"You must be here for the Comic-Con," the receptionist at my hotel said as I checked in. I wasn't sure how to take that. It's not like I was wearing tights. And while no one's going to mistake me for dreamy Grey's Anatomy hunk Justin Chambers, I like to think I'm even less likely to be mistaken for The Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Maybe San Diego residents are especially attuned to the comic book-, sci-fi-, and genre fiction-loving types who take over their town for the better part of a week each year. This year, like last, I'm one of them.
San Diego during Con week is a bit like high school turned upside down. Geek flags fly high and there's no one around to raise any objections. While there are plenty of costumed Klingons, Batmen, and Darth Mauls to reinforce the stereotypes of such conventions (pictures to follow), it's mostly a place where people with a vast array of interests–generally geeky interests–can get together, socialize, meet some heroes, and go home with a bagful of trinkets.
Or at least that's the idea. Every year the Con gets bigger and bigger, fattened by the influx of Hollywood studios, deep-pocketed game developers, and others sniffing a demographic waiting to be exploited. But the geek crowd is a tough one to crack. (An aside: I'm throwing myself in here too. My background is in English literature and I go to the opera on a semi-regular basis but I've also got a closet full of comics, never miss an episode of Battlestar Galactica, and can tell you James Kirk's middle name. Frankly I don't see much of a gulf between high art and low.) We're easy to sell to, but we know what we're buying. We all went to see X-Men: The Last Stand but we'll explain to you everything that's stupid about it. We suck up hype but spit it out just as quickly.
Last year my impression was that the geeks won. More to the point, geek culture has essentially swallowed mainstream culture. From Lord Of The Rings to Harry Potter to all those superhero movies, it's hard to tell what's niche anymore. But is the moment over? Superman Returns did well enough but did it feel like the zeitgeist-defining film it was clearly designed to be? (And was that the fault of the film or the zeitgeist?) Have the X-Men had their last stand? Everyone on earth will see Spider-Man 3 but can other superhero and fantasy franchises make way into mainstream culture? And ultimately, is it better for niches to stay niche? Do pirates belong to us?
The answers may not be here. Comic-Con's a different kind of place. Just as an independent movie can become the toast of Sundance and then drop bricks in the rest of America, the air here's a little different. My flight from Chicago was, by my estimate, at least a quarter Con-goers. I saw grown men read comics openly, women wearing Shonen Jump t-shirts, and a whole goth family (with a white dog, which seemed like an odd choice.) The passenger next to me watched the terrible post-apocalyptic dragon-fighting movie Ring Of Fire… by choice. I chose to rewatch Taiwan director Edward Yang's humanist masterpiece Yi Yi. It's one of my favorite movies (look for a review in an upcoming issue) and–apart from a brief cameo by a Batman poster–has absolutely nothing to do with men in tights, laser pistols, ghosts, pulp heroes, funny animals, spunky girl detectives, or wizards. That's the last I'll see of that kind of art for at least four days. Keep checking here for a full report.