San Diego, German For Whale's Vagina
A brief preface is in order before you begin reading my brief report on Comic-Con. As you may already know, I am a Ph.D. student at UCLA in Cinema and Media Studies but my proposed dissertation area is the intersection between comic strips and film, specifically animation, from roughly 1898-1920. I love comic books, I love movies, but, oddly, I'm incredibly ambivalent about Comic-Con. 2008 was the first year I spent at the convention and while I enjoyed it, I also found it uncomfortable due to crowding and, more importantly, regularly digressive. You see, Comic-Con (SDCC), according to many friends and colleagues who have attended over the past decades, has changed drastically over the past years. The scope has gone from comic books and projects closely related, like film and television adaptations, to a spring board for any property Hollywood has to offer, no matter how little it has to do with comics.
This has, as you probably have already guessed, led to an influx of famous talent, be it movie stars or directors, which has led to overcrowding. I'm not an elitist, I'm glad others are being introduced to comics, even if it may be through digressive association. Yet, my previous experience with this incarnation of Comic-Con affected both the length of my stay (four days down to two) and the panels I attended (I would prefer to hear Brian K. Vaughan or Grant Morrison speak before Kevin Smith or the cast of "Dexter") this year. Thus, what you find below are subjective and very idiosyncratic notes from an incredibly large convention that would be impossible for one or two contributors to cover in depth.
I only made it to two panels on Friday due to Hall H, the largest venue at SDCC with a capacity of 6,500, which was overstuffed, running late with scheduled panels, and featured a minimum wait of two hours to get into the James Cameron and Peter Jackson panel hosted by Entertainment Weekly. I like panels, but I'm not going to spend more than two hours in a line to get into a crowded room, only to stare at a Jumbotron running an interview taking place three hundred yards in front of me. I'd rather be out on the floor.
Participants: Moderator Eric Moro (Editor and Chief, IGN.com), Henry Selick (Director), Neil Gaiman (Novelist), Bill Mechanic (Producer), Teri Hatcher and Keith David (Actors), Travis Knight and Georgina Hayns (Animators).
What a disappointment! Comic-Con gets a panel featuring two legends, Gaiman (iconic author of such comic books as The Sandman and the latest Batman arc "What Ever Happened to the Cape Crusader?") and Henry Selick (director of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas) along with some great secondary guests and the bulk of the panel's length is spent watching featurettes from the recently released Coraline DVD! I'm not sure who is to blame for this complete waste of talent. I assume it was either Focus Features, attempting to use the panel to peddle DVDs, or Eric Moro. Yet, if I had to take a guess, I would put the ball in Moro's court. Every panel at SDCC is essentially a junket for a product, but most are a far more subtle. Moro would pitch thoughts like "Neil, how was it to work with Henry Selick? Oh, let's just watch the DVD." The lights would dim, the audience would stare at a clip and, upon its conclusion, Moro would ask "Anything to add?" I was pulling my hair out of its sockets. You have the talent right there, why not start a dialogue!? No wonder IGN has noticed a substantial drop in the quality of their criticisms ... they hire boneheads like this.
Participants: Host John Lasseter (director of Toy Story and chief creative officer at Disney), a full run of directors and animators working on various Pixar and Disney Animated material, Hayao Miyazaski (director of My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away).
I arrived late for this stellar panel due to scheduling (the panel started nearly an hour late due to a number of factors), but I still have some nuggets to share:
First off, as you probably already know, both Toy Story films and Beauty and the Beast are being prepped for 3D release. The Toy Story films will hit screens by the end of the year while Beauty will find a release during Valentine's Day of 2010. The 3D footage of Beauty and the Beast, essentially the film's opening, looked amazing. Lasseter noted that the film was originally produced with a digital ink and paint program, so it was already digitized, making the 3D process less-complicated and the results are stunning as the film's already spatially sophisticated compositions demonstrated considerable depth.
Next up, Lasseter disclosed that Michael Keaton would be playing Barbie's Ken in Toy Story 3 and showed footage from the upcoming ABC Christmas special "Prep and Landing," which features a covert team of elves who prep houses before Santa's arrival. Directed by Chris Williams (Bolt), the project looked quite good aesthetically for a TV special and had quite a bit of charm.
Lasseter then introduced The Princess and the Frog, slated for release this holiday season. Princess is the first Disney 2D-animated film since 2004, which made Lasseter quite proud. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) with a score by Randy Newman, this American retelling of the classic fairy tale is set in jazz age New Orleans and features the voices of Anika Rose, Keith David, and Bruno Campos. The footage screened featured the villainous Dr. Facilier (Keith David), who plays an evil magician, trying to place a spell on the story's prince (Bruno Campos) and looked stunning, particularly the animators' use of shadows.
Finally, Hayao Miyazaski took the stage to talk about the upcoming American release of his film Ponyo. Miyazaki, who spoke very little English, spoke of his slow creative process and his use of music, introduced a scene from the film featuring a young girl running along waves. Compared with other Miyazaki films, the scene screened seemed very psychedelic; perhaps more so because unlike the Cat Bus in Totoro, the fish waves of Ponyo actually affected the real world. Following the clip, Lasseter and Miyazaki were honored with the SDCC Inkblot award, which was quite touching.
Panel: "Lost": The Final Season
Participants: Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof (producers), Jorge Garcia, Nestor Carbonell, Michael Emerson, and Josh Holloway (actors).
My first and only panel for Saturday, I arrived outside of Hall H roughly two hours before and barely made it into the venue. In comparison with last year, this panel seemed harder to attend than last year's Watchmen panel (which was HUGE!). I don't think this is necessarily an indication of the popularity of "Lost," but rather the practice of SDCC attendees to gain access to Hall H as early as possible and camp it out for the entire day (other Hall H offerings on Saturday included Iron Man 2). Needless to say, it's not comfortable and not a pretty sight.
This said, after attending last year's "Lost" panel, I wasn't surprised to find that Cuse and Lindelof did not have any footage to screen and really couldn't answer any questions. The hour-long panel consisted of a salute to the show's fans (favorite fan content was screened and given awards) and the producers offered vague answers to pointed questions. Out of these questions, Cuse and Lindelof admitted that two cast members would be returning (Jeremy Davies and Elizabeth Mitchell) and that the final season would not be structured by flash forwards or time travel but would be driven by something different. Glimpses at alternate realities? Perhaps, as they were happy to tease with a commercial for "America's Most Wanted" featuring the case of Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly). We'll have to wait until 2010 to find out.
I found the most rewarding part of my SDCC experience on the floor at the retail and demo booths. Amongst the crowded booths, lined with people who could and couldn't pull off Slave Leia and Poison Ivy costumes, I was honored to meet artists Sheldon Moldoff (lettering and backgrounds for Golden Age Batman), Lew Sayre Schwartz (ghost artist for Golden Age Batman), and Jerry Robinson (creator of the Joker and another Batman artist). I treasured the experience of meeting Robinson in particular, given the fact that I had visited his curated collection at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles just last week.
My other encounters amongst the booths included John Landis (director of National Lampoon's Animal House) and the hilarious Bob $tencil of FirstShowing.net, who was later honored at the "Lost" panel. I played the upcoming Batman: Arkham Asylum, which was slightly disappointing and awkward and found a Millennium Falcon made out of Legos that must have been a pain in the ass to build. My John Lennon tattoo, which is the most costume I'll put on for the show, was complemented and I enjoyed the company of friends over insanely priced hot dogs.
Yet, my favorite moment amongst the booths came when I stumbled upon a booth labeled "Bill Plympton Cartoons." My wife, a fellow animation junkie and a huge fan of Plympton, was away at "The Mighty Boosh" panel and I jumped on the opportunity to buy a copy of his latest collection, Dog Days, as a surprise. I was stunned when I read the name tag of the vendor, only to discover that it was Plympton himself. I told him I greatly admired his short, The Fan and the Flower>. Plympton responded kindly, shook my hand, signed the DVD and included a 35mm film strip from his film Hot Dog. Needless to say, my wife was very pleased.