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San Diego Comicon 2014 Report

I got lucky once more this year and managed to join the mass nerd migration to the San Diego Comic Convention. As always, the lines go for miles (literally) and it’s the worst place to be if one isn’t somewhat comfortable moving in an extremely close mass of humanity. There is way too much for any one person to see without access to one’s favorite time travel device and thus I highly recommend going with a friend if possible.

Preparation

ChewyThere isn’t a lot one can do to prepare for the crowds at Comicon aside from try riding public transit during rush hour regularly and envisioning it further crowded by people carrying giant bags of stuff. Or large costume props for elaborate cosplays. I have yet to experience moving around Comicon in a dress with a full set of petticoats and hoops underneath (it is an option as I possess all the garments to do so) but I have nothing but respect for the people who manage to do so.

It’s always best to have your panel priorities in order beforehand and have a list of contingencies around just in case it proves impossible to get into that Game of Thrones panel. Or if one decides to camp a room, make sure you know what you will be sitting through.

I also made sure to dress comfortably, bring a water bottle (most rooms have water coolers in them), and stuff as much food as possible into my shoulder bag. I made smart use of the bag check (it helps to have a brightly patterned ultra light shopping bag handy) and didn’t get as tired and sore as I could have been. All in all, I found my preparations did their job as I didn’t feel as wiped out as I usually am after the whirlwind that is the San Diego Comicon.

Panels

Song of the Sea (cover)Every year the panels are a little bit different and sometimes you run into some interesting gems. The most unexpectedly good panels I went to were the Song of the Sea sneak peek, Diversity in Genre Literature, and Marvel’s Avengers STATION.

Song of the Sea is an animated feature being released by the same people who made The Secret of Kells. It’s about a selkie trying to find her lost sealskin and it looks amazingly beautiful. Coincidentally, if you haven’t seen The Secret of Kells, you need to go do that right now. It will beat the knickers off the last Disney movie you saw.

Diversity in Genre Lit was a surprise in that usually there’s never enough time to go into any detail beyond the basics of a complex topic, but this one managed to do just that. There was advice for writers when making characters that are not white (namely think of them as people, do some serious work regarding background culture and how they fit in it, and be prepared to screw up). There was advice for readers (vote with your pocketbook and don’t be afraid to look beyond traditional avenues). And then advice for everyone when detailing portrayals (be specific and speak up).

The Avengers STATION panel turned out to be all about the physics behind the tesseract, the theoretical composition of Thor’s hammer and the possible explanations for how the super soldier serum works. I thought it was neat in spite of most of the physics flying over my head (I can follow biological and metallurgic processes much better).

In addition to the pleasant surprises, one does run into the not so welcome surprises. This year, I went to two that I found rather disappointing: AI and Robots and Putting the Epic in Epic Fantasy. AI and Robots turned out to be less about robots and AI and how they are used in science fiction and more a general talk about what makes science fiction resonate with people.

As per my rules regarding proper behavior during panels, I quietly left and found something more interesting (there are advantages to sitting in back corners). While it may seem odd that I was less than impressed with the epic fantasy panel, it becomes less odd as soon as I mention that I am not impressed with George RR Martin’s work and that I find Game of Thrones’ rush of popularity both encouraging and annoying. I wish that particular topic had been handled differently and less focused on the impact of one person, especially as it was pointed out that these things come in waves with Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter previously. I think that would be a better direction of discussion.

SteampunkMy favorite panels were The Science of Science Fiction, The Battle for Multicultural Heroes, Witty Women of Steampunk, and the Spotlight on Robin Hobb talks. I went to the Spotlight on Robin Hobb because having a good fan squee is generally a good thing; she is a lovely speaker and was gracious for the questions from the audience. I particularly liked when it was pointed out that just because she started writing her novels about FitzChivalry as a teenage boy (and she clearly isn’t and never was) doesn’t mean she didn’t nail it anyway through watching and listening to her sons and their friends.

The Science of Science Fiction and Witty Women of Steampunk are repeat favorites for me for completely different reasons. I have noticed that the exact topics under discussion changes with the different speakers and from year to year. For Witty Women, there was much discussion about using the fantastical trappings of bygone technologies to make room for women characters who would not necessarily be entirely historically accurate, but who nevertheless fit into the narrative world that a steampunker creates for themselves. There was also talk about how steampunk in general sees technology in a more optimistic light and as a tool against inequality.

The Science of Science Fiction also took a similar tack this year. It opened by discussing the more usual scientist as mentor or villain tropes and opening up to stories involving scientists as main protagonists and heroes. It was also mentioned that it isn’t enough to have scientists as main characters, but that they have to be varied across the spectrum of protagonists and in demographics. It is a profession that should ideally not care about race or gender and while that clearly isn’t the case in reality, a good place to start encouraging it in reality is in science fiction.

Awesome ArmorThe Battle for Multicultural Heroes was the absolute last panel I went to this year and I thought it was a great way to end Comicon. There much discussion of whitewashing versus racebending and the distinctions between the two (namely one is shutting out people who are all too frequently underrepresented and the other opens up the playground for everyone). It was noted that iconic characters should change over time and they should be able to pass the cape on to others. The perception of characters changes over time, as does how they fit into pop culture and changes such as making a character mixed race or a woman can reflect that.

As expected there were panels that I could not get into due to lines, being unwilling to wait in said line and having three other potentially interesting panels to go to. I wish I could have gotten into the NASA’s Next Giant Leap talk, but alas, someone scheduled it after 3 less potentially popular panels in a not very large room, mentioned Buzz Aldrin as one of the speakers and I wasn’t very big on waiting in line for several hours this year. I also did not go to the Rulers of the Realm panel, partially for the same reasons concerning lines, but also because I realized I didn’t have a great deal of interest in who was talking.

However, curious readers, I did not head out into the wilds of Comicon by myself. My friend R.A. was kind enough to do a quick write-up of what camping a room for a day entails. In her case it was Ballroom 20.

– – –

R.A. Camps the Room

FacelessR.A.: I got in line at 6:02 am. I can complain about a lot of things at a con (food, crowds, the smell) but I have to admit waiting in line is kind of awesome. With one exception, this year every line I waited in was fun. In the Ballroom 20 line I ended up next to some amazing women who had traveled from all over the world to be here. We spent hours talking. Hannibal fans wandered up and down the line, we took photos together, one girl passed out amazing bookmarks she’d made. I had a great time. I can’t think of many more pleasant ways to spend a morning then in excellent conversation with excited happy people.

The room opened around 9:30am, we said goodbye to our line friends, and the panels started. And I began the boring part of my day, sitting through panels I don’t care about. Here is my summary of those panels.

24
I have never seen this show. I got a bathroom pass which would allow reentry during the panel and visited the exhibition floor. This practice is known as “hiking”, or at least I’d like it to be so let’s start using that term. I came back in the last five minutes. Someone I think is the star of the show was taking about guns. He doesn’t own any in real life.

Under the Dome
Haven’t seen it, went hiking. When I came back they were showing clips. Now I never want to see it.

Scorpion (a pilot premier)
I fell asleep. I think it’s about a guy who is sad and there’s a child and a helicopter, look I was very tired and they turned the lights down.

Reign
Hiking, but I came back during the Q&A. The actresses on this show seem very nice. I have no idea what the show is about, queens? History?

Community
I like this show! I’m a season behind, but I’m happy it’s been brought back and was happy to be at the panel, which was a lot of fun if a bit low on information. It was amusing, the writers and actors didn’t have any news they could tell us but they said that in the funniest way possible.

Teen Wolf
Oh no. I would have gone hiking, but I had good seat and couldn’t risk losing it. So I stayed. Unlike the shows I don’t watch this was a show I don’t like and I know their panels have a reputation for upsetting fans. Sure enough one girl broke down crying when she tried to asking her question and the last question was about shipping, which annoyed some of the panelists; which annoyed some of the audience; and then people were yelling and I just scrunched down in my seat and mumbled, “I’m not with them.”

Hannibal
Why I was in the room! My purpose for existing that day! Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. First the whole panel is online, if you like the show I recommend watching it. The information about next season (Chilton is back!) was tweeted during it. All I can add to it is what it’s like being in one of these giant rooms when it’s your fandom. It’s simply amazing. All these people excited and screaming, happy to be there and happy to see each other. Before the panel we all take photos of the cosplay, during we whisper to each other and make shrieking sounds when good news is announced, and we clap and cheer a lot. I will add that if you want to ask a question during a big panel like this get an aisle seat right behind the microphone in the center of the room. It’s the only way you’ll reach it in time.

In conclusion, camping the room required getting up early, sitting through panels I didn’t care about, and missing an entire day of seeing other panels. But I spent hours meeting neat people, saw a panel that made me really happy, and was able to ask a good question during the Q&A. I consider it worth it.

– – –

Around the Convention Center

UPLiz: As Comicon has grown and gotten harder to get tickets for, it has begun expanding into nearly every hotel in walking distance and into the grassy areas around the convention building. Some of these required a convention badge, but lots of them didn’t. Several fan groups held meet-ups in nearby eateries and a couple of groups who wanted to do panels but did not get space inside the convention hall held unofficial panels offsite. There were nerdy concerts and geeky radio plays in nearby theaters that weekend.

I went to the Welcome to Nightvale and Thrilling Adventure Hour crossover show and loved it. There was an Assassin’s Creed obstacle course (which I could not go on for scheduling reasons) and a Gotham zip-line (which I was not allowed to go on for liability reasons). And of course there is all the wonderful cosplay wandering in and out of the convention center to see. Further afield, the Birch Aquarium hosted a talk featuring Rod Roddenberry in their kelp tank (literally) and there was undoubtedly other geekery that had flown past my radar during that week.

Hopefully R.A. and I will be able to go next year, but I am anticipating it being a very different experience from this year (assuming I get in at all) as I will definitely be working around someone else’s schedule. I still enjoy it a great deal and look forwards to it every year. Until then I have a large influx of new material in my to-be-read pile to be read through.

Who was on what panel?

Howl's Moving CastleNASA’s Next Giant Leap – Seth Green (actor, creator, writer, director, and producer), Dr. Jim Green (NASA’s division director of Planetary Science), Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11 Astronaut), Mike Fincke (NASA Astronaut), and “Mohawk Guy” Bobak Ferdowsi (Curiosity and Europa Missions)

Putting the Epic in Epic Fantasy – Brent Weeks (The Way of Shadows), Patrick Rothfuss (The Slow Regard of Silent Things), Robin Hobb (Fool’s Assassin), Joe Abercrombie (Half a King), Raymond E. Feist (Magician’s End), Django Wexler (The Shadow Throne), Morgan Rhodes (The Falling Kingdoms series), and Sam Sykes (The City Stained Red)

Del Rey: Robin Hobb – Robin Hobb (Fool’s Assassin) and Del Rey executive editor Anne Groell

Witty Women of Steampunk – Anina Bennett (Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel), Ay-leen the Peacemaker (editor for BeyondVictoriana.com and Tor Books), Claire Hummel (Bioshock: Infinite), Robin Blackburn (The League of S.T.E.A.M.), Sarah Hunter (Steampunk model/performer), Sheyne Fleischer (The League of S.T.E.A.M.), and moderator Dina Kampmeyer (Lady Steam Designs).

Cartoon Salon’s Song of the Sea – Tomm Moore (director) and Paul Young (producer), emcee Jamie Kezlarian Bolio (Cartoon Saloon – US; business development, PR & marketing), and moderator Don Hahn (producer Maleficent, Beauty & the Beast).

The Science of Science Fiction – Stephen Cass (Coming Soon Enough) and featuring Kevin Grazier (Defiance), Andrea Letamendi, Ph.D. (Under the Mask), Jessica Cail, Ph.D. (The Hunted), Phil Plait (The Bad Astronomer), writers and producers Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy), and the team of Zack Stenz and Ashley E. Miller (Fringe)

Diversity in Genre Lit – David Mariotte (moderator), Gene Luen Yang (The Shadow Hero), Josephine Angelini (Trial by Fire), Sherri L. Smith (Orleans), Adele Griffin (The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone), Greg Weisman (Spirits of Ash and Foam: A Rain of the Ghosts Novel), and Lydia Kang (Control)

Scifi, Robots and AI, Oh My! – Maryelizabeth Hart (moderator), Daniel H. Wilson (Robogenesis), Andy Weir (The Martian), Jason Hough (The Dire Earth Cycle), Daniel Price (The Flight of the Silvers), M. D. Waters (Prototype), and Nick Cole (Soda Pop Soldier)

Marvel Avengers STATION Superhero Analysis – Phil Plait (The Bad Astronomer), Ricardo Gil da Costa (Neuroverse Inc.), Preston Dyches (JPL), Randii Wessen (JPL), Leonidas Moustakis (JPL), and Sebastian Alvarado (Thwacke)

Rulers of the Realm – Joe Abercrombie (Half a King), Diana Gabaldon (Outlander), Lev Grossman (Magicians Trilogy), George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), and Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicles), and moderator Ali T. Kokmen

The Battle for Multicultural Heroes – Linda Le (professional cosplayer), Andre Meadows (Black Nerd Comedy), clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Letamendi (The Arkham Sessions), and Tony B. Kim (Crazy4ComicCon.com)

Special thanks to my friend R.A. for writing the Room Camping portion of this post.

Title image by alex2k5.

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San Diego Comicon 2014 Report, 9.3 out of 10 based on 3 ratings
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