Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Con Is On

David and I went to Comic-Con Thursday. Back in the day--before Jarrah, and before the whole thing exploded into a Hollywood red carpet event--we went every year, sometimes multiple days. In those innocent salad days of our relationship, we could just wander in, and attend any panel that didn't conflict with something else. Our only dilemma was whether to get a decent dinner in the Gaslamp, or subsist on gelatinous pizza in the convention center. Decisions, decisions.

Now you have to register a year in advance. And, as we learned, just being there doesn't guarantee your admission to anything. Don't get me wrong--it's still exciting and fun. But it's not footloose and fancy-free anymore by a long shot.

The Great and Powerful Oz

The one thing we're focused on is seeing Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and all-around Geek God Extraordinaire. I am ecstatic that his visit to the Con coincides with the only day we were able to register. David warns me that it's going to be tough, because he's in the dreaded "Hall H." More on Hall H later.

Because we're apparently not very bright, we drive downtown instead of taking the trolley, and end up forking over $25 (!) to park by Petco. We're instantly besieged by pedicabs, but we decide to walk. We're joined on our pilgrimage by hundreds (thousands?) of other faithful. You can feel the buzz in downtown. Several very tall buildings are partially blanketed in billboards for upcoming movies (which I read cost the studios in the millions) and there's an unimpressive (to me) black car parked near the trolley stop surrounded by buxom lasses dressed as leprechauns which has something to do with The Green Hornet. Flashbulbs are popping as they pose. "So...they're here because guys want cars and boobs together?" I ask David. "Yep," he agrees. "Cars and boobs." In general, we see a lot more Booth Babes in many guises than I ever remember seeing before. Seems like a decent gig (if you have the boobs) though you have to stand around in stilettos all day.

As we pass the trolley station, I notice that the official signage has been replaced with new ones--in Klingon. How completely awesome. There's a sign up explaining: "This MTS station has been taken over by Klingons. Please offer your cooperation during this friendly takeover." Good thing they explained it was friendly.

White Lines (Get Higher, Baby)

There's a long line to get into the convention center, but it moves quickly because everyone is preregistered in this day and age. We get tags and lanyards and ginormous recyclable bags which David jokes are so tall I don't have the height to wear one. I start scouting for famous people moonlighting as Con-going schlubs for the day (once upon a time, Seth Green stood in line behind us) but you know what? Never see a one. The closest we come to a celebrity sighting is a guy David knows from Mythbusters, and that's much later on. All around us, though, are Stormtroopers pushing strollers and the requisite extremely curvy women in fishnets and boots who are showing a little more of their derrieres than seems ideal.

We Like-A The Zombies

Our first panel is Chris Gore, who David knows from an early movie 'zine called Film Threat. Instinctively, I don't like him, and my impression does not really improve. He just seems so arrogant. The one saving grace is that the Q&A is "moderated" by "his biggest fan," a Japanese schoolgirl named Kimoko, sporting a hot pink wig. She does a spot-on Japanese-English accent (I know because I taught Japanese students conversational English for four years) but is suspiciously self-aware and, well, just freakin' hilarious, often turning wide-eyed to Chris to say "This is VERY important ques-tchon she asking!" I tell David that she is definitely a plant in the first minute of her "moderation." Sure enough, Chris re-introduces her as "comedian Mary Forrest" when the panel ends.

Gentlemen, Sheathe Your Weapons

We have a little window of time before the next panel, so we head to the terrace out back to eat our packed lunch. We are sooo smart to have brought it, because we get yummy pastrami sandwiches, raspberries with cinnamon sugar and molasses cookies instead of the aforementioned gelatinous pizza that costs about $20. While we eat, we notice battle lines being drawn--literally--behind us: a group of knights and ladies wield their swords and shields and whack at each other crazily until everyone falls down. You hear this mad metallic din for about 30 seconds and then silence while--I guess--they tally who has been killed, and then they start again. Moments like this are what make the Con so uniquely special. We step gingerly around them as we head back into the hall.


Time for a stroll through the exhibition floor, always good costume sighting. The room is acres long and jammed with revelers, and I am reminded of one of the disadvantages of being 5'4" and claustrophobic: I'm down beneath the capes, helmets and feathers and--at times--almost smothered by them. Also, another minus of being this close to the Comic-Con masses: apparently a lot of them have no use for mortals like dentists. A cloud of bad breath seems to hang over the entire room. I wish I had my own cape, for burying my nose in.

Southern Gothic

Our next panel is Charlaine Harris, who wrote the Sookie Stackhouse novels upon which True Blood is based, and she is a delight. She cheerfully tells us, in a lilting Southern twang, that she wondered if anyone would show up to see her since she's competing with Angelina Jolie over at the Salt panel, "but my agent tells me our audiences are a bit different." ("And she's talking about--horrors!--BOOKS!" I tell David.) She really gives good Q&A, and tells us lots of juicy stuff, like how she didn't realize how hard "Sookie Stackhouse" would be to say with fangs, and how the actors playing Andy and Pam are exactly how she imagined them but "Sookie is just a much curvier girl than Anna Paquin, bless her heart." I enjoy listening to her so much but Convention Center Malaise (a real hazard) overcomes me and I fall asleep for the second half. There's just something about being in that climate-controlled environment that does it to me every time. David says he hears me snoring a little bit. In any case, I feel refreshed after my power nap and ready to tackle the next thing. Which turns out to be the line for Starbucks, where they have you crammed in a little pen waiting for the drinks to be made. "It's like Starbucks steerage," I rhapsodize. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to drink caffeine..."

Hopefully No WMDs

We decide it's time to hit the line for The Dreaded Hall H. David has explained that it's dreaded because--with the biggest capacity at 5,000--it's the location of all the big studio panels, and hence, the hardest to get in. Also, its position in the convention center means the lines are outside, only partially shaded by tents. David's co-worker Brian usually just stays in Hall H for the entire day. That is not how I want to live. Now it's 90 minutes before Joss as we join the line (and a word about Con lines: some of the most orderly in the world, as far as I can tell. Tens of thousands of people around us all day, and no one pushes, cuts or forgets to say "I beg your pardon!" when their backpack full of swag touches me. Edited to add: a day after I wrote this, David tells me that someone in Hall H is stabbed in the eye over a seat skirmish--with a pen) We move immediately, but then stay in the spot we move to for an hour. Luckily, it's in full shade and very roomy, so we're comfy. We get chatted up by a severely nerdy young man from Minnesota who is lugging a duffel bag. I accidentally trip on it at one point, and it seems to be crammed with solid steel. I wonder aloud to David why Comic-Con has no security bag check, like other events with, oh, 160,000 participants under one roof. Hmmm. Just before the panel is set to start, the lines start moving, and we make it into Hall H with moments to spare.

Joss Whedon...Eeeeeee!

Oh, Joss has lost a bunch more hair since we last saw him. But J.J. Abrams, whom he's appearing with, looks amazing. He's my sister's PT client right now, and she says he's really nice. He's also hilarious, which for some reason I didn't expect. His florid style kind of eclipses Joss sometimes, who is more deadpan, less showy. David finds it blasphemy when I suggest J.J. might have been funnier, though. Joss does completely crack me up when the conversation turns to "3-D: A Good Thing, Or No?" He speaks of a recent horror film he produced, The Cabin In The Woods, which is in 3-D, and which he suggested they make in 2-D just to be contrary. "I said, we can have the tag line: 'Cabin In The Woods! It's Painterly!'" Joss is just so smart. Ultimately, it's a lot of fun to see them play off each other (and the Lost questions are kept to a minimum.) It would be a perfect panel if not for the teenage girls eating hot dogs two inches from my nose. I like hot dogs, but for some reason my mouth goes all dry and I am close to gagging while they eat. I end up having to plunge my nose into the bag of molasses cookies and breathe heavily until they leave, which does not embarrass David at ALL.

"Choose Carefully. Much Depends On Your Answer."

We have a quandary now. We can stay in Hall H and sit through the panel for The Expendables (which from having seen a preview, I know will consist of people yelling "I'm shooting you with this giant gun!" "I'm shooting you back!" "No, me!" "No, MEEEEE!") and then be in position to catch Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, but we'll miss the Showtime panel (Weeds, Dexter, Nurse Jackie and Californication) in Ballroom 20 and totally miss a window to get dinner. What to do? We decide to head to Ballroom 20. There is a really long line even though that panel is already starting, and we decide it's not going to happen. Time to revise.

"Come And Party Like The Hit Show Eureka!"

We head into the Gaslamp, looking for a quick dinner before a 6:00 panel about "all the bad science in science fiction." David says it sounds fun and won't have a big crowd (cue the drumbeats of doom here.) I am all about trying Basic Pizza or The Cowboy Star because I've read about them both and we hardly ever get to the Gaslamp, but David thinks it will take too long. We end up at the outdoor lounge at Soleil @ K, which is having a happy hour. We order some sliders (strangely overcooked) flat bread with heirloom tomatoes (those are some damn good yellow tomatoes) and a couple of cocktails because what the hell? My Cosmo is white. That is just not correct. The bar dude says it's because they use White Cranberry. Which they totally should not do. It's too sweet. The sun is out, the breeze is blowing over our little couch perch, and we have perfect sidewalk viewing of the passing freak parade. We make it back in plenty of time.

Our Quest Ends Here

Or so we thought. There's a big line in the hallway, which amazes us. It moves, gradually, but when we are within 20 people of the door, they announce that it's at capacity. What? This can't be. We wait anyway, figuring some people will leave, but it doesn't seem to happen. I am incensed on David's behalf that he can't get into a truly geeky panel with no celebrities to speak of, and determined we will storm the gates. I wrestle with myself about whether to speak to the frolicking staff who aren't regularly checking to see if people are leaving through the back door. Myself finally wins. Maddeningly, they say things like "Oh, there's only 20 minutes left." I bite my tongue to keep from saying "Yes, 20 minutes we could be IN THERE instead of STANDING HERE." It doesn't turn into a smackdown, surprisingly enough, but we still don't get in. They assure us it's standing room only. Who books these ridiculous small rooms? If only I'd drunk my Cosmo a little faster...

Who Needs Aftershocks?

Now that we're jaded, we know that we better dash to the line for the Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog Sing-a-Long (mellifluous name, that) and sure enough, it's already sing-a-LONG. We start outside on a sunset-y terrace; wish we could have stayed a while. A little boy hears me grousing about how hard it is to get into events now, and pipes up "Have you tried Wonder-Con in San Francisco? That's my home town. Lots to see, no lines." "Famous people?" I ask. "A few of them," he assures me. He seems about nine but preternaturally adult-like. I want more info but we lose him when the line starts moving. It takes a half-hour to get into the room and it's packed to the gills. The guy next to me is in Full Con Nerd Mode: Long, stringy hair, stubble, wrinkled black clothing, backpack full of first-edition comics and B-starlet signatures, complete recall of every note of Dr. Horrible's. Bad for me, since I'm practically in his lap, and again with the icky breath.

A group called the Brown Coats (David later explained to me that they started as Firefly revivers and have moved on to actual charity work) sponsors the sing a long, and distributes lovely booklets with lyrics and cues for shout-outs. David and I both find the shout-outs a bit cringe-worthy. Joss, they're not. But it's fun to watch the blog with a thousand people all shouting at the screen; I'd forgotten how hilarious it is. I'm eagerly awaiting a raft of special guests (in a day that's been light on them) but alas, there are none. We marvel that the entire room shakes quite dramatically when everyone drums their feet in time with the "Bad Horse" interludes. When it's over, it's time for us to turn back into pumpkins.

Total Recall

David has a theory that they need to initiate something akin to what Disneyland does with their Fast-Pass. Meaning, you can decide at the beginning of the day (or even before--on-line) the three things you absolutely don't want to miss, and get little admission tickets printed out in advance. When events reach capacity through this system, then they do, but no one has to wait in line regardless. "Grass roots change," I murmur in assent. I think he's on to something. Comic-Con people? Are you listening?


Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

Imagine Sundance in the early days. Or Ed Hardy clothes. Remember when Ed Hardy was hard to find and therefore cool? Well, I thought it was. ;-)

Great piece, Sam, as always.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the texts from the Joss meeting in Hall H. I can hardly believe that the Con is more crowded than when I was there, but that was all the way back in 2003!!

I'm still gonna try to talk my girl into coming to a Con sometime. I don't think she can reasonably argue anymore that it's "too geeky."


Sam said...

No, T, I think if it's good enough for Angelina Jolie, it's good enough for G. :)

And was it that long ago? Wow!