A Comic-Con Diary, Day One: Faces In The Crowd And A Book In The Middle
Monkey See contributor/longtime nerd Glen Weldon is headed to San Diego Comic-Con. He's filing periodic updates from one of the largest media events in the world.
Special note: If you're at SDCC, there will be an unofficial Pop Culture Happy Hour meetup in the Marina Bar at the Marriott Marquis and Marina Friday at 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time. (Don't get excited, It'll just be Glen handing out PCHH pins.)
9:02 a.m. (all times PT): I am sitting in a boat between Goth Wonder Woman and an entertainment lawyer.
In my head, Christopher Cross sings "Stuck Between The Moon and New York City (Arthur's Theme)," but he's altered the lyrics cleverly.
My pal JC, with his one-day pass, is already at the Convention Center; he was worried about the line to get in, and resolved that if his East Coast circadian rhythms were determined to wake him up at an ungodly hour, he'd get an early jump on the day.
JC's wife L, and my partner F, non-nerds both, are still puttering around our hotel suite, planning which breakfast place to hit. F has a one-day pass, and will meet up with me and JC around noon while L takes a trolley tour of San Diego like a chump.
9:35 a.m.: Before meeting up with JC, I swing by some back-issue bins looking for old issues of Superman Family and Batman Family, the comics that were to my childhood what Yertle the Turtle was to yours. The floor's just opened, so the crowd's as thin as it's gonna get.
As it were.
Waiting outside the hall to meet JC, I see a con security professional delivering his brief, well-rehearsed spiel to new arrivals about the rules of con conduct. When he's done, he steps aside and lets a passel of newly lanyarded attendees into the hall. A fellow security dude steps up to him. "You forgot the part about 'No running,'" he says.
The first security dude, a stout sort himself, turns to regard the small throng of humanity he's just let in. They are, it must be noted, less than gainly.
He takes a beat. A perfect beat. A Jack Benny beat.
"With this crowd," he says, "not an issue."
Ungenerous? Perhaps. But come on. Pretty good.
10:00 a.m.: JC and I walk the floor. Before I came, I'd joked about Comic-Con looking like a sea of me: lots of bald beardy chubbsy-wubbsy dudes in glasses. We are represented here, clearly. And, yes, many members of the long gray ponytail/Hawaiian shirt contingent stare out at the aisles from behind registers.
Mostly, though, the crowd is young. Teens, twentysomethings. They are also, despite the cheap shots of some security professionals I could name, generally quite fit. In some cases (like, say, the jacked dude rocking a Powdered Toast Man toast-head and speedo), their body fat percentages practically round down to zero.
Saturday Night is the official Masquerade/costume contest, but the costumes are out in force already. All ages, all body types, all mythos smashed together, a multiverse-shattering Crisis of Infinite IPs: Three Johnny Depp-Mad Hatters pose together. Pimp Vader dances with some kind of Yeti-thing. Gandalf and Boba Fett lean in to one another, sharing notes of grave import.
10:45 a.m.: JC and I head over to the meeting rooms on the second floor. There's a panel celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Eisner Awards – the comic book industry's Oscars — named for the hugely influential, and hugely great, Will Eisner, who among other things coined the term "graphic novel."
But don't hold that against the guy.
We get to the room early and catch the tail end of a how-to-break-into-Marvel-Comics panel. (The gist: Do something great in indie comics or another medium, wait for Marvel to approach you, and THEN pitch them a character/story. In the meantime: keep creating, do it because you love it, etc.)
The Eisner panel is essentially a collection of fond reminiscences, as is fitting. Panelists recall how Will Eisner mixed an abiding humility with a burning desire to see the wider world – not just super-hero-loving kids and collectors — embrace the limitless narrative potential of the comics medium. Tales of past Eisner judges and presenters are shared, the logistics of Eisner judging panels are discussed, and Maggie Thompson flashes her photo of Jonathan Ross surprising Neil Gaiman with a passionate kiss at an Eisner ceremony a few years back.
Mostly, though, there's the clear sense in the room that Eisner's dream of a world where comics get their due as a means to tell a wide variety of stories has more or less arrived. The Eisner ceremony is tomorrow night. Eisner's literary agent Denis Kitchen humbly asks that we treat the event seriously.
He means "dress up a little, guys, come on, would it kill you."
I left my blazer at home. Let the record show that Maggie Thompson told me to.
12:00 p.m.: JC and I head over the Marriott to grab ten-dollar sandwiches. F texts that he's on his way. Later, he will tell me that he also shared the water taxi with people in costume. When asked whom they were dressed as, he will roll his eyes at me. "Like I know. One was like a girl in the Navy? The others were twins with purple and blue hair. They had a stuffed cat?"
(Sailor Moon and Team Rocket.) (Duh.)
1:00 p.m.: A panel featuring writers from the Julie Schwartz era of Superman comics (read: the '70s and early '80s) reassures me that I didn't completely screw up the history of that time in my book. I'd like to stick around for the Q and A, but I've got to head over to the Ode to Nerds panel, which starts at ....
1:45 p.m.: My next book's about the rise of nerd culture, and this panel, which features literary nerd nabobs Cory Doctorow, Austin Grossman, Chuck Palahniuk, Patrick Rothfuss, DC Pierson and Robyn Schneider, is wide-ranging and often (goosed by the riffing of Pierson and comic timing of Palahnuik in particular) quippy.
Much talk about the notion of nerd self-identification (Palahniuk, dryly: "It's not up to you. The world decides.") the writing process (Schneider: "I spent five years mis-writing a novel before realizing how to write it.") the bizarre spectacle of fandom vs. fandom antipathy (Schneider, plaintively, albeit weirdly: "We're all just pockets in the same pair of jeans!") and how magic is treated in Rothfuss' fantasy novels ("I make s**t up.")
3:00 p.m.: I find F and JC, who've walked a lot, bought some swag, goggled at The Walking Dead booth (wait in line long enough, and you can get a picture of yourself going toe-to-desiccated-toe-stump with actors dressed up as zombies in a realistic jailhouse set) and taken several photos of cosplayers for me. We head back over to the Marriott for a beer, where I realize JC's photographic sensibility runs ... curvier than my own, and resolve to make sure this diary objectifies women and men equally, because I am selfless like that.
JC, an outgoing sort, has also spent time picking up self-published comics from creators with whom he struck up interesting conversations. He's found the comic book convention inside the giant shiny transmedia mech-suit that is Comic-Con.
3:30 p.m.: I learn that a colleague of mine, a music reporter whom I haven't seen in ages, is here at the convention. I learn this fact via her tweet, thus: "the smell is really real at comic con"
Because here's the thing: It isn't. There isn't one.
Are there, among 130,000 individuals milling through acres and acres of merch, a few for who might've considered an extra swipe of the Speed Stick this morning? Sure. Is it somehow endemic? Is it any more common than it would be in the real world where people AREN'T lining up for the signatures of the fourth lead from Dexter?
No. Really no. At least not this year.
And that's something I've been picking up, in the interviews I've been doing with people about How Comic-Con Has Changed. Everyone here, to a greater or lesser degrees, embraces nerd stereotypes with a kind of rueful, ironic, and even defiant self-awareness. But Normals are blind to (or, more accurately, don't remotely care about) such semiotic shadings, and take our waving the nerd-banner at face value.
As a result, they don't see us as we are now. Why would they bother, when they can content themselves with the same hack shorthand they've always used — "Mom's basement." "Never know the touch of a woman." "Wedgie." "Nerd whiff." – and have us chuckle good-naturedly? "Yep, Moose, you sure got my number, heh heh."
I consider texting my colleague to let her know I'm here. Then I read her tweet again. And don't.
4:00 p.m.: Man, I'm not getting rid of these damn Pop Culture Happy Hour buttons fast enough. I send out a tweet letting any interested parties know I'll be attending the podcasters' panel, located in a room so far south from the rest of the con I mistake a security guard for Tijuana border police. It's far, is my point.
Before the panel, I meet several kind people who listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour, and hand out a few buttons. The podcasters on the dais include several I've met in person, several I've met via Skype, and many I've only heard in my head while walking the dog. Afterward I catch up with the ones I know, and introduce myself to some of those I don't, an act which remains impossible to do without feeling like an utter tool.
5:15 p.m.: I meet up again with JC for a last sweep of the con floor. I spend a bit of time introducing myself to publicists I've only dealt with via email over the years, and learn some hard facts about navigating the con.
BBC America's booth, which features several Doctor Who costumes, lies across a narrow aisle from the booth of WETA Limited, makers of props and replicas for The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and many other films.
In other words, this area of the con floor is a chokepoint, a place where forward momentum dies, a great listless clot of flesh and fur and backpacks.
Ditto the entrance closest to the Marriott, where people stop to paw through back issue bins the way their fathers, and their fathers' fathers, did back when the world was new and ichthyosaurs swam the turbid seas. Completely impassible, any time of day.
6:30 p.m.: There are several parties to attend, but it's JC and L's last night and I'll be at the Eisner's tomorrow, so JC and I decide to take the last water taxi over to the hotel and meet F and L for dinner.
8:00 p.m.: Over dinner, I ask F what his favorite part of his day was.
"This," he says, "right now, with all of you." And raises his glass to toast our friends.
"No," I say, with a tight smile. "I mean at Comic-Con. What was your favorite part. Of COMIC-CON?"
He pauses. Considers.
"There was this book I passed on one of the tables. It caught my eye. I don't remember what it was called, but there was something about it. I want you to get it for me tomorrow."
I turn to JC and L. "He wants me to get him a book," I say. "On 'one of the tables.' At Comic-Con." I turn back to F. "Can we uh, narrow the field, a little, there?"
"I just liked the look of it," he says. "It was somewhere in the middle."
"'Somewhere in the middle.'" I say. "Of Comic-Con. No, sure. And there was 'something about it,' you say? Okay, well. Done. No problem. I'm on it."
"The name was Hispanic," he says, firmly. "Hernandez? Gabriel Hernandez?"
I stare at him levelly. "Gilbert." I say.
"That's it!" he says. "Gilbert. Gilbert Hernandez. It had these two guys on the cover, like, fighting ...."
"Marble Season," I say. "So, let's just back up a bit here. In the middle of the Comic-Con floor, you, a non-comics-reading-non-nerd, happened to find the latest book by one of the greatest indie comics creators there is. And you want to read it."
"Yeah, there was ...." he pauses, stares out at the water.
"'Something about it," I say. "I know. Trust me on this. I know."
At least, that's what I say out loud.
Inwardly, I'm smiling. Inwardly, I'm tenting my fingers. Inwardly, I'm saying a single word, over and over:
"Goooood..." I whisper, "Goooooooood...."