July 28th, 2009
11:37 AM ET

What I learned at my first Comic-Con

It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I am almost 40 and this year was the first time I was able to actually attend Comic-Con.

It’s something my brother and I used to fantasize about, but coming from a lower middle class family, the idea of spending money on a convention for “ geeks” didn’t rank high on my parents’ TO DO list.

Geeks, that‘s right, I said it, and I am glad to admit it. I owe all of my talent and career successes to my inner geek.

It’s what keeps me young, open minded, and still convinced that anything is possible. It is the reason I able to make a living in the world of television.

You see, my younger brother and I grew up in era of Super Hero super stardom. "Wonder Woman," "The Bionic Man," and even "Aqua Man" were prime time television viewing.

We saw "Star Wars" the day it opened, and then three more times that same week! We lived for our favorite TV shows and cartoons, "The Super Friends," "Scooby Doo," "The Jetsons," a virtual world of super strength, good fighting evil, solving mysteries, and space age technology filled our brains and fueled our imaginations.

And after my first Comic-Con, it’s clear to me that the people who make the trek to the event in San Diego are some of the greatest people I have ever met.

Now I know what you’re thinking: what is she crazy?

But before you judge, or harrumph, let me explain. You see, the thing they never warn you about at Comic-Con are the lines. The never ending, hot, sweaty, lines. The line to go to the bathroom, the line to go to the ATM, the line for autographs, the lines for each session, the line at Starbucks, and then the mother of all lines – THE line for Hall H.

Hallowed Hall H, it’s where people like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp show up.

Where Robert Downey Jr. comes and gives his fans high fives, and where all the super secret trailers and clips are shown. The place where, in my opinion, the magic of Comic-Con shows itself. And it begins in the line.

8 a.m.: Alone, I walk across the street and take my place on the grassy knoll. Coffee in hand, I pull out my boxed breakfast from the hotel and eat. In front of me a group of four sits and plays cards, with the tiniest set of playing cards I have ever seen. They look up at me and say, “ You might want to sit and get comfortable, and it may be a while.” I smile – “When do they actually open the doors and let us in? Or will we even get in? There seems to be a lot of people here.”

I look out at the multiple rows of folks spread out, people sit on camping chairs, eating talking, texting, laughing.

“Oh yeah, we will get in” a young girl says. “We are much closer today than I was in yesterday’s line, and I got in then, pretty good seats too.”

She and her friends probably realize I am new at this and begin to share tidbits of info with me about bringing plenty of food, and water, a good book, and so forth. Soon most of the people around start striking up a conversation, really making me feel at home. It was easy to forget that I was a stranger, by myself, in a strange city, standing in the blazing sun, on a line that I couldn’t even see the beginning of.

8:45 a.m.: My brother calls and asks where I am in the line. I tell him I have his breakfast box and that I will hold up my red CNN cap so he can find me and walk up. He says he feels funny cutting the line, but all my new-found friends assure me that it is perfectly fine. Everyone does it. “We have two more coming, they are in line at the Starbucks now, once they get coffee, and they will walk it over.”

Sure enough, two more show up with the cardboard Starbucks tray in hand. I’m thinking if this were anywhere else, fights would be breaking out, bad language, and tempers flaring, but nope not here. It’s all smiles and good times.

9:30 a.m.: I am intermittently waving the red CNN cap in the air but my brother is still not visible. A young man turns to me and says, “Where did you get all the cool CNN stuff? Are they here?” I smiled, “ I work there, I am here on assignment, doing some research.”

“I like your T-shirt… wow you work for CNN?” I was wearing a CNN headline shirt. I thanked him and gave him a coupon to redeem for a free shirt. Soon people start peering over, anything FREE at Comic-Con draws attention. I smiled and was happy to give out free shirts and some Robin Meade bookmarks to my new-found friends. They were so grateful they started helping to look for my brother – waving their arms, asking his name, calling out to him.

10 a.m.: My brother finally finds us. There is a round of cheering and some introductions. In thirty seconds he made 20 new friends. We are all so sweaty at this point, it’s ridiculous. Still despite the heat, smiles all around, jokes and conversation ensue.

10:30 a.m.: We are so close to the door we can feel the air conditioning. The young man in front of me turns and says, “Whatever you do, don’t run! They kick you out if you run”. He seems genuinely concerned about us; it was like he was the experienced general, leading his troops on to the battlefield.

11 a.m.: We secure two seats in the middle of the gigantic theater. The folks we are sitting next to are diehard "Lost" fans. We start talking and soon they are also giving us tips on how to handle Hall H.

“Once the screening is over get up and walk towards the front. As people leave, you can take their seats. You should be able to make it to the first or second row, since there are only two of you”. My brother and I are amazed, if we knew a secret like this would we share it with two strangers who were new to the event? WOW, these people are REALLY nice.

12:15 p.m.: Sure enough after "Lost," the theatre clears a little and we walk to the front. I see an open seat, and a young man says it is available. I ask if there is another one, he offers his to my brother. He is here from Rio, a 17-hour flight. He is uploading to his blog all the latest from the "Lost" session. We chat, and off he goes, surrendering his second row chair to a stranger, my brother.

1:15 p.m.: We sit through several movie trailers, Jason Bateman in "Extract," Jesse Eisenberg in "Zombieland," James Purefoy in "Solomon Kane." Every star praising the Con fans, thanking them, sharing secrets with them, premiering clips, and laughing with them. Woody Harrelson then shows "2012," a new disaster film starring him and John Cusack – and there on the screen in giant RED letters is CNN. I was so proud and excited I found myself cheering and clapping like a giddy fan.

Afterwards, the young man sitting next to us starts asking about CNN. Of course I gave him a T-shirt and a bookmark. He is so comfortable with us at this point he leaves his bags and asks if we can watch them while he makes a run for some food. Sure, we say. Happy to save your chair and watch your stuff, knowing that he would do the same for us later when we both needed to get some food too. It’s funny, a few days ago I would never have felt comfortable leaving my stuff with a stranger, but here at the Con, no one is a stranger.

3:30 p.m.: The excitement for "Iron Man 2" has the room vibrating. By now, my jaded brother and I are like the Grinch at the end of the story. Our hearts swelled, swept up in the excitement of being in a room filled with 6,000 cheering and screaming people. How can this feel so intimate and familiar when there are thousands of us sitting here? We don’t even know each other’s names.

4:00 p.m.: Robert Downey Jr.’s appearance on stage sends the place into utter chaos. The camera flashes are blinding. The noise overwhelming. The first thing Mr. Downey does is thank everyone in the audience. Thanks, and more thanks from the entire cast and crew continued. It was sincere, real, and genuine. Roll the clip. Low and Behold! A giant RED CNN appears in the corner of the screen as Tony Stark testifies at a Senate committee hearing. Again I am overwhelmed at the thought of working for such an iconic company. CNN, in the most anticipated film of 2010! It was like I was a proud parent at a dance recital.

5:15 p.m.: Kevin Smith walks on stage and manages to turn a giant theater into an intimate chat room. He jokes, he tells stories, he answers questions. I felt like I was sitting on my couch at home conversing with an old high school buddy.

6:30 p.m.: My visit to Hall H comes to a close, as we all begin to file out. We are talking about the exciting things we shared today in the magic of Hall H. I couldn’t help but feel that we were forever bonded by the experience.

7 p.m.: On the elevator in the hotel, a woman asks us what we saw today. Another new friend is made.

iReport.com: Check out photos and video of the convention from start to finish

July 27th, 2009
01:10 PM ET

Comic-Con: Dos & Don'ts

Imagine, if you will, a futuristic outpost in the middle of outer space filled with more than 100,000 beings of all species wearing all manner of dress. Some basically humanoid with different skin textures (particularly on the forehead) and others sporting appendages and tentacles.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/27/art.comic.con.cnn.jpg caption="During Comic-Con, the San Diego Convention Center effectively becomes its own city within San Diego, California."]
Comic-Con is just like that; the San Diego Convention Center effectively becomes its own city within San Diego, California, complete with its own special transit system. Attending became a daunting prospect for this Comic-Con rookie despite my experience at that little local event, Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia. If you've ever wondered if you should make the trip, here's a few dos and don'ts that I jotted down just in case.

DO chat with the aliens, robots, furries and Klingons around you and ask permission to take their pictures. Who knows? They might know about a cool event going on, or they might just have a great story to tell.

DON'T carry around too much stuff unless your elaborate robot costume requires it. Comic-Con takes a lot of physical stamina, since some events are spaced far apart and have long lines. You may be routed around a venue the long way to maintain clear traffic paths.

DO wear an awesome costume that shows your love for a favorite franchise or at least some kind of ironic T-shirt.

DON'T slack on your appearance and hygiene. Stars and cool folks are around every corner.

DO plan well in advance. If you want to attend all four days, you need to get your membership for the con several months in advance. Hotels should also be planned as early as possible. And don't forget to reach out to your connections.

DON'T limit yourself to the obvious schedule. Find out what else is going on and don't be afraid to wander around and chat people up. You never know who you might encounter or run into.

DO take the shuttle bus and make use of the conveniences in the city around the con.

DON'T limit yourself to the hot dogs and other con food. And try to park off site if you can.

DO make an effort to seek out celebrities and people you want to see. It doesn't hurt to ask around. There are so many well-known folks hiding around every corner, especially in the earlier days of the con. And of course seek out some panels on your con schedule. We got to see Seth MacFarlane do some voice acting with other folks from FOX's "American Dad," for example.

DON'T buy just anything. Look for con exclusives, one-of-a-kind items, freebies, photo ops and free hugs.

DO give free hugs if that's your thing.

DON'T give out free annoyances.

July 27th, 2009
09:00 AM ET

Director, actors dish on 'Paper Heart'

As Comic-Con wound down, with exhausted fans seated on the floors of the hallways, a handful of journalists got to chat with the folks from "Paper Heart," a new indie flick that combines fiction with documentary to explore the nature of love.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/26/art.paper.heart.cnn.jpg caption="Nicholas Jasenovec (left), Jake Johnson and Charlyne Yi discuss 'Paper Heart'"]
The idea for this film came from writer and actress Charlyne Yi, whom you might recognize from her role as Jodi in "Knocked Up." She was feeling skeptical of love, and thought about making a documentary about it. Director and co-writer Nicholas Jasenovec describes the final product as "a fictional love story with documentary support."

In fact, Jasenovec was hoping that because of her "unique perspective on love," she might fall in love on camera while making this movie, she said. However, on Sunday she indicated that it's only a rumor that she's really dating co-star Michael Cera of "Juno" and "Superbad" fame.

The cast and crew traveled to several states including California, New Mexico, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee in a van while making this film. Many of the actors already knew each other and then became friendly with the crew, so making the movie "felt like hanging out," said Jake Johnson, who plays the character Nick. Many of the cast members' on-camera interactions were improvised, and all of the "documentary" portions are real and unscripted, he said.

What did Yi learn about love from this movie? "I think it's what you want it to be," she said. For instance, when she asked bikers what they think about love, they said that, to them, love is hanging out with their friends at a bar.

Although not based on a comic book or science fiction novel, "Paper Heart" did have its place at Comic-Con. After all, Jasenovec said, "It's a geek love story."

July 26th, 2009
03:00 PM ET

Comic-Con: 'Futurama' directors branch out

Meet Haminal, the wide-eyed furry animal who fits perfectly in a sharp-edged can and comes topped with a pineapple slice.
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/07/26/art.hanimal.cnn.jpg caption="Crystal Chesney-Thompson appears with one of her ham-inspired 'Haminals.'"]
This is the creation of Crystal Chesney-Thompson, who has been selling these strangely cute ham-inspired creatures at Comic-Con in San Diego, California, for three years. She came up with the idea in 2004, when she and others in her martial arts group were roasting canned ham on a campfire. Today, she's selling pig-like pink "canned" Haminals, as well as red "deviled" Haminals, just for Comic-Con. Next year, she plans to introduce a tuna fish.

No, this is not Chesney-Thompson's only job. She will be directing four episodes of "Futurama" this season.

"I love working in animation," she said while drawing a sketch for two young girls who recognized her from last year. (In this chaotic maze of posters, action figures, geeky T-shirts, network promotions and bizarre costumes known as the Comic-Con Exhibit Hall, Haminal did seem like a friendly face to me.)

Aimee Major Steinberger, sitting on the same row as Chesney-Thompson in the Exhibit Hall, is an assistant director for "Futurama," but she's also promoting her side project: a graphic novel for teenagers called "Japan Ai." It's based on her own trip to Japan, she said.

When it comes to these side projects, neither of these "Futurama" collaborators reported a negative impact from the economic downturn. Chesney-Thompson has been seeing good sales via the Internet, and Steinberger's business has been doing better this year than last.

"People need an escape of buying artwork or entertainment," Steinberger said.

So what's in store for fans in "Futurama’s" much-anticipated revival? There will be more "what if?" episodes, and the show will explore interesting relationships between characters that have not been explored before, Chesney-Thompson said, echoing the "Futurama" panel from earlier in the Con. The show will also explore the backgrounds of Scruffy and Dr. Zoidberg, she said.

July 25th, 2009
04:20 PM ET

Comic-Con: I heart you, Darth

The foot traffic at Comic-Con is intense. Getting around can be difficult. What isn't difficult is meeting people. Take this conversation I overheard for example:


Girl with camera: "Hi, Jack! Your outfit is so cool."
Jack Sparrow: "Thanks."
Girl with camera: "Can I get a picture?"
Jack Sparrow: "Sure." (Jack Sparrow draws his sword and lunges forward.)
Girl with camera: (click) "Thanks. You look exactly like Johhny Depp."
Jack Sparrow: "Thanks. It's all in the hair and eye-liner."

From what I observed, every comic-conner who took the time to lather on face paint, buy a plastic weapon or accessorize with something that requires a battery, was more than happy to grant photo ops to their adoring fans. And inevitably they would have a festive little pose on standby to accompany it. It was this second phenomenon that brought me the most joy. I do love a good pose. But I digress.

As I was saying, I saw this same friendly interaction happening all over the convention. Occasionally, patrons didn't even have to ask for permission to start snapping away. There was one creatively dressed young man towering over a crowd of eager photographers. His half-bird, half-lizzard face mask hid his true age, but I have to assume he was young because of the ease with which he navigated his 5-foot tall stilts. This is what you would call a "stand-out" costume and one need only approach him and photograph at will.

I can easily imagine many of these chance acquaintances leading to much more meaningful relationships. I bet some even lead to romance. The sheer volume of of people at Comic-Con makes it a mathematical certainty. And what a great story that for the family!

"How did you and Paul meet, dear?"
"He was the most amazing Storm Trooper I'd ever seen."

Yes, Comic-Con is a very friendly place and I have absolutely adored being here. I should add that this morning I interviewed David Glanzer, Director of Public Relations for the convention, during which time he informed me that only about 1percent of the conventions estimated 125,000 attendees actually dress in costume. Based on my math, that's well over 1,200 chances at love!

July 23rd, 2009
11:30 PM ET

Comic-Con: Spandex Everywhere

Today marks the official opening of Comic-Con, the world's largest comic book, movie and pop culture convention.  This year, the San Diego-based event celebrates its 40th anniversary as ground zero of all things new, cool and about to explode on the mainstream.


Comic Con fans wait in line outside Hall H. Some camped overnight.

It's interesting and even a little ironic that I am here because I am not what you would consider a fan of comic culture.  Sure, I have enjoyed the big screen adaptations of the "X-Men" franchise and, of course, was moved by Heath Ledger's performance as "The Joker" in last year's "The Dark Knight," but for the most part I have a working knowledge of comic books on par with your average 65-year-old woman.

I say this to add a bit of context to this blog entry.  Observant, excitable, and curious I am, well-versed in the world of comics, I am not.  What I do know is spandex.

It is estimated that 125-thousand people will circulate through the halls of the San Diego Convention Center during this four-day event.  From what I can tell, about 124-thousand have chosen to decorate their bodies in some form of spandex.  I have a long and checkered history with the stretchy, entirely unforgiving material which we will not go into here.

This early life exposure led me to an acute understanding of the clingy fabric. From what I have seen this familiarity is not entirely shared by the aforementioned 124-thousand "Comic-Conners" in my general vicinity.  For those who care, I would like to share three little guidelines about spandex that I've learned over the years.

(1) Big or small, spandex accentuates everything.  It is a common misperception that spandex is only unflattering on bigger body types.  This is simply not true.  If you have the metabolism of a hummingbird and have to run around in the shower to get wet, chances are you do not have what it takes to give this long chain polymer its necessary "stretch" for maximum appeal.

(2) Spandex is better cast as a "supporting character" than in a "lead role."  One should not feel as though their entire outfit should be made from spandex, simply because it can.  Forearms, hands and the occasional headband are often times "safe" uses of spandex.  Torsos, thighs and derrieres tend to be "danger" areas.

(3) Spandex is a privilege, not a right.  The ability to locate and/or afford spandex does not necessarily mean one should wear spandex.  Let's be clear, it takes a very special kind of body type to make the stuff work and work well.  Chances are your favorite actor or actress worked with a personal trainer for months before earning the privilege of wearing it.  It's just an educated guess, but something tells me The Green Lantern did not stop at KFC on his way to saving the world.

So, my silly lesson in spandex aside, I will say this about what I've seen at Comic-Con so far, there is no shortage of passion.  For many of these fans, they have spent years, if not a lifetime enjoying this art form.  They are here to show how much they care, and that kind of dedication, even set against a spandex backdrop, is impressive.

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