Wednesday, July 29, 2009

San Diego Snapshots

So San Diego Comic-Con 2009 has come and gone and after a five-day stint on the left coast, I'm back in scenic New Jersey. It was a long five days, it was an exhausting five days, but in the end, it was one of the more enjoyable times I've had at a comic convention that I can remember.

SDCC has a special place in my heart as the 2004 show was actually the first major comic con I'd ever attended, on my own dime, fresh out of college and determined to land a job in the industry. I have extremely fond memories of that incredible experience and remember how blown away I was by the aura of SDCC and comics in general, and how I knew for sure by the time I boarded my flight back to Boston that I didn't just want to work in comics, I had to work in comics. I also met some creators who would become very important influences on my career and who I count as friends to this day for the first time.

Five years later, I returned to San Diego for the first time, now an experienced comics professional; it was a very proud moment for me.

I spoke with Phil Jimenez for a bit last Friday about how no other con has ever been the same for me since that first SDCC, as every other show I've attended I've been working, either for Wizard and Marvel, and while I wouldn't trade that for anything, it's tough to recapture that initial awe when you're "part of the show" so to say. However, even though I definitely spent my time in California this year working more than playing, I think I had more good conversations with both old friends and creators I'd never had the pleasure of really speaking with at this show than any other I can remember. I had some wonderful quiet evenings with friends and some cool crazy moments that come with the territory of Comic-Con. I felt like I accomplished a lot this week both personally and professionally, so San Diego is definitely still magic for me.

Anyhow, before the memories fade to the ravages of time, here are some scattershot thoughts on my SDCC 2009 experience...

(Apologies for a few out-of-date photos and some publicity shots, but I don't actually own a camera)

-Wednesday, following Preview Night, my man Ryan Penagos scored me and the rest of the crew into a party at Stingaree hosted by Activision, the makers of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. We were all pretty exhausted from a day of travel and work, so we crashed on a free couch in the corner, ignoring the giant sign for the game Singularity that was positioned there. Some polite fellas from G4 came over to inform us they were going to be interviewing the game's creator in front of the sign, and had we been awake enough to have any manners, we would have offered to move, but instead we said, "Ok, cool," didn't budge, and they went ahead and shot their bit with us lounging in the background talking and drinking. I'd feel worse, but the dude they were talking to was wearing a heavy white winter coat. In San Diego. In the summer. C'mon.

-At the Marvel booth (awesomely run by the ever capable Tim Dillon and Mike Pasciullo), we had some very cool signings with VIPs who were so in demand that we capped our lines by holding raffles to determine who would get to line up. One of these signings was with Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau and I served as part of his oh-so-impressive security detail, helping form a "human wall" between him and the crowd as he was taking the stage; I swear, as much as I love Favreau and his work, all I could think of was how much he looked like (outfit and all) like his character from I Love You Man and what a douche that guy was. The other big signing was the one and only Stan Lee, and unfortunately, one young man and his mom showed up late for the raffle, so he wasn't able to get in the line. He was a really good kid though, so I told his mom to bring him back during the signing and I'd figure something out. He did come back and the guys doing security at our booth were cool enough to give me a hand and let the kid be in the "human wall" so Stan walked right by him and waved to him as his mom snapped a great picture; so yeah, even I got to feel like a hero at Comic-Con.

-On Thursday night, Ryan got us into another video game party, this time featuring a concert by GWAR. After waiting in line for a bit, we got in, got frisked, and got handed ear plugs. We were all starving and the band wasn't going on for like an hour, so we popped out to grab some food, and somewhere during the search for rations, my former intern Marc Strom and I conferred and agreed that about the time we got frisked, our interest in that particular party had waned. Instead, we opted to head to a karaoke "Drink and Draw" event at Hennesey's bar where we met up with one of my very favorite people in comics, Todd Nauck, and his lovely wife, Dawn. We had a great time and I got to chat more than I ever had in previous meetings with Dawn while Todd did a rad Nova sketch for me (which I'll post as soon as I scan it) and an Impulse for Strommy. Todd had also bailed me out earlier that day when I had another buddy, WWE's Hurricane, visiting at the Marvel booth in full costume and he rushed over to do a sketch of wrestling's number one super hero on short notice so we could film it for both and -After leaving the Naucks, I hit the fabled Hyatt bar for the first time this year for a Cool Kids Table meet up with Kiel and Rickey. While Strommy and I waited outside the hotel, we ran into Frank Tieri, who informed us he planned on sneaking into a party being hosted by Megan Fox. I believe my exact response to him was, "Frank, I know you well enough to know any plan you are currently hatching is going to end not with you meeting Megan Fox, but with you being dragged out by security while cursing and yelling, 'I wrote Wolverine for two and a half years!'" Saw Frank again the next day, and wouldn't you know, sumbitch proved me half-wrong: he did get into the party, but he didn't get to meet Megan Fox (he claims he saw her but she "looked busy"). I also ran into Hurricane again and debated the life expectancy of Twitter with him (I give it another year and a half).

-Once Kiel, Rickey and I did meet up, we decided we'd spend the rest of the night getting pictures of the three of us with various characters and posting the pics here. I think we got one with Sean McKeever and then called it a night--so look for that picture here soon!

-Hurricane wasn't the only wrestler I got to hang with at SDCC, as my pal "The Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels, one of the flat out coolest dudes I know and a total nerd, was also in the house. Chris and I just click and have a blast when we get to meet up, so maybe the most fun I had the entire con was Sunday when I spent most of the day with him as he took over my usual job as's official video interviewer, and conducted Q&As with Mike McKone, Axel Alonso, Marjorie Liu, Mark Brooks, Jim McCann, C.B. Cebulski, Travis Charest, Matt Fraction and probably a couple that I'm missing. Chris was a natural and his series of interviews will be on the site shortly, but my favorite parts were definitely when he'd throw in a random wrestling question like "When you get into wrestling, what will your finishing move be?" or "When we tag up, are you gonna be the power or the speed?" (and it was always WHEN, not If). However, we were both taken aback when Chris was speaking with nice, mild-mannered Travis Charest, asked him what his wrestling catchphrase would be, and Travis launched into a full-on "Macho Man" Randy Savage style promo at the camera--awesome! You can check out a sneak peak of me and Chris at the con here.

-Chris wasn't the only TNA wrestler I got to meet and interview, as I also had the treat of jamming with one of my favorite tag teams, Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin, the Motor City Machine Guns. I dig the Guns because they're not only great wrestlers, but they're also hilarious in their promos and very quick-witted, so I considered it a point of pride that I was able to keep up with them pretty well during our interview, particularly when we bagged on Chris' ankh chest tattoo and his recently-shaved "John Travolta from The Taking of Pelham 123" goatee. Of course the dude who made it all possible, TNA's marketing guru Steve Godfrey (who, FYI, towers over not only me but Chris and the Guns as well), wouldn't have even been able to get into the con without me as he didn't get a badge and I lent him my spare press credentials, so he got to go around as Ben Morse all day Friday.

-After we wrapped work on Friday, Ryan and I both put on our snazziest outfits and mosied on over to The Palm, where Marvel was hosting a dinner for staff and talent. I'd be lying if I said the delicious Shrimp Bruno and ridiculous 16 ounce steak didn't make me a happy (and full) camper, but the best part of the evening for me was getting to have great interactions with two creators who I've admired since I was a kid but never really gotten to interact with. First, before dinner, I ended up chatting with Captain America artist extraordinaire Steve Epting, just a kind, solid, funny guy with some awesome stories to tell, and you better believe I brought up those damn Avengers jackets; Steve lauged his ass off and claimed no responsibility for that faux pas. During the meal itself, Ryan and I were seated at a table where Peter David held court, which was an absolute treat as he dished on everything from why he wrote that famous "X-Aminations" issue during his first run on X-Factor to what easter eggs George Perez hid in Hulk: Future Imperfect. What were they? Sorry folks, some stuff stays at the dinner table.

-Probably my personal favorite anecdote of the show came as the floor was closing on Saturday afternoon. Myself, Ryan and Eisner award-winning assistant editor Alejandro Arbona spotted our boy Mel Caylo taking apart the Archaia booth for the evening and decided to have some fun with him. We hid behind another booth and started yelling, "Mel! Mel!" in our most girlish voices (not too tough), hoping we could fool him. Mel didn't even hear us, however, Heroes star Milo Ventimiglia, who was walking right by us with his entourage, did and thought we were yelling "Milo! Milo!" He stopped his whole crew and asked us what we wanted, but we were totally oblivious to him even being there and continued to yell for Mel. Eventually, Ryan turned and said, "Mel didn't hear us, he must be drunk," at which point Milo realized we didn't even know he was there and got a bit embarassed. Trying to save face or something, he chuckled audibly and said something like, "Hey, I can hear you, guys," at which point we turned to him with what I can only describe as completely douchey "Who the fuck are you and why are you interjecting yourself into our conversation?" faces, causing him to round up his guys and scurry off. At that point, I realized who he was and said, "Guys, I think we just shamed Peter from Heroes." How do I know this is how it all went down when I wasn't even privy to Milo being there the bulk of the time? Because Wizard alum Steve Hoveke was working Milo's security detail and told me later over Facebook.

-Saturday night, following a fantastic dinner at The Tin Fish (I had scrumptious grilled calamari), the usual suspects and I hit up for my money checked out the coolest promotional stunt of the show, Flynn's Arcade, which was set up to hype the upcoming Tron Legacy film. I've never seen the original Tron, but from what I was told, this was an exact replica of one of that flick's key locations, complete with vintage 80's arcade games, music and more. After about 10 minutes, the neon lights start flashing, the music goes all techno, and the back wall opens to reveal a hallway of Tron concept art that leads to a full-on replica of the souped up light cycle that will be used in the new movie. Totally sweet and definitely unique.

-On Sunday, got to interview bigtime British celebrity Jonathan Ross about Marvel's acquisition of Marvelman. Admittedly, I had heard Jonathan's name, but didn't really know much about him prior to when we talked; he turned out to be an extremely nice, very funny guy and I'm looking forward to the video hitting the site. The one thing that did weird me out, however, is that he totally changes his accent--albeit subtly--from when he's off camera to when he's off camera, which very much caught me by surprise.

-One of the real highlights of the whole five days for me was that I got to spend some time with my good friend and ostensible mentor Geoff Johns (I think he'd probably get mad if I called him my mentor straight up without adding a qualifier because he's a humble guy) on Sunday. I believe I mentioned before that Geoff was the guy who got me into the comics business in the first place, noticing my stuff online while I was still in college and then going to bat for me with Wizard to get my my first job there. We first met face-to-face at that first SDCC five years ago, so it was fun to remind him of that and to have him tell me what a "punk kid" I was. Geoff and I don't get to talk nearly as often as I'd like now that I'm at Marvel, he's at DC and I'm not calling to interview him every other week, so whenever we get to have an extended chat it's a special occasion for me. I actually stopped by the DC booth looking for Rickey when I ran into Geoff at the tail end of a signing he had totally by accident, but we hadn't seen each other for more than five minutes in ages, so he pulled me into the conference room set up in the booth and we reminisced and updated; I was totally waiting the entire time for a DC higher-up to bust in and wonder why their number one writer was having what looked like a closed door meeting with a guy wearing a big ass Marvel Staff badge.

-Spider-Man editor Steve Wacker and I came up with a plethora of money-making ideas this past week, as we are want to do. I'd prefer not to get into the details (particularly on how we plan to sell a Shazam! cartoon to DC without spending any actual money on production), but I will give you this: AberZombie & Fitch.

-The con ended as all truly good cons should: with Jim McCann wearing a cape.

And that was San Diego Comic-Con 2009--a whole lot of fun and craziness! And I can't wait to read Rickey and Kiel's reports to relive the madness even more!


Twyst said...

heyhey Ben :) It was awesome to meet/hangout during SDCC - i especially enjoy your Heroes anecdote! I am sad i missed that one, but happy about the arcade. Drool at my free tshirt and Flynn's token, nerds!

Ben Morse said...

I forgot to mention during my Flynn's story that you, a Canadian lost at air hockey! :-p

Twyst said...

omg - it was AIR HOCKEY. that doesnt COUNT. i have played like 4x in my life, and Judy admitted to being semi-pro! :P
Also, i hope this entry gets turned into quebecoise.

Ben Morse said...

The Cool Kids Table is huge in Canada!

Twyst said...

And Quebec! You should run your own convention here. But you will need a string of translators working in tandem.

Ben Morse said...

How is Quebec different from Canada?

Twyst said...

agh... hard to explain ;)

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