AISLE SEAT 2.0.67
By Marc Mason
Let’s see… I left off right before heading out for Thursday dinner, which turned out to be a good one. I joined a couple of good friends over at Busters in Seaport Village, and in a pleasant surprise, some folks I didn’t know were at the table as well. This being Comic-con and not the real world, that situation almost uniformly works out that by the end of an evening you have acquired new friends. It certainly was in this case.
Indeed, if I don’t come home from San Diego with a couple of new pals, something has gone horribly wrong. That should be one of your goals when you get the pass, folks.
After dinner it was time to bar-hop. Our first destination was Trickster, the “Slamdance” counterpart to the con, set up directly across the street from the main show. It was a lively crowd, and I had a number of good chats with folks, catching up with James Lucas Jones, Danielle Corsetto, Jill Thompson (who was kind enough to discuss FINALS with me, which is maybe my favorite of her works), and Laurenn McCubbin. Plus I had a kickass glass of wine, hung with friends old and new, and overall enjoyed the relaxed vibe that they had going on over there. After that it was over to the Hyatt for the usual hijinx and then off to bed. Friday was on its way.
Friday started with an early lunch at Seaport Village, then it was off to the show. I made a number of stops to chat with publishers and artists before finally alighting at the NBM booth for my smut-peddling duties. After that, my day had one focus: shopping.
Look, there is a shitload of free stuff at Comic-con. There is also plenty of expensive stuff. But neither of those things holds must interest for me. The freebies are usually throwaways, and the expensive stuff is out of my budgetary reach. Thus I am looking for cheap, Trade paperbacks and hardcovers, to be specific. And a thorough scanning of the retailer end delivered such things in spades. I found three places selling such items for 50-60% off cover price.
If you’re guessing that my bag got heavy in a hurry, you win the prize.
Ultimately, I bought eleven books for myself, including a couple of omnibuses at the cheapest price I’d ever seen. With all that, I still spent under a hundred bucks, so I felt like I made out like a bandit. Really, if you go to Comic-con, and you aren’t checking out what the retailers have to offer, you’re doing it wrong. They deserve your support, and they have something to offer you. Nuff said.
After giving my aching shoulder and back a rest back at the hotel, it was off to dinner, and that night we went a bit more upscale, getting a table at the Harbor House. There wound up being six of us, and the food was excellent. I had never heard a whole lot of good about that place, but this time around they were just fine. When finished, it was once again time for Bar-con. Not much to report there, and I wound up calling it an early night because my Saturday (my last day at the show) was completely packed full of things to do.
Pals Brandon Jerwa, Joe Dilworth, and Jeremy Spurlock stopped by my hotel the next morning and we walked down to the show together. As I was shutting my laptop down the news about Amy Winehouse’s death came across the wire, so it was a bit of a bracing way to start the day. Running short on time, we did something I had never done before- stop at the lot full of food trucks parked a block away from the con. Talk about a fantastic idea- I wound up with tasty food, it was cheap, it was convenient- I’ll be keeping this option in mind for future cons. But after that it was time to get down to business.
First on the agenda was an interview with comics maestro Craig Thompson. It has been seven years since his last graphic novel and he returns this fall with HABIBI, a 700-page masterwork. We chatted about the book, artistic freedom, travel, and more, and you’ll see that chat here soon at CWR. From there it was immediately on to my next interview- upstairs I located the press room I needed, and I got a surprise. I was supposed to be part of round tables with indy filmmaker James Gunn, but I turned out to be the only person to show up. So I got a kickass one-on-one with the SUPER writer/director. As usual, look for that here in the weeks ahead.
Back on the floor I made a publisher visit, chatted with the always-excellent Javier Grillo-Marxuach (interview to come!), then did my final stint at the NBM booth. I had a nice time helping out my old employer, and they remain a group of pleasant, charming, and intelligent folk. Upon my return home, I found a review copy of Rick Geary’s latest Treasury of Murder series in my mailbox, so I’m stoked to finally read it after watching Rick signing it all weekend. But after my shift was done, it was time to run.
More and more press stuff is being held away from the convention center, and my interview with WAREHOUSE 13 star and veteran actor Saul Rubinek was over at the Hotel Solamar at 6th and J street. I had very little travel time, and getting out of the show, across the railroad tracks, and anyplace back in that area is an ordeal. I made it, though, and we had a fantastic interview. I’ve interviewed god knows how many celebs over the years, and Rubinek was one of my favorites. Coming soon!
I mentioned my buddy Brandon Jerwa earlier, and he was next on the agenda. He isn’t just a fine writer and musician- he is also getting into the realm of filmmaking. Brandon is currently working with an indy film producer on a documentary about comics themselves (not Comic-con) and they were interviewing folks in and around the industry over the weekend. I arrived to watch him interview Chunk Kelly, and then- hold onto your hat and check your gag reflex- it was my turn. I was the first person from the press side of things to get the grilling, and it turned out to be a shitload of fun. Brandon asked great, intelligent questions, and I felt very free to be bluntly honest in my answers. But after me was when it got really good- veteran comics journo Heidi MacDonald strapped on a microphone, and listening to her was like a symphony of intelligence and insight. By the time she finished, I had an overwhelmingly positive feeling about the entire project and I can’t wait to see the completed product. I think they had gotten over twenty people on camera by the time the show was over, and more are set to be interviewed in the coming weeks. This should be something special.
A check of the clock showed that I had missed a couple of larger-scale press opportunities, so I decided to take my stuff back to the hotel and call my con over. After some relaxation it was back down for dinner and Bar-con, and then it was over. I had to get up at seven in the morning on Sunday, as I had a flight at ten, so I squeezed in one last breakfast on that glorious patio, and then it was off to the airport.
So I’ve given you the details of what I did, but that isn’t really everything my show was about. First and foremost, this may have been the best San Diego I have ever attended, and it was my thirteenth overall.
Reasons? One, the show itself was easier to navigate than it has been in years. Unless you were near the Marvel booth, you could get through the floor without wanting to fly into a homicidal rage. With events being held not only upstairs, but over in the Hilton and Marriott, as well as studios and such having stuff off-site, the crowd was stretched a little bit. Plus, the con folks always examine what worked and what didn’t, and they made some adjustments this year that really worked, chief among them opening up the sides of the upper ballrooms so that all the entrances weren’t concentrated on one side. The lines for badges moved smoothly and efficiently, too. 2011 was simply a well-managed show.
The only misstep, though I understand why they did it, was the Exhibitor wristband idea. I get that the show wants to cut down on badge swapping and such, but forcing people to wear a wristband for the entirety of the show was a horrendous idea. So what if it’s waterproof? No one wants to shower wearing one of those. Plus, they’re a biohazard- most people stuck out their dominant arm to put it on- people wipe their asses with their dominant arm. The wristband was an easy place for germs and fecal matter to gather.
Oh, and people had to have sex while wearing them as well.
Other reasons the show rocked? I had a fantastic time with my friends. I enjoyed the city immensely. The shopping was excellent. And as always, I learned something.
I’m a creature of habit and routine- I know this. I’ve stayed at the same hotel for five or six years and developed a comfortable system for handling the con. Yet this year that was all disrupted. I was in a different hotel. I had to develop a different approach to things. You know what? It was fantastic. I loved where I stayed. I had a great time there. It brought me to a different part of town. It gave me different things to do. The newness of it was exhilarating. This was something I needed to internalize and take to heart- to embrace change, get out of my ruts, and do something to shake up my status quo.
There’s never been a Comic-con where I didn’t learn something important. It’s a gift.
Okay, that just about wraps it up. Let me leave it off with some thanks. First, thanks to new friends: Bobby Curnow, Brian Winkeler, Matt Levin, and Brad and Kat Arnold.
Thanks also go out to a fine set of soccer-loving traveling companions in Ben McCool, Jerry Jimenez, Jason Adams, and artist-extraordinaire Cruddie Torian. Neal Pozner, one of those rare guys to combine quiet and cool in equal amounts, was totally the man in getting us back and forth in one piece, and mastermind David Baron is one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever encountered in my life, not just comics. Without these guys, my con would have been way, way lessened.
Without Joe Dilworth, Jeremy Spurlock, Mark Rahner, Elliott Serrano, Paul Horn and Darlene Horn, this might have been an extremely boring trip. Good friends one and all, whether at dinner, the bar, or on the con floor. I’m lucky to know each of them.
And finally, thanks go to John Layman, Joe Rybandt, and Brandon Jerwa, good friends one and all. John took home a well-deserved Eisner for the second year in a row, and it couldn’t happen to a better guy. Joe always brings laughs and wisdom in equal measure, and for that I am always grateful. Brandon is growing as an artist, showing just what he’s capable of in so many media, and it’s fantastic to watch it happening. He was also a huge help in keeping me relaxed and un-stressed at the show, and that counts for more than I can express. When it comes to these guys, I might not take a bullet for them, but you can bet I wouldn’t steal money from their wallets after they bled out.
See you next year, San Diego. We shall dance again.