SDCC 14: Batman’s 75th, My 20th, and a Lot of First Experiences

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By David Nieves

We’re all still recovering from copious amounts of walking around taking pictures with people and wishing the people in front of us taking pictures would just move. Yes another San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone. By now all the news is out and we’re still reeling from the Batman V Superman and Avengers: Age of Ultron footage. Every Comic-Con comes with two things, a ridiculous hotel bill and for a lot of us the empty promise of this being my final one. For me the one take away from this show is that, now more than ever, Comic-Con has the power to be a boom for every industry if affects but it doesn’t always accolade with the full potential of its crown.

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I’ve been going to SDCC since 1994, back then I was a snot nosed adolescent who knew nothing about panels or even that comic books had writers. In those days all I would do is walk laps around the exhibit hall. There were no Petco Park events, or Indigo Ballrooms. Hall H was a gleam in the eye of some up and coming PR person. You might not believe it but I managed to have fun simply by trying to get as many of those door sized Knightfall Batman posters from the DC booth that year as my grubby pin seeking hands could carry.

Fueled by studio funds and rabid fandom, SDCC has turned into a monster. A hydra mated with Cousin It, if you get that reference then you’re old enough to appreciate what SDCC once was. Now Comic-Con is the cradle of fandom, and it’s divided everyone. There those who feel that the show is no longer something they want to be a part of, and there are also lots who live for the spectacle it currently encapsulates. Understand that fandom is never a bad thing; it fuels economies and brings people together who would otherwise never leave the comforts of their basement. You might as well get use to it because the extravaganza isn’t going away.

(It isn’t all bad sometimes you can catch up with old elfish classmates)

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This year was no exception. From the moment I arrived in the Whale’s Vagina on Wednesday; my senses were overloaded with promotions for Guardians of The Galaxy, Blacklist, Gotham plastered everywhere from busses, trains, to hotel elevator doors. Pedicabs were already huffing people over to different parts of the Gaslamp for meager tips. Comic-Con had already been in full “on” mode days before I even arrived.

Preview night was just as bad in overcrowding as any regular day of SDCC. Five years ago it was still hard to get that exclusive collectible you wanted but still within the realm of possibility. Five seconds into the exhibit hall opening this year and almost every line from Peanuts, Tokidoki, to Hasbro was either capped or full beyond reasonable time to wait for a tote bag. After, I walked to the Gaslamp to try and meet some friends for late dinner, to no one’s surprise there were already convention goers with bags and bags full of T-shirts, toys, and I can only assume remnants of the first borns they sacrificed to get their loot. I even witnessed an elderly woman who was barely 5’0 tall hoist two Comic-Con souvenir bags filled with –who knows what– above her shoulders like they were bags of dog kibble.

My preview night finished with old “good one big G” when I got back to my hotel room to upload photos; this wallet draining douche status symbol macbook of mine decides it’s time to die. Forcing me at 2am to smoke signal Heidi and figure out just how I’m going to handle the next four days of news and rabid fandom. Like any good sibling would my sister back home came through with a old tablet that was the size of a Speak and Spell. Which in retrospect would have been better to type on than this HP monstrosity. The next three days would be characterized by a lack of italicization, which kids never let anyone tell you isn’t important.

To open the first hour of the con, I foolishly tried to procure my wish list. Anyone who attends Comic-Con knows that list mostly comes from those people who tell you “hey can you pick me up a..” At least we can say SDCC disappoints people around the world even if they don’t attend. It creates lots of those disappointments that turn youngsters towards a life of stripping. After the first hour I’d given up that hope and simply abandoned my home address and phone in a feeble attempt to hide from crushed loved ones, but carried on to the convention floor where I had my first interview of the show. This was also by far my most nerve racking interview.

I got to speak with none other than the amazing Becky Cloonan, who I’m not afraid to say I totally swoon over. Yes, I’m one of those stereotypical comic book readers who’s confused and terrified by women. In fact there’s one doing that to me as I write this. But let’s talk about Becky. Though I was more nervous than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs; she was nothing short of a delight who has so much insight on how to live life to the fullest. You can listen to that entire thing here. Feel free to throw your grade school taunts at me you smug socially well adept bastards. Sorry, Comic-Con will do that to people. We cool? Yeah. Okay.

(Becky Cloonan is amazing at being amazing)

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My first panel of the show was the DC Collectibles panel. Originally I had a spotlight and a Batman panel scheduled but with my productivity situation in question, I wanted a panel that I could easily go back to and dig up info on later. After that panel it was time to see if my laptop workaround was going to prove fruitful. Nope. Can’t bold type, can’t upload images, looks like this is all going to be eyewitness accounting and Lochness monster reports.

(Bombshell girls invade the DC Collectibles Panel)

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Thursday closed out with another interview I’ve been looking forward to for weeks. Ever since I saw Karloff’s Frankenstein and read the IDW published 30 Days of Night, I’ve always wanted to talk about monsters with Steve Niles. I can proudly attest, we did that sh**! Not only did I find Steve to be every bit the punk rock scholar I imagined him to be, but he also made me feel like I belonged in my comics fandom. Just as anyone in life does, you gravitate towards like minded people (Booze/Drug Free hell yeah!). When you feel like you’ve been accepted because of who you are or what you love there’s no feeling like it. Thanks to Pam for letting me conduct this interview in her place.

(Steve Niles is the legend that lives up to the legend)

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Naturally the kickoff of Comic-Con sees tons of parties and people in the streets that look like a World War Z scene come to life. Some of you who are reading this can vouch for the pain in the a** that train –which just stopped in front of the convention center for what felt like hours– was. It got so out of hand at one point that the hundreds of people waiting to cross the street into Gaslamp would brave oncoming traffic and hop the guard fence over the train tracks. Stay classy San Diego.

Thursday night I was invited by my main man Gaz from Rocksteady (developers of the Arkham game franchise) to the Batman: Cape Cowl Create exhibit party at the Hard Rock across the street from the convention center.

 

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Since I showed up at about 11:30pm most of the party had moved on and there was nothing left but a few odd dancers and the remanence of a once open bar. Curious because I’d never stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel, I wandered into the elevator and hit the button for the secured 4th floor pool area. Miraculously the box moved and when the doors opened I found myself in the midst of the IGN/Sin City party. Yep I crashed a party. Even got to run into IGN’s Greg Miller who was kind enough not to have me tossed out for crashing.

(Gameovergreggy oreo dude extraordinaire)

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Celebrities, a seemingly drunk Joe Quesada, everything any SDCC party could want. It was a fun time mingling with those I had no business talking to. A pro tip, if you ever find yourself at an industry party you weren’t invited to: act like you belong. You’d be surprised how people will welcome you by just peacocking a bit.  I had a few cokes, told Amanda Conner where she and Jimmy should go eat after the party and then I called it a night.

(Somewhere in that blurry mess is Amanda Conner and friends)

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The next few days are a bit of a blur between overpriced pretzels, someone yelling out the Hall H news, talking to people on the floor and mistaking Geoff Johns for my long lost cousin at the DC booth. Friday was the convention grind in full force. Like I do at just about every show I’ve ever covered, I attended the Aspen Comics panel. If you’ve never checked out their books, I highly recommend that you do. They’re comic books made by people who care about comic books. Last year my 10th anniversary submission was picked for the souvenir book and I’d met editor Vince Hernandez. This year we talked again before the panel and during their presentation he acknowledged my contribution to their celebration in 2013. It was one of those surreal con moments you hear about. The house that Michael Turner built will always hold a special place for me.

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Later in the day, I was involved in a BKV moment. First of all, if you ever see Brian K Vaughan’s name for anything immediately go to it. You’re guaranteed a memorable encounter. You can read all about his self hosted spotlight panel here. During the panel I thought to myself “I need a picture with this guy,” with SDCC eliminating all common sense I thought to myself what better time than in the middle of his panel. Voilâ.

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One of the things that should stand out about BKV’s words is his passion for the comic book industry. This is a guy who has written and spearheaded successful television. If he really wanted to he could have left comics behind, but he came back. Not only did Vaughan come back, but still continues to champion the industry. He’s a comic book guy’s comic book guy.

My Friday would end with an eye opening interview with Naughty Dog’s Creative Director, Neil Druckmann. He’s the American success story come to life. A kid from Israel, who came to America at a young age and found comics. A medium which would inspire him to tell the incredible stories he does today. Listen to our full interview and hear how Sin City actually inspires part of The Last of Us.

Saturday had memories of its own, but what I can really recall is going over to an Age of Ultron preview showing and putting the whole shindig into perspective while talking with my friend and frequent collaborator Kevin Johnson. Fandom is never a bad thing, but SDCC has so many things working against it that the fact they are able to pull of this logistical nightmare every year is a little bit of a miracle. Bravo to Comic-Con International for it all.

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First let’s get an observation out of the way. Most of you probably already see this but it dawned on me this year. Comic-Con has the same problem that social security does in the United States. Just like we don’t always retire at 65 and live longer than in previous years, so does this problem affect SDCC. I’m not saying the reason people can’t go to Comic-Con is because no one’s dying, it’s because we don’t outgrow this in our fandom anymore. Not only do we turn 30 and still go to SDCC, we make little versions of ourselves to add to our counts as another group of kids becomes of age to attend the coolest show on earth. This year I saw fewer solo attendees than ever before. It’s a very encouraging sign on a social level, especially when we live in the age of not talking to each other (right Robin!).

Where I take issue with San Diego Comic-Con isn’t with the overcrowding, the glitz and glamour, or masses of people who prevented me from picking up my Jim Lee T-Shirt. No I fault the people who should be influencing convention goers to try comics every chance they get. The Zack Snyders’, the Evans’, even the Samuel L Jacksons’. There’s so many celebrities, directors, and multi-media personalities that go to SDCC and say they love the medium but have never once said in their Hall H spectacles, “I’m here cause I love comics and everyone should be reading them!” So many publishers like Marvel say the books are what drive everything but Hall H has nothing to do with comics. I want to hear Sam Jackson talk about the first time he read Nick Fury for research or have Andrew Garfield tell me what issues of Spider-Man I should pick up. The passioned speeches and the gimmicks are fun to see but I can hear about their lives and movies on the news or TMZ. Talk to me about comics.

Obviously the Entertainment Weekly shoot and whatever story comes out of it is a step in the right direction. It definitely signals the beginning of comics getting their time in the limelight. There are tons of great creators and characters out there who should be talked about everywhere. We shouldn’t have to wait for a 75th anniversary or a movie announcement for them to make Hall H size news during the biggest comic book convention in the world. Comics need to survive and Comic-Con has the potential now more than ever to be the biggest part of that.

(Random Dan Slott picture I don’t remember taking)

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Like most people who’ve been doing the con since before 2000, I’ve come to peace with the big show, but I just wish Comic-Con did everything it could to get people talking about comic books. But we don’t have to wait for SDCC to push the industry. Comics are for everybody, we can talk about them anywhere/ anytime; on the internet, at Portillo’s Hot Dogs, while we’re on dates, waiting in line to see Guardians of The Galaxy for the seventh time. Comics aren’t just for everybody, they’re for everywhere. No other medium can spawn such new and innovative ideas. It’s my big take away from the show, realizing how much I missed writing and talking about comics.

(Obligatory Rocket Pic)

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Will I ever attend another SDCC? Who knows, my body recovers slower at my age; but I was an LA Kings fan long before 2012 and a Dodgers fan through the 80’s till now. I’m a glutton for punishment so you just might see me there, after all Becky Cloonan promised to take another picture with me.

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Comments

  1. Great piece , David. I sympathize with your computer crash woes, but yuo seem to have had a great time despite it! See you next year…?

  2. Denna says:

    This piece was a great idea. Hope you had as much fun writing it as I had reading it. Nice to know that comic book writers/artist are so cool with there fans.

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