Sorry for the late post, Wide Lantern readers.  I succumbed to Con crud last week and am still recovering.

July 11th–15th, I was one of 130,000+ to attend the 43rd annual San Diego Comic-Con International (AKA SDCC or “the” Comic-Con).

I’ve been making the annual geek pilgrimage to San Diego for a while now but, especially after attending the more intimate New York Comic Con last fall, I felt more overwhelmed than usual.  It wasn’t just that it was as crazy and crowded as ever (which it was) or that I had to make really tough choices about what to see and do (which I was prepared to do).

Maybe it’s because it’s impossible to ignore just how massive and mainstream SDCC has become, often at the expense of independent artists and vendors and to the detriment of the fans.  (In fact, when I first heard that a “Twilight” fan was killed before Comic-Con even started, I couldn’t help thinking that the tragedy captured quite literally how crushing Comic-Con can be for some attendees.)

That’s not to say I didn’t end up having a great time anyway (complaining about Comic-Con is part of the experience of Comic-Con).  TV, movies, comics, science fiction, fantasy, gaming—as always, there was something for everyone in this year’s programming.

 

Thursday: Asian American Women Rule Primetime!

On Thursday, I avoided the Twilight madness in Hall H (Twi-hards, you can check out the Breaking Dawn, Part 2 panel recap over at E! Online or watch the whole thing on YouTube) and pretty much walked into Ballroom 20.  I got there just in time to catch two panels back-to-back on new fall TV shows featuring female Asian American leads!  (And yes, I’m using the label “Asian American” expansively here to encompass North America and people of mixed-race descent.)

The CW’s Beauty and the Beast (check out E! Online’s panel recap) is loosely based on the late ‘80s CBS series of the same name and combines the procedural drama with the recent trend of fairy-tale adaptations.  They screened the entire pilot, which I found pretty cheesy but also kinda compelling, and then had a discussion/Q&A with Kristin Kreuk (of Smallville fame) and Jay Ryan (who plays the hottest beast I’ve ever seen), co-creators Sherri Cooper and Jennifer Levin, and executive producers Brian Peterson and Kelly Souders.  I’m looking forward to the show for a couple reasons in particular:  One, it features two female detectives who kick arse; and two, it’s the second primetime show on The CW to star an Asian American woman, the other being Nikita, starring Maggie Q, which premieres its third season in the fall (and was also having a panel elsewhere around the same time).  You go, The CW!

 

Next up was the panel for the CBS series Elementary, a contemporary take on Sherlock Holmes.  Hoping to quell debate over whether or not we need yet another Sherlock Holmes adaptation, they screened the first ep, which I really liked.  Then the series stars Lucy Liu and Jonny Lee Miller and executive producers Rob Doherty and Carl Beverly discussed what makes the show unique from previous incarnations (watch the panel on YouTube).  The biggest change of course was the decision to make Watson a woman, which has prompted some polarizing responses.  I loved Doherty’s comment that the fact that Watson is a woman doesn’t really make a difference, at least in the sense that Holmes and Watson will still have an interesting, complex relationship that won’t be romantic or sexual.  And when Lucy Liu was asked by an audience member about her response to criticism over making Watson female and Asian American, she pretty candidly stated that she’s been dealing with that kind of criticism her whole career and that she doesn’t let it stop her from trying new things.  As someone who’s been critical of her in the past, her response totally won me over, and I can’t wait to see what she does with this role.

I wrapped up the day with one of my faves, Showtime’s Dexter (check out a live blog of the panel at CinemaBlend.com), where we got a sneak peek of the first couple minutes of the Season 7 premiere and a discussion with the show’s stars and producers.  (Best moment: when an audience member asks Michael C. Hall about the worst lie he’s ever told.  After a beat, Hall says, “That was delicious,” and then glances slyly at Jennifer Carpenter.  So awkward but hilarious!)

Needless to say, it was a great first day at Con.  Unfortunately, Friday was a little less successful.

 

Friday: Defeated by Lines, Seeking Solace in Comics

Despite frustrations with the Whedonverse that I share with Racebending.com, I’m a huge fan.  So of course I was dying to see the Firefly 10-Year Anniversary Reunion panel.  Me and 10,000 other folks.  And after waiting in the Ballroom 20 line for five hours, I didn’t get in.  I was pretty bummed, but at least I was able to read EW’s live blog and watch it later online.

What really broke my heart though was watching people in line around me give up and leave the line, some of them in tears, as the panels they’d been waiting for came and went.  All those fans of Community (read EW’s recap or watch on YouTube) and Legend of Korra (read Cinema Blend’s live blog or watch the live table read), who BTW are probably some of the most diverse fan communities at Comic-Con, had little chance of getting in to those panels before Firefly if they hadn’t camped out the night before (see my comment above about Con crushing fans).  My friends had faced a similar situation waiting in line all day for Hall H, missing panels for The Big Bang Theory (read EW’s recap or watch on YouTube) and The Walking Dead (read EW’s recap or watch on YouTube) and half of Game of Thrones (read MTV’s recap or watch on YouTube).  This is part of the reality of a sold-out SDCC, especially one where TV rules.

After the mass exodus from Ballroom 20 following Firefly, I slipped in for the Bones panel, which was as fun and charming as expected (get the scoop at EW and watch clips here and here).  But I was ready for a more intimate setting, so I escaped to a smaller room to check in with the world of comics (read about some of the comics news from SDCC over at io9).

I caught the DC panel on “The New 52,” the controversial reboot of all the DCU superhero comics (read the Comic Book Resources recap).  During Q&A, there was a pretty good comment from a fan who praised the series’ diversity but also critiqued forced/stereotypical dialogue for its Hispanic/Latino characters in particular, like when they say, “¡Ay, caramba!”  The panel fumbled a bit in response, making it worse when someone mentioned that they have a Spanish-speaking guy on their staff.  Ouch.  I guess that’s the comics equivalent of the “I’m not racist—one of my closest friends is black” defense.  A good example of why we need more diversity among comics writers, artists, and execs.  There have certainly been vast improvements in mainstream comics, but it’s clear we still have a long way to go.

 

Then I stuck around for Vertigo’s panel on Get Jiro!, the new graphic novel written by renowned chef, writer, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, along with Joel Rose, with art by Langdon Foss (check out Co.Create’s panel recap).  Get Jiro!, already #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list for Hardcover Graphic Books, is a timely (and affectionate) satire of foodie culture, set in a dystopic near-future Los Angeles where chefs rule and food is worth killing over.  When asked why he chose to make his hero a Japanese sushi chef, Bourdain talked about his deep respect for and fascination with Japanese culinary culture, which he argues fetishizes and takes food more seriously than any other culture.

As a fangirl of both food and comics, of course I’m excited to read this.  In fact, how cool would it be to have a whole comics universe of chef-superheroes?  And given the recent rise of Asian American chefs (Grub Street NY dubbed 2012 “The Year of Asian Hipster Cuisine”) and the ongoing (re)invention of Asian American cuisine, I’m crossing my fingers that the next foodie graphic novel features a kick-arse Asian American chef!

 

Saturday: Walking the Floor and Celebrating Love and Rockets

Saturday was my last full day at SDCC and, after the disappointments of Friday, I decided to skip the lines and walk the floor instead.  Saw tons of great costumes as usual (check out io9’s cosplay photos).  And the exhibit hall was crowded but bearable.  I picked up some swag from the big corporate booths (not much this year — lots of posters and buttons, a pen, a t-shirt, a frisbee).  I’d heard about the racist “ching chong” fortune cookies being passed out at The Hub booth but sadly didn’t score one for myself (they were apparently an accident — yeah right).  I spent most of the afternoon scoping out the smaller indie booths and was especially happy to see some familiar Asian American artists and vendors, like at the Epic Proportions and Wong Fu ProductionsAwkward Animals booths.

 

I hit up one last panel on Saturday afternoon, and it was one I was really excited for: the 30th anniversary panel for Love and Rockets, with all three Los Bros Hernandez: Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario (see recaps from EW and Comic Book Resources).  It was super cool to take a trip down memory lane with the creators of this incredibly important and influential indie comics series.  We were treated to slides of some of their early fan art, as well as pages from the early days of Love and Rockets.  They talked about their wide-ranging influences and passions, about how mainstream comics had become so rigid and conservative when they were starting out, and about how they discovered their trademark punk sensibility, which freed them to do things their way and not the ways they were supposed to be done.

During Q&A, two female fans came up separately to thank Jaime in particular for his groundbreaking portrayals of real, complex, badass women.  Jaime joked about wanting his Betty and Veronica, but then he went on to say that it’d been easy to break ground with female representations in comics because there hadn’t been much there.  They downplayed it, as if it wasn’t a big deal — they’d just created what they knew and what they wanted to see.  But to those two women, and to Love and Rockets fans everywhere, myself included, it was and continues to be a very big deal.

Being in that panel reminded me of the very best things about Comic-Con.  It was a great note to end on.  And I promised myself I’d try harder next year to seek that good stuff out.

 

Diverse Programming I Missed

Speaking of good stuff, I have to mention some of the great panels I was really sad to have missed, many of which dealt with race, gender, sexuality, and/or the politics of pop culture.

I wish I’d gotten there early enough for “Racebending.com: Creating Spaces for Diverse Characters and Representations” (see EW’s recap; you can also watch the video of last year’s Racebending/Racialicious panel).  If I could’ve been in two places at once, I would’ve loved to catch panels like “The Black Panel,” focused on African American pop culture (see EW’s recap or this NYT blog) and the “Geek & Sundry” panel, featuring Felicia Day and company talking about their new geek-centric premium YouTube channel (see this pre-SDCC interview with Day).

There were a bunch of TV panels featuring diverse actors, writers, and creators that I wish I could’ve seen, from Community and Legend of Korra, as I mentioned above, to Black Dynamite, Glee (see EW’s recap and clips on YouTube), and True Blood (see the Season 5 trailer over at E! Online and EW’s live blog of the panel).  In movies, of course I wanted to know more about Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, his much-buzzed-about Western/slave-revenge narrative set in the antebellum South (see this Reuters article and EW’s panel recap).

In comics, there were a few panels that went global and well beyond the mainstream, like the one on the controversy over The 99, the world’s first Islamic superheroes, and another on the “Comics of the African Diaspora.”  There were also several diverse “Spotlight” panels featuring artists like N. K. Jemisin (acclaimed author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods [AKA “The Inheritance Trilogy”]); John Layman and Rob Guillory (creators of the award-winning comics series Chew, about Tony Chu, a Chinese American detective with a really weird power, which was picked up for development last year by Showtime [see EW’s panel recap]); Jason Shiga (artist/author of Empire State, perhaps best known for his wacky and brilliant interactive comics); and Alison Bechdel (the award-winning creator of the long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, the graphic memoir Fun Home, and most recently Are You My Mother?).

There were several panels focused specifically on women: “Womanthology” (a series of comics anthologies that feature all-female creators), “The Most Dangerous Women at Comic-Con” and “Girls Gone Genre” (about women kicking arse across all arenas of pop culture), and “Entertainment Weekly: Powerful Women in Pop Culture” (see EW’s recap).  There were also several panels focused on LGBTQ representation and issues in comics (check out this LA Times article about the increasing presence and tolerance of gay characters in comics): “Rewriting the Rules of Queers in Comics” (see Comicbook.com recap), “No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics” (see this Advocate article on the anthology), “Northstar: Coming Out to Getting Married!” (see Comic Book Resources recap), and the “comic world’s longest-running panel” “Gays in Comics: 25th Year Celebration!” (read this recap or this history of the panel).

All this adds up to more cool, diverse stuff than any one person could ever hope to see at SDCC.

And I resent the suggestion that panels like these are too serious and cast a gloom over Comic-Con.  First of all, the world we live in is serious, and there’s no escaping that.  As we learn more about the horrific tragedy of the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, and as some nonsensically try to blame Batman, we’re reminded that we can’t ever untangle pop culture from its real-world social and political implications.  Not even at Comic-Con.

And besides, I had a ton of fun at the panels I went to.  If anything, the packed rooms at these panels should tell us that we need more, that the consumers and creators of pop culture are hungry for more programming on diverse TV shows, movies, comics, fiction, games, etc.  And I’m sure I’ll be back in SD this time next year, to see if Comic-Con delivers.

For more coverage of this year’s Comic-Con International, check out EW.com, E! Online, io9’s wrap-up and their list of the Con’s biggest winners and losers, HuffPo, The Hollywood Reporter, and any of the websites mentioned above.

 

– CKH

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