Okay, so I said a very stupid thing in the last column…

Floated the possibility, however slight, that I’d feel up to sending in a few daily updates directly from the San Diego con. Figured that with this extra fly laptop, and the wi-fi access on the hotel’s main floor, only thing missing was the appropriate drive, and on the real, I’ve had more drive than sense for years now. However, I’m in the airport right now, waiting for them to start boarding my flight back to the Chi, and editor Craig Johnson ain’t heard nothin’ from me all weekend. Which is probably cool with him, because I promised this complicated photo journal thing, that he’ll be glad to read I completely gave up on, about halfway through the trip. Yes, there are plenty pictures, but there are also far more words than I was expecting. Even when I try being lazy, it just doesn’t work out, leaving us with this, a gang of pics, a few reviews, some name-dropping, and more than a few keen observations as the ’06 edition of the SDCC is preserved for Ambi. prosperity. Oh, and off-topic, I think sitting here typing this up, I might’ve found a new artist to work with, but we’ll get into that once I reach the section on Sunday. Back to the beginning for now…

Wednesday-

There is no such thing as Preview Night. The assertion that it is, nothing more than a vicious, horribly outdated rumor, used to suggest that arriving “early” will allow one to cruise the show floor for a couple hours, free of the almost overpowering congestion that is the natural result of these things. But that ain’t true at all, cause even with limited hours, the crowd quickly swells to a more than comfortable size, thousands of people Jedi mind tricked into thinking they’re terribly ahead of the other suckers not arriving until the next day. So, my goals on this day always stay pretty simple, pick up badges, walk the floor a little to get a sense of where everything fits together, and find somewhere to buy a couple of the week’s comics to stop my hands from twitchin’. Doors didn’t open until 6:30, only an hour and a half after they were scheduled to, and was the very first (of many) indicators that perhaps the show’s capacity is growing too fast for organizers to keep up with. Everything was accelerated by a day, Wednesday felt like Thursday, which felt like Friday, etc., and man, I didn’t even know what Saturday felt like.

But with my boys Nate Lee (a.k.a. Nate-Dawg), and Atsushi (a.k.a. Big Sushi) at my side, the three of us hit the floor, found all the major booths, and touched base with a couple of the other early arrivers. Jimmy Jay, of Jay Company and Arcade Comics fame, hooked me up with a stack of new releases, and quite naturally, short reviews are coming along shortly. Past that, not much to report, the shuttles are always a little sporadic at this point, so this day involved a lot of walking, which is cool, cause I heard that type of thing is good for you. The staging point was again the Sheraton Suites, and the first thing I’ve taken to doing, is immediately pointing the camera out the window and taking shots of the city from my window. Difference this year, is I’m not rocking a little shitty disposable camera that existed only to eat my best exposures, and I was still playing with the idea of doing the photo journal, so these first couple are just me testing the equipment. In that second one, the convention center is barely visible in the background, think the Sheraton was about seven or eight blocks away. Not too bad, really.

Dinner was at Rock Bottom, and the entrée was the very glorious creation known as the Mac’n Chicken, which is strangely obvious, when you think about it. Back at the hotel, it was time to dig into some new books, including the new 52, JLA #0, and Civil War #3, which I couldn’t wait to get through. 52 has reached week eleven already, and this one delivered the true premiere of this Batwoman character we’ve been hearing so much about. There are several ways to introduce a brand new character, but this is the first time I can remember a new hero mixing it up with giant animals right off the bat. Usually, that’s something you build up to, after years and years of practice fighting more conventional threats, but DC just goes for it, and has her beat down a giant gorilla. Which I suppose, is meant to indicate just how badass she is. It’s okay though, I’m with it, and with the exception of five pages, the focus is squarely on Kate Kane, Montoya, and The Question, and it’s drawn by Joe Bennett, thus far the artistic benchmark for the series. Cover is pretty gorgeous too, and again, just when I start gettin’ afraid the weekly experiment is losing steam and focus, they drop an installment that really puts things back on track.

The new JLA is all about that, using flashbacks, and the differing perspectives of the “trinity” to reassemble the team they all played a part in breaking. Usually things like this are a bit of train wreck, too many artists for the story’s own good, but the framing device makes everything work, as Meltzer hops from yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The possible future scenes are the biggest draw, even though it’s impossible to tell whether this stuff is going to become established canon, or if the creators are just playing “what if?” Either way, the results are certainly cool, and that J.H. Williams page is straight fire.

Civil War #3 exposes some of the event’s potential flaws, and nearly derailed two months of great work for me. It really started with Augie of Pipeline fame, posting up his feelings about the issue on Wednesday morning, which were decidedly mixed. Surprising because our tastes usually sync up pretty closely, and like me, he seemed to be lovin’ the massive event to this point. So, finding out he wasn’t crazy about this latest chapter caught me off-guard, and after three reads, I completely understand his apprehension and share most of it, with what feels like some cut corners to advance the characters to the big fight. Only problem I have in the first half is Reed’s strange emotional detachment from Johnny’s condition, and his interest in Wakanda’s eco-system, over the very human consequences of the Registration Act. The scene between Stark and Emma is very clever, and again, Tony looks like an asshole trying to guilt Frost into backing his play, demonstrating an extremely short memory of a disaster that easily dwarfs Stamford. It’s also fun to see Cap and company settling into new identities, and the “secret Avengers” tag is cute. What isn’t is the final scene, where finally the main players throw down, and Stark crosses the line from plain unlikable to downright villainous, and even Spider-Man looks like a dick.

Just a little tough to believe that people who’ve been friends/teammates for years, would instantly turn on each other, cause the government said so. Going back and forth in public is completely different from what happens here, and it seriously endangers the believable characterization necessary to make this work. I don’t like how Tony dangles 300 innocent lives as bait to draw Cap’s squad into the open. I don’t like Peter’s flippant attitude, and him helping SHIELD put fellow heroes in a sniper’s crosshairs. And I don’t like Thor in general, so definitely not cool with him backing Tony, and don’t know why a God would give a shit what the government said anyway. It is all very climatic, and McNiven’s art continues to amaze, but it’s really hard to endorse the pro-registration argument, as the figureheads come off naïve and a bit silly. And entirely willing to compromise all values and relationships in the face of public opinion. So, even more than before, I’m really, really, really hoping Cap just kicks everybody in the face for this nonsense. Get ’em dawg…

Thursday-

Got off to a great start this morning, letting Nate and Sushi head in bout an hour earlier, because I didn’t want to get up so early, which wasn’t really early at all. Rolled in around noon, and one of the first people I ran into was Joe Casey, over at the Man of Action booth. Casey is and always has been extremely cool, and one of his first questions concerns the whereabouts of The God Complex, my upcoming Image book still in production, heading toward as many issues in the can as we can possibly manage. He was one of the few people I handed little “sample” copies of the first 12 pages to last year, and was also kind enough to name-drop it in an early Godland letter column. It is still coming, just hit some unavoidable delays, but things should be cranking up again in the next couple weeks.

Speaking of Godland, it’s gettin’ some company over at Image, as Casey adds Nixon’s Boys and Charlatan’s Ball into the mix. Second volume of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is also forthcoming, with the first having the distinction of being the book I read on the plane ride in last year. Can’t wait to read his respective Iron Man and FF minis when the trades hit, and I’m definitely down with the new launches. Might almost be time for another interview actually, so stay turned.

Finally met Kevin Grevioux, who I’ve been exchanging e-mails with for a long while, and is releasing about a half dozen properties through Alias Comics. Most people know him as the co-creator/star of Underworld, and as Nate so eloquently put, “is a man that looks like he could crush you in the palm of his hand.” He was kind enough to just hand me free copies of all his books, and invite my opinions on them, which naturally, are coming along shortly. Don’t have to say this again, but I will anyway, that it’s always refreshing and inspiring to see another brotha writin’ comics, and especially in his case, to see him launching so many original projects and characters. Doing things on his own terms, without waiting for someone else to give him the go-ahead, which is something I still struggle with. Kevin wants to have his creations out there, so they’re out there, in the very permanent way a printed comic allows. Good for him, and it was really nice to meet, and swap a couple stories in person.

Did the Civil War panel, still grumbling a bit about the latest issue, but it was decent enough. Announcement-wise, this and many of the subsequent panels were groan-inducing, and as frantic as these things have been in past years, with the major companies intent on one-upping each other with new projects and new exclusives, it does add another layer of excitement to everything that was definitely missed. Yeah, they dropped the Bendis/Cho Avengers book, but who hadn’t known about that already? And again, all the really cool stuff is promised to a future Wizard issue, which is a familiar tune as the mag continues to fight for exclusive coverage in the age of the instant ‘net. Still, the storyline is obviously generating a lot of reader excitement, to complement the incredibly strong sales, and Loeb teaming with Bianchi on Wolverine is also a good move. Good and pretty, for anyone familiar with the artist’s work.

Actually missed that last news bit, because I bounced halfway through the Q & A and hit the floor again. Spotted Gail Simone at the DC booth, and after introducing myself, found her as lovely in person as she is online. Gail is another one of those writers, like Casey and Vaughan, that I’ve been down with since day one, and so there’s an extra level of admiration, as the major companies wisely give them project after project. So I’m probably about as ready for her upcoming Gen 13 and Tranquility books as anyone else, and it’s really cool to see her attached to Wildstorm’s relaunch. Which I’ve already gone on record about, so I’ll spare you the lofty predictions for now.

Wandered around until I came upon Sony’s booth, fully outfitted in Boondocks stuff, and principle dictated that I start snapping pictures. While arcing a circle around the stand-ups, someone working the booth spotted me, and asked if I was a big Boondocks fan. You know, like there was ever any real question. He told me not to move, and disappeared for a couple minutes, emerging with a bag filled with postcards, a few lenticular cards, and a dope ass t-shirt featuring little Riley Freeman. Something I told myself I would not rock during the con. Don’t know why, but it seemed to make sense at the time. Camera got another little workout near the Afro Samurai booth, because…well, you see that banner, right? That’s tight business right there, and just for fun, I grabbed a shot of the massive Snakes on a Plane booth, which as you can plainly observe, had a giant snakemouth for an entrance. Cool if you can accept just how ridiculous the whole thing is, which I could do for the moment.

Finished the night working through the giant stack of books Grevioux passed on, including The Hammer Kid, The Toybox, Valkyries, The Vindicators, and Alivs Rex. First thought is that Grevioux’s got several different styles and voices, as every one of these books is wildly different from the one next to it, without sacrificing the basics of quality storytelling. Won’t go through them individually right now, because I’ve already decided they and their writer is worth some additional space here, so stay tuned for that in the coming weeks. Provided he agrees to be interviewed, of course…

Friday-

Best day of the con easily. Missed not one, but two panels, though not both were my fault, a quick lunch ran long and so the Heroes panel was out of the question. My main objective of the afternoon was The Black Panel at 3, again presided over by Michael Davis, and attended by Reggie Hudlin, RZA, Jeffery Wright, Denys Cowan, The Madtwinz, Dwayne McDuffie, and John Dokes. Like last year, Davis steered the focus toward progression, rather than the passionate round of finger-pointing, things could very easily turn into. Definitely a lot of love directed at Hudlin’s Panther run, which is good to see, as it’s a book whose quality grows exponentially with each arc. With some nudging here, and from Dickey’s Storm mini, the impending nuptials really seem to be an interesting turn for both characters, and positions BP for an increased presence in the fabric of the MU, something I don’t see a thing wrong with. Besides, if you didn’t think the “bachelor party” issue was tight as hell, I don’t what can be done with you honestly.

Anyway, everyone on the panel worked in slightly different fields, but all shared a personal commitment to advancing the portrayals of minorities across all mediums, because it’s something no one else can be truly responsible for but us. The Q & A was a reinforcement of this, people offering congratulations, suggestions, and a little frustration at the state of things, and I’m taking everything in, almost a live version of a few more personal columns, but fleshed out quite a bit more. I’m always trying to convince myself that I don’t require any level of external validation for my opinions, but I can’t deny seeing other people with similar views and perspectives more than refreshing, and provides some evidence that I’m not wasting my time pursuing projects like The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury. And in fact, I decided right there in that room, next year I’d be up on the stage, talking about the recent launch of Ms. Mercury onto the comics scene. Now, because I said that so blatantly, only choice is to make it happen, and soon as I find a good publisher, we can truly get started.

Provided a good emotional burst, and a quote from the RZA became the title of this piece, so can’t call it anything but a success. Wanted to catch up with Hudlin and McDuffie afterward for another photo op, but the panel ran long, and they had to get things quickly reset for the BET animation presentation, so things didn’t bleed out in the hall like they did last year. Poked my head into the Wildstorm panel to find Nate, and the dais was packed with WS creators present and future, including OC star Adam Brody, who was promptly mobbed by teenage girls when things closed out. Despite a strong sense of nausea that hits whenever I think about the show he’s on, can’t deny that his upcoming series does sound kinda cool. Yes, I’m shocked to admit that publicly, let’s just move on to The Boondocks panel I thought I’d skip.

Not that I didn’t want to do the panel, but I knew Snakes on a Plane crashed into the end of it, and we’d probably have to be in line for that fairly early. But the goodie bag I’d gotten the day before, and the charge from The Black Panel told me to just duck in real quick, to see what was going down, and then I’d head over to catch Sam Jack. Good idea, but the reason I was going to skip it outright, is because I knew once I sat down, and things got crankin’, I wouldn’t want to get up. Now, last year, even though frame one of the show hadn’t even aired yet, there was an undeniable vibe running through the entire crowd, that anticipation, that hope this would be as cool as it could be. With the first season on the books, and that potential realized, people were even more hyped, when McGruder and company took the stage. They talked season 2, the DVD release (in stores now), and not being able to get clearance for Oprah’s likeness. Again, everyone involved came off incredibly likable, intelligent, and thankful to be involved, and despite how cool it was, halfway through, I pried myself up, and headed over to Hall H.

The Snakes on a Plane presentation was pretty incredible, which makes no sense.

This movie has one of the smartest marketing campaigns in recent history, and that was showcased by a video clip that included dozens of fan made posters, personal requests, and gag pics, all set to the Snakes on a Plane song. No, that’s not a typo, some group actually went and made a song for this ridiculous movie. Ten minutes of which were screened before this packed audience, and it’s as consciously awful as you’d think it would be. And because of it, there’s no doubt it’ll make an incredible amount of money come the close of August. But the clip rolls, the room is still dark, and over the PA system you hear, in trademark Sam Jack aggravation, “I HAVE HAD IT WITH THESE MUTHAFUCKIN’ SNAKES…ON THIS MUTHAFUCKIN’ PLANE!!” Lights go up, Sam is coming onto the stage, and the place just goes nuts. Everybody gets settled down, and the Q & A gets going, people asking more than a few obvious questions, and a couple less obvious ones, about Sam’s past roles and how it was to fight a giant CGI anaconda with a harpoon. Climax had to be when this guy approaches the mic, and comments that some of the snakes in the clip look pretty mean. Takes a breath and calmly asks…do you think they deserve to die? The room erupts again, and Jackson obliges, giving everybody the live version of one of his most memorable lines. But just as cool in person as you’d imagine really, funny as hell, cusses a lot, and much, much cooler than yo average muthafucka. Perfect panel to end a really cool day on, but believe it or not, dinner made it even better.

Things started with Randy Lander, formerly of The Fourth Rail, who we were supposed to meet for dinner. Certainly cool enough, as a couple years back, we did the same thing, talking over comics and favorite TV shows in this really nice steakhouse I remember feeling really underdressed for. Now, this place wasn’t quite as nice, but the company was, because the group of friends he was rollin’ with included LeSean Thomas and Shola Akinnuso. LeSean you might be familiar with, we’ve done a couple interviews, he’s on The Boondocks staff, has a dope ass sketchbook out called Nervous Breakdowns. More details available at his website here.

Shola you might not know, but he’s with Pop Culture Shock, and is someone I’ve been corresponding with by e-mail and IM for a couple years. Really cool dude to talk comics and hip-hop with, and hell, I even used a letter he wrote to Brian K. Vaughan as the backbone of a Marvel Adventures X-Men book I pitched, so finally meeting him in person like that was a complete surprise. The convo was pretty tight, talking a little Boondocks, why BET must die, and our feelings on Superman Returns. Can’t recall their names, but there were another couple guys there that actually worked on a few of the effects from the movie, so this right here was the perfect capper to a great day. Bunch of brothas reppin’ slightly different creative fields, but all sharing a love and admiration for comics. Had tickets to see Lady In The Water, but our talk ran long, so I just skipped the movie, though it sounds like I didn’t miss too much. Don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to get a picture, but a couple more shots of the stand-ups at the Sony booth, based on character designs by LeSean, should do the trick here.

Saturday

Final day of the trip involved a lot of standing around, beginning with the never-ending line for the LOST panel, which we didn’t get into. Strangely, I didn’t care, and hit the floor to do final business, say goodbye to a few people, and pick up a couple books, while navigating the obstacle course the place had turned into. Guess the fire marshal stopped them from selling tickets around noon, which is no huge surprise for anybody actually there, cause it was an absolute madhouse on nearly every inch of the show floor. Usually, if you’re good, you can find the few pockets of open space on the floor, a couple in the middle, but most in the outside aisles, the “back alleys” that let you speed from one end to the other just a little more quickly. None of that shit today, because the weekend brings new faces into the mix, all of them with big eyes and fresh legs, to crush the rest of us, that are starting to feel the fatigue from three solid days of doing this. In a couple years, panels will start being held in the nearby Gaslamp District, or outside somewhere on the lawn, because open space is becoming a premium.

Managed to find some on the upper floor, near the backside of the panel rooms, and just sat down and started reading some books, ducking out the patio doors real quick to snap a few pics of the con center and skyline from up high. Last thing on the agenda was the Sony panel, and I thought we had plenty of time to kill, since it didn’t start for almost two hours, but really, we should’ve had our asses in line then. Instead, after some light reading, caught up with Nate, and swung by the Oni booth to say what’s up to the mighty John Layman, whose next big project is a Scarface mini-series for IDW. His former Puffed partner in crime Dave Crosland is handling the art, and I’ve already told him I expect it to be the biggest and the best book he’s ever done. I don’t care for the flick at all, but I know several people that do, and when this hits the bookstore market, it’s gonna be a smash hit, no question. Congratulations to him, and there’s probably an interview coming up, where I’m sure we’ll spend most of time talkin’ about his damn cats.

Afterward, we hustled over to the never-ending line for the Sony panel, where there was a rumor that new Spider-Man 3 footage would show up. Apparently, it was a well-known one, because I can’t even describe how long this line was, and before all was done, we’d been standing in it for two hours, maybe a little more. We got right up to the door of Hall H, could even see into the damn room, and they announced not one more person was getting inside. Still, they were kind enough to leave the doors open while they showed the new clip, which was just incredible, and is going to give Spidey a real chance at reclaiming the throne he lost to those pirates a few weeks ago. A combination of raw footage, and animatics, the preview culminated in the very first shot of Venom, drawing a powerful ovation from the amazed crowd. Then they brought the principal actors onto the stage, and not long after that, the fire marshal cruised by and had the doors slammed shut, because a couple assholes in the back of the line were kickin’ up dust about not getting in. So, we just stuck around until the Kevin Smith thing directly after, as traffic prevented him from making his panel earlier at 1, which was okay, though not the fanboy rush that probably comes from not only seeing new Spidey footage, but being able to hear it too.

After that, it was all over, another SDCC down, and luckily, we didn’t have to wait forever for a shuttle back to the hotel, because this is where you finally get to exhale and collapse into an exhausted heap. Same as last year, we just did dinner in the expensive ass hotel restaurant, because there was no way we were walking anywhere near Gaslamp, where most of the decent places to eat are. It was all good though, calamari for an appetizer, herb-roasted chicken sandwich on the entrée tip, and molten chocolate cake finishing things off. In the pic there, that’s Atsushi on the left, Nate Lee in the middle, and some familiar dude on the right.

Sunday-

Plane ride home, started this column, finished watching Unbreakable on the laptop, and in the middle of it, caught sight of an artist showing off his portfolio to someone directly next to me. Paused the movie long enough to get his card, and will be contacting him shortly. So there we go people, San Diego Comic-Con International for the ’06…

Want to thank editor Craig Johnson for his incredibly hard work on this piece, which quickly grew completely out of control. 26 jpegs to load, 4 links to slot in, almost 5000 words to go over, etc. He only threatened to fire me once, and that’s much appreciated. Back in a couple weeks, probably with a much shorter Wiz World report…maybe…

B

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