Pipeline: Issue #375

Tue, August 17th, 2004 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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The previously scheduled San Diego Pipeline Photo Parade will not be seen tonight. In its place, the more pressing matter of this past weekend's WizardWorld: Chicago convention will be addressed.

The San Diego Pipeline Photo Parade will, we hope, show up in the near future.

DAY ZERO

The nightmare begins.

I've had some bad experiences flying to San Diego, but Chicago inevitably tops San Diego. While the con may feel less important these days, the airlines sure do make getting there ten times the hassle.

In the past, it's been weather that's trapped me in Chicago trying to get back home on Sunday afternoon. A monsoon-like storm delayed my flight one year. Last year, we had to wait out showers in New Jersey.

This year, two hurricanes landed on the east coast and worked their way up. This, of course, produces spotty rain storms and thunderstorms up and down the east coast. New Jersey, however, was clear all of Thursday. As I checked the flight schedule before leaving for the airport at 3 p.m., everything was on time, including my 4:45 flight out. I made it through security without a hassle. When I arrived at my gate, the flight was delayed by a grand total of 5 minutes. No problem. Looked up ten minutes later, and it was delayed by 10 minutes. And on and on it went. At 4:45, the plane hadn't shown up at the gate yet.

The plane came in shortly after that and they began boarding with First Class passengers at about 5:05. OK, so the flight was going to be about 45 minutes later than scheduled. I could deal with that.

They loaded all the passengers in, locked the doors, and then the captain made the announcement, "There's a weather system between here and Chicago that we can't get around. The Control Tower tells us we're indefinitely delayed."

I kid you not. They made that announcement within two minutes of locking the doors.

Indefinitely delayed. The words still echo dramatically in my mind.

Needless to say, this upset quite a number of people. I dug my nose a little deeper into my book and hoped for the best. I just did the five hour flight to San Diego a couple of weeks ago. I could wait this plane out for a couple of hours.

A half hour later, the pilot came back to announce that he had no new updates. They wouldn't let the plane route anywhere else to avoid the storm. We were sitting still.

To add insult to injury, another flight needed the boarding gate, so our plane was pushed away to park elsewhere on the tarmac. Now we had no chance of getting off the plan easily, and the flight attendants were unable to answer the question about how long we'd have to wait before pulling back in and letting us out. One can get very claustrophobic under these circumstances.

At 7:45, more than two hours after we boarded, the pilot announced we were clear to leave. There were a half dozen or more planes ahead of us, though, so it was another 25 minutes until the wheels left the ground.

By the time we landed (just shy of 10 p.m.) I had, indeed, sat on a plane for five hours. It was San Diego all over again. UGH

Getting to the hotel from the airport was remarkably easy. Met up with CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland, and then headed back downstairs to the sports bar to check out the Bar Con. Sat at a table there till closing with Marlan Harris, B. Clay Moore, J. Torres, CBR's own Seth Jones, Scott Chantler, and a rotating cast of guests. The con was already in full swing, as you could see the pro cliques peel off into bunches around the bar floor. Erik Larsen, meanwhile, held court with a dozen fans outside in the lobby.

DAY ONE

The con seemed more crowded this year on a Friday than in previous years. Lots of jostling going on in the cramped alleys first thing in the morning. Wizard was expecting more than 50,000 people. I don't know if I believe it, but it was a pretty full convention.

The crowd thinned out a bit in the afternoon once the programming schedule began in the other rooms. Sadly, there was no McLaughlin Report panel this year. Jim McLaughlin's entertaining round table discussion group just wasn't meant to be, I guess. He's still running around with the con organizer headset on, so it can't be that he's too Top Cow for the room anymore. Besides, what's the difference between Top Cow editorial and Wizard Editorial, anyway? (I apologize for the snarkiness in advance of your nasty e-mails.)

The con layout has changed in one major way this year: The wrestling ring is gone, replaced by additional rows for artist's alleys. This is much to Wizard's credit. Of course, they also removed one row of tables from the main artist's alley section to add in more dealers, so it's not as big an addition of creative talent as you might think. It is, however, still more people. That's good.

Also to their credit, the loud music in a couple of different booths were shut down shortly after it started. That kind of obnoxious behavior should be shut down, and good for WizardWorld for doing it.

It was a very busy panel day. I attended the WildStorm panel first at 11 a.m. to see the new J. Scott Campbell series' debut. The slide on his project was woefully dark. I had to see the poster at the DC booth to get a look. The concept looks like it'll appeal to the teenaged audience, but I'm not sure it's for me.

True story: Campbell was happy when Jonah took his picture for the Photo Parade. Campbell's a fan of the articles, and was thrilled to be a part of them. Thankfully for him, he wasn't wearing a costume, so Jonah didn't have to make a cutesy caption for him.

Joe Quesada did his usual Cup Of Joe panel, with faithful assistant and A/V sidekick Dan Buckley, C.B. Cebulski, and David Bogart. There would be no stumping of the T-Voort in Chicago. Bogart didn't say a word throughout the entire panel. If you read the reports on the panel, you'll pretty much get the gist of it. I have nothing more to add.

I cut out of it a little early, though, to get a good seat at the Bendis Q&A, which promised to be the highlight of the day. I had no idea just how big a highlight it would be, though.

Bendis Panel Audio File 1   Bendis Panel Audio File 2
(Warning: Bendis has a tendency to use more colorful language than I do here in Pipeline.)

By now, you've read the reports of what happened. But today, thanks to my trusty digital audio recorder, you can listen to the whole thing. Click here and have at it.

The file is slightly edited in one way: I removed some of the excessive applause and one case of prolonged boos. Not one single word has been removed from either Wayne's or Bendis' portion of the dialogue. The deletions are made simply to shrink the file size a little bit, and to keep the extremely loud volume of audience applause to a minimum. (Also, my laugh showed up once or twice in there, and it annoyed me to hear it.)

Overall, the sound quality is very strong. I was sitting right underneath a speaker, and Bendis and Wayne both used microphones in front of a crowd so large that I though a fire marshall would be well within rights to shut it down.

I've also included a second MP3, captured at the end of the panel. This is Bendis trying his best to keep the situation calm and give helpful advice to those looking to aid the cause of BATMAN/DAREDEVIL.

To end the day, I attended the Wizard Fan Awards. Sadly, it was a completely mirthless affair that managed to grind to a halt after only an hour. This show used to be the anti-Eisners. It was a lot of professionals getting up on stage, being funny, cutting on each other, and giving out silly awards. Now, it's been completely neutered in an attempt to make it more family-friendly and quicker. Mike Cotton and Richard Ho hosted, while Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee won everything. Just like last year with ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, this year BATMAN won most everything and dragged everyone associated with it along. That includes letterer (Richard Starkings) and colorist (Alex Sinclair.)

I have nothing against either Sinclair or Starkings winning, but I think the average Wizard voter doesn't pay much attention to either discipline, and votes for the person who works on their favorite book that they voted through on every other category.

The most entertaining part of the evening was the montage of videos that didn't win this year's Fan Video contest. They even showed the Lego Spider-Man video. It sounded great and looked terrific on the larger screen. But hasn't most everyone seen this on the web by now? After all, in the WildStorm panel earlier in the day, about three quarters of the room raised their hands when Jim Lee asked who actively got their comics news on the web. The netizens are out there.

Most awkward moment of the night came when JLA/AVENGERS won an award. Dan DiDio and Joe Quesada got up on stage to accept the awards, each receiving a little statuette. Quesada talked first, with DiDio noticeably hiding in the back corner of the stage. Then Quesada retreated to the opposite corner of the stage while DiDio gave his acceptance speech. After that, Quesada waited for DiDio to leave the stage first, then let award presenter John Cassady follow him before walking off himself. If it's anything like the Eisners, they usually like to take winners' pictures backstage after the award presentation. I'd love to see what that picture looked like.

That night, I played poker in Scott Dunbier's invitation-only CBLDF benefit. Due to time constraints, though, you'll have to wait for next week for all the details. As horribly geeky as it sounds of me, I can be most proud of outlasting Kevin Smith at my table.

The entire night was a blast, though, even if I didn't finish in the money. And the CBLDF netted nearly a thousand dollars from it. Details and pictures next week, I promise.

DAY TWO

This day shall forthwith be referred to as Batman Saturday. But that madness doesn't begin until later in the afternoon.

First: I spent more money I shouldn't have. While aimlessly meandering Artist's Alley, I spotted Carlo Barberi sketching at a table, with a pile of original art next to him and a sketchbook for sale. Having enjoyed Barberi's run on IMPULSE and various other things (ALTER NATION, TELLOS), I had to go spend money wildly. I walked away with an Impulse sketch in my sketchbook (the only one for the entire show), a Barberi sketchbook in my bag, and five new pages of original art. Four are from IMPULSE. The fifth is from SUPERBOY, featuring some hilarious hijinks as written by Joe Kelly. It's beautiful stuff and the only art I bought all weekend, despite a strong temptation from Tony Moore the night before. Those WALKING DEAD pages are pretty enough to make a grown man cry.

I forgot to bring original art bags with me to the convention, so I had to spend the money to buy new ones at the convention. The only guy I could find with supplies was selling mylar sleeves at $4 a pop. I'm sure the sleeves will come in handy with my collection, but it's still a $20 mistake.

As if that wasn't enough, the mylars didn't fit in my luggage. I ended up picking up one of those gigantic free TokyoPop bags to use as carry-on for the flight home just to house the pages.

I talked to John Lustig, who was displaying his FIRST KISS stuff in his first trip to this particular convention. He had prints and magnets and comics featuring his satirical romance comics rewrites all for sale, and has some exciting possibilities in the works for other media with the property. With any luck, I'll be talking to him in a couple of months about that.

Frank Cammuso also had a sketchbook, so I picked one of those up from him. At this rate, I'll need a separate box for sketchbooks I pick up at conventions.

He had the third issue of MAX HAMM for sale, which should be at retailers' stores in the next week or two. He was happy with the response he's gotten for his noir fairy tale parody at the con, which was also his first Chicago.

WW: Chicago is, generally, a much younger crowd than San Diego, but they also seem to me to be willing to try more things. I think a lot of the creators with items that appeal to women will do well at this convention. You may think that's odd for a Wizard con, but it makes sense. Imagine being the girlfriend being dragged around a comic book convention all day. (I'm not at all saying that every female on the floor was dragged there by her boyfriend, but I did see a few examples of it.) You're going to be excited when something interesting pops up amongst the sea of porn stars, crappy small press titles, and aging sci-fi fan booths. Those booths stick out towards the "civilians" or non-comics fans, and thus stand a great chance of reaping the benefits. It's all the better if your book also appeals to the already-converted comics fan.

Michael Sullivan, intrepid CBR reporter, gave me his extra wristband to the Green Lantern panel later that afternoon. This bemused me. I'm not really a Green Lantern fan. When I was told that the panel would include footage from BATMAN BEGINS with an appearance from Christopher (MEMENTO) Nolan and David S. Goyer, I was really excited. I had no idea why they would be included with a Green Lantern panel, but later found out it was a bit of a last minute thing. That was the only time they could schedule.

I entered the line about a half hour before the panel. I felt badly for the two people in line behind us. They were Green Lantern fans. That's what they were talking about while in line, and those were the comics they had with them. The only thing they didn't have were wristbands, so a security guard kicked them out. I don't think they were there for the Batman stuff, but that trumped all and most likely cost them their seats in the room.

The room filled up easily with 400 people or so, plus a dozen security guards, Warner Bros. executives, DC professionals, Wizard staffers, and more. Security was positioned all over the room, including one standing in the middle aisle halfway. One member of the security detail stood a couple of feet away from the screen with a night vision scope, checking out the room as the footage played. They were Very Very Very serious about this footage not leaking out onto the internet. So important was this to them that Nolan, Bob Wayne, and Paul Levitz all pointed it out repeatedly. A sign stood on an easel at the front of the room that said no photography or recording of the event was permitted. Insanely, the security force took that to include the Green Lantern portion of the panel. You know how Warner Bros. gets when pictures are taken of Ethan Van Sciver and Geoff Johns together begin surfacing on the internet...

You've probably read about the panel at Newsarama, and perhaps you've already read my instant review of the footage. It was breathtaking. All they had to do was show four minutes of clips that didn't look like a campy botch job. Comic fans want a good Batman movie. Anything that doesn't include Batman whipping out his credit card, Robin skysurfing, or Bat Nipples would do it. This footage went beyond just that, though. It was both reassuring and exciting.

This movie is in good hands, and now I've seen proof of that. Christopher Nolan had to rush back to the set, but he still showed up to field questions and answers for a good 20 minutes or more. He's a softspoken man with a light British accent, very well spoken. There were no "uhms" present at all, and it became clear that he and David S. Goyer had thought everything through in the movie, down to the reason for those weird "scallops" on Batman's gloves up the forearm.

He didn't have the microphone close enough to his mouth, so you did have to be very quiet to hear him, but it worked out fine. The filled room maintained a stoic silence whenever he spoke. And when someone asked him about how tough it must be to clean up Joel Schumacher's mess, he smiled politely and Levitz quickly moved to another question. Ah, the loyal brotherhood of the Director's Guild at work...

I'm excited about this movie now. I've said for awhile now that the most exciting comic book movie for 2005 is going to be SIN CITY, but the footage I saw this weekend is enough to make me rank BATMAN BEGINS right up there, if not higher.

Matt Brady, Jonah, Michael, and I headed into the city for dinner after that. It was my first time in Chicago, and it was pretty cool. Michael, the local, showed us a few things about town in the tiny segment of it we traversed. We saw what Nolan meant when he talked about filming BATMAN BEGINS in Chicago to have the two-level city. The city really does have an underground and an above ground, both of which are visible along the river, which is where we were.

Augie scans the skies for the Batcopter.

We ate outside, along the river, at a fancy steak house. A few minutes after we received our drinks, a helicopter flew by. It was a little low, but there wasn't much odd about it. Then we noticed a second helicopter flying alongside it, and getting a little closer as it went by. It zoomed past us, went a couple of blocks away, banked sharply, and then flew back. It didn't take long for everyone to realize, "My god, they're filming something up there for BATMAN BEGINS."

I confirmed this with DC the next day. We couldn't see it from the ground level, but the helicopter was fully tricked out for the movie. It had its search lights turned on, and could easily have been the Gotham police department on the hunt for someone. The helicopters zoomed by overhead a few more times that night, including one circular route it must have done a half dozen times over the buildings behind us, just out of sight.

The initial passes were done at that perfect time as the sun was setting. The sky was a beautiful dark blue that grew brighter at the horizon, and into shades of orange and red.

So when BATMAN BEGINS debuts next year, the four of us will be paying special close attention to any helicopter shots from over Chicago. Who knows, maybe on some High Definition print someday, you'll see the tops of our heads very small in the corner of the screen.

Nah, I don't believe that, either.

In any case, I liked what little of Chicago I did see that night. It's not like New York City. The subway wasn't nearly as dirty, and did include fabric on the seats. I can't imagine anything other than hard plastic going over well in NYC. The streets weren't teeming with masses. This isn't the city that never sleeps, and thank goodness for it. What do I know, though? I was in a tourist trap area, filled mostly with hotels, a few restaurants, and a couple of shows. It also held the coolest parking garage I have ever seen. It was circular, and the cars faced out onto the street, precariously perched behind some thin metal wires. By me, parking garages like that have concrete walls to prevent accidents from happening. In Chicago, a parking garage that resembles your Hot Wheels carrying case as a kid is good enough.

Next week will conclude the Chicago report, with plenty of pictures, tales from the final day at the con, miscellaneous disconnected thoughts on the experience, and the craziest game of poker that I've ever played. I can't wait to write it all up.

You did catch last Friday's special Pipeline Extra filled with reviews, didn't you?

Over at Various and Sundry this week: A rumination on airplane boarding procedures. A three part epic tale of my experiences at the O.A.R. concert a couple of weeks ago. Swords and lottery tickets make the news. Is George Lucas the ultimate hypocrite? And more.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are also still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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