Monday, January 20, 2014

FLASHBACK: Adventures in San Diego (Part One)

One of the things that bugs me is that there are a lot of outdated links on my blog. For instance, I found out that Reality News Online no longer exists . . . and while I delight in that due to how I was treated by the other writers, I realize that my recaps are mostly gone. The same goes for material I wrote for Beyond Race Magazine, most of which being graphic novel reviews.

The following is the first part of my experience from my trip to San Diego in 2009. I wound up getting a press pass to Comic-Con International that year, and I wound up writing about a lot over six days. Given how much bigger the show the show gets each year, the odds of me going to CCI are slim at best every year. For instance, this year's show has fans having to buy tickets to individual day, as opposed to getting a four-day pass. Even if I wind up getting admission (or another press pass), I have to worry about a. how to get there, and b. where to stay; both of which can be costly. As I contemplate my plans for one big comic con for this year (Toronto? Boston?), I'd like to share my experience from my last trip to San Diego, two days at a time.


            In the beginning, it never occurred to me to get press credentials for Comic-Con International, the end-all be-all of cmic book conventions. I did what I usually did months before the event; hemming and hawing over whether I should go. It’s not that I didn’t want to attend, but CCI is located in San Diego. I live in New York, some 3,000 miles away, I’ve only been able to get there twice, and not since 2003. And while the New York Comic Con had closed the gap, it was still a far cry from the five-day celebration of all things geek.

            By the time I decided to go, all four-day packages had been sold out. I was prepared to get four single-day passes, making for a total price bigger than the package itself, and shutting me out of the Preview Night preceding the show. It was then that I began to contemplating press credentials. Why not, I thought to myself. After all, I do write for Beyond Race Magazine, and I was the only one who went out of the way to review graphic novels. Let the other talented writers handle movies and albums, and I’d stick to my strengths.

            The application process was easy enough. I mailed a copy of the latest issue to CCI, an issue that included an article on Alan Brody, who wrote and drew White Shaka Boy. I bookmarked the story with a business card, one of many I got from my editor, Dave Terra. In fact, I have too many business cards. I’m set for the next ten years with all the cards Dave gave me. Anyway, I wound up getting an e-mail from CCI. I was in, free of charge. Okay, it wasn’t totally free for me; I had bought tickets for Friday and Saturday in the event I couldn’t get through as an official member of the press.

            Why am I writing about this now? Because I don’t want to merely walk around the convention center for free. I want to earn the pass, by writing an ongoing diary of my time at CCI for I want to see whether the convention has gotten larger since my last visit. I’ll get a chance to interview some of the best and brightest of the comics scene. But most of all, I want to have some fun over the course of six days, or die trying.


9:05 a.m. Eastern Standard Time

            I hate my life.

            Okay, I know I shouldn’t say it, but the people at Delta Airlines make it difficult.

            I got up before 6 a.m. Got dressed. Packed the rest of my stuff. Left for the airpot. Stopped to get gas. Had difficulty finding the entrance to the long-term parking station. Dragged two bags to the air train. Got off in the wrong direction. Arrive at the terminal, where I thought everything would be okay. And then . . . I hit a roadblock.

           It turns out I was too late to check my bags. It was about a half-0hour before the plane was scheduled to depart, and I didn’t give myself enough time. Right now, I should be in the air., San Diego-bound. Where am I? Writing this in my notebook, waiting until 12:30 p.m. That’s when Im allowed to book a flight to San Diego – with a stop in Cincinnati – that leaves at 3:30 p.m,. Right now, according to the clock, it’s 9:11. You can see why I’m ticked off at myself.

            I blew it. Preview Night? Down the drain. No press registration for me, no trip to the comic shop to pick up stuff. An entire day’s plans ruined, all because I didn’t get up early enough. Or maybe I shouldn’t have gone back home to get my razor and shaving cream. Or stopped for $20 worth of gas. As you can see, I love torturing myself.

            I’m trying to look on the bright side. I know there are far worse things that could happen to me. I know Preview Night isn’t as long as the other days of the con. I know there will be a nice hotel room waiting for me. It’s just that I’m now faced with killing seven hours with little to do except eat, sit, and walk around, pushing a cart with my bags. Crap, I got over three hours before I can even check in . . . and then three hours to fritter away after that. It’s just frustrating as hell. And to think one of the biggest problems I had going into today was that the BRM t-shirt I got from Dave was too small for me.

            I should probably stop writing now. I got reading material galore as well as over twenty copies of the latest issue. I just need to remember: if this is my lowest point until Monday, everything else with be great.

11:19 p.m. Pacific Standard Time

            So there I am, on the phone with the hotel, finding out that 1. They didn’t have shuttle service from the airport, and 2. I had until midnight to check in. I began to think that the rate I was going, I’d have to join the ranks of San Diego’s homeless for a night. I get a voice mail from my mother, to whom I bitched to about my situation. She encouraged me to go back to Delta and try to find a connecting flight, using one to Detroit. With nothing to lose, I trooped back to Delta. The lady behind the counter wound up getting me on an immediate flight to Atlanta. It was about as close to a moment from The Amazing Race as I will ever get. I should have tipped the woman. Suddenly, my day was about to be salvaged.

            Getting to San Diego mainly consisted of me trying to nap, watching television, and eating too much biscotti. But I made it to the Westgate Hotel, where everybody was super nice to me. I got into my room. I’m paying $190 a night for it, and it shows. I had to unlock one door to get to another. I have a king-sized bed, a huge bathroom, a mini-fridge (which comes in handy with a 7-Eleven nearby for water-buying purposes), two cushy chairs, and an online connection. I had to sweat out that last one; I didn’t have a wi-fi device, but I was able to get a cable to connect to the phone. This is great, since I had about thirty e-mail messages waiting for me when I finally got online. Press credentials mean getting all sorts of letters from attention-hungry companies.

            So what did I do for Preview Night? Not much, to be honest. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the sheer size of Comic-Con, since I had gone twice. Sure, it’s gotten bigger in six years, but it didn’t completely shock me. The fans were out in force . . . I saw the first cosplayer going as Vixen from Justice League. That was rare . . . not as rare as seeing a girl tarted up as Rufio from Hook on the news (yes, really), but pretty damn rare. I went in, poked around, popped into a few booths, and dropped off my business cards and copies of the latest issue for prospective interviews. I also met Gail Simone; we originally became acquainted back in 1996 on a message board dedicated to the acclaimed miniseries, Kingdom Come. Today, she’s writing Secret Six and Wonder Woman for DC Comics, and she co-wrote the Wonder Woman direct-to-DVD animated movie. Am I jealous? Of course, but I’m proud of her.

            I wound up ditching the con early, and I headed to Mission Valley via the trolley. I knew there was a comic shop near the trolley stop . . . and it wound up being closed. For, like, an hour. Happily, the guy running the place took pity on me and let me shop, and I got most of what I wanted which came out this week. I wound up having Panda Kitchen for dinner (the Orange Chicken was very yummy), got a few things at 7-Eleven, and went back to my room.

            I knew today would be the longest day, but I didn’t know how long. If you figure the naps don’t count, I’ve been up for nineteen hours. It feels a lot longer. But if I put this morning behind me, everything will be okay.

DAY TWO: Thursday [July 23]

            Today was a good day. Not a great day, but pretty good. It’s also weird: ten years ago, I went to my first big convention – Wizard World in Chicago – and David Cone pitched a perfect game. Today, Mark Buehrle tossed a perfecto for the White Sox. It’s also been ten years since John F. Kennedy, Jr. died, so I’m a little freaked that something might happen with Ted.

            I managed to interview two people today: Jeff Lemire and Jamie S. Rich. I had to do both standing up, which is a bitch. I have a tape recorder, notebook and index card, and it’s a bitch to manage all three while upright. I think I did okay; both have books out (The Nobody from Lemire, You Have Killed Me from Rich), and I was able to stay professional and courteous. I also managed to meet a lot of the press contacts I’ve made over the past year, and that was pretty cool as well. Sadly, the press room was just a panel room. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it felt like a letdown. Also, there were people with laptops there. I’d bring mine with me, but that would probably kill my arms with all the weight I’m carrying as it is.

            I spent most of my time wandering the halls, lugging a bag full of comics, a few magazines, and copies of Beyond Race. I have blisters on four of my toes, and I have three more days of heavy walking to do. I also got five sketches; getting sketches is one of my favorite things to do at conventions. I don’t pay that much for them, which is a shame when somebody I wanted to get a sketch from charges $300 for full-body works. It wouldn’t be a total rip-off, and she’s looking to make $900 per day, but it was too rich for me. I did pay $60 for a sketch, and I was supposed to give the artist my book at the end of the con. But then I had to get a sketch from another guy, and he took his sweet time. Meanwhile, I had to go to a panel featuring Vertigo Crime, and I wanted to get the book over to the first guy right away. Finally, I got my sketch, but I had to run to the panel (and got yelled at by security people for that) because I already reviewed two Vertigo Crime graphic novels, and I wanted to get the scoop. Forty-five minutes later, I ran down to Artist Alley . . . and the guy had left for the day. Whoops. Oh, and I think I saw Verne “Mini-Me” Troyer just when I got my sketch completed, but I couldn’t stand around and gawk.

            Panel-wise, I was two for three. I severely underestimated how early I had to wait in line for the Robot Chicken panel, and it got capped before I got there. I did make Gail Simone’s panel, which was packed. Once again: I’m jealous, yet I’m proud. Mark Waid moderated the event; he kept making jokes about not being prepared, and he kept asking questions meant for Jerry Robinson, whose panel he moderated earlier. Gail kept a straight face, going on about her career, from posting online on a Kingdom Come message board to being one of DC Comics’ hottest writers. She went over her whole resume and answered lots of questions. She’s a rock star, I tell you. She’s also let Wonder Woman take over her life. She’s got a Wonder Woman alarm clock, a Wonder Woman desktop, boots, tea set, artwork, and her ringtone is the theme music from the 70s Wonder Woman television show. I wrote three-plus pages of notes for the hell of it, and that stuck out.

            After the con, I got dressed up and attended a party hosted by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. It helps that it was held at my hotel. I mingled for over an hour, talked comics, and paid $4 for a small bottle of water. Then again, I’ve gotten four free bottles of water so far from the hotel, so it all evens out. I can still hear the party. . . they’re outside on a pavilion one floor from my room. I could see my room from there, I’m that close.

            Things should heat up tomorrow. I’m set to interview the guys from The Eternal Smile tomorrow, I’ll try to get to the con early to catch the Batman: The Brave And The Bold panel, and I want to meet Adam Warren, one of my favorite writer/artists out there. Wish me luck, even if it is retroactive.

Next: Days 3-4 (Friday & Saturday)

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