The Writing on the Wall: New York and Philly in the Early 1970s
Before the politically adroit stencils of Banksy, the beautiful calligraphic designs of Retna, and the clever humanoid figures of stikman, most graffiti consisted of simple tagging. Writing your name — or, more commonly, your nickname — on as many locations as possible was the obsession of many urban teenagers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Graffiti had not yet acquired the aesthetic characteristics that would later cause it to be dubbed “street art.” It was then simply about getting your name seen as widely as possible.
Roger Gastman’s documentary Wall Writers recounts this era when, as the film’s subtitle states, graffiti was in its innocence. Combining contemporary interviews with period photographs and film clips, the movie focuses on the men and women in New York and Philadelphia who were graffiti’s early proponents. Narrated by John Waters, the movie provides a lively account of the personalities and activities at the dawn of modern graffiti.
The film’s debut Philadelphia screening at International House this past Saturday featured appearances by director Gastman and a number of the graffiti writers profiled in the movie, including Philadelphia’s Cool Earl, Cornbread, Kool Klepto Kid, Karate, and Lewis, and New York’s Wicked Gary.
In addition to covering the personalities involved in the early graffiti movement, Gastman’s documentary shows how the practice evolved from simple tagging — just getting your name up around the city — to become the foundation of today’s more elaborate graffiti artwork. Ironically, many of the early wall writers didn’t pursue this trend, eventually abandoning their work on the street to move on to other pursuits.
An amusing sequence in Wall Writers shows a series of graffiti writers all claiming to be the first to embellish their signature by adding a crown, marking a key historical moment when the practice began to morph from simply writing a name to embracing aesthetic flourishes. But claims of originality are impossible to verify for a medium with scant documentation and diverse local practices that evolved independently.
Whether the honor of being the birthplace of modern graffiti goes to New York or Philadelphia remains equally ambiguous — although the loyalties of the Philadelphia crowd at Saturday’s screening were apparent from the audience’s response.
Gastman’s film laments a certain loss of purity as graffiti became more widely recognized as an aesthetic activity. Art dealers moved in and co-opted the works of many young writers, in some cases providing them with free access to the tools to perform their craft, but without letting them share in the profits from their efforts.
By the mid-1980s, when Taki 183 sees his moniker echoed in the mainstream Hollywood film Turk 182, it was clear that while graffiti’s public profile was rising, its role as an underground cult movement was changing.
Following the screening at International House, Gastman moderated a question and answer session with several of the individuals portrayed in the film, now looking older and more reflective than the impetuous youth seen in the movie. Following the Q&A, long lines formed for a signing with these participants and others featured in Gastman’s companion book about the film.
Gastman’s film and book provide lively insights into the personalities and practices of the early days of the modern graffiti movement. Now, many decades after their activity on the streets, these men and women are receiving recognition far beyond their youthful dreams of being known around the neighborhood.
The top image from Wall Writers is from a copyrighted film and book, the copyright for which is most likely owned by the film’s production company and/or distributor and/or the book’s publisher and possibly also by any people appearing in the image. It is believed that the use of a web-resolution screenshot for identification and critical commentary qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.
This past weekend, the sixteenth Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con presented a four-day festival of pop culture entertainment. Traditionally the second largest event hosted by Wizard World (second only to the one in Chicago), this year’s Philadelphia event featured panel sessions and autograph opportunities with a roster of celebrities from popular movies and television shows.
Wizard World CEO: “Amping it Up”
It’s been a challenging year for Wizard World, Inc. After showing a profit of $995,000 in 2014, the company lost $4.25 million in 2015. This past April, Wizard World Entertainment president and CEO John Macaluso stepped down and was replaced by John Maatta as president and CEO, with Paul Kessler appointed as chairman of the board.
After expanding from 17 shows in 2014 to 25 in 2015, the company’s revenue per show fell from $1.36 million per show in 2014 to $916,000 per show in 2015. Wizard World recently trimmed its investment in streaming platform CONtv, a costly joint venture with Cinedigm, and appears to be cutting back on the number of events it plans to hold this year.
Newly appointed chief executive Maatta, however, appears more focused on doubling down than retrenching. When I asked about his plans to return the company to profitability, Maatta rejected the idea that the business required a course correction, stating he intends to “amp it up” with “better marketing and more content creation.”
The programming during the four days of the Philadelphia event showed no signs of scaling back.
Exhibitors: Artists and Autographs, Comics and Telecom
Thursday is the shortest of the four days of Wizard World Philadelphia, running from 3 PM to 8 PM. Unlike Preview Night at San Diego Comic-Con, during which there are no panel sessions, Wizard World Philadelphia provided a full slate of programming content on the show’s opening day. Nonetheless, Thursday’s relative calm before the arrival of the weekend crowds presented an ideal time to explore the exhibition hall.
Telecom companies were in abundance at this year’s Wizard World, with booths by Comcast Xfinity, T-Mobile, and Sprint looking to connect with the pop culture audience. Insurance companies, including State Farm and Geico, and home improvement firms, such as Power Home Remodeling and Bath Fitter, were also anxious to attract the attention of the large crowds attending the show.
The exhibition hall also included rows of comic book artists and writers available to chat with fans, sign autographs, or create commissioned illustrations. The Philadelphia show included a number of noteworthy comics creators including writer/artist Howard Chaykin, artist Dean Haspiel, and artist J.G. Jones. A row of tables featuring animation illustrators included Bob Camp, Mike Toth, and Tom Cook.
Throughout all four days of the show, a series of live demos by artists provided mini-lessons for aspiring comic book creators.
Friday’s line-up of programming sessions featured panels on everything from comic books and movies to literature and professional wrestling.
For a panel on “Two Generations of Upstarts” Danny Fingeroth ably attempted to contain Howard Chaykin and Dean Haspiel during a freewheeling conversation filled with colorful anecdotes (often stated in colorful language). The pair spoke about their long working relationship (Haspiel began his career as an assistant to Chaykin) and regaled the audience with tales of working with storied creators such as Gil Kane and Walt Simonson.
Other panels Friday afternoon included the following:
In “(Almost) Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Back to the Future,” author Michael Klastorin spoke with Back to the Future co-writer and co-producer Bob Gale about the long road his story took from conception to completion. The initial impetus for the film, Gale explained, arose from the observation that predictions of the future unfailingly miss the mark. Gale showed a series of wildly fabulous — and hugely impractical — images of previous extrapolations of the world of tomorrow. The film’s plot didn’t gel, however, until Gale saw a picture of his father in an old high school yearbook and began to wonder what his father was like as a teenager. What would it have been like to have met him back then, he wondered? Gale and director Robert Zemeckis then began to speculate on what their mothers might have been like in high school, and the basic outline of the screenplay was formed.
Friday concluded with a panel by the “Honest Trailers” team from ScreenJunkies, Andy Signore, Spencer Gilbert, and Dan Murrell. The session featured screenings of a couple of yet-to-be released trailers. The team also discussed their coup in getting Ryan Reynolds to perform in their Honest Trailer for Deadpool.
Saturday brought out the big-name talent at a series of celebrity panels, many of which filled the Philadelphia Convention Center’s 4,300-seat Terrace Ballroom. The day offered interviews and audience Q&A sessions for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, several popular television shows, and one classic film from the 1980s.
Stephen Amell spoke with Pure Fandom’s Lindi Smith and answered audience questions about his role as Oliver Queen in Arrow, including what to expect in season 5 of the show. Amell also half-jokingly (yet half seriously) encouraged everyone in the audience to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, in which he plays Casey Jones.
Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston spoke with Mo Lightning about their roles as warring brothers Thor and Loki. Hemsworth also described playing the quite different and “completely wacky” role of Kevin in the upcoming Ghostbusters film. In response to a question from Hiddleston, Hemsworth admitted that while Thor was one of his greatest acting roles, Kevin was much closer to his actual personality. Hiddleston, for this part, was anxious to downplay rumors that he might be cast as the next James Bond, telling the crowd, “I don’t think that announcement is coming, but I am very gratified to hear the enthusiasm. Your guess is as good as mine, to be honest.”
The Back to the Future panel featured Bob Gale, the co-writer and co-producer of the popular 1985 film, along with actors Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson, and Christopher Lloyd in conversation with Michael Klastorin, author of Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History. Gale described a number of details about the genesis of the film, including the difficulties getting Michael J. Fox for the role of Marty because of his prior commitment to the television show Family Ties.
Closing out the day, Pure Fandom’s Liz Prugh hosted the panel with Agent Carter actors Hayley Atwell and Dominic Cooper. While both actors are attached to new series — Cooper’s Preacher and Atwell’s forthcoming Conviction — much of the conversation centered around the recently canceled Marvel’s Agent Carter, with fans expressing the hope that the show might be revived on a platform such as Netflix.
No con would be complete without seeing costumed characters roaming the hall. Wizard World hosts number of professional cosplayers including Jackie Craft and Brit Bliss. Most of the costumed characters strolling around the venue, however, were fan creations.
Some clever costumes were mashups from different cultural contexts. A pair of cosplayers who could perhaps be described as Ronald McJoker and Hamburiddler showed a version of McDonald’s characters who might be found stalking Gotham City. Time-shifted Marvel superheroes on the show floor included Elizabethan versions of Captain America, the Winter Soldier, Thor, and Loki.
Due to the enormous popularity of San Diego Comic-Con, acquiring a ticket to the annual pop culture event is difficult. If you are lucky enough to snag a ticket, however, getting a hotel room may be even more challenging. In both cases, the demand far outstrips the supply. In the case of hotel rooms, confusion over how the sale process works exacerbates the situation. This past week, the quest to secure rooms for San Diego Comic-Con 2016 — affectionately (or not so affectionately) known as “Hotelpocalypse” — left many attendees confused and frustrated.
When Demand Exceeds Supply: Randomize!
As with most large conventions, Comic Con International, the organization that runs San Diego Comic-Con, arranges for blocks of hotel rooms to be available for attendees throughout San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and as far away as the airport, Mission Valley, and Coronado Island. This year travel planning agency onPeak managed the annual hotel sale for Comic Con International.
While rooms are available outside this system, the high demand drives prices to astronomical levels. When booked through Comic-Con’s travel agency, onPeak, a room at the popular Hilton Bayfront costs $308 per night. (For comparison, on weekends other than that of Comic-Con, rooms at the Bayfront go for as low as $169.) If you book the same room outside of the onPeak sale during the weekend of Comic-Con, the price is $1095 per night (plus the usual taxes and fees). Understandably, many want to acquire rooms through the Comic-Con sale.
To apply for a room, attendees submit a form with their top six hotels choices listed in order of preference, enter their personal data, and specify what should happen if none of their six hotel selections is available: book a room in any hotel on the shuttle route, book a room at any hotel in the area, or discard the request.
In previous years, the form went live at a specified time and requests were processed in the order submitted. It was a mad dash to complete the form as quickly as possible. Getting a room in one of the popular downtown hotels required racing through the multi-section form in less than a minute or two. The high peak demand on the system led to numerous technical problems such as pages not loading or submissions inexplicably lost.
Tickets to San Diego Comic-Con were once similarly allotted on a first-come, first-served basis, with equally problematic results. Two years ago, Comic Con International switched to a system of randomized ticket sales. During a recap of the previous year’s event, CCI President John Rogers noted that the earlier approach had little advantage over a random lottery, stating, “There are so many people hitting the system at the same time that, in fact, it is random.” (“See Comic-Con Ticket Sales: Systematizing Randomness“)
This year, Comic-Con International decided to randomize the submission of hotel forms as well. Users were given a three-hour window to access an online “waiting room” and then, at the appointed time, were randomly placed in a queue to gain access to the hotel request form.
While this seemed to go well on the day of the hotel sale, there was a great deal of uncertainly about the details, particularly when attendees started getting the results a few days later.
People reported having relatively low numbers in the queue, yet failing to receive any of their hotel selections. Reports filtered in of friends with later spots in the queue getting rooms at popular hotels while people earlier in line got none.
Confusion over Sequence, Timestamp, and Duplication
While those who failed to get the room they wanted were obviously disappointed, much of the frustration arose from confusion about how the process worked.
The early word was that, even with the randomized queue as a gating factor, requests would still be processed in the order of the timestamp when they were submitted. Thus, as in past years, once the form appeared, many raced to complete it as quickly as possible, risking the possibility of making critical errors that would invalidate their submission. After the sale closed, a tweet from onPeak stated that forms would be handled in the order of the user’s assigned place in queue rather than the submission timestamp. Some anecdotal reports seem to contradict this, however, leaving it unclear how the forms were sequenced for processing.
Users were also told that duplicate submissions would not increase the odds of getting a specific hotel and, in fact, it would likely decrease one’s chances since “only the most recent submission received will be the one processed.” What qualified as a “duplicate submission” remains unclear, however, with reports (or speculation) of requests being disregarded for myriad reasons, including forms with the same mailing address, or with the same phone number, or for no apparent reason whatsoever.
A parody Twitter account, “Fake onPeak,” appeared shortly after the sale lampooning the organization behind the process, issuing tweets like: “Reminder: As you call us today, you’ll be placed in a random order. Call twice and we will have to ignore your request. #Hotelpocalypse”
Hotel Allocation Schemes: Sequence and Preference
Another aspect of the system is unclear: What is the exact method by which hotels are allocated based on people’s sequence in the randomized list and their priority selections?
A common view is that the Comic-Con hotel sale works something like this: People’s requests are first randomly ordered and then the system goes through this list and examines each person’s six selections in the order given to look for an available room.
In other words, the system starts with the first person in the queue. If a room at their first choice hotel is available, they’re allocated that room. If not, the system looks at their second choice. If a room in that hotel is available, they’re granted that room. And so on through the set of their six hotel options. If none of these is available, the system follows the option specified for this situation such assigning the person to another arbitrary (randomly selected?) room on the shuttle route or in any available room. (The details of how this subsequent selection process occurs are also mysterious.)
While this system is simple to understand and relatively easy to implement, it can lead to potentially sub-optimal outcomes. For example, let’s assume that when my slot in the sequence arrives, my first five selections are unavailable and there is one room left at my sixth choice hotel, say, the Omni Hotel. I would get the room at the Omni. If the next person in the randomly-ordered sequence selected the Omni as their first choice, they would not get the room.
You can argue that this is fair, since I was randomly placed ahead of the other person wanting to stay at the Omni. But it’s unfortunate that someone who wants the Omni as their first choice loses out to someone who cares only slightly for that hotel (particularly since the selection was made randomly).
An alternative approach would seek to maximize the overall satisfaction of all participants by following a different algorithm. Rather than looking through all six hotel options for each individual before moving on to the next person, the system could fill each hotel by looking through the ordered list of all the requests by priority first. In other words, start with a hotel (in order of size or popularity — or simply alphabetically), then go through the ordered sequence of users looking for those who made this hotel their first choice before looking at the second-choice selections for this hotel
For example, when looking to fill the rooms at the Hilton Bayfront, look through the ordered list of people to identify those who listed the Bayfront as their first choice. Proceed through the requests in the ordered sequence – looking only at each person’s top choice — until either the Bayfront is filled with people who picked it as their first choice or the end of the list of people is reached. If the system gets to the end of the list of first-choice selections and rooms are still available, it then starts over at the beginning of the list looking for people who selected the Bayfront as their second choice. Continue in this way for each hotel until all the rooms are filled.
This approach would assure that each hotel is filled with those who are most desirous of that location. The randomized sequence would still be important, but it would carry less weight relative to the individual’s prioritization of the hotels.
Until Next Year
Because the demand exceeds the supply — particularly for the popular downtown hotels — there will inevitably be complaints from those who failed to get the room they wanted. But the lack of transparency about how the process works exacerbates the problem. Hopefully, for Comic-Con 2017 attendees will know more about how requests are sequenced, when they might be rejected, and how people’s hotel priorities are allocated.
This year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego takes place July 21 through 24, 2016, with a Preview Night on July 20.
The growing enthusiasm for all things pop culture was on display once again this past weekend at New York Comic Con. The sold-out event, run by the ReedPop unit of Reed Exhibitions, a division of RELX Group (formerly Reed Elsevier), drew its largest crowd ever. The event reported an all-time high attendance of 167,000, up from last year’s high of 151,000.
Bigger than Big?
Comparisons with other comic cons is difficult, however, due to the lack of a standard method of reporting attendance figures. New York Comic Con apparently tallies the number of people who attend each day to generate their total attendance figure. Comic Con International’s San Diego Comic-Con, on the other hand, reportedly counts each attendee only once, regardless of how many days the person attends. In other words, someone with a four-day badge, who attends all four days, would be counted four times in New York’s tally, but only once in San Diego’s. Thus, although San Diego Comic-Con reports a smaller attendance number of roughly 130,000, the West Coast event likely remains the largest popular culture convention in the U.S.
New York Comic Con is clearly growing, however, this year expanding to an additional venue beyond the Javits Center, adding the 2,200 seat Hammerstein Ballroom for panel sessions.
The size of the convention was also apparent from the length of the lines at the event. On Saturday morning before the Javits Center opened, the line to enter the building started at 11th Avenue and 38th Street, stretched two blocks up to 40th Street, turned the corner to follow 40th Street down the long crosstown block to 12th Avenue, and then turned down 12th Ave to extend six more blocks down to 34th Street — a total distance of roughly 0.6 miles. Unlike San Diego Comic-Con, which provides different lines for Hall H and everything else, at New York Comic Con there is initially one line outside the building for everything. When the convention center opened, the line moved briskly, despite the requirement to check bags and scan the RFID chip in each badge. Once inside, the line splits into one for the exhibition hall (or anywhere other than the Main Stage) and multiple separate lines to get a wristband for one of the day’s panels on the Main Stage.
As first implemented last year, the Main Stage auditorium at New York Comic Con is cleared between each panel. This differs from the halls at San Diego Comic-Con (or any of the other rooms at New York Comic Con) which allow audience members to stay for multiple panels. As discussed last year when this policy was first introduced [see “New York Comic Con 2014: Bigger and Better“], this approach is a mixed blessing. While it makes it easier to gain access to the one major panel of your choice, it’s nearly impossible to see any of the other Main Stage panels that day. By contrast, at San Diego Comic-Con gaining entry to Hall H often requires camping out in line for many hours but, once in the room, fans can stay throughout the entire day’s programming. The process at New York Comic Con also means less programming in total, since the scheme requires 45 minutes between panels to clear the room, in contrast to only 15 minutes between most of San Diego’s panel sessions.
Beyond the scale of the event, however, the range and the quality of programming at ReedPop’s New York Comic Con continue to secure the event’s position as the premiere East Coast pop culture event.
Marketing is a major thrust of all comic cons — from the presentations by television studios to the vendor booths throughout the exhibition hall, and comic cons often feature creative approaches to advertising to the pop culture crowd.
Marvel Television had a significant presence at New York Comic Con this year, with major presentations on their Netflix series Daredevil and Jessica Jones. (More on these below.) These Marvel properties also presented clever viral marketing campaigns outside the walls of the Javits Center. Spray-painted in the style of street art graffiti on the sidewalks around the convention center were messages using the #JessicaJones hashtag along with statements such as “I know your secrets.” (As clever as this is, one wonders about the legality of this defacement of public property.) Elsewhere around the arena were mock ads for the legal services of Nelson and Murdock, the attorneys in Marvel’s Daredevil.
A few years ago it was noteworthy to see companies outside the realm of pop culture exhibiting at a comic con. [See, from 2012: ‘Consumer Brands Go Geek at Comic Con” and, from 2013: “Philadelphia Comic Con: Batman, Buffy and … Bath Fitter?“] No longer. It is now common practice at many of the large, for-profit conventions, such as those run my ReedPop and WizardWorld, to include vendors unrelated to pop culture hawking their products to the comic con crowd. As in past years, Chevrolet was a partner sponsor of this year’s New York Comic Con. Other partner sponsors this year included such wide ranging brands as Honey Nut Cheerios, Courtyard Marriott, and Jelly Belly Candy Company.
One vendor embracing the spirit of con culture was Progressive. The insurance company provided lockers where fans could temporarily store their loot and a charging hub for mobile devices in need of power. More bizarre were the “Protector-corns” — workers dressed as a mashup of company spokesperson Flo and a unicorn — who provided “line insurance” by holding attendees’ places in line while they grabbed food or took a restroom break.
While New York Comic Con offers a full array of programming sessions on comic books, games, movies, and cosplay, the event is particularly strong in the depth of its presentations on television programming.
The Librarians and Felicia Day
On Friday, the cast and crew of the TNT series The Librarians discussed what to expect in the new season. The panel included actors John Larroquette, Christian Kane, John Kim, Lindy Booth, and Rebecca Romijn, along with Executive Producer Dean Devlin. Following this panel, actor Jeff Hephner showed an extended clip of his upcoming TNT series, Agent X, co-starring Sharon Stone.
Following the TNT panels, actor, producer, and writer Felicia Day arrived on the Empire Stage. Fresh off the book tour for her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), Day participated in an hour-long audience question and answer session.
Limitless, Colony, and Mr. Robot
Later on Friday afternoon, as part of the CBS TV Studios session, the Hammerstein Ballroom hosted a Limitless panel with actors Jake McDorman and Jennifer Carpenter, and Executive Producer Craig Sweeny.
Following the CBS presentations, the Hammerstein Ballroom featured panels for two USA TV series: Colony, scheduled to debut on January 14, 2016, and Mr. Robot, which recently ended its initial 10-episode season.
The Colony panel featured series co-creators Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal, along with lead actor Josh Holloway discussing the forthcoming series about a near future in which the citizens of Los Angeles live under the domination of an occupying force. While audience speculation ran rampant about the nature of the mysterious occupiers, Cuse and Condal remained mum on the details. In addition to a Q and A with the creative team, the pilot episode of Colony was screened in full.
Much of the audience in the Hammerstein Ballroom that afternoon appeared to be there to see the Mr. Robot panel, which included actors Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, and Martin Wallström, and showrunner Sam Esmail, in conversation with Andy Greenwald. While details about season 2 were scant, Esmail indicated the upcoming episodes would turn very dark. Masks of fsociety, the series’ subversive hacker group, were distributed to the audience at the outset of the panel. Near the end of the session, the cast hopped down from the stage to pose in front of the auditorium full of masked fans and take a few quick selfies with audience members.
Daredevil and Jessica Jones
On Saturday, Marvel Television presented a two-part panel on the Main Stage featuring the company’s Netflix series Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
As Marvel Television head Jeph Loeb walked to the podium to introduce the first of the two panels he stopped and said he wanted to do something unscripted. He then dashed off stage and returned briefly with cast members from both shows — Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Charlie Cox (Daredevil) and Mike Colter (Jessica Jones and Luke Cage) — playfully stating this is the most the audience would presently see of The Defenders, an upcoming Netflix Marvel team-up series featuring those characters.
Loeb returned to the stage to introduce the Daredevil panel, with a full list of cast members from season 2: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal, and Elodie Yung, along with season 2 showrunners Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez (replacing season 1 showrunner Steven DeKnight), and Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada. The panel included a sizzle reel with footage from seasons 1 and 2, including a quick shot of Elodie Yung donning her mask as Elektra that brought cheers from the crowd.
Following Daredevil, Loeb brought to the stage the cast of Netflix’s next Marvel series, Jessica Jones: actors Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, Carrie-Anne Moss, Wil Traval, Eka Darville, and Erin Moriarty, and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg.
Missing from the panel was actor David Tennant, who was working in a play in London. Tennant appeared in a brief video segment apologizing for his absence and mentioning that clips from the series would follow. To the initial dismay of the crowd, Loeb explained that Tennant misspoke — they didn’t have clips from Jessica Jones to show. He quickly explained that they didn’t have any clips because they would show, for the first time anywhere, the complete first episode of the series, which elicited an enthusiastic roar from the audience.
Minority Report and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
On Sunday, back at the Empire Stage, the Minority Report panel included actors Meagan Good, Wilmer Valderrama, Nick Zano, Stark Sands, Laura Regan, Daniel London, and Li Jun Li.
As the Minority Report panel ended, it was standing room only as people jammed the room waiting for DC’s Legends of Tomorrow panel with cast members Arthur Darvill, Brandon Routh, and Ciara Renee, and showrunner Phil Klemmer. Given the size of the crowd, the powerhouse programming lineup in this Warner Bros. Television Takeover that began with of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and included Gotham, Supergirl, Blindspot and Person of Interest would have been better suited for the larger Main Stage.
This year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego was a mix of the new and the familiar, the wonderful and the weird, the carefully planned and the unexpectedly serendipitous. Here are highlights of Comic-Con 2015 from my perspective.
As last year, the marketing onslaught started shortly after stepping off the plane. The staircases and baggage carousels at San Diego International Airport were covered with ads for Conan O’Brien’s TBS program Conan. The Conan ads continued in town with banner wraps covering trains, buses, and the upper floors of the Marriott hotel.
The trend of wrapping buildings in large ads seemed to have subsided slightly last year, with no wrap on the prime real estate of the Hilton Bayfront hotel that year. The building wraps were back in force this year, however, with multi-story ads on both the Hilton Bayfront and Marriott Marquis and — for the first time this year — with a pair of banners on the Hilton garage as well. In addition, the usual barrage of building-covering ads appeared throughout the Gaslamp Qaurter and around Petco Park.
As I outline in my Knowledge@Wharton article, the early appearance of these advertising installations triggers a flurry of social media activity that allows brands to tap into the pent-up excitement as fans await the start of Comic-Con. [See “Building Buzz: How Comic-Con Turns Froth into Frenzy” ]
This year, the pre-Preview Night afternoon also offered time to explore The Art of Comic-Con exhibit presented by Comic-Con International at the San Diego Central Library. The gallery included illustrations and documents covering 45 years of San Diego Comic-Con as well as Comic-Con International’s sister shows WonderCon and APE (the Alternative Press Expo).
After picking up my badge and connecting with a reporter from NPR to be interviewed for a piece on All Things Considered about immersive marketing [see “Want To Get Inside Your Favorite Show? Go To Comic-Con“], it was time to head the Convention Center to hit the show floor for Preview Night.
Preview Night has become one of my favorite parts of Comic-Con. The lack of competing programming that first evening means you can browse the exhibition hall floor without fretting about all the other activities you’re missing.
While I typically skip the nighttime parties at Comic-Con, on Wednesday evening I had two post-Preview Night events in my calendar: The Enchantment Under the SDCC party from the SDCC Unofficial Blog and the Game of Bloggers Meet Up hosted by Crazy4ComicCon’s Tony B. Kim. Despite a long day, I made it to the former, but only for a brief visit and fewquickphotos. As much as I wanted to stay longer and to stop by Tony’s meet-up, I wearily headed back to the hotel to get ready for the con to officially begin the next morning.
Panels: From Grant Morrison and Geek & Sundry to Jack Kirby and the Culture of Comic-Con
On Thursday the con begins in earnest. My personal Comic-Con schedule typically lists four or five simultaneous events for any given time slot. The plan is to make on-the-fly judgments about what to attend based on line lengths, expected wait time, and conflicts with other activities.
Thanks to a fortuitous tweet alerting me to a short line for Thursday’s opening panels at the Hilton Bayfront’s Indigo Ballroom, the day began with Grant Morrison in conversation with Graphic India’s Sharad Devarajan. Morrison discussed 18 Days, his retelling of the central battle from The Mahabharata, and Avatarex, a super-hero series placed in contemporary India. It was interesting to hear Morrison, who once penned one of the darkest Batman tales — Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth — talk about the current need for more optimistic narratives in comic books.
Between Morrison and the later Geek & Sundry panel in the Indigo Ballroom were two additional programming sessions. Director Sanjay Patel and producer Nicole Grindle presented an early screening of Disney/Pixar’s Sanjay’s Super Team, a heartfelt, loosely autobiographical piece based on Patel’s relationship with his father and his Indian heritage. In addition to showing the short film, the presentation included a touching clip of Patel showing the film to his father. The panel was a surprise highlight of the day.
Next up in the Indigo Ballroom was the Geek & Sundry panel with Felicia Day, her brother Ryon Day, Wil Wheaton, and Geek & Sundry performers Laura Bailey, Matthew Mercer, Jessica Marzipan, and Hector Navarro. It was a rollicking session with Ryon Day and Wil Wheaton going out of their way to repeatedly embarrass Felicia Day.
The other days of Comic-Con included an eclectic mix of panels —
Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson had to leave the Women Artists During WWII panel early to participate in Twisted Roots of the Comics Industry which overlapped the earlier panel by 30 minutes. The Twisted Roots of the Comics Industry panel also featured Michael Uslan, Danny Fingeroth, Gerard Jones, and Brad Ricca.
The Annual Jack Kirby Tribute Panel was, as always, hosted by Mark Evanier, and this year included J. David Spurlock, Marv Wolfman, Rob Liefeld, and Paul S. Levine discussing the work of the late Jack Kirby.
Photography is a major focus of mine at Comic-Con, not only for my work for Knowledge@Wharton but, as well, for my roles as Convention Photographer for Comic Book Creator and ACE (All Comics Created) magazines, and as contributing photographer for the annual Bleeding Cool Power 100 List.
On Saturday, I helped photograph the Agent Carter flash mob that convened in the lobby of the Convention Center and, in a pre-arranged scheme, paraded to the Marvel booth to meet Agent Carter lead actress Haley Atwell.
And, of course, grabbing shots of creative cosplay is always fun. Among my favorite costumes this year was a flawless implementation of Steve Ditko’s Mysterio from The Amazing Spider-Man #13. Also intriguing were the time- and gender-shifted Rococo X-Women.
The Eisner Awards Ceremony
The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Ceremony is always a highlight of my Comic-Con experience, and this year was particularly noteworthy. Comic Book Creator, a publication for which I serve as Convention Photographer, was nominated for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism. (The Eisner went to the well-deserving Comics Alliance.)
Philadelphia comic shop and publisher Locust Moon was nominated in two categories — Best Anthology and Best Publication Design — for Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, and was awarded the Eisner for both.
In addition to the celebrity introductions and the always entertaining antics of Jonathan Ross, the main focus of the evening is on recognizing the work of those who create comic books. Seeing Shannon Watters and Noelle Stevenson accepting multiple awards for Lumberjanes was one of several high points of the evening.
Planned Activities and Random Encounters on the Show Floor
Signings in the vendor booths on the show floor provide ideal opportunities to capture portraits of key comic book creators. This year, I snapped portraits of Grant Morrison in the Legendary booth, and Joss Whedon and Chuck Palahniuk in the Dark Horse booth.
There’s typically a point during Comic-Con at which I decide to ignore my carefully-planned schedule and just wander the exhibition hall floor. This frequently elicits unexpected, serendipitous encounters.
Strolling across the show floor I also ran into Marvel’s head of television Jeph Loeb , which provided the opportunity to tell him how much I loved his 1998 series, Superman for All Seasons.
Talking Back and Heading Home
My last session at Comic-Con each year is the annual Talk Back session, during which Comic Con International President John Rogers sits alone at long table and listens to a long line of attendees with comments, complaints, and suggestions about Comic-Con.
This year’s Talk Back was relatively subdued. The long lines to access Hall H, the event’s largest venue where many of the high-profile Hollywood presentations take place, are a recurring topic during each year’s Talk Back. There was little mention, however, of this year’s most significant logistical change — the introduction of the “next day line” for queuing for wristband distribution for Hall H on the subsequent day. By distributing several waves of color-coded Hall H wristbands early in the evening and allowing people to leave the line once they have a wristband (with the ability to rejoin a similarly-banded friend holding their place in line or joining the end of the banded line), the new scheme essentially supplants the previous requirement to camp out all night with extended wait time during the preceding day. Given the lack of attendee commentary on the “next day line” during the Talk Back, expect this practice to continue next year.
At the airport the following morning, the trip ended much like it began, with an advertisement for TBS’s Conan show appearing on the television monitors showing CNN in the airport. “Hope to see you next year!” the ad declared and, indeed, I hope to be back again for another Comic-Con International: San Diego in 2016.
San Diego Comic-Con, the largest popular culture festival in the U.S., is exciting, illuminating, and crowded. Very crowded. And it’s confusing. With so many overlapping events competing for an attendee’s time, planning your schedule and determining the optimal time to queue up for specific events requires the logic of a chess master. [See Knowledge@Wharton, San Diego Comic-Con: Best Laid Plans.]
While there is no corner Comic-Con that isn’t crammed with people, there are benefits to be gained from being a contrarian. Going against the flow can lead to wonderful moments and a less stressful con experience.
Preview Night: More than Exclusives
For folks lucky enough to have a ticket for Preview Night, the evening is typically a mad dash for Comic-Con exclusives. Preview Night lets fans get first dibs on these only-at-Comic-Con action figures and souvenirs from companies like Hasbro, Funko, and Mattel. Yet the full show floor is open that first Wednesday evening. While crowds mob the vendor booths, the comic book creators in Artists’ Alley and the booths of many publishers are relatively quiet Wednesday night.
Last year I strolled past the Avatar Press booth to find George R. R. Martin quietly chatting with at fan. I walked right up, asked for a photo, and had a brief chat with famed Game of Thrones author. During the rest of Comic-Con, autograph sessions with Martin required waiting in a long line. Over in Artists’ Alley, creative couple Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner were goofing around and greeting fans who wandered over to the far end of the hall that houses Artists’ Alley. Many comic book creators were more relaxed and accessible during Preview Night than at any other time during the con.
Every Day is a Big Day in Hall H (and Elsewhere)
Friday and Saturday typically feature the most popular panels in Comic-Con’s infamous Hall H. Access to these events involves camping out for most of the night in order to secure a seat in the cavernous auditorium.
However, in recent years, after the morning crush for the best seats, Thursday has been a relatively easy “walk in” day in Hall H. You still needed to get in line and wind your way through the entry chutes under the tents, but by midday the line flows freely, providing access to the vaunted Hall H after only a short wait.
And while the Friday and Saturday panels feature the most popular panels, the Thursday and Sunday events are nevertheless always noteworthy.
In 2014, Thursday saw the first Comic-Con appearance of director Christopher Nolan for the Insterstellar segment of the Paramount Studios presentation, which also featured actor Matthew McConaughey. Both were a surprise — neither was mentioned in the Comic-Con Program Guide — and access to the hall was relatively easy that day.
Panels like these would be highlights at any other fan fest. Only at San Diego Comic-Con do sessions of this magnitude pale by comparison to the even bigger studio events on Friday and Saturday.
Although Hall H typically hosts the most high-profile events of the con, don’t judge the quality of a panel by the size of its venue. Outside of Hall H and Ballroom 20 are many fascinating presentations. The smaller room may mean a long line (or even the need to attend the preceding panel in order to get a seat), but these sacrifices are minor in comparison to camping on the grass all night to gain entrance to Hall H. And these smaller panels often bring great guests and compelling conversations. [See Comic-Con Movies: From Tentpole to Shoestring.]
Beyond the Convention Center: Offsites
As the crowds flood into the San Diego Convention Center, other events around town provide often less-crowded alternatives as well as viable options for days for which you don’t have a ticket for Comic-Con.
As a fan of the work of Felicia Day and the team at Geek & Sundry, I typically stop by the offsite event for the annual meet-and-greet and autograph signing with Day. NerdHQ provides a full range of programming with each event ticketed separately in an intimate venue. The Petco Park Interactive Zone is filled with fun activities, such as last year’s Sleepy Hollow virtual reality experience. This year the San Diego Public Library presents an exhibition on The Art of Comic-Con. Other engaging marketing activities for movies and television programs are sprinkled throughout San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. [For a comprehensive look at offsite events at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, see the calendar at on the SDCC Unofficial Blog: http://sdccblog.com/events/2015-07/
Finally, don’t be afraid to abandon your carefully planned schedule and just wander around. Peruse the show floor, check out the cosplay in the Sails Pavilion (where the bright but diffuse sunlight makes for great photos), or stroll the activities and exhibits on the lawns adjacent to the Convention Center.
By resisting the gravitational pull of the most popular events, by not following the crowd and going your own way to smaller, equally interesting events, you can have a fun and less stressful Comic-Con.
Several compelling horror films — from Robert Wise’s classic The Haunting to Jennifer Kent’s terrifying The Babadook — skate along an ambiguous boundary between psychological disintegration and truly supernatural horror. Apparition also explores this territory, with mixed success.
Directed by Quinn Saunders from a script by Pete Cafaro and Andrew Kayros, Apparition is a portrayal of the ravages of grief and guilt in the guise of a haunted house thriller. Structured around a clever narrative conceit that unfolds in the film’s final act, the story’s impact is muted by pacing and focus problems during much of the picture’s 100-minute running time. After a well-paced exposition in the first act, the long middle section meanders. The film then moves too hurriedly through the important final scenes that lead to the film’s climax.
A spooky opening — which literally begins on a dark and stormy night — establishes the film’s unsettling tone. Doug (Jody Quigley) and Lori (Katrina Law) are in love, engaged to be married, and planning to restore an old country farmhouse together. The appearance of Lori’s ex-lover at the couple’s engagement party triggers an angry response from Doug and leads to a tragic accident that takes Lori’s life. Consumed by grief, Doug vows to complete the couple’s planned work on the farmhouse as a way to assuage his guilt and pay homage to his lost love.
But the house is more than just a major rehabilitation project. It is also a place of past horrors.
We learn of the house’s history from that most hoary of horror movie tropes: the crazy old man at the bar who prophetically warns of the house’s evil. Fortunately, Thomas Roy’s juicy performance as Woody brings the right mix of creepiness and world-weariness to make the scene work.
Doug obsessively works alone in the house during the film’s second act. His mental state slowly deteriorates and he begins to sense a malevolent presence in the building. As he becomes more isolated, the house’s shadowy apparitions become more concrete, changing from a vague presence to a manifest appearance of his deceased fiancée that lets Doug regain a fantasy relationship with his former love.
While the film works well when portraying these phantasms of Doug’s ebbing sanity, the more supernatural expressions of the house’s evil history are less successful. We learn from creepy curmudgeon Woody that the house’s history includes not one, but two previous incidents of carnage, when one would have sufficed to support the movie’s plot. After Doug encounters a frightening specter from the house’s past, he starts awake to realize it was only a dream. While this provides a convenient jolt during the film’s lengthy middle section, it’s a technique that is not only overly used in the horror genre, it’s overly used in this film — occurring no less than three times.
Early in the film, Doug meets Jamie (Lili Bordán), an attractive neighbor in need of someone who knows how to change a tire, a role which Doug gladly fulfills. Jamie comes to the fore in the movie’s third act, offering Doug the opportunity for healing and redemption. Jamie has a history of relationships with damaged men, and Doug certainly fits that bill. Initially rejecting her overtures, Doug struggles with separating from his attachment with the phantasm of Lori to embrace Jamie’s affections.
While the movie’s middle section goes on for too long, the third act seems rushed. Accepting Doug’s growing closeness to Jamie is critical to the film’s denouement. Allowing the audience to become more deeply immersed in Doug’s apparent rehabilitation would have heightened the impact of the film’s conclusion.
Despite a clever narrative turn at the end and some effective creepiness, Apparition fails to escape the shackles of a routine horror film.
The image from Apparition is from a copyrighted film, the copyright for which is most likely owned by the film’s production company and/or distributor and possibly also by any actors appearing in the image. It is believed that the use of a web-resolution screenshot for identification and critical commentary on the film and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.