Comicon International 2008 — Dr. Horrible, The Dark Knight, and me

July 30th, 2008

Back from Comicon. Also back from Westercon. Thoughts….

First off…wow. Comicon was amazing. In over twenty years of attending, Comicon’s managed to outdo itself again, mostly by dint of those who came, both industry types and fans. I don’t know how many, but numbers of over 200,000 were rumored and probably underestimated.

Second thought, what’s up with the art shows at all the cons? At Comicon, I saw more winged kittens in the art show than superheroes, or for that matter, any comic book characters. Yes, I understand the cottage industry of marketing to dragon and cat fetishists, but seeing the same dracokitty art recycled from Westercon to Comicon was surreal given the difference of the rest of the convention.

Saturday night of Comicon, I skipped the masquerade to go to the X-Sanguine party at The Abbey. Theme for for the night was quarantine for a viral outbreak, and the goth industrial finery was on full display, with highlights being a trio of veiled Victorian ghost brides who’d used phosphorescent electric wire to illuminate their gowns from inside, stilt-walking mad scientists, and a guy who’d managed to reproduce Captain Hammer from Joss Whedon’s new project, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, on short notice, but looking even more impressive–Nathan Fillion, who plays Captain Hammer (and was at the con), is slightly over six foot, but the costumer I talked to, Damien, stands about 6’6″ with a superhero build.

My friend Storm was also there, dressed as Marie Antoinette, and we ended up talking to a bunch of fans from Vegas, where Westercon was just held, who were saying that Comicon should move to Vegas because Vegas had the convention space to hold Comicon. I countered that I didn’t want to see the guy in the Chewbacca costume fainting in the Vegas heat, as it had been 115 earlier this month when I was there. They had to agree on that point.

The San Diego Convention center had a dealer’s room the size of two football fields and it was still crowded, despite the alternate draw of all the panels going on upstairs or in Hall H. I completely missed Hall H which consisted as per usual of all the movie previews and panel discussions with the various writers, directors and actors for the movies, instead mostly going to the ones for the comic and television shows and dealing with the lines to get into some of them.

In contrast, the resort where Westercon was held was palatial, if smaller than the San Diego convention center, but the few hundred fans and pros attending were still rattling around. Attendance at Westercon was down from previous cons, and while I did have a good time, it was very much a relaxicon with the added perk of doing 4th of July in Vegas, and Vegas did not disappoint–The fireworks show at the Red Rock was spectacular, and the Vegas restaurants similarly excellent.

That said, the biggest amenity Comicon has going for it in the current location is San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, which in my estimation is second only to New Orlean’s French Quarter for restaurants in strolling distance, and possibly superior in that New Orleans does New Orleans cooking almost without exception, whereas in the Gaslamp, I had Irish food twice at The Field, semi-Irish food once at Hennesey’s, and amazing Indian food at a new restaurant called Masala. And that’s just a small sampling of what’s there.

Many fine things can be said about Vegas, but strollability in July is not one of them. I’ve heard rumors of Comicon possibly moving to Anaheim sometime, but the restaurants in the Disneyland area, with certain exceptions, do not equal those of the Gaslamp, and certainly do not have their number and range.

But before going back to the wonder that is Dr. Horrible, I should probably go over the con in order. Rather than driving or flying, this year I decided to take the train, both for budget and novelty. And luckily I decided to go down a bit early and leave a bit late, so I missed what the conductors said were the most crowded trains they’d ever seen.

Anyway, my friend Albert picked me up Tuesday night when I got in. Wednesday we went to the San Diego Wild Animal Park and then to the con in time for Preview Night, which has gone from being a perk for those who get their memberships in advance to a virtual necessity for those who want to see the show relatively uncrowded. Repeat, “relatively.”

The dealer’s room was amazing. Small generalities: Larger Hollywood presence, smaller game company presence, a somewhat larger artists alley and more fine art booths, both modern and vintage. As opposed to the winged kittens upstairs at the art show, the owner of Century Guild had just acquired a portfolio of original Klimt prints and was showing them to interested buyers and also those like me who couldn’t afford them but still appreciate fine art. Last year he had original Mucha. Century Guild was also showcasing some works of current day artists working in similar styles and there were a large number of professional artists who had booths outside of artists alley.

It was, in short, the grand bazaar. I bought a colored die I needed to complete a set, for ceremonial and aesthetic reasons, caught dinner at The Field with Jim and Nancy Hay, and then went to the X-Sanguine after-party held at the Airport Lounge, a nightclub in San Diego done in an early 70s airport theme.

Thursday, I did the dealer’s room floor for the most part, locating the Tor booth, waved “hi” to Patrick Nielsen-Hayden who looked like he was busily liveblogging the whole thing, admired the cover of Inside Straight, and then spotted Caroline and Warren Spector nearby. We were all heading off to the Doctor Who/Torchwood panel in Ballroom 20, which was thankfully big enough to hold everyone, but the line wrapped around the upper floors. A large number of the writers, producers and actors were there, especially for Torchwood. John Barrowman was particularly funny and was obviously having a great time because San Diego is his old college town and he was able to return as the triumphant actor-hero.

After Torchwood, I ran over to 5AB for Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s new project, The Middleman. Javi was there, pleased as punch (and deservedly so), and Matt Keeslar who plays The Middleman was there as well, obviously having a great time too. They played a clip from the other star, Natalie Morales, in which she apologized for not being there, and then showed an amusing clip from an upcoming episode in which Kevin Sorbo plays a bad Middleman from a previous era. All-in-all, very fun. I hope the show makes it, and not just because Javi’s a friend but for the selfish reason that I want to see more episodes.

A bit later there was the Superhero Superfiction panel in the same room. Caroline Spector and Melinda Snodgrass were there representing Wild Cards and promoting Inside Straight as well as Melinda’s new novel, Kevin J. Anderson with a new Superman book, and several other authors for various other books, including two from a new one called The Darker Mask. Mary Elizabeth Hart from Mysterious Galaxy was moderator and afterwards hosted the signing. I’m looking forward to next year when Busted Flush is out, as well as Esther Friesner’s Witch Way to the Mall anthology so I’ll have something current to sign.

After dinner at the aforementioned Masala with Margaret Organ-Kean (who came after finding from the internet that fans were already expecting her in artists alley) and her husband and fellow Foolscap instigator, Bruce Durocher, they con had a special showing of The Lost Boys: The Tribe along with a panel with the writers and actors. Corey Feldman was hamming it up by coming in character as Edgar Frog, and Angus Sutherland was taking the analogous role to what his brother Kiefer did in the original. Short review: Not as good as the original, but still quite good for a sequel, and far better than a direct-to-DVD movie has any expectations of being. I saw it along with my friends Albert and Jerry who are about the same age as I was when the original came out. They liked it a lot and I smell more sequels sooner than twenty years.

Friday was the day of lines. Joss Whedon was in Ballroom 20 with the cast of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. The line went on forever, but the panel was both funny and informative. I’d thankfully been turned onto it before the con, so was able to watch it free, then paid for an iTunes version I could watch on my iPod on the train the way down. I was hoping and expecting there to be a big-screen showing of it, and one was scheduled for that evening, but unfortunately not in that room, which was reserved for the Eisner Awards. Instead, it was put across the hall in room 6B, after the showing of the Sci Fi Friday Night preview shows of Eureka and Stargate Atlantis, after the 30-year reunion show of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This was a mistake. Not everyone could get into MST3K who wanted to, and everyone who wanted to see Dr. Horrible was getting in line early to see Sci Fi Friday too. I actually could have gotten in to the room earlier because one of the door guards looked at my badge and thought I was the Kevin Murphy from MST3K, but I don’t think I’d be able to fool the audience let alone the other panelists, so I didn’t capitalize on the confusion.

Thankfully there was some mad plate-spinning from the convention staff and they arranged for rooms 5AB and 7AB to be opened and show early showings of Dr. Horrible. However, I was already in a good place to see the SciFi Friday, so I got in and watched both. The producer of Eureka introduced the Sci Fi portion of the show, and Joss and the rest of the cast and writers attended the big-screen premiere of Dr. Horrible and took their bows to thunderous applause.

I’m thinking that in the future, Hall H may have to be opened for nighttime programming.

Now, what to say of Dr. Horrible? I’ll echo what Joss said at the panel earlier that day: During the writers strike, they’d thought about making art without any money going to certain people, with “certain people” being an obvious circumlocution for the studios. It was rather exciting to watch something at the forefront of a new media form, direct-to-iPod rather than direct-to-DVD or its precursor, direct-to-video.

Of course Dr. Horrible showed up on DrHorrible.com first, for free viewing to build buzz, and of course the Comicon placement and showing was well chosen. Joss’s brothers and co-writers, Jed and Zack, mentioned that there would be tryouts for the Evil League of Evil on the website, and ten or twelve winners would be added to the League and included on the eventual DVD. And there was also mention of future installments of Dr. Horrible.

But what to say of Dr. Horrible? Apart from superlatives about the writing, acting, and music, and nice words about the low budget costuming which looked like stuff that regular people who were superheroes or villains could throw together (explaining how so many costumers reproduced it so quickly), maybe a quick thumbnail pitch: Dr. Horrible, aka. Billy, wants to join the Evil League of Evil, but also wants to get the girl of his dreams, Penny, but has trouble when Captain Hammer, narcissistic prat of a superhero, gets in the way. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that it does a very nice job of wrangling with the concept of what is good and what is evil, who’s the hero and who’s the villain, and far more successfully than other things which I would have expected to be better but weren’t and I’ll get to later. (Hint: The Dark Knight.)

In any case, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was marvelous to see on the big screen. I want the next installment. Now. But in the time being, I can just rewatch the original three acts on my computer for my happy payment of $3.99 to iTunes.

Saturday, got to the con too late to get in the line for Heroes second season panel, but was able to get into the Tori Amos panel. I’m a big fan of Tori Amos and it was great to see her, though it was a bit odd given the dressing down of most of the panelists (Joss was running around in rumpled plaid), Tori was got up in a black designer gown and long red wig like she was going to the Grammies. She was also discussing the new coffee table book of comics that have been done based on her songs, and mentioned how after reading the stories in it, she was hearing different, new music in her head. Which means we’re going to get more albums from her. Really interesting discussion between her and the writers and artists on the project.

After this came the line and panel for Joss Whedon’s other new project, Dollhouse. Eliza Dushku was also there, as well as the actor who plays the investigator and also played some major role on Battlestar Galactica, which is still on my “to catch up on” shelf, so I can’t say anything about him other than looking forward to seeing him on the show since he and Eliza appeared to have good chemistry. And Dollhouse looks like it’s going to be very interesting.

Now of course comes the question…this is Comicon. Where are the panels about the actual comics, as opposed to fancy coffee table books or comics like The Middleman that made the jump to the small screen? Okay, I next attended the Fables panel, which had the full writing and art staff there, as well as the editor as a ringer in the audience and a friend who was model for Bluebeard playing the MC. Plus a gang of fans who’d costumed themselves as everyone from Flycatcher to The Snow Queen. There was also a giveaway of a one-page comic, which was good fun, and special giveaways of art for those who didn’t get one last year.

I then went and caught the second half of the Chuck panel. All the actors were having a great time kidding each other and extremely earnest about getting people to watch their show. I was rather disappointed it and Fables were put opposite the Pushing Daisies panel, but at least it kept the rooms less crowded.

For dinner, met up with my friend, Pete, aka. Dr. Peter Coogan, instigator of the Comics Arts Conference, a whole academic track going on in Room 30 (a.k.a. Outer Mongolia) during the con. Got a great academic conversation fix with him and the gang and then primed myself for going to the aforementioned X-Sanguine party at The Abbey, where of course there were a number of other professionals spiced in with the regular goths.

Finally Sunday. Missed the Smallville panel with was on strangely early, and then couldn’t get into the room for the Supernatural panel due to the large number of drooling fangirls. Instead, went to the Emily the Strange panel which had the usual Mad Lib and a rather interesting slideshow of Emily art, but less schwag than previous years when they had a music sampler. Caught the end of Paranormal State so as to sit down for the Ghost Whisperer panel. Jamie Kennedy showed up acting like, well, Jamie Kennedy, and wearing a plaid fedora through the panel. Probably the best example of “star” behavior I’d seen all weekend, as opposed to “giddy happy actor” which everyone from Barrowman on had been doing when they weren’t doing the “play your character as a member of this panel” shtick. Of course Jamie Kennedy was also probably happy that Jennifer Love-Hewitt was unexpectedly absent so he could make jokes about her breasts.

After checking out more of the dealer’s room, I went to Outer Mongolia, or Room 30, and caught the last panel of the academic track, a round-robin of undergraduates and graduate students giving nutshell presentation of their papers. The most interesting of these came from Brian Swafford of Ohio State, who talked about Comicon as a site of pilgrimage, and how status was accrued by fans by having visited the legendary Comicon. I’d never put it in that context before, but it made perfect sense, and the link between medieval pilgrim badges and modern con badges is far closer than one might think.

After that, I decided to go to the Once More With Feeling screening as the finale of the con, but got in the room early and caught the tail end of Grant Morrison and Deepak Chopra talking about their new project, some online animated Indian mythology that left me underwhelmed and had me staring at Deepak Chopra as he talked about worldwide poverty while wearing these red-sequined spectacles that looked like they’d been made to accessorize with the Ruby Slippers. But I suppose being an international self-help guru lets you transcend irony.

Then came the second Joss Whedon musical of the con, with the entire audience singing along. It was marvelous fun, and after it, I met up with my friends Albert and Jerry and we went off to meet up with Pete and the other professors to see The Dark Knight. En route, we ran into a grand score of con schwag: a young woman opening up boxes of T-shirts and squirt pistols promoting Sukiyaki Western Django, telling everyone to take as many as they wanted. I took a brace of pistols and a pile of T-shirts, as I had an empty bag and was going to be meeting Pete soon. I handed around some to the Pete and the other professors and one of the Dark Horse editors who was also hanging out with the academics, we got our tickets, got dinner at the food court, and then saw the film.

Afterwards, over drinks, everyone was pretty much in agreement: It was a good film, but we were all disappointed because we went in having been told it would be a fantabulous film and it was merely good. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker was probably the shining star of the film, but couldn’t transcend the numerous plot holes and idiocies. Also, the child playing Commissioner Gordon’s son couldn’t act his way out of a wet paper bag, but to give him credit, even a cross-dressing Shirley Temple couldn’t have pulled off the winsome moppet dialog they gave him, or made it convincing in the absurdly CSI-esque version of Gotham City he was living in. If they’d let him drop an F-bomb or two, I might have bought him as a real child, but not as they had him.

More problematic, Aaron Eckhart makes a perfectly fine Harvey Dent, but his transformation into Two-Face is unconvincing to say the least. Here again, I’ll blame the writers, since I can’t think of any actor who could have pulled off the lines they gave him.

Also, the Joker’s traps only appeared to work because the people of Gotham are idiots who take everything he says at face value, rather than expect him to do something like lie, or change his mind, because he’s crazy. There’s a couple boatloads of people in one of his traps and nobody twigs to the idea that you can’t trust that what he’s said is true. Some others defended this by saying that they didn’t have time for a long dialog between the civilians, but as I said, I would have settled for just one junior high school student who’d just done a book report on “The Lady or The Tiger.”

Again, similar themes to Dr. Horrible, but far less successfully dealt with.

And that was Comicon 2008. Whew.

11 Responses to “Comicon International 2008 — Dr. Horrible, The Dark Knight, and me”

  1. Constance Ashon 30 Jul 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Over the years of hearing about / from ComiCon, you give the most inclusive and coherent account of anyone. Or at least the one that works the best for me. :) Thank you, so much.

    I’d love to hear more about what was said, learned about Dollhouse.

    Love, C.

  2. Kate Elliotton 30 Jul 2008 at 5:32 pm

    Thanks for this excellent account, Kevin.

    Yes, feel free to expand on things you felt were of interest in the panels, and etc.

  3. Laurieon 30 Jul 2008 at 7:28 pm

    Yay! Thank you! I was hoping you’d post your rundown. You always do a bang-up job.

    I am so, so, so jealous that you got to attend the Doctor Who/Torchwood panel! I would love to see John Barrowman in person. He’s such a tremendously talented man. I have watched a good number of Youtube clips of him from some UK variety shows (why don’t we have those in the States anymore?) and he’s got a great voice and is a truly funny guy. I’m green with envy, sir, positively green.

  4. Straight Talkin’ « Shattersnipeon 31 Jul 2008 at 12:55 am

    [...] of Comicon, the longing hits me powerfully, and twists. Over at DeepGenre, Kevin Andrew Murphy pens a writeup that makes me ebb and wrench with jealousy: Scott Kurtz at PvP and Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade, [...]

  5. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 31 Jul 2008 at 1:20 am

    Constance, Kate, Laurie–

    Glad you enjoyed the rundown, and sure, no problem:

    I was trying to find a seat in the dark while the Dollhouse preview was playing so I missed the intro and some of the details, but here it is in a nutshell: Show is present day; The Dollhouse is an underground Fantasy Island sort of shadow organization run by this bitchy martinet who appears to be a cross between Leona Helmsley and Dr. Moreau, but instead of turning people into animals, she scrubs their memories and makes them think they’re new people and she gets really put out when some of her dollies start remembering things anyway, including recognizing the other dolls as well as the recurring private investigator played by the guy from Battlestar Galactica; the investigator keeps encountering Echo (Dushku’s character) in her various guises, and will probably end up having romances with some of them.

    On the casting end, one fan asked if Joss was going to use any other Buffy alumni, and Joss’s answer was that he didn’t want the show to be a reunion of all the same actors, but yeah, Amy Ackerman would be on the show too, and it was intimated that down the road, if he knew the perfect actor for the part and they were available, he’d probably be drawing from people he liked working with again, same as any director.

    On a slightly related note, Tom Lenk was at the Atom Films booth signing baseball caps to promote a new show that Comedy Central may be picking up, but was overshadowed on the floor by the giant Tower of Harold and Kumar next door. Anyway, Lenk’s new project is basically a comedy about three guys in Arizona who are self-appointed border patrol helpers. It sounds like a redneck version of Reno 911.

    With Doctor Who and Torchwood, there was a fun with when the actress whose character was just killed mentioned that it was the second time she’d died in John Barrowman’s arms on stage, since the first was when they’d both been in Miss Saigon. After a request from a fan later in the panel, they did a duet. But the Doctor Who/Torchwood panels were mostly fun and promotion and pretty much nil on previews except for showing a preview of the next Doctor Who Christmas special, which will feature Cybermen in 1851 and a supremely evil but well-coutured woman in a red dress played by some immensely good actress I’ve never seen before but probably quite familiar to British fans.

  6. Constance Ashon 31 Jul 2008 at 11:36 am

    Interesting that in the context of the show’s premise, Dushku’s character is named ‘Echo,’ considering the Greek myth of who Echo is, and the Twilight-Bella discussion going on. :)

    Gads, Amy Ackerman. Am not an admirer of that bobble head.

    Love, C.

  7. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 31 Jul 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Oh, I’m pretty certain “Echo” was chosen for all the resonances. I’m wondering if there’s going to be a Narcissus to go with her, or if that’s the role of the clients.

    On the Twilight/Bella end, I picked up a Bella pin I think from the floor (there was a lot of schwag to be picked up where people discarded it, including an incredibly nice poster tube printed with all the Fox shows, which I ended up giving to Albert because he was doing the free poster hunt). Oh, and there were a few Twilight posters around.

    With Amy Ackerman, I’ve seen her in other roles than Fred, and I think Joss chose her for her versatility. In any case, we’ll see how it goes.

  8. Steveon 02 Aug 2008 at 12:42 am

    This was my first year attending. It was crazy.

    Totally agree about your take on The Dark Knight. I don’t know. My girlfriend and I agreed that Iron Man was a lot better. There was some Iron Man stuff at Comicon but much much more Batman stuff.

    Anyway, our first time. It was crazy. And, to me not in a good way. I was there to promote my new graphic novel – actually it’s my screenplay which is being adapted into a graphic novel by author Stephen Stern (Zen: Intergalactic Ninja, War of the Worlds, Beowulf, Shygirl). Bill Maus is doing the artwork. (he is great by the way – both as an artist and a person).

    Anyway, it was crazy. It felt like everyone was pitching something or selling something or buying something. There were too many people and sometimes too little room to get around. I don’t want to be a downer but I didn’t like it much.

    I mean this is crazy right? I have a new comic property but don’t love Comicon?

    http://www.ninjazombiesmovie.com

  9. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 02 Aug 2008 at 4:56 am

    Comicon honestly takes some getting used to. If you want something a little lower key with some more face time with people you want to talk to, try Wondercon next spring. It’s been taken over by the Comicon staff, but it’s a smaller con earlier in the year and doesn’t have the Hollywood extravaganza attached as much. Ditto with APE. If you’ve got an independent comic not attached to one of the major houses, APE would be a good bet for promotion.

    Honestly I love them all, but Comicon certainly takes getting used to.

  10. Steveon 02 Aug 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Thanks for the tip Kevin.

    I will probably be attending Wondercon so it’s good to know that it’s a bit lower key than Comicon. (Will go to APE as well)

    I really felt bad about not liking Comicon. I felt like there must be something wrong with me or that I was missing something because I know of (and have a lot of friends, even my brother) who can go for all four days and love every minute of it.

    If I go next year maybe it will be better???

  11. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 02 Aug 2008 at 7:38 pm

    It really depends. I have friends, even longtime Comicon goers, who’ve stopped going because they can’t handle the crowds and don’t like the Hollywood extravaganza that’s started up the past several years. Myself? I just take it as it comes. I know there’s going to be different things each year, depending on fads and whatnot. And it goes in cycles. There was the Year of the Pogs, the Year of the Trading Card Games–actually more than one of those–a couple years when there was a particularly large contingent of aging Playboy models and so on.

    Loving every minute of everything is hard, but I think disappointment is based on false expectations. If you want to go to X con and you find Y con in its place, you’ll be disappointed.

    I have to say that this was the Year of the Overly Intrusive Security. There were a few too many of the people in the red ELITE polo shirts directing traffic even at times when it would not have been a problem, and it made it a pain to get to the pro refreshment room among other places. However, they kept there from being riots when rooms got over-impacted, so I can understand the logic. I was having to make snap calls of which to humor and which to simply bull through since they didn’t have time to go chasing after people who ignored them.

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