Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope


Hey! They released the trailer for Morgan Spurlock’s Comic-Con documentary, which I saw at TIFF a while back, so here’s the trailer plus my very offhand review below. (And then let’s all go see it again when it comes out, m’kay?)

I saw Morgun Spurlock’s Comic-Con documentary at TIFF this week [actually this past September], exhaustingly but aptly titled Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, and it was fantastic. It didn’t really approach the subject as an attempt to document the history, overall cultural influence of the con, its role in San Diego, controversies or anything like that – though there were elements of these things – instead, it was more of a love letter from convention goers to the con itself.

By following a handful of fans who attended as part of their dreams to become comic book artists or costume designers, as well as a comic book retailer and a whole slew of famous, regular con-goers like Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon (!), it told the story of what the convention means to real fans/geeks/lovers-of-things.

A lot of people have been talking about how it’s a charming look at the kind of people who love things intensely, especially the kinds of fans who are moved to emulation as artists. I definitely agree, and I’d have to say it accurately and wonderfully reflected my feelings and experiences as a fan. Even if you don’t consider yourself a part of “that world,” go see it. It’ll explain a lot about why conventions mean something to those who go, and what that whole culture means to them (us).

Highlights and Lowlights of Comic-Con 2011

Entertainment, Travel

Day 1: Wednesday, July 20 (preview night/registration)

Lowlight: After a long train ride from L.A., checking into the hostel and walking down to the convention centre, we get a text from the SDCC official Twitter feed saying that registration is closed for the day. It was only around 6:30 p.m. and registration was supposed to go until 8:30 p.m. We asked some convention personnel about it, and I guess the line was so ridiculously long that by the time they finished with everyone currently in line, it would be well after 9 p.m. So they supposedly closed down the line. So. Lame. So, feeling strongly that they should keep accepting people into the line until the advertised time of 8:30 p.m., we took the shuttle bus over to the Town and Country Centre (the location of badge pick-up for Wednesday night) and got in line anyway. At this point, I was super pissed and worried that my Thursday morning was going to be wasted trying to register.

Highlight: And lo! Despite what they said – and what convention personnel were telling people – we got in the line, waited for a couple of hours and we got to register! Go figure. Presumably, they were just telling people that registration was closed to discourage people from joining the line because it was getting so long. Which is terrible, frankly. But it was okay! And finally getting our badges that night was extra exciting because of all the worrying.

Day 2: Thursday, July 21

Lowlight: Exhaustion. On our first real day at the con, we got up a bit before 3 a.m. and managed to join the line outside the building around 4 a.m. (it’s the line you join just to get in the building in the morning, whether you want to get into the exhibition hall or into one of the panel rooms, except for the massive 6,500-seat Hall H which has a separate line). By the time we got into the building and joined the line for Ballroom 20 (7 a.m.), and got into the ballroom (9 a.m.), I was already tired. The first panels of the day started around 10 a.m. and we were there until around 8 p.m., I think. (The order went: Burn Notice, Covert Affairs, Psych, Ringer, Game of Thrones, TV Guide’s Fan Favourites Panel w/ a variety of actors, Shameless, Homeland, Dexter.) It’s unfortunate that if you’re waiting for a panel later in the day, you have to sit through a bunch of panels that you’re not interested in so you can have a good seat (they don’t clear the rooms between panels, so you have to secure a seat early on and stay there), which means the whole morning was kind of wasted. That being said, you may end up being introduced to something cool and, in this case, seeing Bruce Campbell for the Burn Notice panel was a cool surprise. (He’s very charismatic, even in a white blazer, bright pink shirt and green pants.) AND! A lot of shows will prepare neat skits/videos just to show at Comic-Con, which is really appreciated and very cool. Even if you’re not a fan, it’s pretty entertaining.

Highlights: First, the swag. We got great swag on this first day, including t-shirts, a freakin’ STOOL for Ringer and a Game of Thrones bag with the first book, t-shirt and mousepad/screen wipe. Second, seeing Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy!) and Nestor Carbonell (Richard, from Lost!) at the Ringer panel was great. I would rank SMG below Joss Whedon on my Buffy-Must-See List, but it was still neat. And I loved the Lost love for Nestor. Then, the Game of Thrones panel was really exciting because I’m really loving the show and George R. R. Martin was moderating the panel. Sadly, no footage from the next season, though. After that, TV Guide held a “fan favourites” panel with actors from a bunch of popular shows, like True Blood, The Big Bang Theory, Lost (Nestor Carbonell and Jorge Garcia were doing double-duty for Lost and their new shows, Ringer and Alcatraz, respectively) and Doctor Who (Matt Smith is ADORABLE and it was cute that he was such a big True Blood fan.). By the time Dexter got on stage, I was pretty tired, but Michael C. Hall is very handsome, so I got over it. I think this was also the night I saw George R. R. Martin waiting at an intersection, which was cool.

Day 3: Friday, July 22

Lowlight: Sleeping in. My stupid alarm didn’t go off so I slept in until 8:45 a.m. and therefore didn’t get in line early enough to see the Star Trek Captains panel with William Shatner, moderated by Kevin Smith. So, instead, I wandered the exhibition floor, which was fun in itself.

Highlight: Later in the day, I went to the EW: Lost, One Year Later panel, which featured producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse showing up in Star Wars costumes and showing a “lost” clip from the show. Having only just watched the series this past year (meaning I wasn’t a fan the first time I went to SDCC in 2009), it was great to have a chance to be a Lost fan with this panel. This was also the day I bought this polar bear bobblehead, which was supposed to be a con exclusive…

Day 4: Saturday, July 23

Lowlights: Underestimating the popularity of the off-site Hilton Indigo Ballroom. I showed up around 7 a.m. or so, and there were so many people waiting for Attack of the Show and/or Being Human (U.S. version) and/or Community, which is what I was there for. I thought that, since it was an off-site location and the shows aren’t THAT popular, it’d be okay. Unfortunately, I ended up about halfway back. 😦 Second lowlight: Later that night, I tried to go to the new “Hall H/Ballroom Playback” where they show video footage from some of the bigger panels of the day, and the room gets to vote on what they want to see. I voted for Fringe, but Chuck, Futurama and others were more popular. Lame. (I later, of course, just watched it on YouTube…)

Highlight: Community! Seriously, more people should watch this show. It’s hilarious, and creator/showrunner Dan Harmon hates Glee so much and so unapologetically, it’s amazing. All the panels this year encouraged the audience to tweet about the panel with a particular hashtag, and Community had the best one: #anniesboobs (which you’ll understand if you’ve seen the show). On that note, the pen-stealing monkey, Annie’s Boobs, was also there! They also handed out a special SDCC slip cover for the season 2 DVD w/ the claymation characters from the Christmas episode, which was cool and a very not-subtle way to get all of us to buy the season 2 DVD.

Day 5: Sunday, July 24

Lowlight: Sleeping on concrete. Okay, back in 2009, I lined up for Ballroom 20 to see Joss Whedon at 5 a.m. and managed to get a second row seat. This year, I showed up to the Hall H line at midnight (MIDNIGHT!) and I was behind at least 100 people waiting for Glee, Supernatural and Doctor Who (mostly Doctor Who; some have reported that people were camping out for Glee, but it was mostly Doctor Who based on the amount of costumes I saw and eavesdropping). Plus, it was cold and my fleece blanket was terribly insufficient. And some people walking by during the night were lame and yelled stuff occasionally (ex. one guy yelled “wake up!” over and over again). Then, in the morning, the 100 people in front of me ballooned to 150 or maybe 200 or so when people who had slept in soft, comfy beds showed up to join their friends and family who’d waited in line. Sigh.

Highlights: Again, I wasn’t a Supernatural or Doctor Who fan when I went to SDCC in 2009, so getting to see them both this year was awesome. Even just waiting in line (after daybreak) was fun ’cause everyone was really excited and there was SO MANY Doctor Who costumes (of the Doctor, River Song, Daleks, Tardises, Weeping Angels…). Both the casts for Supernatural and Doctor Who were great, seemed grateful for the fan love and were happy to be there. The Supernatural panel showed bloopers (a fan favourite) and Doctor Who showed clips from the past season, and a trailer for the upcoming conclusion to the sixth season. No swag, though. 😦 Best part: Matt Smith and Karen Gillan ran off and signed a kid’s Dalek that he made. Cute.

The Glee panel was a bit disappointing because they were late, spent a bunch of time showing stuff for the 3D movie before the panelists even showed up on stage and only 4 actors were there (Jenna Ushkowitz, Harry Shum Jr., Dot Marie Jones and Darren Criss – though I was pretty happy to see Criss!). Producers/writers Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuck were also there, and it was a bit off-putting when Brennan, on being asked about Ryan Murphy telling The Hollywood Reporter that cast leads Colfer, Michele and Monteith would be leaving/graduating at the end of season 3, said he didn’t know where the reporter got her information and that he never said that. It was a whole controversial thing. Blah, whatever. But! I should note that I saw the Mini Warbler with his family waiting in line, which was a random and hilarious surprise. And he actually made an appearance in the trailer for the Glee 3D concert movie, and the crowd screamed pretty loud for him. Amazing.

In Summation: SDCC is getting crazier. Lines are getting longer (people were in the Sunday Hall H line since 7 p.m. or so the previous day, plus the stupid registration business), you have to waste a chunk of your time at the current con to register for next year’s con if you want to secure your badge, and it’s too hard to get an autograph ticket (it’s a lottery system most of the time, the timing of which conflicts with its accompanying panel!). And it’s getting more expensive (jumping from $107 to $175 for a four-day pass in just one year, plus hostels/hotels are literally doubling their rates).

Plus, the convention seems ignorant of the fact that fans don’t necessarily care about “big” movies with “big” stars, and would rather see TV shows in the larger rooms. Case in point: On the day True Blood was in Ballroom 20, there were apparently 6,000 people in line while Hall H was half full. So not cool. AND, since True Blood was so late in the day, if you wanted to see a panel in that room earlier in the day, you had to deal with people camping out/saving seats for True Blood. Basically, the whole panel system needs an overhaul.

Lastly, I think the shopping section of the exhibition floor could be put to better use. All the stalls seem to be selling the same stuff: comics, action figures/toys, and t-shirts. This year, you could buy the same Angry Birds toys at least a dozen different places. You know what I would rather see? “In-universe” props. That means I don’t want a t-shirt that says “Supernatural” on it. I want a t-shirt that says “Ghost Facers.” And I could barely find anything Lost-related.

I love SDCC, but I’ll have to decide if the lowlights are worth the highlights before I delve into the madness again next year. With so many other conventions out there, I have to wonder if the monster-sized SDCC is worth the trouble, especially when its growing size is what’s causing a lot of that trouble.

(Stay tuned for another post on the rest of my trip!)