Thoughts on the San Diego International Comic Con
Having just attended with the Daughter two of what are the four days of Comic Convention in San Diego (and still very tired) which has become a world wide phenomenon, I offer some thoughts that I hope are at least interesting:
First, one may, sociologically speaking, call Comic Con the Oscars for the 99%, though with the caveat that one must have the time to attend and to be able to endure the lines one must stand in to get into various places. Still, the price is not exorbitant and one could see that most of the people there are not in the 1%, though they were also present.
Anyone with access to a computer and Internet (which includes anyone near a public library) can register to go to Comic Con for $50 for adults and $25 for children under 18, with children under 5 being free (of course accompanied by an adult). One can, when attending Comic Con, attend various panel discussions throughout the four day convention, and see and ask questions in Q&A periods with comic book writers and publishers, and Hollywood directors, producers, screenwriters and most exciting for most of us, movie stars. If you want to see first run screenings of films in progress or trailers for upcoming films and also ask questions of the major film stars and writers, directors and producers, you can wait on line for 24 hours or more--yes, you read that right--for these events that are held in San Diego's Comic Con in Exhibit Hall H. People wait and queue up in lines because there are only 7,000 or less seats in this biggest of the exhibit halls and there are nearly 200,000 people traipsing through Comic Con during the four days.
The Daughter and I endured the line for Exhibit Hall H for Saturday's extravaganza. We arrived around noon on Friday and camped out all the rest of the day and overnight and were able to land seats inside Exhibit Hall H somewhere in the middle of the massive room that holds the nearly 7,000 people. There were about 2,500 people ahead of us on line many of whom had arrived on Thursday to stand and sit on line. One abuse that occurred more often this year was with people holding the line for others, where, for example, one group of 4-5 in front of us swelled into 24 people. Not nice, I thought and even said. There are more tweaks to come as Exhibit Hall H is now itself a legendary sub-phenomenon. The Comic Con folks have tried to tweak things already by handing out wristbands and saying, "You don't have to stay in line all night as we'll have a wristbands line" but that puts you in the back of the massive room, which many do not want if one has stood in line just to get the wristband at midnight. As there are already security people throughout the entire time in each area of the line, some have suggested why not hand wristbands out throughout the entire time till the wristbands run out. Comic Con management says they don't want people selling the wristbands, but I think it should not be a concern any more than the Lakers are concerned that some people scalp their tickets. One great thing while we were on the line: The San Diego Symphony played Star Wars music to Star Wars footage and we saw on the jumbo screen the live appearances at the small bowl arena of Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill, and the new Star Wars actors. We heard from John Williams who made a videotaped appearance, too.
We felt highly rewarded to have endured the nearly 24 hours in line as we saw nearly every major actor or actress in various films, many of which will be blockbusters, and we heard from the screenwriters, directors and actors and saw first run trailers and specially prepared excerpts of upcoming films. YouTube has most of these panels up in years past and this year will be no different--though the Daughter and a Facebook friend showed me that, contrary to the imploring of the filmmakers, someone or someones has or have uploaded a few of these trailers including "Batman v. Superman" and even "Deadpool."
I admit it was thrilling to see major stars like Ben Affleck, Hugh Grant, Jennifer Lawrence, and upcoming stars like Gal Godot and Miles Teller. We even saw Quentin Tarantino with his new Panavision western film he is making (he is sort of a Comic Con royalty as he was initially a fan who sat in the audience like the rest of us; though I have never found his work to my personal liking because it lacks sentiment and any semblance of kindness). Director and screenwriter Joss Whedon spoke from his heart, acknowledged fans like the Daughter who did not like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson's character in the Avengers) falling in love with the Hulk, and answered fans' questions for nearly an hour.
Second, what makes Comic Con better than the Oscars is that there is no single winner chosen. There is, instead, a celebration and even reveling in the overall creativity of people involved. Smaller budget films such as the upcoming "Pride & Prejudice and Zombies" were able to receive equal treatment with the blockbuster films from Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox. "P&P&Z" will prove to be a wonderful surprise to people with more interesting literary tastes. It captured perfectly, right down to the casting of characters, Jane Austen's iconic and brilliant novel. It is directed by Gore Vidal's nephew, Burr Steers, who explained he was able to understand how to film the parody book (the author of the book appeared on the panel and was gracious and funny with the cast and director) because he knew the background of Austen's book was the British fighting the French at the end of the 18th Century and preparing for war against Napoleon. He said, "I just substituted zombies for Napoleon..." or words to that effect, and he said it all fit nicely. The author right said Steers simply played the story straight and did not have a character raise a "break the fourth wall" eyebrow or play the story for laughs, which surprised the author--but which the author said makes Steers' film so effective and outstanding. We in the audience were certainly impressed, including myself and the Daughter, the latter who has read nearly every Austen novel already.
Third, there are, at Comic Con, rows and rows of exhibitors who are hawking their wares in the visual arts, in comic books of all shapes, sizes and quality and vintages. There are cool t-shirts and paraphernalia to purchase. One may get for free small posters and the like, and an occasional book from Random House and Simon & Shuster exhibts, if one is spending more time with the exhibitors than standing on line to get into Exhibit Hall H. The Daughter and I were there for one day at the exhibitors' hall and one day (well, two days if we count the line) in Exhibit Hall H.
Fourth, the people at Comic Con are overall a representation of what sociologist Richard Florida calls The Creative Class. These are artists, performers and people who love to dress in costume and engage in Cosplay--I saw a man and woman couple who dressed like Mila Janovich and Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element film who were adorable! Yes, there are some who we saw waiting in the lines who were jerks, but that is what happens anywhere lots of humans congregate. The truth is that most people are very nice, very cooperative and are all deeply interested in, with decent to excellent knowledge of the performing arts and art itself. Maybe the convention attendees not fully representative of the 99% of Americans overall, after all, because there are people who come from other parts of the developed and/or industrialized world. We met for example two sisters from Singapore with one of the sisters' fiancee who lives in England where that sister now lives too. They are not Americans but they are also not in the the industrialized world 1%. They saved their money to attend and this represented a major and perhaps only trip of the year for them. They are, respectively, two scientists and a lawyer, though not a lawyer at an international conglomerate law firm. Many others the Daughter and I saw were people who were definitely from the middle and working classes, and we spoke to some who indeed said this is their one trip for the year and they save up their money to ensure they can get to San Diego. The Daughter and I of course are lucky to live a half hour from downtown San Diego Convention Center where the Comic Con is held. Ah, the advantage of living in VacationLand.
Fifth, Comic Con is now a world wide phenomenon beyond San Diego, where it began. As with film festivals that were initially limited to places like Cannes in France, there are now Comic Cons held in New York, Chicago, Anaheim, CA (called WonderCon) and even London, among other places. One sees the phenomenon spreading as with the film festivals. This is, I believe, related to the rise of the Internet and the recognition that it costs a lot to go on vacation to get to San Diego, CA. I am personally happy to see Comic Con's development in this way as it allows more people to see and interact with creative people. We don't get to personally meet the superstars who appear on the stage at Exhibit H, but at Comic Con one may still personally meet and speak with people who will sign autographs in the autograph booths, which sometimes includes Hollywood royalty. For the Daughter, she was excited to meet David Aja, who illustrates "Hawkeye." He is a Spanish born artist who was exceedingly kind to the fans such as the Daughter (he posed for a "selfie" with her and held his book while biting the top of his book, while leaning his head into hers for the photo). I even met the woman who voiced Tommy Pickles in the now older cartoon, "Rugrats," and attended (and asked a question and met afterwards!) the now older daughters of the revered animators Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones. Ruth Clampett invited me to email her to allow her to research an answer to a question I had posed about one of the Beany & Cecil cartoons and was deeply gracious with fans such as myself who crowded her after the panel.
Comic Con is a great privilege for those who are able to find the time to attend. Again, though, it is an open convention that anyone who registers and finds their way to San Diego can attend. And above that, it is a showcase for the visual arts and the people who create those visual arts. We fans who revel in their glorious creations may be likened to congregants who enter a beautiful church of color, light and storytelling. There are many of us who are also creative who attend, but maybe not in our day jobs at least. But we appreciate what these people have accomplished.
A couple of final thoughts: Watching even lesser publicized upcoming films like "Patient Zero" and "Victor Frankenstein," I believe we are in a Golden Age for the visual arts. There are even some interesting re-takes on the gothic genre, with Guillermo Del Toro's really outstanding "Crimson Peak." He is a brilliant director and very witty and funny in the panel discussion in which he appeared.
We are more particularly in a Golden Age of films that speak to our hopes, our fears and our deeper sociological thoughts. Yet, the mainstream cultural expositors in our corporate media, and the elite voters in the Hollywood industry who vote for Oscar nominees and winners, have completely missed this Golden Age through now.
For those like myself who do understand the brilliance of these artists and writers, and film directors, please know that DC Comics showed us yesterday that with "Suicide Squad" and "Batman v. Superman," they may be finally stepping up their game with respect to introducing more sociologically based writing into their films, and there are some other amazing films set to be released that I hope live up to the trailers, such as "Patient Zero," which is perhaps a combination of a zombie story and a mutant story in tandem with a medical disease outbreak story, and "Victor Frankenstein" which stays true to most of the original Shelley novel but adds a new twist on a character not in Shelley's story, but known to horror film fans, the character of Igor. Just to give you a sense why it is not going to be the same Igor we have known, Igor is played in this film by Harry Potter, er, Daniel Radcliffe.