SDCC Day 1: In Which It Begins

Sorry, the witty-title generator is on the fritz.

If you read my London posts, you’ll know that I arrived back in the ol’ U.S. of A. on 22 July, and decided to deal with jet lag by going to one of Rob Paulsen’s podcasts that very night. I regret nothing, of course, but I was quite tired come Wednesday morning, and even though I had a Professional 4-Day SDCC Pass with Preview Night, I decided to skip the latter, in order to recuperate. Also, I hadn’t enjoyed preview night much last year. If you don’t collect Comic Con exclusives or care about getting memorabilia before anybody else, there’s really no point. I like toys as much as the next geek, but I only collect things I really like or actually will use. Mostly TMNT action figures.

In any case, it was early Thursday morning, 24 July, that I rose to make the long drive down there. Oh yes, I was one of those poor, unlucky saps who couldn’t get a hotel in San Diego itself. Last year, my (now ex-) boyfriend arranged the whole thing for me (us?), and we stayed with a friend of his at their apartment in Little Italy. Bit of a walk to the convention center, but doable, and the only snag was when we got locked out at 2am and had to wander around the hotels, trying not to get nabbed by security (didn’t work out; long story). This time around, as I no longer had those girlfriend privileges, I was able to get a badge, but I would have to figure out my own lodging arrangements.  As I was mostly preoccupied with London stuff, I didn’t realize SDCC was coming up until about a couple weeks before.

Veteran con-goers out there are probably shaking their hands and tsking loudly at me, and they’re right. There was absolutely no way I was getting a hotel at a decent price at this late notice. Even B&Bs were out of the question; every smart business hikes up their prices just for Comic Con, and you really do have to book fast and early. Most people like to do so MONTHS in advance. I hadn’t afforded myself that opportunity, mostly because I couldn’t afford it. With my budget, I would had to have stayed at a teensy Holiday Inn place way in the city’s outskirts. A few friends and acquaintances had space for roommates (cos that’s what smart people do, they pool for a room), but even that was out of my price range. No matter what, a hotel was out.

I considered taking the train for awhile, but our transportation system isn’t nearly as convenient as London’s (as I now noticed), and from my city to San Diego would actually take me on a route going all the way to LA before going down to SD, a unnecessarily lengthy trip. My grandparents live in Orange County, and there was a direct line from there to the Convention Center, but it was a 90 minute travel time, and I’d still have to drive to and from the train station every day. In the end, I decided it was cheaper and easier just to drive, as I’d only have to worry about gas. I didn’t need to pay for parking; the Qualcomm Stadium offers free parking during the off-season, and I only had to buy a pass for the trolley that would take me from there to the Center.

IMG_1657It’s one of the Knights Who Say Ni!

As I now compared everything to London, the trolley was rather similar to the Underground, except being, y’know, above ground. It was clean and spacious, and most of them were decorated for the Con, with skins depicting adverts for the upcoming show Gotham. The trip from the Stadium took about 20 minutes, which could seem long if I couldn’t get a seat, but anything was worth not having to pay for parking, especially since all the non-official lots around the Center hike up their prices astronomically during this time (official lots had sold out months ago). All in all, it was quite convenient, as I would park right by the station, and ride a usually empty carriage through the city right up to the Convention entrance.

Helloooooo, San Diego!

My family used to go to San Diego a lot when I was younger, and I always enjoy visits there. It’s a beautiful place, and I love how close the ocean is. The Convention Center is right by the harbor, and even though it’s hot as blazes, there’s always a welcoming sea breeze around. Of course, I usually stay indoors at the Con, as I’m not one of those loonies peeps who wait all day and night outside in line for Hall H or Ballroom 20.

Last year was my first SDCC ever, and I mostly found it to be a fun, enjoyable experience. I was (and remain) mostly interested in animation panels and booths, and stayed clear of the crowded TV and movie set-ups. For one thing, if you stay in your own little niche interest, there’s obviously less people, which means less hassle, less waiting, and less jerks. Though to be perfectly honest, almost everybody is there to have a good time, and as cheesy as it sounds, it doesn’t matter what you look like or what you wear, cos everyone just automatically accepts you, and you’re GUARANTEED to find somebody with the same interests as you, and just as willing to geek out about them. That being said, there are stupid idiots who try to cut in line or hog up the talent’s time, and sexist, racist jerks that always pop up in supposedly diversity-friendly places. Fortunately, these losers are few and far between, especially, again, if you stick to the smaller stuff.

I think perhaps one year I’d like to try Hall H, just for the kicks, but I really do love just going to cartoon panels and walking the floor. Voice actors are naturally not as anonymous at Comic Con, and there’s always a decent-sized crowd for their panels and signings, but they don’t need to be shuffled from place to place by grim security guards to avoid being bombarded by people. Much of the time, after their panel is over, they hang out by the exit doors to chat with fans, take pictures, and sign autographs. Not all VOs feel comfortable doing this, and sometimes the staff don’t like it because large groups clog the hallways, but for the most part, fans can actually meet their media heroes. Which is, I feel, a better tradeoff than only seeing celebrities from afar in the giant Hall H room, knowing you’ll likely never talk to them in person. The VO community is a wonderfully warm and open one, and I like being a part of it as much as I can.

When the trolley arrived at the Center, already I could see how much larger the Con had grown from last year. It was only Thursday, and there were loads of people milling around on the sidewalks, heading to and from who knows where. I couldn’t just waltz in right away, though, because I didn’t actually have my badge. Long story short, a friend of mine had helped me secure a pass for this year, and she had picked it up for me last night. I bypassed the crowds to get to her hotel (which was luckily right next door), so I could run up to get the badge.

IMG_1711So shiny~

Pass secured, I went back to the Center, running across a couple of friends on the way. That’s the best thing about Comic Con, meeting up with people you’ve maybe not seen in awhile and meeting new people and everybody just sharing in mutual geekery. Greetings exchanged, I finally entered the main building, flashed my badge at the guards, and walked into the exhibition hall, or the Floor.

Again, I was taken aback at how busy it was, as my previous experience indicated that Friday and Saturday were the most crowded days. And the Floor is always a shock, cos there are so many people and so many booths and so many things to look at it and buy and admire. I wandered around a bit aimlessly at first, just staring at everything. Then an advert sign caught my eye. It’s not just comics, cartoons, movies, and vid games at SDCC, but books too! This particular booth was giving away free totebags with every purchase, which included a Doctor Who one. I’m a sucker for totes, and hey, I love books. I picked out a decently priced Neil Gaiman-edited short story collection, and besides the bag, also received a free AR copy of an upcoming book, a bunch of pins, some stickers, and a pen. It was an impressive haul, and I’d only just walked in!

As I hadn’t actually gotten to the Center until nearly 11:00, I had missed a few panels I kinda wanted to see, but I was really only interested in the “I Know That Voice” panel at 13:00. I decided that the rest of the weekend would be full of such doings, so I devoted my remaining time at walking the Floor.

IMG_1666Peanuts booth, sponsored by the Charles Schulz Museum

The Adventure Time peeps were doing a scavenger hunt-type game, in which you looked for posters with certain codes that you would text to the supplied number. You then received a clue of where to find the next poster. Prizes were to be awarded, so I partook the challenge, which was not only fun, but allowed me to still wander the Floor at my leisure.

IMG_1669I’ve honestly never seen so much Tick merchandise!

Along the way, I picked up more freebies from another book booth, including excerpts from various new novels and a neat little notebook from Afterworlds, Scott Westerfield’s most recent publication.

IMG_1672The super amazing LEGO Batbike

I actually went on a bit of a buying binge, and got three Mad Libs from their booth (they had a special deal for scavenger hunters, how could I say no?!), and at Slave Labor Graphics, picked up the second issue of Jhonen Vasquez’s I Feel Sick comic. (My friend had gotten me the first issue, signed, last year at Anime Expo.)

IMG_1675All hail Lord Business!

Predictably, the big brands had the most impressive booths, and also the busiest. The LEGO gift shop behind the main area had a size limit, with only so many people being allowed in at a time.

IMG_1677Shredder was their security guard.

I didn’t stop at such places, having no interest in buying stuff I could just find in stores or online. Again, not a big fan of exclusives.

IMG_1678Though, if THIS had been for sale…

Another thing I love about conventions is the cosplaying. I don’t cosplay, as I lack the monies and talent to pull off a costume, but I greatly admire those who do. I met one woman who had a picture perfect Queen Amidala outfit with hundreds of pearls sewn on by hand. The level of passion and skill just always astound me.

IMG_1694Seriously, look at this guy!

I hardly ever take pictures, though, because I always feel awkward stopping people and asking them to pose for me. There are loads of galleries online that showcase wonderful cosplays better than I could, in any case. This guy I had to stop, though:

IMG_1733Because REASONS. 

I had barely seen even a quarter of the Floor when I felt the press of time. Though the panel didn’t start until 13:00, it’s always best to get there early, and it had been a popular panel last year, so I was planning on heading up around 12:00.

IMG_1688The wacky Nickelodeon booth

I was having a little too much fun doing the scavenger hunt, however, and I simply quickened my pace.

IMG_1680The larger than life Cartoon Network booth.

Eventually, I did stop, even though I hadn’t finished, and hurried toward the lobby, where the escalators took you up to the panel rooms.

IMG_1699One last pic for the road!

A friend of mine was already in the room, but I held no illusions if she had been able to save me a seat. Not only is it discouraged, but I already felt bad for running a little late.

When you’re waiting for another panel, and you have to sit through the preceding ones, sometimes you get lucky because it’s something you’re also interested in: last year, that was how I found out about the new Ace Attorney games, and the new Hulk and the Agents of SMASH series. And conversely, sometimes you get unlucky, and have to sit through a dissertation on the legalities of producing your own comic – undeniably important information, of course, just not for me. Today was one of the luckier ones, because it was a panel about Charles Schulz, called “Charles Schulz and Social Commentary in Peanuts”.

I love Peanuts to death, and I had actually considered going to this panel, not knowing it was in the same room as I Know That Voice. While I love the silly, fun performances that are cartoon panels, I do love me a good lecture, especially one involving culture and entertainment media. So I was pleased when I finally got in the room (there was actually a long line; I was allowed in as a single – way to rub it in, security), and realized what the topic was. To my surprise, it wasn’t as analytic as I had expected; for one thing, Seth Green was a panelist, and they showed Robot Chicken clips parodying Peanuts. And my lovely VO friend, Fred Tatasciore, who I absolutely adore to bits and was in the audience, came up to the mic during Q&A and asked a question in the “voice” of the trumpet-throated teachers from the old cartoons. I love Freddie so much. Anyway, in terms of social commentary, they did discuss what Schulz intended by certain story lines and character choices, which took my mind off having to stand on the side, cos the only open seats were smack dab in the middle of rows, and I hate squeezing past people. I figured most people would leave afterward and I could race up front.

IMG_1709Seth Green and Very Important Schulz People, Corry Kanzenberg, Art Roche, and Tom Gammill.

Which is exactly what happened. As people poured out of the chairs, I twisted around the crowd and wound up only a few rows away from the front, right behind my friend who had actually gotten there on time. She had also enjoyed the Peanuts panel, and as we talked, the panelists for I Know That Voice started coming in.

IMG_1712Larry Shapiro, Brandon Sonnier, Andrea Romano, Dee Bradley Baker

For those of you who don’t know, I Know That Voice is a documentary about voice acting, voice actors, and the overall voice over business. It had been in the works for a long time before finally being released last year at the Egyptian Theatre, thanks to an Indiegogo campaign. I bought tickets to the premiere, and boy howdy, was there a plethora of talent! The entire theatre, filled with the voices of your childhood. The concept for the whole film came from Larry Shapiro and John DiMaggio, and they heavily promoted it at conventions all last year. It was released on DVD and On Demand in spring 2014, hence why another panel at this SDCC. I’ve seen it twice now, and it’s truly a masterclass in voice over, a wonderful introduction to the VO world and uses some of the most prominent figures to talk about it. Dozens of actors are featured in the film, and dozens more had to be cut for time. That’s partly what this panel was about, showing some of the clips from the cutting room floor.

IMG_1714Poor John had hurt his hand a few days prior. But even on painkillers, he made a good moderator!

But given that the panelists included Rob Paulsen, Fred Tatasciore, Dee Bradley Baker, and John DiMaggio moderating, they could also have a little fun doing their voices for the crowd and talking about what they do, and then answering questions from the audience.

IMG_1716There they are, all standing in a row, pom pom…♫

Like always, it was a fun panel, and when it was over, I loitered outside to say hi to everybody. I was also waiting for another friend, who had been unable to get inside the room, and I told her to just come to the exit doors, so she could at least talk with the VOs. When she found me, we said hi to Rob together (I remarking on how long it had been since I’d seen him, /hahajoke), and I took her picture with him. Another friend came over to join us, and we all walked back down to the lobby. He wanted to do the scavenger hunt too, so I gave him the clues I had, and my other friend left to meet up with her other friend. See? So many peeps at Comic Con!

John DiMaggio was actually signing stuff at a booth somewhere, and we ran into Larry Shapiro while looking for him. My friend knew Larry from working on the I Know That Voice DVD, and so the three of us decided to walk the Floor together. We found John, and for some reason, my friend got a nerve attack, even though he’d met him before, and so I had to be the one to break the ice.

IMG_1729That girl’s backpack was pretty rad, too.

I was fine with that, since I had only met him briefly before at Rob’s podcast, and I think the only coherent thing I could say at the time was to remark on how tall he was and maybe mumble something about his awesome performance as the Joker in Under the Red Hood. Now I felt more confident and complimented him on the I Know That Voice panel and his role as Captain Laserbeam on Thrilling Adventure Hour. He did the voice for me, which was fantastic, and spoke a little about doing that show. (Like most VOs, he’s a wonderful, friendly, supremely talented man.) Then my friend finally worked up the nerve to come into the conversation, and we talked for a little while longer before saying our goodbyes.

Larry, my friend, and I walked the Floor for quite awhile, Larry taking us off the main beaten path and more into the outskirts, where, sad to say, most of the comics were. I actually got to see with mine own two eyes, a copy of the first Batman comic, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. THAT was pretty cool. And because it was less crowded on the side, we could take our time looking at stuff without worrying about blocking the way.

IMG_1750I kinda wanted an earthquake to hit right then and there.

I’m sure you’ve heard that celebrities like to disguise themselves in cosplay so they can walk around in peace, but there are some celebrities who can do the opposite and achieve the same effect:

IMG_1720The wonderful, illustrious Doug Jones.

I didn’t get to talk to him, but it was a cool celeb spot.

My friend and I split off from Larry eventually, as he had to go to a meeting, and we had finished the scavenger hunt by then. The prizes were given outside the Center, in a nearby park.

IMG_1764It wasn’t hard to find.

The line actually closed right in front of us, because beside prize distribution, the Adventure Time crew were also taking pictures and showcasing the new 3DS game, and the park literally shut down all activity after 17:00. It was 16:50 when we got there, and there was no time for everybody to be able to do everything. People were understandably upset, and after a few tense minutes, one of the staff announced they were reopening the line, but ONLY to get your scavenger hunt prize. That was fine with most everybody, and so me and my friend were able to get our lovely Lumpy Space Princess medallions. Mathematical!

I had thought to head back into the Center, even though it was closing soon, but my friend (who knows everybody) informed me of an industry party going on at the Yardhouse at 18:00, the same one we had gone to last year. I went with him back to his room he was sharing with a friend of ours, so he could change clothes. I was uncomfortably aware of my own street clothes (I was wearing my Monty Python shirt and jeans), but there was obviously nothing I could do about it.

Turns out I worried for nothing, cos the attire was a mix of formal and casual; someone was even dressed as a tree. The party was in a basement-esque room under the main dining floor, and though I’m sure the acoustics are great for a small event, in this case, it made everything very loud. I don’t drink normally, and I was driving anyway, so I couldn’t take advantage of the open bar, but I mingled with the crowd to see if there was anybody I knew. Last year, I had seen Kevin Michael Richardson to my delight, and also got to meet Peter Hastings. This time round, I didn’t recognize anybody right away, and since my friend had disappeared, I struck up conversation with a nice lady who looked as overwhelmed and slightly deafened as me. We chatted for a bit, then I was led away by Tom Tataranowicz, the genius behind many episodes of Biker Mice from Mars, and who I had met a few times before. He took me to his table, and we talked about this and that, and he introduced to his industry peeps, one of whom noticed my shirt and told me about when he saw the Pythons perform live when they were at City Center in 1976, so that was pretty awesome.

There was also a few photo booth, and Tom gave me his cap to wear.

001 2Sepia makes me look so sassy.

I also saw a few of my other industry friends, but by that time, it was getting late, and I still had to drive home. I went round saying hi – and then goodbye, and headed out.

It was a bit of a walk back to the trolley station, and I was reminded of when I was alone in London going to and from the O2, and I wondered why I felt more nervous here than there.

Again, my anxieties proved fruitless, as the trolley wasn’t devoid of other con-goers also heading back to their cars, and I even dozed off a little on the way to the stadium. The lot was brightly lit enough to feel safe, and I found my car without any trouble.

The drive back was as boring and yawn-inducing as you might expect, and I had a difficult time staying awake. For some reason, loud music, open windows, and even talking to myself doesn’t work – if I’m tired, I’m tired, and nothing will keep my eyes open. I managed it enough to get safely home, and collapsed into bed. Tomorrow, I’d have to do it all over again. And the next day. And the next day.

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