No, I’m not talking about the amazing animal park in San Diego — I’m talking about Comic-Con. Now THAT’s a zoo!
Four days… 130,000 people… a single building three-quarters of a mile long. Man, was I not prepared.
I’ve been to big conventions before, notably the 50,000+ person E3 shows (in its old incarnation, of course), but Comic-Con was so much bigger it was different in kind, not just in degree. The crush of humanity, the ridiculous lines to see anyone or anything, the exhibit hall aisles so crowded they looked like a New York Subway train at rush hour only worse, the (ahem!) aroma of massed humanity. Sheer craziness. At one point, I ran into game designer, David Jaffe (as we both stared forlornly at the mile-long line to get into the Peter Molyneux/Cliffy B talk) and we both just sort of shook our heads knowing we’d never get in. Even being friends with the guys on the stage wasn’t going to get us in that room. Sad (but nice to get to hang with Dave for a bit…).
Anyway, I did get to do and see a bunch of cool stuff that made the trip worthwhile. For starters, my wife was on a panel about writing superhero fiction — check out her story in the latest Wildcards anthology, Inside Straight — and I always enjoy being Mister Caroline Spector at shows. Beyond that, Steven Moffatt (creator of the UK comedy, Coupling, and writer of some of the best Dr. Who scripts ever) was on a panel talking about what he’s going to do now that he’s Da Man on Dr. Who and I’m filled with optimism about the upcoming season. (Ditto for Torchwood, which also promises to be hugely entertaining next year). Moffatt was everything I hoped he would be, and that’s saying something given how sky-high my expectations were.
What else did I do and see?…
On the media side, I attended a session about production design on the Star Wars: Clone Wars movie/series and was struck by how similar movies and games are nowadays, in the kind of planning and the level of quality required. I also managed to pick up a few pointers I can take back to Junction Point, which is nice.
I was fortunate enough to grab a seat for a jam-packed session with ex-Disney animator/story guy (and ex-Disney comic writer/artist) Floyd Norman. Man, oh, man, did he live up to his Disney Legend status. I’ve always been a bit in awe of his talent but he also proved to be a funny, funny man and terrific storyteller. The combination of wit and cynicism he brought to the con was a breath of fresh air. If you’re not familiar with his stuff, check out his blog, Mr. Fun, and his columns on the Jim Hill Media website — well worth the price of admission.
On the comics side (and, man, the show could have used more comics programming!), I was thrilled — THRILLED — to listen to Jim Starlin (my absolute fave comic artist and writer) as he recounted, with almost unnatural humility, his life in comics. His Captain Marvel and Warlock stuff in the late 70s/early 80s revitalized my interest in comics and, as far as I’m concerned changed comics forever. The guy’s layouts completely broke the mold and the range of subjects he tackled (death, religion, disease), was just incredible. After Starlin’s solo panel, the lovely Caroline and I hot-footed it over to a “Comics in the 70s” panel featuring Starlin, Mark Evanier, Joe Staton, Mike Grell, Mike Barr, Bernie Wrightson and Len Wein. Man. I was floored. Talk about a collection of talent. Men among boys…
But, cool as all that stuff was, the coolest thing by far was a panel with James Warren, Verne Langdon and (wait for it…) Forrest J Ackerman! Warren published Famous Monsters of Filmland. Langdon, among other things, made masks for Don Post — masks I lusted after with every fiber of my being when I was a kid reading about ’em in Famous Monsters (but could never afford…). And then there was Forrie… Forrie… Ah. The editor of Famous Monsters was a towering figure in my life — right up there with Ray Harryhausen and Robert Heinlein. He was a friend (though it was a one-sided friendship only I knew about) and he made it okay to be a geek about movies and monsters back when geeks most definitely did NOT rule the world. He was smart, clever, a punster, a role model, a mentor. Damn. And even now, at 92 or something, he’s still sharp and willing to sit for hours signing autographs for goobers like me who drone on and on about how he changed our lives. Meeting Forrie made the whole trip worthwhile.
Good thing, ’cause that’s about ALL I got to see. The lines to get into the Disney and Pixar presentations were insane. Ditto any of the big movie previews, like Watchmen. And anyone who thought they were going to see Joss Wheadon was delusional.
Luckily, there was plenty to see (and buy!) in the football-field-size exhibit hall. Man. The designer toy scene is amazing these days. And it’s pretty cool to walk the dealers room and see Neal Adams over there at one booth, Bernie Wrightson at another, Stephan Martiniere, Michel Gagne, Al Feldstein, Paul Gulacy, Steve Rude, Bill Willingham…. Nice. (And if you don’t know who those guys are, well, isn’t that what Google’s for?…)
Cool as the show was, the whole crowd thing has me wondering if I’ll go to Comic-Con again. Probably not, unless I’m working the show — it really is an amazing place to get a game or movie or comic book in front of people and I wouldn’t be surprised if more game companies started attending. meaning, odds are, I’ll be attending, too. As an old comic book fan, I kinda wish it were more comics-centric and a bit less of a media extravaganza. Still, whether I go again or not, I’m sure glad I experienced it at least once.