Comic Con 2014


By James Hancock

For the last 2 days I have been in a near-coma like cocoon resembling something out of a comic book featuring Adam Warlock. I have tried and failed several times to write this post but I was too drained and incoherent to write a complete sentence. I’m finally feeling like my normal media-saturated self and I’m ready to share some of the experiences from last week that so completely shut me down. Another San Diego Comic Con has come and gone and I have to say it was easily one of the most exciting and exhausting weeks that I can remember. Comic Con has become so large and complex in recent years that the experience has become an incredibly personal almost subjective experience depending upon what one decides to do. It isn’t possible to do it all. Some decide to camp out for days at the now hallowed Hall H and and hit every major movie and television panel in order to share every scrap of industry-shaking news on the internet in real time. Others go into full cosplayer mode and spend the entire convention posing for pictures. And then you have your everyday enthusiast who simply wants to go on a spending spree on the showroom floor, amassing toys, original art and anything else that might grab their attention. For me, it was time to go to work. For the last two years I’ve been working as an executive producer with animator Bill Plympton on his new feature film Cheatin’ and there is no better place on earth to make people aware of this type of project than Comic Con. As much as this was my main focus of the trip I did carve out some time for other activities as you will soon see.

Day 1 (Tues, 7/22) The Quiet Before the Storm
I arrive in San Diego a day early just to get my bearings and settle in. I immediately head down to the convention center to get my badge and to set up some electronics at our booth so we can show Bill Plympton’s movies throughout the convention. That night, I get completely trashed by myself on Pinot Grigio at some Italian restaurant and spend the rest of the night drunkenly tweeting about Bill’s panels, screenings, personal appearances, etc. that people can expect during the convention.Day 2 (Weds, 7/23) The Doors Open
I start the day with a long workout at a local gym knowing that this will be the last time I have time or interest in exercise until I get home. At any comic convention it is essential to go into the event as rested, fit and healthy as possible. Conventions are a marathon that put us all to the test. After lunch, I meet up with Bill’s right hand man, John Holderried, and we take some of the essential supplies and loot over to our booth. Bill Plympton and his family soon arrive but they crash early. Bill has a long series of interviews as well as a panel the following day and he wants to be sharp. I cut out early as well and head to the American Comedy Co. in downtown San Diego. I’m a massive fan of Joe Rogan’s circle of comedians in Deathsquad and on this night Brian Redban and Tony Hinchcliffe are recording a new episode of “Kill Tony”, a podcast where a panel of established comedians point out the strengths and weaknesses of aspiring comedians who have one minute to do their act. I end up bonding with some strangers while waiting in line talking about MMA and they invite me to sit with them. I drink way much of my favorite Jameson’s Irish Whiskey but the show is a blast, in particular Tiffany Haddish who is sexy as hell and is as foul mouthed as a sailor.

Day 3 (Thurs, 7/24) Game On
My strength and endurance are still going strong and I head down to the convention center early. Bill has interviews starting at 10 am and I have to check on the room where our panel will be held to make sure there are no problems showing our clips. In both San Diego and in New York, we’ve had horrible problems in the past with technicians and I’m in full blown paranoia mode. Bill settles in to talk with the Huffington Post and I head upstairs to check on our room. In a rare stroke of luck the panel before ours is cancelled and I have a full hour to work with the technician for our sound and picture check for the clips and short films that Bill wants to play. The panel begins and I introduce Bill. He does not disappoint. Bill is at his best when he is making animation and sharing it with an enthusiastic crowd. The crowd is vocal and fired up throughout the clips which include two scenes from Cheatin’, a new short film called Footprints, a music video called Deep End, and the intro to Revengeance, a new feature film Bill is working on with animator Jim Lujan. Footprints and Deep End have never been shown in public before and I have to admit that Bill seems to be reaching a new high creatively.

Bill Plympton's 'Footprints'

Bill Plympton’s ‘Footprints’

Because he works on smaller projects in between feature films, his style as an animator continues to evolve. Bill brings Jim Lujan to the stage and they immediately fall into an easy, irreverent rapport that the crowd seems to dig. They answer a few questions from the audience and before I know it the most stressful part of the trip is over. Our technician is a total pro, the clips play without a hitch, and Bill gives him a shout out of appreciation. We head back downstairs to the booth to sell some loot and hurl Bill into some more interviews. My day draws to a close when I take off to meet an old friend named Becky D’Anna for dinner. She and I interned together summer of 1998 at Out of the Blue Entertainment and she’s one of the few people I know with whom I could rant about movies for hours without pause.

Day 4 (Fri, 7/25) Our Luck Dramatically Changes for the Better
One of the best parts about hanging out at pop culture conventions with Bill Plympton is getting to meet the wide array of filmmakers, artists and performers who stop by his booth to say hello. One of these contacts is named Ron Diamond and he does Bill an amazing favor by inviting him to participate on a panel about animation in Hall H. For those of you who don’t know what that means, let me explain. Hall H is the largest auditorium at Comic Con and usually contains around 7000 screaming maniacs who have camped out all night to see panels covering their favorite shows and movies, usually something featuring heroes in tights. If there is a big announcement at Comic Con, it happens in Hall H. This animation panel is scheduled just before the Game of Thrones Season 5 panel, meaning that Bill has a packed house of viewers to see his short film Drunker Than a Skunk one of my personal favorites of his work. For an independent filmmaker, this kind of publicity is a rare opportunity and Bill is thrilled to take part.

Bill Plympton's 'Drunker Than a Skunk'

Bill Plympton’s ‘Drunker Than a Skunk’

I also hit the Image Comics panel where I am able to see writers like Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue Deconnick discuss their craft. I am a little distracted throughout the panel due to having strangers seated on either side of me who are aggressively biting their fingernails throughout the discussion as if they were made out of chocolate. With saliva-covered nails flying into the air all around me, it is all I can do just to try and occupy as little space as possible and avoid contamination. Some negative stereotypes about geeks exist for a reason. On my way out I bump into comic book writer, Mark Waid, one of my personal heroes who wrote Kingdom Come. I introduce myself and he couldn’t be nicer. My admiration for him grows.

The end of that day finds me in the middle of one of the most unusual experiences of my life. Maybe I was feeling a little supercharged from two days of gawking at scantily clad cosplayers, (the fetishization of superheroes continues to evolve in amazing ways) but I go online looking for a way to cut loose. Long story short, I discover a little-known San Diego institution known as Thad’s, a club that has been occupying a unique place in the San Diego underground social scene for several decades. The club operates with the full blessings of local law enforcement so I’m not disclosing anything incriminating but there are certainly some straight and narrow people that would find the activities at Thad’s shocking and something to be frowned upon. It is a Swinger’s Club, and many of the people one meets there are regulars. To get inside all one needs to do is leave your clothes in a locker at the door and enter the club with an open mind. After ingesting about half a bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey I am able to get into the spirit of the evening and that is all I will say on the topic unless I know you personally. As long as the club stays open, I will likely incorporate it into all future Comic Con experiences. I imagine half the cosplayers on the convention room floor would absolutely love this place if they were to discover it.

Commissioned work of John Adams for local bar, by Bill PLympton

Commissioned work of John Adams for local bar, by Bill PLympton

Day 5 (Sat, 7/26) Hitting the Wall

The older I get the more impossible I find it to sleep and recover after a night of heavy drinking. I wake up early with one of those savage hangovers where your eyes feel like little marbles made out of sandpaper. I chug a Starbuck’s doubleshot from a can and head back to the convention. I know in advance that I have to go out again that night with an old friend from college who was the president of my fraternity. I go into pure survival mode trying to save as much strength as I can so I focus on working at Bill’s booth and trying to engage in as much social media on his behalf as possible. On the social media front we’re enjoying some luck with writers like Brian Michael Bendis and performers like Judah Friedlander retweeting some of the photo ops we grab throughout the convention. I’d love to see Judah and Bill find a project to work on together. Late afternoon, I shut down and head home for 45 minutes of fitful sleep before going out again. My buddy and I head to the House of Blues where the infamous Suicide Girls are performing a burlesque show starting at midnight. If you’re into pale, voluptuous chicks who dig tattoos and geeky entertainment, this is your kind of show.

Judah Friedlander hanging with Bill Plympton

Judah Friedlander hanging with Bill Plympton

Day 6 (Sun, 7/27) Shutting Down
Ordinarily I can handle a hangover and I can handle sleep deprivation, but the two of them combined are absolutely horrendous particularly two days in a row. I nearly lose all enthusiasm for the convention especially when I lose my short-term memory and start have difficulty handling transactions at the booth. If I move too quickly, I see black spots obscuring my vision. I’m determined to hang on, however, in order help break down the booth at the end of the day. Halfway through the day, I read that one of my favorite web personalities, Comicbookgirl19, will be making a personal appearance a few booths away. Comicbookgirl19 makes videos featuring some of my favorite movie and comic book criticism on youtube. I’ve discovered many brilliant comics courtesy of her reviews and to top it all off she’s insanely beautiful. I decide to make her a little care package and deliver to her some of Bill Plympton’s films, including Cheatin’, on the off chance she might decide to review the film. Her inner circle of friends and crew members couldn’t be nicer when I meet them and Comicbookgirl19 is looking outstanding in her full White Trash Zombie outfit. A few minutes later I catch them drifting by our booth and I invite them in to meet Bill and pose for a pic. We briefly discuss Jodorowsky’s Dune, a film we both love and then she’s off and away for other appearances leaving me in a state of pure giddy fanboy glee. At this point I’m incredibly thankful to be feeling so horrible in that my fatigue prevents me from completely spazzing out and acting like a slack jawed stalker. Meanwhile, Bill engages in a hardcore 6-hour marathon of caricatures and commissioned art before splitting town for Oregon with his family. John and I close up the booth in record time and I head back to my hotel dizzy with exhaustion. I’m too wired and strung out to fall asleep immediately and spend some time watching videos of panels that I could not attend, in particular Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Game of Thrones.

Bill Plympton and comicbookgirl19

Bill Plympton and comicbookgirl19

Day 7 (Mon, 7/28) Homeward Bound
I head to the airport early feeling about 10% of my usual cheery self. Inside the terminal, I introduce myself to actor Richard Sammel who I know from watching the Bear Jew bash in his brains with a baseball bat in Tarantino’sInglourious Basterds. Soon I’m on the plane wearing a sleep mask and headphones with a few podcasts queued up on my iPad. The couple behind me has two children who cry, scream and kick my chair the entire flight home. I’m too tired and spent to care. The week has been an absolute blast and I’m already planning my return in 2015.

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