Two weeks after it’s all over, what is there left to say about Comic-Con 2013? All the news, carefully orchestrated info teases and surprise slips alike, has been disseminated, analyzed, and reacted to by the Internet Machine. All of the loot has likewise been distributed or waits forlorn in my apartment–posters needing framed, signed books needing reading, and piles of random swag needing some sort of purpose or intention. So what’s left to say?
Part of this is by accident–had I had the time, energy or internet access in order to post daily blog entries about the Con, I certainly would have done so. But the lateness of this essay does give me a chance to take a broader look at what the convention as a whole means to me.
I’ve been twice, this year and in 2012. My first time was something like a religious experience. My compatriot on this site made reference to SDCC as something of a Mecca for geeks, and I think I felt the way a Muslim must feel at the end of his pilgrimage. He stands in a holy and storied place, and surrounding him are so many others who share his beliefs, his culture, his identity, and his reasons for making the journey. So it was with me.
I grew up in a place where reading set you apart from the herd, let alone having a deep and abiding interest in the culture of the fantastic, in ghosts and aliens and wizards. At SDCC you’re in the herd, enveloped in their acceptance and enthusiasm. United by common interests and a common experience, everyone is your friend, or could be. You really are part of a community, drawn to one place around the world to stand in line together.
This (to me) foreign sensation of truly being a part of the majority, of assumed and assured connection, extends even to the celebrities, writers, and artists who venture forth to interact with their fans. Most of them are fans themselves, and are incredibly enthusiastic about returning the love the audience sends at them. Bryan Fuller, who seemed simply overjoyed to be here this year, was asked at the Hannibal panel:
Q: Bryan, there’s a theme that goes through your work I’ve noticed a lot, which is this–you have these characters that are sort of blessed/cursed with a gift of sorts that they can profit from and help the world, but also alienates them from other people. Why do you like this theme, why are you attracted to that?
Fuller: I think it’s just attracted to the outsider, you know, I guess… There’s an interesting feeling–you growing up with an active imagination, you can imagine all sorts of crazy scenarios. So you do feel a little bit Other, and you do feel a little bit outside. So I guess I put that in the work. That’s why it’s kinda great to be down in San DIego, where everybody’s Other and that is exactly how it should be.
Comic-Con isn’t all hugs and friendship, though. The price for being so surrounded is that you are, well, surrounded–often literally. The venue is simply overstuffed with people, making even moving from place to place a constant challenge. I spent most of one day waiting fruitlessly in the Hall H line, and hours elsewhere arriving far in advance of the panels I really wanted to see. Sometime this results in serendipity. Before the Sandman anniversary panel (where I discovered the Neil Gaiman is exactly how you imagine him–incredibly smart, a little sardonic, but beautifully humanist) I was able to see Marvel artist Jim Lee discuss his life and his art with humor and warmth, drawing the whole time. Before the Archer panel, I saw a variety of new and hilarious comedy show panels, from the bizarre anti-comedy of the Erik Andre show to the random appearance of Bryan Cranston at the Robot Chicken panel to the H. Jon Benjamin-perpetuated running gag of getting the con-provided sign language translator to repeatedly translate crude sexual terminology into cruder hand gestures. But sometimes it’s simply frustrating that doing any one thing at Comic-Con means forgoing not only the three things happening at the same time but the many awesome things happening during the hours before, when you’ll be in line or in panels to ensure that you get to see the event you want the most.
Then there’s the marketing. Comic-Con is about a lot of things but the main one is commerce, and it is sometimes easy to forget that everyone except the audience is selling something. (Sometimes they make a joke of it, as when Dino Stamatopoulos showed up at the Community panel primarily to tell everyone he would be hawking chapbooks just outside after the show.) The entire show floor, filled to the brim with amazing sights–this year, not one but twopirate ships, in addition to a zombie-infested prison, the Ice King’s mountain lair from Adventure Time, and a life-size Iron Man statue made of Legos–is, in the end, one big mall, albeit one with a lot of people handing out free samples. In the frenzy to buy posters and signed books and art prints and con exclusives, you can get so caught up that you forget that you already paid to be here and that you don’t need most of this stuff. After a few days, the constant stimulation of that consumer nerve can get raw and grating.
That’s when it’s best to focus on personal connections, seeing friends you met at last year’s con, exploring San Diego’s beautiful Gaslamp District, and finding those moments of beauty and meaning that make the whole experience worth it.
So what moments made it worth it for me this year?
- At the Gravity Falls panel, the voice actors came out in costume, except for Alex Hirsch, the creator and voice of Grunkel Stan. When it came time to read a scene as their characters, however, he brought up a handmade Grunkle Stan puppet, to the delight of the many excited children in the audience.
- Wandering 5th street late one night in search of food, I was reminded of how, despite the nerd monoculture present, there were dozens of different con experiences going on here, all distinct from one another. At one in the morning, it was the drunken revellers who had taken over the street, including the restaurant I ate at. I made friends there with a cute, tired waitress who couldn’t afford to go to the con herself, but had made her own Poison Ivy costume anyway to wear to work. I left her a big tip and told her to find a way next year if she could.
- Looking for cool things in Artist’s Alley with a friend of mine, I found a talented artist with an eye for fantasy landscapes and bought a couple of his prints. He regaled me with the story of his idea for a sci-fi story about a man who wakes up in the future with no memory, surrounded by equipment crafted by Wayne Enterprises, and goes on to become his new world’s Batman, even though he eventually discovers that Batman is just a fictional character. My friend was interested in a couple of sci-fi girl pin-ups, which led to an even stranger proposal for a world divided by class between wealthy, mostly sterile immortals and their defective, cybernetics-enhanced offspring–an ambitious setting we eventually realized was all an excuse to have half-naked robot lesbians play sports together. If your base instincts aren’t being pandered to at all times, you’re not really at Comic-Con.
- At one point I met one of the webcartoonists I admire, Ryan North, who writes Dinosaur Comics and also created the Machine of Death series, anthologies set in a world where a machine can take a blood sample and tell you in vague, uncertain terms how you’re going to die. He had a machine there with him, and with all the solemnity of a physician, “pricked” my finger with a red marker, gathered a smear of the “blood,” and inserted it into the machine. A card slipped out the front reading: “LUGE.” I asked him if I should try and avoid them. “It won’t matter,” he told me.
- During the aforementioned Sandman panel, the last question was asked by Neil Gaiman, who wanted to know how it felt for Sam Keith, artist on the first five issues of the comic, to know that it had gone on beyond him and become such a huge artistic and cultural phenomena. Keith nearly broke down, confessing that felt ashamed to be credited with Sandman’s success. Softly and sincerely, Gaiman told Keith that that wasn’t at all true, that he had been responsible for creating the look of these iconic characters. The audience applauded, showing their support to the grateful artist.
- As he did last year, Nicholas Brendon showed up at the unofficial closing ceremonies of the con, the Buffy “Once More With Feeling” sing-along. Singing his most difficult line in the piece with pride while we received our finger puppets (the better to “Grr! Arrgh!” with), he promised to be back next year. At the melancholy close of the deceptively dark episode, singing “Where do we go from here?” with a crowd of kindred souls, I decided that so would I.
You can see some pictures of the loot I got and some various SDCC sights here.