Forget the Oscars – wear the right outfit to Comic Con and you’ll be as much of a celebrity as the actors, directors and authors jostling for attention with spandex, lightsabers and Barack Obama. Liam Burke enters a world of fantasy made flesh Watchmen?
Achainsaw-wielding maniac claims his next target, while the victim’s friends cheer and take photos; an overweight Batman stands in a room of thousands to ask The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening where he gets his inspiration, while Irish J1 students guard the entrances.
Welcome to Comic-Con International in San Diego, a surreal and varied event that has grown into an essential marketing stop for any movie studio or television network hoping to launch the next blockbuster or raise a following for a cult show. Essentially, it’s Sundance, but with bigger budgets and more lightsabers.
Among those hoping to tap into the underground culture is Pixar. Its next film, Up, follows a septuagenarian who floats his home, beneath hundreds of coloured balloons, to Venezuelan mountaintops. From the footage on display, it looks every bit as magical as Wall-E. Star Wars completes the process that began with the prequels by becoming fully computer-generated with Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Irish director John Moore began his career directing Sega Dreamcast commercials; now he has come full circle with the computer-game adaptation Max Payne, starring Mark Wahlberg. Ignoring his potentially underage audience, Moore described how he “kicked the shit out of the camera” to make a “kick-ass” film, and, on the evidence of the clips, the comic-coners didn’t disagree.
Comic conventions were once consigned to dingy ball-rooms in low-rent hotels, but in a summer in which The Dark Knight broke boxoffice records, even the mammoth San Diego Convention Centre wasn’t big enough to accommodate the interest this crossover appeal brought. Glastonbury may have struggled to sell out, but Comic-Con quickly filled its 125,000 capacity, with passes being scalped on eBay for four times their original price.
So, what phantasmagorical sights can be seen down this rabbit-hole of underground culture?
Hollywood A-listers brave the belly of the beast
Comic-coners are a baying mob who tempt Hollywood stars into their midst with the promise of future box-office fidelity, but are just as likely to tear them asunder for any hostile advances into their pre-marked territory. The most successful lion-tamers come prepared with never-before-seen clips and fawning praise. The none-too-surprising “surprise guest” of the 20th Century Fox panel, Hugh Jackman, began with some Springsteenesque crowd interaction before premiering scenes from his solo superhero effort, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Jackman claimed the footage had been trundled straight from the cameras to the convention, via a Qantas jet, but the high polish of the clips suggested that this is an early trailer in the making. While there was little to distinguish this X-film from the previous mutant movies, the clip was met with deafening approval.
The same could not be said of Guy Ritchie’s latest mockney crime caper Rocknrolla, starring Gerard Butler. Clips from the film met an apathetic response, despite Butler’s cache thanks to his role in 300; Butler had to resort to throwing Hershey’s chocolate to abate the discontented rabble. The panel for Kevin Smith’s latest comedy, Zack and Miri Make a Porno was a breeding ground for off-colour anecdote – unsurprising, given that the group included hirsute funnyman Seth Rogen, future fictional first lady Elizabeth Banks (Oliver Stone’sW), porn star Katie Morgan and ex-porn star Traci Lords. Zack and Miri’s star Justin Long ( Die Hard 4.0) fondly recalled leaving cinema’s current Superman, Brandon Routh, sick for weeks when, while under-the-weather, he planted
Barack Obama outsells Wonder Woman but is still less popular than Jesus
The central thoroughfare of the convention centre is a 48,839-square-metre exhibition hall. It is a bazaar of the bizarre where anything that can be branded with a TV show logo or superhero shield is sold next to fourfoot swords and figure-hugging spandex. One of this year’s more interesting offerings was a Barack Obama T-shirt, featuring the Democratic candidate in a classic Superman pose. This 50 per cent nylon tribute was not Obama’s only appearance, with previews from The Simpsons’ new series showing Homer attempting to vote electronically for Obama, only to have his ballot logged for “President” McCain, before the vote-rigging machine swallows him whole. Yet, on the exhibition floor, the Obama-wear, although outselling vintage Wonder Woman and Batman clothing, was eclipsed by a T-shirt emblazoned “Buddy Christ” – proving there are some icons even the Illinois senator cannot compete with.
Gay kisses more deadly to Superman than Kryptonite
an improvised gay kiss on the man of steel.
The exclusive footage for Smith’s film, which included said crippling kiss, crackled with the type of pop-cultural diatribes typical of the director’s past efforts Clerks and Dogma. Smith, though, has used actors typically found in director Judd Apatow’s territory, which could yield the loquacious director his biggest box-office crossover hit yet.
Artemis Fowl holds its own against the Bionic Woman and Method Man
One-time Wexford school teacher Eoin Colfer, now an international best-selling author thanks to his Artemis Fowl books, brought his US book tour to Comic-Con. Colfer, who had more fans than his one-hour signing session could accommodate, shared floor space in the autograph pavilion with an eclectic mix of cult favourites and B-movie stars, including
Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner, rapper Method Man, CHiPs stalwart Erik Estrada and former Tank Girl Lori Petty, whose empty line was an indication of the consequences of appearing in a comic-book movie flop.
Affectionately describing the convention as a “carnival, where the people without the costumes are the freaks”, Colfer said his next port of call was a dinner with Jim Sheridan to discuss the adaptation of the book.
Who watches the
Watchmen, the adaptation of the graphic novel lazily labelled “comic books’ Citizen Kane”, has finally begun the countdown to its March release, and, judging by the pungent fan jubilation following the screening of early footage, there will be many watching the Watchmen. However, these exclusive clips appear more sugar cane than Charles Foster; the eye-catching visuals, though whipping fanboys into a sugar rush, seemed to lack any of the nutritional substance of the source. Wielding the megaphone was director Zack Snyder, whose limited vocabulary of “super”, “awesome” and then “superawesome” led Kevin Smith to comment, “Thank God your visuals are so strong,” further fuelling suspicions that Watchmen may not have the genre-redefining impact of Alan Moore’s book.
Complex costumes and 25-degree heat are a suffocating mix
While the number of attendees dressed in superhero and sci-fi costumes is lower than the convention’s reputation suggests, those that go the extra mile do not arrive wrapped in binliner capes and tin foil (sorry, aluminium) masks. These are expertly-crafted outfits and prosthetics that could hold their own on a Hollywood sound stage. Nonetheless, it is disconcerting to have Heath Ledger’s lipstick-smeared Joker grimace haunt the faces of countless attendees, while Star Trek crew members boldly go to the pretzel wagon. Many attendees dress in the kind type of revealing outfit that during any other weekend would get them arrested or sectioned, but here it makes them mini-celebrities with more photo-ops than Paris Hilton.
One family of Ghostbusters, when asked why they did it, replied, with the sincerity of a presidential candidate: “For the kids.”
Clone wars: clockwise from above, Ghostbusters size up Darth Vader; Canadian Chris Gunn as Batman; and Irish author Eoin Colfer signs copies of his hugely successful Artemis Fowl books at the convention. Photographs: Denis Poroy/AP; Liam Burke
Liam Burke is the author of The Pocket Essential Superhero Movies