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Pipeline, Issue #477

SEMI-RETRACTION: CIVIL WAR #3

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a mostly negative review of the third issue of Marvel's big summer crossover mini-series, CIVIL WAR. The main thrust of it is that I didn't believe in the actions of some of the characters. Specifically, Spider-Man acted awfully oddly to me without much explanation.

What I didn't know at the time is that everything is explained, but not in the pages of the mini-series. Nope, you need to read AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #533. That's right; if you want to understand everything that's happening in CIVIL WAR, you really do need to read the crossover books to keep from being lost. Without ASM #533, CIVIL WAR #3 is a turkey. With it, you can understand more of the character motivations and see more of the plot clearly. Peter Parker and Tony Stark, in particular, make much more sense to me now, and their relationship is a lot more interesting. They are not one-dimensional characters doing things at the whim of the plot. There's internal and external conflicts there that make for captivating storytelling. Thankfully, J. Michael Straczynski is able to capitalize on that, even if the relatively-limited page count of CIVIL WAR keeps Mark Millar from doing so.

It's an unfortunate situation. You should be able to read a comprehensible and internally consistent story in the pages of a big mini-series like CIVIL WAR. Marvel has chosen, instead, to use CIVIL WAR as a launching point for any number of side plots that are happening in the tie-in series. You'll get the biggest plot points of the storyline in CIVIL WAR, but little of the lead-in or fall-out. It's frustrating as a reader. I wonder what will happen when it's time for the CIVIL WAR hardcover. Will such integral books as this issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN be included in the collection? I doubt it will -- Marvel has talked in the past of how retailers hate it when more than one series is collected in a trade or hardcover. Marvel is willing to go along with that. So people reading CIVIL WAR for the first time as a hardcover are bound to scratch their heads a lot.

While I'm talking about it, I really like the art team on AMAZING of Ron Garney and Bill Reinhold. Their art reminds me a lot of the styles you might have seen at the end of the pre-Image days. Reinhold, as I recall, was a regular inker on the PUNISHER titles of the day, and many other Marvel titles in the late 80s and early 90s. I love his line work, and it's something that fits perfectly with the pencils given to him. Add in the modern gloss of colorist Matt Milla, and you've got a nice looking package. I'm sure there are other modern readers who think it looks stiff, but to me it's closer to pure superhero storytelling. I like it.

WHY NINTENDO RULES

I'm as firm a believer as they come that Comic-Con should be about Comics. Still, there's something every year that yanks my attention in a different direction. In the past, it's been DVD Producers Panels and Babylon 5 panels and Cartoon Voice Actor panels. All of those, by the way, have been around since before Hollywood's full-scale invasion on the convention. It's not like the Storm Troopers and the Klingons only appeared once Lucas Arts set up shop, or men in suits and clipboards starting patrolling the con floor looking for "properties" to option.

This year, I got caught up in a little more of the multimedia offerings. However, I can use it to give advice to comics companies. Did you see the Nintendo DS Lite booth? It was a spectacular booth on many levels.

For starters, there was a table running diagonally across the booth loaded with DS Lites running games you could play. That included the forthcoming Mario Hoops 3-on-3, which I played with and enjoyed. (You push buttons with your left hand and use the stylus with your right to pass or shoot.) There were plenty of LCD screens above the table to show the crowds the games. There was a lot of seating and well-lit glass (likely transparent thick plastic) table tops to play on.

For the overflow crowd, some high tables sat in the back with games that you can play over DS networks. I saw Tetris and Brain Age, for starters. But there was also plenty of open floor space for people to walk through or loiter in.

In fact, there was a DS Download Station in operation where you could bring your DS with you to download game trailers or game demos. I know I'll be picking up BIG BRAIN ACADEMY now, based on the strength of the demo I downloaded there.

A display case sat in the front corner with some Nintendo figures proudly displayed for all to see. In front of that was a table for autographs. We'll get to that in a second.

The part that impressed me the most were the booth babes. There weren't any. Instead, the booth was staffed with numerous Nintendo reps who were friendly and knew what they were talking about. You could see some of them playing games in their off- or slow-times, as a matter of fact. They were dressed in blue Nintendo polo shirts and khaki pants, some capris or cargo pants. It was, in short, a clean-looking and inviting booth design.

The crowd it attracted showed that. Every time I passed by, there was a nice mix of people playing games, from the young to the old. Parents were safe there with their kids. The parents even had games they could play. Those of us who grew up on Nintendo had interesting wares to sample.

Someone in a big Mario costume even showed up for picture opportunities.

It was a bright, comfortable, all-ages friendly booth. What more could you ask for?

Here's the one sore spot: The man who does the voice for Mario in all their games was there to sign autographs two or three times a day. That was pretty cool! But Nintendo couldn't stop there. They gave out 8.5 x 11 inch postcards that you could have the man sign. Each day, it was a different postcard with a different Mario-themed design on it. They wanted you to collect them all. In other words, there were people getting on the line four straight days for autographs.

I admit it - I'd have loved to get his autograph or just shake his hand. But I wasn't going to sit in the long lines with the Pokemon-addled brains of the kids who had to get all four cards signed. (It was one of the youngest signing lines I saw at the convention.) I'm sure they would have had no problem fielding a line for the gentleman without asking the die-hard Nintendo fans to come back day after day. It's supposed to be gaming -- not collecting. I thought the mentality would be a little bit different, but that's just me underestimating the power of Pokemon's "Collect Them All" attitude, I suppose.

I was disappointed by that, but everything else outweighed that little qualm.

Wouldn't it be nice to see more comics companies with large bright booths, filled with full-color comics to read or to be downloaded? Wouldn't it be nice to see the booth babes knowing what they're talking about at some level, while neatly-dressed and not embarrassing? Wouldn't it be nice to see such a cross-section of ages at the booth at all times?

Dare to dream, eh?

OVERCROWDING: HOW TO FIX IT

Comic-Con was overcrowded this year. On-line and in-person ticket sales had to be stopped. There was no room to move on the con floor at times. Artists Alley was a scary place to be on late Sunday afternoon, when there were no panels to compete with the exhibitor hall.

The convention has grown from the 30,000 or so who were probably there eight years ago to the 130,000 or more who were probably there this year. It's quadrupled in physical space in that time, but it can go no further. Every extra body from here on out is an overcrowded person. It's not just a matter of moving them off the con floor. Lines to panels were common early on Thursday afternoon to non-Hollywood panels. I can't ever remember having a problem getting into a panel of any kind on a Thursday in San Diego. I can remember when there'd be a panel devoted to the Superman family of comics and it wouldn't fill a room with 250 chairs in it. The Marvel Civil War panel on Thursday this year was standing room only and then closed down before the scheduled panel time. That was in a room that held, probably, 750 people. (I'm guesstimating on that.)

It sounds like the idea is being entertained to make Saturday a pre-registration day only. That would eliminate the line of people signing up for their one day passes that rivaled the one you might have seen at E3 for the Nintendo Wii demo. But is it enough? It might stall the fire marshal for a year or two, but there will still be problems. Another way to get people off the con floor is to use more panel rooms upstairs and have more interesting panels. I know I just said that they were cutting lines off left and right, but I didn't go to all the panels. I'm sure there were underattended ones. And I'm sure they could use bigger rooms for some of the more popular panels -- put those (like the Civil War panel) in bigger rooms and let more people in. The problems come in forecasting which panels will be that popular. There's a certain witchcraft involved there, but there are also some general guidelines you can use to figure it out. Look at the panels this year that were closed off, and put THOSE in bigger rooms, for starters.

After that, more drastic measures might be taken. Stop bringing in all the movie companies, video game companies, TV networks, and toy companies that don't do comics-related things. I know there's always been a science fiction aspect to Comic-Con. The two crowds do overlap, and I'm sure that one hand helped the other in the lean days. You might not field an entire team of comics fans, but if you add a few sci-fi aficionados, you're good to go. Comic book fandom doesn't need the science fiction fandom anymore. Cut some of them, if not all of them, loose.

I know this won't be popular and I know some would complain about it, but you can't keep drawing crowds larger than the room and keep everyone happy. The con's major problem right now is that it tries to be all things to all people. It's five conventions in one, more and more leaning on Hollywood's assistance to draw the people in. It might be time to prune Hollywood back. Hall H is important in this day and age. Imagine those 6500 people crowding the exhibitor hall all day? How about not attracting them in the first place?

Or, turn this into the kind of festival that I don't think anyone wants. Start holding events at the local hotels. Do the Hollywood presentations at the ball park. Spread out.

These are drastic measures, but I think we're at the point now where no option can be overlooked -- including that of moving to Vegas or some other city with larger convention spaces.

It would be a shame to lose San Diego and its usually great weather and comfortable layout, but if this convention wants to continue its growth curve then it has to consider all options.

(Read more about con plans and possibilities in CBR's interview with Comic-Con's publicity and marketing guru, David Glanzer.)

SAN DIEGO -- THEN AND NOW

I looked back at my con reports for San Diego from my first few trips (1999-2001) this week and laughed at some of the pictures. There are pics in there of the Gaslamp District, in which most of the buildings no longer exist today. But I think my favorite pics of the bunch are the pictures of the con floor. Check these pics of the con floor from 2000, or this panorama from 2001. From the overhead viewing window, you could see the entire con floor, end to end. You could see the wall to the left, and the wall to the right.

Here's this year's pictures from the same vantage point. Sure, you might see the wall off to the left, but you'll never be able to see the end of the hall to the right. You couldn't see it with a telescopic lens. You can't even see some of the major comics publishers' booths yet. The convention center is two or three times as large now. That point in the far off distance to the right is barely the half-way point of the con floor now.

So, yeah, it's big.

THE NECESSARY THANKS

This isn't the end of my San Diego coverage. I have a bunch of pictures I need to sort through and put together into some sort of presentation, for starters. Otherwise, I'll be mixing in stories and reviews as I go along in the coming weeks and months. San Diego is always a good start to my second wind for the year. I have no problem generating ideas for columns for a couple of months after the convention. It takes that long to come close to catching up on all the reading I picked up out there.

Since the Chicago convention is this weekend and we're all about tuckered out of talking about San Diego, I don't plan on devoting entire columns to it anymore. So let me take this opportunity now to thank a few people who made it so much fun.

Thanks to CBR Executive Producer and one-time CBR columnist, Rob Worley, for being great roommates for a weekend. Someday, I'll show you all the picture that made us giggle like little school girls at 3:00 a.m. the last night of the show. Thanks to Arune and George for much of the same fun throughout the convention.

Thanks to Patricia and Eric from the Pipeline message board for their friendship and camaraderie on the con floor and various dinners. Ditto to Tracie and her friend, Anna, who likewise shared time on the con floor and at Gas Lamp eateries. It wouldn't have been half as much fun without other people to share it with and to introduce you to new people, and vice versa.

Thanks to all the podcasters I shared a panel with on Sunday -- and a meal with that night -- for their discussions, debates, and information exchanges. I hope some of us can work together in the months ahead in one fashion or another.

Thanks to all of the volunteers and organizers at the convention, itself, who put on the most grand and glorious comics convention every known to man, each and every year. They may turn out to be victims of their own success, but they do a remarkable job in holding it all together. I can't imagine the logistical nightmare this show must be.

And special thanks to Continental Airlines, who didn't screw up either of my flights. To my friends at the TSA: I hope you enjoyed flipping through my comics in Newark after the plane landed. Next year, I'll be sure to leave a couple of extra for you to share with your kids. (Or would that get me arrested?)

Next week: We begin the march through PREVIEWS, starting at Marvel and including anyone else I have time to fit in. I'm not going to Chicago this year, but I might have comments on the news made there over the weekend. We'll see what comes up.

The Pipeline Podcast has its own homepage now. It should be updated late Tuesday night this week, in time for new comics day.

My blog, Various and Sundry is keeping tabs on ROCK STAR: SUPERNOVA and BIG BROTHER: ALL STARS, while keeping an eye on the world of video games, DVDs, and web oddities.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 700 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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