The Imperfect Perfection Of Comic-Con
Kaijus in jail, Lumberjanes, and Popeye the Sailor Moon
With 600 hours of programming, a quarter mile of exhibit hall, and an ever-widening radius of outside activity, Comic-Con is sensory overload and all you can hope to do is taste a tiny sample of the pop culture smorgasbord.
This was a strange and wondrous Comic-Con and I needed recovery time to reflect on all that went on. This year I was hired by Lionsgate as a field producer gathering footage of the convention for what is proposed to be a Comic-Con on demand channel. What exactly it will offer is unclear at this early stage (it is set to launch in April of next year), but likely it will include panels, interviews, the Her Universe Fashion Show, the Eisner Awards and cosplay. The idea is exciting.
I have been shooting at Comic-Con since about 1990 and I know there is some fun footage and panels in those archives.
Interviewing people about what Comic-Con means to them and what they’d like to see on a Comic-Con channel made me think more than usual about what defines the Con for me.
The criticism is strong in this one
During the convention, I had an argument with a man who told me that he was “angry for all the people who won’t get angry for themselves” about how badly run Comic-Con is. So I asked what he would do to fix it, he said clear Hall H after each panel or move the show to Las Vegas.
Well, the surprise "Star Wars" concert after the Lucasfilm panel in Hall H showed that clearing the hall in an orderly fashion when all the attendees are willing to leave takes a good 20 minutes. If people had to be forced to leave, you can imagine the process might take more like 30 minutes, and we would lose at least one panel slot each day.
This approach would mean more panels would have just the people who want to see the panel there but it would mean you could only choose one panel each day to see in Hall H because you’d have to go out and re-line up. The lines would still be crazy and the dissatisfaction would just move to a different group of people.
As for the Vegas option, I hope that never gets to the table. If Comic-Con moved to Vegas, it wouldn’t be Comic-Con, it would be some other beast.
Comic-Con is what it is because it is in sunny, pleasant San Diego and it’s a nonprofit organization run by geeks not businessmen.
It is flawed but it’s a massive event that is akin to setting up a small village – complete with security and public transportation – for five days a year.
Whiners and complainers, please go home!
I hope that guy doesn’t waste his time getting angry for me. I’m perfectly happy with my wonderful, imperfect Comic-Con.
But if everyone who whined and complained about the lines and how Hollywood Comic-Con has become and what a sell out it is would just stop buying badges, maybe we’d get the convention down to a more manageable size.
When I hear people complain about Comic-Con and say they don’t have a good time, I just wonder how they cannot find something fun and exciting to do. Each year I discover something new and unexpected as well as the familiar and that’s why I keep coming back.
There’s another reason I love Comic-Con the way it is.
We have become a fast-food society where people don’t want to wait for anything. They want what they want, when they want it and where they want it. If you can’t stream that movie right now in your home, then forget it.
When “House of Cards” returns, you want to binge the whole season in one night. And when you are looking for some obscure B-flick or the latest Hollywood film you can likely find it – legally or not – online somewhere.
The geek badge of honor
What all this means is that being a geek is no longer an earned badge of honor. Back in the day, you had to work hard to find some obscure movie and usually you would be lucky to find a bad VHS bootleg.
But there was a romance about those geeky treasures being rare and hard to find. Part of the pleasure of being a geek was in the passion that drove you to exhaust all sources and avenues to find your particular Lost Ark of the Covenant. If you had a fan subtitled Tsui Hark film like “We’re Going To Eat You” or “The Butterfly Murders” in the 1980s, you were probably the only kid on the block to be able to boast that.
Now you can Google the titles online and pick up a copy or watch clips on YouTube.
What I love about Comic-Con is that there are still opportunities to prove your geekiness and earn that old-school badge of honor by waiting overnight in the line to get into Hall H for “Star Wars” and then being rewarded with a special concert that only 6,000 or so other people were able to enjoy.
And they got a special access badge to prove it. Something like that allows geeks to revel in their geekiness. All those people who complain about lines or are unwilling to sleep on concrete, they are not the geeks that this convention is made for; they are mere mortals.
Plus, lines are sometimes where you can meet lifelong friends who share the same passions as you.
Yes, it would be great if there were no lines, no crowds and you could get into anything you wanted whenever you wanted. But then it wouldn’t be a challenge and maybe it would be just a little less special and the anticipation a little less intense.
In the old pre-Hall H days, those challenges were more about scouring the floor to find the bootleg “Meet the Feebles” VHS or the Frazetta “Fearless Vampire Killers” one sheet or the Boba Fett action figure with the rocket firing backpack that was deemed too “dangerous” for kids.
Now it’s all about getting into Hall H or getting a Comic-Con exclusive toy.
Comic-Con has become so popular that geek has become mainstream. Anyone can buy geeky t-shirts and clothes in a mall, and comics fuel the biggest, most mainstream movies. Everyone wants to be a geek because it’s seen as cool.
My reason for loving Comic-Con, with all its imperfections, is that it still remains the place where real geeks can separate themselves from the fake geeks, and prove their devotion to a film, TV show, or celebrity. That can be by sleeping in line for Hall H, or spending an entire day rummaging through a box of comics or movie posters to find that one gem.
The fan experience
I spoke with people in tents waiting to get into Hall H. One group was made up of people that had only met this year at Comic-Con and yet they called each other family.
The idea of getting Hall H streaming online was appealing to them, yet they said that they would probably wait in line any way because that was part of the Comic-Con experience and it was fun. These are not the folks who would be using a phone app to get a proxy to stand in line for them — waiting in line is a badge of honor to them.
I also met a woman and her daughter who make Hall H an annual experience. It’s not something she would give up either, although she appreciates the wrist-banding that allows for easier bathroom, food and shower breaks.
I know there are people who do nothing but complain about the lines, but it’s a choice. If you want to see something badly enough, you know you have to line up at least two panels before. And if it’s Hall H, the night before. If you don’t like it, don’t come to Comic-Con.
I went on preview night with Stephen W. Martin, a filmmaker from Canada.
He was screening his short “Dead Hearts” in the Comic-Con International Film Festival. This was his first Con and he was giddy with excitement on Wednesday. He waited in line at Hasbro only to be told the exclusive item he wanted was sold out.
A friend said that at Comic-Con you wait in line for disappointment.
But Martin was undaunted. He left Wednesday determined to get in line again and to triumph. On Friday, I saw him and he looked like a beaten man. He confessed the lines were terrible and only DC had thick padded carpet where standing in line was even remotely pleasant. But he got into the "Star Wars" panel and by Friday night he was posting on Facebook that meeting his wife, getting married, and the "Star Wars" panel/concert were the best moments in his life.
He didn’t win an award at the festival but when I texted with him later, he was determined to get a Pro badge and return.
And that’s what Comic-Con is all about: highs and lows, exhaustion and exaltation, triumph and defeat. It’s about having plans and having them fail, and finding something altogether different from what you expected happen.
Making a plan and throwing it away
In the more than three decades that I have been going, work has sometimes steered me away from the things I love, into unknown territory where I find new things to be passionate about.
This year, I was covering the Her Universe fashion show where fans create geek couture (they are big on using the word “couture”). Some of the cutesy clothes — sewn by women who had cats sitting on their laps as they hemmed hundreds of yards of fabric — had no appeal for me but there were also fabulous, impractical designs of tooled leather alien gowns, Death Star cocktail dresses and a drag queen Imperial Cruiser skirt that you could use as a table for four if need be.
I never would have attended this event on my own, but I am thrilled to have seen some of these designs up close to admire the crazy detail and devotion of these women – and one man – who used their particular passions as inspiration for clothing.
I was also fortunate enough to be backstage at the Eisner Awards (the comic industry’s version of the Oscars) during a year when the winners seemed to represent a greater diversity in age, gender, race and content.
“Lumberjanes” took home two awards (Best New Series and Best Publication for Teens) for its four creators: Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson and Brooke A. Allen. The “Lumberjanes” winners along with Gene Yuen (best writer) were genuinely surprised and giddily appreciative. It was great to be a witness to that.
Boom! Studios wins big
I went to Boom! Studios, the publishers of “Lumberjanes,” on Sunday and spoke with marketing manager Mel Caylo. He said there was a run on the comic and they were cleaned out of issue one and volume one of the trade collection of the first four issues. Here’s my video interview with him:
The Eisners have the power to take a smaller comic and put it in the spotlight in a way to get it new readers and to even make it possible for it to be included at libraries or bookstores.
I did meet one alternative press publisher who didn’t want to talk about the Eisners because he felt they were too mainstream. He suggested that the Eisners are like the Oscars: prestigious within the industry and useful as a marketing tool but also not addressing the full spectrum of what’s out there. But he did concede that this year was a good move in a better direction.
Giant monsters in jail
In interviewing comic publishers, I did discover a new comic called “KaijuMax” by Zander Cannon. He describes it as "Orange is the New Black" but with giant monsters. You can check out the comic and his exclusive Comic-Con cover in this video:
It’s not a booth, it’s an activation!
One trend on the floor this year was more interactive booths. People running the booths like to call them “activations.” MTV had my favorite - an opportunity to be in a mini-horror scene. People had a chance to swing axes and machetes and decapitate or dismember a “victim.” A company called The Tempo shot the scene in super slow motion and then you could share that video on social media. Peter Cote of The Tempo explains in this video:
MTV scored both in having one of the best activations but also the most practical swag – a small folding stool. It was like an umbrella in size and could be slung on your back and ready to use for any unexpected Comic-Con line.
But I do give best swag award to Starz for their groovy Ash Vs. the Evil Dead booth — oh, I mean activation — where you could walk away with a foam chainsaw hand! You also got to walk through Ash’s haunted trailer. Starz also premiered a new trailer for the original series starring the original Ash, Bruce Campbell. It kicked ass. I didn’t even mind it playing on a screen near the booth I have and seeing it multiple times a day. “The Walking Dead” also gets props for well done zombie makeup for its activation that allowed people to walk through a zombie infested set.
Masquerade and cosplay
I have never attended the masquerade but this year I got closer by interviewing Arabella Benson and her team who entered the contest with a Rococo X-Men theme. I caught up with them on Sunday at the Marvel booth and got an update from Benson on how they did. Check out the video with their finished gowns:
As usual, I picked up some great vintage posters including two Pam Grier ones (“Friday Foster” and “Sheba Baby”). I also scored a Godzilla vs. Hedorah vinyl set, the first three issues of “KaijuMax,” and a book of charming illustrations by Chet Phillips of movie monsters and robots as little kids.
I didn’t get to go to any panels this year but I lived vicariously through my friends’ posts of the incredible "Star Wars" panel and surprise concert. Kudos to Kathleen Kennedy, the new head of Lucasfilm, for saying that fans matter and then proving it.
I was also thrilled to hear that Quentin Tarantino is shooting his new film, “The Hateful Eight,” with 70mm cameras that no one uses any more, and that Ennio Morricone (the man who scored many of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns) will be creating the music.
Comic-Con is also about seeing people you only see once a year, like the Troma Team in the booth next to mine. I even made Toxic Avenger cookies for Toxie.
Comic-Con 2016 is 371 days away and I am already making plans. It remains my home away from home and the only place where I feel I am among people who are like me.
If the Lionsgate/Comic-Con VOD channel can capture that, then it will be a huge success and people from all over can share in the experience that is uniquely Comic-Con.