After attending for 24 years I still love Comic-Con. Crowds and corporations can’t ruin the annual gathering that is Halloween, Christmas, and the first day of summer for me. The costumes, goods, and energy are unbeatable–not to mention hanging out with my twin brother, friends from elementary school, and other people that matter from all over the place. Best Comic-Con ever? It this year felt like that–or at least a return to focusing on comic books for me.
After picking up our badges in perhaps the easiest line ever (one of the things Comic-Con gets right), my brother Greg and I made our annual donations at the Robert A. Heinlein Blood Drive.
Then we went straight to Hall H to catch the panel for Europa Report. I don’t often buy into the lines and hype of the Con’s biggest hall, but couldn’t miss the scoop on the indie sci-fi flick featuring my longtime friend, Hong Kong movie star, and Giant Robot contributor Daniel Wu. Shockingly, the line was reasonable and we were rewarded with an awesome trailer as well as some killer footage accompanied by earth-shaking audio. The panel, which featured director Sebastián Cordero, composer Bear McCreary, actress Karolina Wydra, and two consultants from JPL, focused mostly on how the movie is scientifically sound. Karolina told some pretty funny stories about wearing the scientifically correct spacesuits. The movie looks amazing and intense, and I wish the panel also mentioned the flick’s more kick-ass elements. Too bad there was no time for a Q&A session because I wanted to bring up Dan’s role in it. Go see the film, and get more info here!
After the panel, our only goal for the day was to connect with friends (Giant Robot czar Eric at my old booth, martial arts movie sifu Ric Meyers just walking around, and Kiyoshi Nakazawa, Bwana Spoons, and LeMerde with the Gargamel crew at Grass Hut) and find out what some of our favorite artists were up to (Gilbert Hernandez at Drawn & Quarterly, Jeffrey Brown at Top Shelf). This was probably the most mellow afternoon of the Con for us.
I guess I’m not too good for Hall H. Friday was all about Metallica, the band that was slated to appear at the final panel in the big room. After a doing a couple rounds on the floor, we ran into big-time artist Gary Baseman on the way to lunch with my old friend and skateboard culture hero Alyasha Owerka-Moore, and then pretty much camped out in line and in the cavernous room so we could see the legendary headbangers hold court.
If you haven’t been to Comic-Con recently, the deal is that you have to wait a very long time to get into its most prestigious hall. Many hardcore Dr. Who fans, for example, would spend the night queued up to ensure a seat for their mid-afternoon panel. Greg and I joined the Hall H line three or four hours early and sat through two-and-a-half Sony movie panels before the Artists Formerly Known as Alcoholica hit the stage…
We were seated during the The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones panel. All I can say is, damn. Kids’ movies have become a lot more intense with a lot more production value since I was young. Good for them.
Next up was Robocop. After getting over the shock of seeing something that I saw when I was in college being remade, it actually looks pretty cool and very timely. Samuel L. Jackson is always a crowd pleaser and the point was made that droids today are a stepping stone to Robocops in the near future.
Finally, the Spider-Man II panel blew the roof off the convention center. As if extra screens, a video from Emma Stone, and Jamie Foxx talking about how his daughter thought Spider-Man was going to kick his ass as Electro weren’t enough, Spiderman himself showed up and the crowd went nuts. And after some footage was shown, Andrew Garfield turned out to be a humble, affable, and funny guy who defends all colors, genders, and sexual orientations, as well as the acting and sexual prowess of Tobey Maguire.
I’d almost feel sorry for Dane DeHaan, the overlooked actor who plays Harry Osborn in the Amazing Spider-Man series, if he didn’t star in the 3-D Metallica movie, as well. How cool is that? And then he said that his parents wouldn’t even let him listen to the ultimate metal band when he was a kid…
The never-before-seen footage from Beyond the Never was more akin to The Warriors than KISS Meets The Phantom of The Park. In it, a roadie goes on a mission in real-time as a Metallica concert takes place on the loudest, most awesome metal stage you’ve ever seen. With a dark mood and kick-ass soundtrack in place, civilization seems be imploding as our hero attempts to navigate the burning streets outside the arena. Metallica described the huge aim as well as scale of the massive IMAX 3-D project and fielded questions from their army of fans. No, it ain’t The Song Remains the Same. No, there’s no new album in the works yet because the band was busy with the movie. Yes, this is going to be a very unique, very radical flick. It’s going to blow out your eardrums and fry your brain.
There was a secret show at the cozy Spreckels Theater later that evening, and I was able to get in. The band kicked off with “Creeping Death” and continued to crush a 90-minute set of mostly older rippers, ending with an encore of “Last Caress” and “Seek and Destroy.” And if the Misfits cover wasn’t enough of a gift to the black-shirted Comic-Con attendees, there was Kirk Hammett’s Star Wars theme solo. Awesome. Can’t say enough about how much this band continues to rule and how amazing the movie will be. I’ll be elaborating more on the show in a more music-related post…
Saturday was all about panels. We strolled to the front of a mid-sized room just in time to catch Howard The Duck co-creator Val Mayerik talking about bringing underground comix energy to the mainstream. Very cool. I wish we caught more of his story.
Immediately afterward, Frank Brunner sat down to talk about his experience in black-and-white horror comics and then his work on Howard The Duck and Dr. Strange for Marvel. Brunner’s conversation with J. David Spurlock really got into the divide between the old guard of comic artists who came in during the ’50s (Colan, Buscema, Romita…) and the new generation from the ’70s (including Starlin, Smith, himself). One defining difference was that the former drank alcohol, while the latter smoked pot.
Brunner told a great story about how he and write Steve Englehart got into trouble after depicting God in a Dr. Strange issue of Marvel Premiere. When the Bullpen got wind of it, they asked for a retraction to be printed in the next letters page. Englehart happened to be in Texas when it happened, so he wrote a phony letter from a fictional Baptist preacher who said how much he loved the story. Jim Steranko saw the latter and gave it to Stan Lee, who then decided to pull the retraction and run the letter. “That’s how we got around censorship!” said Brunner.
Roaming around the floor afterward, I saw more friends: Brian Flynn from Super 7, David Horvath from Uglydolls, Paige Braddock of Creative Associates/Peanuts, David McHank from Perpetually 12, and my old friend. ex-Hook-Ups skateboard icon, and closet Trekkie Ming Tran and her friend Eric. And then we talked to Heavy Metal/National Lampoon vet Rick Geary, who was just hanging out in his booth. What!
The last portion of Saturday was reserved for Zap Comix artist, Juxtapoz founder, and infamous Appetite For Destruction LP cover painter Robert Williams. First, there was a screening of Mr. Bitchin’, the mind-blowing documentary about his art career, his colleagues, and his fans. Of course for a heavy-duty artist like Williams there are appearances by heavy-hitters including R. Crumb, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Frank Kozik, Mark Ryden, and members of Guns N’ Roses, the Chili Peppers, Blondie, and Butthole Surfers. There was a very brief Q&A with the film crew that got us amped for the day’s final panel.
The Robert Williams panel that followed included the artist as well as his colleague William Stout (Bomp!, Heavy Metal), Eric Reynolds from Fantagraphics (his current publisher), Karl Meyer from Gentle Giant (partner in sculptures), and moderator Gwynned Vitello from Juxtapoz/Thrasher. So cool to trace Roth’s evolution from hot rod artist to lowbrow art godfather, sprinkled with stories from the three-day standoff between Ed “Big Daddy” Roth and Hells Angels to why art schools aren’t delivering the goods. He was so ahead of his time that he had to start a magazine to give himself coverage and collect his peers and followers into a movement.
Inspired by the previous day’s Robert Williams panel, we sought out William Stout’s booth where we talked his ears off about his bootleg album art (The Who, The Stones, etc.), movie work (Wizards, Return of the Living Dead), and paleontological art (as seen not only in his art books but murals at San Diego’s Natural History Museum). It’s incredible that he went from pulps and “Little Annie Fanny” to museums around the world, and he’s a super nice guy to boot.
I was fortunate enough to interview Robert Williams after that. The Q&A is posted HERE, and hopefully it will inspire you to check out the soon-to-be-released Mr. Bitchin’ documentary on DVD and perhaps even attend the screening at the Egyptian in Hollywood on July 30…
Other notable action on the floor that day included checking out Drawn & Quarterly’s brand-new Reggie-12 book, which collected the amazing comics by Brian Ralph (a.k.a. Ralph Stephenson) from the back of Giant Robot mag. I also met civil rights hero Congressman Richard Lewis, and bought his new graphic novel called March! from Top Shelf. We got shut down on not one but two Kirk Hammett signings, but even the Blue Angels crash now and then.
We ended the Con with a conversation between Gene Yang and Paul Pope about their upcoming graphic novels for young adults. It was very cool to see the parallels and mutual admiration between the squeaky clean creator of American Born Chinese and rock ‘n’ roll artist behind THB, Heavy Liquid, 100%, and Batman: Year 100. Check out First Second.
I was pretty stoked to end the show with another meal with Alyasha and mutual friend and master of ollies, Kien Lieu, but then wound up seeing El Vez at Bar Pink. But that (as well as Adam Ant, Milk Music, Colleen Green…) is a topic for the music post. The book reviews are yet another thing.
This one is all about living, breathing, and being stoked on Comic-Con. There are so many rad things to do that no one experiences it the same way–except maybe Greg and me. Can’t wait to post about next year…