We've just about covered all the relevant toy-related news and info Comicon had to offer. Now, as we take this time to look back, we can really focus on the madness that the show really brought out in people!
Starting with us!
The plane ride from Boston went smoothly; it was fun picking out the folks at the airport clearly headed to Comicon! Yes, nerds stand out. Anyway, we picked up our doomed rental car once we touched down in San Diego and checked into our hotel without incident. We rolled up on the cyclopean Convention Center for Preview Night (Wednesday) and weaseled our ways in.
Mason, a veteran of these things, was cool as a cucumber...while>I was somewhat more apprehensive as the newcomer. Lemme tell ya, as HUGE as the place was, it was still absolutely packed!
Now, as a first-timer, there wasn't much I could say about how this year went compared to last, but I heard more than a few grumblings that the spirit of Preview Night had been lost. In previous years, it had been an opportunity for the hardcore collectors to have some quiet, unrushed time with the sellers to browse, shoot the crap, and make leisurely purchases. This year, Preview Night was easily as busy as any of the other days (yes, that includes Saturday!)...and all it really amounted to was the most rabid fanboys running in and snatching up all the con exclusives they could get their mits on.
Nevertheless, Mason and I persevered. I made some great vintage scores here and there, and more importantly, I was introduced to some great folks I had only previously known through the internet. I met jryanj in person for the first time, and it was nice to see John from Cool Stuff From Japan again.
In fact, throughout the show, we met up with plenty of cool people. We had lunch with Rob and Amanda, two of Mason's buddies who frequent the Outer Limits in Waltham, MA--a comic book store where he works part-time for kicks. Also, we met fellow TBDX forumite, Ken-A and his brother for dinner one night. Great times!
And of course, we met up with plenty other friends in "the biz". Be sure to check out ALL of our SDCC07 coverage for more details!
But let's get back to the show, itself!
First off, consider yourselves lucky: I did NOT photograph many cosplayers at the show. *Shudder*
THAT was some disturbing stuff right there, lemme tell ya. One night of the Con was the "masquerade ball". Luckily, we had plans to get dinner with the Onell guys that night, so we successfully managed to dodge that awkward, tubby bullet.
Still, I did manage to score a couple shots here and there of some of the less(?) skeevy examples of the menagerie...
Let's see...there were dudes--no lie!--smacking the CRAP outta each other in medieval European knight outfits. There were some nicely-done Ghost Busters. There was even an alleged Optimus Prime sighting.
They had the Batmobile from the 60's live-action show, and a dead ringer for a young Adam West. We found a dealer (The World of Mr. Toast) selling--get this!--stuffed BACON! Oh, yes: someone just had to buy some!
Oh, and we also got a chance to see Tara McPherson, Josh's dream girl! ;)
There were even opportunities to bump into random celebrities. Plenty of 'em. At one point, Mason and I set sail across the sea of humanity towards some far off locale, when I noticed to my right, LeVar Burton was walking alongside me! Damn, I loved me some Reading Rainbow back in the day! Anyway, I gotta be honest about the celebrity sightings--the spectacle of the Con was a bit much for me most of the time, so noticing a famous person directly in front of my nose wasn't always easy, y'knowmsayin?
Here's a classic exchange that Mason'll never let me live down:
[Leaving the Con to grab some lunch...] Mason: "Hey, Sanjeev, there's Chief Tyrol."
Mason: "Right there...in the Anthrax t-shirt."
[Folks, I'm a hip hopper--saying "Anthrax t-shirt" doesn't help me much...] Me: "C'mon!"
Mason: "No, really, that's him right there."
[I stared at the back of Aaron Douglas' shaven head for hesitant moment and continued my denial.] Me: "No f*#@ing way!"
I walked right up to the alleged Tyrol (completely not remembering his real name), tapped him on the shoulder at crosswalk of this busy intersection, and lamely stuttered a greeting and asking whether he would mind if a "drooling fan...dude...boy" (yes, I said thatverbatim) got a picture with him.
Mr. Douglas cooly replied, "No problem--I don't mind taking a picture with a drooling fan...dude...boy." Mason took the shot with a smug poop-eating grin!
From that point on, whenever I tried to deny anything Mason had to say, he would just tut-tut me, invoking "Chief Tyrol!"...and all I could do was shut up. ;)
Anyway...like I said, the show was simply overwhelming! Full-on senses overload. I can't imagine attending just for one or two days. There is just SO much stuff...just on the convention floor! And that doesn't even consider all the great programs being presented over the several days of the con.
Mason and I pretty much did our own thing when it came to programs, but there were a few we went to together. At one point, working the Con floor was getting murderous on my flat feet, so I tagged along with Mason to one of the DC Comics panels that was focussed on the future of their popular "52" series (and it's sequel, "Countdown"). As someone who doesn't read comics anymore, I had no idea what the hell people were talking about, but it was cool to see the head writers and editors schmoozing with the masses. This was a side of the comics business I'd never seen before. There was a chemistry there that really impressed me.
Next, Mason and I went to Aaron McGruder's Boondocks panel. It was packed--and here I was thinking that we'd be the only folks in there. Oh but there were more than a few fans of this Adult Swim cartoon! The panel was wildly entertaining of course...Cedric Yarbrough ("Tom Dubois", and of Reno 911 fame) and Gary Anthony Williams ("Uncle Ruckus") were on hand to add their brands of humor to the stage. Oh, one very important thing Mr. McGruder wanted to get across to fans was this: Gangstalicious is NOT supposed to be anyone in real life. Is that clear? That person in your head who you think it is? Yeah? Well, NO, it ain't him. Anyway, be on the lookout for season 2...they showed a preview and it looks bangin'.
Also on the conscious entertainment tip, I had the pleasure of attending the Black Panel. Now, most people asked about what the deal was with that because the panel had been called "Blacks in Comics" in previous Comicons. The organizers wanted to break from what had gone on before: apparently, in previous years, fans' questions and subsequent discussions decayed into complaining about the gross lack of characters of color and other diversity issues in comic books and popular culture as a whole. This year, they wanted to keep things positive and proactive. The main idea was not to wait for the white people who control the bulk of these media to make opportunities for black writers and artists. The tone was upbeat and creative--sure, there's a place and time to complain about the state of affairs, but this panel was more of a celebration of accomplishments and big things to come. It was all about moving forward and the energy there was encouraging and invigorating!
Immediately following the Black Panel was the BET Animation panel. Now, I know that BET isn't exactly known for being very...conscious...but their Animation division is attempting to rectify that. There, they announced many exciting projects...and there were more than a few laughs. For example, if you haven't had a chance to see Read a Book, check it out [WARNING: potentially not work-safe due to reality! Oops I mean, "profanity"! ;)].
The next very heady panel I attended was "The Two Rays": Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen. These two legends of fiction came together to share stories from their youth, the political climate that prompted them to create what they did, and to talk about their lifelong friendship. Bradbury spoke at length about Fahrenheit 451 and its relevance to today's geopolitics. It was amazing to listen to these two great minds who've seen and been through so much together. More on Mr. Harryhausen later...
Lastly, I was able to catch The Film Crew, the latest project from the minds of Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy, three of the guys who brought us the cult classic, Mystery Science Theater 3000. Oh, yes, they're back at it...and this time, their releases are direct-to-DVD. What does that mean for us? Well, no longer on a shoe-string budget and stringent television schedules means vastly more resources devoted to doing what they do best: MAKE US LAUGH!! The panel featured the three busting on each other, teasing fans, and showing clips from the movies they've ripped apart thus far (yes, they even lampooned their own lampooning WHILE the clips were running!). More on Bill and Kevin later...
Again, I almost wish the Con had been longer. There were a LOT more programs I would've liked to have gone to. Just to give you a taste of some of the stuff that's offered, here are just the few I had originally intended to check out:
Comics and Literacy: an academic look at graphic novels in popular culture and how it affects literacy. The focus was on fostering an interest in reading in inner-city classrooms.
Gender: Bending Masculinity and the Image of the Hero--a look at gender identity, relations, and feminism, and the portrayals (and, in many cases, marginalizations) thereof in comics.
Disguised as Clark Kent: Jews, Comics, and the Creation of the Superhero--a discussion of how Ashkenazi Jews created superheroes and why that's significant.
And of course, there was plenty of less heady stuff too! There was a Robotech panel that focussed on The Shadow Chronicles and the future of the franchise (though I doubt they mentioned the recently-announced Tobey Maguire film). There was a Neil Gaiman program; need I say more? There was a Babylon 5 program, and a later one with just J. Michael Straczynski. And lastly, there was a Futurama panel to discuss the return of the show.
And remember, folks, those were only the panels *I* was interested in!! Can you imagine all the other stuff they had on tap?? Movies, video games, comics--you name it. There is all types of wild stuff going on at Comicon!
...Which brings me to my next subject: CDX INTERVIEWS!!
It brings me great pleasure to bring to you, our good CDX readers, our two big interviews of this year's Comicon: Ray Harryhausen and Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett of The Film Crew!
First off, I had the distinct honor of meeting one of my childhood heroes: Ray Harryhausen. It was a tragically short interview--only about 5 minutes...but it was well worth it for me. Clash of the Titans pretty much raised me! Anyway, you would think that after having finally achieved acclaim for all of the wonderful worlds and creatures he single-handedly created for so many films, Mr. Harryhausen would be able to relax and enjoy retirement. Not so! Currently, Mr. Harryhausen is undertaking the colorization and restoration of many of his earlier films like 20 Million Miles to Earth and Things to Come.
For more info on what Mr. Harryhausen is up to these days, check out this transcript of another Comicon interview. I wanted to keep my own line of questioning off of what he was doing now, since there already was so much coverage of that. I also didn't want to ask too many generic questions like, "how did you get your start and who influenced you?" Questions like that are already covered in his book, An Animated Life. Instead I asked Mr. Harryhausen what he thought of today's push towards computerized special effects that, while making convincing effects more accessible to filmmakers, seemed to be replacing good story-telling with what now is being termed, "eye-candy". Mr. Harryhausen didn't seem concerned by this. He kept telling me, "the ball keeps rolling". At some point, highly advanced, realistic effects like those produced by Weta or ILM will become the standard and universally available. When that happens, good story-telling will be all that there is. A wise sentiment!
I thanked Mr. Harryhausen for his time, headed back to Onell Design's booth (Mason's and my unofficial "base of operations") and had my nervous breakdown!
Another big treat for me was getting the opportunity to meet up with Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy of The Film Crew at their hotel before their panel on Saturday. THAT was a blast...as you can imagine, these guys are freakin' hilarious! We chatted about life after MST3k and mining for nuggets of campy gold.
Things are looking good for fans! Because of time constraints, some of the later seasons of MST3k on the Scifi Channel suffered from mediocrity. No more of that. As I mentioned before, direct-to-DVD sales really opens up time to get creative in ripping that movie a new one! Also, Bill and Kevin mentioned that they wanted to focus on the actual lampooning and do fewer interstitial cut scenes. I, of course, mentioned that the Observer ("Brain guy") and Professor Bobo were my favorite characters...to which Kevin replied that he was too old to be running around in a gorilla costume! Fair enough. The movies are what we really love anyway!
Okay, so y'all know I'm a kaiju guy. You know this was coming: was The Film Crew planning on doing more Japanese tokusatsu films??? ...Alas...the outlook is grim. Prince of Space, the showa Gamera films, a couple Godzilla flicks, and others were sorta flukes. Sandy Frank typically holds onto those licenses quite jealously, so the guys are relegated to sifting through the ugly oceans of "public domain". That probably means no Ultraman, no more Godzilla, no more random gems like Invasion of the Neptune Men. *Sigh*...at least Kevin treated me to a guffaw in the Phantom of Krankor's voice...to which Bill quickly added in the Prince of Space's voice, "it is my duty to inform you that your weapons still have no effect on me!"
So public domain it is. We may not see our favorite cheesefests of yore done up MST3k-style...but that doesn't mean that there's no hope for modern mainstream movies. Mike started another project called RiffTrax, where Mike and some of the guys get together and record a full session of lampooning for today's biggest flicks and even some popular tv series! You download the mp3 and play it simultaneously with the DVD...simple as that! Definitely check 'em out!
So let's see...we've covered the overwhelming spectacle of the Convention floor and the great programs they had to offer. We talked about how we caught up with old friends and met cool new people. We've covered hobnobbing with riffraff and celebs, alike. And, of course, we've talked about toys! I'll leave Saturday night's shenanigans up to your imaginations (if you noticed, in previous SDCC07 articles, I hinted at naked, drunken bonfires on the San Diego beaches on Saturday night!)...hey, what happens in San Diego stays in San Diego! ...So what craziness will you be a part of at the next Comicon??? ;)
Things began to wind down by Sunday evening, and we spent a chill night with the Onell guys and their families at the local tourist trap near the Convention Center. We concluded the evening with a dip in our hotel's hot tub.
...Where Mason promptly caught ebola. ...Cleared up in a couple weeks though...
Oh, did I mention how wack our hotel was? Our key-cards worked about 15% of the time, requiring numerous replacements late at night. And the wi-fi? The signal strength was SO low, we just used the hotel's from across the street. Place was garbage...it's only advantage was that it was close to good eats (i.e., the In-N-Out Burger).
Anyway, the next morning, Monday, we bid one last fond farewell to the Waffle Spot, where earlier in the week, Mason put me on to what might be the greatest food combination in the history of culinary art:
Next, we got a genuine CHiPs escort on the way to the airport, where we dropped off the battered hulk that was once the Chrysler Sebring we had originally rented. And then...we were off to San Francisco!
San Francisco was cool. No, I mean really--it was in the 60's most of the time...wotta rip-off! Anyway, our new digs--a Travelodge a block from the Presidio and ILM--were decidedly nicer than the mess we were staying in in SD...though we were a tad perplexed as to why a stoned bear was their mascot...
Our first night in SF, we simply hung out and got dinner at The Stinking Rose with one of Mason's old college buddies living in town. The next day, Tuesday, we spent most of the morning chilling with the great, Mark Nagata of Max Toy Co. For details on that fun day, check out my update halfway down Josh's article about Mark's collection.
Later that day, we had the pleasure of meeting up with legendary TBDX toy snob, Erik Sjoen!
The vintage toy gods were pleased that day! Erik invited us to his place; we hung out, checked out his gorgeous--yet tearfully boxed--collection, and talked toy.
As the afternoon wore on, Erik had to get back to work, so we made our plans for the next day and Mason and I took off. We then decided to face destiny square in the...face: we headed straight for Super7! Oh man. We had a vague idea of what we were in for, but nothing could really prepare us for the onslaught! First of all, the place is gorgeous. It looks like a cross between an art gallery, an expensive clothing boutique, and...a toy store! Wish I'd taken pics, but you really just have to go if you get the opportunity.
We were greeted by Super7 headman, Brian Flynn, and were invited into the back room to hang out and rest our weary, commerce-laden bones. We sure didn't rest long, though--we were soon poring through the toys in the main store in search of lickable vinyl. And it really didn't take long! After a great deal of contemplation, I ended up snagging just two things: a Nostalgic Heroes translucent brown/grey Inbus Seijin that I knew the toy gods would smite me for not buying, and an M1 hoop game prize glow Hedorah in orange and yellow spray! Gorgeous scores!
That evening, Brian treated us to a fantastic dinner at his favorite Greek restaurant in town! Of course, none of us were wearing even remotely appropriate attire for the venue, but it was all good. As soon as the proprietors learned who Brian was, it was nothing but the best for our table! Now THAT'S baller!!
The next day was an extra special treat for us. Yet another fellow TBDX forumite, sketcher, who works at Industrial Light & Magic, invited us on a tour! And while we were at it, we also brought along Erik and another TBDXer, hypermook! I'm not a big Star Wars fan, but lemme tell ya--the place was most impressive (*groooaaan*).
After being greeted by the >receptionist, we paid our respects to the Willis O'Brien statue in the lobby and began our tour. We saw heroes trapped in carbonite, we saw pieces of s#!t trapped in carbonite. And we saw how Slave Leia's are supposed to look!
Each hallway was lined with gorgeous artwork, ranging from paintings of Star Wars-themed scenes and characters to a myriad of film posters--many classics, in fact, with which ILM had nothing to do. My personal favorite was this French poster of the 1957 Japanese tokusatsu film, The Mysterians:
Eventually, both sketcher and Erik had to get back to work, but hypermook hopped in our ride and we took off on what was probably the single most religious pilgrimage of my life: a trip to Kimono My House(2)! Erik, who used to work there with owner/operator, Yuki, called ahead and put in a good word for us...and we set off on our amazing journey.
I managed to take a few pics--and by all means, enjoy!--but Josh's article does the establishment far greater justice.
All the gokin. All the vinyl. All the tin. Makes me light-headed just thinking back to that event! We spent SO much time there (and don't even ask about the money we spent there! ;) ). I ended up scoring pretty big there, the highlight for me being a gorgeous Popy Grendizer game consisting of a huge, full-color vinyl mat with targets on it at which to throw disks (Spin Saucers???) to score points. Oh, yeah, we'll be getting that framed!
Yuki seemed a bit skeptical of us at first, but once he saw what sorts of toys we were looking at, he warmed up to us pretty quickly, repeatedly complimenting us on our taste! True enough, on that excursion, I got a little vintage gokin, some vintage and contemporary vinyl, a tin walker, and even ERASERS! That's--what--the four basic food groups, right??
Once we had been there well beyond the time normal humans would consider "appropriate", we decided to haul our spent (physically and financially) butts back into SF, proper. We got burgers with hypermook (did I mention how GOOD food is in SF???), said our goodbyes, and Mason and I did the only logical thing: we headed BACK to Super7!
There, Brian generously offered to pack up our Super7 purchases from the previous day AND our Kimono My House purchases to ship back to Boston! Wotta guy! So, of course, Mason and I had to thank him...by buying MORE vinyl!! Okay, so here's the deal: what transpired next might have been the single most RIDICULOUS event of the whole trip. I mean, we both walked in there fully and consciously expecting NOT to buy any more toys...and we ended up talking each other into spending another $800 or so!
The mind-boggling exchange went something like this:
[Mason wanders out of the back room where we were chilling...and comes back in carrying two giant-sized Marmit Mechagodzillas] Mason: (looking down at the two of them, then back at me) Hey, I'll buy one if you buy one...
Me: C'mon man!
(Mason just looks back down at the Mechagodzillas with that look of love in his eyes)
Me: Well...they would look slamming with one of those giant-sized Godzillas they have out there...
(Mason's eyes light up!)
Me: Okay, how about this: I'll buy a giant MG AND a giant Godzilla if you buy an MG AND a Godzilla, too!
...And that's how it happened, your honor. I plea insanity. Mason got his and I got mine! And Brian just sat back and watched this madness, clearly amused. Anyway, I vowed to take my Godzilla on the plane back to Boston with me, rather than have him cruelly packed with the other goodies. Despite the funny looks (and Mason's jokes about TSA rectally searching Goji), it was a good decision.
Anyway, later on that evening, we reconnected with sketcher, and the three of us and Brian went out to get a relaxed dinner in town and talk toy. We discussed insider secrets, Brian and Josh's new book, and how we got into this whole toy-collecting mess in the first place. More good times...
And so ended our trip. The next morning, we got breakfast at Original Buffalo Wings, our haunt of choice near where we were staying, and bid the West Coast goodbye...
And I'm still recovering from the aftermath! ;)
Thanks to my main man, Josh, for making this all happen for me, Matt Doughty, Jessie Moore, and their families, Ken-A and his brother, Frank Supiot from Kotobukiya, Mark and Max Nagata, Brian Flynn and the Super7 folks, the Gargamel guys, Erik Sjoen, sketcher, and hypermook, All the other cool folks we met at Comicon and in SF (too many to mention), And of course, my partner-in-crime, Mason!
It was a blast! See you next year!