Wednesday, July 18, 2012

So, Mike, how was Comic-Con?

It was really awesome! We (Diane, David, and I) went with some friends of ours and stayed the whole week at a beach house near Mission Bay, about 20 minutes northeast of the convention center, so it was a few days of relaxing on the beach in southern California followed by a few days of insane convention chaos. Jolting, but totally fun.


We flew in on Saturday and explored the area around our place, which was full of excellent restaurants and of course, the beach.

It was David's first time seeing the Pacific Ocean and my first time actually getting wet in it. I forget if Diane had been there before or not, but I don't think so. We took our first dip that night after getting some excellent Greek food at Arslan's Gyros. It's a great restaurant with a lot of atmosphere and an extremely friendly and helpful staff.


For breakfast we tried another place, The Mission, right across Mission Boulevard from our house. They had some serious pancakes that David loved, but everything was great. We went back every morning until the convention started and I tried something different each time: chicken apple sausage with eggs, the Mission croissant, the breakfast quesadilla, and the chilaquiles. All excellent.

They also had work from local artists on the walls and the week we were there, everything was superhero or pop-culture themed. The staff was also extremely cool, even more so once we became regulars for four days.

Not that I want this to be entirely about food, but Sunday afternoon we went to lunch at another great place called Cafe Mondo. I can't find a website for them, but they made excellent, organic sandwiches and had a blues guy singing and playing guitar on the patio out front.


Went to the San Diego Zoo, which I didn't realize was built on a canyon that we had to keep walking in and out of. It's a great zoo, but the layout is weird and it's a challenge to plan a path through it that doesn't loop back on stuff you've already seen.

My nephew told me we'd need two days and a half to see everything and I understand why. It's not that it's huge (especially if you don't plan to see the Safari Park, which we didn't), it's just that it's a lot of walking and we were worn out by the end of the day. I forgot to wear a hat and got way too much sun on my pale, British skin and started a blister on my toe, so it was good that we'd prepared Tuesday to be a down day.


Besides hitting the Mission for meals, David and I spent the day watching The Andy Griffith Show and Bonanza on TV Land. David and Diane hit the beach again that evening while I caught up on some work to get ready for Wednesday and the start of the Big Show.


David and I went down to the convention center, got our badges, and caught some of Preview Night. Convention staff was either extremely helpful or equally not, depending on the person. As a group, they always came through with what we needed, it just sometimes took a lot of re-directing and walking to get to the right person. Still, for a show this size and this crazy, they were remarkably efficient. As I told David, "There are a lot of rules," but they're good rules and the staff was willing to bend them when we really needed them to and they had authority to do so.

David and I walked around the show floor for a bit, checking out costumes and looking at statues of giant trolls from The Hobbit. The Weta and Sideshow booths were amazing and we spent a lot of time at them. I hadn't been to Comic-Con in several years, so the crowds at Preview Night were a surprise to me. Even though I'd heard how crazy it had gotten, it was shocking not to be able to move through some of the aisles.

I only remember running into one person I know while we were there: Steve Bryant, creator of Athena Voltaire. We saw each other briefly outside the convention center and I promised to look him up during the weekend, but sadly, that never happened. It was good to see him even for just a few seconds though.

I took David home around 7:00 and picked up Diane to go visit the Comic Book Resources yacht and finally meet Jonah Weiland and some of the other CBR staff whom I've never seen face-to-face. I'm not naturally good at cocktail parties, but Diane totally is and we lucked out by a) everyone's being so nice and b) running into Brigid Alverson (a fellow Robot 6er) and Deb Aoki early on. I'd never met Deb, but knew her by reputation, so it was really cool getting to visit with her. Brigid's always a blast to talk with. It was also awesome to finally meet Jonah, even though he was busy playing host and we didn't have a lot of time to chat. I wanted to get back to the yacht later in the weekend to talk some more, but that didn't happen either. The evening was made perfect by Josh Fialkov's showing up for a few minutes. Josh is one of my favorite people in comics and it was also the only time I got to spend some time with him all weekend, so I'm glad we got to.


Crazy day. Diane, David, and I took one car down to the show while our friends took another. We never saw them again. (That day, anyway.) Paid $60 to park in a hotel because all of the reasonable spots had been taken by 6:30 that morning.

I'd asked not to cover any panels that day so that I could spend time with my family and friends, so we hung out on the convention floor all day. I tried to follow Tip #103 from Tom Spurgeon's advice and let David control our movements and succeeded for the most part, but I did keep seeing people that I wanted to talk to.

I stopped to say hi to Mark Smylie at the Archaia booth at one point and didn't realize (until he introduced himself) that the person he was talking to was Ben Caldwell. I've been a big fan of Ben's work for a while now and we've bonded over our mutual love of Wonder Woman and all other butt-kicking women, so finally meeting him was at the top of my to-do list.

David was mostly wondering if there was a Pokémon booth, so we wandered for a while looking for one (never found it, if it was there) and finally settled for picking up a tin of cards from a dealer. I also got him a kaiju issue of a monster magazine, but that was totally unsolicited by him. For the most part, we just wandered and took a lot of pictures.

Oh, we stopped at Doug TenNapel's table and I picked up three of his books: Bad Island, Ghostopolis, and Cardboard. David had them all read before we left the show that day. This is him reading one of them during lunch.

After lunch we got to meet Richard Anderson who played Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. Although he and Entertainment Earth (the company that brought him there) welcomed free photos and autographs, we didn't take any. He was so gracious and happy to talk to us (he kept touching our shoulders - sort of conspiratorially - while we talked) that it felt sort of disrespectful to treat it as a photo opportunity. He looked very dapper and we said so, so he told us all about his tie and going shopping with his daughters. He's a very sweet man and I was big fan of Oscar on the shows, so it was a thrill to meet him.

What else... I picked up a ton of books on Thursday; so many that I broke the strap on the giant bag they gave us when we registered. I met Jacq Cohen from Fantagraphics at their table and grabbed the first volume of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. At the First Second booth I finally got to meet Gina Gagliano, their Marketing Associate and pick up a copy of Mark Siegel's Sailor Twain and the final volume of Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis' Resistance trilogy. We snagged the third Korgi volume from Christian Slade at the Top Shelf table. Oh, and I bought a copy of Roger Langridge's Snarked! collection and he signed it for us. We also acquired both Kate Beaton calendars.

A lot of David's "leading" us was actually me saying, "What do you want to do?" and him saying, "I don't know," and me saying, "Well, how about this..." while trying to think of things he'd enjoy. Until we found the Nintendo booth, that is, which was sort of Utopia for him and Diane. Him, because he got to try new games on the 3DS (he's just got a DSi). Diane, because she got to sit on the comfy, foam floor they have in that booth.

In the afternoon, I did drag them to one panel about comics in bookstores and the creators whose books sell really well there. I was more interested in the panelists than the actual topic, starting with the moderator, Tom Spurgeon of The Comics Reporter, but also including Kate Beaton, Alison Bechdel...

Brecht Evens...

Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Nate Powell, and Jason Shiga.

After the panel I introduced myself to Tom, whom I've always admired for his insights about comics and his humor in communicating them. Now I can add how nice and gracious he is to the list of things I like about him.

Before the bookstore panel, we caught the tail end of one of Image's panels and I noticed that Ed Brisson was on it to talk about his new book, Comeback. Ed also letters Kill All Monsters, but we'd never met face-to-face, so I introduced myself and after the bookstore panel we went back to the floor to pick up his three issues of Murder Book (the last of which he and Jason Copland did together).

We found Ben Campbell's table and he gave me a really cool birthday gift that I'll share on Thursday. We also stopped by Kody Chamberlain's table and Diane got to see some of his stuff from Sweets. She's found a cool niche for herself in the art world drawing Saint Paul landmarks and businesses and picked Kody's brain a little on how he captured the flavor of New Orleans architecture for his comic.

And of course we took pictures of more cosplayers like Darth Princess...

...and a steampunked Eliza Doolittle.

It was all fun and games until Godzilla showed up. That's actually the Comic-Con exclusive from Bluefin this year. We didn't buy it, but what a cool display.


Though we drove down to the show together, I only saw Diane and David once all day and that was by accident in the convention lobby. It was sheer luck that we ran into each other because I was looking for the press room. I spent the entire day either in panels or writing about them for CBR. My reports on The Black Panel and the Dark Horse horror panel are already up, and my coverage of the Monkeybrain Comics panel should go up later this week.

I got to talk briefly with Steve Niles at the Dark Horse panel, the first time we've seen each other in several years. I really wanted to get over to Tr!ckster and visit with him some more later, but never had the chance.

Before the Monkeybrain panel, I caught the end of Hermes Press' Buck Rogers panel where Erin Gray shared memories from the TV show and Howard Chaykin discussed his upcoming series.

Towards the end of that panel, a guy named Tycho (I think?) got up and started ranting about the Buck Rogers conspiracy that the entire panel was involved in. It had something to do with a secret base under Niagara Falls, which I totally hope is true. I kept waiting for someone to admit it was a joke, but no one ever did and an official-looking woman eventually dragged the man away as he yelled that if he ever found the panelists again he would have a very polite conversation with them. Very surreal.

Caught a cab home (Diane and David had dinner plans with the rest of our group and had left earlier) and finished writing everything but the Monkeybrain report. Went back to the gyro place for dinner and treated myself to the best baklava I've ever had since I'd skipped lunch to write.


I knew that I'd spend most of Friday writing, but I thought I'd have more time Saturday to visit the show. I was the only one there from our group, so it was going to be my day to be selfish. Go back to the CBR yacht, visit Tr!ckster; whatever I wanted to do. Turns out, I'm a very slow writer. I knew this about myself, but I didn't realize how that would affect reporting on hour-long panels filled with information. Since I only had one panel to go to that day, I figured it would be easy.

It was a great panel on comics creators of the '70s, the decade in which I discovered superhero comics. The write-up should hit CBR later this week and I'll have more to say about it on Robot 6 when it does, but the short version is that there was a lot of talk about creators' rights and coming from this group, it was pretty enlightening as well as entertaining. I'll point it out on Twitter when the report goes up.

Sitting around Trevor Von Eeden (who's holding the Inkpot Award he received at the panel) are - from left to right - Steve Englehart, Steve Skeates, Mark Evanier (who moderated the panel), Marv Wolfman, and Elliot S! Maggin.

After the panel, I headed to the press room to write up the Monkeybrain report and the '70s report. It took me until around 5:00.

While I was there, a couple of celebrity reporters came in to file their stories, so I'm glad I was there for that.

Once I had everything done and filed, I hit the floor again and talked to Ben Caldwell a bit before going to the Oni booth to visit Chris Schweizer. Chris and I have interacted a few times online (he did that awesome Daniel Baboon commission for me and I'm a big fan of his Crogan Adventures series), but we'd never met for reals until the Monkeybrain panel Friday night. I got a copy of his sketchbook (with an awesome Batman drawing in it; we were both too fried to think of something more original for him to draw) and we chatted a bit. He's super nice and visiting with him was another highlight of the show.

I also got to meet Dan Vado from SLG Publishing. I'm a huge fan of that company and it was a pleasure to be able to tell Dan that to his face, though I've said it online quite a bit.

Most of my group flew home on Saturday (we only had the beach house until then), but my friend Les stuck around to use his Sunday ticket to the convention. He and I met up with Brigid Alverson, former Wildstorm/CMX editor Jake Tarbox, and Tarbox's lovely wife for dinner. Brigid always brings together awesome people for dinner and then lets me come too, so that's one of my favorite parts of any convention that we're both at.

Les and I had a hotel room for Saturday night and we didn't hit the sack until about 2:00 am. It finally felt like a real convention.


We only had a couple of hours at the show before we had to head to the airport, but we used it wisely, taking lots of pictures, looking for souvenirs for Les, and meeting briefly with Kelly Yates and Randy Green from Artist Alley Comics. I know I keep saying this, but it was a pleasure to finally meet those guys too. I don't know if everyone in comics is super nice, but all the people I run into sure seem to be.

Wandering around, Les and I hit a couple of sections of the convention floor that I hadn't been to yet. The Profiles in History booth had a lot of cool stuff, including Christopher Reeve's costume from Superman.

I show you that particular picture mostly to contrast it with the Man of Steel costume on display at the Warner Brothers booth.

Our first reaction was to how dark it is. It almost looks black at first glance, but when I used my flash, I realized that it reflects a nice shade of blue under lights.

I'll spare you more cosplay pics (I'll get them - and all my other photos - up on Flickr, if you're interested) except for this fantastic Galactus.

And that's it! We were off to the airport and I got back to Minnesota around midnight.

While I wish I could have spent more time with several people, I don't know that I'd do things differently about writing up panels. I could have saved a couple of panels for after I got home, but a) it felt right to do them while they were still fresh in my mind and b) I was glad not to have them hanging over my head with all the other catching up I've had to do this week. Still...I missed out on some things that I maybe didn't have to miss out on.

Overall though: no regrets. I had a blast and got to at least touch base with some great friends and new acquaintances. I haven't mentioned yet - for instance - how nice it was to meet Chris Roberson at the Monkeybrain panel and clumsily try to tell him how much I admire his putting his career on the line for his moral convictions.

I also forgot to mention that David and Diane spent most of Friday at the Nintendo arcade in the Marriott, which brings up two major, if not at all profound observations about the show. First, that it's totally outgrown its space and has had to spill over to neighboring hotels. Second, that there's something for everyone and that is completely great. I spent the weekend totally focused on comics and had a great time. Never once felt encroached upon by movie or TV fans who were having their own awesome experiences. David got to test run unreleased video games and loved that. Diane enjoyed getting to talk process with some artists. Yes, it's kind of a shame that Comic-Con isn't strictly a comics convention anymore, but that show still exists in and around the other stuff if you're able to filter and having the other stuff there is worth it to me if it means that all sorts of friends and family members can go and have just as good a time being into whatever they're into.


Ken O said...

Without a doubt San Diego has one of the strangest zoo layouts I've ever been to.

The Komodo Dragon is always my number 1 zoo pick. At least it's easy to find there.

Michael May said...

He wasn't there that day! I wondered if they moved him down the hill from the Reptile House to the new Reptile Walk area, but it was the end of the day and we weren't going down that hill to find out. :)

Kal said...

What a great post. I felt like I was there. I would freak out at the crowds but glad that you had a great time. Also great to be able to share something you love with the family.

Michael May said...

Thanks, man. Yeah, the crowds are pretty crazy and I have more than one friend who suffers from social anxiety and doesn't do well at that show.


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