Comic-Con 2006-Day 1-Part 1
I Am Thirty And This Is My Summer
It was a call from Mark in late July that prompted the idea to attend Comic-Con 2006 at the San Diego convention center. I don’t read comics. I did collect a rather large box full of mostly Marvel comics from the ages of ten to thirteen and did attend a couple comic conventions during that time. I thought why not reconnect with my youth. How bad could it be? It will be fun. Creativity will abound. There will be my good friend Mark and maybe 200,000 thousand strong, crowds of pale, atrophied, often mal-hygiened people mostly male queuing and generally geeking out. How bad could it be?
So, I set off in my beloved metallic fleck red Mazda 3 from Atwater Village, Los Angeles and drove two and half hours in traffic to sunny ocean sprayed San Diego. I’m early. Mark gets in at what he said was going to be around noon. Let me first give a little aside: On Wednesday, the day before the Comic-Con 2006 weekend, which starts on Thursday though some people like to pay a little extra and get there Wednesday night and participate in some kind of festivity which I never had the heart to ask about, anyway on Wednesday morning I awoke with what could only be described as whiplash. Maybe a latent basketball injury? Maybe some kind of muscle memory from a fender bender I’d had ten years ago? Not sure. My head was now canted to my right at a 70 degree angle from my shoulder. I seemed to have slept wrong, whatever that means, causing acute scoliosis-like curvature of my spine. When facing a mirror my right shoulder gravitated toward my right ear but the center of my back pulled mysteriously to my left resulting in a definite ‘C’ shape (note drawing as from my POV in mirror).
So, my trip didn’t have the best foot forward and to deter possible whimpers and all-day complaining (I still complained pretty much every hour on the hour) I practiced a strict ingesting regiment of 800mg. of generic label ibuprofen every four to six hours throughout the entire convention. (according to Steven, a pharmaceutical rep and Mark’s friend, who shared the room we stayed in on Shelter Island [more on that later], that much ibuprofen can cause serious complications not least of which is stomach ulcerations and internal bleeding) My intake of generic over the counter pain reliever didn’t fix the problem but made it somewhat bearable. I figured walking an average of six to eight hours a day on thinly carpeted concrete, as per the usual convention going experience, would help the situation immensely.
I’m early in San Diego and at I expected Mark to get in around noon. This being my first time in San Diego excluding a trip just after high-school that was part of a week long spring break type trip to Palm Springs, Lake Havasu (the sewer of the party-lake circuit) and culminating in a San Diego/Tijuana excursion that I don’t remember much of and actually try to block out all together so anyway this is my first time to San Diego.
My first impression is: I like this town. There is a city center called the “Gaslamp District” unlike L.A. and it’s 85 degrees (and rising) and sunny and the ocean smells like the ocean does and there are plenty of thin good looking tan people in chinos and short skirts and sunglasses and these beautiful swart hardly dressed men and women in bicycle rickshaws carting tourists and locals alike to and fro anywhere. There are large brick buildings with a semi-authentic old timey feel and sail boats in the harbor and a basic grid mapped geography that is soothing and reminds me of ’real’ cities like S.F. and N.Y. A nice clean city. I park at the top of the Petco Ballpark parking garage for ten dollars and walk C-curved yet upright along the city tram/metro system railroad tracks, where wafts regularly a definitive smell of circus animals that I never figured out, some 1000 yards toward the San Diego Convention Center wherein lay Comic-Con 2006.
The San Diego Convention Center was built adjacent to the harbor so right on the water of the Pacific and from the gallery on the western side quite a view of gleaming white sailboats and yachts and pink to marmalade hued sunsets can be enjoyed if one had the inclination. The Convention Center itself is set on a rectangular bayside plot stretching a little over two city blocks, is three stories high (not including underground parking which I never saw), is sort of shaped like three long grayish hot dogs set side by side and the center hot dog larger in circumference and more really of a square shape (if looked at from an end), is much fenestrated with large floor to ceiling windows, the entire structure internally buttressed by cool giant end caps that look like portals to the Millennium Falcon (probably not a deciding factor in the choice of venue) partitioning the multiple sections of this overwhelmingly huge space filled with countless meeting rooms (max occup. from 180-750) and several giant halls (max occup. from 1000-7000) and a main convention floor about the size of four football fields with a ceiling so high I don’t remember looking up at it though I know it was there because giant posters and billboard sized advertisements hung everywhere you looked. There are escalators and stairs crossing this way and that and elevators that I never saw except one on the outside of the building that was more tram-like and followed a long stairway.
The first thing I see other than the actual massive building is a massive line outside, not moving and at least four people wide stretching more than halfway along the Convention Center and past one end to curve out of my sight. If I have to wait in that line to pick up my pre-registered nametag I might just have to get back into my metallic fleck red Mazda 3 and drive north back to my Atwater Village abode is what I instantly thought.
As I closed in on the convention I began to increasingly pass at greater and greater densities the people I knew I would be sharing this four day event / experience /extravaganza with. This, the major demographic, carry multiple heavy duty plastic bags printed with advertisements for anything from Marvel to NBC’s Lost to coming this fall-Jericho on CBS to computer games to company names like Neca and Freedom-of-Teach to movies like “Pathfinder” based on comics I didn’t recognize and are filled with heavy things ranging from comics to graphic novels to head shots (autographs are a main attraction here) to free shwag (this I will get into later) to intricate exacting replicas of Superman from the first movie bursting through a brick wall etc. etc. etc. The people carrying these bags, who I will give a lot of time to in this here explanation of my experience, are mostly well…men. Not boys or children and there are women but I’d say the convention was attended by a mass of people mostly male, mostly ages 15-45, mostly pale (I saw probably one of the most pale if not downright peeked person I have ever seen), mostly right about on par with the U.S. average in terms of weight and mostly fit within a just a little bit to very geeky/dorky/awkward type description.
Now, this sounds harsh and it is, but I was there of my own volition so I am not excluded from this account. I cannot not be a part of something I attended for multiple days and in hindsight not quite enjoyed but cherish the memory of nonetheless. Not to mention the fact that I have sponged a litany of facts, anecdotes, storylines, characters and have more than average knowledge of comics (but way below median knowledge at Comic-Con) and pop-culture in general that has somehow been picked up by my peripheral consciousness and also directly by acute attention. So, yeah I’m a little bit of a geek/dork/awkward type person but just not near the “norm” at Comic-Con which is a whole other phylum of dork type.
Anyway, I entered the C.C. (I’m acronyming this for ease of typing) which thank God is equipped with extremely potent and reliable A.C. because San Diego along with most of the U.S. at this time in history had succumb to a heat wave that can only be explained by the liberal (not as in left-wing) use of the term Global Warming. I am for the life of me unable to figure out if the line of people outside of the building is waiting to receive their ID badges or something else entirely. I don’t see any signage and I’m not the type of person to go up to someone in a line and ask what the line is for. I’m just not. So, this is the first example of what I learn will be the gestalt of the weekend. It turns out the Comic-Con is actually just a name given to multitudes of geeky people cyclically waiting in a series of lines over several days that funnel into large rooms paneled by famous to semi-famous guest speakers or finally allowed to stand next to and obtain the autograph of a famous to semi-famous person (female celebrities seemed to garner the largest crowds [except for Quentin Tarrantino who seems to be the unofficial Lord of the Geeks] I’ll get into all this later) to finally again join another queue and so this is the cyclical wait then disperse then wait then disperse aspect of the whole thing. I walk through the building, head and neck listing right, to follow the line, which I can see through the large plate windows, to where it ends or rather it’s joining point which for me to find because the huge convention center is just to small to reach to the end of this enormous snake of line I have to go back outside and walk along the sidewalk and finally see that this ridiculous line, that by the way keeps getting longer and doesn’t seem to be moving, is formed by those people who wish to volunteer to wear the red Comic-Con shirt designating a person who in capacity is simply there to help someone like me figure out what a line like this is intended for or more importantly where the nearest men’s room is located. Registration is located up the escalator 2nd floor where there is not a line at all. Up I go and get my badge and pick up my first bit of free shwag; a flimsy yellow Comic-Con logoed plastic bag filled with exhibition guide (very needed), another very thick guide outlining in depth the programs taking place, a free comic I didn’t ever look at, and multiple postcards selling whatever it is they were selling. The weight of this stuff stretched the plastic cut out handles in the bag almost immediately to where I knew it would only be a matter of time before one of the handles gave out and spilled the free shit everywhere. Due to what would be considered inordinate amounts of people using cellular phones, making calls was a matter of luck, persistence and mostly just repetition. By the end of the weekend I had given up trying to use my phone. This being the very first hour I tried calling Mark.
Hitting redial multiple times to get through, finally before any ring:
“You’ve reached the cell phone of, (in Mark’s voice) ’Mark Holland’, please leave a message after the tone.
“Hey, I’m here. Just going to walk around. Guess you’re still on the plane. Thought you got in around noon? Anyway, just going to walk around.”
Throngs is the only word that comes to mind. I’m not sure I’ve ever used this word to describe anything to this scale and magnitude but it seems the correct usage. Throngs of people dressed mostly in black suffering from chronic dry scalp moving from place to place, people eating hotdogs and pretzels, more people stopping to look through the exhibition guide, more people looking through comics, still more sitting on the floor leaning on walls (free wall-space to rest upon turns out to be hallowed ground when the many tired unaccustomed ambulates make lines for many days even in a building as immense as this and even as early as within the first few hours of the event), more people grouped and taking pictures of a 6’6 lanky transvestite dressed as Supergirl complete with bare midriff, many Asian kids wearing elaborately exact Final Fantasy (popular RPG video game) costumes play fighting with foam covered sticks and plastic swards, whole squadrons of fully regaled Klingons moving with a sad menace through the throngs, and giddy thirteen year old girls swathed in punk rock clothing purchased from their local Hot Topic that’s tucked safely in a giant indoor mall near a freeway exit somewhere. And still more people breathing, eating, walking, laughing, glaring, resting, taking pictures, reading comics, coveting figurines, trading Magik or Yu Gi Oh cards all these people adding to the pulsing bulging throngs.
Surprisingly I’m not at all overwhelmed. I take the escalator back down to make the first attempt at the main convention floor.
My neck, well, my entire back is in spasm by this point so that the C curve is making me more than a little self-conscious as I am pretty much incredibly vain and believe if people think I may have scoliosis then somehow I‘m not a cool and/or conventionally good looking guy which I really pretty much NEED to be at all times. Which means, laying prone for the entire day before proved to only slightly alleviate my problem areas so that I could inaccurately believe I was mobile enough to join throngs of enthusiastic geeks at a four-day long convention after I’d driven 2h30m in traffic.
I called Mark. Again straight to voicemail which means he is still on the plane even though now it’s past one and I’m getting hungry and my neck and I don’t know thing one of contemporary comics and I stay inside just long enough to make one pass and see a couple of Playboy Bunnies circa 1995-98 all sitting at a folding table covered in publicity photos and head shots and semi-nudes and they are all chewing gum and doing there make-up which seems already done and waiting for anyone to come to the table and pay for an autograph and maybe a picture but what are Playboy Bunnies from the mid-nineties doing here at the Comic-Con 2006? Here is my first experience with what will come to be for me one of the most interesting aspects of Comic-Con 2006;
Okay we are all celebrity and fame conscious, all of us are aware to greater or lesser degrees of the people who we have seen in movies or TV or magazines or whatever the media is pitching us this week. One would be hard pressed to find a person in the U.S., the Western world for that matter, that hasn’t envied even if just slightly the fame and supposed glory that comes with celebrity. I don’t need to make any examples. We all understand this phenomena. I could even say pretty surely that the U.S. is obsessed with its celebrities. Again, not a new idea. So, anyway there have been nearly 70 years of TV and over a hundred years of cinema creating celebrity of all types from the Tom Cruise to the Andrea Yates, from Ted Koppel to Carrot Top, from Howard Stern to Bill Moyer, from Sir Paul McCartney to Mary Jo Buttafuoco, anyway you get the point. What I’m saying is our obsession with celebrity breeds multiple levels of famous people and just like the throngs of geeky type people with greater or lesser obsessions with these famous people there are in attendance under the moniker “guest” or “exhibitor”, there are famous people who fall into a hierarchal breakdown of fame and frankly success.
We have the top easy to recognize types like Quentin Tarrantino and Hilary Swank etc. We have the hard to recognize but famous because they are the big time comic artists and writers. We have the somewhat hard to recognize, your movie directors like Guillermo del Toro or the producers of Superman I and II. There are the TV personalities from shows I’ve never seen but heard of like Lost (Lost seems to be a standout in terms of popular TV shows amongst the hard core comic crowd) and the Ghost Whisperer (I have no idea but it’s Jennifer Love Hewitt, who will come up later). Then there are tons of transient famous people like Stephan Bonnar (runner up on a Spike TV’s reality show Ultimate Fighting Championship) that for most part will not be famous in two years time. There is the supporting actor fame of people in current releases that you don’t know their names but you recognize them from some movie or TV show.
And then there’s Lou Ferrigno. He played the Hulk in the 1970’s Incredible Hulk TV show and co-starred in the documentary “Pumping Iron” which starred (if docs have stars) our current Governor (not in attendance). Do you remember a 1980’s movie series called “The Beastmaster”? It was about a guy in a barbaric fantasy world who like Dr. Doolittle could converse with animals only this guy talked animals into helping him fight evil. Well, that guy was upstairs signing autographs next Erin Gray. Who’s Erin Gray? Well, she was the incredibly hot female lead in the early 80’s TV adventure series Buck Rodgers (I‘d like to say I had a very real night-sweat type crush on Erin Gray when I was a wee lad and was tempted to get her autograph but opted out due to my own mortification disguised as empathy). There was a guy that was a regular on Rawhide and other 60’s TV westerns. There was the blond collagen lipped playmate of the year from 198something tucked to one side of a small comic retail booth who I heard explaining to an older gentleman why she couldn’t attend some other convention because it took place at the same time as “Glamour Fest 2006”. I’m not sure if that’s true or what. There was Glenn Dazing (Mark pointed this out to me) who is now a comic artist himself and a guy I only remember because he got beat up at a concert once on video and became something of a laughing stock among the metal head types circa 1993 or so. Let us not forget um…some guy who played some character in the 1980 movie “Flash Gordon” (which is quite horrible). And so many more. Most of these famous people sat at tables with a crinkled oft-used poster board on an easel outlining their connection to something notably fame inducing via screen shots or old publicity photos and ten-year old head shots and maybe a cut-out from a yellowing magazine article that claimed this person was “One To Watch” or “A Rising Star” during the Carter administration. All these people rented booths or shared the cost of renting a booth with other ex-famous (they would alternate days and hours in the booth) to sell autographed pictures taken at least a decade ago. I felt sad and embarrassed for these people who seemed to cling desperately to an idea so fleeting and untruthful they’d sit alone at a booth for several days waiting for someone to shell out the five to ten bucks for an autograph. The worst part was making eye contact with one when there was not a line formed at all, the post-famous person sitting alone gnawing an unused nib, waiting and waiting for anyone to care enough to fork over some cash for a signature. This sect from the dregs of celebrity were everywhere, always around, waiting, chewing on pens, politely attaching longing stares to passersby. They gave me anxiety pangs and I quickly learned to give a wide berth when encroaching their tables and never let my eyes meet theirs for fear of having to succumb to something that I have no clue what it was.
I went outside after my first 45min. of convention going to get some food and ended up across the street at a tourist trap called the “Fish In”, a deep fried fish and chips eatery of the type where they give you a numbered placard to set on your table so a server can efficiently drop the fried entrée with as little interaction and motion as possible. Good for me. My spine was twisting more now so I dropped 800mg and sat to eat and peruse the exhibition guide till Mark finally arrived. It was 2pm.
TO BE CONTINUED...