Saturday, October 9, 2010

Dispatches From New York Comic Con 2010- Day One: "A Four Hulk Christmas"

On a rainy August afternoon, I was browsing the stacks at a Brooklyn bookstore when I received a phone call from Charge Shot!!!'s own Rob Kunzig. "How would you like it if we sent you to Comic Con, with a press pass?" he asked me. I was head-over-heels. San Diego Comic Con is the geek event of the year, a Mecca for people like myself. And now I would finally get to go, as a credentialed professional. I willingly gave Rob my information as requested by the con's management. I looked forward to summer 2011! Sand Diego, here I come!

Then I realized that Rob meant the New York Comic Con, no relation, which is in October. And New York, where I live.

NYCC isn't quite as prestigious as its West Coast cousin, lacking the main stream name recognition, but it's basically the same thing. The one con I've ever been to was at the age of twelve, when a friend and I attended some sort of Upper Midwest regional convention at the Thunderbird Hotel near the Mall of America. Since then, I've largely come to view big cons like San Diego with a bit of disdain. As far as I can tell, they represent what I will dub "Big Geek": the institutionalized commoditization of nerd culture. What started off as a way to meet fellow comic book aficionados became, since the rise of the comic book movie, a way for movie studios to sell us trailers months before their films premiere. From what I could tell, the art of the comic convention had been lost.

I am pleased to report that my findings from my first day at New York Comic Con proved my prejudices wrong. Sure, there was tons of whoring of licensed movie properties, both comic and non-comic related, but there was enough old school comic focus and geek love to make it a blast.

Plus, I get to go for free.
My day started just around 1:00 PM, when the con's doors opened. I was immediately amazed by the sheer amount of like-minded people. Despite popular belief, we nerds are incredibly social creatures. Our marginalization by the jocks leads us to seek common ground with our fellows, banding together out of solidarity. If anything, even a geek who completely lacks social skills will relish the opportunity to flaunt his knowledge of titles of Star Trek episodes "Balance of Terror"!) to a geek of inferior power.

Thusly, having never been to anything quite as large, not even the biggest midnight Watchmen premiere in Minnesota could match this thing for sheer size and nerdiness. My first taste of NYCC was Boba Fett, sitting on the sidewalk, playing Danny Elfman's Batman theme on accordion. He was no Christina Hendricks, but I knew I had come home. And so I entered the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center...

Fighting my wave through packs of Naruto cosplayers, I made my way to the press room to receive my pass identifying me as a legitimate representative of widely read New Millennium Culture blog Charge Shot!!! Waiting in line, I encountered a young woman dressed as the character Hope Summers, the Mutant Messiah, from the X-Men Second Coming crossover event from this past year. I was immediately presented with a conundrum of the highest order: I was under direct orders from my editors to take pictures, with a focus on cosplayers (always a highlight of any con coverage, especially if they're hot girls), but I was also an awkward geek with no skills at talking to women. What I found from that first encounter was a few things: 1) Cosplayers, female ones especially, know they're going to be ogled by fanboys; it's an essential part of craft and some probably enjoy it, and 2) We geeks lack the social grace that brings feeling of awkwardness normally experienced when wearing spandex tights in front of thousands of strangers. So, I was polite and direct and was happily granted my first of many cosplay photos of the day.

And then it happened. I gave my name and the news outlet I represented and was issued Charge Shot!!!'s first ever credentials: a press pass. After two years of hard work, we were legitimate and no one could take it away from us. It was a real honor to represent the blog in this way, and I'd like to extend my sincerest thanks to Rob and the editors for giving me the opportunity.

Did I mention this meant I didn't have to pay any money?

First things first, autographs. I brought a lot of comic books, and they needed to get signed. The earliest mark on my list was Garth Ennis: creator of Preacher and renowned for his darkly comic, ultraviolent runs on The Punisher and Hellblazer. I brought my copt of Hellblazer: Fear and Loathing an Ennis trade paperback and following a twenty-minute-or-so wait in the line at Midtown Comics' booth, I made my way to the front. I'm always the kind to be slightly starstruck when in the presence of a celebrity, and my usual above-average-decibels voice was a meek mumble in the face of an artist I admired.

"Hello, Mr. Ennis. Could you please make it out to Alex?"

"Sure thing, mate. 'To...Alex...Cheers'. There you go!"

"Thank you. I'm a huge fan."

I spent the next several hours wandering around the showroom floor. Something interesting to consider is that this is a sales convention like any other. Just like plumbers go to places like Cleveland and Kansas City to check out new models of toilets and lawnmower salesmen take trips to see the new John Deere, cons are meant to sell things to potential buyers. There are booths for comic publishers big and small. There are booths for movies from the big studios and independent filmmakers who would like you to check out their webseries about vampires who fight crime or something. There are also booths for novelty products like ocarinas (which are used exclusively to play songs from Zelda) and sexy underwear for fat men.

Video games also get a big showing at the con. The biggest attraction was probably Marvel vs. Capcom 3. There was a crowd of about a hundred gathered around the big multi-screen display erected in the center of the main showroom. Lucky/persistent individuals were invited to play for all to see. There was an emcee who narrated the proceedings saying things like "Look at Ryu's hadouken here!" and "He starts this combo by shooting at your feet!". He also seemed to share an obliviosuly homoerotic fixation on Devil May Cry's hero Dante who is a playable character (and a popular one, just about every player seemed to use him in their three-character lineup).

"Look at his hair here! Isn't it great? Justin Bieber stole that look from Dante! Someone else stole his shirt apparently too, he never wears a shirt...what a big sword!"

This glimpse of the game really sold me on it. It looks like a blast. Look for it to be a huge hit when it releases in first quarter 2011 (Listen to me, talking like a videogame salesman...).

Next up, seeking the autograph of comics legend John Romita Jr. I waited in line for nearly forty-five minutes, during which time I conversed with a fellow fan about her lightsaber fighting club. Next door, a guy was singing anime theme songs (which sounded suspiciously like Coheed and Cambria songs, Claudio Sanchez was at the con promoting his comic, I saw him run to the bathroom) which provided occupation if not entertainment during our long wait.

Finally, I met JRJR. I didn't have time to get his dad's autograph, but I was able to get my lightsaber-wielding neighbor in line take a picture with the man himself. It and my signed copy of Amazing Spider-Man #43 are now treasured family heirlooms.

As evening approached, I made my way to the IGN Theater to catch the night's big panel presentation. I caught the tail end of Bruce Timm(!) and Michel Jelenic talking about DC's upcoming animated features, including an adaptation of Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly's All-Star Superman. It looks fairly par-for-the-course as far as these things go, but it admirably preserves Frank Quietly's very distinctive art style, which is nice. It also stars Christina Hendricks as the voice of Lois Lane. Dreams do come true, people.

Next came what I had waited for: the Robot Chicken panel. Series mastermind Seth "Catnip to geek girls" Green and Matthew Senreich were joined by Green's wife Clare Grant, who does voices on the show, as well as surprise guest MACAULAY CULKIN who will be appearing as Kevin from Home Alone in the show's upcoming Christmas special.

The panel was a lot of fun; there wasn't a ton of moderation and most of the time was spent fielding questions from the audience. Clips were shown from the aforementioned Christmas special, the upcoming fifth season, and the third Star Wars special. I'm normally not crazy about the Star Wars specials, I think the show's support by Lucasfilm amounts to some softball jokes in some cases, but the footage, much of it unfinished with exposed wires and greenscreen, look hilarious. I will tune in for sure now. The panel's love for the show was just infectious, I could have watched them all night.

Next up: The Venture Bros! Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, the creators and principal voice actors basically walked on stage and began talking in a very unorganized, yet still awesome fashion. Soon, Hammer (who naturally has two different hair colors!) called Michael Sinterniklaas, the voice of Dean Venture, who was at the con to promote an anime he was dubbing but not scheduled to appear on the Venture panel. Before you could say "Go Team Venture!" the voice of Dean appeared.

The next hour was spent answering questions; no footage was show, mostly because the new season was already well underway, but fun was had nonetheless. Most impressive of all, a fan had dressed herself as a pregnant, fifteen-year-old Nikki, the mother of the Ventures' half-brother Dermot and stealer of Hank's v-card. This character had been introduced less than a week ago on Sunday's excellent episode "Everybody Comes To Hank's". Much was made of this. A good time was had by all. Jackson Publick discussed his "Four Hulk Christmas", a childhood event when he received four distinct Incredible Hulk toys on the same day, the best thing ever. There was also a lot of requests of character impressions from the crowd since between Publick and Jackson rests about 80% of the series voice cast. Effeminate Navy SEAL "Shore Leave" got big applause, as well as Dr. Girlfriend who, for those of you not in the know, is a very sexy woman with a gruff man's voice for an unexplained reason. Hearing it come out of an actual man (Hammer) was bizarre.

So, after a full day of nerding out, I returned home. Come back tomorrow for my recap of Saturday's festivites!