Where was I? Thursday dawned bright and sunny. I blogged a bit and then sat down in a cafe for a healthy, nutritious breakfast with Laurenn McCubbin. It was to be my only vaguely healthy, nutritious breakfast for many days. As I walked to that most excellent breakfast place on Island, everyone else was heading towards the show, and many people I knew on the street told me I was going the wrong way. Little did they know I had breakfast on my mind.
Once I got to the show I experienced LESSON LEARNED #4: Even if you have a schedule. no one else does. I have no idea what I did all day. Everything got behind schedule and nothing ever turned out quite the way I expected. I stopped by the Fox Atomic booth for a while, but its locale at the nexus of Paramount and the Warner Bros. Smallville bag giveaway corner made it only slightly less insane than the fall of Saigon. While I was hanging out there I was interviewed by a writer for the local paper and got quoted the next day, which someone even texted me to alert me to.
Then some friends of mine who are “not in the business” as they say needed help getting into the show, so I had to do that. I had planned to do some video blogging, but I didn’t make it over to that side of the hall in time. I did make it to a meeting or two, and managed to get outside for a bit.
Thursday was — and here’s the mind boggling thing — the only day on which you could walk up to the show and get in if you didn’t already have a ticket. It was already mad crowded. To tell the truth, I couldn’t see any difference between this day and any other, crowd-wise. Every time I walked by the WB booth I heard announcements that there would be more bags and more shields LATER. Despite their scarcity those bags were everywhere. Some people would drag their bag behind them, filled with swag, the way a lion drags a wildebeest carcass.
As time passed, people kept texting me with their whereabouts and activities. One of my friends went to get his pro badge and ended up standing in line for OVER TWO HOURS. (That was bad luck, it seems. Although there was lot of confusion over having your bar code letter or not, registration seemed to go smoothly most of the time.) Towards the end of the day, there was a signing for THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY, the most truly awesome graphic novel I edited for Fox Atomic Comics. I got to say hi to Joe Harris, Ben Templesmith, Stuart Moore and Michael Gaydos, as well as my FA fearless leader Eric Lieb, who in addition to being the EIC of Fox Atomic Comics, also ran the booth, which means he is made of sterner stuff than most people.
After the signing I realized I hadn’t eaten since that healthy, nutritious breakfast, so I managed to get Stuart and Michael to come EAT with me. That was awesome! We went to the fish taco place outside the Omni…we got there early enough so it wasn’t crowded, and the fish tacos were top notch. That was definitely a highlight of the show.
I would say that Thursday was a busy night of socializing except that every night was a choice between at least half a dozen parties. I missed the CBLDF party and the IDW party, both of which I heard were excellent. Instead, I went back to the convention center for the Friends of Lulu awards, only to arrive after everything had already happened! I was bummed, but I did get to eat a brownie and drink some lemonade. That’s what Friends of Lulu is all about! MK Reed told me the winners, and John Green and Shannon Crane gave me their hellish airline travel stories — John’s was by far the most hellish, involving a detour to Atlanta, a ride on a golf cart and other things even more alarming.
Then I decided to hit the Avatar party since it was right across from the convention center. I always wondered what went on at that round building right across from Hall B and now I know. This was a laid back and pleasant outdoor affair. In addition to his nibs, Warren Ellis, I spotted Robert Englund hanging out, and a bunch of people from Marvel and Top Cow. My NYC homegirl Nina Kester of Cartoon Allies managed to find her way to the party, and as a first time attendee I enjoyed hearing all her impressions of the show. I also ran into my old time homies Rantz Hosely and Derek McCulloch, and then, in one of those weird things that only happens at Comic-Con I heard someone shouting my name and it was Jula Bell, punk rock goddess and my one time assistant at Disney Adventures. Jula — who is one of the coolest people on earth — was accompanied by her beaux, who happened to be Thom Ang, who I knew back in the day from Disney. Thom had worked with Rantz there as well, and I even have a Polaroid of Rantz and Jula sitting together at my going away party in LA in 1994…but we had never all been together in the same spot before, if that makes any sense. This is definitely one of those moments that only means something to the people involved, but it is one of the dimensional warps of Comic-con — at any given moment ANYONE from your past can appear and suddenly become part of your present or even your future, and after a few episodes of this, your mind starts to melt just like a Dali print, and anything seems possible.
Then more of my present and future pals showed up and we decided to hike back to the Hyatt. People urged me to go to the excellent CBLDF party or the excellent IDW party, but they were clear on the other side of town, and there was no way I was going back.
At the Hyatt all possibly realities were colliding. I mean, “tumult” doesn’t even describe it. With the high ceilings and lack of padding, the roar of voices was deafening. In about 10 minutes I ran into about 100 people I knew, and by the time I got to the bar, at 1:15, they had called last call. I couldn’t even get a glass of water, but as if by fate, Jim Lee happened to show up, and worked his magic and got me a glass of water. God bless Jim Lee.
By then I was zoinked, already having had as much activity as a normal human would experience in a week, and I was only a day and a half in.
FRIDAYdawned with a few cups of Vietnamese coffee and a bagel. No more healthy nutritious breakfasts for THIS blogger.
From my vantage point at the Omni, I could see the lines gathering outside Hall H. By now it was 10 am. Early, but not early enough. I struggled to get some posts up, but couldn’t help looking out the window every few minutes. The Warner Bros presentation including Watchmen was at 10:30 and was sure to be crowded, so I had to decide fast: blog or stand in line?
Finally I dashed out of the hotel room and across the tracks. The line was long but moving, which was good because the early morning sunlight was strong. I heard someone call my name, and it turned out to be my pals Joanne Starer and her man Marc Letzmann so I cut in line with them. The line had suddenly begun moving in fits and starts. I was already suffering from general morning crankiness, and the line not moving wasn’t doing my mood any good.
Plus, and here I must throw myself on the mercy of Nat Gertler, I began to resent the fact that I had to stand in line at all. If 23 years of covering Comic-Con doesn’t get you a pass, what does? We got inside and out of the sun, near the concession stand for people who don’t want to leave Hall H. Hall H is its own little ecosystem…it has its own food and bathrooms for people who don’t want to leave. If you really want to cover the goings on there you need to get in in the morning and camp out. But I didn’t have time for that.
As we waited, someone came out and seemed to be saying that the hall was full and now it would be one person out, one person in. I decided to ditch this line and, perhaps only out of perverse curiosity, see what was going on at “SE”…the special entrance.
As poorly marked as the door to Disneyland’s legendary Club 33, this is where the people who have passes to Hall H can get in without standing in line. The entrance was manned by some Elite guards and a Comic-con staffer. Alex Romanelli of TV Week was also trying to get in.
“Where is the press list? Who has access to it?” I asked, probably not in the most polite tone of voice.
“There is no press list,” said the Elite guy. And I admit, this really pissed me off. I am a grown up and you don’t need to lie to me. And in fact, the nice lady from Comic-Con said that if you were on the WB press list you would already have your wrist band and your pass. I guess this pissed me off even further, and flashed me back to LESSON LEARNED #2: If you don’t have it planned months in advance it isn’t going to happen. Poor Alex wasn’t getting any further than I was, and there was no way I was going to the back of the line to get in, as we were told to do. Rather childishly, I thought, well if I can’t get into some dumb panel, I guess I’ll go call Alan Moore or Dave Gibbons instead. And so I gave up. I would just have to read about the panel on ComingSoon, and IGN, and about 100 other websites that were on the proper lists.
There I was, a poor Saxon in a rude tunic trampled beneath Norman hooves. It wasn’t like I was asking for a limo or dinner, or lox and bagel or a free cup of coffee. I just wanted to cover an event at Comic-con. Judging by the number of complaints I heard from other members of the “legitimate” press, I was not the only person who couldn’t get into some panel they wanted to see. The reality is that the studios have all the control over who gets into Hall H. That means I need to call each and every studio publicity person and try to convince them that I want to cover their panels, which, I know, isn’t like invading Normandy or anything, but its 20 other things to do. UPDATE: I’ve since been informed that this isn’t exactly the case.
I realize that thousands and thousands of people get “press passes” to Comic-Con and some of them are little dinky bloggers, and some of them are EW and the New York Times. And not all of them deserve equal access. And I’m not kidding myself — I have access to people and places that regular folks don’t have. I know that. But I don’t want to be a prima donna. After all my whining, someone from Comic-Con walked me into the SHOOT’EM UP panel, and I appreciate that, but I wish there were a system in place where I didn’t HAVE to call in favors like that. My immediate suggestion would be that Comic-Con just have its OWN press list for Hall H events — but I’m guessing the studios would not allow such a thing, because they have their own feuds and tiffs and rules and regulations.
The new sold-out paradigm means that there need to be new ways of doing things. This year, judging from the online reports I read, it wasn’t just Hall H that was impossible to get into. Ballroom 20 was also limited access, as was room 6. Everywhere I went I saw giant lines for the media panels. The press should certainly NOT take up all the seats at these panels (although ironically, the studios probably wouldn’t mind that, since the main reason they put on all these dog and pony shows is to get internet chatter started.) But the system as it worked this year seems to have left a lot of people frustrated and pissed off. The result: a series of movies-only events, and comic book working stiffs like me left out in the cold.
A lot of this goes back to LESSON LEARNED #3: You cannot do it alone. To get into Hall H you need that ground crew to help with the calls and the credentials. I generally go it alone, because I work best alone, just like the Rangers of Arnor. But that isn’t practical any more.
After being rebuffed at Hall H (and by the way Joanne and Marc got in a few minutes after I left, but I don’t regret what I did.) I went upstairs looking for the press room. On the way I ran into Trina Robbins, who was as fed up and tuckered out as I was. Now, it is safe to say that Trina Robbins is not a person who keeps her opinion secret, and her opinion of San Diego was that she would never come back. As we swapped gripes, it dawned on me that here I was with one of the ORIGINAL Comic-conners, one of the valiant 300 who had sat around the pool at the US Grant and the Pickwick with Milton Caniff and Kirby and all of that.
UPDATE: In the comments, it has been revealed that though Trina was NOT one of the Noble 300 at the US Grant, she did begin attending in 1975. I think my comments should make it clear that it is not who was or wasn’t sitting around that legendary pool that I am talking about, but rather, that entire era, and by any definition, Trina qualifies as an original Comic-Con-er.
“Didn’t you win an Inkpot?” I asked her. (The Inkpot is an award given to meritorious folks by the Convention.) As a matter of fact she had…in 1977. That’s before most of you reading this were born, I’m guessing. When you win an Inkpot you also get a Golden Pass that gets you into the show for free for life. I suggested that the Con should have special entrances for people with Golden Passes.
“But I lost it a long time ago,” said Trina. Indeed, who could imagine holding onto a piece of cardboard for 30 years.
I began to feel a sense of pride for people like Trina, the originals who had made the con what it would become…for REAL. Hollywood people like Sam Raimi and Leonardo DiCaprio and Michael Uslan and James Cameron used to come to the San Diego Comic-Con to meet their favorite cartoonists, not the other way around. In the beginning it was Sergio and Jack and Gil, Scott Shaw, Stan Sakai.
I am not for one INSTANT suggesting that the folks who run Comic-Con do ANYTHING to disrespect these people. Far from it. I want to stress that everyone from Comic-Con I dealt with was incredibly patient and helpful, and I heard no different. That is not my point. But with a crowd the size of Disneyland now surging around the halls, it’s not too much to ask that the originals should be treated with some of the perks the movie stars get. I truly believe they are the real stars. I believe that with all my heart. The Spurge talked about “wily veterans” who have survival strategies. Indeed, we all have our secret taco stand or unknown Starbucks or surreptitious sushi chef. But at one point I talked to a hardened Comic-con vet exhibitor who said that he was tired of making plans to go to Ralph’s at either 7:30 in the morning or 10:30 at night. YOU CANNOT GO IT ALONE.
One day the exhibit hall was opened a half hour early by complete surprise, and some people weren’t even at their booths. If people are going to be asked to man their booths for even longer hours, they need their OWN coffee stand, dammit. No one has time to stand in line for half an hour for a cup of coffee all the time. By Saturday there was a half hour wait for the SUBWAY sandwich shop. It’s ridiculous.
I imagine that to some of you reading this it is all coming off as privileged whining. I’m sure I’ll be castigated at various blogs for my sense of “fangirl entitlement.” I’m as wily a veteran as anyone. but this time all my secret routes were blocked off and my usual getaways were packed with roving gangs. New crowds, new survival strategies. If I have to hire someone to go to Ralph’s for carrots, and get me coffee and stand in line, well I guess that’s the way it has to be.
Back to our thrilling narrative. After showing Trina the secret elevator to the floor, I went to the press registration desk and asked if there was a “Schedule of events.” No there was not. There was a very nice guy there whose name I do not, unfortunately, remember, and he knew who I was (I didn’t mention my affiliation) and listened very patiently while I ranted and raved for a while. I later got a very nice call from David Glanzer, which, again, I very much appreciated. I have always had a very good relationship with David, and he has always been available to me for all my press needs. That is not the problem. The problem, as I told David, was that there should be a better system so I don’t HAVE to call him when I need him. After this whole thing, I heard about how Kate Beckinsale was late for the WHITEOUT panel and Steve Lieber and the producer of the movie couldn’t even get past the people at the Special Entrance, which is wristband ONLY. When the co-creator of the damned comic book can’t even talk his way into a panel, something is seriously odd.
I went back to the press room, which is Spartan and not in a good way. The San Diego Comic-Con press room is by far the most meager press room for any event I have ever seen. At Toy Fair there are computers and ethernet lines and press kits and coffee, donuts, and tea. (The food does go very very fast.) In the San Diego press room there are tables and chairs and a water cooler.
The only reason I’m going into this at some length is because everybody sits around talking about how big the show has gotten, but I don’t think everybody is ready to come to grips with changing procedures to solve the new problems that come with that popularity.
Or maybe I am just a crank. U decide.
ANYWAY back to the show. As my regular readers know, Clive Owen has been a running gag here on the Beat since the very beginning! I could have called up the New Line people and odds are that I could have gotten into the press roundtables with Mr. Clive. But I didn’t do that. I didn’t because…well I guess it would have been anticlimactic. Plus, I probably would have embarrassed myself. As one of my fellow journos told me. “I choked. He’s too handsome to talk to. It was awful.”
No, no I didn’t want to risk that and lose my cool cred forever.
Well, THAT saga was over. It was time for some meetings! At four o’clock or so, I found myself escorting Paul Pope across the hall. Paul hadn’t been to San Diego in 10 YEARS and was amused by the madness. Just getting across a few halls now took a minimum of 10-15 minutes. Somewhere south of the big Jabba the Hut set-up there was a huge commotion, and a logjam near the G4 booth.
“What’s going on?” Paul wondered.
“They must be giving something away,” I guessed. “No hold on, they’re interviewing some handsome guy…wait, it’s Clive Owen!”
While Paul’s steady hand kept me on course, I found the idea of the toy-eschewing, classical actor Owen actually walking the floors of Comic-Con the most amusing notion of all.
That said, when Jessica Alba and Dane Cook got on the floor, or Kevin Bacon, they caused similar logjams. I’m not sure having movie stars on the floor is a very good idea.
Friday would be a day without food or pity. Since that lonely bagel I ate only…a pretzel and a Rockstar energy drink I think. I don’t remember. I made sure to leave the hall before the 7 pm mass exodus, dropped my shit off at the room, and started on the longest night of the con.
WOW! I’ve written nearly 4000 words and I’m still only halfway done.
Okay. One more day. I crave your indulgence.