I just returned from my first San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC). I attended the New York version in 2011, but I had never ventured out west for the "big" one until my good friend E. Paul Zehr (author of Creating Captain America, Becoming Batman, and others) invited me to join him in a session on Captain America, and then arranged a reprise, with Travis Langley (author of Batman and Psychology and editor and lead writer for the Pop Culture Psychology series from Sterling), of the "An Evening with Batman's Brain" event held a couple years ago at the University of Victoria (covered here). So I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Paul for making this experience possible (and taking me to Old Town for some amazing Mexican food!).
Before I begin, let me warn you: I did not jump into the con with both feet, spending morning noon and night there. I get sensory overload fairly quickly, and SDCC is basically Las Vegas for pop culture fans. So there may be less activity here than some might expect, but I hope it's entertaining nonetheless, especially for those who have never been.
One more warning: There will be pictures of me, but always with much prettier people. (And Paul.)
After a happily uneventful flight from Newark Liberty Airport (captured very well in a recent issue of Ms. Marvel), I arrived in sunny San Diego and made my way to the hotel room, then took the shuttle to the convention center to get my badge. (Note it says "PROFESSIONAL." Still can't get over that.) That process—which went smoothly, thanks to the helpful SDCC staff—gave me my first taste of the con crowds, which were much less intense over the entire weekend than I feared.
Let me stop here and say that I had more than a little anxiety about this trip in the last couple weeks before I left. I found my one visit to the New York con overwhelming, and even though that's a smaller affair, it's just as dense with people. I've been following news of SDCC online for years, and read countless horror stories about the crush of people and the paucity of food and water, and as a result I was expecting to be in a reenactment of The Walking Dead (rather than just seeing reenactments of The Walking Dead). But I was pleased and relieved to find that the con was very manageable, with food and drink plentiful (if predictably overpriced) both inside and outside the convention center, and the crowds, while intense in number at times, were very good-natured. Everyone's there to have a good time—just like at academic conferences. <wink>
The con didn't actually open until that evening, so I walked back to the hotel, changed, and then hopped the shuttle back for the opening "preview night," where I had an interview with Mark Niu with CGTN planned. (Mark very generously moved up our scheduled time to accommodate my East Coast metabolism, which had been up very early back in New Jersey, three time zone away.) Some of it was filmed in front of the Alex Ross exhibit, which in a strange way made me feel right at home, because so much of his work hangs on my walls!
There are also several print versions online, including Mark's original blog post about the interview, a transcript, and a later article summarizing my interview and the one he did with Paul later in the con.
After that I walked around the con floor for a bit, taking it all in while the crowd was less intense (but no less enthusiastic). I got my first brush with greatness when Rob Liefeld (co-creator of Deadpool and all-around comics legend) rushed past me, albeit too quickly to get a picture or even say hi. (If you're reading this, Rob... hi!)
Let me take this chance to mention my regular morning haunt while in San Diego: Portal Coffee, at 1495 Pacific Highway, with a beautiful deck, friendly staff (hi Ellie!), and the best espresso I have ever had. They had only been open a week when I got there, and I'm sure they'll be a huge success, so it was cool to be there "from the beginning."
I didn't go to the con on Thursday, knowing that Friday and Saturday would be very intense, with a panel appearance each day. (I know my limits.) So I just sampled the local food and coffee and liaised with Wiley Blackwell about the launch of my latest book, Batman and Ethics, which I was planning to announce at the Batman panel Friday evening (but which I let slip in the interview Wednesday evening, oops).
I spent the morning preparing the blog post linked above for the book, and then ventured to the convention center after lunch to spend some time in Artists' Alley and the exhibits before the Batman session that evening. You really get a feeling for the range of artistic expression in comics from walking up and down the aisles in Artists' Alley, where artists from every genre of comics and illustrated fiction have booths set up to meet their fans and sell their work. The highlight for me was meeting Jim Cheung, superstar artist from Young Avengers (which he created with Allan Heinberg), Marvel Two-in-One, and now Justice League. (Check out Young Avengers: The Children's Crusade for a showcase of his work and a terrific story overall, thoroughly embedded in Marvel continuity.)
I walked around the rest of the floor, especially parts I hadn't seen Wednesday evening, but left when I started to feel a little dizzy (crowds, noise, etc.), so I went upstairs to what I call the "decompression zone," the bright, open seating area between all the meeting rooms, and had some food and water and just relaxed. Eventually I made my way to the room hosting the Batman panel, where I reconnected with Travis and met Michael Uslan (author of The Boy Who Loved Batman and producer of all of the Batman films since 1989), Victor Dandridge (Vantage:Inhouse Productions), and Lee Meriwether (Catwoman and Miss America), who is simply the most charming and lovely woman you could ever meet.
(And oh yeah, Paul too.)
Victor did a fantastic job moderating the panel, which showcased a wide range of perspectives and opinions on issues such as: Does Batman count as a superhero? Should Batman kill? Can Batman ever be happy—and should he be? The last one was inspired by the recent Batman-Catwoman wedding storyline in the comics, and Lee stole the show when Michael asked her directly, "could Catwoman make Batman happy?", to which she responded by giving him a sly look and asking, "what do you think?" Even better, in the session wrap-up when we all explained why we loved Batman, she told the story of growing up, buying comics with her pennies as a small girl and listening to her mom read them to her. You could have heard a pin drop in that hall of nearly 300. (And I had to follow her! Impossible.)
After the session, when we had a few minutes to meet with audience members before the next session, a woman came up to tell me how much she appreciated my comments, and it took me a few seconds to realize it was none other than—are you sitting down?—Erin Gray, star of Buck Rogers and Silver Spoons. Talk about having your mind blown... it still doesn't seem real to me. Luckily, after helping Lee down from the podium, I had the chance to take the picture to the right with both legendary actresses.
Paul, Travis, and I stayed for the next session, featuring psychologist Andrea Letamendi (Under the Mask) and Loren Lester, the voice of Dick Grayson from Batman: The Animated Series, discussing the psychological roots of the character and how Lester worked that into his portrayal, especially as Dick Grayson transitioned from Robin to Nightwing (both of whom he sometimes had to voice in the same episode). I had never met Andrea, who would also moderate the Captain America panel the next day, but had a chance to introduce myself after her session. Later, we met up with some friends at a nearby hotel for drinks, food, and laughs, where the Three Beards were captured for posterity. (Compare to two years ago in Victoria.)
Friday, especially the second half, was such an overwhelming experience—in a good way—that I'm surprised I was ready for the Captain America panel late the next morning. But I was, and was amazed and thrilled to meet the incomparable David Mack (with me at the right), who was the subject of a spotlight panel which was held in the same room in the slot before my panel. Despite the astonishingly innovative nature of his work, including on titles such as Daredevil, covers for Alias and Jessica Jones (plus titles and art for the Netflix series), and his upcoming project Cover with Brian Michael Bendis, plus amazing celebrity portraits, Mack is a really down-to-earth and cool guy—which I am happy to find of most of the amazing creators I meet, but it still surprises me.
Soon thereafter, the rest of the Cap panel showed up: Daniel Wilson, author of The Clockwork Dynasty and Robopocalypse (and a PhD in robotics), Paul, and our moderator Andrea, as well as Kate McClancy from the Comics Arts Conference (sponsor of the session) providing the introduction. (Writer G. Willow Wilson, co-creator of Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel and the recently announced writer of Wonder Woman, had to withdraw at the last minute due to other circumstances.) It was a more tightly focused panel than the Batman one, and with Andrea's help, it turned into a great conversation between me, Daniel, and Paul, each of us building on each other's comments about the ethics of Cap himself as well as the moral issues around the prospect of creating superhumans (and how soon it might happen). There was also time for audience questions at the end of the panel, as well as connecting with audience members afterwards, which is my favorite part of these panels.
I took it easy the rest of the day Saturday (after Paul and I lunched at Kansas City Barbeque, where the bar scene from Top Gun was filmed), and my flight left early Sunday morning (although intrepid weather at home made it uncertain the plane was going to make it all the way there, resulting in a holding pattern over Chicago and a unexpected side-trip around Buffalo). But I did get home, and today I am feeling slightly jet lagged and decidedly ungrateful for the New Jersey humidity. But I'm very happy for the experience, for which I once again thank Paul Zehr—I wouldn't have experienced any of this without him.
I am definitely going to try to participate in SDCC (and other cons) more in the future (despite my initial trepidation, which seemed silly by the end of the weekend), whether under the auspices of the Comics Arts Conference or the main conferences. Speaking of the CAC, I had the pleasure of chatting with one of its founders, Randy Duncan, outside the Cap panel about our mutual love of comics—a very warm and welcoming man whom I could have talked to all weekend.
And lest I forget, SDCC gave him a terrific place to announce Batman and Ethics, the final cover for which I received just in time to slide it into the backdrop for the Batman panel, alongside the great books written by Paul, Travis, and Michael Uslan, as well as the luminous Lee Meriwether in the arms of Cesar Romero as the Joker. (For more details on Batman and Ethics, see my blog post at The Comics Professor. UPDATE: I'm not told this will not actually be the cover, so enjoy it here or at the Comics Professor post.)