A longtime showbiz journalist and fan's thoughts on comic books, movies and other cool stuff.

Tag: Comic-Con

The 2013 Comic-Con Takeaway Post

It’s been a week, and I finally feel like I have recovered from my one day at San Diego Comic-Con.

Visiting the show for the first time in three years, it was interesting to see how little had changed. Most of the booths were the same, offering much the same kind of material. It made me feel less like I had been missing out by not being at the show every single year, and that in itself was a relief.
Marvel Team-Up #74

With only one day, I cruised around the floor most of the time and hit some key booths, including my pals at Animation Magazine. I did a tiny bit of shopping, picking up an advance copy of Alter-Ego #120 from TwoMorrows, featuring a cover story on the Silver Age X-Men. I also picked up a Wonder Woman bendable figure for my daughter, who’s become a big fan thanks to DVDs of the old Lynda Carter series, and a few inexpensive back issues, including Marvel Team-Up #74, featuring Spider-Man and the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time-Players (a.k.a. the original cast of Saturday Night Live). I’ve always been interested in this comic, but never had a chance to pick it up until now. I hadn’t realized Chris Claremont wrote it, making it an even more interesting oddity from the late 1970s.

I didn’t buy much more because, well, everything was so expensive. It seems every booth is pushing an “exclusive” item costing anywhere from $20 to $75 and up, and very little appeared to be discounted. Perhaps that’s just a function of exhibitors needing to recoup as much as possible the rather expensive booth rate at the show. Either way, it put a dampener on my shopping interests, especially since almost everything I was interested in can be acquired via a local comics shop or online, often for less and without the need for me to lug it around the show. 
The highlight of the day was the Sequart: Advancing Comics as Art panel, during which I talked about my book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen, in conjunction with the upcoming documentary Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont’s X-Men run on the series. Director Patrick Meaney and producer/cinematographer Jordan Rennert showed some footage from the doc. It was cool to see how well the shots they took of my original X-Men comics collection turned out, as they were going for a different look when presenting the work from an older, more analog era. 
I also jumped at the chance to join Patrick, Jordan and Sequart founder Julian Darius as they interviewed Louise Simonson for the Claremont documentary. I can now check her off my very short list of comics pros whose work I admire who have not yet had a chance to meet.
If there is one reliable result of attending Comic-Con, it is for me a revitalized interest in comics. I’ve been pulling out stuff to read ever since and have managed to catch up on some of my immense reading backlog to very enjoyable effect. I’ll write about some of the more interesting stuff soon.

Random notes: Comic-Con, Pacific Rim, Sequart and Drive-ins

Just a few notes to pass the time while I try to find some time to read a few comics to write about here.

  • I will be attending San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday only! This will be my first trip to the Big Show in three years, I think. Very much looking forward to it! Anyone know of any particularly good new COMICS projects I should check out while I’m there? I think it’s cool that Kazuo Koike is going to be there, though I doubt I’ll be at all inclined to stand in a long line to meet him. Anyway, if you see me, say hi. I expect I will be mostly on the floor and avoiding the lines to get into panels, with one exception …
  • That exception is the reason for my visit. I will be appearing on the Sequart: Advancing Comics as Art panel, Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in room 24ABC. Sequart, in case you don’t know (and if you’re reading this blog, how come you don’t know?) published my book, Mutant Cinema: The X-Men Trilogy from Comics to Screen. They also have gotten into the movie business, with Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods, Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts, and a bunch of upcoming projects. I helped out a bit with their upcoming release, Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont’s X-Men. I was interviewed for the film and provided some additional assets for the shoot. I’ll be appearing on the panel to support this film and the filmmakers, Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennart, as well as Sequart founder Julian Darius. There should be lots of good stuff going on, so if you can attend only one panel at Comic-Con (lucky you!), make it this one!
  • Pacific Rim is a really fun movie. As I mentioned, I saw it a while back and wrote about the VFX work on the film for an upcoming issue of Animation Magazine (who also will be at Comic-Con, stop by booth 1535!) and with its release now imminent, I have to say I really had a fun time with this movie. It’s crazy insane in all the right ways. And it’s an original film! Not a sequel, not a reboot, not an adaptation — not a hoax! It’s really cool and I think anyone who gives the movie a chance will be pleasantly surprised if not turned into a big fan.
  • Additional movie fun: Both Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 are also a lot of fun. I wrote extensively about MU for Animag – check out the cover story here — and it’s funny and cool and looks great, through without rising to the level of Pixar’s best. Me 2 impressed me with the quality of its animation, which looks absolutely terrific. The minions are hilarious and Steve Carell is really good as the weirdo Gru. Again, not quite as innovative as the first one, but still worth the time. 
  • I caught both those films — along with The Internship and a second viewing of Man of Steel — at the Vineland Drive-In Theater in City of Industry, Calif. This is an ideal setting for parents like myself, as 2-year-old Kaya can make all the noise in the car she wants without disturbing anyone else and then, after she falls asleep, my wife and I can enjoy a second movie for less than the price of one at the Arclight or a similar arena. The image quality is quite good, and the sound comes in over the FM radio, and it’s a better experience by far than it was when I was a kid and you had to listen through those little window-mounted mono speakers. Drive-ins are few and far between these days, so I want to call attention to this little gem because it’s a fun experience that I think many movie buffs with young families would enjoy.
That’s it for now. Later.

L.A.’s Comic-Con Bid Looking Up

It looks like we can expect an announcement soon on whether Comic-Con will be moving from San Diego and if so, where.

The field has been narrowed down to either Anaheim or Los Angeles, with advocates for both sides (as well as keeping it in San Diego) making their cases on various sites and on Facebook. (I think Las Vegas in the summer is a poor choice for a consumer-driven, family-oriented event. It has lots of hotel rooms, but with 100,000 people coming to town they won’t be cheap. Also, its convention center is isolated and has outdoor areas that won’t be comfortable to anyone in 105 degree July heat.)

Last week, a pretty impressive Facebook page promoting Los Angeles as the new home of Comic-Con was launched. It features some nice color drawings from Doug Davis, who does the editorial cartoons for The Downtown News. It also lays out a very confident and compelling case for Los Angeles as a good home for the convention. They did a good job of dispelling myths about the area that are easy to believe if you haven’t been in the area in a while.

I have spent a fair bit of time down at L.A. Live in the past six months, seeing movies at the new and excellent Regal Cinemas (all digital screens, great 3D), visiting the Grammy Museum, eating at the restaurants (The Yard House, Trader Vic’s, Fleming’s Steakhouse) and heading over to Staples Center to cheer on the Kings, who take on Vancouver in the first round of the NHL playoffs. Yes, this spot that once was a dirt parking lot next to the freeway has, especially with the opening of the new J.W. Marriott Hotel and the Ritz Carlton hotel and residences (I hear Hayao Miyazaki bought the penthouse for $10 million and made the builders customize the column placement to accommodate his feng shui requirements), is on its way to becoming a world-class entertainment district.

San Diego meanwhile has responded with movement on a plan to expand the convention center and add the space Comic-Con has been requesting.

But it seems to me that the Los Angeles bid is gaining momentum, with the professional Facebook page, my gut feeling that the San Diego move is too little too late and a comment from AEG Group President and CEO Tim Leiweke at a civic event late last week about pending announcements for major new conventions coming to town.

Here’s what I know about the comments: Leiweke made them last week before about a thousand people at the Central City Association’s Treasures of Los Angeles event held at the J.W. Marriott at L.A. Live. I was not at the event myself, but folks who were there have confirmed what he said. Leiweke said he didn’t want to steal the Convention Center’s thunder, but he was quite excited that announcements would soon be made that two of the nation’s largest conventions are coming to the Los Angeles Convention Center in the next three or four years.

That’s not much, obviously. It’s just a hint, and it’s easy to imagine that it’s confident bluster, or possibly referring to other shows. But it also fits with the timeline Comic-Con has announced for making its decision on whether to stay in San Diego or to move.

And my gut tells me this is going to happen. And I am the first to admit that my gut is not always right. But sometimes I’m not completely wrong, either.

But the more I think about it, the more I like the idea. L.A. is definitely preferably to Anaheim, which, with all due respect, is, outside of Disneyland, pretty dull and lacking in the nighttime amenities for parties, fine dining and hanging out that make San Diego and now L.A. so much fun. You can’t really walk from the convention center in Anaheim to a bunch of cool hotels or fun restaurants (unless Denny’s qualifies as a fun restaurant, which to me it does not). Plus, there already is a pretty massive year-round attraction in Disneyland that fills up the city’s hotels and restaurants pretty well, especially during summer.

Downtown Los Angeles, however, is definitely on the upswing. There still are some scary parts (Skid Row) not too far away, but most of the rest of the area from the Arts District to Little Tokyo to Broadway is blossoming with cool new restaurants, bars and restaurants.

Transportation has improved tremendously with the Metro, which will further be improved in the coming years with the regional connector and a modern streetcar route (like the one in Portland) set to be up and running in 2014. There’s a lot of parking in downtown, and it could use more hotels within walking distance, but public transit is making it easier to quickly commute from as far away Hollywood, Pasadena, Long Beach or even the Mid-City/Koreatown areas (and locations in between) — all of which offer interesting attractions in their own right.

The Los Angeles Convention Center itself will be a major change for the show, as its space is divided among three halls of various sizes, with a connecting passage over Pico. I don’t know where they would put the meetings, as it doesn’t appear to have as much meeting room space as San Diego, though the proximity of both the Nokia Theater and even Staples Center pose some interesting possibilities for replacing the makeshift Hall H with something both truly spectacular and large enough to handle the crowds. The facility itself may be the weakest part of this proposal, but it has played host to numerous E3 Expos as well as the 2007 Star Wars Celebration IV and been more than adequate.

But most of all, there is a feeling of confidence and competence in the Los Angeles effort lacking in the other campaigns. It feels like L.A. wants the show and is enthusiastic about it and has enough to offer the show to make it worth gambling on a move to L.A. San Diego, I think, has long taken the show for granted and it’s too late at this point for the city to come in and undo years of bad-mouthing the show and failing to address its concerns.

On a more personal note, this will be the first San Diego con I will have to miss since 1996. The reason is a family event that requires travel back east. And while I will definitely miss the convention, there is a part of me that’s maybe just a bit relieved that I won’t have to deal with the stress of conspiring to find a way into Hall H to see a movie panel or fight through the crowds to spend a few minutes chatting with very cool people I usually only get to see at Comic-Con. I plan to be back in 2011 and 2012, and then wherever the show leads in 2013.

New Comic-Con pictorial history is an absolute must have!

Attending Comic-Con is a unique experience — there’s nothing else like it on earth and the experience is different for each person, each year they attend. And as the show has grown exponentially, it’s become almost impossible to experience more than a fraction of it. Admittedly, it can at times be as frustrating an event to attend as it much more often is exhilarating and exciting.

So I was thrilled to find a review copy of what is sure to be one of the hottest items at this year’s convention: A big pictorial history book of the show, titled “Comic-Con: 40 Years of Artists, Writers, Fans and Friends.”

I guarantee: This will be the hottest item at this year’s show.

What’s in it? Well, there’s a good overall history of the show, from its earliest days through to today’s pop culture phenomenon, but even better the book is absolutely packed with photographs, artwork, profiles, vintage articles and lists of the show’s many guests and awards. All this is wrapped up in a fantastic cover by Comic-Con mainstay, Mad-man Sergio Aragones.

Among the amazing tidbits and sights I learned from devouring every page of this book are:

  • In 1975, Alan Light (founder of what became the Comics Buyers Guide) and his Dyna Pubs produced an LP record featuring programs from the Comic-Con. I instantly hit Google to search for more info on this, as I would love to listen to this, and came up empty. Anyone know anything about this? Has it ever/could it be re-issued? I love that this simply exists somewhere.
  • Vintage photographs of Chuck Norris shaking hands with Stan Lee at the 1975 show and Alan Moore with Jack Kirby at Moore’s only U.S. con appearance ever in 1985. Also pics of folks like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Harvey Kurtzman, Harlan Ellison … and it just goes on and on. This book is a treasure trove of photos of comics creators and Con attendees past and present.
  • Images of program covers, promotional fliers and ads, badges, limited-edition prints, all the official Con T-shirts, and even the covers of the updates and magazines.
  • Profiles of Con mainstays, illustrated of course, such as Forrest J Ackerman, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Ray Bradbury (who also writes the intro), Will Eisner, Dave Stevens, Mark Evanier, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller and Jim Lee.

I have to say I’m thrilled to see all this history out there, because it’s not been something terribly easy to come by in years past. I recall editing the first Comic-Con special for Variety five years ago and finding little published material out there on the Con’s past. I was therefore thrilled when Evanier, one of the few folks who has been to every San Diego Con, agreed to write a piece for the special. (You can read that piece here.)

Flipping through this book evoked for me much the same thrill I get from attending the show. There’s something amazing to look at with each turn of the page. This book instantly made the two-month wait for this year’s convention seem unbearably long.

The book, which was written by Comic-Con mainstays Gary Sassaman and Jackie Estrada (with lots of help), is designed and published by Chronicle Books — so I’m sure that it will be made available through normal book publishing outlets at some point.

But I’m also convinced this will be one of the hottest items at this year’s Comic-Con. The current issue of Comic-Con magazine offers a preview of the book and says the first print run will be limited and a special preordering system will be set up for folks to pay their $40 in advance and pick up at the show. Details will be forthcoming at comic-con.org.

Don’t miss out. This one is worth it.

Reed goes to Chicago, sets N.Y. show for fall

Reed Exhibitions, the company that puts on the New York Comic-Con, today announced the debut of its new show, Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2 for short), April 16-18, 2010.

They also are moving the New York show to the fall, with the next edition (after the one going on this weekend) set for Oct. 8-10, 2010. That’s a long wait for the next New York show, but the fall dates are ones they will be able to consistently ensure going forward after having had to move around from February to April last year and back again to February this year.

This rather nicely settles down the convention calender, leaving WonderCon free and clear to do its thing in the early part of the year without having to compete with a New York show. (This year’s show is set for Feb. 27-March 1 in San Francisco.)

But the biggest impact will obviously be on Wizard and its Wizard World shows. Wizard recently postponed its March show here in Los Angeles and canceled its Texas show. That left only the two summer shows on its tour, Philadelphia (June 19-21) and Chicago (Aug. 6-9).

What kind of impact the Reed show will have on WWChicago in particular will be interesting to watch. Wizard got into the convention business by buying in 1997 the Chicago Comic-Con, at the time the second-largest show after San Diego, and rebranding it as Wizard World.

Wizard’s Chicago show is still the largest one they put on and a big show by any standard, but Reed’s success in growing its New York show from 33,000 attendees in 2006 to 67,000 last year will make them tough to compete with. Reed also has more experience and greater resources to draw upon in marketing the show to the wider audiences that have made the New York show and San Diego more mainstream events.

Reed’s also trying not to step on anyone’s toes by finding clear spots on the schedule for its shows that don’t force exhibitors to choose between shows or rush from one crazy con experience to the next with no break in between.

Wizard World kills Texas show, postpones L.A.

Wizard announced today it is postponing its Wizard World L.A. show, originally set for March 13-15, and is canceling Wizard World Texas in November. That leaves the magazine publisher/con organizer with two shows: Chicago and Philadelphia.

I can’t say this is surprising news, considering the struggles indicated by the paring down of the Wizard staff. The magazine, which truly was the bible of comics reading and collecting in the early to mid-1990s, has seen its stature as the source for news, info, comedy and data about the comics industry migrate to the internet. The last Wizard World L.A. show was a decent but unexciting event. My one year at the Texas show was enjoyable, but the show was quite small compared to other Wizard shows and to events like San Diego and New York.

The problem with Wizard’s shows has always been their limited scope. While shows like WonderCon, NY Comic-Con and Heroes Con are inclusive of all kinds of fans, Wizard shows have always focused far too much on just superhero comics fans. While other shows put a lot of effort into thoughtful and compelling programming that covered a lot of territory, the Wizard programming was pretty much limited to cheerleader marketing sessions for Marvel, DC and whatever Hollywood properties the show could reel in. (Essentially, what you get in the magazine.) There wasn’t enough there to warrant more than a single day’s visit. In short, it failed to tap into the wider interest in things like anime, manga, indie comics and the wider worlds of cool TV, movies and animation that give shows like Comic-Con their wide appeal.

They also could have helped themselves with better marketing. I know comic shop regulars who are always surprised to hear a Wizard show is coming up or has just passed. And this show needs a better locale — the L.A. Convention Center is scaled for huge mega-events and Wizard World, taking up last year just a small corner of one of the massive halls, was lost in there. A decent hotel, or even the original Long Beach site, would be far better suited and more comfortable for a mid-size comics con. And maybe that’s what we’ll get — assuming the show is rescheduled.

Meanwhile, Texas is out of luck. That was a really pleasant show the one year I went. I don’t think fans there had another option when it came to a show that brought in creators and celebrities. But it was the smallest of the Wizard shows and obviously first on the chopping block should times get tight — and they have.

The current absence of an L.A. show opens up the schedule a bit and should let the organizers of WonderCon and New York Comic-Con breathe at least a little easier. Hopefully, it will give both shows more flexibility when planning their shows for 2010 and beyond.

And the big questions, still to be answered, is whether the economy will put the breaks on the runaway growth of other comics shows — most notably the summer behemoth in San Diego.

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