Though I don’t have a problem declaring myself a bit of a nerd – or maybe just a nerd aficionado – I’ve never been into comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, Star Wars, video games, MMORPGs or anything like that. Call me stereotypically girly or too cool for school, but those were just never my thing. I’d rather read the subtitles for the latest Almodovar opus than decode fairy tales from space. However, I do like new experiences so I jumped at the chance to head down to San Diego and check out Comic-Con for LA.CityZine. Though the convention began as an affair that catered to comic book nerds fairly exclusively, over the past 3 decades, it has expanded to become one of the biggest conventions in the country with booths from companies as big as Marvel and as unheard of as Dave’s Doodles. I only spent a short day there, but it was Saturday which is unanimously described as the biggest day. Objectively, it was the only day that sold out and when a Convention Center is SOLD OUT, that’s a pretty big day (over 125,000 people).
Anyhow, I showed up in downtown San Diego, deftly traded a Cityzine article I wrote and business card for Press pass and sashayed in thinking I had pretty good idea what was in store. I expected costumed “nerds,” for lack of a better descriptor, to be swarming booths of comic book artists and promotional material touting niche entertainment and explicit graphic novels. It was actually nothing like that. At 10am, the convention center floor was already packed, but it was crowded with folks who for the most part looked – gasp – just like me. Not Dwight Schrute or Judah Friedlander. Not costumed as Storm Troopers (well, there were a few Storm Troopers) or Captain Picard or Cyclones. Just everyday people in jeans and t-shirts with their badges around their necks somewhat reluctantly, wandering mostly aimlessly taking it all in. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of costumes and probably some geeks (maybe I’m just used to them). Notably, there was a passel of Indiana Jones’, at least one set of Ghost Busters and plenty of scantily clad – and surely handsomely compensated – young women populating the booths. But you almost had to seek them out. I was marginally disappointed by this since I was hoping for a lot more gawkable people. I mean, observable, in the name of serious online journalism.
Before I could even find the smaller booths, I was overwhelmed by the central corridor that was populated with sprawling exhibits from studios like LucasFilm, promoting the upcoming Star Wars: The Clone Wars with bigger-than-life Lego men of Obi-Wan Kenobi and a huge Jabba the Hut. There were also huge displays from Warner Bros. (I stopped here to get a glimpse of Harold and Kumar, but Dougie Howser was nowhere to be found), Mattel (I steered clear of this retail madhouse) and the Sci Fi channel (their futuristic spacship-y sculpture confounded me for more than a moment). These were alongside the expected contributions from Dark Horse Comics (where I saw geekdom megastar and Hollywood C-Lister Bruce Campbell signing autographs with a huge line), Marvel, DC and many many other smaller comic or comic-related companies whose names I can’t recall and didn’t recognize.
After spending some time cruising the main hall, getting the lay of the land I decided to go test out the panels. I didn’t want to wait in line, since I only had one day in San Diego, so I went to one that was probably less popular and even catered to my interests (namely vaguely defiant girl music with a distinctly feminist bent) and ventured to a Tori Amos panel. In the last year, a group of comic artists and writers along with Tori and her longtime producer compiled what amounts to a massive (12″ x 12″) book of stories based on her songs called Comic Book Tattoo and released by Image Comics. Ms. Amos was greeted warmly by the 150 or so fans sitting patiently in the meeting room that was probably too big for this particular panel. She didn’t disappoint in eccentricities with an electric orange wig (at least, I think it was a wig…) and black dress with retro-futuristic high collar, reminiscent of Mars Attacks! The panel immediately jumped into lofty discussion about how the artists had all jumped at the chance to work with Tori, how they all had ideas of what song/story they wanted to contribute immediately and how quickly the book progressed from the spark of an idea to an impressive finished product in a matter of months. Though I had seen Tori in concert a few times, it was compelling to hear her speak rather than sing and the panel got me excited about the book. I didn’t manage to navigate the hall well enough to buy it (and 12″x12″ would have been a lot to fit in my purse since I refused to carry one of those huge totes emblazoned with corporate logos that were everywhere), but now that I know of its existence, I certainly plan on it. Panel 1: Success!
The other panel that I attended was for Joss Whedon’s new series Dollhouse. It has it’s own blurb elsewhere on this site.
The rest of the day was exploring the rest of the center – mostly meeting rooms for even more panels, many with lines snaking through the halls, and the bright and airy pavilion where artists conducted portfolio reviews – and going back out onto the floor to see what I could see. This included Kyle XY (no bellybutton in sight), Deidrich Bader wandering the floor with who I assume were his wife and child, the stars of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, who without Kate Beckinsale were struggling to draw a crowd, more costumes, more promotional material, more of everything I saw that morning. The best goodies I collected were plastic vampire teeth that are supposed to remind me to see the Lost Boys: The Tribe and a bright green wrist band emblazoned with WWNPHD? which of course stands for What Would Neil Patrick Harris Do? By the last afternoon I was more or less tired of the whole thing and eager to get back to Los Angeles, where celebrities with better publicists or worse careers were probably sunning themselves at the Standard.
Ultimately, though I am glad to have the experience under my non-transporting belt and may return to the convention if this site or another asks me to next year, I was a little disappointed. Was it just that the early morning train ride had made me cranky and restless? Or had I just spent a beautiful San Diego Saturday being pandered to? Some conversations with frequent Comic-Con attendees as well as other online commentary make me think it was some of both. To a company of any size or persuasion, increased attendance at an event like Comic-Con just means more consumers and more money. This kind of mentality is intensified by the fact that the stereotypical comic book fan, while once an 8 year boy, is now that child’s adult counterpart and every marketer’s target demographic: young, white males with money they are willing and able to burn. This means that, while you may get sneak peeks of new shows, giggle-inducing celebrity sightings, and perhaps even discover a cool new underground comic, if you don’t have a real reason to be there and seek out what you really want, you’re mostly just getting sold. So before you book that hotel room at the Marriott for 2009, maybe you should ask yourself, what would Neil Patrick Harris do?