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San Diego's Comic Con: The King of All Cons

The title says it all! Scott Brick reviews the world's largest comic book expo.

Marvel characters entertained attendees of Comic Con '97 in San Diego. Characters © Marvel Entertainment. Photo courtesy of Comic Con International.

If you've never been to a comic book convention, I heartily recommend the experience. It's a singular adventure that everyone should have at least once. The faint-hearted may choose to start out with one of the smaller events, attended only by a few thousand folks and one or two pros to justify the ticket prices. Those who want to dive head-first into the experience, however, should start at the top: San Diego's Comic Con International, a staggering press of humanity that's affectionately referred to as the King of all Cons.

This year's event, the 28th annual, began when the first fan hit the Exhibit Hall at 10:00 a.m. Thursday, July 17th, and officially closed when the last dealer fled the room late the following Sunday. In between, San Diego's Convention Center hosted over 36,000 people, fans and professionals alike, who made the pilgrimage to comics' greatest spectacle from points around the globe. For four furious days, kids got to meet their heroes (or at least someone dressed as a passable replica), sci-fi fans got to see previews of upcoming releases, and collectors young and old got to rummage through back-issue bins to find that ever-elusive Al Capp's Schmoo #2, the one with the Superman cover. Amidst all the frenzy and chaos, editors heard hundreds of article proposals, dozens of comics were solicited as movies or animated projects, and a select handful of properties actually made significant headway into the land called "development."

DC Comics occupied a block of space on the `97 Comic Con showroom floor. Photo courtesy of Comic Con International.

So, What's Next?

More than anything else, people come to San Diego to discover what they can expect to see in the coming months; be it in comics, films, TV or gaming. Fans especially interested in animation were overwhelmed this year with upcoming releases, many based upon popular comic book titles. Spawn made a huge splash with two bases covered: a live-action film as well as the video release of HBO's animated series. Coming in at 147 minutes, the videotape, released August 5, contains the complete, uncut footage from the first six episodes and is soon to appear in WalMarts and Blockbusters everywhere. HBO also announced that six new Spawn episodes will air in the upcoming year. Said HBO's Marketing Manager, Preston Kevin Lewis, "Quite simply, the phenomenal success of Spawn's first six episodes mandated more."

Marvel Comics made a huge impression at this year's Con, showing why they're the biggest name in the industry. With several animated series already airing (Spider-Man and X-Men on the Fox Kids Network and The Incredible Hulk on UPN), Marvel will also debut Marvel Super Heroes, featuring Fantastic Four and Iron Man, in national syndication on the Saban Kids Network in September. And as if that weren't enough, a brand new weekly animated series based upon Marvel's venerable character, The Silver Surfer, will join the Fox Kids Network lineup for the '97-'98 season. Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Surfer's creation, the series will preview on Saturdays this fall.

Men In Black (MIB) completed a cyclical odyssey at this year's Con. Having begun as a Malibu comic book back in 1991, the live-action film opened in July of this year. MIB begins its third incarnation when it debuts as an animated series this October on the Kids WB!. Once again, the property will see life as a comic book, this time through Marvel. Men In Black #1 will reprint the original 1991 book. MIB: The Movie will adapt the live action feature, and MIB: Far Cry and Retribution will follow up on events set forth in the film. The animated series currently has a 13 episode commitment and will air on Saturday mornings.

Another comic book property, Sam and Max, has expanded into various other formats. Steve Purcell, a former LucasArts animator, began Sam and Max as a black and white comic book ten years ago. A CD ROM soon followed, and this fall will see the premiere of the Sam and Max animated series on Fox, produced by the folks at Nelvana. Currently slotted for 13 episodes, each show will be divided into two eleven-minute stories. "The shorter format is good because they can get right into the story and get out and keep the pace going. That's ideal for these characters, because they have short attention spans," says Steve Purcell. However, he does admit that a few of the stories will spill into full half-hour epics by Sam and Max standards. So with comic books, CD ROM's and an animated series already covered, what could be next for Sam and Max? Says Purcell, "My ideal licensing moment would be a Pez dispenser."

Spawn, the animated series from HBO Animation.

Still Pitching...

Even though they may not have release dates yet, several other projects remain close to fruition. From the comic book end, Shannon Wheeler's Too Much Coffee Man seems poised to be an animated gem in the not-too-distant future. The hero of the piece lives by the credo, "No one can escape addiction. Choose yours carefully!" As for Wheeler, he lives by his own credo: Too Much Coffee Man is, "more than a comic book, less than a hernia operation."

Another animated project that seems very close to production is Randy Lofficier's Virtual Meltdown which promises to be a fascinating film, marrying western artistic styles, an American script and Japanese animation techniques. (For complete details on the project, check out Randy's article "Virtually Melting Down" in the July issue of Animation World Magazine.). Despite the fact that they're awaiting funding, this project is very nearly realized, with script, production designs, and celebrity involvement already finalized.

Virtual Worlds

Based upon previews at this year's Con, there look to be two huge interactive hits this Christmas season. Marvel Comics previewed their upcoming release, Marvel Interactive by flashing it across a dozen linked video monitors. In it, various Marvel super-heroes do battle in highly-detailed computer generated graphics. When Wolverine slashes Magneto's chest, you can see the shards fly. Hundreds of fans sat glued to the tubes at Marvel's booth, promising that a staggering amount of units will fly out of stores when it debuts this fall.

But as great a reaction as Marvel Interactive got from the fans, the most popular new product out there may wind up being Fox's Virtual Springfield. With the click of a mouse, Simpsons fans can go anywhere they want. Die hard fans will appreciate the attention to detail, with little-known facts revealed in Simpsons episodes being accurately represented in the game. For instance, as dedicated fans know, Apu's Quick-E-Mart has a secret passageway to the roof, cleverly hidden behind the one spot Springfield shoppers never look: the non-alcoholic beer. The game remains true to its roots, allowing you to click on the non-alcoholic beer and find your way to Apu's roof. Set for a fall release, Virtual Springfield looks to be a huge holiday hit.

Sam & Max, characters which debuted in a comic book, will star in their own animated series this fall on Fox. © Nelvana.

The Big Event As in each of the previous nine years, the highlight of this year's Con was the presentation of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, comic books' version of the Oscars. Everyone is welcome at the Eisners, making it a rare chance to see the best talent the industry has to offer gathered in one room. The venerable comics pioneer, Will Eisner, was on hand to congratulate the winners, which included himself! He took home the award for Best Comics-Related Book for Graphic Storytelling. Comics superstar and five-time Eisner winner, Frank Miller delivered the keynote address. He encouraged everyone present to raise the quality of the entire industry, emulating the talents and abilities of Will Eisner himself, bringing it back to the heyday of his time. Miller emphasized that Eisner was a fountain of comic book knowledge, an invaluable resource that should be tapped by everyone looking to make it in the industry. For his part, Eisner proved himself to be eminently approachable, always willing to take a look at someone's sketches to assess his or her talents. Everywhere you looked for the duration of the Con, there was Eisner, tucked away with a few fans, looking intently at their work, offering advice where appropriate. It's this kind of personal attention from an industry legend that makes the San Diego Comic Con an exceedingly rare experience. What other industry offers this kind of interaction between legends, fans, and aspiring professionals? It's a phenomena virtually unheard of in the entertainment field. Yet it's commonplace at the Con and it's why so many thousands of people attend and why they continue to make the trek year after year.

Scott Brick is a frequent contributor to Wizard, Sci-Fi Invasion and InQuest magazines. When people ask him what he does, he opts not to say an actor/writer like everyone else in L.A., but will instead claim to be a Holistic Veterinarian. If he tells you this, don't believe him. He also tells people he's Head of Development for Pyrite Films, but that part is true.