Entertainment Weekly shows a lot of love for Comic-Con in its current issue. It’s fun to look back and see in its pages what I began to accept in person: Oh, look, there goes Joss Whedon right ahead of us. Yeah, and I’m over here, next to Kevin Smith. Now, alas, that is a thing of the past, until next year. Here are a few thoughts on the Comic-Con that was.
One of the first images that came into focus this year at Comic-Con was a guy dressed up as Indiana Jones. There he was in the middle of the ritual of allowing an approving stranger to take his photo. But once the photo was taken, the guy slouched and seemed to revert back to himself. Getting a better look at him, I concluded he didn’t look all that much like Indiana Jones except for a fair attempt at a costume.
He must have picked up on my scrutiny and tried to look away and hide himself. I meant no harm. I wanted to embrace his participation even though I needed my time to process. What I should have done was just smiled at the guy. That is how I approach Comic-Con. I will always be the critic but I will always search for meaning too.
Do comics still exist at Comic-Con? The tongue-in-cheek question is asked each year as Hollywood seems to take more and more space from what was originally a comics only convention. As silly as the question sounds, it can send chills down the spine of the cartoonist and/or dedicated fan.
There had been talk of doing away with Artist Alley, the section of the convention floor dedicated to new comics talent, to make way for more of the Hollywood promotion machine. That never happened and hopefully never will. To some degree, that would be like killing the goose that laid the golden egg since it’s from that shaggy world of self-publishers that big budget movies and televison shows have emerged.
The fact is, I love Comic-Con and I’m happy with it just like it is, a true melting pot of pop culture. Go ahead, I say, keep mixing comics with movies and see where it leads. I think we’re all familiar with the gripes from the media that Comic-Con keeps allowing itself to be taken over by Hollywood. Here’s the thing, the hottest trend now is to listen to what people want and it should come as no surprise that people appreciate originality. Truly creative content does exist amid all the glitz that descends upon San Diego each year. It keeps rising to the top. James Sime, owner of the comics shop, Isotope, in San Francisco, pointed out to me that two of the biggest hits highlighted at the con, the movie, “Scott Pilgrim,” and the new television series, “The Walking Dead,” come from creator-owned black and white comics. Sime, an outspoken supporter of indie comics, thinks that far from Hollywood taking over, it is original talent that rules.
I come to Comic-Con both as a comics fan and comics creator. For me, it is a little slice of heaven being among so many people sharing common ground. Of course, everyone is not there for exactly the same purpose. Even among comics fans, interests branch off in various directions. For instance, I’ve read a fair amount of “Green Lantern” comics since the character’s reboot by Geoff Johns and, for the life of me, I can’t quite get into it. Looking through panel discussion options at the con, I chose to hear Johns speak. He bound up to the stage with a baseball cap and swagger and proved to be very likable and charismatic. But, in the end, I still wasn’t exactly an all-out fan. I began to think I may never become a true fanboy as a I sat among true fanboys and fangirls.
Throughout the presentation, Johns would give clues about this and that plot development and he’d regularly interact with the audience, “You guys want to see another Superman movie?” Cheers. “A Flash movie? Yes, we’re developing a movie.” More cheers. As the newly minted Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics, I had to feel for Johns since he has more than a full plate. His specialty, love it, hate it, puzzle over it, is pure undiluted superhero stories, minus any quirky subtext. There had to be something to be said for that so l left the panel cheering with everyone else. Who can not like Geoff Johns, right?
Holding far more sway with me was when I wandered into the infamous Hall H, the gigantic pit that easily seats the population of a small city. You can go in and spend the whole day in there as you’re serenaded by one big studio sideshow after another. But, as luck would have it, I heard a truly inspiring call to arms by director Guillermo del Toro. He had me at hello with the two chilling clips from his upcoming, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.” With the confidence of a maestro, he said, “You must respect genre on its own terms. You can go either of two ways: You can subvert it or respect it. Anything in between is of no interest to me.” He kept going, speaking about his distaste for postmodern irony. A good horror movie, in his view, needs to be about horror and not a smirk. So many Hollywood movies fail, de Toro explained, because there is so much fear to be bold while the truth is that the chances of screwing up are the same if you make a safe movie or a bold movie. Maybe his work did not seem to have a direct connection to comics but, then again, the con is also about pop culture and, in del Toro, you couldn’t find a more rousing supporter of the indie spirit.
You have to remember that, first and foremost, Comic-Con is a comics industry convention. That is what it was set up for some forty years ago and, at its core, that is what it’s about. There are plenty of young and not-so-young people dressed up as Storm Troopers, Wonder Woman, etc. but there’s also all manner of deeper appreciation for the comics medium. One place that you find it is at the annual Will Eisner Awards ceremony. This was a very good year. The show began with the entire cast of the movie, “Scott Pilgrim,” standing on stage as the first awards were handed out. You could say that such a high end display was worthy of the Oscars. And then, to top that, it was announced that there will be a new movie based on work by the legendary cartoonist, and the namesake of the awards, Will Eisner. One of the first graphic novels, published in 1978, “A Contract with God,” appears to be in good hands as it goes Hollywood.
As I made my way back to Seattle, I settled into reading over post-Con recaps. One moment I wished I had seen was during the presentation for the movie, “Green Lantern.” A little boy made an innocent request of Ryan Reynolds. He asked him to recite the Green Lantern oath. And that’s exactly what Reynolds did without a hint of irony! The boy then displayed his Green Lantern power ring and, in true Christopher Reeve mode, Reynolds returned the salute. Upon reading about that, del Toro’s giddy embrace of genre came to mind. And I was even willing to give Johns credit for doing something similar with his earnest take on “Green Lantern.” It was a moment of true Comic-Con clarity.