Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 19
Escape from the Con!Zombies, wizards, Browncoats, and geeks unite in San Diego for Comic-Con 2012
BY JEREMY THOMAS
“Don’t get contaminated! Keep running!”
With a drill sergeant’s tone, a FEMA worker in a hazmat suit yells at me and my photographer, New Times columnist Nick Walter, spurring us on around barriers, over rope ladders, and through various obstacles.
We’re navigating the spooky, labyrinthine corridors and stairwells of San Diego’s Petco Park, home of the Padres, and we’re under attack by zombies. If they manage to touch us, we’ll become one of the undead.
None of it is real, of course. It’s all part of “The Walking Dead Escape,” an interactive survival run corresponding with the AMC TV show The Walking Dead and the release of the comic book series’ landmark 100th issue. The run is a breathtaking experience, and it’s just a small part of the festivities going on all around us.
Welcome to Comic-Con International.
An eye-opening experience
My first thought upon arriving at the San Diego Convention Center under overcast skies on July 11 is something akin to “What have I gotten myself into this time?” I’ve never really considered myself a true geek, though I still occasionally read comics and enjoy science fiction. These days, though, you don’t have to be a hardcore nerd to enjoy “The Con.” It really isn’t just about comics; it’s as much a vehicle for Hollywood studios to promote films and video game companies to demo upcoming games. Geek chic is in, comics have gone mainstream, and the nerds have taken over pop culture.
I’d heard stories from other Sun writers who’d previously covered the convention, which has turned into a tradition at the paper. Still, I had no idea what to expect. If one word can sum up my first Comic-Con experience, it’s this: overwhelming.
On preview night, I step off the trolley from El Cajon, still feeling the effects of a fender bender I had earlier in the day on the Hollywood Freeway. Immediately, I’m in awe of the sheer size of the convention center—and the mobs of freaks and geeks already swarming the streets. The center itself resembles an airport, and once inside, it’s as if several football fields of merchandise suddenly fell from the sky.
The following morning, a group of locals on the trolley tells me the event has gotten so huge over the years, there’s been talk of moving it to Los Angeles because it’s more than the city can handle. A young woman named Marissa, who just happens to be dressed in a full-body pajama of a white tiger —a Japanese kigurumi—is looking forward to her sixth time as a Con-goer.
“I probably won’t go anymore if they move it,” she says. “It’s the only thing San Diego really has.”
Once there, I figure there’s no better way to kick off my first comic book convention than attending a panel with Mr. Marvel Comics himself, Stan Lee. Sitting next to him onstage is another icon, Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films. If there’s such thing as geek royalty, Hamill certainly qualifies. Lee, Hamill and Adrianne Curry of America’s Next Top Model are there to promote Lee’s new YouTube channel. An audience member asks Lee what other of his comic book creations he’d like to see turned into a film.
“All of them!” he gushes in his trademark gravelly voice. “They’re all tremendous!”
Inside the convention center is a feast of all things geeky: anime, role-playing games, web comics, even cars from classic television shows. The biggest buzz centers on previews The Hobbit, Iron Man 3, and the final season of Breaking Bad.
After I walk the floor and take in the excitement, the convention’s first night ends with a bang, as rock star, filmmaker, and noted horror geek Rob Zombie holds “Dawn of the Con,” a thundering cacophony of heavy metal music, circus acts, and a costume judging contest (a dead-on Princess Leia takes home the prize).
From panels on how to write your own comics to a discussion on the psychology of Batman, there’s something for everyone at Comic-Con. Some panels are fairly easy to get into, but for the most anticipated ones—such as HBO’s Game of Thrones—fans wait for hours on the off-chance they’ll snag a seat in one of the convention’s main halls. And if you keep your eyes open, you’re bound to see more than a few familiar faces milling around the convention, as well as the downtown area.
Besides all the celebrity sightings, sneak previews, and collectible swag, Comic-Con is all about the costumes—or “cosplay,” as it’s come to be known. Throngs of superheroes, elves, anime ninjas, and the occasional indefinable characters infiltrate every part of downtown San Diego. Across from the convention center, the city’s historic Gaslamp Quarter takes on the air of Mardi Gras. It’s like an all-day block party, complete with film screenings, promotions, car shows, and viral marketing. The restaurants and bars are packed.
The number of Comic-Con-related special events over the five-day span is staggering. After the second day, I’m already weary of standing in lines and walking from venue to venue. I quickly realize that just because I have a press badge, it’s no guarantee I’m getting into a panel. The star-studded happenings are nearly impossible to see in person, unless you’re willing to stand in line for hours or camp out the night before.
As a small weekly paper, we often take a backseat to bigger national and international media at events like these, and sometimes there’s just not enough room at the table. Due to mix-ups with studio PR people, I’m shut out of two panels I signed up for. There’s simply not enough room in the halls, I’m told, and I hear the phrase often over the next couple of days. My patience wearing thin, I begin to lose momentum.
But Friday, I get a special treat. Somehow, I’m allowed into a press conference for the much-hyped 10-year reunion for the cast of the short-lived but hugely popular Firefly series, with show creator Joss Whedon, star Nathan Fillion, and others. It’s a special, emotional moment for hardcore fans—dubbed Browncoats—of the sci-fi western, who have kept the show alive through fan-created websites, merchandise sales, and fan fiction.
"The fans are correct, and not just because it got cut down before it’s time, but it’s because we were right,” says the show’s executive producer, Tim Minear. “That universe was fully realized pretty quickly.”
Several hours later, I find myself at a party on the rooftop of the Hard Rock Hotel, thrown by Comedy Central and the cast of the show Workaholics. I spot several stand-up comedians in town for one of the many comedy shows planned in conjunction with the convention. I attend one of the comedy shows and explore the Gaslamp until the early morning hours.
As much fun as I’m having, I’ve partied a little too hard and walked a few too many miles by weekend’s arrival. And though the crowds continue to get bigger with each day, I feel I’ve had just about all I can take of Comic-Con.
But there’s still one thing left to do before I go.
Dawn of the dead
It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon at Petco Park, but inside, all hell is breaking loose. Nick and I are ducking, crawling, sprinting, and braving the terrifying zombie horde. We escape the stadium alive and intact, or so I think. As we approach the exit, a guard in a FEMA shirt stands by at a “decontamination chamber.” Noticing a bloodstained handprint on Nick’s shoulder, he leads my brother-in arms off to a suspicious looking blue tent. I’m diverted in the other direction to the exit.
“What are you doing to my friend?” I ask, concerned.
“We have to shoot him the head,” he says, sharply and straight-faced. “It’s the only way.”
I hear a single gunshot.
Contact Staff Writer Jeremy Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.