Comic Con 2011: Not Just For Above the Liners Anymore
Let the blogging and the updates begin. When I first started coming to Comic Con, it wasn’t even in the sprawling convention center by San Diego’s waterfront. Attendance wasn’t in six figures, studios didn’t come there to “launch” things, and people didn’t travel across country – without show tickets – just to loiter interestedly in the Gaslamp Quarter.
There still might have been the occasional “slave dancer Princess Leia” costume however.
Back then, the kinds of writing I was up to at the Con – which is to say, specifically comics writing, (I sold several scripts to editors who either left the business shortly after, or presided over lines or imprints eventually cancelled by their publishers – was it me!?) – didn’t intersect with any other kind of writing I was up to. Well, maybe the time travel fiction, but there weren’t even any prose book publishers exhibiting there, like now.
When I was doing “above the line” journalism, it was before the LA Times and Hollywood Reporter gave out printed supplements to give to Con-goers, though given the fact that “comics” now include videogames, indie films, and every show debuting on WB, Showtime, et al, it all makes perfect sense.
Still, being at Comic Con in prose writer mode didn’t intersect with the various hats I wear here, as columnist, VFX observer and Below the Line awards-season handicapper, (and if you’ve been kind enough to have noticed said hats, I thank you). At least, until now.
But with panels on makeup effects, VFX preview reels debuting in the fabled “Hall H” (minutes before their smartphoned upload to Youtube and Vimeo), animation how-to’s, and more, it seemed that the billowing spread of Comic Con has grown to include the very beats – those multiple hats – we cover here.
On which note, there’s much buzz about the now-opened Captain America: lots and lots of Captain shields sold and given away, costumes, cross-promotion with the simultaneously released game. Of course, they can’t show it here now, because it’s starting its theatrical run at the same time.
But we’ll be writing at greater length about the rather laudable visual effects in the movie under the supervision of Christopher Townsend (along with Scott Essman’s interview with director Joe Johnston, also seen here) soon.
There’s some remarkable sense-of-place and sense-of-face work, but watching all the “Cap’n” costumes here – along with every other costume from Sally Jupiter to the Blue Bolt and much more, brings up an aspect of the proceedings usually dealt with in “Union Roundup.”
Over 150,000 people file into San Diego to crowd into its downtown, eat at its restaurants, take its trolleys, drink its booze and amble along its waterfront, because they are propelled by some ineffable, perhaps transcendent sense of possibility provided by costumed demi-gods of the kind disallowed by the official gatekeepers of high culture and permissible ritual.
Most of these demi-gods and meta-beings were created by people – artists and writers originally – who rarely shared in the accumulating fortunes those characters made for the distributors of the image. Later, this same pantheon of meta-beings was further spread – rocketed? – into mainstream culture by people who rendered “real” images of them for film and television, making them living and breathing. Even if digital. And once again, not sharing, in any meaningful way, in any residual revenues.
And yet, we’re living in a world where people are happiest, it would seem, (based on a casual view up 5th street), being a special effect. And from that desire, a city thrives each summer, (even as the rest of the country wilts from shifting weather).
Excelsior, true believers! And more as it happens (or if it’s happening at Comic Con and you want to let us know, write: firstname.lastname@example.org)
UPDATE: Day Two: Bellflower
With the news spreading, as everyone shook off their Thursday night hangovers and headed in to see William Shatner, or the panel on Torchwood, that a deranged rightwing terrorist had set off bombs and murdered scores of young people in Norway – shooting them down in cold blood – is it any wonder so many are desperate to come to San Diego for four days of respite, either watching, or dressing as, paragons of good (or at least, somewhat understandable evil) who, in the end, can make things turn out right?
It is not.
With the pall of the day’s new only intermittently infiltrating the otherwise engaged throngs, I found myself likewise strolling up 5th Avenue (again), this time headed off for a brief Q&A with Evan Glodell, writer/director of the micro-budget indie release Bellflower. The film is about a couple of friends at loose ends in our current ennui-ridden moment, who share a fascination with apocalyptic metal. Not a sub-genre of music, but rather, a fetish for muscle cars that spit flame (and flame-throwers that do the same), and any other gear one might need to survive a Mad Max-like collapse.
Eventually, that fetish for apocalypse leads to a personal version of same, though I won’t say more about the plotting of the film here. However, as one who regularly writes about visual FX, I was intrigued by how all the flame-spitting and exploding and flipped bodies on hoods of cars was real. There were no rendered fireballs – just the real, unpermitted McCoy, with the whole indie cast at theoretical (yet somewhat enthralled, in terms of how it affected performance) risk.
Glodell built all the devices himself, scrounging surplus aircraft valves, hoses and other parts, and tricking out cars to spit out flame from rear tailpipes (and in one instance, dispense whiskey through the dashboard).
He also built his own camera apparatus, dubbed “Coatwolf,” to shoot with extra large film plates, though all the visual information wound up in 2K format, or, as Glodell and co-producer Vincent Grashaw have it, on several “garbage bags of hard drives.”
But with a Sundance sale and imminent release date, fooling around with actual fire – and no fire marshals on set – appears not to have been dystopian, but liberating. Which maybe gets us into a whole “cleansed by fire” metaphor that we’ll put aside in such a combustible, global moment.