[10 July 2012]
Hollywood invaded Comic-Con International (the official name of the San Diego Comic-Con) back around the turn of the 21st century, bringing in movie stars to promote upcoming genre films. But it wasn’t until the opening of the 6,500-seat Hall H in 2004 that the show truly arrived as the center of the pop culture universe. The convention was already in the middle of an attendance explosion, but Hall H and the major movie studios helped drive it to its current overstuffed situation, where 130,000-plus squeeze into the San Diego Convention Center every July.
Comic-Con’s status as the biggest pop culture gathering in North America brought with it a host of problems that it didn’t face when it was merely the biggest comic book show in North America. They’ve had to address things like how to deal with thousands of people trying to get hotel rooms at the same time, how to move tens of thousands of people through the registration process quickly, and where to situate the lines for the various panel rooms without blocking hallways or running into other lines. To the convention’s credit, they’ve worked hard to deal with these issues as they’ve arisen. Usually, they aren’t the sort of things that can be fixed on the fly, so longtime attendees eagerly look forward to the release of the Comic-Con schedule (around two weeks before the show) to see what’s changed for the upcoming convention. And yes, also to plan what awesome stuff we’re going to see at the show.
Last year’s big issue was the attendance disparity between movie and television panels. 2011 was a particularly down year for film content, as Disney, traditionally a large presence at the show, stayed home and kept its newly-acquired Marvel Studios and The Avengers away as well. Add that to Hollywood’s perceived disappointment about the 2010 show’s rapturous reception for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World compared with the movie’s dismal performance at the box office, and there wasn’t much going on on the movie front. The movie studios had finally realized that Comic-Con is great for internet buzz, but it doesn’t translate into box office success. Heck, Lionsgate had a terrific opportunity to present a first look at The Hunger Games to an audience primed for it, and they decided not to bother.
The result was that aside from a handful of heavy hitters like The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, The Amazing Spider-Man, and the Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson-attended presentation for The Adventures of Tin Tin, the movie panels (filled with second-tier genre fare like The Raven, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and Snow White and the Huntsman) in Hall H played to a half-empty room for much of the weekend. Meanwhile, the line for the television panels in the 4,000-seat Ballroom 20 wrapped around much of the building every day, and if you weren’t in that line early and prepared to spend all day sitting and waiting for your favorite tv show panel, you weren’t going to get in the room.
If your business is making the fans happy at your convention, that’s a terrible way to do business. Things started to change on the final day of the 2011 show, when television was allowed to take over Hall H once the movie studios left town on Saturday night. But even that was fraught with problems, as skittish organizers, worried that Glee, Supernatural, and Doctor Who wouldn’t be able to fill the room, removed about 1,000 seats overnight. Predictably, this left hundreds of TV fans stuck in line outside who otherwise would’ve been in the hall.
The idea that Hall H is strictly for movies has been challenged for years by frustrated attendees, who point out that millions of people tune in weekly to their favorite tv shows, and often have a stronger investment in those properties than new films that need to be introduced to the fans. For 2012, Comic-Con and the studios seem to have finally gotten the message. While Ballroom 20 will continue to be the home for much of the convention’s TV content, Hall H will host a trio of the biggest genre shows on Friday afternoon: The Big Bang Theory, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones. In addition, Sunday will again be an all-TV day in Hall H, presumably with all of the seats left in the room this year. This doesn’t mean that everybody who wants to see these panels will get in—if you want to see the stars of Game of Thrones at 2:45pm, you better be in line before 9:00am. But at least it provides the chance for a whopping 2,500 more attendees to see the panel this year, and that’s good for everybody.
Here’s an incomplete rundown of interesting events at the show that both attendees and those at home watching on the internet can look forward to when the show gets started on Wednesday night, July 11. The full programming schedule can be found at www.comic-con.org.
TV Pilots: If you can resist the allure of checking out the main floor and buying a bunch of stuff during Preview Night (I can’t), you can get an early peek at many of the new TV shows that will get their own screenings and panels throughout the weekend. On the list this year: ABC’s supernatural prime-time soap 666 Park Avenue, Arrow, The CW’s take on DC’s Green Arrow, Fox’s The Following, in which FBI Agent Kevin Bacon tries to track down serial killer James Purefory, Revolution, from J.J. Abrams and Supernatural creator Eric Kripke, where an event knocks out power and electrical systems worldwide, forever!, and Cult from Farscape creator Rockne S. O’Bannon, about a new tv show that seems tied to a series of disappearances.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2: Give the Comic-Con organizers credit for figuring this out. After thousands of James Cameron fans had to suffer through the Twilight: New Moon panel in 2009 in order to see 20 minutes of Avatar footage, Twilight panels now kick off Hall H’s programming. The Twilight fangirls will get to camp out in line one final time beginning on Tuesday night, and get to hang out until 12:45pm on Thursday, when the panel finally gets started.
Walt Disney Studios: Frankenweenie, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Wreck-It Ralph: In which Tim Burton will attempt to explain why going back and remaking a short film he did 30 years ago is completely different from all the other remakes and reboots his career has been comprised of over the last decade, Sam Raimi justifies why making a movie set in Oz isn’t a recipe for disaster, and the folks behind Wreck-It Ralph talk about how they made a movie aimed straight at my childhood growing up with video games in the ‘80s.
Power Rangers: 20 Years and Beyond: Seriously, the Power Rangers have been on North American televisions for 20 years. Good lord.
Hotel Transylvania: Genndy Tartakovsky, the animation genius behind Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack, has a full-length feature film coming out. That’s gotta be worth a look.
The Walking Dead (comic book): The 100th issue of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s comic book series hits stands on Wednesday, July 11, with huge things in store for the characters, we presume. Sadly, since that day is also the start of Comic-Con, everyone in attendance (who doesn’t use the Comixology App on their iPad) will be away from their local comic shops, and will either have to buy a copy of the issue on the convention floor or go into the panel ready to be completely spoiled.
The Expendables 2: Of major interest only because Sylvester Stallone is bringing Arnold Schwarzenegger along with him to appear on the panel this time around. That’s a big deal to a certain demographic (mostly men over 30 years old).
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope: Since Morgan Spurlock’s documentary about Comic-Con was released in only six theaters in North America, and most fans probably didn’t even realize it was available On Demand, what better place to see the film about Comic-Con 2010 than at Comic-Con 2012, with Spurlock and “special guests” in attendance? Note: special guests may include Kevin Smith, Joss Whedon, and other industry luminaries who have prominent talking head segments in the movie.
Community: Ballroom 20’s Friday kicks off with what could be one of the convention’s most fascinating panels. The cast of Community (minus the disgruntled but returning Chevy Chase and the on-tour-as-Childish-Gambino Donald Glover) assembles with the unenviable task of explaining how the show will go on after its creator, Dan Harmon, was fired. Expect to hear lots of platitudes about how the actors all loved Dan, and forced smiles when talking about how great the understandably absent new showrunners David Guarascio and Moses Port are going to be. Less predictable will be the fans’ reaction to the show returning, presumably as a shell of its former self.
Lynn Johnston: For Better or For Worse: Yes, Comic-Con does comic strips, too. Curious attendees who still read the newspaper can attend this panel and discover what Lynn Johnston has been doing with her life since she ended the strip’s 30-year run in 2010 by having the entire Patterson family die in a plane crash. (Note: the strip may not have actually ended that way—I stopped reading For Better or For Worse sometime in the mid-‘90s)
Firefly 10th Anniversary Reunion: Firefly packed Ballroom 20 in 2004 when it was merely a cancelled tv show with an obscure movie in the works, and then filled Hall H in 2005 as a Serenity panel. The show’s cult audience has only grown since then. With the popular Nickelodeon show The Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra sandwiched in between this and Community, the Ballroom 20 line is going to be very long very early on Friday morning.
Mylo Xyloto: Apparently Coldplay’s 2011 album was a concept album, and is now getting a comic book adaptation spearheaded by frontman Chris Martin. Martin, unfortunately, is not slated to appear on this panel, but this could still be an oddball treat for people who were really into the story behind Mylo Xyloto. The caveat: I’m not sure such people are out there, and if they are, if they’re even attending Comic-Con.
Star Wars Origami: This is a real panel. They have everything at Comic-Con.
Marvel: Cup O’ Joe: All the honchos of Marvel Comics gathered in one room, prepared to answer the fans’ questions and explain exactly how the upcoming Marvel Now! relaunch initiative isn’t a shameless and cynical response to DC’s company-wide reboot The New 52 from a year ago.
Joss Whedon: Has the success of The Avengers changed Joss Whedon from a self-deprecating, personable guy into a big-time Hollywood jerk? Signs point to “no”, but if you’re willing to kill five hours sitting in Ballroom 20 after the Firefly panel ends, you can find out for yourself.
The Resident Evil gauntlet: Not an official thing, but theoretically possible. You could start in Hall H at 4:05 for the presentation about the upcoming fifth live action Resident Evil film, Retribution, then slide over to room 25ABC at 6:00 for the Resident Evil 6 video game panel, and top it off at 7:30 in Room 5AB with the Resident Evil: Damnation worldwide trailer premiere and seven-minute sneak peek at the sequel to Resident Evil: Degeneration, the roundly disparaged CG animated movie from a few years back.
Look, there’s a hell of a lot going on on Saturday, but really, it’s gonna be hard for most of us to ignore Hall H. This is when the big room proves that movies really can bring out the crowds, and it’s another day where if you don’t show up early, you will definitely miss out on some major stuff.
Quentin Tarantino starts things off first with Django Unchained, and probably a lot of big stars including Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio. The programming guide doesn’t promise anything, though, probably a wise move after 2003’s Kill Bill debacle, in which Michael Madsen spent an hour answering questions alone while Tarantino and the rest of the cast got stuck in traffic coming down from Los Angeles. Then we’ll have to sit through a panel about a second Silent Hill movie that nobody really asked for and the not-at-all-appropriate-for-Comic-Con cop drama End of Watch before finally getting to the main event. The Warner Brothers panel is going all-out, starting with Guillermo del Toro’s mecha vs. monsters event movie Pacific Rim, continuing with Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot The Man of Steel, and concluding with The Hobbit, Peter Jackson’s take on the Tolkien tale the preceded Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is really the centerpiece of the day, as attendees will be eagerly awaiting their chance to see 3D footage at the vaunted 48 frames per second, a technical choice that widely divided theater owners at their own convention a few months back. After Warner Bros. finishes up, Marvel closes out the day’s big events with their Iron Man 3 panel, where they’ll officially announce the impending release of the cosmic-themed Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014, by far the biggest risk the studio has taken so far.
But if none of the big event movies interest you, there are plenty of other options available on Saturday.
After Earth: At 10:00am in one of the convention center’s mid-sized rooms, attendees can watch everyone involved in After Earth who isn’t Will Smith, Jaden Smith, and M. Night Shyamalan try to convince them that this will be the first M. Night Shyamalan movie since Signs to not completely suck.
Quick Draw: A Comic-Con staple for years, Quick Draw is an improv competition for artists, who race to make amusing sketches based on ideas suggested by the moderator and the audience. With ace artists Sergio Aragones and Scott Shaw involved, everyone is guaranteed to have a good time.
Twilight Fan Fiction Group: Authors who are famous only in a very specific circle of fandom will convene to discuss why they have written erotic stories based on such awful source material. Why is this worth mentioning? Because E.L. James, writer of the enormously popular Fifty Shades of Grey will be at Comic-Con signing autographs, and the possibility exists that she will drop in on this panel since her books started life as a Twilight fanfic.
A Conversation With Bryan Fuller: Fuller, creator of the singularly unique television shows Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, will be on hand to explain to his hardcore fans why his two new shows, one following the early days of Hannibal Lecter and the other rebooting The Munsters, will be worthy follow-ups to his other shows despite their derivative premises.
Epix Originals: William Shatner and Roger Corman: Shatner has a documentary coming about the stage show he toured with this year, and Corman is still making cheapie B-movies after 50-plus years. It’s an oddball pairing made even stranger by the presence of Kevin Smith as the panel’s moderator. Hopefully he’ll let the two legends get a word in edgewise.
Are You a Geek Girl Trendsetter? Show Off Your Style to the Fashion Experts and WIn Prizes!: There is a segment of the Comic-Con crowd who would tell you that this panel is most of what is wrong with Comic-Con these days. The undercurrent of misogyny in the attitude of these old-guard attendees is uncomfortable, especially when they rail on and on about how Twilight fans don’t belong at the convention. However, it’s hard not to be cynical about this particular panel when the description includes these two sentences revealing how disingenuous this event really is: “Inspired by the NBC television show Fashion Star” and “MTV Geek will be filming this panel for their Comic-Con coverage.”
A Tribute to the Legendary Ray Bradbury: When he was alive, Ray Bradbury attended Comic-Con almost every single year. I’m very glad to have taken the opportunity to see him speak and answer questions on multiple occasions. Now that he’s passed, an all-star panel of authors and friends will fondly remember this legendary author.
The Comic-Con Masquerade: The Masquerade is a remnant from before Comic-Con became as huge as it is, and it’s wonderful that the convention hasn’t shoved the event off to the side over the past decade. Come and watch people’s amazing pop culture related costumes and maybe snicker at the lack of preparation many of them put into their skits and stage presentations.
Fringe: For its final year, Fringe moves into Hall H. The cast and producers of the show have perfected the art of not revealing anything over the years, but hey, it’s the last time Fringe will have a panel at Comic-Con, so maybe they’ll open up a bit.
The Secret Origin of Good Readers: Every year librarians and educators get together on Sunday and discuss how and which comics can be used effectively in the classroom and to get kids interested in reading. Constructive, positive things take place at Comic-Con, too!
Cartoon Voices II: If you’ve never been to Comic-Con, you should really check out the Cartoon Voices panel. There’s nothing quite like the comedy ensues when a bunch of cartoon voice actors get together and just riff for an hour.
Spotlight on Alison Bechdel: Look, the woman has a test named after her, and is a critically-acclaimed autobiographical graphic novelist. Take a chance and delve into the world of indie comics.
Max Brooks: Zombie Survival 101: Brooks has been doing this thing for years, and it’s always entertaining. Maybe this year he’ll explain why it’s taking so darn long for his next book to come out (six years and counting since World War Z), and possibly give the inside scoop on the massive reshoots and rumors of serious problems on the World War Z movie set.
Buffy Turns 20: “But Buffy the Vampire Slayer started in 1997,” you say. Ah, but this panel is going the extra mile and bringing in original Buffy Kristy Swanson to talk about the middling 1992 movie in addition to the spectacular tv show and the pretty good comic books.
Comic-Con Talkback: Every convention has a Talkback segment, but Comic-Con’s is more interesting than most. It never draws a big crowd, but this gripe session often offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to put on a show this massive.