The biggest pop culture gathering in North America kicks off Wednesday night. How has Comic-Con responded to last year's problems, and what are the most interesting events taking place at this year's show?
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.