SO WHAT IS COMIC-CON EXACTLY, AND DOES EVERYONE HAVE TO WEAR A COSTUME?
Comic-Con International is the biggest pop culture convention in America. It started a bit over 40 years ago as a bunch of comic book fans in a hotel in San Diego, and grew and grew and grew. For the past few years, it's sold out its well-over-100,000 tickets instantly. It's still a showcase for comics (of every kind: mainstream superhero stuff, art comics, self-published minicomics, manga, vintage rarities, you name it), but even more of it is the place where every Hollywood action movie and every sci-fi or horror TV show and every video game and everyone else who wants to hitch a ride on that kind of wagon comes to show off, as loudly and vividly as possible. There are panels and workshops and game rooms and film screenings and parties and signings and an area directly devoted to commerce that takes at least a solid day to see in its entirety (also: SPIN is throwing a party there!). A relatively small percentage of attendees wear costumes (especially on Saturday), but most people just wear something that's comfortable and maybe shows off the iconography of a particular branch of geek culture they like to call their own. It is more fun than any sane human being can bear.
WHAT'S THE VIBE OF DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO?
It's nuts. Absolutely everything for a mile or two in every direction is devoted to all things Comic-Con. This is, by all reports, the biggest tourist event that happens to the city every year, and a gigantic profit driver for local businesses, which go out of their way to be very, very friendly to con attendees. Comic-Con is where the people who live for pop culture meet the people who really want them to care about the pop culture they produce. What the producers care about most is word of mouth, since the con's attendees are the superfans who spread the gospel to their slightly less committed friends. (Money's nice too, but it comes second.) What the consumers care most about is special experiences: conversations with their idols, fun swag, rarities that they can take some kind of pleasure in owning. So the consumers find that the producers are shoving special experiences at them at every moment. It's flattering, if exhausting.
WHAT HAPPENS ON WEDNESDAYS THERE?
Comic-Con doesn't really get underway until Thursday, but Wednesday is Preview Night — fans who've bought a pass for the entire event get to hit the show floor from 6 to 9 p.m. The "show floor," in this case, means shopping. As people pick up their badges for Comic-Con, they're each given a heavily reinforced tote bag the size of a medium-sized Central American nation; when the doors open, they storm the floor in search of particularly special items. I smiled at the people racing to buy limited-edition Star Wars collectibles, thinking how different they were from me, and then I snuck off to buy a limited-edition Krazy Kat hardcover and a Love & Rockets T-shirt and, uh, some other things. Because, you know, they might sell out or something.
IS THERE A THING THAT EVERYBODY IS TALKING ABOUT?
Let's get it out of the way: the woman who died Wednesday morning. She was one of the devoted Twilight fans who've been camping out days in advance for the panel that's happening Thursday morning; she was hit by a car while crossing the street, and died of a head injury. The pre-show Twilight-fan encampment has been the happiest place in San Diego for several years now. Today, it's understandably sober.
WHAT WAS THE MOST RIDICULOUS THING YOU'VE SEEN TODAY?
I would have said the giant inflatable figure of Finn from Adventure Time that occupied the entire roof of a local playground, until I saw the life-size sculpture of Catwoman built entirely out of Lego blocks. Neither of those are particularly high on the "ridiculous" scale, by Comic-Con's standards, but most of the outside-the-show attractions don't show up until Thursday.
RIGHT, SO WHAT ABOUT THE COMICS?
There was a very, very long line for Darwyn Cooke signing copies of his new graphic novel Parker: The Score. There was an even longer line for Robert Kirkman signing copies of The Walking Dead, whose 100th issue came out on Wednesday.
ANY WORD ON MOVIES AND STUFF?
Every year, there seems to be a movie or two that comes out of Comic-Con with a significantly higher profile. The buzz today was attached to Dredd — adapted from the same long-running British comic book that spawned the mediocre 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie Judge Dredd. The new version stars Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey, the first two of whom introduced a late-night screening at a downtown theater. As a hardcore fan of the comic book incarnation (I'll be moderating a panel about the comics at the show on Friday afternoon), I am delighted to say that the movie is awesome: smart, ultra-suspenseful and very sharply constructed. Also, extraordinarily violent. Sometimes you just need to watch a fascist future cop make a bad guy's head explode in slow motion, you know?