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Arts and Entertainment

My Life as a Nerd: The Comic-Con Experience

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Had Las Vegas been imagined by a bunch of nerds instead of alcoholics and real estate speculators, it'd probably look a lot like Comic-Con. Far more than the name suggests, Comic-Con is not simply a comic book convention anymore. Over the course of two decades, it's become a four-day PG-13 style orgy of audiovisual overstimulation combined with an obscene amount of stuff - comics, movies, games, costumes, posters, gadgets, paintings, and tens of thousands of people.

But is it fun? That's what I was in search of when I spent Saturday in downtown San Diego. Fun and possibly a bag full of free swag.

Here's a diary of my time there:

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Saturday, 10:30 a.m.

All my friend John Hooker and I wanted was a personal pan pizza. That’s all. A warm plate of gooey goodness to breakup our nearly three hour drive from Los Angeles to San Diego. But apparently the Pizza Hut that was our intended target at Camp Pendleton is off-limits to civilians. At least that’s what the Marine at the checkpoint told us.
The conversation went a little like this:
“State your business please.”
“Pizza.”
“What?”
“We want to go to Pizza Hut.”
“For what?”
“To eat pizza.”
“Are you meeting someone there?”
“No.”
“Well, you can’t just come in here. Civilians can’t do that.”
“But we don’t want Del Taco, sir.”
“Sorry. Please turn around.”
Unbelievable, one third of my tax dollars goes to the military and I can’t get a single cheesestick. This is a bad sign for our trip.

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Those that dared go outside during Comic-Con saw scenes like this in classy San Diego.

11:30 a.m. Upon my first sight of shiny downtown San Diego, it strikes me that the town's glass-heavy modernish architecture, bright colors and the tidy streets gives it a feel of a city built in one sitting by a new wave band in 1987. This is very appropriate since there's something about Comic-Con itself that feels very 1987-ish. Maybe it's all the Transformers and GI-Joe related paraphernalia. Maybe it's the fact that part of the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation is signing autographs. Whatever it is, I'm half expecting Huey Lewis and the News or the cast of Who's The Boss? to pop up any second now. Oh wait, according to my schedule, Alyssa Milano doesn't show up until Sunday. Damn.

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Apparently only one of the 300 showed up for the interview.

1 p.m.
I'm somewhat disappointed so far with the relatively small amount of people dressed up in wacky costumes. With the way people talk about Comic-Con being the Super Bowl of nerds, I was half expecting to be one of the few people in plain clothes. Instead it feels like one of those half-baked theme parties where only a fifth of people have the initiative to dress up. That said, there are some fairly hardcore costume-wearers here - especially considering that it feels about 100 degrees on convention floor with all the body heat from ten thousand people crammed into the same room. I spot enough stormtroopers to make a small squadron of Vader's peons, a collection of eyeliner wearing pirates large enough to man a ship, a Klingon here and there, and of course, the newest trend in dressing up - Harry Potter themed characters.

Then there are a couple of brave female souls that have gone the route of Slave Girl/Golden Bikini Princess Leia. It really does take a special breed of girl to stroll the halls of a place full of countless strangers wearing a collar and, well, not much else, especially when the costume isn’t particularly flattering in the harsh light of the convention floor. The only one who can pull it off is a thin European-looking model covered in spray-on tan hired to look docile as she lies near a giant plastic Jabba the Hut as leering men take turns taking her picture. There is something disturbing about this.

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That may actually be Matt Leinart on the right now that I think about it.

1:25 p.m. The booth babe concept is simple. Take a popular character or archetype from a sci-fi fantasy movie, comic and game and pay an attractive woman to wear a slutty version of that outfit. A buccaneer circa the 17th century? Give her a big hat, frilly shirt, old flintlock pistol and... tight hot pink short shorts. A not so practical touch for high seas adventuring, sure, but cute!
A barbarian woman? Think thick animal fur, but only enough to cover a few choice square inches.

My favorite trend was seeing models dressed in a more scantily clad manner than the already scantily clad women they were playing. I spotted a Lara Croft for example, in a tight leather shirt and a near dental floss size thong, which hardly seems like smart tomb raiding gear.

Whenever you walk around Comic-Con, you're bound to hear sighs from females bemoaning the idea of the booth babe, but here's the thing: it's interesting how a nearly a whole generation of women turn themselves into booth babes on Halloween. How many Halloween parties have you been to where the females dress as a scantily clad witch/nurse/vampire/tigress? Look, booth babes seem tacky to me too, but let’s not be sanctimonious about it.

It's an interesting dichotomy because we're supposed to praise this side of the entertainment industry for portraying some female characters as strong, assertive, independent heroes yet they still get gratuitous Barbie Doll looks and often dress like prostitutes. I have a feeling Betty Friedan would have been very confused at Comic-Con.

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Yes, you are seeing this correctly. It's um, empowering, right?

1:50 p.m. Even more morally ambiguous is the amputee model leaning against the stripper pole to show off her machine gun leg - the same one Rose McGowan wore in the movie Grindhouse. I got a chill as she smiled at me, because I wondered....Did the Weinstein Company put out a Craigslist ad asking for a "Hot Amputee Stripper Willing to Wear Gun Leg at Comic-Con?" I shudder to think.

2:05 p.m. I stroll by the booth where LaVar Burton is signing Star Trek pictures and he looks at me expectantly. I hadn't planned necessarily on getting autographs but I awkwardly manage "I enjoyed your work on Reading Rainbow, Mr. Burton.” Somehow, his smile never breaks. I bet he hears that a lot.

2:40 p.m. My friend and I check out the line for Battlestar Galactica session an hour before it starts and it realize that it wraps around the entire upstairs corridor. It's thousands long. I sheepishly go to the end of where I think the line ends. "Uh, no," says an affronted 30-something guy wearing a "Sci-Fi Channel" T-shirt. "I'm sorry but line goes out there." He points to a line that snakes all the way outside. It turns out that many people in line are waiting for the session AFTER Battlestar - Matt Groening's announcement that Futurama is returning. A two and a half hour line? Tea time, anyone?

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Would you believe this was the line to the men's bathroom?

3:10 p.m. We decide an hour and 15 minutes early to begin standing in the line for the Marvel Movie announcement session in the main hall. I had actually expected Comic-Con to be full of C-list stars such as Richard Dean Anderson but comic book movies have become so popular these days (see: cash cows) that many of tonight's speakers could have been ripped from an Oscar Party, or at least an US Weekly cover. Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Josh Hartnett, Milla Jovovich, etc. The question remains, how will these stars hold up when the Q&A starts with the Great Unwashed? Inside the Actors Studio this definitely ain't.

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In a combination no one saw coming, Carmen Miranda meets Darth Vader.

3:15 p.m. Spending $15 on a crappy sub state fair quality chicken sandwich, cold fries, and a Coke makes me weep a little. Would Gwyneth faint if they offered her this meal? Probably.

3:20 p.m. The guy dressed up in the full heavy rubber Batman suit, standing in the hot San Diego sun is a real superhero considering how warm that must be. Though he does lose cool points for talking on a cellphone and his Robin appears to be a small 16-year old Asian teen.

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Even Batman has to wait in line at Comic-Con.

4:15 p.m. We're in and only sitting approximately a mile from the table where a panel of Ed Norton, Liv Tyler and producers and directors of the new Incredible Hulk project are sitting. For the record, this is NOT a continuation of Ang Lee's mostly panned version of the Hulk from a few years ago, "This is part 1 of a whole new saga," says one Marvel guy. Maybe now Eric Bana will have time to work on Munich 2.

4:20 p.m. For the record, I like Ed Norton's work, he's a great actor and a smart guy, but he's almost too smart. His monologues sound like those of a self-serious college professor. Which is fine when you're talking about oh, a film about the Holocaust or the Civil Rights movement, but not about a green skinned superhero whose catchphrase is "Hulk smash!" So when Norton drones on about the "great mythology" of the Hulk or when talking about the old campy Hulk TV show says "Bill Bixby brings an incredible lonely pathos to that character," it's a bit pretentious. Come on Ed, admit it...the most awesome green thing about the movie is the potential for truckloads of Dead Presidents.

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The recently deceased Captain America manages to ask Ed Norton a question.

4:23 p.m. Liv Tyler sounds like she is talking in her sleep, but suddenly perks up when a female fan dressed up as an elf from Lord of the Rings pops up on screen to ask her a question. "Arwen!" she laughs. Meanwhile Ed Norton answers with a straight face, mind you, a question answered by a man wearing a Captain America suit. Welcome to Comic-Con, guys.

5:00 p.m. Before the cast and crew of Iron Man comes out, the giant screens in the room show a three-minute trailer. Honestly, before this, I was not excited one iota at the prospects of an Iron Man movie. He's always seemed like a C-list Marvel Comic about a guy in a robot suit with an incredible amount of money and an incredible mustache. But Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man makes this much more interesting. It may still be a shiny piece of trash, but it will at least be a watchable, interesting piece of trash.
And right away Mr. Downey makes it a much more interesting forum too. "Couldn't there they have been more of me?" he asks with a smirk.
Gwyneth meanwhile plays the straight man. "I love the dynamic between Pepper and Tony," she says about playing Pepper Pots. "I was incredibly honored."

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Robert Downey Jr., the coolest guy in the room.

5:10 p.m. A large black man in the audience wearing a surgical mask and an apron with fake blood on it, directs a comment to Downey.
"Robert, I'm a huge fan, I have been since Less than Zero. I feel like some of the things you've been through - I feel like we have similar pasts..."
"Oh, you were in the military, too?" Downey quips.

5:15 p.m. Marvel godfather Stan Lee makes an appearance to the biggest applause of the night and banters with Jon Favreau and Downey. "If I would have had writers like [Favreau] earlier, we could have kicked DC's butt long ago." Stan the Man obviously never saw "Made."

5:30 p.m. At the end of the panel, Favreau pleases the crowd by showing the trailer again. A 20-something man sitting behind me sings "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath as performed by Beavis and Butthead. It somehow seems appropriate.

6:00 p.m. The next group of movie panels feature the team behind graphic novel to horror movie adaptation of 30 Days of Night starring Josh Hartnett and produced by Spider-Man director Sam Raimi, Judd Apatow promoting teen comedy Superbad coming off box office success with Knocked Up, and against all odds - another Resident Evil movie.

6:15 p.m. For a moment, I feel like I've accidentally entered a parallel universe called "Hottie-Con." A giggly blonde girl in the audience gushes effusively over a bored-looking Hartnett. "Since I don't really have a question, I'll ask....what's your favorite flavor of ice cream?"
Hartnett sighs but his expression doesn't change, just like they don't while he acts. "Rocky Road," he says finally. "Mine's pistachio," notes Raimi dryly. This might be the most awkward moment of Comic-Con yet.

6:17 p.m. Here's a surprise...Raimi fields a majority of the questions, and few of them have anything to do with 30 Days of Night most of them having to do with the Evil Dead movies. When asked if Bruce Campbell makes an appearance in "30 Days," Raimi responses "No, because we wanted this to be a quality movie."

6:25 p.m. The director of Resident Evil: Extinction knows how to play up to the Comic-Con crowds. Before showing off the a scene from the movie he announces that it's the "bloodiest, goriest ones yet." And indeed, the scene is a two-minute fight in a desert between an attractive group of men and women and hard-charging, flesh-eating zombies that apparently have popped out of a shipping crate. The scene ends poetically with Ali Larter blowing a giant hole through a zombie’s head with a shotgun.

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This is what happens when adolescent males have control of cloning technology.

6:40 p.m. Hot off the Josh Hartnett awkward questions, a nerdy fan asks if he can marry Milla Jovovich. "Well, I do come with lots of strings attached," she says as glances down at her very pregnant stomach.

6:41 p.m.
Uh-oh, I was afraid of this. A nerdy fan asks Larter, who now owns a substantial amount of Comic-Con cred because she stars in Heroes, if she is familiar with her character from the Playstation video games. "My brother plays them and I know he likes them," she says. In other words, she has no clue.

6:42 p.m. Hands down the best question of the night comes from a longhaired hipster in sunglasses who resembles Heath Ledger in Lords of Dogtown. He asks the director of Resident Evil in a deadpan tone: "At the end of the movie when they fight the last boss, do they have to buy a rocket launcher from the merchant or just go at them from behind with a knife and slash away?"

6:48 p.m. Judd Apatow begins by riffing about having to follow Sam Raimi at Comic-Con. "That's not intimidating at all. I need Van Halen to come out on stage with me or something."
Apatow says it’s his first Comic-Con, but that doesn't explain how he got the idea for The 40-Year Old Virgin.

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It's the...you know, purple thing. From the future.

6:55 p.m. The star of the third session, however, is undoubtedly Michael Cera AKA George Michael from Arrested Development. The co-star of Superbad says, "I was in the bathroom and saw Robert [Downey] washing his hands. All I could think was, 'Wow, I'm in the same bathroom where Iron Man urinated.' "
Meanwhile one fangirl asks to be the mother of Cera's children and another tells him which San Diego hotel room she's staying at that night.
"There are some girls here who will fuck you to death," warns Apatow.

6:58 p.m. Seth Rogan is asked about a recent announcement that he will be playing the Green Hornet in an upcoming movie. "Why not? Can't Jews hate crime too?"

So ends my day of adventures of Comic-Con. I came, I saw, and now I need to get back to LA. I'm geeked out.