Does San Diego Comic Con still care about comics?

I hear this question a lot — actually, more than the question, I hear it as a statement: “With the influx of Hollywood, there is no place for comics at Comic Con”

That statement isn’t true, but I can see why you would think it is.  The Hollywood influence at SDCC, more pronounced than at any other major comics convention, gives the impression that there is no room for comics at comic con and that those attending don’t care about comics.

Let’s unpack that.

San Diego Comic Con started in 1970 as the “Golden State Comic Book Convention” (I’m pulling most of the historical info from past SDCC guides and Wikipedia). It went through a few name changes in the intervening years until it is known as THE “Comic Con” — there’s a New York Comic Con and a Chicago Comic Con, but generally when people refer to “Comic Con” they are talking about San Diego, which in the past 40 years has become the premier comic book convention in the country?

Why is that?

Primarily, SDCC has grown to be what it is today because of Hollywood.  George Lucas showcased “Star Wars” there in 1977.  “Superman” was previewed there (to a few catcalls) in 1978.  Since then, Hollywood has had a consistent presence at the convention, recognizing early on that not only was it a short drive down the coast, but they could get early feedback on their genre projects.

Hollywood also recognized early on that Comic Con was a good place to find new stories and writers.  Independent artists, animators and writers were always there, hawking their latest books and independent work, so why not find the coolest and hottest properties at the convention to option and develop as future projects?

The last 10 years showed a real explosion in the coverage for Comic Con, due to the internet and blogs.  Now that people could hear about these Hollywood projects early, there was demand.  In 2005, ABC thought that it might be interesting to bring a new show to the Con, see what the audience thought before it premiered in the fall.  The response was so positive and enormous that it set the precedent for TV networks and cable — LOST became a huge hit, the pilot getting great word of mouth three months prior to it hitting the air.  Now every year, not only do established shows make appearances at the con with cast and writers, but new shows which haven’t aired yet get a chance to test the waters. Fans made it clear that they wanted this kind of attention from Hollywood and Hollywood responded.

The impression as that the Hollywood machine is so enormous now that it pushes comics, the original inspiration and medium which generated the convention in the first place, off to the side.  While I understand that feeling, the fact is that comics are still a dominant force at Comic Con.  DC and Marvel still have the largest booths in the Exhibit Hall. A vast section of the Exhibit Hall is dedicated to independent comic publishers, retailers and artists. While it is true that the major traffic jams occur in the Hollywood section of the floor, it’s because the studios bring all of their big screens, flashing lights and — well, Hollywood — flair.  It’s hard to ignore something so bright and shiny twirling endlessly before your eyes.  So while the Hollywood and Silicon Valley (gaming) sections of the Exhibit Hall create most of the traffic, the square footage of space dedicated to comics is still larger.

But what about the panels? This year there are more than 64 television shows with panels at Comic Con! If you are doing that math, that is 16 shows a day!  The film panels have dwindled markedly, as studios have had mixed results from showcasing genre films at the convention.  A few years ago, everyone expected the big attraction at the con would be the panel devoted to the long anticipated film adaptation of the beloved and groundbreaking comic series/graphic novel WATCHMEN, but a curious thing happened.  There was an undercurrent no one had really paid any attention to, except for Lionsgate which was producing a different adaptation of a Young Adult series that was quietly taking over teenage girls across the country.  The teenage girls showed up at Comic Con, once word was out among the rabid fanbase that the film would be presented at the Con with the unknowns cast in the film.

The result was TWILIGHT took the Con and everyone there by complete surprise.  My sister Julie was in Hall H awaiting the start of the panel following Lionsgate.  I received a text from her during the TWILIGHT panel in which she told me of the deafening crowd reaction to the actors as they came out on stage.  It was in that moment that we knew, a full six months ahead of its premiere in theaters that the film would be a huge hit.

Conversely, panels have a way of telling you what won’t do well.  Reviews following the panels for The Green Lantern were so decidedly mixed that the studio had to be worried about their tentpole after the Con.  Like it or not, the Con has predicted success and failure for Hollywood, and they are fools not to heed the bellweather.

But back to the issue of the quantity of panels — let’s take a look at the names of the panels in the first two hours on Thursday, the opening of SDCC this year:

  • Comic-Con How-To: Building the Foundation to a Page-Turning Story
  • The Witty Women of Steampunk
  • Marvel: Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way
  • IDW & Hasbro
  • Creating Spaces for Diverse Characters and Representations
  • From Fan to Creator: Goal Setting for Creative Types
  • Flesk: Celebrating a Decade of Publishing
  • Comic-Con Film School 101: Preproduction and Screenwriting
  • The Truth About The Hobbit
  • DC: Talent Search Orientation Session 1
  • Battlestar: So Say We All
  • How to Get News Coverage (for small press comics)
  • Comic Book Law School 101: ABCs for a Savvy and Smart Start (Up)
  • Books and Hollywood: Literary Franchises in Television and Film
  • Epic Games: Fortnite Revealed
  • Comic-Con How-To: Creating a Character-Driven Story

Those are all of the panels that begin between 10 AM and 1o:45 AM.  What do you see?  More than half of the panels are dedicated to comics and publishing.  Weirdly, we only have one TV show with a panel during this time frame, and it happens to be for a show (Battlestar Galactica) that has been off the air for years!  It’s true, not every hour of every day has this many comics panels running simultaneously, but it’s pretty close.  I would argue that while Hollywood films and tv shows overshadow these smaller panels in their coverage, they are like the umbrella which allows for all of the other panels for games, books, comics and fansites to exist.  If there was no Hollywood, there would be maybe half as many panels.  This diversity is what makes SDCC the greatest display of fandom and geek culture that exists in the world.

In recent years, indie comic producers have felt that they are losing real estate in the convention hall — a valid complaint, given the limited space and growing demand for it.  Some of them decided to move out of the convention center and set up shop in a building nearby.  Heck, even some of the Hollywood folks have been crowded out of the convention center and have found places to establish a headquarters in the sprawling Gaslamp district a block or two away.  This has only grown the Con more, as more and more options make it easier for people to enjoy elements of the convention without needing a badge TO the convention.  After all, the con has grown so large, it is difficult to buy a pass, whether for a single day or the entire weekend.  The solution has come in a most unexpected way — take some of the offerings and events outside of the convention, available to anyone and everyone.  Until the San Diego Convention Center expansion project is completed in about four years, this will have to suffice.  In the  meantime, I doubt that anyone will really mind.

One of the most anticipated events during this weekend is the annual Eisner Awards ceremony, celebrating the best in comics and graphic novels for the preceding year.  If there were no comics, there probably wouldn’t be a convention.  Is it fair to call it “Comic Con” anymore?  From a traditional point of view, the purists say ‘yes’, though even Comic Con itself bills the event as a celebration of popular culture, recognizing that the reach has expanded far beyond its original intent.

So, does SDCC still care about comics?  I think they do.  Hollywood certainly does, as so many films and tv shows have come from comic roots.  So long as there are comics, I think it’s fair to say that Comic Con will care.

Long Live Comic Con!

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on July 3, 2012

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Shawna Benson vs. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

This is a story about how I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World twice before it was released to theaters, and how I felt about the film each time.  This is also a story about the last year of my life.

WARNING – There are spoilers for the film “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” in this post.  If you don’t want to be spoiled, come back after you’ve seen it to read.  I’m sure there won’t be much else here to read for a few days anyway, as I travel back to L.A. from Illinois…

In April, I was lucky enough to get grabbed by one of those random chances on the street – outside the Arclight theater my sister and I were asked if we’d like to see a film far in advance of its release.  This happens often in this town, of course, but this time we were amazed it was a film we actually were excited to see.  That is how I saw Scott Pilgrim the first time.

It was probably 80-85% done.  A lot of the effects were there but not all, and certainly there hadn’t been a lot of the final touchups in place.  It was still a work in progress, even if it was mostly finished.  I enjoyed that viewing thoroughly.  It’s interesting because at that point in my life I was identifying with the character Scott Pilgrim.

Last warning about spoilers…

So in April I felt I was Scott Pilgrim.  I had, in the last year, broken up with someone I got along with very well, but wasn’t quite right for me in other ways and was lured to a relationship with someone else.  That second relationship seemed to be full of spark and life, and I felt, finally, like I had found the right person to be with.

No, I didn’t have to fight seven evil exes, but the relationship was short-lived, and I was dumped.  It hurt a lot.  I am still very fond of him, and I know he is a really good guy, but as with most things, it was not meant to be.  So, when Scott Pilgrim was screened in April, it made perfect sense that he wouldn’t get Ramona and would end up with the person who he was best suited for, Knives, the girl he dumped to pursue Ramona.

This didn’t mean I was compelled to restart the older of the two relationships – I felt I had damaged it beyond repair anyway, but it did give me some hope, that perhaps the “right one” was still out there for me.  I really liked this ending and left the theater completely satisfied by the experience.

The next four months were pretty brutal for me personally.  I still wasn’t coping well with the loss of that dynamic relationship, the one I thought would be THE ONE.  I started the year ready to tackle the world, and within two weeks, the world had tackled and pinned me to the ground.  From January to August I flailed, occasionally getting up off the mat and walking away from the fight, only to find myself drawn back to it and landing flat on my back once more.

It was while I was struggling to move on with my life and embrace the opportunities in front of me, that I saw Scott Pilgrim a second time, this time at Grauman’s Chinese Theater for the premiere.  Again I enjoyed the film, but I noticed a strange shift in my perspective as I watched the film.  Instead of identifying with Scott, I suddenly found myself identifying with Knives.  Scott seemed like an ass, using, then throwing away various girls until Ramona, who he pursued while still dating Knives.  And then he dumped Knives, which, though the right thing to do, felt incredibly harsh.  I had, after all, been a girl recently dumped and still hoped against hope that he, my version of Scott, would come back to me.  This change in perspective had me anticipating the ending all the more, as I knew Scott would go back to Knives and the two of them would end up at the arcade happily playing video games together once more.

But that isn’t what happened.

As the final reel of the film unspooled, I started to realize that it was not the ending I had seen before.  Confused, I watched as Knives gave her blessing to Scott for him to go after Ramona and try their relationship again.  No!  This wasn’t the right ending!  Knives was supposed to get Scott!  And I’m Knives, which means I get the guy!  And Ramona hasn’t shown an ounce of love for Scott, where Knives very clearly was infatuated.  This was messing up everything!

I left the theater, upset about the change, certain that stupid test audience notes were responsible for this egregious mangling of the story.  It tainted my experience of the premiere somewhat, though I still had enormous fun at the party, I couldn’t quite shake the nagging thought from my mind: Knives got screwed.

In the week or two following the film I felt even more determined to try to get back what I had lost in that relationship, so I pursued harder, and found that I was pushing him further away.  The realization was devastating and I suffered a complete meltdown.  It was probably what needed to happen.  I needed to not just be pinned to the mat but punched in the face to get the point – THIS ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN.  My brain finally registered the reality.  Once I was told that my feelings were not reciprocated, and most likely wouldn’t be, there was no hope left.  Maybe I could finally move on.

The morning after that brutal yet honest assessment of things, I had a revelation.  I thought back to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World once more, pondering how this film could hold so much meaning for me.  I then realized that the new ending was the right one after all.  Knives was too young for Scott, and honestly deserved better than to be the afterthought girlfriend post-Ramona.  Scott did deserve a second chance with Ramona, without dealing with seven evil exes and Knives deserved to find someone who would treat her as the best thing in the world rather than a ‘good enough’ friend to pass time with.  Finally I was at peace with this ending, understanding that we don’t always get what we want (except Scott Pilgrim apparently).

It’s all very silly, I realize, but then, this is why we go to movies in the first place.  We watch them to be entertained, yes, but also to identify with characters, analyze the decisions they make and how those decisions would affect our own lives.  I will never blow up the Death Star, but like Luke Skywalker, I left my home to seek out a different sort of life than the one that stretched before me like the Tatooine desert.  We watch films to cheer us up, make us sad, provoke thought and shut off our brains.  The joy is in the discovery of what kind of film a new one will be for us, and whether we will return to it as a remedy in the future.  My sister and I watch “Sense and Sensibility” repeatedly, because it soothes us and brings us some comfort when we are feeling down about our lives.  We need only look to the Dashwood sisters to remind ourselves how much better positioned we are in our lives than they are in theirs, and that our futures are wide open to our own actions, and we are not limited in our options as the Dashwood women are based on the standards of the day.

So here I am, brushing myself off, rising steadily off the mat once more and walking away from this fight.  I’m not looking back anymore.  Sometimes it’s best to know when you are defeated and move on to the next challenge.  And the next challenge, while not a relationship, is something I will tackle with every ounce of my determination.

And someday I’ll find my own Scott Pilgrim, or Ramona, depending on the point of view.  Or maybe I won’t.  But that will be okay too.

Posted under analysis, randomness

This post was written by Shawna on August 12, 2010

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Movie of the Day #21 – Whip It

I liked the feel of this movie more than the actual film itself.  Some of the dialog was awkward, as were some of the character introductions.  Story didn’t feel so much layered in as stacked on top of each other.

Still…there’s a lot to like.  Surprisingly good direction from Drew Barrymore.

The film also made me miss Austin.  A lot.

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna on March 28, 2010

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Movie of the Day #20

I can’t tell you what it is, because it hasn’t come out yet.  But I really liked it a lot.

I’ll tell you what it is…eventually.

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna on March 25, 2010

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Movie of the Day #19 – Alice in Wonderland (2010)

I know the name of this series is pretty laughable at this point (since we are, what, 75 days into the year and I’ve seen a whopping 19 films?) but I intend to press on, hoping against hope that at some point I might get caught up.  Yeah, harder now that I have a job, but still possible!

So Jules and I headed out to the Sherman Oaks Arclight to see ALICE IN WONDERLAND on Sunday.  In 3-D.

So…with the very strong exception of TRON:LEGACY, I’ve decided I don’t need to see any film in 3-D at this point.  Not only is it incredibly hard on my eyes, I feel like those damn glasses get in the way of appreciating the art on screen — “is that smudge on my lens? Why is that blurry? Taking the glasses off doesn’t help – it’s a blurry image fer crissakes.  Well don’t touch the lens – even if it is a smudge, you’ll probably just make it worse…yup, it’s worse.  See? Told you not to touch it.”

Yeah, I’ve had enough of that.  3-D for theme park rides: perfectly fine. For 2 hour films: kind of annoying.

Okay, so what about the film itself?  Yeah, didn’t love it.

(Potential Spoilers, if you care about that sort of thing)

The problem as I see it is they tried to make this film a Hero(ine)’s Journey when the original story isn’t, nor should it be.  I mean, I like female empowerment films (to a degree) but this was just silly.  Not just that it FELT like they were trying to justify why Alice has to kill the Jabberwocky…and in the end, they really didn’t.  A) Other than about a minute of screentime, we have no sense of what “Underland” was like pre-Red Queen takeover and post.  Why is the Red Queen any worse than her really weirdo sister the White Queen?  Are we really helping the citizens of Underland trade up here?

Also, Alice decided halfway through the film she’s tired of being a passive protagonist, which I totally understand and get, and so she asserts that SHE’LL be making the decisions for what she should do from now on thankyouverymuch.  But the only decision I ever see Alice really make on her own is to go rescue the Mad Hatter.  Everything else is still more like, ‘yeah, you say i’m supposed to do this, but i won’t do it because you say I should but I’ll do it because…well, I don’t really know why I’ll do it…maybe I’ll wake up from my dream?  No, wait, that’s not a reason anymore, so I’ll do it because…you asked me to?’  What are the stakes?   Alice doesn’t wake up to her true calling until, like, the last 10 minutes of the movie.  That means she’s refusing the call to adventure for an over an hour and a half.  How does she refuse?  Does anyone talk to Alice about her life in the real world vs. Underland? Nope. Anyone try to convince her she’s more powerful in Underland? Not really, though Mad Hatter takes a stab at that, pretty weakly.

There is no cohesive theme.  Kids left the movie loving how it looked and how silly Johnny Depp is as the Mad Hatter (and WTF was that crazy dance he does at the end?? And who chose the music for that!?! It was sooo out of place)

Alice doesn’t become an interesting character until the very end of the film…when she does finally make some friggin decisions for herself (like, not getting married) and decided to pick up her father’s work and explore the world.  There was a potentially really awesome movie idea in there, even spinning out of the original stories, but I think it got loaded down with the emphasis on visuals – very important for merchandising and marketing.

So sad.

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on March 15, 2010

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Movie of the Day #16 – 18

#16 – Trucker (February 7)

#17 – Fletch (yeah, I KNOW). (March 2)

#18 – Into the Night (March 2)

Decided that ‘Temple Grandin’, which is an HBO original movie doesn’t count. Must have had theatrical release, methinks.

Oh, have also watched Season 1 of Breaking Bad (love it), started Season 1 of The Shield (love it) and myriad other tv episodes.  Reading lots of pilot scripts.

And that’s the briefest, lamest blog update I could muster.

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna on March 8, 2010

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Movie of the Day #15 – Big Fan

Amazing performance from Patton Oswalt in this.  Did they even run an Oscar campaign for him? I’m not saying he should be in the list, but…maybe a Spirit award?

Something.  What an amazing portrait of life.  If ‘Precious’ is one end of the empathic spectrum, this is possibly on the other.

Low budget, not as ‘refined’ as a studio film — yet I could watch this multiple times.  Can’t say that for more than half the films I saw last year.

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna on February 6, 2010

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Movie of the Day #14 – Precious

Direction felt a little indulgent at times, and it pulls no punches (even using a literal frying pan over the head) at times to get its message across.  That said, I still found myself engaged and caring about Precious — character empathy can be so very hard to get right, especially if the character is from a background or has life experiences which are hard to comprehend — in this case, having been dealt an extremely bad hand in life.

I’d say the performances are some of the strongest I’ve seen this year, certainly the most raw and unfiltered.

I’m not sure that over the years it will be a film I revisit much, but I do think it deserves much of the accolades it has drawn.

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna on February 5, 2010

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Movie of the Day #13 – Bright Star

I lack much to say about the film that is at all substantive.  I really enjoyed it, more than I thought I would and loved the costume and art direction porn.  In a completely inappropriate way, watching the film made me think of this video on Funny or Die – mostly because of the commonality of Paul Schneider being in it.

“I shoulda worn a coat to my inauguration.”

And the trailer for “Bright Star”

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna on February 1, 2010

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Movie of the Day #12 – Coraline

Okay. We are 29 days into January, but only 12 new films.  Yeah, I can do the math too.  I have a lot of catching up to do.

In my defense, I’ve been reading a lot of pilot scripts and writing…but, I still want to get back on track with this ‘resolution’, so yay, new movie.

I had two problems with “Coraline.”

First, I hate rules that aren’t fully explained.  I get that there’s this pathway between the real world (RW) and the ‘Other Mother’s’ world (OMW), but apparently the only way through is from the small door.  Still, Coraline manages to transport from OMW back to RW when she goes to sleep.

Later, they establish that OM can’t get into the real world EXCEPT THROUGH THAT DOOR.  So, which is it?  I’m probably picking nits, but it bugged me enough to take me out of the movie and try to figure out if I had missed something earlier on that explained that or if I was just supposed to accept this weird little rule change.

The other problem I had was one of Coraline’s character.  I’m still scratching my head about the girl.  Overall I feel that Gaiman wrote a beautiful story about being careful what you wish for (as you may get a psychotic version of it), but there was something about Coraline’s behavior throughout that just didn’t ring true.  OMW starts off so great, you wonder why Coraline goes back to the RW at all (and again, with the rules — DOES she go back voluntarily or is she magically transported back to her bed?  Is she sleepwalking?)  Once she detects that things are going hinky, she’s a little slow to respond, especially given how generally bright Coraline appears to be.  I’m also confused about OMW – does she have power over everything she creates there?  If so, how are the other Wylie and her other dad able to rebel as they do?  One would think they are merely ‘puppets’, but what gives them conscience to help Coraline?

Also, there can never be enough Ian McShane.  Like the proverbial cowbell, I needed more.

I enjoyed the visuals, but the film left me wanting.

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna on January 30, 2010

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