San Diego Comic-Con 2011: The Memories

A question I’ve been asking myself since I returned from the insane event known as San Diego Comic-Con is “How can one best relay a Comic-Con experience?” The entire convention is a random and intense series of experiences, conversations, happenings and emotions flying by at 100 miles per hour for a entire week. It wipes you out completely and utterly as its five of the fullest days you’ll ever experience, and yet you always leave regretting not being able to do more in the time you’re given there.

Thankfully, I don’t have the hard task of trying to boil down this massive nerd prom into a series of well written articles like so many hard-working journalists I know. I’m allowed to just load all my memories into a metaphorical blog-shaped shotgun and fire them off at the internet haphazardly hoping someone—anyone!—who reads this blog can make sense of them. In the end, these next few posts are as much for the sake of capturing my memories of the events for posterity’s sake as they are to relay my stories to you fine folks. Regardless, I had a wonderful time and here’s my attempt—in vain—to sum it all up.

In no particular order, here are my San Diego Comic-Con 2011 highlights…

The Big Reveal
Since moving over to Dark Horse’s editorial department in March, I’ve been working on a series of projects that I’m extremely excited about but haven’t been able to discuss in any way. Comic-Con marked the announcement of three of these projects in a big way and I’m personally thrilled to now be able to talk about PC and Kristin Cast’s House of Night series coming to comics via artists like Joelle Jones and Karl Kerschl, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain being adapted to the comic book medium by David Lapham and Mike Huddleston and Tom Morello (of Rage Against The Machine and The Nightwatchmen fame) launching his epic comic saga Orchid with artist Scott Hepburn. I may be biased (Ok, I’m definitely biased—but for good reason!) but I am just giddy to be working on these three series and to have them be the first comics I’ll be listed on as an assistant editor. Add that to the fact that these three huge announcements got a ton of excellent press from the likes of the LA TimesHero Complex blog, Variety, Rolling Stone, The Hollywood Reporter, CNN and quite a few others! Short version: I’m excited. I hope you are (or soon will be), as well.

It was also a bit surreal to see a piece of work I helped bring to fruition (In small, assistant editor-type ways.) revealed as an 8-foot-tall wall. It’s one of the first major endeavors I had any part in and it was very cool to see this massive piece by the crazy talented Steve Morris go from an image I looked at roughly a trillion times on my computer screen end up as one of our biggest pieces of imagery for the entire show. (Aside from the wall, the image was given away as a poster all throughout the convention, as well.)

I should take a moment to mention that a vast majority of the editorial credit for these projects should go to my head editor Sierra Hahn, and a big thanks to her for not only bringing me onto these projects but including me in them so fully. Being part of House of Night, The Strain and Orchid has not only led to the above excitement and daily thrills getting to work on these projects, but all the forthcoming rad stories as well!

Being the assistant editor on these books meant that at the convention it was part of my job to help get our big celebrity guests from place to place, meet them, chat with them and just generally make sure things went smoothly for all of them at the convention. It was a pleasure to meet PC, Kristin, Tom and Guillermo after spending so much time emailing with them, but I was thoroughly impressed by the down-to-earth, nice, personable and enthusiastic natures of these wildly successful famous folks! Due to my time in pop culture journalism, I can confirm that’s not always the case. How we ended up going four for four on these projects is just amazing.

The Casts were fun and funny and just so curious to learn how best to experience the convention floor. They’re nerds in their own right (a term I genuinely use lovingly), but I loved that they were anxious to consult a convention veteran like myself in order to get the best experience. Getting to nerd out with them as fellow Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans about seeing Sarah Michelle Gellar in the green room prior to the Dark Horse panel was a definite highlight!

Mr. Morello, who hails from my hometown of Libertyville, was a blast to hang out with. As a hometown hero I’d read up on since age 14, (In fact, I first learned Tom was from Libertyville when I saw a picture of him sporting a Libertyville Wildcats—our alma mater—t-shit in the pages of, I believe, the Guitar World magazine I was flipping through in Milwaukie Avenue’s ancient Petranek’s Pharmacy.) getting to chat with Tom and his lovely wife about my tiny suburban upbringings and how they led me to Dark Horse made for the kind of perfect nerdy experiences that seem to be reserved exclusively for Comic-Con. Add all that to getting to nerd out about comics with Tom before he knocked the socks off of Tr!ckster with a small acoustic set of Nightwatchman songs for a rapt crowd of—I’d guess—70… great conversation followed by me with a huge, dumbassed grin on my face the entire time Tom was up on stage, just enjoying the heck outta myself. Good times, to say the very least!

It’s a bit blurry, but here’s a YouTube video of part of the performance…

I only interacted briefly with Guillermo, but was shocked and super pleased he went out of his way to introduce himself to me instead of vice versa. I’m a lowly assistant editor and the director of fucking Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy made the effort to shake my hand? Holy crap doesn’t begin to cover it! Then, later on, Guillermo cuts me off as I’m about to drop in a goofy one-liner into a conversation primarily between PC and Señor del Toro and he stops the convo to apologize to me?! Sheesh! Nicest Hollywood dude I’ve ever met! Follow all that up with Guillermo saying just about everything I wish people would say about comics in our big panel and it was a good, good afternoon.

Here’s a YouTube video of the panel. All three of our big guests shine here…

GDT at about the 31-minute-mark just drops mad comic reference bombs. It’s great. But, my favorite part comes shortly after that when Guillermo says: “It’s not the novel. I wanted a comic book. Because, these days, the one thing I don’t like about a lot of the comics is that they seem to be auditions for a movie. They seem to be like, ‘Please make my movie’ comics… and I go, ‘That’s shit!’ I say each medium should have its own power. The comics should be nothing like the novel if we do our job right. They should enhance it. You should go, ‘Oh, I learned something new.'” I wish more people felt that way and I love that a guy with so much fame, money, power and notoriety feels that way. It’s encouraging!

At this time I stepped away from my computer for a few hours and realized that everything I’d previously recapped took place in all of about 10 hours over two days of the entire convention. If I keep up at this pace, this blog isn’t going to be finished until it’s Comic-Con 2012. So, more of that “shotgun approach” I promised earlier from here on out.

Assorted other highlights
-Rooming with mi amigos and fellow Dark Horse assistant editors John Schork and Patrick Thorpe. Two finer Comic-Con comrades, I could not have asked for!

-Seeing a young, timid wrestling fan ask Jill Thompson for a sketch of Mick Foley during her signing at the Dark Horse booth, her delighted laughter at the request and seeing her put together the resulting piece of adorable art!

-While grabbing a few slices of pizza with Señor Thorpe, I had my favorite celebrity sighting of the con. San Diego’s Gaslamp District is chock-full of pedicabs. As we ate our pizza on the corner of Fifth Avenue—the main drag through the Gaslamp and likely the busiest street in San Diego during Comic-Con—I spied a particularly attractive woman being peddled down the street. I looked to see who she was with and immediately realized that I’d just had my first encounter with The Doctor. That’s right, in a scene that could have been pulled directly from a Doctor Who episode, Matt Smith (The 11th Doctor) and Karen Gillan (Amy Pond) were leisurely taking a pedicab down the street without any entourage as though the TARDIS was psychically masking them from the surrounding masses of Comic-Con attendees, allowing them to fit in. A total thrill!

-Follow up moment: The face of pure disappointment Dark Horse editor extraordinaire Randy Stradley (A brand spankin’ new Who fan) made when he heard the story. It was like we’d seen Santa Claus jump up the chimney on Christmas morning and Randy had come downstairs a minute too late and missed the magic moment.

-The unexpected but eventful and hilarious visit of Hard Rock Hotel employee “John” to our room and the resulting dirty (not in a good way) story we heard about Christina Aguilera.

-Rocking the Dark Horse freebie window with both Messrs. Schork and Thorpe in different shifts and just getting to engage fans, joke around and generally spread the good cheer of Comic-Con we were all infused with. Oh, and getting to give away a ton of rad free stuff and seeing the smiles it put on a whole bunch of faces—gotta love it!

-Follow up moment: Twice at the booth, I commented on the t-shirts of two separate fans who were easily 65 or 70 years old. (I handed out a lot of t-shirt compliments… always good fun!) One lovely old woman wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt and I traded our Matt Smith siting stories while an older gentleman in a Supernatural shirt and I had a brief chat about Los Bros Winchester. They weren’t the only older fans I had great interactions with and I got to have quick bits of banter with plenty of younger fans too. It’s always nice to be reminded that devoted fandom knows no age boundary!

-Double follow up moment: This is a general one, but this year I think I realized one of the main reasons I love Comic-Con and comic conventions in general. In today’s society, I feel like people are subtly encouraged to be private and keep to themselves. We walk around or go to the gym with headphones on or earbuds in. We text and email rather than pick up the phone in many cases. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it is the way things are a lot of the time. And yet, at Comic-Con, everyone there knows they’re surrounded by like-minded individuals (Devoted fans of one thing or another) and that it’s encouraged to talk to anyone and everyone at each and every booth, not to mention fellow attendees. I loved how receptive people were when I went up to them and asked them if they needed help or had any questions and I loved that almost everyone seemed ready to come up and ask a question or chat. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of random conversations I had with fans that just made me feel lucky to do what I do and be in the position I’m in at Dark Horse. Notably, chatting with a young man who was a very informed Gerard Way fan and who was just a bundle of pure enthusiasm and also a duo of fellow Portlanders, one of whom was wearing a Ground Kontrol shirt and our brief banter about pinball. There’s too many rad little moments like that to recall… I’m getting sappy just thinking about it, but hey, Comic-Con filled me with warm fuzzies, guys! I’m gonna have to gush a little!

Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá‘s Eisner Award acceptance speech…

…it speaks for itself, I think. I’ve got a brother, too. So, as a brother moment, it really hit hard in the right spots for me.

-Another Eisner Awards story: At the door, I told the woman with the guest list to check under Gibbons for my name. The woman, trying to be nice but clearly confused goes, “Oh, we love your work.” I replied, “Oh, I think you’re thinking of someone else,” knowing full well she was thinking of comics legend Dave Gibbons. She then said something along the lines of “No, no, we love your work,” obviously thinking I was being modest. As a still fairly green assistant editor who hasn’t worked on a single book that’s actually hit stands and features my name in the credits, I chuckled and told her she’s definitely thinking of someone else, but it’s not a big deal. Mr. Thorpe and I were then both informed we were personally nominated for Eisner Awards (Entirely untrue). I’ve never received so many undeserved/mistaken compliments in a single two minute dialogue. Craziness.

-The next day, I actually got a chance to fulfill a longtime comics-related lark of mine when I finally got to meet Dave Gibbons. Over a year ago when I was in publicity, we’d emailed and I couldn’t help but drop the line “Nice last name” or some such in there. Dave kindly didn’t have me fired for such a dull joke, so my confidence was bolstered as “the other Gibbons in comics” to chat up this sequential storytelling great when he was signing at the Dark Horse booth. Surprisingly, Dave spied my name tag when I went up to introduce myself and remembered me. I told him my story of mistaken identity from the night before and got a comic signed for my dad, a fellow Dave Gibbons. Mr. Gibbons—the famous comic artist, not my dad, just to be clear—went on to tell a pretty hilarious story about a mysterious box of red panties being delivered to his house when he’d had a case of mistaken identity with a third Dave Gibbons. The long and short of it, Dave “Watchmen” Gibbons is a really great, funny, friendly guy! It was a real pleasure to meet him!

-On that topic, I was also really pleased to meet Jenny Frison, a woman responsible for an insane amount of beautiful comics work. Jenny—aside from being a delight to chat with—is the first comic artist I’ve gotten a chance to meet face-to-face who’s providing art for a book I’m working on as an assistant editor. It’s always nice to meet great, talented people, but it was this awesome little moment for me where I thought, “Holy shit! I actually work on comic books and I’m talking to an artist I’ve emailed with about one of the books I’m assisting on. This job is actually real. Holy shit!” Thankfully, that nerd-out moment was entirely internal and I didn’t make a complete ass out of myself, I think…

-Getting to see so many great and wonderful people who I haven’t seen in a long time: Kevin Mahadeo, Steve Sunu, Steve Gerding, Kiel Phegley, Mel Caylo, Jonah Weiland, Shaun Manning, Remy Minnick, Dark Horse interns extraordinaire Scottie Johnson and Jeannie An, Jim McCann, Leigh Walton, Marc Bernardin and man, oh man… many, many more. I feel like I’m forgetting tons of people! Apologies, folks!

-Getting to meet a ton of great new people, many of whom I’ve interacted with via email or twitter for a long time but have never gotten a chance to actually meet: Christine Dinh, Saz Park, David Brothers, Deb Aoki, David Gallaher, Adam Rosenberg, Cameron Stewart, Dan Hipp, Steve Seeley, and… wow, many more here as well, I’m sure! Tremendously sorry to whoever I missed.

-Oh, and one more brief meeting… On Sunday, right as the con ended, I was heading to the Dark Horse Booth for tear down when someone yelled “Do you like stickers? Have a sticker!” I walk up and grab the sticker and realize “Hey, that’s Zach Weiner!” So, I say, “Hey, you’re Zach Weiner!” He says, “Yeah!” I realize that’s a weird thing to shout at someone, even if it is their name, so I say, “I read your comic!” He says, “Oh, you work at Dark Horse” after seeing my name tag. We exchange a brief “Nice to meet you” and I run off to tear down the DH booth. A super short meeting, but a quick hello with the creator of one of your favorite webcomics is a pretty nice way to end Comic-Con!


Okay, phew! I think I hit majority of the high points, but I plan to post some pictures and rundown the items I brought home from the con, so… more stories later if I remember something I’ve totally forgotten here. Hopefully, I haven’t! I think I’d feel bad about it at this point considering the amount of time I’ve spent trying to remember everything and everyone that made this Comic-Con great.

There’s a ton of Dark Horse people who weren’t mentioned here, but they all deserve many hugs and pats on the back. They all did tremendous jobs at the show! Same goes for some of my fellow Portlanders who helped make the con great for me, but who I see all the time, so I’ll just tell you folks how much fun I had with you to your beautiful, awesome faces!

And now I’m rambling… That’s it for now. A few more Comic-Con 2011 posts and then that’ll be that. Stories, right?! Fun!

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