A Fan’s Perspective:

San Diego Comic Con 2006

In the mid 90s, I vowed never to return to the San Diego Comic Con because of the hours of waiting in line in the heat and the crowds. I decided to go this year but not because of the best parties outside of ghostbar at the Palms, not because I hoped to be an extra in a new episode of Entourage, and not because I wanted to tell Bryan Singer off for putting the kid in Superman Returns.

Of course, I decided to go because I was getting a FREE VIP badge from the wonderful Sal Abbinanti at AlexRossArt.com. Also, I decided to go because Sequart.com was giving me a FREE t-shirt. (Plus, I agreed to write about some of my impressions of the convention.)

The crowds lined up hours before the official opening of the convention. The people were about split evenly between men and women. There were so many fantastic costumes that it seemed like the show was becoming a West Coast version of Mardi Gras. It is a place to be yourself and express yourself however you want to and have fun even if you don’t read comics. More men were dressed as comic characters and more women as manga characters, and many people just in unrelated costumes. There were a lot of great costumes, but my favorite was this guy in what looked like a homemade felt Batman hood that unintentionally looked like it was from the 1940s serials with its droopy ears. He was trying his best to have fun and really that’s what matters.

The scariest costume I saw was someone wearing a Storm costume with the black leather outfit and a white wig from the films. But it was a guy.

The best superhero costume I saw was a young kid wearing a New York Fire Department cap. Although the woman dressed up like a sexy version of Dark Phoenix was close.

Thanks to the VIP badge, I was able to walk through the show before it opened to the public and avoid the lines of people that stretched for blocks.

Early on Friday morning before the con opened for the day, I saw a guy with a lot of thick padded bags running toward the artists area, stopping only long enough to catch his breath. I thought to myself this is a guy who seems like he knows what he is doing and that he is well prepared. Oddly I suspected I knew who he was. I followed him and did my best to catch up to him. I introduced myself and, as I suspected, it was comic art collector John Higashi. I never met him but I knew about him from the Comicartfans.com website. He apparently goes to every convention in the world to gather sketches from various artists, and is legendary for being the first in line. I had emailed him to ask him about advice regarding navigating the convention, and he very kindly sent back some helpful tips.

He was the one who warned me that the San Diego convention is just a “great mass of humanity” and one of the worst places to get good art at. I was number 24 on the Brian Bolland sketch list but wasn’t able to get one. An Adam Hughes sketch was also on my list but they were doing a raffle for the right to buy one, and I wasn’t that lucky. The third artist I wanted a sketch from was Josh Middleton, but he wasn’t doing them at this show.

The mainstream media coverage has been portraying the convention as full of marginalized people (geeks) who have a lot of disposable income, which makes them prime targets to market to. I don’t think any of this spin has much truth to it. Most of the people looked like a normal cross section of society and a lot of really good looking people. I think the show is attracting people who are not just into the comics, but the gaming, movies, and just to be seen.

There was a booth recruiting people for the new Revenge of the Nerds movie. When I passed by, the people in line didn’t really look that nerdy but they were obviously trying to make themselves more nerdy by slouching or messing up their hair. As the Comic Book Resources website suggested, this demonstrates the contempt with which these filmmakers view the people who show up at the convention. I think there is a big difference in marketing a film where the people laugh with you (like Snakes on a Plane) instead of laughing at you.

The other area that I disagree with the mass media spin on the convention is that if a movie doesn’t look good, it won’t help marketing it at the show. During the costume show, there was ecstatic applause for the trailers of Spider-Man 3, The Transformers, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and then apathy and scattered boos for some of the other films. One film that got applause was The Fountain because of brief glimpses of Hugh Jackman. The thought that crossed my mind when those scenes were playing and the crowd was cheering was that I wish this were the announced Wolverine film instead. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

I went to the seminar where Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were discussing their new double feature film, Grindhouse, with some of the stars like Rose McGowan and Rosario Dawson. This is actually the directors’ next movies running as a double feature. The Rodriguez entry, Planet Terror, is a zombie movie. The Tarantino feature, Deathproof, is his take on a slasher pic. Tarantino asked the audience to guess the identity of the film’s star just from the name of his previous role of Snake Pliskin. To much applause, he announced that the star will be Kurt Russell. He discussed his admiration for Kurt Russell and why he is such a good actor and how he takes risks with his parts. The clips they showed from the first two weeks of shooting of Planet Terror looked really good, although they probably could have filmed Rose McGowan in front of a greenscreen and it would have looked good. At the press conference, she seemed to go out of her way to appear humble and gracious, and that goes a long way.

Tarantino said he is also planning to work on two anime prequels to Kill Bill featuring the Bride and Bill’s origin. He also said that he hoped to work on his version of a children’s movie someday. Perhaps they can work together on Spy Kids 4: Escape from Sin City. During the question and answer session, there was one fawning and awed questioner after another, telling them the two directors how great they are.

The most unintentionally funny moment was when one guy asked what it was like working with Uma Thurman. Tarantino gave a long answer on how there are ups and downs between them but that he would work with her forever because of their close bond as friends. In a kind of stoned-out monotone voice the guy responds, “Wow, that’s really inspiring.”

One aspiring director asked Rodriguez what he does when the filming is just not working and all of the stresses start to pile up and when he just wants to give up and how he keeps going. Rodriguez answered some other easy questions first and then put off answering for awhile because he wanted to give a thoughtful answer. Then he answered with all the gravitas of the guitar player in El Mariachi, “You just keep going.”

As I was going through the booths, one of the artists stopped me because I was wearing the Sequart.com t-shirt. He said he writes for Sequart and was proud to see someone wearing the shirt. I did see one other person wearing the t-shirt. As I was just one in a million people, I’m not sure it made too much of a difference for me to wear the free shirt. But if I could touch one person in a million by wearing that t-shirt, then my job here is done.

In the autograph section upstairs, there was the guy who played the Gorn from Star Trek, the woman who played Captain Kirk’s girlfriend in the episode “Mirror, Mirror”, and Erin Gray from Buck Rodgers.

I overheard someone saying that an issue of Green Lantern #1 was stolen from one of the booths. That was just sad to me.

Even though I was at the show almost every day, I did not hear the announcement about Sam Raimi talking about Spider-Man 3 until it was over. Some of the people at one booth were complaining about Kirstin Dunst’s supposed comments on how she may not do another Spider-Man movie because she feels like she just screams. They were saying that the reason she is getting big money for other roles is just because of her role in Spider-Man. It sounds like they were turning against her. Then they started to talk about another movie where she was naked but then they cut the scenes out. The other guy said, “No, that was Natalie Portman.” Then they argued about which actress was naked, and I looked around to make sure that Kevin Smith wasn’t filming them for Chasing Amy 2.

I also didn’t hear about Bryan Singer speaking about Superman. I would have wanted to go and tell him that the Superson idea was not good (see the nail on the head review at DialBforBlog.com). Then I realized that Superman isn’t the kid’s father and neither is Lois Lane the mother! As Lois explained she just visited the Fortress but nothing happened! Of course Kate Bosworth looks like she is too young to have a 6 year old kid! She tells Lex the kid’s father is Cyclops but doesn’t say who the mother is! There is still a chance to restore Superman to having character instead of just being a character! Bryan Singer may be pulling off the greatest cinematic twist since “Luke I am your father!” If Singer isn’t being clever though, there are so many great Superman stories to tell that would have been better. Why don’t they just film All-Star Superman? Why change who the character is and make it worse? As you can see, there was a lot of time to be introspective while waiting for a $4 hot dog from the food stand. I was so happy just to get a hot dog after waiting in line for so long that I got two.

While at the show, Iron Man director Jon Favreau confirmed that the villain in the movie will be “fan-favorite Mandarin!” I have no idea who Mandarin is. On my hotel elevator news ticker, that was the big breaking news in between the updates on the conflict in Lebanon. “Hezbollah! Troops massing at the border! Fan-favorite Mandarin!” However, Jon Favreau has been a fan-favorite of mine since his film Swingers, and I know that he will do a great job. I’m sure the new Iron Man armor will be so money and will easily handle the Mandarin as if he was a little bunny and Shellhead was a big bear. A lot of fans were impressed with the free Iron Man promo posters and were happy to get them autographed by Favreau and artist Adi Granov.

Although Sony was giving out postcards of the Nick Cage Ghost Rider film, they weren’t proudly advertising that it was from the writer and director of Daredevil. They were lucky I wasn’t at that Marvel film press conference.

After Frank Miller directs The Spirit, and the Sin City sequels, why doesn’t Marvel give him a chance to do Daredevil and Elektra? Miller’s Daredevil runs are the best intellectual property and artistic highpoint of anything Marvel owns, and they mangle it with two of the perfectly cast but worst comic films ever made. Daredevil deserves better.

At the Marvel booth, they were showing trailers of upcoming comics and movies. My friend Daryl was impressed by the new Marvel game Ultimate Alliance for the X Box which features like a thousand different characters. He also said the booth was showing a new trailer for Spider-Man 3 which reportedly looked better than the ones they showed at the theaters.

At the DC booth, there were huge murals of many wonderful artists like Jim Lee, Terry Dodson, and Alex Ross. With all that money going into the art talent, it made me think that DC should just give a lot of money to Alan Moore and resolve that rumored Watchmen royalties conflict so he can rework a lot of characters and write as much as possible. I would think that would increase the intellectual property of the characters more in the long run than just saving a some bucks in the short term. There are many good writers at DC but we may never see anyone with that level of talent for another generation. I’m sure the real issues are far more complex than that to resolve but since this is a place of dreams, this is mine.

I went to Ralph’s before the show on Saturday to get some food for the day. The Gaslamp District doesn’t seem to have any fast food places. As I was crossing the street, I see a woman wearing a Strangers in Paradise shirt. I was really energized seeing someone who also appreciated this often overlooked series. I almost said something to her to vent to a kindred spirit on how fantastic I thought the series was and sorry to see it ending but didn’t. Then I look at the nametag of the guy walking with her, and it says Terry Moore, who is the writer and artist of Strangers. I had to fight the urge to chase him down the street for a sketch, but I had some caffeine I needed to buy.

One of the things I have come to appreciate over time is looking at the original art. There were some very historical pieces. Albert Moy Original Comic Art had a John Byrne X-Men cover selling for $50,000 and a semi-splash page of the Hellfire Club and the White Queen for $25,000. I would be afraid to be the person to carry these across the country. Sadly, he was talking to another art dealer about some of their pieces that were stolen. But I do appreciate that they did bring them and that I got to see these artworks in person. This is history that most people don’t seem to take time to appreciate. Once these enter private collections there will probably never be a chance to enjoy them again. Before I left, Albert gave me a free t-shirt.

On early Saturday morning before the floor opened, I was wandering the aisles looking at the original art. An older man at the table asks me which original art page would I want if I could pick any of them. I pointed at the page from Justice League of America #3 featuring the Slave Ship of Space. He told me that there were Frazettas worth $100,000, yet I still chose that page. He called me crazy that I wanted the comic art over a high priced painting. Then the woman who runs the booth told me that this guy is Carmine Infantino, and he was having a good laugh at me. I told him I would choose a page of his featuring the Flash against the Reverse Flash over any of the art at the booth. He said that he heard that someone bought a page like that for $17,000, and he couldn’t believe it and humbly said that it wasn’t worth it. I told him it is worth that because it is of lasting historical value. I told him about the long article Julian Darius wrote on Sequart.com regarding his run on The Flash and how significant a run it was. We talked about the new postage stamps and how they feature his drawings of the Flash. Someone came to get him because the seminar on “50 Years of the Flash” was starting, and he was on the panel.

At the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund booth, I asked what they are doing here and one person answered tongue in cheek, “Defending porn and your right to read porn.” They are actually doing very good work in defending the artists and local comic book stores. Their website news section shows all of the legal challenges across the country that could affect even the mainstream distribution of comic books. Imagine if the place where you get comic books had to close because of an overzealous district attorney trying to get publicity to run for public office. I’m as conservative politically as there is, but this is probably the most important booth at the convention. At their fundraising auction, the highest bid went to the original Frank Miller art for the cover of All-Star Batman and Robin #1 which went for $7,000.

I didn’t stay for the auction because it was overlapping the same time as the costume show. I was able to get a ticket early and we were ushered in to join the 4,000 people packed into the ballroom. Unfortunately, I was two rows behind the kind of loud, obnoxious guy who thinks he’s really funny but is probably compensating for not being able to figure out why no women like him. There were many people who worked hard on their costumes, but I saw just as many good costumes on the show floor of people who didn’t enter. I applauded loudest for the kids whose mothers helped make their costumes and for the woman who made the Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg’s character) costume from Star Trek: TNG because people like that really tried their best. Not many people were cheering them on, and they are the ones who deserve it. I didn’t really understand the ones like the girl dressed up like an obscure manga character who did a striptease and got a lot of applause. Or maybe I do get it.

After about the 30th costumed entry, I needed fresh air and to get away from the big guy next to me who was filling his chair and expanding to half of mine and applauding with flailing arms like he was a chicken. I left and passed through the overflow room. This had a better view of the show projected on the big screen because not only did it have openings to the fresh air but free snacks. I highly recommend the free snacks.

Notably, the host said that you can’t show pictures of the costume show on your website because of legal reasons, and if you did, more people might want to come to the show, and nobody wants that.

Before I left on Sunday morning, while I was browsing through the new comics, current Uncanny X-Men artist Billy Tan comes by and says hi to me and to chat and catch up. He is just a class act. Yet he was just one of so many talented people who went along unnoticed at the show, even by the people who sold his comics.

I ended by dropping by the AlexRossArt.com table and finally meeting Sal in person. He insisted on giving me a soda or some water to take with me. He’s just another of the nice guys in comics and a fantastic artist in his own right. Also, if you ever get a chance to see Alex Ross’ art in person you should. His art is so much more vibrant and powerful in person than the comic printing process allows. It is even better blown up to giant size and more detailed without the word balloons and captions. Browsing through the sketches, you can see the creative process Ross goes through to come up with the finished art. This was definitely one of the highlights. Sal was already talking about making reservations for next year’s Comic Con. Seems like the San Diego Comic Con is the place to be. Just don’t tell anyone. We don’t want more people showing up.

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