Written by Shawn Bourdo
THURSDAY – continued
RAY BRADBURY’S LASTING INFLUENCE – This panel was envisioned almost a year ago and Ray wanted to participate. The guests were confirmed and the panel was finalized just a day before his death this Spring. The panel included writers and friends of Ray such as Mort Castle, Sam Weller, and Joel Hill (Locke and Key). The reason I attended was for the first Comic-Con appearance of Margaret Atwood. This panel took place in a small-ish Room 5AB. The response to Margaret Atwood’s introduction was a loud and long as almost any other star I’ve heard and magnified that much more by the size of the room.
There was an actual rememberence for Ray Bradbury scheduled at a bigger hall later in the Con and this panel celebrated his writing and how it has left its mark on a genertions of writers. Ray Bradbury’s writing is often described as transitional. His books are often the ones that move young adults from the youth novels to adult literature. Here again, we are all celebrating a creator who had a voice. There’s a feel to a Ray Bradbury novel – it can be the science fiction of The Martian Chronicles or the young angst of Dandelion Wine. The panelists found it hard to pin down that voice but it’s one of hope and a way of seeing the world with a sense of wonder.
Margaret Atwood was asked how Ray appeals to such a wide range of readers, even ones who would not normally read a Science Fiction title. She said it succinctly, “By being good.” Bradbury was not afraid to cross genres even within books and he was able to do this because of two things. One, he read everything. Part of finding your own voice is to read all different kinds of literature. And two, he wrote all the time. He has published 27 novels and over 500 short stories. When he decided to try to make a living from writing, he just kept writing, one year challenging himself to write a story a week (which he did).
Ray loved libraries and Sam Weller, biographer of Ray Bradbury, told of his appearances late into his life at the Los Angeles Public Libraries. Often unannounced or not marketed, he would show up to read to crowds of 8-10 people. His love of the libraries went as deep as him often secretly funding the libraries during hard budget times. In fact, Ray Bradbury is the patron saint of all libraries. Every year when there is Banned Book display, his book Fahrenheit 451 is at the front and center. It’s there not because it is banned but because it defends the freedoms of literature in a society. His is a voice that will be missed but his message rings true for all the creators and patrons at this Con – read, write, and view the world with wonder.
GREATEST GEEK YEAR EVER: 1982 – I like to add some of the unique and light-hearted panels to my resume. This is the free-form type of panel that I want to see more of in the future. The premise is that 1982 was the greatest year ever for “geek” films. Hosted by a panel of writers and directors, there were few rules to the panel that showed a few trailers from films of that year and riffed on their importance. These panels do not need a moderator as much as a referee and the crowd should help control where the conversation goes.
In a year of incredible films some like E.T. have not aged as well. For a film that is still Steven Spielberg’s highest-grossing film and was for years the highest grosser of all-time, it isn’t discussed as one of the best films of all-time. In fact, there is little popular-culture discussion of the film, period. Seeing the trailer again, it’s a wonder that any of us went to see the film. If not for Spielberg’s reputation and the fact that Close Encounters was such a hugely popular film, I can’t see much in the trailer that would excite me. Part of the problem, as pointed out, is that we are much more jaded moviegoers. We do not view the world with that same wonder that we talked about with Bradbury. I knew little of the content of E.T. before I saw it in the theater. There wasn’t Facebook pages and online trailers and tons of fast-food tie-ins.
Other films of that year had one thing in common – they created their own universes. They didn’t exist in our world or as a sequel or known property. A film like The Dark Crystal shows Jim Henson at the height of his popularity creating a universe of unique puppets from the ground up. Blade Runner created a future world based on the Philip K. Dick story but the set comes completely from Ridley Scott’s vision of the book. When there are so many genre films coming out in a year, this was one that was mostly unseen in its time. Blade Runner would become one of the first successes of the home video market and then again in the DVD market. In both cases, the film benefited from the exposure to a new audience and the format benefited from this become a “must own” film. Disney took advantage of the rise in popularity of video games to create a whole universe inside the video game in Tron.
The glut of films was to such a point that in June of 1982, both Poltergeist and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan opened on the same day. I loved the discussion amongst the panel members about which movie they saw and why. I was part of the Star Trek II camp – I saw it with my dad on opening day. I would have to wait almost another week before seeing Poltergeist but I made up by seeing in another three times after that.
Watching the trailers, it’s fun to see them through the eyes of the modern filmgoer. I confess that one of my all-time favorite films is John Carpenter’s The Thing. Watching the trailer and hearing the discussion about the film, it’s obvious that this is a film that only could have been made in 1982. The film is a low-budget film with no women, starring men in Antarctica, all with beards and wearing parkas that they rarely take off. The light-hearted moment of the panel came with the members comparing what the studios notes to the director would be – including adding a romantic lead, setting it in a more desirable locale, and shaving the beards on the men. This was a refreshing look at a year in movies that I’m very familiar with but one that gave lots of members of the audience a list of films to go home and watch.
RIFFTRAX LIVE – For years I’ve missed seeing my favorites from Mystery Science Theater 3000 at the Con. This year it fit perfectly into my schedule. It was heartwarming to hear Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett riffing on movies again. Their bits from the TV show work just as well live. It’s a great group experince to watch the three of them talking over a film. Here they did a live riff over a safety short that looked to be from the Seventies. They will be broadcast into theaters live this August doing a new script of the classic Manos: The Hands Of Fate. I’m already clearing my schedule to go see it.
COMIC-CON EPISODE IV: A FAN’S HOPE – I hadn’t been able to get around to see the film but this seemed to be the perfect place to watch the Morgan Spurlock documentary made at Comic-Con a couple years ago. I don’t think any film could exactly capture the beauty and chaos of a weekend at Comic-Con. But this film does what it does very well. Spurlock decided to tell the story of Comic-Con by following a number of different people with different experiences. The film needs characters and stories to draw us through. If you just have image and image of the Con, it lacks perspective.
The film follows a couple aspiring artists, a major comic book dealer, a collector, a geek couple, and a costume designer amongst others. These stories are compelling and turn it into an entertaining film. I can understand the frustration of not seeing the Con from some other angles – the small publisher, the comic book collector, the established artist, the rising TV star, etc. I don’t think it should be portrayed as “the ultimate fanboy epic”. What it is, is a great slice of Comic-Con life from 2010. I’d love to see something similar every few years to see how it changes. There are a hundred thousand stories at Comic-Con each year. Everyone has their own unique experience. But it’s that grand meeting of people with similar loves each year that keep us coming back. The film does a good job of acknowledging that. Kevin Smith has a great quote about arriving and knowing that he had found his “tribe”. For four days, we revel in creativity and acceptence of the things we love in the world.
And for four days in July we look at the world around us with wonder.
Still to come . . . Days Two and Three bring Comic Censorship and Land of the Lost.