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Comic-Con International 2011: The Fandom and the Fury

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Those who run San Diego Comic-Con have become victims of their own success. Back in 2007, although Friday and Saturday sold out before it began, a person could still walk up and buy a single-day ticket for Thursday or Sunday. The following year all four days sold out ahead of time, and each successive year it sold out earlier on the calendar. Last year, before the Convention closed on Sunday, 2011 Four-Day with Preview Night tickets were sold out.

When word got out, people were understandably concerned. How were they going to be able to go to Comic-Con if they couldn’t get into Comic-Con? This drove demand up, and the powers that be didn’t account for it because when online tickets went on sale, the system was so overwhelmed it crashed. People took to Twitter and Facebook venting their anger and frustration. A second date was announced with the time pushed back three hours. Not sure why the change in time other than someone must have thought there would be less traffic at 6 a.m. Pacific, but what’s an early morning rise to people who attend movie screenings and game releases at midnight or spend days waiting for the next installment in their favorite film franchise? With demand ramped up even higher, the system crashed again. A third attempt was made with a limited number of tickets released, and then there was the fourth and final release of tickets. My purchase required multiple refreshes of the browser to make it through each step, leaving surprised my F5 button still functions. Those shut out were still not happy and many made their disappointment known.

On Wednesday July 20th, those who bought Four-Day tickets without Preview Night or Single-Day tickets for Thursday had to pick them up at the Town and Country Resort, which was about five miles away from the Convention Center. The resort was next to a freeway, and cars were backed up a bit on it at about 3 p.m. Getting to the door looked like it would take a while along the two-lane road to the entrance, so my wife volunteered to walk at a faster pace than cars were traveling. At that time, it took her roughly three hours to get the pass. Thankfully, the shuttle service was running to bring her back to the Convention Center.

The convention began early for some who got in line on Tuesday for the Thursday morning presentation for Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 1. Another line formed Wednesday night by those looking to purchase tickets for Comic-Con 2012 Thursday morning. This year the sales were occurring offsite at the Manchester Grand Hyatt between the hours of 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Like the online sale, things didn’t run smoothly yet again because of poor planning. I stumbled over at 7:30 a.m. and the line was massive. It ran so long along the bay it was in back of the Convention Center. Turns out the process to buy tickets was so laborious that shortly after 8, they decided to cut the line off, but no one bothered to tell the majority of those waiting in it they wouldn’t be able to get tickets. A tweet went out to those with access, but people didn’t know what to make of it. Rumblings and grumblings began to flow down the line. Then, those who had missed the cut walked by in disgust and made it clear, but there was no representative from the Con. Unbeknownst to everyone in line, the powers that be decided to set a limit on the number of tickets they would sell each day but didn’t make it known until after disappointing hundreds of people. Every morning it was a mess as more people became eligible to buy the set number of tickets.

My Thursday began with the DC Comics: Flashpoint panel. I knew nothing about the series other than it appears to take place in an alternate universe. The covers shown revealed very interesting artwork, but since I didn’t know the story I checked out early.

Because of the lack of major films offered in Hall H this year, it was easy to get into many times. I walked right into Animation Showcase in progress. Aardman Studios was showing The Pirates! Band of Misfits, a very impressive-looking, 3D stop-motion animated film that I am looking forward to. Next up was Arthur Christmas. I hadn’t been impressed by the teaser trailer, but once seeing longer sequences that showed the movie was about what goes on Christmas Eve as Santa and his team work, it showed potential.

In what appeared to be a surprise as there was no mention of it, Paul Rubens as Pee-Wee Herman came out to talk about his latest doing. He spoke about writing his new movie, which is going to be produced by Judd Apatow and playfully bantered with people who asked questions.

FilmDistrict decided to hold a combined panel for the Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark remake produced by Guillermo Del Toro and Drive directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Those two sang each others praises in between clips of the films, as expected. Don’t Be Afraid looks like it has some scares and Drive is an intense and brutal action film.

Led by former Tonight Show with Jay Leno writer Jim Shaughnessy, who is a bitter about his time working there, Effin with Tonight is an animated web series that will be shown on the Sony Crackle website. It has a bit of a Space Ghost: Coast to Coast feel though it seems like all guests will be impression. Patrick Warburton is the voice of the host. One of the writers said that Family Guy was the best show ever, so that should provide a sense of what the show is going to be like, for better or worse.

The Archer panel screened the first of three episodes airing in September that wraps up Season Two. Warburton plays a bounty hunter sent to find Archer and when his voiced was first heard, the audience cheered their approval. Naturally, things don’t run smoothly and they get tangled up with pirates. The episode has some spectacular action and a lot of laughs. I passed on the Q&A afterwards to check out the Beavis & Butthead panel featuring Mike Judge, but the line was ridiculously long, so I made my way to the Blu-ray Producers panel where they handed out a lot of free DVDs and Blu-ray, though I didn’t win one, and talked about the state of the business, which may be in its Golden Age. While there is a devoted group of collectors who want catalog titles, turns out King Kong didn’t sell that well which makes it tough to convince the studio to release them.

I discovered Voltron is getting an exciting relaunch as I waited for Penn & Teller: Tell A Lie, a look at the magicians’ upcoming series on Discovery. They will present a few ideas, one of which will be a lie, and viewers can vote online for the one they think is false. They also talked about their UK show Fool Us, which quite a number of people seemed to know about, no doubt thanks to magic of the Internet, and the end of their Showtime series Bullshit. They ended the panel with a magic trick that the young man who took part will likely remember the rest of his life.

Friday morning was filled with very long lines, bright and early, that ran along the back of the Convention Center. One line was for William’s Shatner discussing his upcoming Trek documentary The Captains, moderated by Kevin Smith. The other was for Room 20 where the most sought-after panels were Walking Dead at 11:15 and True Blood at 5:30. People were so desperate to get into that room cash was being offered to cut in line.These panels along with Games of Thrones should have been in Hall H and some of the weaker films should have been in Room 20.

I grabbed a seat for TV legends of children’s programming Sid and Marty Kroftt, who even at their ages of 81 and 74, still behaved as young brothers by constantly teasing each other. They talked about the struggles of the business back in their day and provided updates about their properties. Sigmund and the Sea Monsters is returning to DVD in September. A “Lidsville” movie is in the works and there’s talk of Johnny Depp playing Witchiepoo in the H.R. Pufnstuf movie, which I couldn’t believe. They also apologized for the Will Farrell’s Land of the Lost and want to redo it right. The most touching moment was an older woman who was moved to tears as she thanked the men for providing programming for her children.

Thanks to friends waiting in line, I was able to get into Hall H as Steven Spielberg appeared for the first time at Comic Con to present The Adventures of Tintin. After an undeniably impressive series of clips, Spielberg was greeted by an enormous ovation. Fans were also treated to an unexpected appearance by producer Peter Jackson. An extended sequence from the film was shown and it’s the best-looking performance-capture footage I’ve seen.

The Indigo Ballroom featured Adult Swim programming all day. The Venture Bros. team started the day with their usual zaniness and they showed a music video from their upcoming special “From the Ladle to the Grave: The Story of Shallow Gravy.” Would have liked more about the upcoming season, but they don’t appear to know much about it yet.

NTSF:SD:SUV:: (National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle::) started as a spoof ad for a 24-esque TV series during Childrens Hospital and has spun off into a real show. They previewed episode “Home Alone” and to the delight of the audience shot a segment in the room that will be used in “Cause for Con-Cern.”

Childrens Hospital may have had the funniest panel of the weekend. After showing an upcoming episode that concluded with a nod to a recent cable TV series, they held a wild Q&A where the cast demonstrated their comedic skills by one-upping all comers to the mike. At one point, a nervous young woman named Julia asked a question, and after being teased, she was invited up on stage. Series creator Rob Corddry asked if anyone had any questions for Julia and everyone in line did. She was a slightly thrown off at first by people asking her questions about working on the show. One guy asked about her new perfume, which smelled terrible and why it had a racial slur for a name. After Megan Mullally whispered in her ear, she said it was because she hated Asians, which even had the Asian couple sitting next to me laughing. Realizing what she had just said, Julia was embarrassed and quickly clarified that Megan told her to say that. Corddry then called up a guy from the crowd dressed like his character and allowed him to take a question to before Julia fielded some more.

When I heard the creative team behind the hilarious blaxpolitation spoof Black Dynamite was creating an animated series, I felt equal amounts of joy and trepidation because it would be very easy to fall flat trying to achieve the high standards the film set. The pilot was screened and it delivered laughs and action as BD and his crew fight Kermit knock-off Frog Curtis, who Dynamite grew up with. I left before the Q&A and ran over to the Hall H line. After about an hour, they told us we weren’t getting in which wasn’t a surprise as Amazing Spider-Man was likely one of the biggest movies people were excited about catching a glimpse of.

After a little shopping on the exhibition floor and dinner, I met up with friends for the traditional viewing of Worst Cartoons Ever, hosted by Jerry Beck. There were the usual suspects like “Super President,” the exercise-promoting “Mighty Mr. Titan,” and the “why bother doing more than pencil drawings?” “Paddy Pelican.” The surprise find was a cartoon made for the soldiers that suggested they watch out for venereal disease.

My Saturday began with a look at what Marvel Television under the guidance of Jeph Loeb has in store. Live-action series include AKA Jessica Jones with characters Carol Danvers and Luke Cage, Cloak and Dagger set in post-Katrina New Orleans, and a Hulk series focusing on the love story between Bruce Banner and Betty. On the animated side, Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men was teased, the sizzle reel for Ultimate Spider-Man looked good and will get me to try it, and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes returns for a second season. The series opener was shown and was very impressive as the Avengers and the Fantastic Four were teamed up against Doctor Doom. I am now a fan. There was also mention of Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. but I couldn’t tell if it was real of a gag.

I was then able to walk right into Hall H the tail end of the Immortals panel, which looks like an amped-up version of 300 for those who want more intense slo-mo fighting. Next up was Knights of Badassdom, a LARPing (Live Action Role Playing) horror comedy that the Hall H gang ate up.

I had no idea what Scott Shaw!’s Oddball Comics was. From the name I assumed it was a spotlight on some indie humor comic imprint. Luckily for me, it wasn’t the typical promotional panel selling something but rather a celebration of past comics. Shaw! assembled a slideshow of the goofiest comic covers throughout the years. From Robin frequently explaining the plots to a creepy clown hanging out with Circus Boy, almost each and every one had the audience laughing in spite of Shaw!’s constant complaints about the faulty video projector. I caught the second half of the Spotlight on Walter and Louise Simonson as the veterans took questions about the business, and that was my last 2011 Comic-Con panel.

It was a good event for me this year as I got into a lot of the things I wanted to see and made some great discoveries by taking a chance. I recommend more panels over long waits in lines. Make a note of that for next year, assuming you get in next year.

Excelsior!

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS