King Of The Nerd Prom: Comic-Con 2006
KING OF THE NERD PROM: COMIC-CON 2006
Armed with a disposable camera and a Moleskin notebook, one writer launches a book at Comic-Con International and lives to type the tale.
I told someone who isn't into comic books that I was going to be attending Comic-Con International in San Diego, CA, and she asked, "Oh! Is the convention really like how it was shown on Entourage?"
She was referring to the episode in Season 2 where Vincent Chase goes to Comic-Con to announce the Aquaman movie. My answer was yes and no. Yes, you do see some of the sights they featured on the show when you go to the convention, but no, it was really nothing like the actual event when you consider scale. It's forgivable that the show's producers portrayed the convention as being so small, as their budget would not have been able to account for the sheer size of the real deal, but it makes anyone who has ever actually been to the con laugh. If you want an idea of how much larger this happening is, imagine an Entourage episode where Vinnie and the boys go to the Superbowl, but instead of being in a stadium, it's being played in a high school gymnasium. That's how far off they were.
Estimates this year put attendance past the previous 100,000 record set in 2005. It's believed that when the count is done, 125,000 attendees will have been accounted for. The Comic-Con International now spreads from one end of the San Diego Convention Center to the other, as well as taking over all the upstairs rooms for panels, presentations, and even more booths that could not be crammed onto the main floor. These days, the moniker "Comic-Con" is almost a misnomer. While it is the professional comic book field that essentially forms the chewy center of this nerd candy, it's really more of a pop culture event these days. Movie studios, book publishers, anime manufacturers, and retailers of all kinds join comic book publishers and creators to hawk their wares. Panels have gotten to be a rather big deal, and the show is enough of a draw that the cast of Spider-Man 3 was there to show advance footage, the makers of Lost gave some sneak peeks of the third season, and Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino unveiled details about Grindhouse. Companies like Giant Robot and Graphitti Designs have booths selling their specialty publications and T-shirts; New Line set up a giant snake that people could walk inside to look at clips from the geekgasm of the summer, Snakes on a Plane; and a lot of the major indie comic book publishers premiered some of their newest books.
That list of new books included my second full-length prose novel, The Everlasting. My publisher, Oni Press, moved its print date up by a few weeks so we could have them available for the show. It's been six years since my first book debuted at Comic-Con, so we were all very excited. They set me up with two signings a day, each totaling a little over 90 minutes. The official convention runs Thursday through Sunday (July 20-23 this year), with an added Wednesday "Preview Night" for the four-day attendees. I arrived Wednesday afternoon so I could be part of that. I almost thought I wouldn't make it, given the long line I had to stand in to get my badge, but I managed to work my way through. There was some worry that I had encountered a bad omen when the guy behind me in line turned out to have friends who make independent films. He didn't have too many kind words about DVDTalk reviewers, but I was able to get out of his scorn by noting I was new to the staff and had not yet had time to give his buddies any negative write-ups. Phew!
Wednesday night runs from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, which comes after two long days of setting up. (Normal days are 10:00 am to 7:00 pm.) Given that there were sections of the convention floor that were already extremely difficult to navigate, just about everybody who was working the show was already in a daze. Oni's booth was all ready to go, and they had blown-up versions of the covers to The Everlasting and my comic book with Marc Ellerby, Love the Way You Love, which they excitedly pointed out were in prominent positions in the booth. I sat down and kicked off the show with five immediate sales. Bad omen be gone, we were there to sell books!
THURSDAY: OPENING DAY
If Wednesday's crowd was already daunting, then Thursday was more like an avalanche. The line of people waiting to get in disappeared on the horizon farther than my eye could trail. I started out my official show with a lunch meeting over Thai food. Laurenn McCubbin, the new managing editor of Shojo Beat, wanted to talk to myself and fellow writer Kelly Sue DeConnick (also the star of my Everlasting photo) about contributing text pieces to the magazine. Published by Viz, Shojo Beat is an anthology of Japanese comics aimed at young girls. Having had a subscription since the first issue, this is an opportunity I am psyched for. Plus, Laurenn is becoming a bit of an industry giant, having previously been art director for Image Comics, as well as helping launch Kitchen Sink Magazine.
On my way to the Oni booth, I actually stopped by her former home, Image, and looked at some of the books she had been a part of setting the look for before she left. Matt Fraction and Garbriel Ba's Casanova is a real hoot for anyone who is a devotee of such gonzo adventure films as Danger: Diabolik. I'm a big fan of Matt's, and the second issue of the comic had just come out that week. Also debuting was the anthology 24Seven, a spin-off of NYC Mech. Writer Ivan Brandon put on his editing hat to bring together a large group of the coolest creators in alternative comics to create a high-gloss collection of short stories about NYC Mech's robotic future. 24Seven is printed in gorgeous color, and well worth a looksee.
While I signed my books, the parade of costumes began. Keep in mind, not everyone dresses up for this. Maybe 1 in 10 people come in costume, and that is probably a high estimate. In the digital age, photos of some of the more bizarre get-ups can travel all over the place, so certain costumed fans have taken on a degree of infamy. Stars of previous cons, like the black '70s Superman and Stormtrooper Elvis returned, while as far as I know, the rather large gentlemen in the cardboard Optimus Prime outfit did not. He was thankfully replaced by a little kid in his own Transformers costume, and the child was much more adorable. (You can see pictures of that kid, plus many more at this excellent Flickr pool. There are even a few of me in there.) While a corpulent Boba Fett is old hat to a regular con-goer such as myself, I'm still impressed by the more bizarre and unique cosplayers. My pal Ross Campbell was sitting next to me and promoting his beautiful and dark Oni series Wet Moon when a man who I thought was dressed as a medieval Mongol approached him. Ross asked about his outfit -- bright colors, satiny fabric, fur lined cuffs and hat -- and the man told him he was a Celtic warrior who traveled with a band of gypsies who were currently engaged in a mock battle somewhere upstairs. They may only fight with Nerf weapons, but he was still proud enough to brag that he was undefeated. Oooookay.
I did a little wandering. I walked by the Snakes on a Plane set-up, and they had a huge line. It amused me to hear a diminutive white woman explain how Sam Jackson said he wanted to do the movie because it had "snakes on a muthafuckin' plane." It just didn't sound the same coming out of her mouth. I also went by the Adult Swim area, but no one had arrived as of yet. Instead, I went to see the creative collective known as Man of Action. It's a group formed by some of mainstream comics' most avant-garde creators: Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau, and Steven T. Seagle. I made one of my only purchases of the show, picking up Duncan's The Nightmarist and Seagle's comic with Stefano Gaudiano, Kafka. It's a true testament to the diversity of this group that the books are so different. The Nightmarist is a kinetic horror fantasy, while Kafka is a reprint of the frenetic thriller that is a cult classic amongst connoisseurs of early '90s indie.
My signings went okay for the day. I had returning readers excited to see the follow-up to Cut My Hair and new fans intrigued by the odd sight of a prose author at a comic book publisher. I've gotten used to the stinky-diaper face some people make when they open the book and see the lack of pictures, so it's always pleasing when someone is pleasantly surprised and actually takes a chance on li'l ol' me. A comic book convention is the lone place an author will ever hear himself utter the phrase, "No, I only write," as if that were such a bad thing. A lot of people run around with little sketchbooks getting free drawings from artists, and writers are left out of this game most of the time, for obvious reasons. That said, I think I did three or four sketches over the weekend. People like getting bad drawings from writers, and I usually oblige them with lame self-portraits that I then caption with such things as "Disgruntled Writer" or "Drunk Author." I wish I could say that I set out to draw whatever mood I prescribed my inky self, but alas, I usually just went with however it turned out.
For night-time entertainment, I attended the soiree thrown by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an important charity helping professionals and retailers who find themselves entangled in censorship issues. If you think that the powers-that-be aren't trying to shut businesses down for producing material that they deem too subversive, you're wrong. Check out the details of this essential organization at their website.
Interestingly, though the crowd was larger on the second day, my signings were a little slower. I think once the aisles start filling up, people spend more time looking. They also likely went crazy the first day and did more impulse buying than they were supposed to, so they tend to pull back and make notes of things they like to buy later. I tried not to let such lulls get me down, and instead used such moments to push free previews of 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, my October graphic novel with artist Joëlle Jones. It's the talking with potential fans that turns them into real ones, and everyone loves free stuff.
In between my scheduled times, I attended the Shojo Beat panel, where I could meet some of the other Viz editors. They had prepared a presentation showcasing forthcoming titles and their new DVD line, which just debuted with the series Full Moon. Most exciting, though, was the appearance of Matsuri Hino, the creator of the new Shojo Beat serial, Vampire Knight. The appearance of Japanese comic book artists at Western cons is a rather new thing, speaking to the growing popularity of manga in the US. There was a noticeable buzz in the room, as this may have been the first time most of the fans there could see one of their favorite cartoonists up close. Hino was shy and a little overwhelmed by the response. She spoke in Japanese, and the magazine's editor in chief, Yumi Hoashi, translated.
Another of the honored Japanese guests that I wish I could have met was Kazuo Koike, writer of the legendary Lone Wolf and Cub series, the excellent Lady Snowblood manga, and many others. Alas, the life of a working professional at the con is not the same as a fan's, so I could not squeeze much in. Most disappointing was my after-the-fact discovery that Borat was at the show promoting his upcoming movie. I'm a huge fan of all the Ali G-related productions, and I would have loved to have gotten a photo next to Borat giving the thumbs-up sign.
In addition to missed opportunities, this was to be the day for social faux pas. I accidentally introduced someone as her business partner rather than herself. It was really embarrassing. Conventions, coupled with copious amounts of alcohol, turn one's brain to mush. I followed this incident up with one later where I thought Mike Holmes, artist of the Billy Wilder-homage Shenanigans, was a fan trying to sneak into the Oni booth. Discovering who he was after I tried to throw him out was blush-inducing. He paid me back on Sunday night by clumsily dropping his beer in front of me, and my shoes and pants bore the brunt of the resulting blast. Let's call it even. I just hope you're better at gripping an ink brush, man, since I saw you drop another drink later.
Friday was the day that free samplers of the upcoming Gojira/Godzilla DVD were being handed out. The sampler contains both the U.S. and Japanese theatrical trailers, and then multiple scenes from each version of the film (though no subtitles on the Japanese ones, just the constant "For Promotional Purposes Only" warning). I am not sure how final the picture quality is, but I would hope that given the amount of excitement there is for this disc, Sony and Toho would put their best foot forward. The black-and-white looks good with strong contrasts and decent blacks, but there are still plenty of scratches on the negative, with the Raymond Burr footage looking slightly better than the original Japanese material. A big surprise comes near the end with scenes from Godzilla Raids Again and Godzilla vs. Mothra, both due in November. Maybe I was asleep, but this is news to me. The Mothra clip is actually the widescreen Japanese trailer, and the color looks really, really good. The whole DVD sampler runs about 15 minutes.
On the party front, though there were no organized activities I attended that evening, the professional folks do find places to congregate and consume too much booze. I was in particularly high spirits and actually got away with walking up to one lovely lady I knew and declaring that I was going to give her an "inappropriate drunken hug." She seemed fine with it, since the next night when I tried to leave without delivering one, she demanded her due. (Speaking to how much the Comic-Con experience blurs, I'm starting to think I'm a day off and the first hug was actually Thursday. I can't swear to anything, really -- except that the lady in question was a comic book retailer and I had to bow to her will.)
Rather than return to my hotel in my inebriated state, I decided to stay out and sober up. Luckily, Dark Horse's Katie Moody, who is sure to be the next mega-editor in the comic book industry, sat outside with me. We discussed old movies and marveled at the fact that across the way, we could see people having a light saber battle on the Convention Center steps. Apparently threats to the universe never sleep, and so swords will still be drawn past 3:00 am. Katie also gave me the award for the most cynical quip of the convention: "The amusing thing about new people at [Unnamed Company] is that they are the rats who have yet to realize there is no exit to the maze."
Yes, comic book people are a bitter lot.
Despite not going to bed until 4:00 am, I was on time for the 10:30 Oni presentation -- only to discover that my presence was not required. The panel was mainly focusing on announcing new projects. DVDTalk fans might be interested to hear that Oni -- who previously has worked with Kevin Smith and Penn Jillette and done licensed tie-ins for the The Blair Witch Project and Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog -- are going to be doing three new entertainment tie-ins next year: comic books for My Name is Earl; the new Doug Liman flick, Jumpers; and original adventures of Stephen Colbert's fictional space hero, Tek Jansen. I do believe a Stephen Colbert comic book is exactly what the world needs, don't you?
Saturday is easily the most crowded day of the convention. To be honest, I don't actually like being there because I can't stand trying to walk through the crowd. It can take five minutes to travel five feet. Thankfully, it was my day to be wined and dined, and business associates took me out to lunch to discuss upcoming projects. Thus, I got out of the hall and it was on someone else's dime. Perfect.
At one point, a film crew from IFC set up in front of me to shoot some footage. They didn't interview me, but maybe I'll be in the shot. I did get interviewed by Pop Culture Shock on Sunday, so maybe that will be put up somewhere (their podcast, perhaps?) if it's useable. I always lose my voice at the con, and as I said to the interviewer, I sounded like Lauren Bacall after she'd eaten an ashtray. I'm not sure I would be intelligible on any microphone at that point.
The last day is both the easiest day and in some ways, the busiest. Remember how I said attendees start to catalogue what they want to buy later? Well, Sunday is the later. I spent an hour and a half selling nothing, and then the last hour of the show selling books like mad.
I finally got to wander around a bit more, too. I went back by Adult Swim and grabbed a pretty neat postcard book they were giving away. It has bizarre images by artists like Gary Panter and Bill Sienkiewicz, production art from the various shows, and some photos from previous Comic-Cons by Colby Katz. A neat little promo that you should snag if you run across it.
The IFC booth was screening trailers for people to rate, and they were also handing out a Media Lab DVD. It showcases nine short films billed as the "best of the summer." For the most part, the shorts weren't that impressive: underdeveloped scripts, overacting, and the directors consistently confused "twist ending" with "story." One standout, though, is "Kismet," a movie that came out of workshops with homeless children in Delhi. It's effective for its simplicity, wringing emotion from an uncomplicated morality play about the pull a "bookworm" feels between the literature he loves and the real necessities of living.
Finally, on my way back to Oni, I stopped by the Graphitti Designs booth and scored the first graphic novel prequel to Richard Kelley's Southland Tales. It looks great. Brett Weldele did the art, and he's always good. I also went by some of the small press tables and got the second Bumperboy book, Bumperboy and the Loud, Loud Mountain, from Debbie Huey (you must buy her books for any child in your life) and a postcard and minicomic from Karen Knighton. I was unfamiliar with her work, but I was struck by her minimal approach. Visit Birdenvy.com and check out some of her animated films.
And that was pretty much it. I helped the Oni guys with taking down the booth, and then it was off for the last party of the show, where a small group of pros hang around, eat and drink, and just decompress. Comic-Con is a much more tiring experience than it may sound. Lots of talking, lots of shaking hands, and non-stop promotion. It was quite a year, though. The reaction to The Everlasting was really strong, and I look forward to it hitting shelves this week.
On Monday, on my taxi ride to the airport, the cab driver and I talked about how odd it is the day after the convention. San Diego is prepared for this annual influx now, and the city steels itself for what is perhaps the largest gathering they see all year. It ties up traffic, clogs up restaurants, and I imagine a lot of people avoid downtown until it's over. Then comes Monday morning, and it's like the bomb has dropped and people evaporated. We wondered where they all went so quickly. All that's left is the detritus -- a plastic bag with the logo of a comic book publisher now being used by a homeless person, and the colorful flyers that were being handed out all weekend gathering in the gutters.
I can't say I wasn't happy to be going home, but I also am already looking forward to next year. As crazy as that feels to type, I really kind of am.