Comic-Con ‘08: An Inside Look at Preview Night
Posted on July 24, 2008 1:42 am
Every year, Comic-Con seems to become more and more like the E3 of old, with increasingly loud and rowdy booths full of giveaways, big money being spent all over the place to promote the heck out of the biggest stuff, and con goers who mad-dash their way through the most impressive booths in zany attempts to score all the best swag.
In other words, every year… Comic-Con just keeps getting better. This year is no different. We’d already heard and seen evidence of Hollywood studios spending more money on Comic-Con than ever before, even before arriving here, but it’s all you can think about when you’re here in San Diego: city buses have been covered in promotional imagery for movies, video games, and TV shows; more banners and signage are visible everywhere you look, both inside and outside the convention center; and the booths in the exhibit hall are more elaborate and impressive than ever. If they dimmed the overhead lights to shroud the exhibit hall in shadow, you might swear you were at the old E3 (during its glory days, not the pale shadow it has recently become) with its pulsating spotlights and huge, widescreen, LED displays, and loud music blaring around every corner.
But with growth always comes growing pains. The biggest pain I noticed this year was the poorly thought-out reconfiguration of press badge pickup. Every year, it’s always entailed a long wait, but this year broke all records. It started out with positive signs; pre-registered media were emailed unique barcodes that would speed along the process of on-site verification. Just print out the email and bring it to the media check-in booth. The problem: the media check-in booth was moved to a new, incredibly inconvenient location, and there seems to be more media here than ever before. So the convention center had the line broken up so that you start in a painfully long line outside, and then a few at a time were allowed to go inside to join the equally long line there. The wait seemed to take forever, and once inside, no one knew which of three separate lines to use, or even what the difference was between them. Worst of all, the long, snaking indoor line completely cut off traffic in the Convention Center’s lobby, causing frustration for those of us in the line, and those who simply wanted to cross to the other side. Not your smartest move ever, CCI.
All told, the check-in process was somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half, so by the time we were done, we had little choice but to go upstairs and get in line for entrance to the exhibit hall. For the first time ever, Comic-Con held a special event at the same time as Preview Night: two screenings of the pilot for Fox’s new J.J. Abrams paranormal thriller TV show, Fringe. Upstairs, we found that the line to go into the ballroom where Fringe was being screened was actually longer than the line to get into the exhibit hall! This didn’t last, of course, but it was impressive to see the amount of people willing to forgo Preview Night just to get an early look at a new TV show. Fringe has gotten a lot of buzz — it’s being called this year’s Lost or Heroes, and clearly the CCI crowd believes the hype.
In line to enter the exhibit hall, we noticed that all of the convention center’s bathrooms have been outfitted with funny posters that claim that the restrooms are “For Humans Only — Non-Humans Banned”. The signs include the domain name d-9.com, which appears to be some sort of viral site owned by Sony Pictures, though it’s not immediately clear what property they’re advertising.
Once inside the exhibit hall, the first thing you notice is that the video game vendors have all been shuffled off to the far left end of the hall. Clustering them together makes a lot of sense; I’m not sure that moving them so far away from the central portion of the hall, “where the action is,” does as well.
There’s a huge presence here this year for Watchmen, with a big panel planned for tomorrow, and a major booth from Warner Bros. complete with “Archie,” Nite Owl’s flying submarine vehicle, which you can go inside of and tour. Banners proclaiming, “Who Watches the Watchmen?” abound.
Another big presence felt this year is The Spirit, the Frank Miller film adaptation of the classic Will Eisner comic. Lionsgate Films has a major focus on the film at its booth, which comes complete with artificial snow raining down onto Con attendees. (I heard more than one person remark about how the stuff “had better be asbestos-free” and the like.)
BBC America is here with a big booth for the first time. And it was extremely busy, with lots of Con exclusive merchandise, every time I passed by.
ABC is doing a fun promotion surrounding Lost. The Dharma Initiative itself is here with its own booth. If you sign up for an appointment, you’ll get to go inside a special enclosed room where you’re subjected to a sort of pseudo-psychiatric quiz, and it’s videotaped. Nothing invasive or uncomfortable is asked; it’s mostly word association and the like, though the end sort of devolved into some funky music and weird swirly images on the big screen where all the questions were — clearly a cheeky attempt at “brainwashing” applicants. One of the Dharma attendants even asked how I felt after it was over. I was lucky enough to nab an appointment for this evening, and was rewarded by being told that I’d passed and would be inducted into the Dharma Initiative (I have a feeling everyone passes). On my way out, I was given a unique membership card and told to bring it to the Lost panel on Saturday, where “it might be needed.” Hm. This all seems to be the beginning of a new viral game campaign meant to fill the void between seasons of the show.
Lego, which always has an extremely popular booth, this year is offering a couple of Con exclusive items that you can only get here. One is a Lego Indiana Jones set, which is still being kept under wraps, and is so exclusive, you have to win a raffle to gain the opportunity to buy it. The other is a Star Wars: Clone Wars tank set that looks extremely cool but costs a whopping $75. (Personally, the Lego Batman Tumbler set was calling to me, but I resisted its siren song. At least so far.) They also have a cool selection of trinkets like keyrings and magnets, as well as a very nice ringer t-shirt ($21.95) that I’d love to have.
Speaking of t-shirts, Comic-Con does an official shirt every year, and this year’s features the artwork of J.G. Jones from DC Comics’ Final Crisis. I must admit, even though I’m not the world’s biggest DC fan, that’s one sweet shirt and I’m sorely tempted. There’s just entirely too much cool stuff here, darn it!
The much-talked-about widened aisles seem to have made very little difference in getting around. That’s probably because people still tend to be as rude as ever, elbowing and pushing and practically stepping over each other to get to that free swag. It’s the price we pay to take part in all this crazy fun. As Doug said to me this evening, “Happiness is being able to put your arms out in both directions and spin, spin, spin.”
Lucasfilm has that blasted life-sized Jabba the Hutt here yet again, and I’ve decided I’m sick of seeing it and I’m not taking a picture of it this year, doggone it! I’ve taken pictures of it every year, and enough is just enough. I don’t care if a hundred Slave Leias pile on top of that thing, I’m just not doing it. Hey George, would it kill ya to upgrade your booth with a new centerpiece? I’m sure that Jabba cost a pretty penny, but he’s outlived his usefulness. I’m just saying.
Overall, it seems like we’re in for a fun ride this year. There’s a tremendous level of excitement and energy in the air on the show floor, and there’s so much good stuff to take in, everywhere you turn, that it’s overwhelming. I can’t remember a year at Comic-Con when there was just so much going on.
Stick with PopCultureGeek for all the news, photos, and video you can handle, on all the news out of Comic-Con that’s worth knowing about. We’re here for the duration and we’ve got you covered.
All of our photos from today have been posted on Flickr; be sure and check them out!