Comicon ’09 & Westercon ’09 — My god, it’s made of swag!

July 29th, 2009

I’m now back in town after Comicon and Westercon before it, and it’s time for my annual con wrap-up.

In twenty years of Comicons, I have never gotten so much swag.  Yes, there was the year of pogs, the year of posters, the years of posters and bags.  But never before have I gone to a con, come back laden with more bags than I could reasonably carry (or take as my onboard luggage), and then realize I’d left two behind at my friend Albert’s.

I was told by dealers that they weren’t seeing many credit cards, but everyone was paying cash–a sign of the economy.  But it seems another sign of the economy that Hollywood is just throwing free stuff at people as promotion.  I came back with four free DVDs (one random one given to me by a little kid in the hall, another box set of The Rose, Hello Dolly and 9 to 5 I’d got as a door prize for being one of the few people to look at “The Middle”) then came home and found a Coraline DVD waiting for me, prize from a raffle I’d entered at Westercon.

But now that that’s all said, let me go through the days of the convention in order.  I flew down Monday early to visit, and while doing so, found myself sitting with the staff of Slave Labor Graphics, going down to staff their booth.  (Tuesday, I went to the museums in Balboa Park.)

Wednesday night was “Preview Night,” which is pretty much a misnomer, because the floor was packed beyond anything I’ve seen before, and the con is now selling out so far in advance that everyone qualifies for preview night, as there are no longer any tickets left for people at the door.  We got our badges easily and hit the floor, and here I will describe what could be found on the floor and what the innovative promotions were: AMC is doing a new version of The Prisoner and they were having people take their pictures and be assigned their numbers for The Village.  I am now number 602, and the picture is only slightly better than my awful new driver’s license photo.  Heroes had booth babes in cheerleader costumes scanning badges to enter people into a raffle to win a Nissan cube (one given out per day of the con).  There was a Visitors center for the new V series, handing out cheery pamphlets.  And there was a booth with some new toy that was kind of cheaply made for the $70 price tag but cool all the same, since it wired up an encephalograph in a headband with a little base that had airjets floating a little blue foam rubber ball in the air depending on how much you concentrated or relaxed, with another little knob to twiddle to adjust the horizontal so you could take the ball floating through a series of hoops and other obstacles.  I found it easy, but it was frustating most of the gamers trying it, and even more so because the booth babes were got up as scifi psychic maidens which fit with a faux telekenisis game and they were doing it easily because they’d practiced and had likely been picked for being good at it.

On the Scifi end, the SciFi channel had rebranded themself as SyFy.  One actor on a panel (I think Eric McCormack promoting Alien Trespass) asked what was up with that, and why they thought they needed the name change, at which point a woman in the audience shouted out “Because they’re stupid!” which got a huge laugh and was the explanation that the panelists and the whole audience nodded in agreement with.  However, that said, SyFy was giving out nice disposable cameras and even nicer bags, and doing this in the Gaslamp Quarter instead of on the convention floor.

After the con closed Wednesday night, I went to the Airport Lounge for the Evil Empire Job Fair.  Company was good, and I linked up with Kelly and Shane from White Wolf, my old publisher, and we talked and hung out.  White Wolf did not have a booth at this con (they were on the wait list) but was helping to sponsor the X-Sanguine party on Saturday opposite the Masquerade.  Kelly does publicity for White Wolf and we talked about the various things we’d seen on the floor and what seemed the most effective.  We both griped about idiots who only brought one size of a given T-shirt to a convention.  (More about that later.)

Thursday was an interesting day.  Rather than go to the ginormous Hall H, most sane people were avoiding it because that way they could avoid the hordes of teenage maenads who were going to the Twilight panel and had even camped out the night before.  Many people ranted and lamented that Comicon had gotten away from its roots with all the Hollywood stuff, but I went to The Middleman panel, and saw the really good side of Hollywood that no one ever talks about: Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who’s a great guy and fanboy extraordinaire, in addition to being a screen and comics writer, had his comic The Middleman picked up as a series by ABC Family.  They promoted it last year, and filmed twelve episodes, but not, alas, the season finale, episode thirteen.  So instead, Javi had a full cast reunion (including a lot of actors who have gotten jobs on major network shows since) there to do a full dramatic reading of “The Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse.”  It was hilarious, especially Matt Keeslar’s killer diction with the absurdly long name of the phlebotinum du jour, and there’s even a comic book now of the lost last episode.  This was everything right about the Hollywood presence at Comicon.

That evening, we were thinking of going to see Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, but instead, we (meaning Albert, Leslie and myself) went to the sneak preview of Mystery Team, a new film from a team called Derrick Comedy, who I never heard of before but I expect we’ll be hearing a lot from again.  As I told their director the next day, Comicon had given them the same spot on the floor that Clerks had had years before–an omen the director was very thrilled to hear, but honestly, Mystery Team is ten times more professional and funnier than Clerks ever was.  Basic Premise: Encyclopedia Brown grows up and has to deal with strippers, murders, and drug-addled hos.  Really.

Friday we tried to get into the room to see The Guild panel, but there was no room.  By that point we realized there would be no hope of getting into the Coraline panel either, so we just went and did the floor for the most part.  Then I had the idea of going to the Hilton to see a new TV show pilot which I reasoned might have more room.

We then got to see everything wrong with Hollywood in the form of The Middle, which I think is best described as imagining Malcom in the Middle without Malcolm: Heartwarming family comedy (for certain values of “heartwarming”) about a mother with three children who are so socially graceless to the point of it nearly qualifying them for special ed, which they apparently get from their parents, since this was the source of the extremely contrived plotline of the pilot which conspired to get the mother stranded in the middle of a cornfield in a superhero costume.  Really.  This was no doubt some insane (or desperate) executive’s idea of how to make it appeal to a Comicon audience.

We were three of the thirty people who’d come to see it in the Hilton’s lavishly huge and beautifully air conditioned Indigo Ballroom.  I was handed a raffle ticket going in the door, a Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince panorama picture bag (without having to fight a line at the WB booth), and a really nice canvas tote from that included a purse hook (Albert and I couldn’t figure out what this thing was until our friend Leslie explained it), WB-character branded canned goods and pudding (really, and damn were they heavy), a Batmite mask that said “Awesome Sauce!” on the back, an apron that turned out to be a cross between a sun dress and babydoll pajamas, and the aforementioned box set I won in the raffle of favorite women’s films.  The WB publicist said the star never showed up to answer questions because she was stuck on the convention floor, which I read as the publicist calling Patricia Heaton on her cell phone and telling her she’d meet more fans on the floor than the handful who’d made it over to the ballroom in the other hotel.  But I wasn’t complaining because I could breathe and was given lots of swag.

Going back to the main convention center, the line for Dollhouse was wrapped all around the upper hall, so we decided not to bother.  We later heard bizarre rumors that season two is going to be set in some future dystopia.  We shrugged, saw some of the academic panels from the Comics Arts Conference, then went to the outdoor carnival NBC had set up to promote Heroes.  Short explanation: Season Five of Heroes is going to be set in a carnival, and they had the same actor to play the barker on the show as at the Comicon carnival.  It had free popcorn, snowcones and cotton candy, and games you could play for ticket to win Tshirts, collectibles or signed scripts.  I won a Tshirt, but the only size they thought to make for the con was Large.  Somewhere there is an exceedingly stupid publicist.  I didn’t wear a Large even when I was twenty and slim.

After that, we to get into the True Blood party, which had a line that went on forever.  While we were in the line, we ran into Jim and Nancy Hay, who were going out to dinner, so we blew off the party and joined them and were glad that we did–there was an amazing Mexican restaurant, and great company as well.  We talked about Comicon’s past and present, and I mentioned the insufficient air conditioning in the convention center.  Jim told me that a secondary air conditioner is brought in just for the con, at great expense, but unfortunately it still isn’t enough.  At a couple of the writing panels, Albert and I both found ourselves nodding off from lack of oxygen just from the press of people in the room.

Saturday is the traditional biggest day, and it did not disappoint, except when it did: After attending the “Is the Joker a Psychopath?” panel (which had Adam West on it, as well as Jerry Robinson, the Joker’s original creator) and then going over to the Indigo Ballroom and catching the Sanctuary panel (which was packed, unlike The Middle the day before) and had its actors, who seemed to be having some very good chemistry and fun, we went and thought maybe going two and a half hours early would be sufficient to get into the Iron Man panel.

We were wrong.

Albert and I waited an hour and a half in the sun until someone came out and said we weren’t likely to get in for anything, since people were basically doing a sit-in in Hall H.  So we then went to Ballroom 20, which had a wraparound line, but I thought would be sufficient to get in for True Blood.  While in line, I talked with a woman dressed as Snow White from the Fables comic series and we had a great conversation about that, books, and literature in general, since she’s a children’s librarian from LA.  We then saw the tail end of the Fringe panel and all of the True Blood panel, both of which were fun and informative.  Best line of the evening was by Alexander Skarsgard who, when asked if they had conventions like this in Sweden, said “If this were in Sweden, it would be in a barn, and there would be only thirty people, and twenty five of them would be named Skarsgard.”

We then went to Hennesey’s to hang with Pete Coogan and the rest of the professors from the Comics Arts Conference and get dinner, after which we went to the X-Sanguine party, which had a zombie theme, good company, and interminable rave music.  I hung out with Kelly and Shane and a bunch of other friends.  We laughed about the large-only Heroes T-shirts.

Sunday we split up a bit–Albert and Leslie went to the comics arts conference’s art show, while I went to the Mystery Team panel, the panel after it for Alien Trespass (part homage, part send-up of 50s B-movies), and finally the panels for Being Human (the new BBC show about the vampire, the werewolf and the ghost who share a flat in Bristol) and Torchwood.  John Barrowman was a ham as always.

After that was Once More With Feeling, the Buffy musical, which Albert and Leslie rejoined me for.  And then Comicon was over except for not being over: We went out for dinner, caught Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with Pete and the other professors, when went to the Hyatt bar where I got to reconnect with my old friend and occasional co-author, Andy Grossman.

And Monday, I went back to the art gallery to check out “The Ridotto in Venice” which is something I was researching for some fiction.


One Response to “Comicon ’09 & Westercon ’09 — My god, it’s made of swag!”

  1. Peter Cooganon 07 Aug 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Boy I got a lot of mentions in your con write up this year. What Mexican place did you eat at? I stopped going to Con panels for the most part (none this year, and only Always Sunny in Philadelphia last year) because of the lines. Andy Grossman, Corey from the Story, and the vessel with the pestle had the pellet with the poison, Corey from the Story threw the brew that was true on the floor. I just felt that story could use a little Danny Kaye.

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