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Jul 22, 2009

SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON 2009 PREVIEW NIGHT

Forget January – December, I consider my year to be the time between one Comic-con to the next (usually it’s in July, but the odd year it has been in August). So now it is 2009, and yet again I find myself in that geek Shangri-la that is the San Diego Convention Center for what is my 12th visit.

This year the theme of the convention is celebrating the 40th anniversary, and the program book is a year by year breakdown of the event from its beginning until now. It’s a great book (and you can tell the show is now huge given the production value of it alone) and I found myself rummaging through the years, especially through the ones that I have attended.
I came to realize that while I love my yearly visit here, after a while they all run together. Sure I remember some of the big defining events of the show – Sam Raimi bringing footage from SPIDER-MAN and then the crazy lines for the SPIDER-MAN 2 and SPIDER-MAN 3 panels later on, the SNAKES ON A PLANE panel that resembled a rock concert, TENACIOUS D performing, the SUPERMAN RETURNS panel, the wild initial reaction to the first footage shown for 300, the BORAT appearance, and the screaming teen girls (and their mothers) cheering for TWILIGHT last year to name a few. Outside of those really big ones with movies that went on to destroy the box office and spawn multiple sequels, there are the duds like ONE MISSED CALL or PATHFINDER. Remember those? Neither does anyone else.

I barely do. I can’t remember half the panels that I have attended over the years because let’s face it, while it’s all new and exciting before, during and directly after San Diego, once we geeks acclimate back to the real world, these movies just get released like everything else, people go to them , they end up on Blu-Ray, DVD and On Demand then finally HBO and TBS. But really, who cares. The joy of Comic-con is the fact that we the fans are treated to sneak previews of these things, and we the fans choose to go to them, or let them fade off into cable TV and Wal-Mart bargain bin obscurity.

These are the people who go out on opening weekend, or buy the Blu-Ray on new release Tuesday and the studios know this. We are the people who like to see things first and write about it on the Internet. Of course sadly, our demographic (not me in this case) are also the ones more likely to know how to illegally download a high definition version of pirated material off the Internet, a practice which seriously makes me angry as they seem to argue that it’s “their right” to see the products when and how they want to (sorry guys, it’s still stealing and while Tom Cruise will still get his $20 million, many other people suffer).

It is the 2009 edition, and for the first time I attended the Wednesday preview night. That is when the exhibit floor opens for a few hours and the 4 day and professional pass holders are given advance access to the hall. In the past I have taken the lighter Thursday morning to walk the hall, but in the past 3 years, Thursday is now a packed day of panels and tomorrow has THE biggest ones of the show.

In past years I have heard this night has been lightly attended. Not so this year. It felt like the Saturday crowds had already descended as you could barely move. For the first hour I could not even get near the Warner Bros., Fox or Sony booths, and when I did, the lines were insanely long. The Paramount and Adult Swim lines were also ridiculous. Then again, there are no panels going on, so everyone here – and there are more 4 day pass holders than in the past as now it has become commonplace for the show to sell out in advance – is in the exhibit hall (except for a few who were in Ballroom 20 sampling the new pilots from Warner Bros. like V and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES – TV which is not my thing).

I did manage after a while to get close to the big media booths and pick up some of the swag they had to offer. They are leaner than they have ever been, focusing on a few specific projects rather than just everything. I noticed Disney did not have a huge presence, and Sony backed off the Blu-Ray front to focus more on ZOMBIELAND, DISTRICT 9 (my first free t-shirt of the show) and 2012. The Paramount booth is almost exclusively the STAR TREK Blu-Ray and DVD, and you (if you have the patience to stand in that line) can have your picture taken in the captain’s chair surrounded by green girls.

Lucasfilm is here as always, but without a new project the focus of the booth is on video games. I sampled the new LEGO INDIANA JONES 2 game which was fun (I love the Lego Video game franchise). This includes a “building mode” and KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL which wasn’t part of the last one.

WARNER BROS. is a nice mix of TV and film, with teaser one sheets for BOOK OF ELI, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SHERLOCK HOLMES and JONAH HEX among others, and TV shows like THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, FRINGE and of course the rescued from cancellation (thanks to Subway) CHUCK.

You can easily see why the comic vendors that have been attending this event since the beginning (they pretty much founded it) are annoyed at the media companies. Media is running the show now as that is what the fans want. Comics seem to be merely the starting point for future tent-pole films to fill the studio pipelines. Walking around I see the smaller companies and comics publishers trying to push their obscure movies and books next to the behemoths like HARRY POTTER or TRANSFORMERS and you have to wonder why they even bother. Most of them look like low budget knockoffs of bigger titles (and most of them are) and after a flurry of Comic-con activity announcing a big release, are never heard from again.

In the past few years I have found the comic areas (that is those outside of the DC, DARK HORSE and MARVEL booths), have been almost quiet and serene compared to the media area where you can barely move. That seemed to change this year. There are so many people here this year that it seemed everywhere you went there was a long line or traffic jam. There are more giveaways, and the organizers have been smart to space out the bigger companies among the smaller ones to allow for more foot traffic.

With the current recession I also expected to see less buying of toys and whatever. But that wasn’t the case at all. People were still walking around with their exclusives, their limited editions, their action figures, their Lego sets. In fact, you would think there wasn’t a recession at all the way people were spending. I have backed off buying most of these things because what I found is that with limited shelf space I was just moving the dust covered objects from one closet to another. In fact during my most recent move I found in my closet 10 bags from previous Comic-cons of all the stuff I had collected. I cleared out most of the junk and kept the good items, and know that even with that in mind I will still fill up several bags with flyers and swag this year. Bring it!

I wrap this post up tonight with the weirdest item I saw on the convention floor. There was a booth selling STAR TREK cologne. Yes, you read that right, STAR TREK cologne. With 4 fragrances – PON FAR (which for those not in the know is the Vulcan mating ritual which must happen every seven years or Vulcans go crazy and die. And yes, it even happened to Spock [Episode AMOK TIME]), RED SHIRT, TIBERIUS (Kirk’s middle name) and the convention special KHAAAAAN (tagline: making yours superior). People, I’m not making this up. They had cards with the scents and were taking orders for all 4. Did I order some? That I will leave up to your imagination.

Tomorrow is THE big day of panels starting with 3D Disney then onto the 3D showcase, Summit (more screaming teenagers for NEW MOON and get this, at 7pm tonight they were already lining up to get into the hall for that panel) followed by the other “show stopper” AVATAR and Terry Gilliam. Here’s hoping I can even get into the hall. I will give it a shot. It does seat close to 7000 people, but those overnight TWILIGHT fanatics (one day they will wake up and realize those books are terrible -- although NEW MOON is one of the better ones) may mess things up.

Tonight’s sleep will be a short one. So as Stan Lee would say, until tomorrow…EXCELSIOR!