Written by Shawn Bourdo
I’m going to break some news here. Sit down and be ready for a shock. The 2016 San Diego Comic-Con isn’t your father’s Comic Convention. In fact, it’s not even your slightly older sister’s convention. When I first started writing these reviews about a decade ago, I could get back and digest what I saw and still have some news for the readers. But the past couple years, the only things of note I might educate the reader on came from the smaller panels I attend.
In 2016, almost every panel is being tweeted by multiple outlets as it happens. When the panels have an “exclusive” trailer, it is typically made available to the world within minutes of the end of the panel. If you think you are “breaking” news from the Con, then you are only fooling yourself. The Convention and the companies participating are controlling the information. That’s probably a good thing considering how much misinformation has come out of these conventions over the years.
So what can I do for you? What you don’t get from reading the news out of the Comic-Con is the context. You don’t know the mood and the overall reception and the smell. Well, I’ll leave out the smell, just as a favor to the weak-stomached among you. I will summarize some of the unique things I saw and heard but I’m going to try to give the four-day affair some context. I know that’s worse than herding Pokemon but I logged many steps to do this for you.
I spent the first Preview night just wandering the floor. It’s not a great night for panels and it’s a little less crowded to see what the retail focus of the weekend will be. The floor isn’t considerably different than it has been for years. The larger companies have secured the middle portion of the floor. It’s the usual suspects of toys like Hasbro and AMC Walking Dead. There’s the battling stages of DC Comics and Marvel Comics with Image Comics doing their thing a little less flashy. Star Wars still maintains an overly large square footage, as does Lego. I don’t see much that isn’t a franchise that’s been around for multiple years. The standards exist and it’s hard to make inroads. In fact, other than the continuing decrease in the amount of comics, the disappearance of DVD/videos, and the virtual nullification of game and collecting cards, the floor was pretty static.
The newest additions were more just more noticeable. There was a definite increase in the amount and pricing of Pop Figures. There were more Mystery Boxes available. What’s a Mystery Box? It’s kind of an in-person take on the different random “loot” boxes that you can subscribe to get sent to your home. You pay a fee and pick a box. Like any lottery – only one or two is going to be a “winner”. At one table I saw that one box would have a PS4. But the other boxes would have three or four Pop Figures and maybe some other random toys. I’ve seen this gimmick repurposed for many years dating back to the sports-card era. I’m still not sure of its place at the convention. It’s a form of gambling that just feels wrong when aimed at the children on the Convention floor. I left that night being interested in some of the new artists in Small Press and Artists Alley but unimpressed with anything new happening out there.
NERDIST PANEL w/CHRIS HARDWICK
Catching the end of the Nerdist panel before this one, I heard one surprising new thing that would become a theme at many of the panels. There was talk about Board Games. The excitement of the crowd and each event where they were mentioned shows me that there is a renewed interest in games that bring people together in-person. The idea of the interactive video game has not delivered the type of social interaction that appeals to a wide range of people. Playing Call of Duty with your friends all in different rooms in different houses is something that is enjoyed only by a small percentage of people who like games. This isn’t even a nostalgia thing because there’s an appetite for new games. I think this bears watching over the next couple years.
The other thing to come out of this panel is that Chris Hardwick has imparted a philosophy to the Nerdist crew. The full crew including Jessica Chobot (“Nerdist News”), Dan Casey (“The Dan Cave”), and Alicia Lutes (“Fangirling”) abide by a positivity rule. The internet is filled with negative reviews and opinions. It seems to be the easiest way to get attention is to bring someone else’s work down. Chris believes that there’s a place in the world for encouraging people who are creating art. He gets lots of criticism for shows like The Talking Dead for not being critical of aspects of the show. But there are other outlets for that and I appreciate his take on our Geek Culture. This is fun and it’s created by people who grew up fans just like all of us.
The group started another theme that I would see through the Con. They encouraged people to have more actual in-person interactions. To get together with like-minded people and do things and talk about things they like. They encouraged actual conversations over shouting and arguing. That is more likely to happen in person than over the internet. Online conversations lack the context of an in-person interaction. I agree that online conversations are more likely to devolve into shouting and name calling. This had a real-world application with the new release of Pokemon Go! The game has already generated a slew of group activities in towns and neighborhoods. Hopefully this can translate into groups getting together to talk about TV shows and movies and playing board games.
Almost every panel had at least a mention of the Trump candidacy. It was foremost in the minds because of the end of the Republican Convention during the Con. The talk about his front-running was tied into some of the criticisms that happen of TV shows, movies, and books. It’s called the Dunning Kruger Effect. At its basics it shows that low-intelligence people have a few facts and assume they know everything and that high-intelligence folks have many facts and assume that they have much more to learn. That feels like an oversimplification of the appeal of Trump to “low intelligent” voters. The numbers and experience don’t prove that out. But the study itself as an application to fandom is more likely. It’s the people who haven’t read a book or seen all of a show or movie that are sometimes the most vocal critics. It’s important to ask questions of people who critique something you love.
SNOOPY FOR PRESIDENT
I was anxious to hear a real serious discussion of how Charles Schulz viewed the elections over his 50 years and how they came across in his strips. What I got was a little more basic and surface. Not to say that I didn’t learn a few things and relived a few things I had forgotten. The panel was sponsored by a current Rock The Vote campaign starring the Peanuts characters. There’s a fun vote going online for the characters that holds more interest for me than the actual election. The elections in the strips and shows was only given a little lip service here which really was a bit of a disappointment.
The first Snoopy For President campaign was a Hallmark invention in 1968. The representative for Hallmark had some interesting advertising from the era but once again very little political input. Peanuts has always had a retail presence but this wasn’t billed as a forum to talk about that.
The last portion of the panel showed some Peanuts parodies in political cartoons over the years dating back to the 1960s. Here, we got an interesting side discussion of why this humor works. Peanuts has been such a cultural icon for so long that when you see someone on a dog house you know what character is being referenced. Or a kite, a football being pulled away, a WWI Flying Ace, and bird flying upside down. These are part of our graphic vocabulary and has been rich for political humor for over 50 years. I found this the best part of the panel and would love to go to the Charles Schulz Museum to see more.
GEEK’S MORE GREATEST MOVIES AND TV NEVER MADE: THE THREEQUEL
I’ve been to all of these. There was talk about the I Am Legend directed by Ridley Scott and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger which would have been so terrible I can’t imagine. Interesting story about how X-Men: First Class almost wasn’t made because once Fox announces the film they only have so much time to get the movie finished or they lose their hold on the franchise. The Beatles wanted to make their own version of Lord of the Rings but when they approached Stanley Kubrick he said a definitive no. Paul McCartney wasn’t done because he almost made a Star Trek-like movie with Roddenberry in the 1970s. David E. Williams (Geek Magazine) outlined many of the failed Trek movies including Planet of the Titans that would have starred Robert Redford as Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise ends up giving early man fire as essential gods. And the pilot for a Star Trek: Phase Two TV series was turned into the first movie after the success of Star Wars.
A couple good points came out of this. First is that in the case of Star Trek until that point, movies weren’t being made of failed TV shows. Movies like Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Batman were from TV shows during their run. Good or bad, Star Trek gave new life to studios making films from shows that had left the small screen. The other point about all of these films from the past three years of panels is that the movies that aren’t made are great in our head. I love that. I remember how much I’ve read the director and plot for a film and then years later been extremely disappointed. Can you say Land of the Lost?
The thing that occurred to me while sitting in this panel was how this panel reflected what was happening on the floor. Look at the program and compare it to last year. I was attending at least six to eight panels that were sequels or ongoing panels. A majority of the panels in the books are duplicates of previous years. People are still going to Walking Dead and Game of Thrones and even whatever the new Batman animated film is going to be. I’ve been a frequent attendee of World’s Worst Cartoons and I’ve seen John Barrowman multiple times. There is comfort in going back to see a new episode of something you have loved in the past. What I don’t see is a plethora of new talent and topics. It’s lazy is what it is. There are so many aspects to our popular culture that I wish they would tap into that instead of relying on greatest hits to keep it going.
MARVEL’S LUKE CAGE
A perfect example of a panel that I have very little to talk about. Fact: The Marvel shows on Netflix are very popular. Fact: They all contain beautiful people. Fact: They will keep putting out new seasons until people aren’t watching them. Jeph Loeb moderated a hype show that really just highlighted that there was a Luke Cage series and another season of Daredevil coming up. The worst kept secret was the we are getting an Iron Fist show that actually looks like a decent design. The other least surprising surprise was that once we have all these characters there will be a Defenders series. The teaser was just that – a no footage teaser and the crowd went bananas.
In the case of each of these exciting trailers that we saw exclusively, they were released internationally just minutes after we saw them. I don’t know that I got any information that wasn’t out into the world before I had a chance to finish clapping. The Luke Cage series looks like a show that I will watch in one weekend. He’s one of the most attractive men in TV and the cast includes other character actors that I’ve enjoyed including Juice from Sons of Anarchy. Something was bothering me about this preview and it wasn’t until Friday that I could put a finger on it.
Thursday finished with an event about the National Geographic show about Mars. More on that as it dovetails with a panel I attended on Friday. The first full day was in the books and I was seeing patterns that I hadn’t connected in years past. The second day would bring them into focus a little more.