Comicon International 2006 — The Movie Star, the Professor and the rest of the crew

July 27th, 2006

Last year, just in time for Comicon, my sister scheduled her wedding opposite the Masquerade, which I consequently missed.  This year?  Well, I missed the Masquerade again, but only because of other complications.

Where to start?  Where to end?  Egads, I’ve been going to this thing for twenty years now, saw it when it was small, saw it when it was dying, then saw it when it moved to the new convention center and doubled in size every year, even as they continued to enlarge the convention center.  I remember a couple years ago when I made the mistake of being on the main floor when the crowd capacity overtaxed the air conditioning and I nearly fainted on top of Guillermo Del Toro as he was slipping out the back of the Marvel booth and under my arm as I supported myself on a pillar.

Anyway, I’ll start with a brief description of the con and go on to particulars.  Comicon International takes place in San Diego sometime during the summer.  The earliest is 4th of July weekend, which it’s only done once when it was bumped by the Republican National Convention (and that only by political clout, not size).  The latest is late August.  It’s moved the “San Diego” out of its name so if the city pulls any monkey business, the Comicon can move to the Anaheim Convention Center (where Worldcon will be this year) and Anaheim really wants its business.

Anyway, it’s technically a four-day convention, but there’s also three hours of “Preview Night” on Wednesday where the Dealers Room is opened early and there are even special collectibles available only to folk who attend Preview Night, which is only open to those who are preregistered for the convention.

I was preregistered, but got caught in LA traffic so arrived six minutes after registration closed on Wednesday.  Boo!  Hiss!  However, I did link up with my friend Storm, who was my “Guest of” (professionals get easy free registration–if done ahead of time–and one free guest) and got her the scantron form, which, due to new regulations/bureaucratese, cannot be transfered from one individual to another except by writing beforehand.  Unfortunately, her boyfriend had not known she was my guest, so had also gotten her a membership, but luckily under her given name of Avril.  So she later redeemed both then had her friend Baxter go to the con for the weekend as “Storm” (which was more likely for a guy with a braided beard than “Avril”).

Ah, fandom.  This workaround was even suggested by Registration.

Anyway, the layout of the place: The San Diego Convention center has a huge bottom floor with Halls A-H.  For the Dealers Room, Halls A-G are conjoined making a single room about the size of two football fields end-to-end.  No, I’m not making this up.  I’m told it’s 3/4 of a mile and I think that’s about right.  In that space there are a few districts: Artist’s Alley is a section of tables set up for various artists and illustrators selling their original works.  I know several of them, and found out from one that he’d come down at the last minute, emailed the artists’ network asking for crash space, and had someone who actually had a whole unfurnished house that wasn’t going to be rented for two weeks.  Hotel space is booked months in advance, so this not unusual.  (I and another author were staying at another author’s house, for example.)

Anyway, Dealers Room…  Imagine everything you’ve ever seen at a convention dealers room, but more and larger: Used book dealers, new book dealers, book publishers, game companies, movie companies, clothing dealers, jewelers, curio shoppes and purveyors of oddments and grot, armorers, sword dealers, actors and Playboy pinups.  And so on.  I started in Hall G and dedicatedly started out trying to see everything starting Thursday morning.  I gave up by the time I got to the A section, but most of what was there were various small publishers of comics I wasn’t too impressed by and Starbucks pimping free samples of some form of pumpkin-colored slush.

Hall H is the huge hall that’s used for the giant movie previews where  they have a panel with actors and directors and writers and expect an ultra-huge crowd which could not be handled by any of the upstairs halls, even the still huge Hall 20 and Hall 6.

Anyway, the Halls upstairs are given over to all programming and panels.  Gaming got banished to the Hyatt a few years ago, but it’s a nice banishment since the Con Suite is there too, and the only inconvenient thing is that you can’t just stroll in and out of gaming along with everything else.

Anyway, in between the upstairs Halls is the Sails Pavillion.  Read: Huge-Assed tented hall with concrete floor and cloth ceiling overhead which keeps down the echoes.  All author and actor signing is up here (in separate sections) except when a signing goes on at a dealers booth on the showroom floor.  However, for crowd control, most of the dealers will still do the signings upstairs in the Sails Pavillion unless they have an absolutely huge area able to accomodate it, such as the DC “booth” (read: tennis court).

Part of Registration is also under the Sails, as is the Art Show.  There’s also a large area with tables for conventioneers to just have somewhere to sit and chat and check what’s in their bags.

Anyway, while I was there, I ran into an old friend of mine from college and so hooked up with him and his wife for dinner.  So Thursday night for me was just just Fan night, but quite enjoyable.  (Wednesday night ended up being strangely enough Staff night, since after not getting my registration, Storm, Baxter and I bailed and found an In-and-Out Burger, where it turned out all the other people in line were the Registration Staff from the Con.  However, they were nice, and were also correct in that morning registration was expedited so it only took one minute, which is a new record.  If that’s what the scantrons do, maybe it’s good.)

Anyway, as I was saying, Thursday I did the fan thing and had a good time.  I said “Hi” to George R.R. Martin briefly since I’m one of his Wild Cards writers (and we have a relaunch from Tor next year) and he was amazed by the difference between what the Comicon was in 92 when he was here last and what it’s grown to now.

One thing about Comicon that is different from almost all other conventions is the fact that the parties are both swankier and harder to get invitations to.  The easiest is probably the benefit party for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which is both a good cause and a good party.  I tend to rejoin when I remember to/have spare cash/feel like it.  If you plan to attend Wondercon and the APE Expo in San Francisco the same year, your membership works for all the parties.  Not of course that you should be joining because of parties, but an incentive is an incentive.

As a consequence of the lack of good parties for plain fans, the fans decide to hold one of their own parties and it’s now become one of the events in and of itself.  X-Sanguine is the goth party.  Actually, that’s an understatement.  It’s a major goth ball held on the Saturday night of the convention, opposite the Masquerade, and always sells out the limited number tickets it has for the convention.  Luckily, Storm is friends with the organizer (and I ran into her at the table) and while she was on the guest list already, a ticket was located for me to purchase.  I also got an Emily the Strange shoulder bag as swag along with this, which was great because it saved my arm lugging the bag of convention freebies I’d been grabbing.  I had one goth girl try to convince me that it was not macho for guys to carry such things, but since it’s a large black satchel, I feel pretty secure.  Besides which, I had an Emily the Strange T-shirt when she was in elementary school, so for me it says “counterculture” more than “women’s wear.”

Anyway, Friday I did more the pro turn on the floor, since I have a couple essays in Ben Bella Books SmartPop anthologies (Seven Seasons of Buffy and Farscape Forever specifically).  I hadn’t got my registration packet back in time to be officially included on panels, but there’s only so much space anyway.  Glenn Yeffeth (Ben Bella’s editor-in-chief) had four other authors on the panel with him, and he had five more of us authors in the audience.  After the panel, we all went over and did a big group signing with the books being provided by Mysterious Galaxy.

After that, I had a late lunch with Amy Berner, one of the other SmartPop authors, then did more of the Dealers Room, then was at loose ends and trying to figure out whether I should go to do the fan thing of going to the Stargate/SciFiFriday panel, which was a showing of all the night’s episodes on the big screen, or going to the Eisner awards, which is meant to be the showpiece of the whole convention, and where all the pros are supposed to be going if they’re not playing hookey.

So, while I stood there waffling in the hall, I encountered my friend David, late of Pixar and Dreamworks, who enticed me to the pro side of the force, and we went over to the Eisner awards (which he’d never actually seen before).  Well, not the Eisner awards at first, but at least the bar set up outside Hall 20 while people were waiting to get in.  While there I ran into Eric Shanower, who was up for a couple awards, congratulated him, then he went off to be seated early with the other honorees.  Then David got a phonecall as a dinner invitation came through and I joined him in another year of playing hookey from the Eisners and went out to dinner with a bunch of producers and magazine editors.

Saturday, I started out with the Dealers Room again, which was far less crowded on the A side with the smaller dealers, then around noon went to the panel for Fallen, the new ABC Family miniseries about a cute young Nephilim.  I’m thinking the very concept should make Pat Robertson’s head spin (which I’m all for), and the Kyle XY panel the day before was very good (with the actors there, very earnest and happy), but as a big bonus for the Fallen panel, not only did they have the actors, but they had Tom Sniegoski, the author of the novels it’s based on.  The program even mentioned there’d be free copies of the book for those who attended, and while I’ve got tons of book swag, I had to admit I was actually interested in reading this one.

Of course, what it says in the program and what happens in reality are two different things.  Tom and the actors gave a great panel, movie clips were shown, everyone was happy and excited, ABC Family had not only taken out a full-page ad in the program book but had also paid to have everybody at the 100,000+ convention’s plastic welcome swag-bag printed with a full color ad, then to top it off, had a twenty-foot-high fifty-foot-long banner strung up in the Sails Pavillion just in case anyone missed the other two.

But books?  There were no books handed out at the panel.  I assumed it would be at the signing downstairs, which I decided not to go to, just saying “Hi” to Tom outside after being introduced by mutual friends, but as I was later informed by the same friends, there weren’t any books at the signing either.  Why not?  The publisher, PocketBooks, couldn’t be bothered to reprint it.  Even with a miniseries and a marketing blitz on behalf of ABC Family.

WTF?  Do they need Nephilim to show up and start hitting them with clue sticks?  There’s a freaking miniseries.  You’re supposed to not just have a reissue, but a special tie-in printing with the actor’s photo on the cover and the movie logo.

Strangely, PocketBooks did have a booth in the Dealers Room.

I then went and did a couple of the movie panels, finding out the plans for the Spirit movie (Will Eisner’s Spirit, to be done by Frank Miller, of Sin City fame) and then saw the updates for the Narnia DVD collection, the announcement of Prince Caspian starting filming, and then numerous silly outtakes from Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man’s Chest, followed by previews of the next film, of which I will give only one spoiler word: China.

This was followed by almost the full cast of the new Spiderman plus director Sam Raimi being believeably gracious and charming (and yes, I want to see the film, and it has both Sandman and Venom).  Then we saw Nicholas Cage decide for some reason that he needed to wear Elvis glasses to come out to pimp the new Ghost Rider he’s starring in.  Perhaps it’s his usual voice which I haven’t heard in movies, but he managed to do the odd double-feat of talking very intelligently whilst sounding stoned.  The stupid Elvis glasses definitely added to this impression.

Anyway, I did a bit more of the Dealers Room Saturday, picked up the latest book of Girl Genius in the puffy-covered hardback (and am now annoyed because I somehow missed picking up Volume IV in the same edition {ed. less annoyed now that I ordered one from Amazon on sale, who still had two of the hardbacks, despite the fact that only 500 of each are done hardback}), and then went to the WGA party for the animation writers which a friend had invited me along to.  There was much shmoozing, as well as the more serious business of announcing that the reality television writers were joining the animation writers in trying to get their shows to start thinking about being guild signatory (and thus paying writers properly).  To that end, the writers of America’s Top Model were now on strike, and two of them were there at the party.

And then I went from the WGA party to the X-Sanguine party.  Cleverly, I had worn pants that could be extended from shorts to full length.  Less cleverly, I hadn’t realized that The Abbey where the party was taking place was over 28 blocks away, all uphill.  In fact, at the crest of the appropriately named Hillcrest district.

Of course, after the crowds of the convention center, a 45-minute walk for 18 blocks (after exhausting a bicycle cabbie for the first 10) was strangely refreshing, at least in the climb-Mount-Fuji-once category.  And it gave me an anecdote to garner You swam the moat? looks.

But anyway, the X-Sanguine party: The Abbey is the actual abbey for St. Patrick’s church next door.  It’s an old, beautiful building with stained glass windows and so forth, looking all the more fun when used for the “kinda pleasantly Satanic” (to quote Ike Reilly) costuming and decorating you see in the goth scene.  And oh was there costuming.  From Chewbacca and Stormtrooper Elvis to Little Red Riding Hood and her werewolf beau.  Many beautiful bits of plain finery, and a pair of women who’d done themselves up as mirror images in matching Chinese silk 40s-era dresses, then done their hair with elaborate Chinese coiffures.  The hair ornaments, however, were chopsticks, fortune cookies, soy sauce packets and pairs of red and black take-out containers.

There were belly dancers, sword dancers, fire dancers.  And there was a photographer upstairs who, traumatized by the world of family portraits, had come to offer his services for free and take photos of everyone in their gothy best.

His release form was worth the price of admission alone, with the lines:

Q. Do I have to sign the release?

A. Yes.  No release=No pic.  This is not up for debate.  I cannot be held responsible if, ten years from now, you find Jesus, and he tells you to be ashamed of these images.

Squee!  Lovit.  I’m looking forward to my picture when he gets everything developed and retouched:

http://www.danielbergeron.com/

I of course felt underdressed compared to everone else, simply having a red “El Diablito” Loteria T-shirt with Betty Page print shirt as jacket, but I also had some great silver claws I’d gotten from Dragonspawn Crafthall years ago (in trade for mead), and once he saw those, the photographer’s face lit up.  He had me do several poses until he got one he was happy with, which I’m thinking should be one with me doing a good variety of snarling-demented while brandishing claws.

Anyway, Sunday was slightly lower key, mostly due to me developing what I thought was a mold allergy in the middle of the Pirates screening but actually turned out to be a nastying cold-flu.  I did the con, but somehow managed to subsist on nothing for the entire day save three packs of cough drops and a beer.  And I went to 4 AM, no less.

What did I do the last day?  Well, it’s good to have done things in previous years, since one of the things I’d done previously was go out to lunch with Dr. Peter Coogan, now the organizer of the Comics Arts Converence, a full-on academic conference that goes on during Comicon as part of its programming track.  He ran into me in the hall, invited me by, and I came for the final three presentations of the conference, the ones titled The Other Superhero: “The Superhero as Messiah” by Chris Carpenter of Christ the King parish, “Place and Displacement: Locating the Woman Warrior in a (Post)Modern World” by Kristy Boney of Ohio State University, and “Negotiating Life Spaces: Will Marriage Change Storm?” by Anita McDaniel of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

All three presentations were excellent, though I was extremely impressed by Professor Boney’s.  I was also a bit sorry I’d missed the rest of the presentations, but I bought a copy of all the papers from Pete on disk, and better, I later got an invite from him to go out to the movies with him and a bunch of the other professors.

We saw My Super Ex-Girlfriend which is particularly fun and a good note to end the con on, with lots of discussion of comics and pop culture on either side.

And then I went back to my friend’s place and slept the tortured sleep of one afflicted with the con-crud, which I’m now just kicking the last of, having gotten back to San Jose.  But this is not the fault of the con.

Anyway, that was Comicon 2006.  Looking forward to next year’s convention.

6 Responses to “Comicon International 2006 — The Movie Star, the Professor and the rest of the crew”

  1. Danion 27 Jul 2006 at 10:55 am

    Kevin — this write up makes me homesick (I haven’t been to a con in over 10 years). Sounds like you had an absolutely fabulous time.

  2. Constance Ashon 27 Jul 2006 at 11:58 am

    The publisher, PocketBooks, couldn’t be bothered to reprint it. Even with a miniseries and a marketing blitz on behalf of ABC Family.

    So like Them! Meaning the publishers, and borrowing a Tiltonism. Or, as so many have come to think, the new definition of publishing industry is “the industry that never misses an opportunity to not sell books.” Alas.

    You are da man too! I can’t imagine carrying on like you did with a convention cold — and to 4 a.m. too.

    Thank you so much for the report.

    Love, C.

  3. Kate Elliotton 27 Jul 2006 at 4:56 pm

    Kevin, thanks for the report – also, could you please use a cut tag (or did my software just miss it?)

  4. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 27 Jul 2006 at 6:26 pm

    Kate–

    No, I just forgot to put one in when I first posted. But if there ever were a post that needed one, it was that. Has been added.

    Amazing convention. Something I hadn’t mentioned in the initial post, but I was told by the proprietor of Shrine of Hollywood that the press of the crowd on Preview Night was worse than it was on Thursday and Friday morning–so many people coming to beat the crowds, combined with the collectors after the “Preview Night Only” goodies, that the Preview Night was more of a zoo than anything else.

    One of the amazing things about Comicon is your ability to deal directly with folk who you’d otherwise have to travel directly to, say, Hollywood to talk to. When in Phoenix a couple years ago for World Fantasy, I’d picked up a pirate shirt made by Shrine of Hollywood. Unfortunately, the lacing was insufficient for an XXL and it came unraveled shortly thereafter from the trouble of putting my head through. So when I told the proprietor this at Comicon, he just cut me a yard of new lacing of the same satin cordage they used for that shirt which I then used to fix it along with aglets I got from a notions dealer at NASFIC.

    There aren’t many cons where you can go “Oh look, there’s my fashion designer!” and go over and chat. The costuming track is pretty amazing too. While I missed it, my friend Storm went to it and talked about how pleased the costume designer for Smallville was when she commented on how Clark is always dressed in some combination of red and blue.

    I regret having missed the Masquerade a second year, but I’m hoping to see some of the costumes repeated to WorldCon. Convention memberships to WorldCon were among the prizes (Comicon has actual cash prizes and valuable gifts as well).

  5. David Louis Edelmanon 27 Jul 2006 at 6:33 pm

    Thanks for this, Kevin. I’ve read too many con rehashes that are basically one big long name dropping session, and yours so avoided that trap.

  6. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 27 Jul 2006 at 9:23 pm

    David,

    No trouble. I myself got tired of the name-dropping form after reading 18th century examples of the genre: “Then Lady H– was observed talking to Lord E–!” The whole program guide is still listed on the website anyway, so anyone who needs to know the exact names of all the literati and glitterati can look them up.

    I carpooled for three of the four days with my friend Charlotte, both of us rather amazed that we were on the same page with regards to the industry meet-and-greet and that neither of us were in favor of early bedtimes, especially since so many connections are made so late.

    One of the odd things that happened this year was that, with the exception of a brief walk through and then hooking up with Charlotte via cel phone, I pretty much completely missed “bar con,” the huge industry meet-and-greet that takes place in both the downstairs and the upstairs bars at the Hyatt. Likewise with the gaming room and the con suite.

    I think what it all comes down to is that the con is so huge you can do whatever track you like and stay in it the whole time, or you can see several of them, but you can’t go to all of them.

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