Comic-Con, Day 2: Berkeley Breathed brings much-needed joy ...
... before the Con takes it all away
- On ball-jointed dolls and the dream of a geek supercontinent
- How the con's show floor is like finding a mystic portal into a British children's novel
- How to learn to stop standing in line and love the con (the Margaret Atwood way)
- Where the ghosts of your childhood entertainments live
- Another year at the Nerd State Fair
The hardest thing to do at Comic-Con is remember what it is that YOU love, not what Comic-Con loves. Take, again, my favorite whipping boy: Tron. I have never, ever in my life seen Tron. I have never wanted to see Tron. I'm sure that it has good elements, and I'm sure that it appeals to the people who like it, but there's just nothing in it that I'm terribly interested in seeing. And yet, when Tron: Legacy took over Hall H yesterday and when there was some sort of weird ARG last night, specifically designed to lead people to a reconstructed version of the arcade from the film, well, I wondered if maybe I didn't like Tron after all. I mean, it was EVERYwhere, and the original was an all-time classic! What better film to see the highlight reel from than its long-in-the-works sequel?
The hardest thing to remember when you're subjected to this much hype and advertising in the space of one convention center is that you don't have to like what you're told, just because you're told to like it. I know that this sounds stupid, but the mob effect is really pronounced at this show. EVERYbody's going to see the Marvel movie panel tomorrow. Boy, I'd better be among the everybody, right? The hard thing is to keep your head about you, to remember that, basically, none of this MATTERS. Comic-Con is what you bring to it, more or less, and you've got to fight your way through the flood and remember that most of the stuff introduced here will be handily disposed of a few days after it opens.
To a degree, folks like me make this even more difficult. Most media outlets have someone parked in Ballroom 20 and someone parked in Hall H, writing about the big developments in both rooms, and that makes it seem like the only stuff going on at the Con is the big set of announcements from the major studios and networks. Really, there's a whole other world of weird, hyper-personal geekery that flows around the edges of the stuff that gets written about, and it's that kind of thing I've been trying to capture in these write-ups. So much of Comic-Con is about making you forget what you really love to replace it with a temporary high that clinging to the things that truly mean something to you becomes that much more important.
Berkeley Breathed: Take me, for instance. I LOVE newspaper comic strips. I've always liked comic books well enough, but my obsession with the comics page runs back to before I could even read. I believe I've mentioned my Peanuts obsession - to the point where I spent years scooping up every collection I could find in every used bookstore that there was - but I've spent way too much money over the years making sure I had healthy collections of Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side, Bloom County, and any number of others. So when many of you pointed out that Berkeley Breathed was going to be here to talk about his career, I thought it would be great fun to check it out, at least if I could make it in.
Honestly, it was a near thing to get in, even in the Con's third-largest room. I didn't expect so much residual Bloom County love, but there it was, and I ended up in a completely filled room with people who gave Breathed a standing ovation when he first stood up to speak after receiving an award from the Con. Breathed is kind of a recluse (though nowhere near on the Bill Watterson level), and this was his first Comic-Con. He seemed genuinely moved and touched by the reception he received from the room, and at times, it seemed to leave him completely speechless. The panel that followed was incredibly funny, as would be expected, but also surprisingly moving, as he talked about the places he drew from to get his ideas (turns out his kids are big influences) and seemed baffled as to why people would still want to see him.
Somewhere around the middle of the panel - I think it was the part where Breathed unexpectedly started showing us never-before-seen drawings of Calvin and Hobbes that Watterson had included at the bottom of little notes he used to send Breathed in the '80s and '90s - I felt the weird beginnings of something like joy, simply from being in a room with a man I respected and enjoyed listening to and getting to look at something I could honestly geek out about instead of simply feeling obligated to geek out because of the location and folks surrounding me. Breathed gave good panel, even if it occasionally seemed like his preparation consisted of cleaning out his closet, finding a bunch of stuff he figured we might find interesting, then placing it in a Powerpoint presentation.
But, honestly, I DID find most of the stuff interesting. He showed us three different cracks at an animated Opus movie undertaken for Dimension back in the day. He broke out a bunch of rare cartoons that probably won't be republished for one reason or another. He showed us panels that he just couldn't make funny for a variety of reasons. He showed us gorgeous direct scans of the watercolor originals that made up the illustrations for his children's books, as well as photos from the motion-capture process from the film being made out of his book Mars Needs Moms. He worked the room very well, but he seemed eminently human at all times, as though he realized it was a great gift to suddenly realize how many people had loved his work over the years.
A line of people longing to ask Breathed questions stretched toward the back of the room, and he, recognizing that he'd never get to all of them, asked them to all come and have a chat with him at the IDW booth on the show floor when he was there signing books. I had, honestly, intended to sit in the Breathed panel for a bit to recharge my batteries and type up Walking Dead while half paying attention, but I ended up getting completely sucked in. The panel was maybe the most fun I've had at Comic-Con ever, and it was a nice reminder that there's all kinds of passionate fan stuff going on that doesn't get very much coverage. It's not all Tron and True Blood. Sometimes, it's a middle-aged man being blown away by how much people still love him.
Autographs, autographs: I had never wandered the autograph section of the Con, which attracts a very specific type of fan (usually a very dedicated subset). After the Breathed panel was over, I had hoped to head over to the Peanuts panel I've been talking about at length (perhaps even ditching Breathed early, though that became impossible when he was so engrossing and ran a couple minutes long), but when I got there, I found it was at capacity. All right. I could deal with that. I'd stand in line for Joss Whedon. But there were thousands upon thousands in line for whatever he was selling, plus the other thousands in line for True Blood (who kept at least one Steve Heisler out of the panel he was trying to get to). So, my friend says, "Nicholas Gurewitch is on a panel!" This leads to me going to that panel and discovering that, well, it, too, was completely full. (I don't know if the Con, itself, is fuller, but this FRIDAY was much fuller than last year.)
At this point, I probably should have just gone home. Clearly, the Comic-Con gods were out to get me. But, instead, I found the one panel where seats were available. Predictably, it was the most boring thing I've ever seen here. Sadly, it was a panel about actual comics. It turned out to be DC's Superman panel, and while I was grateful for a seat, I wasn't grateful for the long, self-congratulatory blather from the DC Superman team about how amazing the new issues with Superman wandering America were, since I haven't thought too much of them. This was followed by fans getting up and asking the writers to compare Superman and Thor within the American and Germanic mythic traditions and, also, asking the writers to compare Superman to Jesus, like this was "Marge vs. the Monorail" ("Is Superman faster than Jesus?").
Naturally, I left this, too. I had an interview to get to. After sitting through a few moments of comics panels at the last two Comic-Cons, I guess I'll have to accept that they're taking place at another Comic-Con, one entirely different from the one you see on the news and more dedicated to actual comics in a hardcore fashion. There's no learning curve here. You're either getting bombarded with heroes you've never heard of or listening to "Superheroes as Modern Myth 301" talk.
Before I made it over to my interview, I decided to kill some time on the autographs floor. While it wasn't nearly as despairing as I thought it would be - Heroes creator Tim Kring, who came complete with women dressed like Jackie Kennedy in the Zapruder film for some reason, only drew four or five autograph seekers while I watched - it was still a remarkably strange way to spend a half hour. I didn't get anyone's autograph, but I was astounded by the number of people who seemed to think that their autograph would be a prized possession for some nerd somewhere. Among the actors? Some girl from a Web series who had a guy drooling over her while he ignored his (much hotter) girlfriend, the guy who plays Don Draper's dad in dream sequences on Mad Men, and any host of people who once played a guest part on some sci-fi series somewhere.
Honestly, if the people behind Party Down are looking for a new show, I think they should look no further. Doing this has to be lucrative enough that these people travel from con to con to get people to pay them to sign stuff, but at the same time, I never saw anyone coming up to get an autograph from the vast majority of them (even blessed St. Kring). There's an air of seedy desperation to the whole thing that is alternately depressing and hilarious, and I think the Party Down crew could make something out of it.
The autograph area is also the best place to just hang out and watch people go by, since it lies on the nexus between the two main areas of the Con upstairs. After doing that for a while, I felt much better about the world. There were enough people fascinated by Peanuts to fill up a whole room! And Berkeley Breathed drew an adoring crowd! And the line for Archer was so long I wasn't certain I would get in! I had no idea that other people actually liked these things, and knowing that they did was almost enough to, again, rekindle that sense of nerd kindred spirit. For a little while, at least.
And then I didn't get into the Archer panel because the line was too long, and it all went away.
- Let's hit on some things I've noticed that I haven't been able to work into the main body of these pieces.
- Daniel Dae Kim was asked repeatedly about the end of Lost. Surprise: He liked it!
- It's too bad that I missed the Archer panel. A friend who got in (to the far, far too small room where it was being held) insisted that it was amazing. And with the entire voice cast sans Jessica Walter AND a complete new episode from season two, it really should have been. My friend says it seems as though they've upped the budget for season two, and that would be nice if it were the case.
- Apparently, a lot of celebrities have been walking the show floor in disguise. A colleague found out Deborah Ann Woll dressed as Hit Girl the other day, while James Callis has also been seen out and about in assorted disguises. And, as always, the cast of The Guild - celebrities at the Con, if not in the mainstream culture - is everywhere (though I have yet to see Felicia Day). This is to say nothing of the actual, actual celebrities who are also everywhere. Just today, I walked right by Thomas Jane and got caught in a fray of people trying to take pictures of Bam Margera (I think, since they kept shouting, "Bam! Look over here!").
- Every time I think I'm over Comic-Con, it reels me back in. I had soured on things after my cautionary tale about scheduling True Blood and The Big Bang Theory in the same room came true today and after I couldn't get into a panel to save my life for most of the afternoon. But I just typed much of this up in the very back of a room screening the "Worst Cartoons Ever," and damned if they weren't hilariously awful. Thanks to Cartoon Brew's Jerry Beck for finding these.
- The problem with Comic-Con, I've realized, isn't the scheduling or the lines. It's the one-issue fans. The guy with the "Twilight RUINED Comic-Con" sign was wrong, but he was also sort of right. People who come to the Con JUST to see a certain property and then take up valuable real estate in the room showing that panel create a situation where long, long lines never move forward. I left the line for Ballroom 20 when it became obvious that I wasn't going to see Whedon, and when I wandered by later to see if I had a prayer of getting into True Blood, the people I had been in line behind were heading home dejectedly after standing there for four hours, after waiting to see Joss ... and then the women who kick ass ... and then some actors who play vampires. They had thought all three sounded fun and didn't see a one. One-issue fans, like one-issue voters, tend to have a lot more passion, so they're more likely to get up and fight for their favorite property, and this can only end poorly. Plus, one-issue fans are the ones least susceptible to the seat-clearer panels the Con tosses in between bigger ones to get people to leave and make room for new folks. Thinking about it, I think some sort of panel preregistration is the best solution to this problem.
- Also thinking about what people were saying in comments yesterday, I think the reason that there's SO much complaining about lines at Comic-Con in the media is that we're not used to waiting in line. With a few exceptions, the press pretty much has to wait with everybody else. And that's cool! That's one of the things that makes Comic-Con great! But since this is the only place where we're treated like this, we're probably disproportionately likely to notice.
- Finally, it's time for an actual journalist whine: I wish the folks at the Con wouldn't be so touchy about plugging in laptops to the outlets here at the convention center or us standing near our computers while they charge. The only way we can give you publicity is with electricity. Make us stand in line, definitely, but give us our power!
Tomorrow: My morning is pretty set. I've gotta cover the Chuck panel for another outlet, then I'm going to hit Venture Bros., since you guys seemed interested in that (and I like the show too). After that, I may try to hit something else, but from 2 p.m. on, I'll be Community's. After that, if I can get away in time, I'm torn between trying to get in to see Scott Pilgrim, going to the Marvel films panel, or going to the Fables panel. Readers: Choose! Or pick something else entirely.