SDCC Journal: Day One

With all that’s been going on lately, it’s been difficult to find time to write about San Diego Comic-Con, and I apologize. This should be a nice break from the somber to let my mind loose about what was the most exciting week of our lives. Adrian and I had been wanting to go to SDCC for a few years now, solidified by last year’s “blue balls” incident where a random Craigslister sold our passes because we couldn’t get the money to him from Denver. We made it our mission to get passes this year; I did hours of research to make sure this trip would go as smoothly as possible. After a ridiculous online waiting list, we were able to get our passes and continued to plan the rest of our trip – details in which I will elaborate in a “Noobies’ Guide to SDCC” early next year for those looking to make the nerd pilgrimage.

Our flight was scheduled to leave at 11 AM Wednesday, so we would have plenty of time to rest and get ready in the morning, but like a kid waiting for Santa Claus, I spent the whole night wondering about what was to come. I had gathered all our documents on my iPad, dissected the schedule and the map of the Convention Center and readied the list of exclusives and things people wanted us to bring back. Always being the one to function off three hours of sleep, I counted down the seconds until 6 AM, the time I was permitted to wake Adrian up. And much like a child at Christmas, in total, I attempted to awaken her six times, finally succeeding at 6:45 AM. After the customary McDonald’s breakfast, we were on our way. Printing off boarding passes in advance sent us to security, where Adrian was “randomly” selected for search. Whenever my family travels, my mother is always the one that is stopped. It’s become somewhat of an inside joke with us that, among three other Egyptians, she is our “decoy.” Adrian does not take as kindly to the sentiment, fuming and cursing the airport out loud. She’s quite the firecracker, but it’s why I love her. She’s never unwilling to speak her mind and let people know when they are being unfair; it’s so Buffy of her. So, we get to gate, and I realize that even with my plethora of digital books and comics, I need a real book. I stop at the crowded bookstore next to our gate and head straight to the Graphic Novel section. Nothing. Defeated, I am on my way out and I notice Dream Team by Jack MacCullum. I’d seen excerpts and liked it, so I gave it a go (it’s ended up being one of my favorite basketball books ever; expect a review once I finish it completely). The checkout girl noticed my Batman hat and asked if we were going to Comic-Con, which I replied yes to. Like a girlfriend whose friend had finally gotten that date with a big crush, she shrieked with excitement, jumping up and down. While odd at the moment, it really set the tone for the trip. It let us know that it would not just be some pop culture orgy (which it surely was), but rather an epiphany of belonging.

We arrived in San Diego around 1:30 PM and the weather was great, around 75 with decent humidity. The sight of palm trees always puts me into vacation mode. San Diego is busy and dirty, although nowhere near Los Angeles’ level of filth. There is tons of construction going on and it made us wonder if they gave the whole city the week off to compensate for the insane traffic from SDCC, because we are at the hotel in less than 30 minutes. We stayed at the Town and Country Resort, a quaint little place that had been said to once host the San Diego Comic-Con in its main ballroom (a claim that I was not able to prove through my expert Googling). After checking in and leaving our stuff in the room, we proceeded to the SDCC check-in at the main ballroom, a huge room that, while it could easily fit the Denver Comic-Con in it, would only be maybe 1/10 of the biggest room at SDCC. Upon entering, the ballroom was filled with the wonderful sounds of John Williams’ Star Wars theme song. Now walking with great purpose, we picked up our badges and were greeted by volunteers handing out event guides (Tarzan 100th Anniversary), souvenir books (Marvel Heroes’ 50th Year) and swag bags (DC Nation). “Swag,” a word I revolt when it comes to a person’s persona, was a frequently used term at the Convention to describe, to put eloquently, “all types of cool SHIT!” These bags were big enough to substitute for a potato sack race, if need be. Excited to get to the Convention Center, we eagerly awaited the bus to take us there.

When we pulled up to Petco Park, the San Diego Padres’ baseball field, directly adjacent to SDCC, we were in awe at the number of people there. Not having eaten since that morning, we took it upon ourselves to get a snack at the first of many food trucks parked in a nearby lot. SuperQ had more than just the best sweet potato fries and potato salad around; they had workers in green capes and masks. For those unknowing to the workings of SDCC, Wednesday is referred to as ‘Preview Night,’ in which people line up for hours, literally, to see TV shows that will come out in a few months. Seemed like kind of waste of time to us, so we decided to check out the Exhibitors’ Hall. After finding out that it didn’t open for another couple hours, we decided to try to trade out swag bags, realizing that there was a Dark Knight Rises bag floating around. After meeting two very outspoken and polite comic book shop owners from North Carolina, (Update) John and Mark (unfortunately, we were not able to get their store name and never saw them again), they joined us in our plight for a DKR bag. They weren’t after anything we had, and they asked for nothing in return; it just made them feel good to connect somebody with something they hold so dearly. And yeah, I’ll probably just use those bags for laundry or whatever, but I’ll never forget the love those guys showed us. They bartered to trade two DC Nation bags for two DKR bags on two separate occasions while I shyly stood back like a child.

After triumphantly claiming the bags that were rightfully ours, we decided to go to the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego, a closed-in shopping and dining area close to the Convention Center. It’s really neat because, in lieu of SDCC, all the shops have changed their window-shop merchandise to match that of Comic-Con. It’s pretty nice seeing that Comic-Con belongs to the city as much as the city belongs to Comic-Con that weekend. Our first stop is the Chuck Jones Gallery. The gallery, usually a big Looney Tunes venue, allowed SDCC to take over. At first glance, there are a lot of superhero canvases and prints around, but as we went further into the studio, we saw a few pieces that made me almost throw my wallet at their face and scream “Shut up and take my money!” This included a 30” x 24” canvas painting of “Kissing the Knight,” my favorite panel from a Jim Lee drawn scene where Batman kisses Catwoman in Batman:Hush, signed by the man himself. After realizing that we haven’t even been inside and that it was $1100, we left the gallery for dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory. Having missed our opportunity to have it in Denver as children, we scarfed down our meals and headed back to the happiest place on Earth to await the opening of the Exhibitor’s Hall.

Once we got to the Hall, we awaited the doors opening like there was free gold behind those doors (better than gold, actually). The announcement that the Exhibitor’s Hall was now open was similar to the sirens at Water World when the wave pool begins flowing. We had a mission, a map and a list of things to buy. However, once those doors opened, we lost our minds. We had never in our lives seen anything so big. The Hall stretched so far that, even with the best view, you could see more than halfway down it. There were booths and life-size statues and scantily clad women; it was something out of a dream. After the initial shock wore off, we began fighting our way through the sea of people. The first item on the list was Activision’s booth for the Walking Dead videogame. With an Amazon pre-order, I was gifted, that’s right, a necklace of zombie ears. Then, we found a booth selling Buffy action figures, where we picked up an Enya with bunny suit figure. By the time we had ventured to the Image Comics booth to get a spiffy watch (signed by Robert Kirkman!), I had broken a record. It had taken me a total of 17 minutes to lose my debit card. After taking a breather to reorder the card and catch our breaths, we were ready to plunge back into the madness. We took our time walking around and checking out the other, smaller booths. One booth we liked, in particular, was ComiXology, a mobile comic book shop and reader. There are tons of free and cheap comics to read; it’s actually the means I used to read Walking Dead #100. The guys there interviewed me and gave me a free shirt and were really nice. There were tons of artists and galleries around. If we weren’t so afraid of getting the posters and prints messed up, we would have brought a lot of them home. The last stop of the night was the Funko booth. For those of you that know us, you know that we have an army of the Funko Pop! characters we refer to as minions. We have nearly 100 of these things and they occupy a large part of our bedroom closet. People are grabbing these exclusives by the dozen. It made us really angry that people take such advantage of this. For all the ones we really liked, we grabbed a second, knowing we could sell it to cover the costs, but it’s ridiculous that people are grabbing them in such haste just to make a profit; how greedy can you be? In the end, we got most of what we were looking for and decided to call it a night.

By the time we got back to the shuttle stop at 9:30, the whole lot had been completely remodeled. There were about seven food trucks. There was also a large Django Unchained set display. Most gruesome of all, though, was an old Acura Legend that had been covered in gore, a corpse leaning out of the front seat and the words “Sophia, Wait Here…” written in blood. It was an exciting and frightening way to begin our journey, especially since we would be doing the Walking Dead Escape 24 hours later. That night, we slept soundly, but both had really dramatic dreams, mine have something to do with our friend Taylor Lowe and chocolate milk.

Day 2 coming soon…

Using Fear to Prey on the Fearful

“Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew of The Dark Knight Rises, I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community. I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me. Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.”

Christopher Nolan released this statement earlier yesterday about the “Aurora Batman Shooting,” a phrase that will come to describe the events that unfolded at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colorado – and will ultimately ruin anything with the words “Aurora” and “Batman” in the same breath. In a neighborhood we grew up in, in a movie theater we have frequented since we were getting rides from our parents to sneak into movies they would not approve of, our city’s safety and well-being were violated by a gunman who shot 71 people, killing 12, in pre-meditated act of cruelty in Theater 9.

That night, the Hush Comics (Adrian Puryear, Panama Soweto, Evan Lowe, Sara Elkhatib, a couple other friends, myself) family were excitedly awaiting the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. We had decided on the Arapahoe Crossings Chinese Mann theater, choosing it over Century 16 because Fandango would not allow me to buy tickets for Century. The reality is that we were very close to going to that theater and it is a fact that I am very grateful for. Unfortunately, we all had friends in the theater and many of them will be scarred for life, physically and emotionally.

People inside, and outside, of Aurora always joke that Century 16 is and always has been the “ghetto” theater. Being the most heavily populated black community, those jokes are always thrown around. We said it when my parents had their catalytic converter stolen from under their 4Runner in broad daylight a few years back. We definitely said it eight years ago when I, a scrawny 16 year old at the time, was stabbed and robbed of my car after a midnight showing of Aliens vs. Predators by a group of desperate kids. But this, this was much worse. This hit so close to home. I think what makes me feel the sickest about it, is that it wasn’t just a group of desperate kids, nor a rise of testosterone. This was a planned attack on a movie theater full of young people. This coward walked into a dark room, trapped and killed defenseless members of our community while wearing full ballistics armor. A 24 year-old PhD neuroscientic, James Holmes goaded police officers with his master plans as if he were Jonathan Crane. Oh, and by the way, asshole, the Joker has green hair.

To add insult to injury, the response I get from everybody is, “well yeah, it’s Aurora.” This kind of this should never happen in Aurora, never anywhere. When I went places today, it was business as usual. No empathetic looks, no common courtesy; it’s like the whole world has been numbed to tragic violence. There needs to be more to this than Facebook statuses and news coverage. There must be real substance in our reaction as a society, not just a gilded excuse to push gun control and political agendas.

In time, our wounds will heal. Just as New York City has with the terrorist attacks of September 11th, Aurora will become hardened from the scars left. After that night, 8 years ago, when my sense of security was violated, my parents forbid me to go back. Understandable from their point of view, but I needed to face my demons. If I allowed my demons to keep me from feeling safe in my own hometown, how much longer would I go on running from things that scare me? It was very similar to taking the same route home from school as a kid, even if it means the school bully was waiting for me every day. To sum it up, I will not allow anybody to make me feel weak, and I implore the city of Aurora to stand behind this landmarked theater, instead of allowing it to wither into a frightening reminder of that night.

I am pretty sure now that, although a superior movie, The Dark Knight Rises will not outsell The Avengers. I can only predict that somebody will trick the ignorant into believing that Batman somehow caused this massacre (much like the way he is accused of causing the sociopaths of Gotham to exist in the comics). I also would like to point out that, at the time of writing, I have not seen any Marvel social media that has raised any awareness of the situation, losing my money and support for quite a while. DC Comics and Warner Bros., however, have been very understanding in the matter, canceling shows, supporting blood drives, as well as showing an overwhelming amount of support from writers, artists and publishers through various social media outlets. What we should take this as is a wake-up call. We have been fooling ourselves, thinking that we can disappear into a digital world, in effect disconnecting ourselves from our community with this bullshit “not my problem” mentality and expect those in power to take care of us.

I will take it one step further to infer that from the ashes those bullets laid at our feet to say that we need a Batman to rise from the pit of despair we find ourselves in. We cannot let Aurora become Gotham City. To give in to the fear is to stop believing in Batman.

written by Sherif Elkhatib

Walking Dead Killing Machine

The creator of The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman, sat down with Hyundai (whose cars often appear in The Walking Dead TV Show) to design the “Ultimate Zombie Killing Machine.” It’s a pretty ridiculous concept, but I’m sure they know that. While a Hyundai isn’t my first choice as a zombie apocalypse survival vehicle, The cool additions and the Issue #100 wrap-around paint job is pretty awesome. The Walking Dead is expected to be displaying the concept vehicle during SDCC. I will fight through the crowds to get pictures of this.

Walking Dead Ultimate Zombie Killing Machine

You can find more details, along with a pretty cool Robert Kirkman interview here.

written by Sherif Elkhatib

Comic Con Episode IV

A project “Presented by Joss Whedon and Stan Lee,” Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope takes you into the world of San Diego Comic Con, the largest comic book convention in the world. Comic book conventions and cosplay (dressing up like fictional characters) have always been looked at as a sort of weird, taboo thing that only freaks and geeks do. But hopefully this film will bring light to the culture that has taken the world by storm, and that it’s okay to be yourself, even if you’re not yourself.

This one will be worth buying on DVD since each collector’s edition will come with miniature action figures of Joss Whedon and Morgan Spurlock (or Stan Lee and Harry Knowles, depending on where you purchase it). Below you’ll find a trailer of the movie.

Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope will arrive at exclusive retailers and Toys’R’Us on July 10th, a bad before San Diego Comic Con.

You can find more details here and purchase it here.

Still not convinced by our recommendation? Read this review by IGN.

written by Sherif Elkhatib