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What I did on my summer vacation.

Comic-Con International 2012: The Obsession Driven Life

As Preview Night approached, my anticipation for the spectacle that is Comic-Con steadily grew. For many like myself, the event provides a wonderful escape from the daily routine of modern life as attendees revel with like-minded folks in the pleasures derived from the art and imaginations of others. Unfortunately, things took a grim turn before it got under way.

As has become a tradition over the past few years, Twilight fans line up days before Comic-Con opens to ensure a seat for the panel dedicated to the upcoming movie in the franchise. This year was of special significance because Breaking Dawn, Part 2 is going to be the final installment, at least with this cast. It had been announced that fans would not be able to get into the Hall H queue until Tuesday after the canopies were be set up. I have no idea where fans lined up before that, but before that they did, with reports of fans showing up as early as Sunday, roughly four days before they would be let in. Now that’s some devotion.

After the tents were erected on Tuesday morning, the Twilight fans were moved from wherever they were stationed. In what will likely forever baffle me, reports state that 53-year-old Gisela Gagliardi from Kingston, New York, ran against a red light on one of the busiest street in the downtown San Diego area in order to return to her group. Unfortunately, she collided with a car, knocked herself unconscious and bloody, and later died at hospital.

The real tragedy is Gagliardi was so completely blinded by her obsession she threw common sense out the window. Even if she had been alone, I don’t believe she would have lost her spot. Most people are decent, and I can’t imagine any fellow Twilight fans wouldn’t have allowed her back into her original place. The story got even more depressing Thursday morning when my wife walked right into the panel, demonstrating what a terrible choice Gagliardi made.

Speaking of Twilight, one of the most depressing aspects about Comic-Con over the past few years is the Twilight haters, using every chance they get to boo the product and demean its fans. What makes this so bizarre is these people were likely bullied over the scifi/fantasy/comic book nonsense they like. Yet, they feel vindicated in joining forces and bullying others, like devotion to Star Wars or fairies isn’t embarrassing. Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t read Stephenie Meyer’s books or seen the movies. I have no intention, and I assume I won’t like them. Yet, I certainly won’t publicly bully those who do. If anyone has ruined Comic-Con, it’s the pathetic anti-Twilight knuckleheads.

THURSDAY

CREATING SPACE FOR DIVERSE CHARACTERS AND REPRESENTATION – I caught the tail end of this panel put on by racebending.com that included male and female writers from different mediums talking about the challenges of telling stories with characters who aren’t white males. I agree with the sentiments expressed by all in attendance. I want stories filled with a multitude of different types of characters because that likely opened me up to experiencing diversity in my own life.

Yet, some in attendance incorrectly are looking for the big media companies to do this work rather than being the change they want. Businesses are in the business of making money not in the business of making the world a better place, especially if that loses them money. Sure, it would be nice if they did, but people have to make their position known by the products they do and don’t support. They should also consider creating the stories they want to see and show there’s money to be made, if there is.

FILMATION AND LOU SCHEIMER – As a member of Generation X, the cartoons of Scheimer and Filmation were major staple in my TV-watching diet. It was fun hearing of the stories and triumphs Scheimer and the company were responsible for, such as being the first to feature minority characters, such as Native and African Americans, leading rival Hanna Barbera to infuse the Super Friends with heroes of different nationalities. Sid Haig, who appeared as the villainous Drago from Jason of Star Command, talked about how producers saved money by shooting all the scenes of a location that appeared throughout the series at one time.

Sadly, it was announced at the beginning of the panel that Scheimer suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and it showed. He would fire off one-liners, zinging panelists and making self-deprecating cracks, but he didn’t speak beyond that. If he derives some pleasure from the love and adulation the audience has for him, that’s great, but I think it’s time for him to retire from convention panels. There was good news as well with the announcement of a book about Filmation was in the works.

SPOTLIGHT ON BILL AMEND – If there was ever a person at Comic-Con who was among his people, it was Foxtrot cartoonist Bill Amend, who continues to create Sunday strips. He had the crowd in stitches showing selected highlights, a good many of which featured the exploits of youngest son Jason, a nerd who would have been right at home at the Con with his love of all it showcases. There were obvious pop-culture references like The Matrix and Game of Thrones and more subtle ones like Leeroy Jenkins and Double Rainbows. Amend provided a treat of showing some upcoming strips. Naturally, Jason was headed to The Dark Knight Rises.

DISNEY MOVIE PANEL: FRANKENWEENIE, OZ, WRECK-IT RALPH – With his recent works having dealt with famous properties like Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland, and Willy Wonka, Tim Burton comes across more like a filter applied to material rather than a filmmaker. However, the 3D stop-motion footage of Frankenweenie looked very impressive. When Burton appeared to promote Alice at Comic-Con 2009, he was so disengaged that they ran the trailer three times during the session. This year, he was very animated (pun intended) over this project, which got its beginning in a live action short he created almost 30 years ago.

Sam Raimi brought a clip of Oz, a prequel of sorts that tells the story of how the Wizard (James Franco) got there. Fans of the original movie shouldn’t expect to see things from the 1939 classic. Michelle Williams and Milas Kunis also appeared, though they didn’t say much. The film looks great from the clip, but the expectations from Oz fans are very high. The story is pieced together from info about the Wizard that appeared in the Baum books.

Wreck-It Ralph is an upcoming Disney feature I am very interested in. Ralph (voiced by John C Reilly), a villain from the 8-bit video game Fix-It Felix Jr., is tired of being a bad guy and wants to see what else life has to offer, leading him to travel to other games. We were shown the first 10 minutes, and it looks like it has good potential. The in-jokes and cameos make it appear like the video-game version of Roger Rabbit.

NIKITA – After grabbing a bite to eat in town and waiting for an hour in line for the Archer panel, which I was shut out of, I decided to camp out in this room because I intended to finally see Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and knowing how devoted Whedonites are, I didn’t want to take a chance of missing it.

I don’t know Nikita beyond its title, but from the clips shown of the series second season, it looks like an action-packed soap opera filled with good-looking folks, who generated hoots and howls from fans of the show. Most of those sounds came from ladies in the audience directed towards star Maggie Q and other female cast mates, but I was unclear if it was an appreciation of the show’s girl power or of a more salacious nature. While the actors are admittedly nice on the eyes, I wasn’t sold enough to check out the upcoming third season.

NEW GENERATION OF SPIKE & MIKE – Though better known for their Sick & Twisted cartoons, Spike & Mike deserve tremendous kudos for continuing to offer an outlet for up-and-coming animators. They had stopped their Classic Festival of Animation in the early 2000s, but thankfully in 2010 they created the New Generation Animation Festival. After throwing a few DVDs to the crowd, the shorts screened revealed a great deal of talent and imagination by the filmmakers. Alan Becker’s brilliant “Animation vs Animator” shorts were especially funny, carrying on in a great tradition of Chuck Jones’ Duck Amuck. These films deserved to play in front of a larger audience, and it’s rather unfortunate so many Whedon fans, who arrived for the following panel, couldn’t be more respectful to the filmmakers and audience.

DR. HORRIBLE’S SING-ALONG BLOG SING-ALONG – I had long heard talk of this Joss Whedon project and committed to finally seeing it this year. Put on by a group of fans who identify themselves as The California Browncoats Inc, the festivities began with a costume contest that helped clarify who some of the characters running around were that I didn’t recognize. It was slightly unorganized and a bit of a bore, but it gave time for programs to be handed out that listed a number of callbacks the audience was expected to shout out. Unbeknownst to me, Dr Horrible was an audience-participation event like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The story of villainous Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) vying for the hand of Penny (Felicia Day) and battling against Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) seemed intriguing; however, the experience was ruined by the audience because most of the callbacks were terrible, unfunny, and nonsensical. I liked the uninterrupted bits I saw, but would suggest those who don’t have some desperate need to be part of a group stay away from future presentations in this manner.

SUPERHERO KUNG FU EXTRAVAGANZA – This is another Con staple I’ve always been curious about. Since I had nowhere to be after Dr. Horrible, I peeked my head for about 15 minutes. Not sure what the film was running in the DVD player because I walked in after the introduction, but there was tournament taking place where a bystander kept affecting the outcome, For example, during one round he ripped out a couple of his teeth and spa them toward the combatants. Next year, I plan to stay longer.

FRIDAY

It wasn’t just the Twilight fans whose obsession led them to sleep outdoors overnight. On the back side of the Convention Center and running along the marina, there were massive lines. Hall H was featuring The Big Bang Theory, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones. Seemingly even longer were the ever-growing number of folks waiting for the Firefly: 10-Year Anniversary panel, which according to rumor the front of the line started forming at 10pm the night before for the 12:30pm panel. I’m curious how many fans of previous panels for Community and Legend of Korra attended and then left. (Did I mention I didn’t have to wait over 14 hours to see most of what happened?)

THE VENTURE BROS – Though I had intended to skip them this year, circumstances led me back to the always entertaining antics of creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer. I saw Doc in my hotel the night before, but left him alone because I didn’t feel comfortable bothering the guy just to tell him I was a fan of the show.

With the premiere of Season Five set for January 2013 (hopefully), they had more to offer fans this year than the music video screened last year. They showed early artwork paired with dialogue that revealed great comedic potential for the upcoming season. They also announced a Halloween special and that the series would be back for a sixth season, which the audience was thrilled by. Jackson and Doc then fielded questions with their typical silliness, which found Doc running off on unusual tangents, as usual.

NTSF:SD:SUV:: – The cast gathered to promote the upcoming season, which starts August 9. Creator/star Paul Scheer explained the footage shot at last year’s panel ended up not being used because they hadn’t miked the actors. They took questions, including one from Rob Huebel from the upcoming panel.

CHILDRENS HOSPITAL – With their new season also debuting August 9, the cast previewed an upcoming episode about an amnesia breakout at the hospital. They then fielded questions in what was possibly the raunchiest and funniest sessions of the weekend. I would love to talk to one of the parents that had their kids in the audience.

ARROW – The Green Arrow comes to the WB this fall and its premiere episode showed it would be right at home on the channel with the beautiful actors and soap opera writing. Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) was a spoiled rich kid. He went yachting with his father Jamey (Jamey Sheridan) and his girlfriend Sarah (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), who turns out is the sister of his previous girlfriend Laurel (Katie Cassidy), when a very bad storm hits, resulting in only Oliver surviving. He washed up on an island and received some type of training that turned him into a greater fighter and a wonder with the bow. He returns to City five years later, intending to clean up the city’s corruption. If you like WB shows, this’ll be right up your alley as it seemed a good version of them, reminiscent of Smallville.

EW: POWERFUL WOMEN IN POP CULTURE – a session featuring actresses Kristin Bauer van Straten (True Blood), Sarah Wayne Callies (The Walking Dead), Kristen Kreuk (Beauty and the Beast), Nikki Reed (Twilight Saga – Breaking Dawn, Part 2), Anna Torv (Fringe) and unannounced guest Lucy Lawless (Xena, Princess Warrior). Their responses to the moderator’s questions led them to discuss being an actress in show business more than talking about their characters, but it still offered interesting food for thought and covered similar ideas mentioned at CREATING SPACE FOR DIVERSE CHARACTERS AND REPRESENTATION

DARK HORSE: JOSS WHEDON – Returning to Room 20 in front of what appeared to a good number who had been in the Firefly panel, Whedon stated he had nothing planned for the hour. He mentioned the further adventures of Firefly crew in upcoming comics, his upcoming adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, Dr. Horrible airing on the WB, and then he fielded questions from fans, whose love and admiration were a little uncomfortable at times. He got the most passionate when he got political and talked about unions protecting workers, which may have caught those who wanted to talk about the continuing adventures of Buffy off guard. Hopefully, it’s on the Internet somewhere

BREAKING BAD – Creator Vince Gilligan and the cast, including Dean Norris who got into the spirit of the event by dressing as Xena, sat for questions about one of the best, if not the best, TV series currently airing. Unfortunately, the moderator, TV Guide‘s Mike Schneider, was unbearable. Through his position, he had obviously seen a few episodes and tried to get the panel to talk about things they obviously weren’t going to talk about. Obvious, that is, to everyone but Schneider who cluelessly pressed on, but got nowhere, which was a relief because we fans want to see the show as it plays out, not have it ruined by someone trying to make in-jokes with a group he’s trying to be a part of. He would also ask the actors what the characters would do in situations, which seemed odd since it’s the writers who decide that. The cast and audience exchanged syanding ovations.

WORST CARTOONS EVER – Always one of the highlights, animation historian Jerry Beck brought a bunch of terrible cartoons to be laughed at. Mighty Mr. Titan, the physical fitness hero, opened the show as is tradition with what could be the most excercise some attendees got the whole weekend.  The real treat was the inclusion of a Thor cartoon from 1960s Marvel Super Heroes. Jack Kirby’s artwork looked great, but the plot was wonderfully ridiculous.

SATURDAY

After wasting a few hours trying to get into Hall H for the day’s movie panels with Quentin Tarantino, Warner Brothers line-up, and Iron Man 3, I went with Plan B to make sure I saw William Shatner.

MARVEL VIDEO GAMES – It’s quite amazing to see people so into video games that they want to see previews, but there are, and they were excited by the news of Marvel vs. Capcom and the Secret Invasion storyline they can take part in. They were going to be able to play with friends and train to learn how powers worked. The panel was interrupted by a bullhorn-toting Deadpool, who took over the proceedings with his wit and wisecracks and revealed his own upcoming game.

GRIMM Q&A/SEASON 2 PREVIEW – NBC’s fairy tale-infused show generated loud howls from the ladies in the audience at every actor’s appearance on the monitor, making clear who was home Friday nights watching it. The panel table was packed with actors and producers, so this must have been a big push to engage with fans. The first 10 minutes of the season premiere were shown, which included Grimm’s mother, who he thought was dead. But I wasn’t paying much attention because I was more focused on resting my eyes in a cool, dark room.

I was surprised how many people left when the panel was over rather than stay like me for what was the highlight of the day.

EPIX ORIGINALS: SHATNER AND CORMAN – Kevin Smith moderated a panel with two legends.  First up was producer Roger Corman, who was promoting the EPIX original movie Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader in 3D, his first time in the format.  Smith showed great reverence towards one of the medium’s most successful producers as they chatted. When William Shatner, who was promoting his Get a Life! documentary, came out, Smith took a step back, though he didn’t have much choice because Shatner commandeered the room with his charisma.

Corman directed Shatner in The Incident based on a novel by Charles Beaumont and they told some great stories of working together.  Corman used to bemoan the fact that it was the one film of his that didn’t make back its money, but the one of the DVD releases finally put it into the black. 

When the panel was opened up to questions, the most uncomfortable moment occurred when a woman asked Shatner to scream “Khan!”  He politely declined.  She then asked if the audience could shout it at him.  He consented, and many in the audience belted out one of Capt. Kirk’s many trademark lines.

COMIC-CON MASQUERADE PARTY – My convention ended taking in a few minutes of the masquerade party and enjoying some snacks.  The participants put an amazing amount of time and effort into creating their costumes and planning their presentation.  Off in a hallway, a group of Jedis practiced some synchronized light-saber maneuvers, but I left before I found out if they were in the Masquerade or if they were prepping for a different event.

SUNDAY

With the line too long to get into Hall H by the time I was ready for the day to begin, it seemed like a good time to heard home and beat the traffic. 

Comic-Con remains a wonderful event as long as expectations are managed.  Attending the Firefly panel was something I had hoped to do, more so to watch the nerdgams than listen to the panelists, but there’s no way I’d have considered sleeping outdoors, even though Whedon and others stopped by to greet them. 

But that’s the battle: the more popular something is, the more people want to see it, and the earlier you need to get there to see it.  It certainly seems like they need some bigger rooms than they have in the convention center.  Adventure Time and Workaholics couldn’t handle all the people who wanted to attend their panels.  It will be curious if those running Comic Con renew in San Diego when the contract is up in a few years because they could easily move to a bigger place. 

Until then, I’ll keep going to San Diego every summer and hope that it remains enjoyable because I worry it eventually won’t be worth the hassle.

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

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