By James Hancock July 9th, 2015
The smell on the showroom floor of San Diego Comic-Con is a powerful brew concocted from a mixture of fragrances including but not limited to geek sweat, halitosis, body odor and just overall neglect of one’s personal hygiene and health in favor of maximizing one’s optimal Comic-Con experience. The traffic is horrible, decent food is hard to find, and the expense of the trip grows at an exponential rate each year. With all this in mind, when Comic-Con rolls around each summer, there is no place I’d rather be. I’ve been coming to San Diego Comic-Con since 2010 and it has become my Mardi Gras, Super Bowl, & every holiday I can think of all rolled into one. For those who have never experienced the convention, it is very hard to sum up in a few words. The event has become so large and multi-faceted that no two people are going to have the same experience. Outsiders love to focus on the Cosplayers because of the obvious optics but they are only a small part of the experience. Some spend several days camping out hoping to get into Hall H, the holy grail of Comic-Con, a 6500-seat auditorium where one can see advance looks at movies and shows like Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens or the next season of Game of Thrones with all the cast in attendance. Others indulge in a manic shopping spree exploring every booth on the showroom floor looking for rare art or collectibles. Or if you’re like me, you sneak into all the non-Hall H panels you can in order to gather information on new films, comics, etc. heading our way without sacrificing an entire day to standing in line. There is a gravitational pull to Comic-Con that is impossible to resist that attracts larger-than-life showbiz personalities from Quentin Tarantino to Conan O’Brien. Every time I’ve become convinced that the event has peaked, it swells and expands a little bit more to the point where Downtown San Diego is completely overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands who have traveled from all over the world to be here. Many complain that has become too big. To hell with that I say. The size of Comic Con just means that the geeks have taken over and that the comics and role playing games that made kids losers when I was growing up in the 1980s have now justifiably become global phenomenons.
As I’ve made the transition from attendee to exhibitor, the convention has taken on even greater importance. For the last few years I’ve been working as a producer with indie animator Bill Plympton and in my opinion this is the best place to tease what Bill is working on. The most passionate and opinionated fans on the planet make the annual pilgrimage to Comic-Con and if you show them something they like, the dividends can be huge. On the other hand, if you disappoint your audience, you can quickly get cut to pieces. During these five days, San Diego becomes a lightning rod for some of the most exciting and original storytellers on the planet all hoping to make an impact with these media-saturated nutcases (I say that with total affection). Sadly this lightning rod also attracts a large crowd each year of Bible thumpers who protest the convention for reasons that only they can explain. Whatever their goals may be, they are a huge buzz kill who clog up the one path to get into the convention. But for true Comic-Con attendees or anyone interested in storytelling, whether the medium is film, TV, comics or gaming, these five days are a rare chance to meet one’s heroes and hear about how they go about their craft. But most important of all, Comic-Con is a chance to share in the overwhelmingly positive feelings of being in a large room with fellow maniacs freaking out over whatever is being presented. These moments are what I live for and since my real work does not begin until tomorrow, today I decided to spoil myself by attending a few panels that did not disappoint in any way, shape or form.
Grant Morrison and Graphic India: Myth, Magic and Monsters: I’ve been reading Grant Morrison’s comics (New X-Men, WE3, All-Star Superman, The Invisibles) for many years and I consider him to be the greatest living writer in the medium. I started my day off perfectly in the Indigo Ballroom at the Hilton where Morrison presented his new projects based on Eastern mythology, 18 Days: The Mahabharata and Avatarex. These comics are exclusively available through Humble Bumble, a platform that makes it easy for readers to make donations to a variety of charities helping young girls in India. While Morrison has written some of the greatest superhero tales of all time, he confessed he is tired of the ‘military entertainment complex’ and needed to go in a new direction. Calling Morrison a comic writer doesn’t nearly do him justice. He’s a mystic, a philosopher, a practitioner of magic who draws his own sigils, and he radiates more warmth, humor and love than any other person I know of on the planet. His Scottish brogue is a delight to listen to even when I have no idea what he is talking about. What I found most interesting were his descriptions of our imagination as the 5th dimension and how vast and incomprehensible our imagination can be in spite of being contained in a vessel as small and fragile as the human skull. He floored us with a great tale about his father at age 16 lying about his age to fight in WWII only to be sent to India to fight Hitler, which Morrison acknowledged ‘was probably the wrong place to go’. When he was told about the possibility of possibly killing women and children, Morrison’s father replied that not only would he not kill women and children but that he would shoot any man attempting to do so. He spent the rest of the war in a military prison. This same sense of love for one’s fellow human beings radiates off of Grant Morrison in waves and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into some of his new stories. If you want to learn more about Grant Morrison, check out the amazing documentary Talking With Gods.
Milkfed Criminal Masterminds @ Work: Anyone reading comics today will be familiar with the powerhouse celebrity couple of comic writers Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick. Between the two of them, they are carving out a large piece of the Indie comic landscape while at the same time continuing to write memorable stories for Marvel Comics such as DeConnick’s reinvention of Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel. They now have their own company called Milkfed Criminal Masterminds and between the two of them they are now publishing some of the best comics on the rack including Bitch Planet, Satellite Sam, Sex Criminals, Pretty Deadly & Casanova. This panel was less a presentation and more an opportunity for a bunch of friends in the comics industry to hang out. Marvel Comics superstar Brian Michael Bendis showed up and surprised Kelly Sue with a cake. Sex Criminals artist Chip Zdarsky had nothing to offer but a Garfield container with a half-eaten penis-shaped cookie. One of my favorite artists, Bill Sienkiewicz (New Mutants, Moon Knight, Elektra) made a surprise appearance and he gave DeConnick such high praise for their new comic that she protested that she was about to pee herself. Matt Fraction tried to Skype in (he’s looking after his sick father) but he logged off when he said that we all sounded like demons out of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. The panel was an absolute blast and gave me a host of new titles that I need to add to my monthly pull list.
Thunderbirds Are Go: Already a hit in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, the show Thunderbirds Are Go is looking for an American buyer and they made their US premiere at their panel with a fantastic episode. The very first show I ever saw on cable was an episode of the original 1965 Thunderbirds TV show, a show that Executive Producer Richard Taylor loved growing up. If you ever watched the behind the scenes documentaries about The Lord of the Rings, Richard Taylor is the hysterical and charismatic SFX/makeup/art department jack of all trades who helped Peter Jackson make those films so memorable. Richard Taylor and writer Rob Hoegee were there in attendance to discuss their reverence for the original show, in particular, the uncelebrated heroism of a team of adventurers who work in total anonymity without acclaim or reward. They spoke at length about how they went about updating the material while preserving the spirit of the original concept. The show brilliantly combines miniatures and CGI and the humor kept the audience roaring in approval throughout the episode. I would kill to be 13 again and get to discover this show for the first time.
The rest of the day had a variety of surprises in store for me such as when New York Times film critic A.O. Scott stopped by our booth. He was incredibly kind to the feature film I produced with Bill Plympton, Cheatin’, and we gave him a royal welcome. Then there was the usual parade of cosplayers and crazy eye candy that threatens to overwhelm the senses throughout the day. I particularly enjoyed watching some LARPers beating the hell out of each other behind the convention center (see below).
Anyway, time to sign off. Friday is a big day. Bill Plympton has his panel in room 23ABC at 4 pm where he’ll be presenting a lot of new films he is working on including the short film The Loneliest Spotlight starring Patton Oswalt. If you’ll excuse some bragging, I am one of the producers on this film along with my producing partner Adam Rackoff and we could not be more proud of the film. So time to grab some much needed rest before I hurl myself into another completely deranged and totally bizarre day (hopefully) at San Diego Comic Con.