Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Inner Child's Outer Limits -- Another Comic Con Retrospective, part 1

"I'm getting too old for this $#!+." -- Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon

The irony that this year's San Diego Comic Con Preview Night was on Danny Glover's birthday isn't lost on me, as my first impression of "nerd prom" reflected his famous lament from Lethal Weapon. I've attended Comic Con for ten years now, a solid fourth of its celebratory 40 years, and my experiences as both an exhibitor and an attendee have varied as much as the event's now infamously costumed crowd. In the past decade, I've felt a virtual euphoria at the chance to contribute to the industry via my own self-published comics, and I've been honored to meet or behold some my favorite talents in comics. At the same time, I've felt overwhelmed by the crowds and financial drain of it all, and I've especially been burned by an exclusive product's limited availability. My overall perspective isn't either optimistic or pessimistic but simply realistic in the face of diverse experiences.

This year, I was excited to once again attend Comic Con with my old friend Booth (and, no, I am not his "Bones"), who is equally enthusiastic for pop culture and flexible to this event's hustle and bustle, so managing transportation and the crowd in general was amiable enough. My objectives were twofold: (1.) As a fan, I hoped to fill in some gaps in my collection, since I just recently archived my comics into a simple text format readable in my easily portable mp3 player. Further, as a lifelong He-Man fan, I really wanted Mattel's Masters of the Universe art book, limited to 1000 units. (2.) As a hopeful professional, I sought to promote KaraokeFanboy Press via a Karaoke Comics sampler and further observe other small press and secondary publishers in action as I gear up for October's Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco. With Booth's cooperation, I thought these goals easy to meet -- but as any Con attendee that has accidentally bumped into a Klingon in the men's room knows, Comic Con is full of surprises!

Twilight of the Fangirls

I purchased my four day pass mere hours before Comic Con sold out on-line, but since Booth wasn't fast enough and had to purchase each day individually, he was denied the "privilege" of Preview Night. As we approached the convention center for the first time to determine how to pick up our badges, we were shocked by a long line of tents already formed outside, and I feared this was the registration line we sought. When we noticed all of the campers were girls, I predicted what they were actually waiting for and found myself correct when I asked.

"Twilight!" a fangirl tirelessly replied.

Indeed, the legendary Hall H, now reserved for previews and premieres from movie production companies like Warner Brothers and Paramount Pictures, was the victim of 'tweens longing for vampire love, and correspondingly I feared this trend would suck the life from the Con itself. I wonder, since passes were sold out months for months, yet the program was only posted a few weeks ago, how did these teenyboppers know to lay in wait for Twilight? Was it simply assumed that such a mainstream supernatural property would be a part of Comic Con? It isn't a comics-based property . . . So while the Twilight panel's high appeal actually eased congestion in the exhibit hall for browsing fanboys like me, what it represents surely reflects the long-standing debate about Comic Con's identity -- namely, that it isn't so much a comic convention anymore, but a pop culture con. The comics industry may be the life's blood that birthed it, but movies, television, and video games have become the muscles that make it move. How long can such an entity exist before it becomes too gluttonous, bloated, and eventually too congested to have a heart?

Matty 20:16

Okay, I really wanted the Masters of the Universe art book. I've been a He-Man since early childhood, and as recently as last year's Comic Con I wondered what had become of the original paintings produced to adorn those memorable toys' packaging, so this compilation of character designs and production art was a dream come true. Fifty bucks? Only one thousand units available? I usually don't indulge in these extravagantly priced exclusives, but this is He-Man -- obviously the most powerful man in Mattel's marketable universe. My K.O. Comix partner in crime Brent and I found our way into the rear entrance of the exhibit hall as soon as the doors were opened for Preview Night, and anticipating the crowd I rushed to Mattel's new retail-only booth -- only to find the line cut off a mere eight minutes into the evening. Daunted, I knew they had divided the inventory 50/50 between Preview Night and Thursday, so I vowed to be ahead of the crowd the next morning.

By ahead of the crowd, I mean Booth and I arrived at the convention center at 5:30 a.m. He waited in the registration line to pick up his daily badge, and I waited in the pass holders' line, which by 7:30 a.m. was gradually herded inside and divided into smaller groups. I found myself upstairs near the registration and freebie tables -- where, around 8:45 a.m., Booth was stationed just a few rows behind me. Somehow, despite my presumed prevalence and undeniable patience as a four-day pass holder, my line had merged with the folks just fluidly arriving, and I assume a similar phenomenon was happening all over the Con. When the doors opened, I knew where to go . . . but again, less than eight minutes after my feet touched the exhibit hall floor, I was too late. The line was cut off, and I already saw folks dragging totes full of product, in some cases the maximum they could purchase of each item, to their cars and inevitably to their eBay stores.

Frustrated, I resorted to drastic action and befriended a young couple in line to buy the book for me. I feared judgment, that I'd be perceived like one of those products pirates that I hate, but when they determined that I was a true He-Man fan, they readily agreed. Thankfully, they were quite pleasant people with similar interests in comics and toys, so I was pleased to find some men- and women-in-arms against the race against monopolizing merchants. I don't know about the mythology on He-Man's planet Eternia, but on Earth the Bible claims, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last" (Matthew 20:16, New International Version). In this case, I didn't have the power and had to put it in others' hands -- but the quest proved to be a good journey in the end.

Cover Me, He-Man

As I previously posted, I was delighted to see the back of my head immortalized on one of my favorite websites, Action Figure Insider, because I sat in front of "Unemployed Skeletor" (pictured above by Booth in his full glory, or lack thereof) at a Mattel panel. Further, the Masters of the Universe secured another oddly personal (or personally odd?) Con moment, when I found an original, mint-in-package He-Man tablecloth -- the same from a beloved picture of my fifth birthday! I purchased the memorabilia for a mere dollar, yet it contributes to a priceless memory, so how could I possibly pass it up?

Thankfully, finding this gem in a comparatively quiet Con moment assures me that Comic Con as an event can still be special to its core, comics-oriented fan base. These moments may be harder to come by, but they're there, like the single back issue buried amidst long boxes that just might complete your collection. You really just need to know where to look -- and usually it isn't much further than where you left your inner child in the first place. Perhaps it isn't that I'm getting too old, but that everything that little kid in me ever loved is finally in one place, once a year at one time, and the guidance he needs forces me to grow up a little bit. Indeed, at Comic Con, my inner child doesn't know where to start . . . or if he should wish it to ever end . . .

Next: The pros of the Con!

Uh . . . not that kind of pro . . .!


johnny_justice said...

I love the picture! But why did she go through all the trouble of perfecting her costume but then wear a bra that shows? (not that I was looking...)

KaraokeFanboy said...

You can see the Pro's bra in the comic, too, so it's quite accurate to the source material.