Weekend in Review: San Diego Comic-Con

I packed so much into the quickly passing four days spent in the San Diego area this past weekend, I wasn’t sure where to start with my recap, so I’m going to let my poorly composed and intermittently shoddy camera phone photos help structure the tale of Comic-Con International 2009.

Courtyard by Marriott

Due to a combination of other obligations and financial restrictions, Sara and I missed the preview night of Comic-Con (Wednesday) and the opening day (Thursday). We drove down in the AwesomeMobile Thursday afternoon, arriving at our hotel, a Courtyard by Marriott about 15 minutes from downtown San Diego, about 6 p.m. That’s the view from our room up above. Thursday night we took a winding drive on a search for food through University City and La Jolla, eventually ending up in Del Mar. Just in time to catch a pizza joint just as it was closing. Because in Del Mar, apparently pizza after 9 p.m. is just unheard of.

Pedestrians at Comic-Con

On Friday morning, after a stop at the corner Starbucks, we drove to the park-and-ride at Qualcomm Stadium (I think a football team or something plays there) to catch a trolley to the San Diego Convention Center. Parking at SDCC is far worse than at any convention in Las Vegas, where at least the casinos nearby offer free, nearly unlimited parking, and a number of remote lots at the actual convention center. Meanwhile, SDCC is locked right downtown in San Diego near Petco Park (I think some baseball team or something plays there), so your best bet is not to bring a car anywhere near there unless you don’t mind paying $30 to $40 a day for parking. Our 2-day transit pass was a bargain at $9.

As you can tell by the photo above, the crowds at Comic-Con this year were insane. The last time I was there, in 2007, I don’t remember having to wait in line just to get to the crosswalk. But this year, uh, yeah. It was pretty thick. The inside of the convention was like a giant, crowded geek nightclub, but instead of go-go dancers, there were people in sometimes-awesome, sometimes-ill-fitting costumes everywhere. And people stopping dead in the middle of a stuffed aisle to take their picture every five seconds.

Otherwise, Friday at the Con was pretty good. I didn’t make it to any panels that day, but did hit the floor for about four or five hours, meeting up with friends such as Jill Beaton (Oni Press) and Paul Horn (Cool Jerk) as well as meeting in the flesh for the first time internet pals such as Kevin Church (The Rack, Lydia), Rick Lacy (Labor Days) and David Hahn (All Nighter), at least a few of whom I’m be pestering to work with in the near future. I also took care of business, placing copies of The Utopian and Pop! Goes the Icon swag at the freebies table, talking to distributors and generally shaking a lot of hands. Sara and I did try to get into the Big Bang Theory panel, but alas, we were not prepared to wait outside the big room for two hours.

After leaving the con, we took a few trolleys back to Qualcomm to get our car, headed back to the hotel for a short nap, and then dared to drive back downtown to grab a bite to eat before the Oni Press/United Talent Agency/Electronic Arts party to which we were invited. After finding a parking lot that cost less than $20, we headed into the Gaslamp Quarter to find somewhere reasonable for food — a challenge for time, cost and quality on a Friday night during Comic-Con. We ended up at a tapas joint called The Marble Room, in which Fantastic Four cartoons were playing on the flat screen at the bar and servers were dressed somewhat in geeky costumes. The food was pretty good, the view (and breeze) from the window-side bar table was refreshing, and we managed to get in and out within an hour.

Petco rooftop

After wandering the streets a bit, we headed to the party, which was being held on the rooftop of the Western Metal Supply Co. — also known as the northwestern edge of Petco Park. The atmosphere wasn’t much different than every other party we go to in Vegas. Open bar with accompanying lengthy lines. Appetizers floating around on trays. DJ spinning mix of hip-hop and ’80s pop. People gathering in small groups but not mingling much. None of the above is a bad thing (especially not the hosted bar), but aside from the great view (see above photo), perfect weather and higher-than-usual geek content, a party is a party is a party. Except this one featured attendees such as Zachary Quinto, Masi Oka and Joss Whedon. Actually, the best part of the party was, oddly, hanging out with people I either already knew or just met, half of whom also live or have lived in Vegas, including the aforementioned Jill and her husband/high school buddy/writer Frank Beaton, awesome artist Warren Wucinich and his lovely lady companion Linda, and an assortment of other people such as that Rick Lacy guy. (Again, some of those above people should be expecting/already have received e-mails soliciting their awesomeness.)

crowds at SDCC

Saturday, Sara and I decided to sleep in a bit, as there were no panels I had to get to until the early afternoon. After a so-so late breakfast at our hotel, we headed downtown about noon. Instead of taking the trolley, she dropped me off by the convention before driving off to explore less insane parts of San Diego, leaving me to fend for myself amongst the geek hordes. I lasted on the main floor about an hour before hightailing it to the somewhat-calmer upper level, where most of the panels were being held (as well as autograph signings and the freebie table, where I unleashed more copies of The Utopian to waiting crowds — the free comic pickings up there were slim!). While waiting in line for a panel on webcomics featuring the creative forces behind such popular strips as PvP and Sheldon, I ran into another Vegas-ite, cartoonist and journalist F. Andrew Taylor (and his son, Duncan). We happened to both be attending the same panel. We also both happen to be on the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival planning committee. It’s a small world out there, even 300 miles from home.

After that, I got away from the crowds with a relaxing solo lunch at Whiskey Girl, where I worked on layouts for next week’s Utopian pages. On my way back to the convention center, I came upon some roller derby chicks performing stunts for onlookers. Somehow even my poor excuse for a phone-mounted camera caught this jump mid-air:


I was headed back to SDCC for one last panel, where former New Line Cinema production executive and comic book writer Jeff Katz unleashed his new publishing and intellectual property development house, American Original, unto an audience equally composed of fans and industry pals. American Original has strategically partnered with companies such as Top Cow, Longbox and Titmouse to produce original content across multiple media. Katz’s approach is basically this: Hollywood has been raping and pillaging geek culture for too long, and his company will reverse that by having the geeks in control. Should be interesting to see what comes out of that.

That panel was both the end of the day and the end of my stay at SDCC for the year. Sara met me downtown (somehow she found free, street parking within a few blocks of the convention!), we had a great dinner at this cool place called Sidebar (I believe every city is required to have one), and then … well, we pooped out. Headed back to the hotel and stayed in for the night, turning in early with the hopes of getting a decent start the next day.

Self-Realization gardens

On Sunday morning, we swung by the same Starbucks again, and then started driving north toward Encinitas, where I intended on visiting one of my favorite SD-area eateries, Swami’s Cafe, but as usual, there was a long line and we didn’t feel like waiting, so we headed down the street to Luxus 101 Bistro. The service was slow and the food was mediocre, but the bathrooms were nice, so … there’s that. Afterward, we walked off our brunch at another favorite, the meditation gardens as the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple. It’s a beautiful, immaculately maintained collection of flora and fauna perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. And people really do sit on benches hidden all around the property meditating. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend stopping by and gaining some perspective.

the fog

We meandered up the coast a bit more before crossing over to the I-15 and heading north toward Las Vegas. If you’ve ever done the weekend drive between SoCal and Vegas, then you know Sunday afternoon/evening is a bad time to be leaving Sin City, as every L.A. visitors drives home south on the 15, but it’s a fine time to head into Vegas. Except this past Sunday. There was a giant vehicle fire mid-afternoon between Primm and Jean, and though it was cleared up long before we got there, for some reason traffic was still playing catch-up by the evening. A few miles outside of Jean, we were stuck, moving a few inches every couple of minutes. It must have taken about an hour and a half to move all of one mile. Even worse, as evidenced by the photo above, The Fog was coming for us! There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and on top of it all, I had to pee like a mofo. But we made it through. We made it home, to a house full of packed boxes and two very excited Pekingese dogs.

And there you have it. I still haven’t gone through the bag of graphic novels and comics I bought in San Diego (mostly from friends — I take care of my peeps!), and I’m just now getting caught up on e-mails, assignments, etc. It’s still up in the air whether I’ll return to SDCC in 2010. I was planning on renting table space for PGTI next year, but so much of the focus of the convention has moved away from comics (and more importantly, people buying comics!) and toward movies, video games and toys, that I feel as though my time and money is better invested in smaller cons such as Emerald City or Alternative Press Expo. But at the same time, for mere exposure, four-and-a-half days of face time at the country’s largest celebration of the popular arts couldn’t hurt. Well, not much.