Lessons learned; the ecstasy and agony.
The first lesson of San Diego Comic Con attendance should be choose where to spend your time wisely. Try to sift through what sounds good versus what has real substance. Of course, it’s difficult to say what is actually worth your while until you’re actually there, right? It’s a bit like trying to guess which wrapped Christmas gift will be your favorite by its weight. I spent Preview Night (as abbreviated as its name suggests) donating blood to the annual drive. Donating a pint has become a tradition for me at WonderCon, and my friend and I do it in San Diego now as well. After donating blood and eating dinner at the hotel (a delicious shawarma sandwich), I did an hour-long tour of duty in the Dealer Hall; a labyrinthine-maze of bodies, sounds and full-scale media bombardment that is not for the faint of heart (or the agoraphobic). The SDCC Dealer Hall (or SDCC in general) is the geeky, 50-year old offspring of Hollywood and Las Vegas.
The official Day One (really Day Two, if you attend Preview Night) was where my own poor judgment marred my experience a little bit. The day started off very promising, as I went to the Gaslamp Quarter of old downtown San Diego (across from the actual convention center) to the “First Duty Starfleet Museum”, set up at the Michael J. Wolf Fine Arts gallery.
Though I’d arrived nice and early, there was still a long wait to get in. Standing in line (near the front…yay!), I reconnected with some familiar friendly faces from the Star Trek Las Vegas convention, as well as a lovely mother and daughter who’d flown in from Peru to attend their first Comic Con together. Despite occasional online squabbling and rancor, Star Trek fans (in person) tend to be some of the sweetest people on the planet. They made the nearly-hour long wait to get into the exhibit well worth it.
The “First Duty” exhibit was a relatively small, but priceless collection of props, miniatures and costumes relating to the Star Trek character of Jean-Luc Picard (my favorite Star Trek captain), as played by Sir Patrick Stewart. The pieces were mainly collected from the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV series and movies, as well as a few from the upcoming CBS-AA TV series, “Picard” (scheduled to stream sometime next year).
After attending the Exhibit, I bumped into my wife (out of 130,000 people, what are the odds?) who, as usual, does her own thing as well during the convention. This year, she cosplayed as the angel “Michael” from the miniseries adaptation of the Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett novel, “Good Omens” (available on AmazonPrime streaming). Her costume was both impeccable and unmistakable, and she got a lot of positive notices, including an interview with the Orange County Register! My wife’s cosplay skills/talent deserve any and all notice they receive
From there, I wolfed down my usual perfunctory Comic Con lunch (hot dog, chips, diet Soda) and prepared to ‘squat’ for several panels I wanted to attend. The first was a 3 pm panel commemorating the 40th anniversary of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (a film near and dear to my old Trekkie heart) and a 40th anniversary of “ALIEN” at 7:15 pm.
Of the two panels I’d waited (forever) to see, only the Trek panel was truly worth attending, since moderator Mark Altman (producer, author, “Free Enterprise”), panelists Daren Dochtormann (FX artist/designer), Ashley Miller (“Thor” “X-Men: First Class”), Robert Meyer Burnett (“Free Enterprise”) and Bill Hunt (TheDigitalBits.com) are a wickedly witty group whose panels (including the famed “Starship Smackdown”) have become the stuff of geek legend at Comic Con and WonderCon.
The panel was also boosted by a surprise appearance by producer David Fein, who confirmed that Paramount is in talks to (finally) do a proper blu-ray/4K release of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Director’s Cut,” which was released in measly 480p resolution nearly 20 years ago.
The first panel I’d waded through for the ALIEN anniversary panel was for the TV series “Home Movies”, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary. To be perfectly honest, I’d never heard of this series…ever. Not even a whisper. It was done by the same folks that did “Dr. Katz”, which I was only vaguely familiar with. The cast and producers seemed very witty and charming, and I enjoyed their repartee even if 9/10ths of their references to the show flew past my noggin at the speed of sound.
Next up was a gathering of producers and a couple of the actors from the current Harry Potter-verse stage play, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” (a massive hit, touring globally at the moment). The illusionists involved with replicating some of the book’s/movie’s magic for the stage were on hand to give live demonstrations of simple magic tricks (palming coins, etc) that were fairly routine, but got the audience on their feet in active participation (I sat it out; not a big “Harry Potter” fan either, I’m afraid…).
I felt pretty damn bad taking up a seat that should’ve gone to a more dedicated fan of this clearly cultish little show, but that’s the dark side of ‘squatting’ at Comic Con…risking atrophied muscles and aching joints attending events you couldn’t care less for in order to see those events that you do care about.
Finally came the panel I’d waited over three hours for; the ALIEN 40th anniversary panel that turned out to be a massive goose egg. Despite the promise of ‘a few surprise guests’, the biggest name connected to the ALIEN franchise was the widow of writer Dan O’Bannon. Most of the panel was spent pimping the upcoming documentary “Memory”, which promises to be the tell-all retrospective of the film. Well, based on the fairly common ALIEN knowledge trotted out during the panel, I’m not holding my breath. Some of the footage of the late Swiss surrealist designer H.R. Giger that was used in clips from the documentary was footage I’d seen used in the ALIEN “Quadrilogy” DVD box set, which I’d bought nearly 16 years ago. Much of the panel seemed fixated on the rape/impregnation/grisly-death of “Kane,” played by the late John Hurt (a delightful man I’d briefly met 4 years ago at a convention before he’d passed away).
My arthritis was on red alert by this time, having sat off and on for the better part of 6 hours, and by 8:10 pm, I began the hobbling, painful march back to the hotel…wishing the entire time that I had the good sense to simply leave after the Trek panel, and enjoy other parts of the convention. My wife and our friend Alison (who’d rejoined us this year, after being unable to attend the last two) went to an “Animaniacs” event downtown, and returned a few hours later.
Day Two: It Gets Better…
Day Two started off well and ended great.
I took a nice long walk to the San Diego Library (over the bridge, across from the convention center, down the street..can’t miss it) to attend a presentation for author/screenwriter/producer/director Marc Zicree’s “Space Command” series; a Kickstarter-funded, ongoing web series that I’ve grown very fond of.
Taking its cue from more optimistic space stories like TOS Star Trek and even a page or 1950s fare such as “Space Patrol” (lead character Capt. Jack Kemmer, is named after Space Patrol’s late star Ed Kemmer), the fan-supported show boasts nice production values and a solid cast.
Many of the supporting characters are played by genre favorites like Robert Picardo (“Stargate” “Star Trek: Voyager”) and Doug Jones (“Hellboy” “Star Trek: Discovery”), with many of the leads played by unknowns who hold their own with the veterans. The message of the pilot episode (“Redemption”) is simple; altruism for its own sake. Being a better being because you’re able to do so, not because it’s easy or expected. The panel also included trailers for two forthcoming installments (“Forgiveness” and “The Great Solar War”). For more info on this exciting series, check out their website (http://spacecommandmovie.com) or on Marc Zicree’s YouTube channel (“Mr. Sci-Fi”). Zicree has worked for decades in television and feature films (“Star Trek” “Twilight Zone” “Babylon 5” etc). His wife Elaine, also an accomplished writer/director, works on Space Command as well.
Afterward I took a nice stroll to the upper deck of the convention center overlooking the marina for some fresh air. It is truly beautiful along the San Diego coast, looking out to the boats in the bay. Devouring most of a delicious shawarma lunch (saved the rest for leftovers…yum!) I went to get an early seat (around 5:30pm) for my next panel (which started at 7pm).
The panel centered on the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” documentary “What We Left Behind”, which I saw theatrically a few months ago. It is a fitting tribute to this terrific show, arguably the best Star Trek series of all. Producer Ira Steven Behr was there, as was documentarian David Zappone, DS9 writer/producer Ira Steven Behr.
Also on hand were cast members Andy Robinson (“Garak”), Cirroc Lofton (“Jake Sisko”), Aron Eisenberg (“Nog”), Penny Jerald-Johnson (“Kassidy Yates”) and Chase Masterson (“Leeta”). The panel was hilarious (Lofton’s paper towel roll story had everyone crying tears of painful laughter), as well as never-before-seen bloopers from the series (including Odo planting a big kiss on Quark). The cast managed to meet and greet with fans (including myself) afterward, even though we were all being ushered out… this is how Comic Con after dark rolls. The cast and crew of that show are lovely people. They really did their best to give the waiting fans special attention.
So, without too much time wasted squatting, and allowing for a bit more spontaneity, Day Two ended well.
Allons-y to Day Three!
Despite Day One’s descent from delightful into painful dreariness, I still wouldn’t forgo the privilege of being anywhere else right now. Attendance of SDCC is a privilege, especially when you consider the tens of thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) who try so very hard to attend, but can’t. That I made a few bad choices is all on me. Day Two was very different; I had two events, and I stuck with them. They were very rewarding, and I didn’t wait all day for them, either. After 15 years of attending SDCC, my best times here usually occur when I don’t overly plan things and allow the overall experience to simply happen.
Here’s looking forward to Saturday and Sunday. Should have a final post up by Sunday night. Stay tuned!