Comic-Con veterans Jerry Beck, Mark Evanier, Butch Hartman, Fred Patten, Roland Poindexter, share their take on the annual convention in San Diego.
It was another colorful, crazy show time as fans of comics, sci-fi, fantasy and animation made the pilgrimage to Comic-Con International 2004, July 22- 25, 2004, the event drew a record 75,000, including entertainment industry types and press to the San Diego Convention Center.
The studios were down there in full force, previewing movies, games, animation amongst the comic publishers and collectors, trying to generate a buzz for their upcoming products. The creative development execs were also there, looking for there next hit. One of the first acquisition deals announced after the Con was that Ronald Shusett, co-creator of the Alien series, and comicbook specialist Daniel Alter have optioned the feature film rights to sci-fi title, Megacity.
Producers, writers, animators and directors are presented on panels to enjoy feedback and adoration, as well as mix with their cross-town rivals in a friendlier environment and unbelievably weirder environment than Hollywood. Their comments are less guarded and more personally revealing than during press junkets and carefully planned interview ops orchestrated only for the media. In front of their core audience, they shine.
This was especially true during the Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network Warner Bros. presentations for returning and new shows, as well as Craig Millers now annual panel about feature animation writing. For some time now, Hollywood has not produced any animated features from scripts outside the major studios, nor does it have any in development. It seems one must get in on some sort of other assignment or capacity and submit ideas from within.
Nickelodeon presented an exclusive sneak peek at its new animated adventure series, Avatar, The Last Airbender, an anime-stylized show created in the U.S. by Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, which is not based on manga. The art was incredibly beautiful with high action in the original concept about a 12-year-old boy in ancient times who possesses the world power divided into four nations: Earth, Water, Air and Fire. Nick also had a panel and signing sessions for Danny Phantom creatives.
Warner Bros. showed off its animated series Teen Titans, Justice League Unlimited and The Batman. The latest animated Batman brings more of a Frank Miller Dark Knight Returns look to the Batman character, but the series has more in common with Justice League than the Bruce Timm and Paul Dini classic Batman The Animated Series. Justice League Unlimited was agreeably challenged to add so many more heroes and obviously really ratcheted up the action and adult humor to appeal a primetime audience.
Big news emanating from Teen Titans was that Japanese pop group Puffy AmiYumi, who sing the theme song for Titans, scored with their own series on Cartoon Network called Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi. Sam Register, svp in charge of original animation at Cartoon Network said the show will be more Yellow Submarine than Josie and the Pussycats. Carton Network also gave attendees a glimpse and chat with Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends, created by Craig McCracken, and The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, created by Judd Wnick.
David S. Goyer said that Christopher Nolans Batman Begins would be better than the last two Batman films, with Warner Bros. backing all of the filmmakers choices. Director Francis Lawrence headed up a panel on Constantine, based on the Hellblazer comics, treating fans to a glimpse of Neo and 20 minutes of various scenes, which displayed the films dark mood and extensive visual effects. Lawrence said he was going for a noir look.
Superhero and animation fans packed in to see The Incredibles panel, which featured director Brad Bird and producer John Walker, as well as two scenes from the film, one of which humorously explains why the Mr. Incredible suit does not have a cape. Bird, who originally designed the film for 2D, said he tried to retain a graphic element to the film, and not get mired in too much detail he finds in most CG films. Dark Horse Comics announced it will publish a four-issue comicbook adaptation of the film.
A big presence at the convention was Paramounts Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow as a 50-foot blow-up replica of the giant robots from the film was tethered across from the convention center. Paramount put together a panel highlighting the film plus the upcoming Trey Parker and Matt Stone feature, Team America World Police, a marionette puppet spoof of action films and world events.
After the Team America look, fans were treated to two scenes from Sky Captain, followed by a panel where that revealed the story behind the films villain is played the late great Sir Lawrence Olivier. Filmmakers obtained permission from the Olivier estate to use the deceased actors likeness in the film. The digital artists used old footage of the actor, whose voice is provided by a yet-to-be-announced actor, to insert him into Sky Captain as a hologram.
One of the bigger tidbits revealed at years Con was LucasFilms announcement of the Star Wars: Episode III title - Revenge of the Sith. In a jam-packed panel, LucasFilms screened some behind-the-scenes footage of the films epic lightsaber duel, which will be the longest fight sequence in film history. Lucasfilms announced that it would release the animated Ewoks, Droids and Clone Wars series on DVD.
Comic-Con attendees got the first look at the eye-popping visuals from the film version of graphic novel, Sin City, which Robert Rodriguez is co-directing with author Frank Miller and special guest director Quentin Tarantino. The clips shown at the convention showed off the crystal clear HD digital photography, which is mostly in black-and-white with dramatic dashes of color.
With anime an ever-increasing influence, there was a North American premiere of Inuyasha: Affections Touching Across Time from VIZ and Lady Death: The Motion Picture, the first animated feature produced by major animate distributor ADV Films.
Writer/producer Mark Evanier, host of four panels, gave a glowing tribute to legendary voice actress June Foray she said revealed things about her career she had completely forgotten. Fellow actors honoring her were cast and performed a cold reading of two screenplays Evanier had dug up from her varied career, with Foray reprising her roles in a copy of her own marked-up scripts.
AWN asked some Comic-Con veterans for their perspective and observations on the show. These regulars include Jerry Beck, animation author/historian; Mark Evanier, writer/producer; Butch Hartman, creator/exec producer of The Fairly OddParents and Danny Phantom for Nickelodeon; Fred Patten, anime/animation journalist; Roland Poindexter, svp of action-adventure properties, Warner Bros. Animation; and Will Ryan.
AWN: How many Comic-Cons have you attended?
Patten: All of them, except for the very first one-day con in March 1970 that was announced as a training session for the real three-day con in August. That did not seem like it would be worth a trip to San Diego, although I now wish that I had just so I could say every single one. This is the Comic-Cons 35th anniversary, so 35 of them.
I have been to every single San Diego get-together, no matter what they were called, since the first one in 1970. I am, in other words, a lifer.
At least eight, but honestly Ive lost count.
Beck: If you mean the San Diego Comic Con, I started attending it in 1977 27 times! However, I started attending Comic Cons since 1968, each year in New York until I moved to L.A.
Hartman: About six over the last several years.
AWN: What features, events, booths draw you? What parts of Comic-Con do you most enjoy? And what did you get out of them this time?
Evanier: Best thing at the convention (by far) are the panels, especially those moderated by that guy who moderates all the good panels. Other than that, what I enjoy is wandering around, running into people I know and folks whose work Ive long admired. Artists Alley is a dandy place for this. I tell people they took the old, friendlier San Diego Con, compressed it down, stuck it waaaay down at the end of hall and called it Artists Alley. But really, anywhere you can run into someone you want to talk to is a good place to be.
I really enjoy the panel discussions and the artists stations. Its always nice to both see old friends and get to meet the emerging talents of the comics world.
Patten: Now that I have become a frequent writer about anime and manga, the increasingly huge anime and manga company displays drew most of my attention this year. I moderated a 15th anniversary panel on the growth of the anime & manga business in America, from $0 in 1989 to over $10 billion a year in 2004; the panelists were veteran executives from ADV Films, Manga Entertainment, Central Park Media and TOKYOPOP.
I became a regular monthly columnist on anime & manga for the Comics Buyers Guide a few months before this years Comic-Con. The CBG is published in Wisconsin and I contribute by e-mail from Los Angeles, so this Comic-Con was my first time since then to chat with the editorial staff in person at the CBG booth. Editor Maggie Thompson is an old friend (we traded our comics fanzines in the 1960s), but I met several other CBG personnel in person for the first time.
That is another, permanent attraction of the Comic-Con; meeting old friends again, and making new friends. Monkey Punch, the Japanese cartoonist of the Lupin III series, has been attending the Comic-Con since the 1970s as just a regular attendee, but now that Lupin III has become so popular in America he has become a celebrity and had a signing at his American publishers booth.
I have gotten a lot more select in my reading/collecting of American comics, so all those that I was looking for were a few recent issues during the past year that my local comics shops did not get. I found them all at the Comic-Con, which made me happy.
Beck: The whole thing is draw. Hanging out with my friends from L.A., New York and the rest of the world having dinner in the Gaslamp District, the movie previews and celebrities, the comicbook artists, animators, writers, creators everyone there because we share a common interest in the medium of comicbooks and its related fields. I most enjoy the panels on animation and the panels moderated by Mark Evanier featuring golden age comicbook creators.
Ive been privileged to moderate a few panels myself. This year I had a chance to personally interview Sid Jacobson, pioneering editor of Harvey Comics, which was a treat and to show a program of the Worst Cartoons Ever Made. Hearing the audience laugh at cartoons like Super President and Johnny Cypher In Dimension Zero made my day.
The overwhelming sense of solitude.
Hartman: I really enjoy seeing original comic book pages. Pencils, inks anything. Its exciting to see that the pages were actually drawn by real people. I also enjoy seeing the homemade costumes, even though seeing 45 year olds in Green Lantern suits freaks me out a little bit.
AWN: Did you see anything or anyone surprising?
Evanier: I heard someone got a parking space but other than that, no, the only surprising thing was the same thing thats surprising every year: How big its gotten, how diverse, how much of Hollywood is there, how little of it has to do with comicbooks...
No. I expected everyone to be there and there they were: Everyone.
Beck: Not surprising, but it was wonderful to see June Foray, Chuck McCann, Forry, Ackerman and Ray Bradbury at the Con again this year.
Patten: Amidst all the anime/manga company exhibit booths, there was an equally huge one on Manhw -Korean Comics being run by the Korea Culture & Contents Agency, which was identified in their brochures as an affiliate of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the national government. Apparently the American market for Japanese comics has grown so huge that the South Korean government itself is trying to get in on it. Actually, most of the U.S. specialty publishers of Japanese manga are already mixing Korean manhwa in with it.
A couple of months earlier, I had attended a tiny con in Ottawa, Ontario, whose dealers room had been dominated by recently-laid-off Canadian animators selling self-published folios of their fantasy art and self-published comicbooks. One of the most impressive was a work-in-progress fantasy humor-adventure comic in the style of Goscinny & Uderzos Asterix albums, about a young girl in ancient Egypt who gets involved with the Egyptian gods. The artist, Johane Matte, said that she expected it to take about another year to complete in her spare time.
So I was very surprised to see her again so soon at the Comic-Con. She said that there is going to be an exhibit on ancient Egyptian art at the Montreal Fine Arts Museum starting in January 2005, and that they had offered to sell her comic in the museum store if she finishes it in time. So she is racing to complete it by January, and she was at the Comic-Con to arrange for other distribution when it is published. I promised to order it (Horus) from her in Montreal by e-mail if it does not appear in my comics shops.
Hartman: I saw the Alex Ross booth where they were selling a bunch of his original paintings and artwork. Hes one of my comic idols so that was exciting.
AWN: How did this one compare to previous ones?
Much more up-to-date.
Beck: Its gotten too big... its literally overwhelming. The intimacy is gone. But if you plan your day right, wear some comfortable shoes and allow some time to explore the dealers room, you can still have a lot of fun.
Evanier: Since 1970, every San Diego Con has been bigger than the one before. Whether theyre better or not depends on what kind of con you want to have and whether you can find it in that teeming metropolis. Theres a gaming con there... and a convention on new animation...and one on self-publishing and one on comicbook history and one previewing forthcoming movies and so on. If you can locate your convention among the many, you can have a very good time.
Hartman: Pretty much the same.
Ive been going since the early `90s so Ive seen the changes over the years. I was amazed at the promotional presence of the big media companies this year. They really took over the Con floor. I understand the marketing opportunities the Con presents, but the fun of the Con has always been the citys embrace of the hard core fans. This year, it seemed that catering to them was not as important as in the past. Still everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Patten: Impressively bigger, including in many unpleasant ways. The San Diego Convention Center is now completely filled. Every year for the past 10 years, there has been new construction going on and it was announced that the Convention Center would have new halls to expand into next year. No longer; there is no more room for expansion. There was a rumor that this years attendance was officially 100,000, and that it was actually larger but that 100,000 is the maximum legal capacity of the Convention Center so it is as much as the Comic-Con can admit to. One of my disappointments was in not seeing a few old friends that I have become accustomed to meeting at the Comic-Con every year. They are small-press publishers, and during the past year they announced that they can no longer afford the steadily rising expenses of increased display table costs and, especially, hotel costs.
It has become almost impossible to find a hotel within a couple of miles of the Convention Center at less than $150 a night. Parking has become so bad that unless you get to one of the lots around the Convention Center by about 8:00 a.m. (two hours before the Con opens), the lots are all full. The Comic-Con offers free shuttle buses every 15 minutes to the dozen or so official convention hotels, but there were numerous complaints of fans waiting at their hotel bus stops for over an hour while buses drove past already filled with attendees from the first couple of hotels on their routes. These later hotels were swarming with taxi cabs waiting for the fans to get tired of waiting from the free bus and pay for a cab ride to the Convention Center.
AWN: Any additional observations?
Hartman: This year Bob Boyle, Steve Marmel and myself (as producers of Danny Phantom) got to do a panel on how we make the show. That was a lot of fun. I cant wait to see people dressed up as Danny in the coming years.
Evanier: I have three suggestions regarding the 2005 convention: First, if you dont want to wait in line, Id start heading to the con some time in late May. Secondly, no matter how hungry you are, dont eat the Frisbee at the snack bar. (They call it a pizza but try tasting it, then hurling it, and see what you think. Frisbee, right?) Lastly, I want to know why it is that when Im at the con, no more than two percent of the attendees are in weird costumes but when I see convention reports, everyones dressed like a reject from the Legion of Super Heroes.
The Warner Bros. Animation panels were well received as were the panels conducted by our friends at Kids WB! and Cartoon Network. Im glad fans of all ages continue to enjoy the stuff we all do and theres more to come!
Patten: Despite all the inconveniences, I would not willingly miss going to the Comic-Con.
Beck: This Comic-Con has now become as important to Hollywood, and the animation industry, as the Cannes Film Festival or Annecy to those respective fields. Its a must for anyone wanting to stay ahead of the curve on cultural trends especially in comicbooks and cartoons.
Sarah Baisley is editor of Animation World Network.