From the moment I walked into the convention center I knew I was outmoded, outmatched, outclassed. Although I had always mocked the idea of a Blackberry (working on the web, the idea of being web free is like the idea of having some time off) as I found myself pinned down under attack by an army of Slave Leias in the northern part of Hall E, I came to the realization that it was the only way to get a message through to the outside world. For the next few days I’d be an unarmed refugee in a war of twitter and webcams. And I was wrong about Twitter, too – the experience of SD07 was so numbing and overwhelming that it could only be covered in semi- coherent thoughts of less than 20 words.
While the punditocracy of San Diego was wondering if it should be renamed “MovieCon” we all know the movie war was lost long ago. Money talks. Give up on that front and move over to the new battlefronts of the platform and the pipeline. As I walked the floor in the first few hours, everything was about mobile content and online IP. The online barrage of info about the show is already almost as overwhelming as being there. It’s taken me days to get through even my most trusted sources – reading the 47,000 other blog postings about San Diego would be fruitless – why would anyone even want to do it? Signing up for your favorite Twitterer is the most time efficient way to follow the show.
Of course, the gatekeepers will always be the most popular destinations. MarkandRich’s San Diego Dreamingprovided high level snark that was easily the most entertaining coverage of the con. Whereas once you shared your one-liners about the show with a buddy at the end of the day in the hotel bar, now you can share it anonymously with your potential millions of buddies, and it will go around the world faster than the speed of sound. (Warning, when you Twitter and then say the same thing to people, you WILL be outed.)
While everyone else covered the show with a neat list of numbered bullet points, I’m taking the hard route on the North Face, with a narrative. Well I thought I would anyway. A week later, it’s all fading into a slurry, either the kind you make perfume from or the run-off from an abattoir.
As I’ve been saying for many years, there is no longer one single San Diego. There is the one I experience, often lightheaded from hunger, cranky from caffeine deprivation, with the clarity born of suffering. And yet still wildly fun and glamourous in that Weimar/South Beach/Beirut kind of way. After hearing all the complaints on the show floor, I was stunned to read all the reports from the indies that it was great and everyone made money,
Well, I expected everyone to make money, even if the flow of the show was changed this year due to the sell-outs. What I didn’t expect was people to be so chipper about it. Too many indie comics folks exist in a snob dome, where the only good sale is a perfect sale to a Clowes/Lethem-quoting aesthete. Perhaps the current comics boom has made mercenaries of everyone – money is money after all. Making hay while the sun shines has never seemed like such a good idea.
I confess, I had not a single conversation in the indie part of the show this year. The reasons were two fold; firstly, I much prefer socializing at shows like MoCCA and SPX, those bucolic romps where love and fellowship reign. I’d rather hang out with the people I like under such circumstances than have to shout at the top of my lungs with 100,000 people jostle my elbow.
Second off, this was my year to spy on the Normans. Between my freelancing for Fox Atomic and my increased media profile via this blog I had business at a variety of meetings and parties I never would have had access to prior to this year. With such old Pictish customs as the art auction and Masquerade increasingly lost to the old ways, I figured that only by drinking the liquor and eating the satay of the winning team could I see how the new guys were running things. It was to be an interesting year.
Wednesday was the now-ironically named “Preview Night” — when are they going to admit to reality and make this an actual half day, say, noon-6 instead of the ridiculous 6-9pm which means no one can eat dinner?
LESSON LEARNED #1: If you have any real business at the con, you need to get in on Tuesday. If you’re coming from the east coast in order to get there early Wednesday you have to stay up all night and catch an 8 am flight anyway — meaning you’ve already lost a full night’s sleep and are behind the eightball before you even begin. No mas. I’m done with that. Plus, airline schedules being what they are, you have no guarantee of getting in when you planned to. Airline snafus were frighteningly common this year, with people getting rerouted at the last minute, and arriving late. Yes, we’re going to have to pony up that exatra $400 for Tuesday in the very near future.
This Wednesday was as mad and crowded as a Friday or Saturday, as a hurricane of buyers hit the booths. I managed to get an exhibitor badge so I could sneak in and get a bunch of cool free shit, but without it, I would never have had one of those Smallville bags or a 300 shield.
The other lesson I learned about being a Norman is that you have to keep to a tight schedule. If you are of any importance whatsoever, you need to be somewhere every minute of the day — looking busy is the key to decreasing access and staying cool. There is no time to “wander the floor”.
LESSON LEARNED #2: If you haven’t planned out everything important you need to do two weeks before the show, fuhgeddaboutit. Because everyone important has a tight schedule, you need to squeeze into it weeks ahead of time. Everything crucial I needed to do was something I had planned way ahead of the show. Everything I tried to do on site was doomed to failure. Time to go to the drug store for a nail clipper? Fuhgeddaboutit. Set up meeting with big-name writer on site? Fuhgeddaboutit. Weasel your way into dinner with hot shots? Did we say FUHGEDDABOUTIT? Packing food and water may seem needlessly apocalyptic, but it’s really not a bad idea — in the past three years I’ve had time to go to Ralph’s exactly ONCE.
Anyway, back to Wednesday. I really don’t remember much of what happened minute to minute…I took as many pictures as I could to help me remember but I rarely even remembered to bring out my camera. I shot a few videos with the DivX crew — it was mostly stuff I had planned out in advance, but by sheer luck I ran into Scott McCloud at the concession stand, and got what I thought was a pretty cool interview with him. That was one of the few unplanned things that worked out on the show floor.
Aside: I really do want to shout out thanks to all the folks at DivX…especially Bruce Lidl and Michelle Osorio, who were always helpful and professional. I could not have made it through the con without them providing a relatively quiet booth to hide in when necessary.
LESSON LEARNED #3: You cannot do it alone. Unless you’re Clint Eastwood or Toshiro Mifune, you need back up. A LOT of it. You need a ground crew. You need runners. Look at it this way: Disneyland’s capacity is a mere 85,000 guests. Got that? We don’t actually know Comic-Con’s daily capacity but it was at least 85,000 people, all crammed into a much smaller area than Disneyland, with fewer resources for food and toilets, and fewer staff. Do you really think that was set-up for FUN?
When I saw Spurge for the first of two times on Friday night, I kidded him over him kidding me over the “survival” thing. Basically, the first few days of my blogging were all about “surviving the con.” In his remarks, Tom said
I don’t get a sense from anyone I talk to that the con is an unbelievable burden or that survival is the main factor. Quite the opposite: this seems to be a show populated by savvy old-timers. Also: not a ton of traffic at the comics end of the hall. Lots, but not unbelievably awful or anything.
It’s undoubtedly true that if you stuck to the old side of the hall, it wasn’t the Day of the Locust’s scene in Studio City in the middle of the hall. Since I split my time between the DivX booth in aisle #700 and the Fox Atomic booth in aisle #4400, I might as well have spent all day tooling down the 405 between Reseda and Santa Monica. You could say that this was my own choice, and I got what I deserved, but making such a plan wasn’t necessarily an invitation to punishment. I had places to be and people to see.
So there’s that elephant again.
Anyway, back to Wednesday. After some video blogging, and a PW Comics Week editorial meeting, picking up my copy of Rasl, and making sure I had secured a few other show special editions, I raced off to Horton Plaza for the Beowulf presentation. I made the mistake of going to my room to post first, and then walking instead of springing for a pedi-cab and was rewarded arriving late and being told the screening had closed. Only 3 or 4 other people were standing outside the theater, so it was a vastly loserish feeling to be the only 4 people who had missed the show. Luckily, one guy made an absolute stink, saying he had driven 3 hours and wouldn’t be kept out. They went off to “find someone to talk to.” The messenger came back and suggested we come up the stairs to talk to someone, and of course, then we were on our way into the show, right behind, ironically enough, screenwriters Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman.
Coming Soon’s (and old time Beat pal) Ed Douglas has a good write-up of the actual presentation. The 3D was impressive and yet oddly composed — so many shots from floor level! — and the characters all looked less creepy than POLAR EXPRESS, but less cuddly than REBOOT. Also, although the producers had hired Ray Winstone to play Beowulf, they must have wanted Sean Bean, because the CGI Mocap Beowulf looked just like him.
Although Gaiman and Avary put on a bonnie show of confidence, my humble opinion is that Robert Zemeckis is on some kind of quest to perfect animated CGI human beings, and he’s so engaged in this quest that he hasn’t noticed that the results are still very very off-putting due to the Uncanny Valley effect. There was much in BEOWULF that was striking and memorable and even vibrant and thrilling, but the main reaction is still “Wow, this looks weird!” I suppose this technology WILL one day be perfected, and then we’ll have no need of analog humans at all.
After the presentation, I joined a jolly group that included Marv Wolfman, Danny Fingeroth, Douglas Wolk, Laura Hudson and Scott McCloud on the trek to the after party, which was held on the first of a series of swanky rooftop bars with either firepits or swimming pools. This one was also decorated with items from the movie and it was pretty swell and swanky, all right. I got to finally meet Cecil Castelucci, who was with a woman who looked very familiar, and turned out to be a rock star I had interviewed a few years earlier. While there was a pocket of people I recognized, including the top people at both Marvel and DC, most of the people at the party were either writers for film web sites or Hollywood-types. These are the new Normans, alright. At one point, someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I must have turned around with that “Oh no a new threat!” look only to find it was actually Neil Gaiman, who, taken aback, said, “It’s only me!” We did manage to have a nice little chat, and I met his Hollywood agent, who turned out to know my step-father’s screenwriting work, so the small world thing was in full effect.
I also saw Grant Morrison and his always-stylish missus Kristen. I asked Grant about the progress of the WE3 movie, and he told me it is still moving along, with a possible director attached that he can’t name. He seemed quite optimistic about it and the alien movie he just wrote. I have my fingers crossed for WE3 — if someone makes it who really understands the source material, it will be the next 300.
After getting to introduce Morrison to EW’s Nisha Gopalan, and listening to Scott McCloud and Douglas Wolk talk about the Uncanny Valley some more, jetlag kicked in — I’d only slept about 2 hours since Monday night, and it was frankly shocking that I was even able to make any coherent sounds at all. I stumbled back to the Omni, where a lone Elite guard stood vigil each night over a in-progress chalk drawing of Beowulf. That poor guy.
I seem to have written enough of this narrative to convince myself that I’ll actually finish it, and so will leave the rest until tomorrow.