The San Diego Comic-Con is the greatest recurring nightmare that you’ll ever have. It’s the ultimate opportunity for nerds from around the world to coalesce into a hulking mass of fandom and worship their heroes and villains -- if geek culture is a religion, Comic-Con is its ultimate mega-church. It’s beautiful and tragic, a non-stop party and an inexhaustible source of maddening frustration. It’s my favorite weekend of the year, and I dread it for months before it arrives. For those of you who couldn’t make it down to San Diego (or were otherwise engaged making sane and less masochistic choices as to how to spend your life), here’s a personal glimpse as to what a small portion of the con was like through the eyes of someone in the trenches.
This journal definitely reflects the press experience, but I hope that everyone is able to glean from it an idea as to what this particular brand of madness is like, and how it differs for each of the 130,000 or so people who perennially gather to build it together. All of the really boring bits of the weekend (lines, article-writing, Underworld, etc...) have been omitted for your reading pleasure. These are, with a few edits for clarity, my notes as I jotted them down.
Friday, July 22, 2011
12:01 A.M. Someone cos-playing as a bartender just deposited a glass of scotch into each of my hands, and DJ Jon Favreau is spinning some Biz Markie as Faizon Love takes the mic -- either my prayers for the next installment of the Couples Retreat franchise have finally been answered, or the first day of my (eighth consecutive) Comic-Con has just taken a turn for the weird. I’m at a party in San Diego’s frat district. It’s hosted by another film site, and these guys are not messing around.
12:03 A.M. I likes me some scotch. I’m not sure how those Mad Men guys can be productive after they drink this stuff, cause I’ve downed two glasses and all I can think about is a WWII-era prequel about romantically involved infantry units called Couples, Retreat!
12:40 A.M. It turns out that Favreau is here to promote his mega-budget Meek’s Cutoff fanfic. He’s cuing up Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” The crowd is going wild, and the cast of Bellflower is almost as drunk as they are in any given scene in that movie.
12:41 A.M. In the back room there’s a hollow glass sculpture that looks like a table -- it’s only a matter of time before I drop an empty drink down the center.
1:11 A.M. Running. Must keep running.
7:30 A.M. My alarm goes off, waking most of the 912 people with whom I’m sharing a hotel room.
10:15 A.M. I’ve been waiting in line for breakfast at the Hilton Starbucks for about 30 minutes. If it’s true that the length of your Starbucks order is directly correlated to how much of a jerk you are, then Superman is a real asshole.
11:02 A.M. Steven Spielberg has just taken the Hall H stage for his first Comic-Con appearance (he’s here to support Tintin). Sure, the man is one of my heroes, but I’m not going to cry.
11:03 A.M. I’m going to weep. If he stroked that beard all of my childhood dreams would fall out.
11:40 A.M. Spielberg says that his experience directing E.T. taught him that he wanted children, which is odd because my experience watching E.T. taught me that I wanted to have a flying bicycle.
1:15 P.M. John Cusack is on stage promoting his upcoming Edgar Allen Poe movie / disaster, The Raven. The con has been oddly lacking in an uncomfortable panel moments, but that’s all about to change as a woman from the audience steps up to the mic and asks -- perhaps inadvertently -- if Cusack has any plans to make a baby with his sister. More uncomfortable still, Cusack seems kind of on the fence.
1:30 P.M. John Cusack is waxing poetic on Poe’s idealized relationships with women, and the extent to which such neuroses colored his writing. From the exceedingly generic trailer, one gets the sense that these details will be about as pertinent to The Raven as they are to The Smurfs.
2:17 P.M. I’m choosing a plastic-wrapped sandwich over the Fright Night panel -- this doesn’t bode well for the film’s commercial prospects.
2:49 P.M. Taking a breather by walking through the absurdly massive dealer’s room floor. There are some war zones more tranquil than this airless multi-acre cesspit of glassy-eyed fans bumping into each other like unpopped kernels of commerce and wonder. That being said, it’s never quite as loud as I remember.
3:03 P.M. I have already stepped on so many small children this weekend. Fortunately for me, their costumes muffle their screams.
3:20 P.M. I have just been assaulted by a large man in a penguin suit (think Madagascar, not Batman Returns). I tried to take his picture and he began jabbing me in the gut with his arm (or wing, or whatever it is that penguins have). My assailant’s suit entirely obscures his face, but by the end of the day I will strongly suspect that he is Spider-man actor Rhys Ifans.
3:37 P.M. The scariest cos-play is Trash Humpers cos-play.
4:00 P.M. I dart through the masses of Fatmans (Fat Batmans) and loitering teens to make it back to Hall H for the Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance panel (or as everyone in the crowd refers to it...”What?”).
4:11 P.M. Nicolas Cage is on stage. He watches a clip in which his Ghost Rider character vomits bullets and urinates a stream of fire. I’m pretty confident that this is the first time he’s learning that he was in this movie. To be fair, the footage actually looks pretty badass for a movie I’ll drunkenly watch half of on cable in 18 months.
4:30 P.M. For better or worse, the Q&A portions are invariably among the most memorable parts of any SDCC experience. Today I’m reminded that Comic-con is the only place you can hear an adorable 7 year-old boy wearing bunny ears repeatedly say the phrase: “Hell-cycle.”
5:00 P.M. The room is buzzing because of the most anticipated panel of the year, The Amazing Spider-man. The Amazing Spider-man actor Rhys Ifans is buzzing because he’s just downed enough liquor to kill a small pony.
5:45 P.M. A tremblingly earnest speech from the latest actor to play Peter Parker about what the role means to him -- I think we just watched Andrew Garfield realize he’s a movie star in real-time.
5:57 P.M. The Spider-Man footage is strong, but its unveiling doesn’t quite feel like a true “event” in the way that the Avatar or Iron Man panels have in years past.
7:33 P.M. I’m herded across the train tracks outside the convention center en route to an exhibition of artworks paying tribute to Akira Kurosawa (proceeds from which were donated to the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund). The various illustrations are incredible (click to see for yourself).
8:45 P.M. Pitstop at the hotel to get fancy for the evening. A freakishly de-aging Lucy Lawless steps into the elevator and begins to gawk at theTrue Blood wallpaper (or, more specifically, the ways in which the True Blood wallpaper has been defaced). Seriously, it’s crazy, she’s like Benjamin Button. A total BBILF.
10:10 P.M. I follow a jaunty Channing Tatum into a party on some roof in the Gaslamp. I want to talk to him about my theory that Nicholas Sparks is the great absent autuer of the 21st century, but -- like most of my great ideas -- it is quickly abandoned at the sight of an open bar.
11:11 P.M. I walk into Kellan Lutz (I was trying to find the bathroom but I ran into his right deltoid), whose presence confirms that the guest list was strategically assembled to make me feel flabby, talented, and weirdly familiar with today’s stable of meathead movie stars.
11:32 P.M. Kellan Lutz totally agrees with me about Nicholas Sparks.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
11:20 A.M. I’m on the dealer’s room floor, staring at the giant neurolizer above the Men in Black 3 booth and muttering aloud that I wish it could erase my memory of the previous night (or that trailer for The Raven). An obese man who’s cut a hole for his ponytail in the back of the Captain America mask he’s wearing reminds me that the neurolizer is a fictional device.
11:51 A.M. Back in Hall H, Francis Ford Coppola is orating about Abel Gance and Igor Stravinsky. I was not expecting this.
12:10 P.M. Francis Ford Coppola is now rapping into his iPad on stage while remixing a scene from his vampire movie Twixt, chanting the word “Nosferatu” over and over again as Dan Deacon loops it over shuffled footage from the film. I was not expecting this, either.
12:20 P.M. This Twixt panel is my Avengers -- I can’t stop grinning.
2:30 P.M. Another bumbling shuffle across the dealer’s room floor -- I’m desperate for something to buy, if only to prove that my love for the convention hasn’t been lessened by the virtually unchanging assortment of vendors. One guy has been trying to sell the same three gothic paintings since (at least) 2004, and I almost buy one just so he’ll have to spice things up for next year.
5:10 P.M. Hall H has become something of a leash, making me too nervous to check out the smaller, inevitably spectacular panels I know to be the lifeblood of this convention. I’m back there for something called Dorothy of Oz, which I naturally assume is a version of the classic HBO prison drama as seen from the perspective of a female inmate...
5:11 P.M. ...played by Glee’s Lea Michelle?
5:25 P.M. It turns out that Dorothy of Oz is a CG version of The Wizard of Oz as seen from what appears to be the perspective of that topical Taiwanese animation studio. This must be one of those “Death Panels” I keep hearing so much about.
6:29 P.M. I am somewhere just beyond the fringes of the Gaslamp District, which is kind of like the Shadow Lands from The Lion King but with more homeless people. This, of course, is the perfect location for the glitzy and highly-touted world premiere of Cowboys & Aliens. The film begins at 8 and some very gracious people have procured a ticket for me, but I know that Comic-con is a mess and so I show up way early to ensure that everything goes smoothly.
6:31 P.M. My name is not on the list. I would ask the lady working the check-in desk if she knows who I am, but nobody in this town knows who I am.
6:34 P.M. I’m not sure why, but the lady -- perhaps in a fit of stress-panic -- has just shoved a ticket in my face in the hopes that I’ll go away. I head into the theater before she has time to reconsider.
6:45 P.M. My seat is in the 4th row, dead center. A perfect view!
7:00 P.M. ... For E!’s red carpet special hosted by Ben Lyons, which is being projected on the screen inside the theater.
7:15 P.M. Anguished and in dire need of perspective, I begin reading the emergency copy of Dante’s Inferno I have saved on my iPhone.
8:08 P.M. Spielberg (along with Favreau and pretty much everyone else who so much as visited the Cowboys & Aliens set) is on stage. I swear I’m not weeping again, it’s just that the guy cos-playing as Leatherface next to me smells like onions. Yeah, that’s it...
8:09 P.M. Leatherface has just called his mom to tell her that this is the greatest night of his life. It’s kind of strange to see cinema’s most terrifying serial killer overjoyed to breathe the same air as the guy who directed Zathura, but that Comic-con exclusive discordance forces me to take stock of the palpable enthusiasm shared by the fans around me. They’re on their feet, giddy for the chance to be in the thrall of another world, of a new adventure to share with the people they love. It’s a much-needed reminder that I’m exceptionally fortunate to enjoy such opportunities, and that I shouldn’t take events / weekends like this for granted.
8:10 P.M. But this isn’t my first rodeo. I spot screenwriters Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman in the line-up, and feel compelled to jot down my unusually appreciative sentiments lest I need to consult them for a reminder after the film. The lights go down, and I’m cheering along with everyone else. Another Comic-Con is almost in the books -- I can’t wait for it to be over, but there’s no where in the world I’d rather be.