The Chaos That Is Con

Posted by on August 2nd, 2010 at 3:08 PM

Color, sound, and slurrying lines. The gigantic exhibition hall of the San Diego Convention Center is filled with a riot of color, hundreds of exhibit booths, each screaming in the vibrant hues of its product for our attention. The visual cacophony is augmented by the voices of thousands of people creating a monotonous drone of sound, punctuated occasionally by a shriek of joy or shouts of excitement, and through it all, a distant rhythmic beat of the orchestral din of some new movie’s sound track, volume cranked up to advertise itself. And the aisles teem with costumed humanity, moving to and fro in lines because no other way of moving is possible: only lines move. And they move slowly. People are packed in so close together that they often bump up against one another as they move, all at the same speed, a processional crawl, a never-ending stream, a flood, of bodies.

We may now safely assume that the Comic-Con has arrived as a fixture of American popular culture. Both USA Today and Entertainment Weekly did articles about the event in the weeks leading up to it and covered it feverishly once it got going.

The Comic-Con has arrived, but comic books have not. In fact, they’ve been shoved quietly into remote corners. Only one of the USA Today stories was about comic books, a focus on small publishers (IDW, Top Shelf, etc.). And in its post-convention report—an extravagant 11 pages—Entertainment Weekly concentrated solely on movies: “For four days every summer,” the magazine gushed, “the geeks inherit the earth—or at least Hollywood. From July 22 to 25, the entertainment industry relocated to San Diego … to stoke the buzz among the 150,000 fanboys and fangirls in attendance.”

Actually—or, at least, according to David Glanzer, the Comic-Con’s pr guy—attendance was 125,000-130,000, almost exactly the limit imposed by the city’s fire marshal.

Movies and tv shows previewed or excerpted included Green Lantern, Captain America, Tron: Legacy, Thor, Cowboys & Aliens, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Green Hornet, True Blood, Dexter, The Big Bang Theory, Hawaii Five-O, The Event, The Walking Dead, Falling Skies, The Avengers, No Ordinary Family, Nikita, The Cape, among, I assume, a few dozen more that I missed references to.

In USA Today’s wrap-up on Monday, July 26, reporter Bill Keveney speculated that “press and fans wondered if one of the new tv shows presented could break out as Lost once did, capturing the public imagination and attracting both diehard and casual fans. It’s too early to tell whether any of this season’s entries will become an immediate hit, as Lost did in the fall of 2004 after screening at Comic-Con in the summer.” But everyone involved in these shows hopes, Keveney goes on, “to generate early positive buzz, one of the great potential benefits of a Comic-Con screening.”

In the five pages EW devoted to these subjects, comics were not mentioned. Not once. And in the ensuing six-page glimpse of “The Stars of Comic-Con,” no cartoonist was mentioned. Just actors and actresses.

USA Today’s film reporter Scott Bowles noted one of the highlights of actor appearances during the Con (July 23). Promoting the animated film Megamind, Will Ferrell arrived, “dressed as his all-blue villain character and looking a lot like a Smurf on steroids. ‘I brought breakfast!’ Ferrell exclaimed, bringing out six donuts and a jug of orange juice for the standing-room-only auditorium. ‘Sorry,’ he continued, ‘—I wasn’t expect this many people. You can share.’”

Five minutes of the film were shown, and the female audience screamed when it was announced that Brad Pitt would drop by to answer questions. He didn’t, but “it wasn’t a preposterous notion,” Bowles said, “—his companion, Angelina Jolie, was here to promote her new movie, Salt.”

Actors all over but not so many cartoonists.

What can we expect? The Comic-Con itself is startlingly shy of cartoonists and comic books. While this year’s special guests included comic book artists and writers, they numbered only a third of the total of 60; and only two, Keith Knight and Berkeley Breathed, were syndicated newspaper, or comic strip, cartoonists (and Breathed, having given up the game, is history not contemporary). A far cry from the Con’s early days when strip cartooners were conspicuous at the event.

And in the exhibition hall of the world’s biggest comics convention in the booths of the country’s two largest comic book publishers, DC Comics and Marvel, no comic books were on display. Not one. Every now and then, the proprietors of these gargantuan booths gave away copies of a title, but nothing was on display—no rack of comic book covers representing the dozens of titles each company publishes every month. Instead—action figures galore. Life-sized and small. Giant renderings of superheroes on billboard-sized walls. Movie sets for superhero movies. But no comic books.

Golden Age funnybooks have all but disappeared. The good stuff has long gone; what’s left are the comic books of Charleton and other small bore publishers, all priced too high for me.

The “Gold and Silver Age Pavilion” consisted of four or five short (six booths long) aisles, a net square footage a little less of just that of the booths of Hasbro and LucasFilm combined. Or Leggo, Mattel and Toynami combined. Or an area called “Toygrowers Cultyard.”

(Note: there are no longer enough Golden Age comic books to justify a “pavilion”—aka, a reserved section of booths—all to themselves; Silver Age must be added in, and the Bronze Age, 1970-85, is likewise a presence in the “old comics” pavilion.)

Movies, tv shows, action figures, toys, islands of illustrators selling their wares (pricey prints as well as original art), webcomics.

G4, a tv network, was on hand and broadcast four continuous hours of interviews with actors and producers on Saturday. The principal on-camera personnel were a man and woman whose exuberance was hyper, like little kids on Christmas morning nearly knocking over the tree in a panic to find their presents beneath.

The woman reporter (sorry: names escape me), like all tv interviewers I saw eddying about the premises, was movie-starlet attractive, and she was wearing a short dress, thigh-high boots, and a sleeveless top with a plunging neckline. Her long black hair hung down both behind and in front of her shoulders, the latter locks frequently obscuring our view of her bosom, but she was aware of this wardrobe malfunction and had developed a habitual gesture of flicking her hair out of the cleavage and back onto her shoulders—a repetitive gesture that was just frequent enough that it was annoying, ruining the eroticism. But maybe only DOMWFOF notice such things (Dirty Old Men with Food on Faces).

Despite all this carping, the Comic-Con, even with a mere dearth of comic books visible, has enough that appeals to the same sensibilities as dote on comics. Withal, it’s the only giant comics mall in America, a massive opportunity to buy comics stuff or to get comics stuff free.

Yes, I’ll be back next year. You can’t find comic books at DC Comics or Marvel, but you can find graphic novels at IDW, Dark Horse, Fantagraphics, and Image and in the small publishers’ section, and reprints of masterpieces in the medium, and original art in Artists Alley and elsewhere in the hall where cartoonists and illustrators sit behind display tables, showing their wares. And I’m not the only one who’ll be back: you could buy a ticket for next year’s Con this year during the festivities. Reportedly, 15,000 tickets for next year have already been sold.

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