SAN DIEGO, 2010: THE FINAL WRAP-UP
Or, as I like to refer to it, "Twitter Comic-Con."
Being at home during The Big Convention is a frustrating experience, likely only worsened by the fact that I did go for eight straight years. The odd thing, though, is that I can keep much better tabs on what's going on at the convention from home than I ever could from the show floor. So I made it into a news-tracking experience.
I've said before that you almost don't need to go to the show anymore, that everything that happens is being reported. 125,000 - 150,000 troops on the floor with the means of recording anything and everything means that you can just about see it all from your desk. You want to see who was in Artist's Alley, or what the con floor looked like if you walked from one end to the other, or how long the lines were, or what the giant movie prop in a specific publisher's booth was, or what the most popular costumes were? Check out Flickr and YouTube now. All that exclusive Comic-Con video that is shown to Hall H or Ballroom 20? I think all of it has been on YouTube by now.
I can remember being at the WizardWorld: Chicago show a few years back when they premiered some footage of the then-filming "Batman Begins" movie. Christopher Nolan was there, in a relatively small room. The video being show was guarded zealously. There were security folks with night vision goggles in the room making sure that nothing was being surreptitiously filmed. I took copious notes in the dark to write up for CBR later, but that was the best that could be done.
Today, you can't get that kind of intense security in a room jammed with 6500 people in it all day long. Surely, the studios realize that the best they can do is have the DMCA takedown notices ready to be sent to YouTube, Vimeo, et. al. There has to be some discussions going on behind the scenes along the lines of this video being viral, not exclusive. It's called "exclusive" because it makes the "leaks" that much more scandalous and virulent.
Look at how fast "Thor" became a trending topic on Twitter when that video started popping up on the internet last week.
Those "exclusive" videos that are up on YouTube today? The networks/producers WANT them there. Thanks for doing their jobs for them, Hall H Seat-Warmers.
Thank goodness for Twitter. I was curious to see how long it would take before "Comic-Con" or "#SDCC" became a trending topic for the United States region. Preview night was all it took. By Friday afternoon, "Comic-Con" and "#SDCC" were both trending topics. Up until then, it was just "Comic-Con." What does this indicate? My theory is that only the people who religiously follow this kind of thing from a comics perspective refer to the con as "SDCC." "San Diego Comic-Con" is dead and buried. It's a convention that existed before Hollywood took over. So most people today just refer to it as "Comic-Con" if they have no other point of contact.
I sipped mightily from the Twitter firehouse for five days, trying to get an idea about what people were talking about. I wanted to put my finger on the pulse of Comic-Con International: San Diego. And what I found was best echoed by @JacobNahin:
"Haven't seen much written about comics #sdcc. Guessing a lot of people at #sdcc probably don't read comics. #backwards"
The firehose backed that up, as finding tweets about comics was like looking for a needle in the haystack. The "Caprica" panel on Friday afternoon, for goodness' sakes, merited more mentions than comics, as a whole. It also seemed the cast was drinking shots live on panel, which I'm pretty sure is a rules violation of the convention. I mean, I don't care. It doesn't bother me. But I'm pretty sure they frown on that kind of thing, though I doubt they'd tell the BSG folks to never darken the con's doorway again or anything. (I know of one creator in Artist's Alley who used to share shots with those who bought books from him. He carefully hid that bottle under the table.)
On the bright side, "The Walking Dead" panel was heavily tweeted. But that's because it was a TV show soon to debut, and people want to get every early morsel of information they can. I saw one person tweet Charlie Adlard's name, though, which made me smile.
I also saw one person refer to Frank Darabont as the creator of "The Walking Dead." I suppose in some strict Hollywood union guideline, he's probably properly credited as "creator," but that'll always be Robert Kirkman to me. And Tony Moore. And Cliff Rathburn. And Charlie Adlard. And Rus Wooton.
"Cute moderator at Paul Levitz [panel] is cute. #sdcc"
I immediately passed along that tweet from @CCChristiana to Geoff Johns. Sorry if I embarrassed you, Christiana. Sometimes, I can't help myself.
But most of the tweets were about what was happening in Hall H, Ballroom 20, and Room 6, where all the biggest Hollywood panels were going on. It seems they closed down Ballroom 20 to people within an hour of the con opening on Friday. For the rest of the day. It looks like the same thing happened on Saturday. Lots of people waiting in those lines had lots of time to tweet, so perhaps that's why the tweets tilt in their favor. People on the con floor talking to comic creators, shopping at publisher booths, or finding their favorites in Artist Alley aren't living with their cell phones opened to Twitter, unless they're hoping to score a Jim Lee sketch. (Don't know how they all kept their batteries charged all day, though.)
"Important fyi for all of #sdcc: the Mattel pavilion has a deodorant freebee For reals. Just saying." @antoniusRex
Didn't CBR give out bars of soap 5 or 6 years ago? Memory failing. Editor - Yep! Jonah still has some scattered about here and there!
"United announcer at the airport: "...Note oversized items, surfboards, car seats, lightsabers..." Yep, it's #SDCC" -@Hawaii
And that's why I love San Diego during Comic-Con.
On Saturday morning, I decided to have fun with the lines. #Chuck was a huge trending topic. It was the opening panel of the morning, and the show's faithful had lined up by 4:30, west coast time. That ballroom also hosted a couple of SyFy panels following that, but I noticed the Tweeting crowd was largely female.
I decided to interview people waiting on line, see who I could talk to, learn what I could learn. One had been there since 12:30 the night before. One said she was planning on looking for the "Chuck" comic on the show floor later that day, so there was hope for her. Another said she read an entire novel while waiting in line.
Next year, maybe I'll start calling them for official interviews. Hey, they're sitting there for hours on line. Might as well help entertain them and learn from them at the same time, right? Maybe if we get to know these people, we won't fear them?
It was really nice of the "Chuck" cast to show up at a "Chuck" fan tweetup the night before, though.
The only problem with drinking from the Twitter firehose of information is that it's all Hollywood. To get to the comics-related stories, you needed to search on more specific key words, already knowing what the news was. I did that a couple of times to see instant reactions to breaking news.
The other interesting thing I saw in the Twitter stream was the backlash against Comic-Con. It started up around Friday night. That's when things got ugly and people started the usual jokes about nerds and geeks filling up San Diego. While one or two of the tweets were funny, it quickly became an assault on attendees of the con with all the same tired cliches, which I was sorry to see. It didn't last long, but it was there.
A few years back, it was crazy for a website to have a reporter in the room with a laptop, typing up notes as a panel progressed. Those notes would then be written up, run up to a hotel room where the website had its home base, copied to a thumb drive for transfer, and published within hours of a panel's end. Nowadays, every detail is tweeted and retweeted as it happens. Stories are often prepared in advance, thanks to embargoed press releases, and YouTube is filled with video clips of the panel and the exclusive debut videos that aren't supposed to be shared. I haven't looked at Flickr yet, but I'm sure the number of iPhone pics that went up over the Comic-Con weekend from the floor is enormous.
In 2010, instant is almost too slow. Next year, everyone on the floor needs to make better use of UStream. Or Face Time.
For other writeups from people who were on the show floor, I'd point you to Heidi McDonald and Tom Spurgeon. Both have valuable reads. For a slightly contrarian point of view, I give you Josh Flanagan.
If you really wanted to be depressed, though, check out Aaron Barnhart's take on Comic-Con, in which he makes the case that the show isn't about connecting the fans to their favorite entertainment, but rather "fan manipulation." If nothing else, click through for the video of the "Glee" cast being ushered through the convention floor by security.
PLANETARY VOLUME 2
While I enjoyed the first volume of "Absolute Planetary," I wasn't sure I knew what the point of it all was. I should have, though. It was all spelled out for me in those issues: The Fantastic Four are evil, they're withholding lots of good things and Planetary needs to go kill them and help humanity. It really was that simple. Warren Ellis adds a couple extra layers on top of it all, but that's the throughline.
The second volume of "Absolute Planetary," released a couple weeks back, collects the final 15 issues of the series, as Elijah Snow and Planetary go after The 4 with a vengeance, stopping along the way to fill in the usual bits of back story in style.
And that's the thing that makes this book so special: the plot is barely half the trip. The truth is, it's everything surrounding the plot that makes the book enjoyable and gives it depth. It's the homages/satires and the world building and the characters. The plot just exposes all of the fun stuff. And while, in the end, I was pleased that things happened and stuff blew up and reunions were made, I was more satisfied and impressed by the depth of the work and the neat way Ellis tied it all together.
This is not a serial story where the author made stuff up as he went along to whatever felt cool that month to him. This is a comic with a destiny from its first page. Ellis creates a world here - using lots of building blocks from his runs on "StormWatch" and "Authority" - and populates it with lots of plot threads that interweave and tie back into each other. Characters reference things that the reader doesn't immediately understand until the next issue when it becomes the main plot. It's a fascinating structure for a series when a question mark in one issue becomes the focus of the next. Ellis grabs your attention, doesn't confuse you with it, and then clarifies everything in the next issue while bringing new things right back up. Characters you thought were set up just for the sake of that one story a few issues back pop up integral to the plot a few issues later. It's a nice and neat tidy package.
Sure enough, Ellis doesn't leave anything behind on the table. By the time the last issue wraps up, all the previously thought forgotten plot bits and characters have shown back up and tied into something larger than originally thought. It's very clever writing.
Along the way, each story becomes its own thing, with references to Tarzan and Lone Ranger and Sherlock Holmes (amongst others) filling out the back half. If that's what you enjoyed in the first volume, you'll find plenty of it in the second, as well. There's a trippy issue in there that's the weakest of the lot, but I guess it helps provide a character moment that was necessary. Still it seems like an issue spent in some weird hallucination is about as valid as a dream issue. You can try to make sense of it, but it always feels like a cheat to me.
From a story construction point of view, Ellis has a couple of neat tricks. While I do think the dismantling of The 4 came across a bit too easily, Ellis covered his tracks on that. It's an action movie story beat that just as a plan is about to come together, it has to crack apart, leaving the protagonist to struggle, move quickly, and think faster to win the day. There's not so much of that here. Often, Snow has a plan, doesn't tell everyone what it is, and carries it through. The surprise comes from learning what the plan is, but using Jakita and the Drummer to throw up all the red flags along the way to point out the plan's weaknesses, raising doubt and creating more dramatic tension in the reader's mind. This is particularly true in the final issue, where saving one character has potentially reality-killing consequences.
John Cassaday's art is as beautiful as ever. There are a couple of fluctuations in it along the line, with the occasional (though infrequent) perspective or anatomy screw-up, but all is easily forgiven for the overall effect. I don't mind the occasional panel where a character's head looks too big or a neck seems to disappear, when the rest of the issue so carefully pays attention to things like negative space, widescreen panel storytelling, pacing and rhythm, and the overall design of the more fantastical elements, such as the space ships or the costumes.
Laura Martin's coloring, of course, ties it all together, making everything very easy to read and often brighter on the page than you might expect. Martin is one of the sadly increasingly-few colorists who knows how to get out of the way. Her style is much softer than so many colorists today, who want to color everything so darkly and so technically true. Martin's hues don't ever cover up a single line of Cassaday's artistry. Objects appear real without being literal, and without existing in murky shadows. I love it.
"Planetary" is, without a doubt, the longest "wait for the trade" decision of my comics life. Once the series' original schedule was interrupted, I lost track of it. I couldn't remember who was who from issue to issue, so it was an easy decision to wait on a collected edition. I just didn't think it would take this long. Still, it's a fun time capsule to jump back into today. And it's nice to get the complete story, all at once.
So, after two $75.00 volumes, we finally have it all, don't we?
Well, not quite. There were three one shot tie-ins that Warren Ellis wrote. None are collected in these two volumes. They are all available through the Comixology app today, if you're so interested. They might make for a nice companion volume, if DC ever wanted to do a smaller hardcover. I think the art in the three books could benefit from "Absolute" dimensions, but there's not enough of it, only 150 pages or so.
But they aren't all together necessary. None of them are integral parts of the storyline that you'll read in the two Absolute editions. They're cute spin-offs and side stories with big name guest stars - Batman, the JLA, and The Authority. Keep an eye out for those if this two-volume Absolute edition is to your taste. But don't fret that you're missing out on any of the mythology of the series there. They're done in fun.
Next week: More reviews. I've been reading a lot lately. Now that San Diego is wrapped up from this column's point of view, we'll go back to looking at the rest of the world of comics.