San Diego Report

“This is the level where Daffy has to kill all the enemies…”

–woman at Warner Bros. booth explaining a new Daffy Duck video game that sounds like a good argument for federal legislation against character abuse

If I had had to pay for a hotel room at this year’s San Diego Comic Con, I probably wouldn’t have come–what few rooms I could find were so insanely pricey that it woulda been hard to justify. But I was able to cash in a wad of Starwood Points for free lodging at the U.S. Grant (the location of the very first San Diego Con, and a nice place), so I made the trek.

As usual, much of the start of my trip was devoted to me questioning the wisdom of having made it. I bought a four-day membership weeks ago and brought a “quick scan” barcode that was supposed to help me speed through registration, but when I arrived at the convention center on Friday morning–I decided to skip Thursday this year–the line of other preregistered attendees was astonishingly long, and didn’t appear to be moving. (Fortunately, my secret identity is that of a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan magazine, which meant I could register onsite for a press pass–that took five minutes.)

The con organizers put a cap on memberships that resulted in the show selling out every day. But it didn’t seem to lead to a less crowded affair–fifteen minutes past the Futurama panel’s scheduled start time, the line to get in was so apparently endless that I gave up. On the other hand, I strolled into the Simpsons panel with no wait; last year, getting in was an ordeal. And if you stuck to the areas of the show floor that were actually devoted to comics–basically the periphery on both ends of the hall–the show was bustling, but bearable.

The crowding would seem to have something to do with Comic-Con’s complete refusal to limit its scope or differentiate between the important, the worthwhile, and the abysmal. It certainly isn’t following its mission, which reads as follows:

Comic-Con International is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular art forms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.

I have nothing against Sarah Silverman, but I fail to see how her TV show is relevant to that mission. I don’t understand why there are booths hawking swords and hard drives, or why it makes sense for Playboy Playmates to be signing photos on the show floor. It rankles me that the con’s program book celebrates every comic, TV show, and movie it mentions as a hit, a masterwork, or both.

Given that ithe convention’s current incarnation is swarming with people whose interest in the artform seems suspect, how about passing some sort of very simple comics literacy tests as a requirement of admission? It doesn’t have to be anything tricky–say, if you can name either of Superman’s creators, you get in. And if you can’t, you don’t.

A Comic-Con that simply stuck to its mission might attract fewer people. But some of us might enjoy it more.

OK, enough griping. As usual, having fun at Comic-Con–and I did–is a matter of finding the 2 percent of stuff that’s of interest to you. A few highlights of my Comic-Con:

* Going to a panel about the explosion of reprints of classic comics, and chatting afterwards with Carolyn Kelly about the work of her father, Walt.

* Picking up a couple of pieces of vintage animation art at the Van Eaton booth–I’ll show them to you when I’m home and can do decent scans.

* The annual Apatoons breakfast, with Jerry Beck, Milt Gray, Thad K., Tom Knott, Bob Miller, and Craig Yoe.

* Having dinner with my new PC World colleague Jason Brightman and his former coworkers from Harris Comics, publisher of Vampirella.

* The Jack Kirby panel moderated by Mark Evanier this morning.

* Jerry Beck’s Worst Cartoons show, with “new” epsiodes of Rocket Robin Hood, Johnny Cypher, and Super President, a Moon Mullins (!) cartoon in Synchro-Vox (!!), and Sam Bassett: Hero For Hire, which Jerry bumped a Sam Singer Sinbad Jr. cartoon to make room for–and which, astonishingly, was worse than any Sam Singer cartoon I’ve ever seen. (Jerry said he’s going to put the whole program of cartoons up on Cartoon Brew Films.)

Here are a few random musings about the con so far:

* I like to spend a lot of time attending panels, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the average age of the panelists at the ones I like to go to is north of 75.

* Forrest J. Ackerman and Jerry Robinson, who are part of the fabric of the con as far as I’m concerned, don’t seem to be in attendance, or at least I didn’t spot them as panelists in the program book. I hope they’re OK.

* The San Diego Convention Center has by far the worst food service of any major convention facility I go to on a regular basis–it’s dominated by cash-only carts with long lines selling Mrs. Fields cookies and pretzels, and as far as I know, there’s nothing in the building that you’d call a restaurant. New York’s Javits center and the convention centers in Las Vegas and L.A. all prove that you can do convention-center food right.

Finally, a few photos (I may whine about the craziness of the con, but I brought a camera and photographed some of it):

Here’s Ron Dante, at the con to sign copies of a new set of Filmation Archies cartoons–which makes sense, since he was the Archies’ lead singer. But to me, he’ll always be the one man who was all of the Cuff Links, the group that sang the definitive bubblegum rock song, “Tracy.”

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Lou Ferrigno, the Hulk himself, greets fans at the Mile High Comics booth.

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Jerry Beck introduces the Worst Cartoons show.

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Popeye fan in hat given away to promote the upcoming box set.

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Original art from From Hare to Eternity, the worst cartoon Chuck Jones was ever associated with.

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Catwoman relaxes by the trash.

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Another Catwoman.

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Superman and Robin.

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Another Robin and the Flash, or an approximation thereof.

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13 comments to San Diego Report

  • Steve Gattuso

    Thank you very much for dropping by the ASIFA-Hollywood booth this year. It’s unfortunate that you avoided Thursday, as the Pixar documentary we put on that evening was one of the best events of the whole con. If you get offered a chance to see it, jump at it.

  • Hey, Harry, thanks for the overview. I’ve only been to ComiCon once, and it was so long ago, the Simpsons wasn’t even a series yet. I remember watching it in the hotel room on the Liv Ulman show. This sounds like a con to avoid, sadly. I was thinking of going next year, but if there’s really no comic stuff to see, it hardly sounds worth the bother.

    On the plus side, I was watching an episode of “Modern Marvels” the other day and imagine my surprise when YOU showed up on my tv! Amazing! I never knew you’d done one of those shows!

  • Harry

    You’re right–if I had it all to do over again, I’d have been there on Thursday (during which there were lots of interesting-sounding panels) and skipped Sunday (which was mostly dedicated to programming aimed at kids). Next year…

    –Harry

  • Harry

    Liv Ullman? The famous Swedish comedienne?

    On Modern Marvels–I did that, um, last year (?). Still haven’t seen it, but they must air it incessantly–seems like just about everyone I know -has- seen it…

  • Tracy Ulman? I don’t remember! Whoever she was that had nothing to do with creating the Simpsons. :”D

    Oh, and you were quoted on the front end of today’s Comics Journal blog, though you probably already know that by now, too.

  • Tom Galloway

    A trivial nitpick; that’s Superboy (clone of a combination of Superman and Lex Luthor version) with Robin, not Superman.

  • Mile High! Was Chuck Rozanski there?

  • Harry

    What does Chuck look like?

  • Matt Hasson

    You got to meet Ron Dante? He was supposed to be at the 2005 con as you recall, but he was a no-show. It would have been nice to get his autograph on one of my vintage Archies albums. I’m getting the DVD anyway, in spite of what I’ve said about the show in the past. Call it nostalgia for things I used to really like.

  • Andrew Leal

    Harry, you owe us more details on Sam Bassett and the Synchro-Vox Moon Mullins.

    Matt, I still have more Archie on VHS than man was intended to own. And I have a Hot Dog cel, enormous posterior and all. Maybe it’s partially because I still have nostalgic fondness for the Archie comics characters in general, partially because it was Hot Dog’s finest hour in or out of the comics, and partially because the dance segments which teach you to “Do the Weatherbee” are up there with Mighty Mr. Titan in terms of bizarrely engrossing moments. And the theme song is still the best to come out of a Filmation show, though that’s no great feat perhaps. Nobody hums the “Fraidy Cat” theme, after all.

    I still wonder why they gave Veronica that horrible Southern accent, though.

  • Matt Hasson

    Andrew, I wondered for years about Veronica’s southern accent myself. There was no indication she had one in the comics. I thought it was because maybe it was the only way Jane Webb knew how to make the 2 characters sound different. I got a surprise not long ago when I came across a recording of the “Archie Andrews” radio show from the 1940′s, and in that show Veronica speaks with a southern accent. I assume the folks at Filmation were familiar with the radio version and so made the animated Veronica southern as well.

  • Well, Chuck used to look kind of young and he had glasses and a long ponytail. I’ve seen more recent pictures of him, found by Google image search on his name. Let’s see…

    He’s the one who isn’t Lou Ferrigno.