Comic-Con Day 1 – In which the Game of Thrones panel hijacks the programming schedule, Batman villains are analyzed by real doctors, ‘Sucker Punch’ is primed for a remake (sort of) and more.

The brutal afternoon sun beats down around the marina, people standing in infinite lines, all of them struggling to maintain their composure as they carry heavy bags weighing them down and driving them mad.  One by one, they wave through obstacles placed in the line and follow in strict order by leaders in bright clothing and pointy hats. One by one, they make their way into unknown large rooms and quietly move along. One by one, the people sigh in anticipation for their relief as the hours drag on in line.

Some people fall behind in line, never to be seen again and some throw in the towel by exiting the line of their own choice. Where they choose to go is beyond the rest of us and is an incredibly difficult truth to swallow.

Whoever these people are, wherever they are….I wonder what happened to them. Did they exit the line to go to the superhero themed food trucks around the South Park fan appreciation area, or did they exit the line to go hunt for ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ premiere giveaway tickets for super lucky fans?

I am, of course, talking about the first day of Comic-Con 2011. The world’s biggest pop culture convention/event that takes place in San Diego, California, I arrived from Los Angeles via train to experience my first ever foray into what is simply known to some as ‘The Con’.

Following are brief snippets and recaps of things seen, heard and experienced during this first day of the convention. I will write and elaborate more about each event in individual posts later on in my continued coverage, giving in-depth reports.

My first day included stops around a few panels, beginning with Maxwell Alexander Drake’s ‘Heroes & Villains: Creating a Character-Driven Story ‘ class, an exploration into what common threads bind every story in history (really, every story!) together.  Going off of Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’, the class was packed full of participants bright and early in the morning (this is serious business). Examples from popular films used during the class included the heroes and villains of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones. What makes Darth Vader a timeless character? Why do we root for Frodo when he could have just been easily killed? More on the process of creating a character arc in its own post later.

Afterwards, a quick stop by the Comic-Con independent film festival had me checking out a short film called ‘The Price’. A post apocalyptic Western, the short stars James St. Vincent (who also wrote and directed), Zeke Pinheiro, Mali Elfman and Solomon Trimble (of the ‘Twilight’ saga movies) and is slated to begin feature length shooting next summer. This is the first year the convention is simultaneously holding a film festival for shorts and independents,

There will be blood…and running to the next scheduled event you’re trying to make. Within minutes of ‘The Price’ screening, the ‘Sci-fi That Will Change Your Life‘ panel had major players weighing in on contemporary and past sci-fi, and how the landscape is fast changing for the genre in both film/TV and literature.  Panelists included editors, Charles Yu (How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe), Zack Stentz (X-Men: First Class) and Javier Grillo-Marxuach (The Middleman).  A recurring subject at the panel was this year’s ‘Sucker Punch’, a critically panned box office bomb that was frequently cited as what NOT to do with a sci-fi movie. The panel jokingly discussed the merits of doing a remake of the movie twenty or twenty five years down the line, explaining that while it had a bunch of great ideas in it, it didn’t have a cohesive storyline. I agree, the crowd agrees, everyone is happy…except for Zack Snyder.

I had planned on making it to a few more panels in between but they didn’t end up working out because a few thousand people beat me to it. Nonetheless, I decided to make my way over to the TV guide and Showtime panels.

In what can only be described as ‘what happens at Comic-Con…stays at Comic-Con’, apparently the HBO ‘Game of Thrones’ panel ran thirty minutes overtime because of rabid fans at the panel, delaying the programming schedule and soliciting a mixture of groans and cheers from the crowd outside.

After four hours spent waiting in line after three thousand people, I was treated for my efforts by hearing the ear splitting screaming for Matt Smith when I finally was able to get into the super popular Ballroom 20 for the two television panels I mentioned above (the TV Guide panel featuring various stars and the ‘Shameless’ panel presented by Showtime). Both great panels with snappy repartee and horseplay between everyone on stage, highlights included Kristin Bauer (Pam on ‘True Blood’) saying how ‘surprised (she) was to see how vulnerable they could make Pam’ the past season, but she’ll make up for it by being extra vicious when we see her soon again. Nelsan Ellis also gave us a preview for his fan favorite Lafayette’s paranormal abilities – what’s coming up for him? ‘It’s fun; you’ll discover what his powers are very soon. It’s a clever way of Alan Ball having him do crazy shit, crazy stuff’. More on these panels later, including William H. Macy’s groovy hair.

As soon as I could, I headed towards what I had heard repeatedly throughout the day from various attendees as being a must see event – Broadcast Thought’s ‘Deviants in the Dark Night: Profiling Gotham City’s Serial Killers’ panel. I am very glad to say it was worth the hustle, since the line for this panel ended up being shut down a few minutes before it began to run. The panel was a fascinating event with real doctors and a former FBI agent discussing the various foes of Batman and their psychological conundrums and classifications for their crimes – I learned the difference between a serial murder, a spree murder and much more. More on this panel later, including the psychopaths of Gotham City.

Additionally, two very helpful things I learned my first day ever at Comic- Con are that –

  1. Whatever schedule you come up with will have a big chance of being quickly modified the day of your event, often before a panel begins. This goes without saying, but even the best laid plans can’t face the wrath of Con. You do not know what kinds of crowds you will encounter, where you may end up choosing to really go or what is worth your time in that moment. Plus, those superhero food trucks really do look very delicious and tempting.

and that –

  1. Asking questions during the open Q&A session is an art form unto itself – everyone is limited on time but they all have questions. Comic-Con allows fans the rare chance to have one on one interaction with the ‘talent’ – make it fun, be creative but also refrain from making it awkward. During one panel, the microphone was muted because of a personal autograph question the attendee asked. No one enjoys hearing boos, and it places the talent in an awkward position.

As I caught a taxi after the ‘Deviants in the Dark Night’ panel, I asked my cabbie what had been the oddest thing he saw in town during Comic-Con.

He recalled a memory from last year where he was stuck in traffic near the convention center, and had his cab mauled by more than thirty people dressed as zombies after they had finished a flash mob dance to ‘Thriller’.

‘I didn’t know what to do, because I couldn’t take my eyes off of them and I couldn’t run them over because they were already dead. I told my passenger, ‘those are really authentic looking zombies, man!. It was like The Walking Dead posters everywhere here, in real life!’

Stay tuned.