home. But no matter where Comic-Con goes or how it changes, it will always have a special place in my heart because it's where I learned as a teenager what it felt like to be among people who shared my passion for film, TV, books, comics, toys, and all things pop culture.
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