Monday, July 23, 2012

The Aurora Colorado Shooting and My Thoughts On It

I don't need to tell anyone what a horrific and senseless act this was. I was shocked to hear it, and the scant facts that have emerged in the past forty-eight hours have done nothing to make me feel any less betrayed, upset, and strangely violated by what happened.

I'm just sick that this took place in a movie theater. Not because I own a movie theater myself (well, okay, a little bit, yeah), but because it feels like someone has desecrated one of the last sacred spaces left to us. One of the only places where we can let our guards down and dream and push the world and all of its lunacy aside for a couple of hours.

Hot on the heels of this have come the 24-hour new cycle's ubiquitous and likewise ridiculous speculation that violent movies, video games, black trenchcoats, and red hair dye were somehow the cause of this kid's actions. Not a word said about the fact that the shooter is clearly not entirely human (and I mean that in terms of development, not dna). It's inarguable that he's missing some programming, that it's either chemical in nature, or he's just been screwy and sociopathic for years and no one ever caught it. It wouldn't be the first time crazy slipped past our radar, would it?

But with no answers in sight, the old familiar bugbears and chestnuts are trotted out. Violence in the movies, video games, and an oldie but a goodie--comic books. Good Lord, what next? Gum in our schools?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

San Diego Stories: Thursday

This year, I shared a room with one of my oldest, closest friends, and two perfect strangers. Thankfully, the two people we didn't know turned out to be excellent traveling companions and roommates. If only we weren't packed in like sardines, it would have been very pleasant. When our fourth showed up, we tried to get a rollaway bed for our room. "We're all out," they informed me.

Well, do you have a cancellation on a room, perhaps?

"Oh no," the lady said. "We no have cancellations. It's Comics-Con," she said.

I know it is, I assured her. But sometimes, people's plans change, and it's not like the Best Western Bay Side Hotel is particularly close to the action or anything. So, if something should open up...

"But we no have any openings," she said again. "It's Comics-Con."

I thanked her for not being able to help me at all, and asked myself how bad could it be? Hotel rooms aren't for anything but sleeping during Comic-Con, and so we sallied forth for breakfast and then made for the convention center.

The Bayside Hilton, whoring itself out to a television show.
It's difficult to accurately describe the size and scope of this show. It's probably easiest to compare it to some of the spectacle of Las Vegas, but even that falls a little short, mostly because Vegas was built for it and San Diego just wasn't.

See, the show has totally outgrown the convention center. They doubled the size of the place, back in the mid-nineties, when Hollywood first started sniffing around the convention. Since then, it's spilled out into the Gaslamp, across the street, and into two adjacent hotels. And it's packed to the gills again. The citizenry of San Diego, according to one local I spoke to, is contemplating adding onto the convention center--again. Since there's not a scrap of land left to develop, this would mean going out into the bay or something. I don't know how they'd do it.

Thursday is officially Day One of the show, and it's the most sparsely attended, as if anyone can tell the difference. I mean, I'm a people person, and I don't fear crowds, or get stage fright, or anything like that, but when the numbers start creeping up around 100,000, I just shut down. I'm only so entertaining, you know. I'm not Bon Jovi.

As exhibitors, we got in before the masses, to set up our tables. This didn't take long, and so I wandered around to inspect the floor before the chaos. It was nice, until the loud, booming, animatronic voice admonished me to get back to my booth, because traffic in the aisles would delay the opening of the floor. Everyone there was pointedly ignoring the voice, because we all knew damn well that as soon as the floor opened, we'd all be trapped behind our booths until the bell sounded some ten hours later and this was our one and only chance to snap a picture of some statue or booth before the crowds pressed in and tried to kill us all.

I tried to do one fun or fannish thing a day, which was actually pretty difficult to do. I made the conscious decision to watch the Assassin's Creed III presentation, for a couple of reasons: I wanted to see the game footage, of course, and also I wanted to see how they were presenting the material. In other words, what was their dog and pony show like over at Ubisoft.

Well, I learned a couple of things right away: these big entertainment companies, whether we're talking about a movie studio or a game studio, are less interested in meeting the end consumer and more interested in delivering their sales pitch. Whether that pitch is in the form of a cheap-ass t-shirt, or a blow up vinyl tomahawk (the new weapon du jour in Assassin's Creed III), these folks don't want your feedback. They want you out on the floor, wearing the shirt, flaunting the tomahawk, and in general being good little corporate shills for the mothership.

That said, the game footage I watched was really impressive. The people working the booth were friendly and excited and pleasant and ridiculously on-script at all times. These out of work actors from L.A. and other parts of California were only too happy to say their lines and hand out the gewgaws, and that above statement could be applied to literally every other company just like Ubisoft that was on the floor.

Some of these companies had crow's nests where some of the executives could sit above the fracas, looking out over the floor, and not have to mix with the rabble in any way. I found that particularly insulting. Either be here, at the show, or don't. If you're that freaked out by the unwashed masses, then maybe you need to stick to Internet marketing.

On the plus side: there were a variety of cosplayers dressed as Altair and Enzio (from the game). I walked by one of them and said, clearly in her direction: "Nothing is true." She let me get three steps ahead of her and replied, "Everything is permitted." I gave her the high sign and we went our separate ways. I tried it with a few other cosplayers, but no one else took the bait.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

My ArmadilloCon Schedule

This year, they are apparently taking it easy on me, but that doesn't mean I won't give YOU, the faithful attendees of Austin's premier literary SF convention, the full meal deal at all of my various and sundry engagements. See below for a list of where I'll be, and when. Stalking is encouraged. Autographs and photo opportunities abound. Please, no groping.

            Apes and Zeppelins  Fri 9:00 PM-10:00 PM Trinity
C. Brown, B. Crider, S. Cupp, M. Finn*, R. Klaw, J. Lansdale, J. Nevins, D. Webb
Last year Joe Lansdale tossed down the gauntlet at the Apes in SF panel, challenging all comers to produce a story worthy of a classic cover from Zeppelin Tales: "The Gorilla of the Gasbags". Our valiant panelists discuss their responses.

            April Fools! Sat Noon-1:00 PM San Marcos
B. Denton, G. Faust, M. Finn, L. Person*, D. Webb
Favorite prank announcements from writers and publishers. Our panel may suggest some for the future...

            Reading  Sat 2:30 PM-3:00 PM Pecos  Mark Finn

            Signing Sat 4:00 PM-5:00 PM Dealers' Room
B. Crider, S. Cupp, M. Finn, R. Klaw, D. Webb

            Fannish Feud Sat 5:00 PM-6:00 PM Trinity
F. Duarte, B. Parker, S. Bobo, M. Finn*, S. Lynch

            Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Live Theater: Sat 6:00 PM-7:00 PM Trinity
M. Finn*, L. Gorinsky, T. Mallory, M. Maresca, J. Neulander,
The history and challenges of live productions (theater and radio), for either SF or fantasy. Our panel discusses of radio productions and stage recreations, fan & semi-pro theater at conventions, SF&F movies that crossed to or from stage, and the special challenges of live theater for the genre.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

San Diego Stories: Wednesday Night

Preview Night is Wednesday night, and it is the only real time you have a chance to walk around, unmolested, and actually see stuff. This is especially true if you're an exhibitor, because once the show starts, you're trapped at your booth until they say otherwise. So, as you can imagine, everyone in the room was running hither and thither trying to snap pictures, talk to a creator, or get something signed while they could.

That's how I ended up in line for Darwyn Cooke's newest release from IDW, The Score.  This is the third adaptation of Richard Stark's brilliant crime series featuring the enigmatic and pragmatic Parker. It's possible you don't know what I'm talking about, so get thee over to the excellent website, The Violent World of Parker, and read Darwyn's interview with the guys. It's worth doing.

In any case, I spent about an hour and a half in line to meet the man, and I was one of the last ones actually in line, to boot. The last time I waited that long in a line to meet someone at a convention was Joe Kubert. So, yeah, I don't normally do that kind of thing. I just don't. But it was well worth it to me, just to get a little face time with Darwyn and shake his hand and thank him for doing the book. He drew a little Parker profile in my book, too; it's maybe eleven connected lines and it's perfect.

While in line, I got to have a couple of cool conversations with the two guys on either side of me in the line. You do that at San Diego, a lot. I ran into Joseph McCabe, an old friend and fellow writer. We shot the bull for a while until he was allowed to surreptitiously cut the line with me, and so all was right with the world. Joe was the first of many people I'd run into over the next five days that I've not seen in years.

Between the guys with me in line and Joe, I was almost able to deal with the guy taking photographs of the toys in one of the cases set up by an IDW affiliate. The resin statues were striking and wonderful and expensive, and none of this is in dispute. But this chucklehead with his camera insisted on taking multiple--dozens, really--of photos of each model from every angle he could get at. And between his camera bag, the rig he was shooting with, his haversack, and his constant squatting and shifting, he was completely disrupting the line. It was clear that he had no intention of buying anything, but reacted to anyone trying to work around him as if his picture taking was the most important thing in the world.

Truthfully, I felt sorry for the affiliate creators. They were, from the looks of things, concept artists, and while we were all politely checking out their table stuff as we were trapped into doing so, none of us were there for that. Occasionally some fan would try to wedge his way through us, and we were pretty shitty to them. One guy asked if we were in line for those creators and I replied, "Naw, we're all getting the same tattoo." He laughed, and moved around to the other side. Irritating for all, sure, but by no means the most untenable thing at the convention. Nearly every booth had some kind of traffic flow problem and there wasn't really anything to be done about it. Welcome to San Diego.

Whilst milling around, I also ran into Chris Roberson and Allison Baker, Chris Cox, Martin Thomas, Kerry Gammill, and Shannon Wheeler. It really felt like a family reunion. I forget sometimes how many people I actually know in the comics industry, until I see them all in San Diego.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dispelling a few Myths about Comic-Con International

I've not attended San Diego Comic-Con every year, but I have seen it when it was approximately one-fourth its current size and focused mainly on comic books--you know, those things that they keep making zillion dollar movies out of? Over the last twenty five years, I've watched Comic-Con morph into something that has completely and totally outgrown itself to the point that it no longer really is the thing it purports to be. I may follow that cryptic utterance up later, but for now, I just wanted to tip over a few sacred cows for those of you who still have any allusions about what this annual show is or the function it serves.

"Going to Comic-Con is going to be my big break!"

Maybe twenty five or thirty years ago, but not now. Oh, there's some portfolio review that takes place, sure, and if you're REALLY, REALLY GOOD, and you are not from this country so you don't have a real sense of what everyone else makes, you might just get hired. Maybe. If you're lucky.

But meeting an editor? Forget it. Schmooze a publisher? You wish. It doesn't happen. Not on the fan level, not anymore. The show is too big, and everyone is too busy just dealing with the people, the booth, the presentation, etc. It's a real chore. If you can get into one of the after hours parties, people don't want to talk business. They want a break from it. So, good luck with that pitch you were planning on delivering. It's social suicide.

What you CAN do is make a contact. Exchange business cards. But you'll have to massage that contact after the show, over time, at smaller venues. No one gets hired on the Comic-Con floor. Uneless, you know, they suddenly do.

"Dude, let's film a documentary of Comic-Con and put it on YouTube! We'll be Internet Famous!"

Yeah, you and literally every sixth person at the show. There's more news media here, covering the convention in minute detail, than normally shows up for a Branch Davidian Massacre. Coverage? This isn't the Skull and Bones Initiation Ceremony, here. It's one giant press release after another. It's transparent, it's so covered. All you're going to do with your very impressive camera rig is cause massive log jams in the walkways wherever you go, and wear your shoulder out in the process. Leave the documentary to real filmmakers.

"This is my chance to talk to (Fill in the blank celebrity who means so much to me)!"

If you like comic book creators, then yes. If you want to spend thirty bucks on a color photo of Erin Gray for her to sign for you, then yes. But that's about the limit of your interaction. The comic and book people at the show are grateful for their audience showing up and talking to them. It's needed and necessary. But understand this: you will not get to go to dinner with Felicia Day. You won't "bump into" Nathan Fillian and become besties. You MAY see comedians and other somewhat famous celebrities in the crowd, but they will be shopping, and they will actively act like they don't see you, so that they can buy the new Sideshow Toys action figure or Darwin Cooke Parker graphic novel like a regular geek. It's what it is.

And it's not just the celebrities, either. All of the big movie companies are here, promoting their films. All of the big video game studios are here, too, doing the same thing. But here's the deal: the people at the booth are hired marketing people. They aren't connected with the studio in any way. You won't get to meet Sly Stallone, even though he's got a vested interest in you seeing The Expendables II. Likewise, you won't meet any developers for Activision, or Ubisoft. Just the people giving out free swag. And speaking of free swag:

"Look at all of the Cool Loot you can score at Comic-Con!"

Ah, yes, the loot. It falls into two categories: Convention exclusives that cost two-to-three times what normal toys, comics, and posters would normally cost.  This is usually advertised in advance, and you can sometimes pre-order it and pick it up at the show. Mostly, though, you'll be in a lottery drawing for what time you can come back and shop--and you just hope they don't run out.

The other category of loot is the cheap, plastic disposable crap that has a movie logo imprinted on it, or a show's tag line. Today I saw a line stretched across two aisles and around four more--all to pick up a tote bag and a sharpie. That's right. A tote bag. And a sharpie marker. Granted, the sharpie marker had a logo imprinted on the side, but we're not talking about the crown jewels, here. If you DO find some unique item--a blow up sword, a punch out hat, or something else of that nature, you won't be the only one with it. They made 50,000 of them. And the people brandishing them successfully spend about an hour in line to obtain them.

These are common pitfalls to avoid. I mean, if you really LIKE something that they are giving away for free, by all means, get in line. Or spend that money. The Mattel Avengers Helicarrier that will display all of your Marvel Universe figures will set you back $140 bucks. It's over four feet long, and the box is enormous. Good luck getting it on the plane. But that's part of what makes Comic-Con so unique, is that you can in fact score the right thing at the right time.

But you can't do everything. And dispel all of those illusions. It's a giant, enormous ad. And if you come here, you're a willing participant. You have been warned. 

Random San Diego Thoughts, part 1

I finally got to meet Darwin Cooke. We talked a little bit about Donald Westlake and he told me that he's going to adapt "Butcher's Moon." I nearly passed out. Nine out of ten of you won't know what the hell that means, but the one in ten of you who just yelled out loud--yeah, I know, right?

I'm stunned at the number of people I run into that I know--in these huge crowds--of all places. It's one of the little joys of San Diego for me that I get to have all of these mini-reunions with folks.

I cannot get over how big this show is now. I consistently underestimate it. But I have a signing tomorrow, so that'll be interesting. I'm also cataloging the different types of people in the Comic-Con crowd. Look for that later. For now, though, sleep. It's been a long day, most of which was just getting here. Tomorrow, I'll be more lucid.