Each person who attends Comic-Con International: San Diego has a unique experience. With the large number of simultaneous activities from which to choose, everyone finds their own path through the festivities.
Here is an overview of San Diego Comic-Con 2013 from my perspective.
Before the festivities kick into high gear, Wednesday afternoon typically provides an opportunity to stroll around San Diego to observe how Comic-Con has taken over the city. This year, in addition to the ubiquitous banners, signs, and ads, San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter included several structures assembled or converted into immersive experiences promoting forthcoming films such as Godzilla and Ender’s Game. With so many activities from Comic-Con proper competing for attention, I often skip most of these offsite events. This year, however, I was struck by the number and scale of these walk-through environments and made it a point to experience several these over the next few days for an article for Knowledge@Wharton, [See Knowledge@Wharton, "Comic-Con Marketing: Experience the 'Experiences'"]
Wednesday afternoon at the Ender’s Game Experience, actors Hailee Steinfeld and Asa Butterfield along with writer/director Gavin Hood and producer Roberto Orci were conducting press interviews and photo ops to promote the film.
Wednesday at Comic-Con is always centered around Preview Night. Reportedly there was a time when Preview Night was lightly attended, allowing people to comfortably browse the vendor booths before the insanity of the Con hits fever pitch. No longer. Preview Night was jam packed with throngs of people looking to get first dibs on booth exclusives and other goodies. The great joy of Preview Night, however, is the lack of competing panels, providing one of the few times where you can enjoy the exhibition hall without fretting over what you’re missing elsewhere.
After strolling the exhibition hall, photographing cosplayers and connecting with acquaintances from Cons past, Wednesday’s final stop was the Enchantment Under the SDCC Party hosted by Jeremy Rutz’s San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog.
Thursday is Hall H Day
Thursday began with a visit to the Geek and Sundry offsite presence. Shortly after Comic-Con, Felicia Day would be speaking the Wharton Web Conference, and I wanted to speak to her about doing an interview following her keynote presentation.
Thursday afternoon provided a rare opportunity for easy access Hall H. The programming lineup in Hall H for Friday and Saturday made it clear fans would be camping out much of the night to secure access to the 6,500 seat auditorium on those days. Friday’s sessions featured the “Veronica Mars” panel, fan favorites AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” and the Sony Pictures/Screen Gems panel. Saturday offered Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures in the morning, followed by Lionsgate (including a panel on The Hunger Games), 20th Century Fox, and Marvel Studios.
While I would have loved to have attended all of these, estimates were that, to guarantee access for either day, you would need to get in line by around 4:30 AM. You might gain access to the hall joining the line as late as 6:00 AM, but anything after that was expected to be a long shot. [For more on the meticulous planning required for successful time management at Comic-Con, see Knowledge@Wharton,"Comic-Con: Best Laid Plans."] And, indeed, at midday Friday I spoke with someone who had been in line since 6:30 AM and still hadn’t gained access to Hall H. He said the line hadn’t moved in hours and he was debating whether he should leave the line given the bleak outlook.
Thursday’s relatively subdued programming in Hall H allowed me to walk directly into the room with no wait for several panel sessions:
Sebastián Cordero’s Europa Report.
Entertainment Weekly’s “The Visionaries” panel with Alfonso Cuarón, Marc Webb, and Edgar Wright.
Neil Burger’s Divergent.
Ender’s Game, with actors Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, and Harrison Ford; writer/director Gavin Hood; and producer Roberto Orci.
One of the attractions of Hall H is the opportunity to photograph the panel participants. Unfortunately, changes to the policies for general press photography this year made getting good photos a challenge. Last year, general press were allowed to briefly (very, very briefly) approach the front of the stage to get direct shots of the participants (such as this and this). This year, the Hall H staff didn’t allow this. In addition, changes to the layout of the small area at stage left set aside for press photography made it challenging to get good photos from that vantage point.
Friday and Saturday: Comic Book Panels, Eisner Awards, and the Zombie Walk
Given the challenges of accessing Hall H — and the limited opportunities for photography — my Friday and Saturday were focused on the smaller comic book and industry panels.
Several panels explored important trends in the comic book industry and popular culture.
“Digital or Print: Friends or Foes?” on Friday brought together comic book publishers and retailers to discuss the growth of digital comic book formats and distribution platforms. Moderated by J. K. Parkin from Comic Book Resources, the panel included director of digital publishing at Top Shelf Chris Ross, Joe Field from Flying Color Comics, ComiXology co-founder John D. Roberts, IDW Director of ePublishing Jeff Webber, and Thrillbent co-founder Mark Waid. While the rise of digital platforms has roiled other media industries — from music to print publishing — there was little antagonism between advocates for print and digital media in the realm of comic books. Participants generally viewed the digital and print as reinforcing each other and opening new markets rather than cannibalizing each other’s readership.
Saturday’s “The Comic Book Entrepreneurs” panel moderated by Rob Salkowitz included IDW Publishing co-founder and CEO Ted Adams, ComiXology co-founder and CEO David Steinberger, and Valiant Entertainment CEO and Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani.
The panel session on “The Power of Geek: Superfandom and Why Brands, Media, and the World at Large Want In” moderated by Steve Rotterdam, partner and co-founder of Bonfire Agency, included Bonfire Agency founding partner Ed Catto, entertainment marketer Francis Mao, IDW Publishing CEO Ted Adams, futurist and author Rob Salkowitz, writer/producer/comic creator Grace Randolph, and Los Angeles Times director Jeff Dellinger.
Other panels on Friday and Saturday provided opportunities to hear from comic book creators.
Bob Wayne moderated a panel on “My Secret Origin, or How I Broke into Comics” which featured comic books creators Amanda Connor, Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, Jimmy Palmiotti, Gail Simone, and Scott Snyder discussing how they got started in the industry.
The spotlight session on Gerry Conway had the comics writer answering questions about his work, including the controversy surrounding his storyline in “The Amazing Spider-Man” #121-122 that resulted in the death of Gwen Stacy.
On Sunday, the “Avengers, X-Men, Dr. Strange and Sgt. Fury 50th” panel with Mark Waid, John Romita Jr., Brian Michael Bendis, and Roy Thomas marked the 50th anniversary of several key Marvel titles and characters.
On Friday evening, the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards honored creative achievement in comic books. The event is a major production, with its Oscar-like staging and celebrity presenters including Edward James Olmos, Chris Hardwick, and John Barrowman. The highlight of the show was when Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Ross — the comedy duo of the awards show — took over the stage.
While Hall H proved challenging for photography this year, booth signings provided an alternative avenue for photo ops.
To get a few photos of Gillian Anderson for my friend composer Melissa Dunphy, I camped out for the X-Files signing in the IDW booth with Anderson, series creator Chris Carter, actor Dean Haglund, comic book writer Joe Harris, and illustrator Joe Corroney.
The Marvel booth presented a live video webcast of interviews with the cast and creators of the upcoming ABC television series, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” In front of the camera for successive interviews were Joss Whedon and Clark Gregg; Jeph Loeb, Jeffrey Bell, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jed Whedon; Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge; and Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet and Brett Dalton.
Joss Whedon also appeared at a signing in the Dark Horse Comics booth on Sunday, where a long line of fans waited to share a few moments with the legendary writer/director.
A More Serious Sunday
Sunday was bookended by two of the more weighty events at this year’s Con.
Sunday morning was the Anti-Bullying Press Summit hosted by actor Chase Masterson. Speaking at the event was Carrie Goldman, author of the 2012 book “Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear,” along with “Lost Girl” actor Ksenia Solo and writer and personality Jenna Busch.
Each year after the last panel session on Sunday, Comic-Con holds the annual Talkback session. Comic-Con International (CCI) president John Rogers was seated at a long table listening to a litany of complaints and suggestions about the conference. The session is scheduled for one hour, but often runs much longer. It’s a rather dour way to end the Con. While many fans make a point of expressing their appreciation of the successful aspects of the event, most of conversation consists of a stream of complaints about the Hall H line, the convention center facilities, disabled access to tickets and venues, the encroaching influence of Hollywood, and many other topics.
Comic-Con International faces a difficult problem in allocating scarce resources — more people want to attend than the San Diego Convention Center can accommodate. It’s interesting to note how CCI make the inevitable tradeoffs this requires. I’m impressed by the way in which Rogers considers how the decisions of Comic-Con International will affect the long-term viability of fandom.
This year, for example, one of the myriad issues that arose concerned the process by which current attendees secure tickets for next year’s Comic-Con. Some wanted more tickets set aside for recurring attendees, suggesting a “loyalty program” for fans who have been coming a long time, “before it was such a huge event.” Rogers pointed out that CCI tries to distribute badges in the way that is “fair to the greatest majority of people.” Later, he made the point more strongly, underscoring how he didn’t want Comic-Con to follow the course he had seen taken by some science fiction conventions.
“I started going to science fiction conventions at a certain age,” Rogers said. “You know what? That’s still the age of that entire group, because the younger generation never came along and never fell in love with it.” Rogers doesn’t want Comic-Con to follow a similar path and “go extinct, when all of us age out in a natural process.” As he stated: “I don’t want it to be like the Boston Red Socks where someone you know has to die to get a seat.”
Rogers’ focus is on the long term goal of creating an ongoing, sustainable fanbase for popular culture. He made a similar comment at the previous year’s Con Talkback in response to the inevitable complaint that “the Twilight people” have somehow ruined the Con: “I like the Twilight people. We were all young fans of something that probably wasn’t particularly good…. I sat and watched ‘Logan’s Run’ eight or nine times and I loved it as a kid. What can I say? Let us not cast stones.”
Cosplay and Conversation
As always, I particularly enjoyed meeting so many comic book artists, writers, and publishers.
And, of course, every day was filled with fabulous cosplay – from Galactus ready to devour planets to a woman sporting a Sharknado headdress, from professional makeup and costumes from the Cinema Makeup School to the wonderfully silly amateur outfits. One of my favorite costumes from last year — the AWESOME-O 4000 — made a return appearance. This year I was particularly fond of the charming couple dressed as George and Meg from Disney’s Paperman short film.