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Oh, right, comic books

Times Staff Writer

This is the year they tried to take the comic out of Comic-Con.

The Comic-Con International in San Diego, which came to a close Sunday, has become a frenetic Super Bowl of pop culture, but the home team has mixed feelings when it looks at the scoreboard.

“I think Comic-Con is in danger of having Hollywood co-opt its soul,” said Michael Uslan, who attended the first comic-book convention in summer 1964 in New York. “It’s turning into something new, and you could really see it this year. There’s some worry about that.”

As he spoke, Uslan was standing in the lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel wearing a Batman T-shirt and a CAA ball cap -- comic books were close to his heart, but Hollywood was on his brain.

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Uslan wrote comic books in the 1970s, but then he went Hollywood and he has been executive producer on a dozen feature films, including the latest box-office sensation “The Dark Knight,” which over the weekend topped $300 million in domestic box office.

Comic-Con, which used to be far more dungeon than dragon, is following a similar career path. The event began in the Nixon years as a swap meet for musty old pulp, but this year it had a red carpet and Hollywood squads selling comedies such as “Pineapple Express” and “Hamlet 2" as much as capes. More than 120,000 people attended the florid entertainment carnival, which now has a big enough tent for TV, toys and video games.

“There does seem to be some random booths here which don’t have anything to do with comics,” said Jaime King, the starlet who came south to promote the December comic-book film “The Spirit.” “Slowly but surely the entertainment community is taking over to promote their projects here even though they have absolutely nothing to do with comics. What’s next? A panel for ‘Deal or No Deal’?”

The art of the deal is just as important as superhero sketches, especially after “The Dark Knight” began breaking box-office records. This year Keanu Reeves, Hugh Jackman and Samuel L. Jackson were some of the movie stars who came to connect with the most hard-wired of pop-culture consumers. Hall H, the 6,500-seat main hall here, was the site of full-house panels with sneak previews of films still a year from release.

“This is madness. I love it,” British actor Bill Nighy said as he wandered around. “I saw a fellow with a stake through his chest and blood splattered on his shirt, a woman dressed as a hunchback, a Terminator, some superheroes. . . . I feel quite at home here. I’ve been a zombie, a vampire and a squid on screen. All considered, I’m quite legitimate here at Comic-Con.”

There’s actually a small segment of the huge San Diego Convention Center still reserved for people in the comic-book trade. Robert Beerbohm, who has been a merchant at every one of the Comic-Cons since its start in 1970, said he is worried about the future for the true believers.

“All the Hollywood directors say that they loved comics as a kid, but now they are being pushed off the floor. Where are the next generation of directors going to come from?” he wondered.

Probably from Hall H. Fans waited in lines for hours to get a spot in the thunderous hangar-sized hall to see “sizzle reels,” early footage from upcoming films put into slick montages.

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“This is where you bring your film to the people who care about it the most and cheer the loudest, if you edit it right,” said filmmaker McG, who flew in from New Mexico with cast members from “Terminator Salvation,” the reboot of the killer-robot franchise that made a certain bodybuilder into a household name.

During a panel on the film, McG and his team not only wowed the fans with their special effects and story line, they pulled people in costumes up on the stage to be part of the celebration of pop obsession. Afterward, McG looked like a man who aced a job interview. “We’re thrilled to be here. And we have to be here.”

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geoff.boucher@latimes.com

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More items can be found on the Hero Complex blog (latimes.com/herocomplex).


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