Tuesday, August 19, 2014

SDCC 2014: The Artimus had a Blast at Comic-Con, Where Unexpected Things Can Happen!

It was 2 years ago that Red Dot Diva first met @TheArtimus in San Diego through frenemy/ constant convention-roomie Sara. And even though they only meet in real life once a year, he's become one of her fave geek dudes ever since.

Here's how @TheArtimus navigated this year's Comic-Con attending an eclectic slate of activities in his unique laidback yet semi-planned style.

Oh, and he has included some practical SDCC tips in there too! Check this out:

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Dr. Strangecon or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sleeping on the Rocks Where the Birds Sh!t 

Underwhelmed.” “Lackluster.” “Meh.

These have been some of the headlines I’ve seen regarding San Diego Comic-Con 2014. Whenever I saw any of those, I couldn’t help but wonder: What convention were these people at? I had a blast as usual, and the only reason I came up with for people being disappointed is that they put all of their eggs in one basket.

Their enjoyment seemed to hinge solely on Warner Bros and/ or Marvel announcing their new projects. While I would have loved to see whoever is playing Dr. Strange grace the stage or hear Ben Affleck’s “Bat voice”, there were three other full days of awesomeness.

Let’s begin on my journey through SDCC 2014. While I won’t bore you with everything that I did, I will showcase the main panels/ offsite events I took part in and hopefully aid fellow attendees with some tips for future years.

Sadly, I was unable to obtain a Preview Night pass this year. Wednesday comprised of breakfast and lunch with various friends, including the Red Dot Diva herself, and wandering around downtown. I arrived in San Diego later than usual on Tuesday, so it was nice to have a whole day where I could relax before the madness. The only other important thing I did Wednesday was meet up with someone I had met via Twitter, to purchase a ticket Saturday night’s Nerdist podcast. The show was sold out long before the guest, former WWE champion CM Punk, was announced. The woman with the ticket ended up with a scheduling conflict, and she was nice enough to sell it at face value, even though some online sales were nearly double that. This is a very important lesson for any SDCC newbie: Twitter is your best friend. If you need a ticket for an offsite event, help getting an exclusive, or even a line buddy, just ask around.

Thursday morning rolled around and I awoke before my alarm went off. One advantage of traveling to San Diego from the east coast is that the 3-hour timezone difference makes waking up for early lines easy. This year, I ended up staying at the Town & Country in Mission Valley, so I sauntered over to the shuttle stop. As the bus pulled in, only two or three people (out of the thirty or so in line) were able to board. Luckily, I knew the trolley stop wasn’t far away, so I purchased a 4-day pass for only $20 and knew I wouldn’t have to deal with the shuttle for the rest of the weekend. This is another great tip for future reference: The shuttle is always packed. You’re better off using the trolley if possible because it would be terrible to miss out on getting into a panel because you had to wait longer for the next bus.

Sting and Hulk Hogan embrace, Mattel/WWE panel
The first item on my agenda was the Mattel/ WWE panel. Growing up, I was a huge wrestling fan, and Hulk Hogan was scheduled to appear, so there was no way I was going to miss this. While waiting in line, I chatted at length with some other fans, including voice actor/ podcaster John Steven Rocha. This is why you should never be afraid to talk to those in line around you. Sure, he’s not that famous or anything, but he was a genuinely nice person and helped the 2 hours in line fly by.

As for the panel itself, I felt like I was 12 years old again. I mean, I was in the same room as Hulk Hogan, brother! His former manager “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart came out for a brief bow, but WWE had another trick up their sleeve. At the end of the panel, they brought out the icon STING. making his first official appearance for the company. Here were two of my idols as a kid, embracing on stage, a mere 25’ away. While it may sound like an oxymoron, this is why I always use the phrase “a once in a lifetime experience that happens every year” to describe Comic-Con. You NEVER know what might happen.

Disney set up an offsite event to showcase their Disney Infinity 2.0 video game. It didn’t open to the general public until Friday, but as a Marvel Unlimited Plus subscriber, I received an invitation to stop by on Thursday. While the building hosting the event was quite small, Disney managed to pack a lot in there.

Comic book writing legend Brian Michael Bendis was signing for fans. Attendees were able to play Disney Infinity 2.0 on gaming consoles lining the walls. Hors d’oeuvres were served (the watermelon and cheese skewers were to die for), and most importantly, there was free booze. Now, keep in mind that it was only around 3:30pm, but I took advantage of this. To those who haven’t been to SDCC, the nightlife (or in this case, the late afternoon life) is one of the biggest differences between San Diego and the other big conventions. Sure, you can go the entire con without a drink, and I respect those that do, but I like to cut loose a bit. Another great tip is to pace yourself. I know my limits and didn’t go overboard. Likewise, you should know how much partying you can handle and whether an extra drink or two is worth potentially missing out on something the next day because of a hangover.

I capped off Thursday’s convention with a 6BCF double bill. First up was Star Wars: Rebels. While I’m a big Star Wars fan, I never could get into the Clone Wars. The Rebels footage looked fantastic though. It just felt like a throwback to the original trilogy. The voice actors seemed like genuinely cared, as opposed to some panels where all of the answers feel scripted. The only negative I took away was how old Freddie Prinze Jr. looked. If he’s getting that old, there’s no help for me.

Following Rebels, the cast and crew of Sharknado 2 took the stage. I know this movie isn’t for everyone. Heck, just calling it a movie is probably insulting to some. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the original (and the sequel, as it aired between the con and the time I wrote this). It’s just a fun time and a good reminder that everything doesn’t have to be taken seriously. The panel itself was great, as the cast and director Anthony C. Ferrante shared stories and showed how passionate they are about the project, even though they know how ridiculous the premise is. And I believe that’s the key to Sharknado’s success: they’re in on the joke with the fans.

After a quick trip to the hotel to shower, I was back downtown at the CBLDF party. Well, “party” might be too strong of a word to describe the event. It was somehow both more formal (waiters walking around with appetizer trays for people to sample) and more laidback (many attendees were in the typical con “shorts/tee/backpack” attire) than most parties. On the plus side, the party was sponsored by Image Comics, so many of their employees showed up. Drinking wine on a rooftop while chatting with Scott Snyder and John Layman? Only at San Diego Comic-Con.

Sex Criminals' Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky share a moment, Image Comics panel
Friday brought about my favorite panel of the year: “Image Comics: I is for … Inception”. Most people debate Marvel vs DC, but for my money, Image currently makes the best comics. The panel was full of their top stars: Kelly Sue DeConnick (“Pretty Deadly”), Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky (“Sex Criminals”), John Layman (“Chew”), Fiona Staples (“Saga”) and more. Zdarsky stole the show, as he’s a natural on the mic, in addition to being a fantastic artist. Listening to everyone on the panel speak about their projects with the gusto and love they showed was incredible and showed why they are number one.

Matt Dillon stares me down, Wayward Pines panel
Next on my agenda was the screening and panel for "Wayward Pines". As a rule, I’m not much of an M. Night Shyamalan fan. However, I absolutely love “Twin Peaks” and every article I’ve seen compared the two. I’m a sucker for a good mystery, and the pilot has me hooked. I can’t wait for the show to start next year. The cast is impressive, featuring Matt Dillon, Melissa Leo, Carla Gugino, and Toby Jones, but unfortunately, they didn’t have much time to discuss things afterward. Shyamalan did promise that the major mysteries would be answered by mid-season, apparently learning from the backlash that shows like Lost received.

Chris Hardwick & Channing Tatum take a selfie, Jupiter Ascending at Warner Bros panel
Someone on Twitter mentioned that there was no line for Hall H, and I was planning to attend Kevin Smith’s panel later in the evening, so I decided to stop in earlier and check out what 20th Century Fox had to offer. Shortly after entering, the panel for "The Book Of Life" began. I’m a big Guillermo Del Toro fan, so even though he’s always on a few panels, it was nice to see him take the stage. Some of the cast joined him on stage and they began to discuss the film, but that’s when one of those “Only at SDCC” moments happened. Biz Markie came out on stage and graced the crowd with a live rendition of “Just a Friend” while Channing Tatum danced on stage. The song is one of my favorite one hit wonders, so being able to see it performed live was a real treat.

The next two pieces of the Fox panel were mostly forgettable: "Agent 47" and "Let’s Be Cops". They saved the best for last though with "Kingsman: The Secret Service". Any time Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson share a stage, you know you’re in for a treat. As a fan of the comic, I wasn’t sure how well it would translate to the big screen, but the footage Fox showed off put all of my worries to rest. The film definitely kept the book’s mix of violence and humor, much like Mark Millar’s more famous work Kick-Ass. The most magical part of the panel was when Millar offered a fan a trip to London to be in the movie. I actually spoke to the guy in between panels, and he confirmed that they took down his information and would be calling in a few days. The magic of SDCC strikes again!

Kevin Smith took the final spot in Hall H on Friday, instead of his usual Saturday spot, to debut the trailer for his newest film "Tusk" and to amuse the audience with his lively Q&A. While his brand of humor isn’t for everyone, as seen from the many empty seats in the back end of the cavernous hall, his fans are a rather loyal bunch, myself included. I wish I could’ve stayed for the entire panel, as I love hearing his stories, however, a shower was in order before meeting some new friends to camp out for Saturday’s Hall H festivities.

We arrived in line around 9:15pm and took a seat on the pavement behind the middle of the Marriott Marquis and Marina. The concert at the Embarcadero Marina Park was still going on, so we knew we’d move up at some point. Still, we were so far back, we worried that we might not make the first panel of the day. It was nearly midnight when we finally received our wristbands, and the dread really set in. We were in Group D and the volunteer informed us that there weren’t many wristbands left. It was at this point that my stomach demanded food, so I sauntered over to Subway and managed to enjoy my 12” veggie patty hoagie while sitting in a gutter. Little did I know that mere minutes later, THE defining moment of my San Diego Comic-Con 2014 trip was about to happen.

If you’ve been to SDCC (or are just a local, I assume), you’ve encountered the train. Now, I know a thing or two about trains (my hometown was host to the first commercially successful railroad operation in America), but I have never seen a train this long. While walking up to the railroad crossing, I was dreading the wait; would I be stuck there 10, 20, maybe 30 minutes? I just wanted to relax in line and maybe catch a concrete nap. However, as I look to my left, I’m greeted by a familiar face: Rob Liefeld, creator of Deadpool. Instantly, I went from a 32-year-old man to a 12-year-old giddy fanboy (disclaimer: I have a Deadpool tattoo). For the next twenty minutes, Rob and I discussed a potential Deadpool movie, Saturday’s Hall H slate, and more. I wished the train would go on forever. Alas, our time together eventually came to an end, but I knew this moment would be THE story I shared with everyone when I got home.

When I got back to the line, it had condensed, and we were now situated in the Embarcadero park. Unfortunately, my new friends didn’t save me a spot to lay down, so for the next several hours, I would be perched on the rocks next to the water. Morning came and we slowly inched closer to the fabled tents of the Hall H line. At one point, a girl in my group was on a phone call, explaining to her mother that we slept out by (or in my case, on) the rocks. This is when another line buddy named Jesus leaned into her phone and proclaimed “out on the rocks, where the birds sh!t.” Finally, we were loaded into one of the Hall H chutes around 9:30am, and let into the room just before the 10:00am start time. We made it!

Chris Hemsworth flexes, Marvel panel
By now, you’ve read plenty about Saturday’s slate of Hall H panels. DC rocked the room early with their Batman vs Superman teaser. Mad Max arguably stole the show. Age of Ultron looks fantastic. I stayed through all of these panels, but due to the gap between the Marvel panel and the WB/DC television showcase and another engagement, I left immediately after Marvel cleared the stage. After sleeping on the rocks, I needed a shower and real meal.

Shortly thereafter, I was back downtown and headed to the Nerdist Podcast Live show featuring CM Punk. As I stated earlier, I was a huge wrestling fan while I was growing up, but I don’t follow as closely as I used to. CM Punk is the exception to the rule, and even though he is now retired, I still find him very interesting. Before the show began, there was screen featuring tweets that used a specific Twitter hashtag. This lead to some hilarious moments and let the crowd be its own opening act. The guys from the Nerdist Podcast took the stage, and it felt like I was a fly on the wall, watching a few friends discuss their day at the con. After a few minutes of banter, Mr. Punk joined them on stage and the chitchat continued. I could understand being disappointed in the show if you thought CM would be the focal point of an interview, but I loved the stories shared by all of the panel members and enjoyed myself thoroughly. The show ended with an audience Q&A, and the highlight was a fan who came dressed in a Nerdist superhero costume. Chris Hardwick took a picture with the man and was so enthused, I’ve since seen the picture on social media and a late night talk show.

Sunday morning rolled around and my agenda was pretty light. The only panel that really caught my eye was "Sons of Anarchy", so I roamed the show floor and offsite events for a few hours before strolling into the gaping maw of Hall H one last time. I arrived early and caught a bit of the panel for "The Following". I’ve never seen the show, but I was in for a treat. Someone asked Kevin Bacon about the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. He pulled out his cell phone and turned his back to the crowd. He filmed a short clip and posted it online; therefore everyone in attendance has a Bacon Number of 1.

The "Sons of Anarchy" panel was one of the most emotional roller coasters I’ve ever seen at the con. Laughs were had as a prerecorded message from series star Charlie Hunnam showed he was too busy too attend because he was receiving a massage and manicure. Tears were shed as the close knit cast discussed saying their final goodbyes to loved characters. Gasps were uttered at the brutal violence featured in the trailer for the upcoming season. For fans of the show, this was the perfect panel for the show’s swan song.

During the panel, I lost the lens cap to my camera. I was a bit frustrated, but I used the SoA bandana that was handed out after the panel to wrap the lens as best I could. As I was navigating the exodus of several thousand Sons fans, on my way to go back inside of the convention hall, a woman tapped me on the shoulder. She was sitting next to me during the panel and found my lens cap. Somehow, she hunted me down in that sea of bodies, just to return a $5 piece of plastic. While I did end up venturing inside for a bit, this was a perfect way to end the show: my faith restored in humanity and a reminder of how good people genuinely can be.

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Diva and TheArtimus
MWAHS to @TheArtimus for his photos and interesting write-up, and also for including some highlights of those panels which Red Dot Diva was unable to get to!

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