Ah, San Diego Comic-Con. We have such a testy relationship, you and I. When we first met back in 2006, it was positively magical! I was overwhelmed by your larger than life displays and your clanging soundtrack. There, a flying Pikachu! Here, a Death Eater. Is that Batman a cosplayer, or does he work for DC? Does it matter -- he's amazing! Hey, Jack Sparrow, can I have a picture with you? I need to buy these limited edition Lord of the Rings posters, or regret it forever!
It was fantastic. And that was just the display floor! The panels were their own dazzling whirlwind of celebrities, insider information, and bonding. In those halycyon days, you could just walk right into Hall H, and I remember sitting three or four rows away from Bryan Singer and Richard Donner, listening in rapt attention as they discussed Superman movies. I was (and still am) a star-struck geek from a cowtown. The idea that Comic-Con allowed me to share air with the man who directed Lethal Weapon was instantly addicting.
That first year, I had traveled for one thing -- I wanted to see the 300 panel. And I did. It remains one of the most stunning previews I've seen. It was also the one and only time I've participated in a fan Q&A, and it was the first time I met a famous object of my affection, as Gerard Butler kindly signed a photo for me, and talked about pug dogs with me.
Your first Comic-Con is always your best, and your favorite. It's the year everything goes right, and it seduces you into returning for bigger and better things. But subsequent years become more disastrous -- or at least they have for me and mine. 2007-2010 have seen me lose things, break things, miss panels and people, injure myself, fall ill, get in fights, and wind up in strange and uncomfortable places. From 2008 onward, I've have attended the convention in a professional capacity with varying degrees of success and enjoyment. Every year, I swear I won't go back. Every year, I break the vow. I've sworn it once again this year, and as I sit riddled with bronchitis and bruises, it seems easier than ever to imagine I'll actually keep it. But then I remember what it's like to land in San Diego every year, and see the water, the palm trees, and the displays of brooding heroes and heroines on every street corner. The tug of excitement returns. SDCC and I begin our little dance of love and hate again.
So, with that spirit of cynicism and wonder in mind, here were my favorite and least favorite things about San Diego Comic Con 2011.
1. The Prometheus footage
I don't know if it was because I hadn't been in Hall H in nearly two years, or because I'm a sucker for Ridley Scott's terrifying alien creations, but I dug the heck out of the Prometheus preview. It was just creepy and suggestive enough to get people talking, and to keep my mind guessing until the day I finally buy my ticket. While the presentation was a little lackluster and low-key, it was downright refreshing not to have it jammed as The Second Coming by the film's cast, crew, and producers the way every single Hall H panel has been in the past decade.
2. The Drive / Don't Be Afraid of the Dark panel
Film District's "filmmakers talk about stuff" was one of the highlights of the Hall H programming, thought it really was ill-suited for Comic-Con and Hall H. It needed an intimate and comfortable setting to be properly enjoyed. However, the Drive footage was one of the most sexy and brutal previews I've seen in a long time. Judging from the gasps of a jaded Hall H (not an easy reaction to elicit), my fellow congoers agreed. Drive may be one film that sees a boost from the convention presence, which will undoubtedly spur studios into taking a closer look at what they present there.
3. The Twi-Scheduling
ComicCon got a lot of things wrong about their programming schedule this year. (More on that later.) But the one thing they nailed was getting Twilight: Breaking Dawn out of the way as soon as it was humanly possible. And you know what? The Twi-hards were all right. Sure, they went super crazy and camped out for nearly a week. But they had enthusiasm. I wandered into Hall H while the Twilight panel was wrapping up, and hearing their squeals over the teaser trailer was rather affirming. It made my cold heart melt a little, and reminded me of the first time I glimpsed the 300 teaser. I felt young again! And I'll say this for the Twi-hards -- they know what they want to see, they go for it, and they sit still and enjoy it. (We'll come back to that as well!)
4. The Mass Effect 3 demo
Yes, I know this is Film.com and we discuss movie-related things here. But Mass Effect is on its way to becoming a film, so it counts. It was also one of the rare things I took time out to do for myself. I had a lot of fun playing it, and just as much fun meeting the hard-working programmers that made it possible. The wonderful thing about Comic-Con is that you get to meet so many creative individuals from all industries, and you get to interact with their products -- be it movie, comic, television show, or video game. It's a very vital event, and of all the things I did at the con, this was one of the moments that helped remind me what it's all about.
5. The Fans
You can read this as a continuation of #4, actually. A good Comic-Con for me is one where I get to meet a lot of people. Obviously, I thrill at meeting directors, actors, and writers and I've had some incredible moments over the past few years. But most of all, I love meeting up with my fellow geeks. I cherish the moments when I stood at a booth, digging for trades, my fellow treasure hunters and I helping one another in the quest for particular volumes or issues. "Redhead! I've got your Jonah Hex!" "Dude! I found your Sandman volume!" I love the "line friends" I make who held my place, watched my stuff, and grabbed me a t-shirt because they were taller than I. With social networking, I can now instantly friend and follow the people I chatted with while in line for Mass Effect, and we can spend the next year reminiscing over how we were bad-ass enough to finish the demo faster than the other players. Stargazing and swag is all well and cool -- and I won't deny its a huge reason I go -- but it's the little moments with your fellow congoers that can make or break a year. Thankfully, this year was a good one.
1. The Scheduling
For an event that purports to celebrate pop culture, Comic-Con organizers showed themselves to be painfully out of touch with what is actually popular. There was no excuse to have a panel like Game of Thrones in a room like Ballroom 20, a gaffe that saw thousands of fans turned away from the doors. This repeated continuously for True Blood, The Walking Dead and Community. These are all shows with massive fanbases, with those fans finding their origins in books and comics. A mere Google search can turn up the forums and fanbases devoted to these properties. Comic-Con needs to prove it knows what it's presenting, or risk looking like another corporate behemoth too clueless to survive in its own marketplace. Already, too many fans don't even bother to attend a panel because they know they won't get in. How long until they quit attending the convention itself for the same reason?
2. Legendary Pictures and the Theoretical Promotion
One of the most baffling panels on this year's schedule was Legendary Pictures' star-studded panel for Pacific Rim, The Seventh Son, Paradise Lost, and Mass Effect. The panel was another victim of SDCC's bad scheduling (it was wedged between HALO and Spartacus: Blood and Sand, meaning there were a lot of fans camping out) and crammed in one of the most unappealing rooms of the convention center. It was difficult to gauge how many were actually there to see Legendary Pictures presentation, but the room wavered between enthusiasm for the talent and boredom when it became apparent the theme was "We can't really say too much about it." Reportedly, it had a good response on Twitter, but there was no fan Q&A, all press coverage was met with a blanket refusal, and there wasn't much for anyone to buzz about. It's hard to know exactly who this bit of marketing was meant for, and in a year when studios were cutting back due to the poor profits, it seemed both excessive and not big enough to make a splash. It was nice to see Jeff Bridges and Bradley Cooper though ... even if I was so far back, I might as well have been back in Denver.
3. The Lack of Flash and Fun on the Floor
I'm sort of torn about this, as it was a relief to be able to walk the convention floor without being totally squeezed and suffocated by crowds longing for swag and autographs. I'm also appalled by the amount of plastic, metal, and paper trinkets thrown at fans and into the trash every day. But one of the old thrills of the convention was getting some cool pins, some funky t-shirts, and gazing at displays of costumes and props. A little of this goes a long way, and it was disappointing to see studios abandon the floor to set-up unattractive and inaccessible displays in downtown San Diego itself, causing a whole new set of traffic problems for anyone hoping for a quick lunch. I understand the logic of exposing one's product to as many people as possible, but if enticing the ordinary San Diegoans with free stuff didn't work for Scott Pilgrim, it probably won't work for Total Recall or Real Steel.
4. The Playboy Club
Booth babes have always been eye-rolling enough. But Playboy? Really? This seemed to be the final death knell for a plastic and pandering trend that began when Paris Hilton, Kim Kardasian and Carmen Electra were all panel guests in 2008. When Comic-Con has more Bunnies than comic book heroes, you know the balance needs to be restored.
5. The Fans
I praised them, now I have to knock them. I had a few heated discussions with friends over what this year's con would bring by way of attendees, and after spending four days among them, I'm still not sure who they were. While I met a lot of true blue geeks at Mass Effect and comic book booths, I watched rows of them get up out of boredom when the Fox panel began. It was no secret that Prometheus footage was about to be unveiled -- Damon Lindelof announced it two minutes into the panel -- and yet few could stick around. This is the kind of stuff old-school geeks should be going crazy for, and yet they could barely stifle yawns. I was regrettably absent for Tintin and The Amazing Spider-Man, but a curious sort of ennui swirled around those panels too. Few had the enthusiasm of the Twi-hards, who seemed to be the only ones truly engaged with what they were watching in Hall H. What do Comic-Con fans want, exactly? The big, splashy studio panels? And if not, why didn't they turn up for the smaller, quirkier ones like Twixt and Drive? If they're actually attending for comic books, why were the show floors relatively quiet? It was an odd year. Maybe we were all just making do, having more fun interacting with one another, playing game demos, and spending money at Trickster. Perhaps we're growing old, and having to hand it off to be shaped anew by young fans.
Whatever it is, I can't believe Sir Ridley Scott didn't get more cheers...