Sunday, July 23, 2006

ComiCon 2006

My best friend Karen and I started going to science fiction conventions in the mid-1970s when we were in college and "Star Trek" fans were madly lobbying for the return of their favorite show. I moved on to ComiCon in the '80s, when Tim and I lived in San Diego. The primary focus back then was on comic books and genre paperback fiction. Dealers sold their wares in a small showroom, while expert panels and fans debated the merits of science fiction and fantasy in even smaller meeting rooms. Boring! So I stopped going.

Today, of course, ComiCon has become an enormous media event where the studios and TV networks love to preview new movies and other products to a captive audience of fans. Last year, we spent the weekend sneak-previewing four new science fiction TV shows (all of which have since been canceled!) and several movies. I knew I was in my element when attendees at one event were admonished to turn off their pagers, phones *and* light-sabers!

Tim had to work this weekend, so it was just Karen and me, on our own again some thirty years after our very first “con.” We decided to take the 7:20AM train out of downtown L.A. in hopes of getting into the con by 11AM. The train was filled with fellow fan-boys and girls making their annual pilgrimage to comic book heaven. Getting off in San Diego, we hooked up with a former student, Mike, and his new friend Pedro, a journalist from Brazil who was taking a day off from covering the Miss Universe pageant in L.A. You never know who you’re going to meet on the train!

Together the four of us walked to the convention center, about five blocks from the train station. The weather was oppressively hot—sunny, humid and very little breeze, even though we were only half-a-block from the water.

I knew there would be an impossibly long line to purchase tickets on site, so we pre-registered on the Internet, thinking we’d be able to waltz right in like we did last year. No such luck! Non-ticket-holders were directed to gate A while we were pointed toward gate C, where we were greeted by a line that stretched well past the length of the convention center. I almost passed out a couple of times from heat exhaustion as we stood there roasting in the sun. Karen and I took turns going into the air-conditioned building while the guys saved our place. In my ten years living in San Diego, I never knew it to be this hot. More evidence that global warming has arrived. Finally, after more than an hour, we were shepherded inside the building, up the escalator, and into an inside hallway, before being directed to a battery of volunteers who printed up our name badges. We were then set loose to enjoy the convention.

There are several parts to ComiCon: numerous programs held concurrently in meeting rooms, large and small, on the second floor of the building; author and celebrity signings, each with its own table and queuing area; an art show, where nascent artists and comic book authors can display their work; and the enormous exhibit hall, where dealers display and sell products over the entire first floor of the convention center. Although Karen and I had carefully gone through the program, selecting panels we wanted to attend, all that planning went out the window when I actually got into the con and was immediately, as if in a trance, drawn to the exhibits. We left Mike and Pedro to fend for themselves as we dove headfirst into the great hall.

Nothing can really prepare you for the sensory overload of the exhibits. Everything is loud, flashy and crowded, as each vendor tries to fight for your attention. There are rows and rows and rows of comic books, action figures, posters, movie memorabilia, photographs, artwork, sculptures, video and computer games, etc., all screaming for your approval and, of course, your pocketbook. I always start at one end of the hall and slowly walk up and down each aisle, waiting for something to catch my eye.

Turning onto the third aisle, Karen and I both spotted a comic book, “Gangs of Camelot,” and stopped in our tracks. “Oh my gosh!” I yelled, as the four young men behind the table snapped to attention. The comic book featured Chicago gangsters being transported back in time to help King Arthur defeat his lifelong nemesis Morgan le Fey. “What fun!” I blurted out, having never seen anything like this in all my thirty years collecting Arthuriana. “Would you like the artist to autograph a copy for you?” one of the young men asked. “Of course,” I said and soon had a signed copy in my hand. Looking most grateful, the artist encouraged me to email him my feedback. And you know what? I just may.

Completely revitalized, I was now ready to conquer the rest of the exhibits. While Karen attended a program, I made my way through the crowds in a daze, looking for more interesting items. It was wonderful being in the company of so many fellow fans letting their geek flags fly. At one point, I overheard someone say, “Look, there’s Johnny Depp!” and quickly turned my head, even though I knew there was no way in hell he’d ever attend ComiCon. I did see a couple of celebrities, though: Jorge Garcia (Hurley from "Lost") drew a big crowd of paparazzi in one of the booths, and Nichelle Nichols (Uhuru from "Star Trek") was signing in another. Then, as I was making my way through an especially thick crowd, I heard a man yell, “STAND BACK! STAND BACK!,” and there was Stan Lee (a deity among comic book authors), walking through the hall surrounded by bodyguards. We all moved and then burst into spontaneous applause.

The best part for me, always, is seeing people dressed in costume. At Star Trek conventions, just about everyone is dressed as a character from the show. But at ComiCon, your only limit is your imagination. This year, there were lots of pirates and wenches, looking like they had just stepped off the set of "Pirates of the Caribbean." I saw several Captain Jack Sparrows, but the best was this amazing lookalike, who captured Johnny Depp’s effete mannerisms perfectly and even had gold-capped teeth. I also saw lots of Star Wars characters and, of course, Klingons, who tended to congregate at the snack bars, intimidating younger conventioneers. There were also lots of superheroes, who I’m not familiar enough with to name, and an abundance of fairies and elves. Everywhere I looked, people were taking pictures of their favorite comic book, TV or movie characters. I was sorry that we weren’t staying for that night’s masquerade party.

At 3PM, I took a break and joined Karen for a panel on the future of science fiction on TV (does not look hopeful, although the Sci Fi channel continues to introduce new innovations). I then returned one last time to the exhibits while Karen enjoyed a panel on one of her favorite shows, "Veronica Mars." We ventured back out into the heat at 5:30, hoping to catch the 6:20PM train. But the train was late. After waiting in a hot line for another hour, we finally boarded and left San Diego at 7:30PM. We got back to Culver City by 11PM. I immediately took a shower and gratefully climbed into bed, where I dreamed about Jack Sparrow and the other wonderful characters I had seen. Although it was hot and exhausting, I promise to return again next year; but this time I’ll go on Friday when the crowds are not so plenty.


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