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The Comic Con of All Comic Cons

It goes without saying that San Diego's Comic-con International isn't strictly a comic book convention. It was never supposed to have become the monster it has. Back in the old days, and that means Clinton’s first term as President and before, nobody thought about movies all that much. Oh, sure there was Trek and Wars and all that stuff, but most of the people were geeking out on Superman, the Fantastic Four and Fritz the Cat, not to mention that gourmet imported stuff from France and Japan. It was a convention; people would come to hang out and dress up in silly costumes, and oh, yeah, buy stuff.

I would say that it’s all changed, but for the most part it hasn’t. It’s just that the movie companies discovered that San Diego was the biggest one of these things close to Hollywood, and this meant it didn’t cost that much money to promote their stuff as it might at the ones in Chicago or Atlanta. Plus, despite the fact that San Diego is generally run by conservative Republicans, they like comic book fans. The Big Apple Anime Festival was murdered by the Republicans for the 2004 Convention in New York, something the Republicans tried to do to the San Diego con eight years before. The Mayor refused to go along, and Comicon, now Comic-con International, is now one of the biggest events of the year.

Since its nadir in the early 1960s, sequential art has evolved from a medium primarily for children or the partially illiterate to a major form of self-expression and storytelling. That evolution has been rather phenomenal. The rise of the “graphic novel,” i.e., a square-backed comic suitable for hoity-toity bookstores and the New York Times Book Review, is one of the major trends in popular culture, and it's something that the US has been lagging in around much of the world.

Be that as it may, the reason that Comic-con has recently been in the news is movies and TV. Paramount, Warner Bros and all the major Hollywood studios except Fox gave presentations showcasing the latest in expensive and fantastic entertainment. Mostly this stuff is based on comic books or fantasy novels -- stuff like Indiana Jones and the long-awaited adaptation of Watchmen, which came out in the middle ‘80s. (Yeah, I know that Indie wasn’t a comic book character until after the first movie came out, but so what?) Comic-con is now the place to be.

So when they sent me a letter offering me free entry, I went. There was a probem, however. Most of the places were full up, and had been for the entire year. I had to book two youth hostels and a hotel, and that was before the big day for the Con -- Saturday -- even took place. Which is just as well, since the place is busting at the seems and they literally didn’t have enough room to fit in any more people in San Diego’s Convention Center that day.

As in most conventions, San Diego’s is divided into three parts: the parties, the panels and the huckster room. I’m not sure that I went to the first, but I’m completely sure that I went to the other two.

The reason why I’m not sure about the parties (after all one should remember at least part of that thing), is that the big party I attended wasn’t exactly part of the Con. In fact it was taking place about three thousand miles away, in the Hamptons, where a rich dude named Ivan Wilzig was celebrating his being chosen to participate in the second season of the game show, Who Wants to be a Superhero? The guy is the son of a big-time banker, and lives in a genuine faux castle, and he hired a small fleet of buses to ferry a bunch of us nonplussed writers and others to come see the first episode on a giant screen he set up in his back yard.

There were booze and nubile young ladies wandering aimlessly around the back yard, adding to the absolutely beautiful scenery that one can only see in Eastern Long Island. “Come! We must save the Sun!” our host said as he led us to the roof. That was a hell of a sunset, which was just about over when we got to the top. Then we went back downstairs, where we feasted on hors d'oeuvres -- you can have a nutritious and filling meal on those things -- until the sky was dark enough to see the TV show. Then the thing went on until midnight, when we boarded the bus for home. There was a panel for the show at Comic-con.

I heard that most of the major movie studios had receptions. I wasn’t invited to any this time out. I actually didn’t have, the time even if I had been, because of the other two parts of the Con.    

The main hall, or the “huckster room,” is the grandest in the world. Everyone who’s anyone is going to be there, from some of the more venerable comic shops to a number of historically important illustrators. The main attraction is the freebies, which are given out with wild abandon in order to publicize films coming out in the next year or two.

Finally, there are the panels, and while most are arcane, a few are making real news, like the return of Michael to the cast of Lost, or the guy playing Sklyer from Heroes getting cast as the young Spock on the next Star Trek movie. The main hall can seat 5,000 or more, and the place in generally filled. (You have to be careful with a crowd that big; the guy moderating the New Line panel was justly booed when he insulted the audience.) They also had a whole bunch of screenings, mostly of small SF flicks but a few major films like Stardust and Shoot’em’up, which is one of the most gratuitous films of the year.

With the exception of the hotel hopping, which ended up in a lawsuit (it was settled out of court in my favor), the whole thing was a rather decent experience. Truth, justice and the American way were definitely served.

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