This is it! The trilogy ends! SD07 Report III starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, Mike Myers, Tobey Maguire and Johnny Depp. Third time the charm! Third time bloated and off the track Third time not as good as it used to be. Third time looking old and fat.
Friday night was another madhouse. There was the big 300/Blade Runner thing going on at Petco Park, and even though I had an invite to the party, the sight of young men roaming the streets with their 300 shields made me think I would rather go the other way. I’m sure it was quite the event, and I later got to hear Peter Kuper tell me his story of hanging out with Sean Young (he went to school with her) which was almost as good as being there. Instead I headed to the Zuda party, a smallish affair which included snackables…not having eaten anything substantial all day, that was enough of a lure for me.
Zuda. By now you may have all heard PvP’s Scott Kurtzx’s exhortation “We are not contestants.” I’m not sure anyone knows what Zuda is or will be. I do know the party was a chance to see some folks I never got to see otherwise, like Dan Goldman, Molly Crabapple, Tom Fowler and Tom Spurgeon. I also had the odd but touching experience of having Paul Levitz himself show me the Zuda interface — well, he didn’t do it himself, he had the Man From IBM show me, but the interface is very smooth and impressive. I think it’s made for people who aren’t really into the whole webcomics thing, and it is certainly a good interface to replicate as much as possible the print comic experience online. Paul was genuinely enthusiastic about it and the whole Zuda thing — depending on your viewpoint this is either exciting or terrifying.
After scarfing down some chicken tenders, it was off to the Eisners. In past years I was usually able to snag a seat at a table, but my wifi was working, and I spotted a power outlet over in the corner, so I made the decision on the fly to live blog, with the results you have all seen, typoos and all. For all my bitching and moaning, the Eisners are the only place to see a lot of people in a relatively unstressed atmosphere.
The problem was that the ceremony was just ungodly loooooooooong and that was even with “professional” entertainment. It’s one thing to sit at a table with pals you can make comments to…sitting by myself on the floor and getting colder and colder, it was just not as much fun. People kept texting me from this party or that party. At 10 or so I looked at the program and there were still 14 categories to go. I knew I would never make it and I bailed out.
Since then I’ve read many people say it was the best Eisners ever. The very awesome and smart Pam Noles (left) said so on her blog, so it must be true. I guess for people who made it to the Jonathan Ross boy-on-boy action section, that was true. I can truthfully say that as I was leaving the people who I saw out in the hall were profoundly jealous that I was leaving early. I am very very very glad that it all ended on a high note and people went home happy. At the halfway point, that outcome wasn’t at all clear.
(And I should also add that I saw Jonathan Ross MC an entire Brit Comics Awards about 10 years ago at the very last UKCAC in London. So there…nyah nyah nyah!)
Once freed, my first stop was the Oni/UTA party, which was at some trendy bar. I said hi to Oni prexy Joe Nozemack, Ted Naifeh and Lee Loughridge but there weren’t too many people I recognized there. My group decided to try for the MySpace/William Morris party, another rooftop affair. Unfortunately we arrived just as the Fire Marshals had decided that the roof had just enough people on it, and there was a big line for the elevators. That was a no go, which bummed me out because by all accounts it was a fabulous fete. By then it was almost midnight and people were now texting me from the EISNERS with winners and what not, so I figured I would head back there and see the wrap-up.
Indeed I arrived just in time to hear that I had missed the greatest moment in Eisner history when Ross and Neil Gaiman snogged. While some may think this is true, I got to see Ramona Fradon pick up her Hall of Fame award earlier and that was MY highlight.
I hung out at the Eisner after party for a bit, catching up with Rory Root and apologizing to Whitney Matheson for my picking on her in my live blogging. I made a point of going up to her and telling her how much I liked her and her writing, and she was kind of bemused and embarrassed by the whole thing, I think. For the record, Whitney Matheson is a very good blogger, and a genuine comics fan and a really, really swell person — however, as I told her, she and Paul Pope had just given me too much fodder for snark…especially when the A/V went belly up. So anyway, I hope she forgives me — I hope Jackie forgives me too.
That said, THE EISNERS ARE TOO LONG. I ran into Neil Gaiman the next day and he said only “Four hours.” and held up four fingers. I hear all kinds of rumors that the Eisners will be moved to Thursday because of all the big movie competition — which would make no sense, because there is a ton of competition on Thursday, too! There is no way to make Hollywood respect the Eisner, I fear. The big comic book awards have become another quaint Pictish tradition. The only way to fight fire with fire would be a shorter ceremony, and a kick ass Governor’s ball type soiree afterwards. I don’t know how to make the former a reality, but I do know that when next year’s Eisner judges are announced, everyone needs to write to them and beg them to TAKE OUT SOME CATEGORIES. Or give out some awards earlier in the day or something, so you can have someone say “In a ceremony earlier today, the following Eisners were presented.”
As for the celebrity presenter thing, obviously they are far more professional and entertaining than, say Freddie Freelancer and Eddie Inker. I hope Hollywood doesn’t take over here, too, however, and the presenters stay nerdish comic booky types.
After the Eisners it was the traditional run to the Hyatt for more bombastic schmoozing. I have no memory of this evening at all. I guess I saw another 200 people I knew and said 5 words each to them. I turned n the early side to get some sleep. The traditional day of Conmageddon loomed; Saturday there would be no breakfast.
Saturday I had a panel at 10:30, so there was no time to eat or blog or do anything but grab a big cup of coffee, an apple and a power bar from the hotel. Oh how I wished I had made that trip to Ralph’s. The Comics Journalism panel went pretty well, I think. I said some of the things I say on every one of those panels, Douglas and Spurge and Tom M. said some very intelligent things, Nisha said some very nice things about me, Graeme hardly said anything at all, and it was very painless despite the hour. I guess by now adrenaline and fat reserves had kicked in — I actually felt far more clear headed than I had on Wednesday; I was getting my con legs.
After three days of fighting the vast throngs, a couple of suspicions had begun to form in my head. One was that this couldn’t go on as it had. Comic-Con sold out. It is not big enough. I’ll get back to that final, crushing realization in a bit, but my other suspicion was that maybe it wouldn’t be the con itself that changed…maybe Hollywood would change.
The way things are going, there are two possible paths, I reckoned. Either things can stay the same and 140,000 lucky winners can cram into the hall every year. Or else Movie-Con will go the way of E3.
I’ve mention this theory here before. Back in the days E3 was a loud, garish horrifying video game conference held every year in Los Angeles. Last year, they decided enough was enough and changed the event from giant trade show with booths and porn stars on the floor to a media-only series of presentations and exhibits. Will Hollywood one day decide that spending thousands and thousands of dollars on giving tchotkes to families from Irvine isn’t the best way to spend marketing money? I can’t think of any other event where Hollywood gives things to the general public on such a huge scale.
I ran this idea up a few people’s flag pole, and most seemed to agree that this is a possibility if logistics keep getting harder and harder. While Joel Silver and Gwyneth Paltrow undoubtedly have flunkies to take care of them, for the studio grunts on the floor, it’s still a madhouse. One day they are all going to wake up and decide Comic-Con isn’t cool anymore. One Hollywood type I mentioned this to had a third option: events moved off site, a parallel movie-con.
This is all speculative of course; the Con has signed up with San Diego through 2012. It isn’t going anywhere, despite the rumors.
Despite some of my earlier lessons learned, the thing about Saturday was that everyone had made lots of plans. With Saturday the presumed craziest day, everyone had decided to busy themselves to avoid having to face the unknown. As a result, I was able to get everywhere and do everything I had to do. I can up to see part of the spotlight on Lily Renee Phillips, the famed Fiction House artist of the 40s. (The only two people whose panels I *HAD* to see were Clive Owen and Lily Renee.)
I’d heard Trina say what a sophisticated, elegant lady Lily Renee is, but seeing her made it all so much clearer. The audience had many comics historians in it — Roy Thomas asked many pertinent questions. Phillips truly lived a life few could imagine — training to be a dancer, escaping the Nazis, becoming a comic book artist at age 18. And then….giving it up to get married and raise a family, while remaining active in the highest social circles. Drawing comics had just been something she had done, Phillips explained, a part of her past. She no longer draws, although she thinks about it. Looking at her youthful work with its undeniable talent and verve, it seems like a waste, but like Rose DeWitt in Titanic, Phillips has gone on to live a rich, full life as the elegant, cultured woman she is. But I can’t help wondering what might have been.
After this I did some Hollywood videoblogging with movie creators Charles Vess, Steve Lieber and Scott Morse. It was a real treat to get to talk to Scott about Ratatouille, needless to say! I even managed to get back to the Omni in time for a 2 o’clock interview with Warren Ellis. (Thanks to Avatar’s very hard working David Marks for setting this up.) Jesus, I was being so productive! I got more done in this one day than the rest of the con. Then it was some meetings…by 4 o clock I decided to have all the rest of my meetings at the fish taco place, armed with a pint of Sierra Nevada, and Comic-Con was suddenly looking up.
Actually, it was beginning to wind down. It’s a strange feeling when you know Brigadoon is going back into hiding. You’ve been in training and planning for weeks or months, anticipating the worst…or the best. And now it’s all going to be in the past, just part of another 12,000 word blog entry.
I was supposed to attend the First Second dinner but some personal things came up and I couldn’t get there in time. Instead I headed over the the SciFi/EW party. All week I had been hearing how this was the toughest ticket in town. I had an actual invite, but just to prove that I still had the sangfroid, I managed to get in my +1. I was only going to stay for a little bit and then head over to the Yen Press bash at the site of the previous night’s MySpace bachanale, but in all honesty this was the perfect party. Tons of food and drink, celebrities (although since I don’t watch much TV, I didn’t recognize anyone but Robert Downey Jr. and Stan Lee.) and a great atmosphere. There was only a smattering of comic book type folks, although plenty of my fellow journos. I chatted up the dynamic Comic Foundry duo Tim Leong and Laura Hudson, EW’s Mark Bernardin and Nisha Gopalan, always affable Whitney Matheson, James Sime, Mark Askwith, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, and later on, Justin Gray, John Cassaday, Dan Didio and Jeremy Atkins of Dark Horse. I am sure I am forgetting someone. Oh yes, I also met screenwriter/comics scribe John Rogers, who is as funny in person as you’d think from reading his blog.
Everyone was super fabulous and special, and the ice cream was delicious. But…I began to undergo a perverse kind of survivors guilt. Why was *I* here and not the people who deserved it? I wished Jack were there. Sure Stan was there — wearing his ever present Members Only jacket– but he has a tv show on SciFi so they couldn’t very well leave him out. I wished Stan Sakai was there. If the Normans all pick up their tents and leave, there will still be Comic-Con. There will still be cartoonists, men and women, boys and girls scratching out their jokes and fantasies. And other people will show up to share those jokes and fantasies. Maybe there will be only 300 people. But they will all enjoy it.
After drinking way too many Seabreezes, it was time for the Walpurgisnacht of Comic-Con, Saturday at the Hyatt. This is hands down the craziest, wildest night of the show. It’s the 616 and Earth-2 and Lemuria and all the rest all rolled into one. As if to assuage my party guilt, about 5 seconds after I arrived I was in a circle chatting with Rob G, Rick Spears, Farel Dalrymple and JIm Rugg, four of the most talented people you will ever meet in your life. THAT is why going to Comic-Con is worth while.
In the bar, the tumult had reached a dull roar that sounded kind of like this.
It felt kind of like it, too. Within 30 seconds I had run into about 20 people I had worked with, feuded with, longed for or dated. It was no different for anyone there, I think. I retreated to the outside “smokers” lounge — I recalled how in past years this was a quiet place to have a real conversation. Now about a hundred people milled around, trying to score drugs, hook up or talk about comics. My local posse tried to crash a room party and were rebuffed, so we ended up in the lobby over by Reddfields.
Here, a nebulous group was hanging around that included, in no particular order: Ed Brubaker, Pia Guerra, Ian Boothby, Brian Posehn, Laura Silverman, Jay Johnston (these three from The Sara Silverman Show), Ben McCool, Jah Furry, Zena Tsarfin, Shane McCarthy, Charlie Adlard, Brandon Montclare, Nina Kester, Emmet Furey and some other random types including an agent and probably someone I’m forgetting (God knows how.) I spotted Bill Sienkiewicz and Rob Liefeld in the nearby environs. I have no idea what we were talking about, although I did check with Ed on a rumor I’d heard that he and Thomas Jane has a fist fight. Turned out that it wasn’t true, although Jane had been humorously running around in the bar the previous night yelling “I’m going to kill Ed Brubaker!” That’s how these things get started.
And that’s Comic-con. After all my griping, these random moments are what I love the most. Not that anything constructive is being accomplished, but it’s all so unlikely in the greater scheme of things. It’s a big giant dice roll, the ultimate “random encounter.” Will it be a centipede or a balrog or Steve Leialoha or Gene Simmons?
Back outside, I engaged in some final speculation on the future of the show with a knowledgeable group. The idea of splitting up “studio city” was a popular one, which I’ll get back. And then it was too late and everyone was too incoherent. A random guy from Australia named Matt was recruited by Fanboy Radio’s Scott to make sure I got back to my hotel. The pastel Grendel was finished by now, the Spartans were gone, Stormtrooper Elvis was gone, no one was left but that lone Elite guard stood, watching the Beowulf display into the small dark hours of the night.
Sunday dawned bright, clear and dry. Again. Sunday is the day for goodbyes, which are all too often hellos AND goodbyes. I was sad. I had just figured out how to survive this thing and it was ending. I wished I was younger and full of energy so I could take advantage of everything that was happening. I wished I could focus more so I remember more. I wished summer was just beginning instead of 2/3rds over so I could showoff the tan I was working on. I wished a lot of things.
I was awoken by a call asking if I wanted to interview Rosario Dawson and I said of course, so I rallied the DivX crew for one more video. I hooked up with Ted McKeever who I hadn’t seen the whole show. (Ted is very fit and tan as is his girlfriend, a product of Florida living I suppose, but they looked suspiciously fresh and hyealthy for Comic-con attendees!) I wanted to go through the Pirates of the Caribbean display but there was a line of about 100 people so never mind that. I ran into Ivy McCloud and Nat Gertler and Larry Marder and Leonard Wong, people who I hadn’t seen the entire show. We had one final PW Comics Week meeting, so I hiked out back for my very first trip ever to Joe’s Crab Shack.
Now, I have heard of this fabled Shangri La many many times, but for some reason I always had it in my mind that it was an actual…shack. So I was kind of shocked when I discovered that it was a real restaurant, but after all that had gone before it seemed like a surreal oasis: a laid back seafod bar set on the water. It was like the movie where there hero is hit by a crane and wakes up and thinks he’s gone to heaven.
I had only time for a drink and a debriefing with Calvin Reid, Judy Culkin and Kai Ming Cha. It seemed a ludicrous island of calm after all that had gone before, but I suppose when the Big Hilton opens in back of the Convention Center, this area will become as crowded and busy as any other. Oh well.
Dinner, as I have done for the past 13 or 14 years, was tapas with a few friends. Not counting my fish taco run with Stuart Moore and Michael Gaydos, it was the only hot meal I had with a group for the whole show. Then it was off to the traditional Graphitti Dead Dog party. Everyone was pretty dead, but it is always fun. I said hi to Denis Kitchen as he escorted whiz kid Alexa Kitchen home — even whiz kids have an early bed time, it seems. It was hi and bye to Bob Burden, Jeff Smith, Vijaya Iyer, Bob Schreck and many many others. I had no thoughts left to think and although people were trying to get me to go to the Hyatt for the last hurrah, I was hurrahed out.
But not quite. The next morning, I set off for Disneyland with a doughty crew tghat included, Trish, Ben, Mark Chiarello, and Richard and Tanya Horie. Mark, Richard and I had all worked for Disney at various times, so we had a lot of insider tales to share. This was my first trip to Disneyland in five or six years, and all my favorite rides had been improved a bit. The new bride at the Haunted Mansion was great, and Space Mountain is better than ever. (The little Rocketeer in the popcorn machine is still toiling away in Tomorrowland.) Small World was great, and you still go to hell with Mr. Toad. Indiana Jones is as fabulous as ever.
But then there was Pirates of the Caribbean, my favorite place on earth, now changed to reflect the deeply flawed film series. Would I hate it? I was filled with anxiety.
I could never truly hate Pirates, but the new version saddens me. The great sea battle, once eerily silent save for the splash of cannon balls and a single pirates ranting, is now loud and bombastic. Worst of all is the new ending, with Captain Jack Sparrow living to tell the tale of those who went before him. NO NO NO. Jack does not live. Pirates of the Caribbean is about a dusty pointless death and no one gets out of this thing alive. How could they screw it up like this? YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! DAMN YOU! GOD DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!
I guess Pirates of the Caribbean marred is as good a metaphor for Comic-Con as anything. We can all long for the Eden-like ideal of the US Grant, but once you’ve eaten from the Tree of Marketing Knowledge you can’t go back. I find the idea of Sam Raimi suggesting that the show be renamed Movie-Con – then guiltily saying he didn’t mean it another perfect metaphor. I don’t think Raimi, he of the Vulture, Sandman and Doc Ock, really wants to rename anything. He just got caught up in the heat of the moment like we all did.
Which leaves the real problem of what to do with all those people? San Diego is now like the World Series. You can’t just walk up and get a ticket. Is that really the correct model for a festival that is supposed to celebrate comics and cartoons?
As I pointed out in my first post, more people go to Comic-Con in a day than go to Disneyland!!! The buzzword for the future is off-site, off-site, off-site. More events at hotels, more events in tents, more events at PetCo Park for all I know.
While I’ve done my share of griping, I don’t mean to suggest that the hard working folks who run Comic-Con don’t share all my concerns and worries. I know they do. And I don’t envy any of them their jobs! Having done a tiny bit of event planning in my day I know how horrible a job it is and how you can never make everybody happy.
And then there are the locals. Last year, the mayor went to the show floor for the first time. This year he was slagging the show on the radio. I’m tempted to say something sweeping like “San Diego is a shitty town!” but that isn’t true, even though I would never live there. I guess I can see why pepople who spend all that money to live there don’t like armies of stormtroopers and pirates running around downtown eating all their food. Bars, and hotel and restaurants LOVE the con, of course, but that seems to be a license to jack up prices and not to make things any easier.
I think the vast majority of people had a good time this year, despite the struggles and lines. Although many folks say they won’t be back, when they announce next year’s Futurama panel or Family Guy panel or Batman panel, you know they will be lining up. They will be there to see Jim Lee and Michael Turner, as well as R. Stevens and Tycho and Gabe.
I do have one VERY MODEST PROPOSAL: Ban people in costume from the show floor. Seriously. When it wasn’t a movie star or a bag giveaway it was some girls in bikinis blocking traffic as scores of drooling fanboys stopped them to take their picture. There should be a costume promenade Under the Sails or something. I know this isn’t likely to happen but the costumed folks are the real traffic stoppers.
I kept saying that the crowding at San Diego was the best ad possible for the New York Comic-con, and indeed, I heard many publishers saying they are saving their announcements and roll outs for that show. As I suspected, Europeans are beginning to choose New York over San Diego — it’s cheaper and all Euros love New York. The people who got turned away are going to spill over to other venues, that’s undeniable.
The hotel problem is going to get worse before it gets better. I’m already hearing rumors that the Hyatt and Marriott are already sold out for next year. Indeed, you can’t book online for those dates now, but that may be some other kind of procedural glitch. I also heard that fewer rooms will be available at the Omni, which saddens me because that is my new favorite hotel. I suspect next year will be even WORSE for getting a hotel room, and paying less than $250 a night for a room is a thing of the past, and $350 is more like it. This will eventually correct itself as those who can’t afford it stop going to the show.
In the end, we’ll all adapt. I’ll pack food and water and bring it with me on the plane. Press lists will be widened. Parties will ebb and flow. Publishers will be happy just to sell literal tons of books and not worry about what’s going on in some other hall. The Picts and the Tuatha and the Saxons and the Normans will all enjoy their own little rituals and customs. And once a year all the tribes will get together for a big bonfire. And something will happen. Something big.