When the New York Comic Con premiered four years ago, its exhibit area was a relatively small but instantly overcrowded portion of the Javits Convention Center’s basement space. This year’s exhibitors filled the high-ceilinged main floor, a football-field sized area where you could score anything one’s geekish heart desired while dodging the multitude of Rorschachs prowling the convention.
Alfred University wasn’t named for Bruce Wayne’s butler, but for the upstate New York town where Dan Napolitano offers his Drawn to Diversity course. A big crowd filled a small room to hear Napolitano outline the ways in which minorities have been represented and misrepresented in U.S. pop culture. According to Napolitano George Carlin may have had his seven dirty words but Warner Bros. has their censored eleven Looney Tunes. The Jap-bashing and black-belittling cartoons are officially out of circulation – except for YouTube bootlegs and academic explication.
Napolitano offered 10 highlights of comics’ and cartoons’ two-steps-forward, one-step-back march towards racial and cultural diversity, from Song of the South’s Uncle Remus to Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert, with stops along the way for Astroboy and Dora the Explorer.
Cartoon Network’s [adult swim] panels are usually as off-the-wall as the shows themselves, and this year was no exception. CN exec Keith Crofford, the hour’s default grown-up introduced a panel that included Seth Green, Brecken Meyer, Kevin Shinick, Matt Senreich and Geoff Johns. Jokes, ad-libs and non-sequiturs flew fast and furious, as the panel more or less explained the creative process that goes into scripting the free-form show, with the panel at one point riffing for close to ten minutes off a single audience question.
The audience was treated to the opening of Robot Chicken’s Christmas special, with Santa waiting in a darkened room for a particularly naughty boy to arrive a la Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, followed by an assortment of clips from yet to air episodes. (The funniest of the bunch: The Wrath of Khan opera… or perhaps the bloody 20th Century Fox mass murder/suicide spree triggered by Eddie Murphy’s disastrous Pluto Nash.)
At Comic Con, the biggest room was the IGN Theater, capable of holding several thousand people. Capacity crowds were willing to stand online for hours (and hours) for advance looks at Watchmen, Pixar’s Up or at Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse… but Summit Entertainment’s preview session Saturday barely attracted 200 people. Several burly security men in dark suits scanned the sparse crowd for pirate videographers while Eric Moro, the session’s one-man ‘panel’ screened high body-count clips (jet liner crash and subway disaster) from Alex Proyas’ Nicolas Cage-starring Knowing… a lengthy excerpt from the bomb disposal suspense flick The Hurt Locker (the film’s star, 28 Days Later’s Jeremy Renner showed up but never got around to explaining what the title meant)… and concept art along with a scene from the upcoming CGI Astroboy movie were screened.
Judging from the clip – and I hope I’m wrong – Astroboy’s CGI animation had a low-end look to it, a considerable surprise since the film’s studio, Hong Kong’s Imagi created 2007’s slick-looking Ninja Turtles revival TMNT. (Moro suggested the animation has yet to reach its fully rendered state.) Even so, the film’s fun-future design was nifty eye candy, and the sequence screened – Astroboy learning how to control his newly discovered flying ability had a childlike charm that captured the spirit of the original series. Purists may object to Astro’s new jacket-and-pants ensemble and his less than pointy hairdo, but Moro promised the boy robot will also be seen in his original form, black swim trunks and all.
[adult swim]’s Venture Brothers panel rivaled Robot Chicken in creator silliness, as Doc Hammer, Jackson Public and Michael Sinterniklaas bantered with (and on occasion heckled) the audience over story developments in the series’ upcoming fourth season. They informed a heartbroken crowd that the Monarch’s slacker Henchman 24, whose head was blown off in the season three finale was absolutely, “totally dead.” One of the panelists added in mock frustration “Brock [Samson, the Ventures’ bodyguard] quit, why don’t you guys care about that?”