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New York Comic Con -- Oct. 13 - 16, 2011
Review by sfrevucrew
 
Date: 10 October 2011

Links: Convention Website / Convention Coverage / Show Official Info /

Conventions are amazing things. In the space of a few days, you see things that simply defy belief--mostly people in costumes, but also panels, premieres, debuts, discussions, events, episodes and a whole lot more. Kat and I went to NYCC this year and we'll be putting our experiences down on... well, online, for all of you SFRevu readers!

THURSDAY: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

Going to a convention always involves a lot of preparation, both physical and psychological. You need to pack appropriately—did I bring a notebook, recorder, camera, pens and pencils, and my list of “must-see” events?—and you need to be ready to spend two or three days mostly on your feet, waiting in line (sometimes without hope of getting into the event you’re waiting for), squeezing through crowds and enduring conditions that might send lesser con-goers in search of relief from the Red Cross.

Ah, but the rewards! If you have the right stuff (so to speak), the payoff is there.

Kat and I went to the New York Comic-Con on October 13, to attend when the show was only open to professionals, press, VIPs and those who’d paid for the few 4-days passes. What did we find?

It was great. The show was not quite at full steam, so that the aisles weren’t crowded with fans and cosplayers and vendors stretching their legs—in short, it was the ideal time to go shopping. I bought a nifty gray top hat and goggles from the Blonde Swan (www.blondeswan.com), then had the pleasure of seeing a few former colleagues from my long-ago comic book days. Kat wandered the floor, snapped some pictures and bought a few things (a Back to the Future Minimates toy being one of them). We also started talking with folks to set up interviews and so forth, like the good journalists we were supposed to be.

And then off to home. Because Friday was going to be a busy day…

FRIDAY: EDITORS ON EDITING

A panel with four comic book editors usually has some pretty good anecdotes, but this one also offered prospective writers and artists some useful advice. Sure, you’ve probably heard it before, but nothing reinforces the truth so strongly as repetition so…

  • Your odds of getting work stink (especially if you’re a writer);
  • If you can be discouraged, or it sounds too hard, this business is not for you;
  • And, a finished comic book (even one you create yourself) is your best calling card.

So said Filip Sablik, Joey Cavalieri, Stuart Moore and panel moderator Buddy Scalera. Between them, they have decades of experience in editing—heck, Cavalieri alone has decades of experience—so wannabe professionals should heed their words of wisdom.

Such as: New York City is still the number one place in the world to break into the comic book business. Use signings and conventions to network and build a name for yourself. In the process, however, you want to be the guy (or girl) people like; in an industry built on relationships, you want to be the one people enjoy/look forward to working with. Life is too short to work with jerks.

Can you transition, as an editor from traditional lit to comic books? Sure—Cavalieri did just that. Novels involve a lot of reading; comics involve a lot of coordination and traffic management, as well as making sure your collaborators, well, collaborate. If you get the right mix, it’s magic.

The struggle, for all creators, is to learn (and re-learn) the craft of visual storytelling. Some editors, artists and writers get it, and others do not. But the best practice is to learn everything you can, these editors all agreed, and to be passionate about what you do. The odds against you are pretty bad, but if you don’t try and keep trying, you’ll never succeed.

One last request from the panel: do not EVER download or accept pirated comics. Stolen intellectual property is helping kill the industry, so don’t be a part of it.

FRIDAY: DC UNIVERSE ANIMATED PANEL

One of the heavyweight panels Friday afternoon was the DC Universe Animated panel, featuring Bruce Timm (widely credited as the architect of the DCUA) and Andrea Romano (who has voice-cast most of WB Animation’s output of the last two decades). Both appeared onstage Friday to discuss the newest releases, including BATMAN: YEAR ONE and JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM.

They were ready to present the short that accompanies the new Batman DVD—CATWOMAN—but the moderator [name] needed a little help… so he introduced the voice of Catwoman, Eliza Dushku. She introduced the 10-minute short, which featured Catwoman taking on a smuggler named Rough Cut, after getting an odd “message” courtesy of an alley cat.

Infiltrating a strip club, Catwoman fights through Rough Cut’s henchmen then follows the thug himself on a high-speed chase through the streets of Gotham. With Rough Cut voiced by the talented John DiMaggio, working from a script by Paul Dini, the short is definitely PG-13 but thrilled the packed auditorium.

Describing BATMAN: YEAR ONE (based on the four-issue miniseries by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli) as “more Jim Gordon’s story than Batman’s,” Romano said that they were fortunate to have such talented performers as Bryan Cranston (Gordon), Ben McKenzie (Batman) and Dushku (Catwoman) involved in this production. (BATMAN: YEAR ONE is on sale now.)

The panel then discussed JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM, based on writer Mark Waid’s “Tower of Babel” story in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA some years past. Batman has compiled dossiers on his fellow heroes, with tactics on how to bring them down if they ever become a threat; those plans have fallen into the wrong hands and now the Justice League itself may be doomed.

Romano called the direct to DVD feature a “family reunion,” with Kevin Conroy reprising Batman (a role he’s owned for 19 years, hard as that is to believe), Tim Daly returning as Superman, Carl Lumbly as the Martian Manhunter, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Phil LaMarr as Vandal Savage, Alexis Denisof as Mirror Master and Michael Rosenbaum as the Flash. A little surprise here: Rosenbaum is playing *Barry Allen*, not Wally West as he did on Justice League Unlimited. Timm noted that Rosenbaum stopped himself a few times during their recording sessions because “that’s how Wally would do it,” and he’d retry the lines as Barry.

But Timm and Romano weren’t alone—they welcomed Conroy to the stage, to the thunderous ovation of the audience. Taking a seat, he intoned “Hello” in Batman’s signature dark baritone, then chuckled and did the line everyone wanted to hear: “I am vengeance. I am the night. I am… Batman!” And the crowd went wild.

The trio mentioned that this was the last script written by the late Dwayne McDuffie, and that it was a tremendous story he had adapted. A clip was shown to give a sense of its scope, with new character designs (not based on the most recent comic books, by the way) and loads of action.

All in all, even though the heroes will have it rough, the future of the animated DC Universe couldn’t look brighter.

FRIDAY: ROBOT CHICKEN PRESS HOUR

If it seems unlikely that a show acted out by toys with stop motion animation—making fun of pop culture and displaying sometimes horrific amounts of violence—could survive for five seasons… well, you haven’t watched ROBOT CHICKEN. Co-created by Seth Green (Family Guy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Matt Senreich, Robot Chicken is a hilarious dismantling of nearly everything us Baby Boomers/Gen X’ers loved growing up.

Matt Senreich spent an hour with a room full of press folks (like me), talking about RC and pretty much everything we asked about the show.

First up, will there be a videogame? He said he’d love to see one but the episodic nature of the show makes it tough and he hasn’t seen a solid proposal yet.

Will they send up the Spider-Man musical? He hasn’t seen it yet. However, he did say that a Broadway musical (Wicked) inspired their third Star Wars special. He said that Wicked taking the Witch’s point of view led them to doing the same for the Emperor. “He’s just a guy trying to do his job, you know,” Senreich said. “And here are these Rebels and furry little aliens and all kinds of stuff going wrong… sort of like happens my life.”

He said that season five has been easier in some ways and harder in others. They’ve mastered the techniques of stop motion and toy building, which they had not in the first season, but they also want to sustain the level of humor—to make audiences laugh rather than just themselves. “We had no idea how much work it’d be,” Senreich said. “We learned an awful lot really fast.”

How do they choose their guests? He said it’s a mix of people asking to do the show and people they invite. “Christian Slater stalked us,” he said with a chuckle. “Cee-Lo Green asked Seth when he’d be on and Seth said, ‘Tomorrow!’ And we made that happen. We’re sort of obsessed with getting Jon Hamm, but our biggest get is Harrison Ford.” He said that that *almost* happened, with help from Jon Favreau (who directed Ford in “Cowboys and Aliens”) but that the window just didn’t work out. “But he’s still our ultimate ‘get’,” Senreich confirmed. It’s tough, though, because they only have space (and budget) for seven voice actors per episode.

He said that the way Robot Chicken has become so closely identified with Star Wars is still astounding; some of their sketches, for instance, show up on the Star Wars Blu-Ray extras. He said that they did the first one and out of the blue, Lucasfilm called. They were invited up to visit and that their working relationship has been terrific; turns out lots of the Lucasfilm staffers were fans of the show.

Have they ever censored themselves? Rarely —- Senreich recalled only one sketch, involving a stillborn baby, that didn’t make it to air. They *nearly* were prevented from airing their most violent sketch, the Tooth Fairy, by Mike Lazzo of Adult Swim. They had to go back and do a total of three alternate endings (two of which were horrifying violent) before Lazzo relented and said that he was wrong, go ahead and air it. They also had some trouble with a sketch crossing the Archie gang with the “Final Destination” movies—but once the Archie comics people got the idea, they embraced it.

Similarly, have they ever had trouble coming up with a premise? He said that happens mostly with obscure toys or properties like Silverhawks or Gundam—he said that it’s hard to find a way to make them funny for a broad audience. Besides which, any sketch written (in the course of a five week marathon session) has to be approved by three out of the four executive producers; a two-two split means it doesn’t air. He used a Yellow Submarine sketch as an example; Senreich said he hated that sketch but was outvoted, so he did his best to produce the sketch regardless, to make the material work.

How did “Stoopid Monkey” become their production company? They needed a title card to close out the show and were asked for their favorite words. “Seth said, ‘This is stupid,’ and I said ‘monkey’ and that’s what happened,” he said. Now the monkey has become a video character on his own, with shorts on YouTube.

In other bits, he noted that actor Donald Faison (Scrubs) not only did voice work for them, but he interned as a toymaker and stop motion animator while working on his sitcom. “Yeah, he was there for six months, learning how to do the work,” Senreich recalls. “He’s the greatest, and now he’s doing ‘Black Stormtrooper.’”

He also said that season five is the first one NOT to end with jokes about cancellation, as he’s heard they are renewed for season six. “It’s a tough job—we work for eleven months and are wiped out at the end, but at the end of our month off, we can’t wait to start all over,” he said, noting that they shoot an episode in six days…but that the biggest episode yet is still to air: Their 100th episode features an epic action sequence wherein the titular chicken escapes the mad scientist’s lab and gets free. (woohoo!)

“That was the biggest set we ever built—the mad scientist’s castle—and the longest action sequence,” he said. “It’s a big treat for the fans.”

Senreich was asked if there was one toy the destruction of which bothered him and he said, “It was a Mego Batmobile. It was bought from an old lady who asked us to take care of it… and it was just absolutely destroyed. That bothered me a lot, still does.”

Finally, he was asked if the team had a final episode in mind. With a grin, he said, “I want to do one show that doesn’t have a single joke for our finale. A couple of our writers really want that, so I figure that could be our last show ever.”

And so it goes.

SATURDAY: WALKING DEAD

One of Saturday’s heavyweight panels was The Walking Dead panel, showcasing the second season of the AMC TV television show about survivors of a zombie apocalypse. Moderator Chris Hardwick brought out Walking Dead creator/comic book writer Robert Kirkman and producer Gale Anne Hurd and effects wizard Greg Nicotero. Starting by saying they were now working on episode 12 (out of 13 for the split season), Kirkman said that this season was about “character development by pretty much doing horrible things to them.”

Hurd said, “In the first season, we created the world and focused on Rick and his family. Now it’s time to show the rest of these characters.” Nicotero added, “Everyone gets to do great stuff this season.”

“We’re pushing the boundaries much farther,” Kirkman said. “I don’t know why AMC lets us do this.”

What about the differences between the comic book series and the show? There are already major changes, Hardwick noted. “They’re different worlds,” Kirkman offered. “In the show, Shane is still alive, and that changes a lot of things. The series has lots of new elements in it—stuff I wish I’d included back then—and it’s fun to see how it changes things.”

But those changes have spun up loads of rumors, too. One was debunked authoritatively by Kirkman. Hardwick asked, “Some people think that Merle (Michael Rooker) might come back as the Governor (one of the series’ most-anticipated arrivals)…?” “No! Merle is not the Governor! We’ll say that here and now,” Kirkman said.

Then they showed an extended clip from the season opener (which aired Sunday, October 16), in which the small group of survivors were stopped by a traffic pile-up… with a shambling mob of the undead coming up behind them. They hid under the cars, while Andrea (Laurie Holden), cleaning her pistol in Dale’s (Jeffrey DeMunn) RV was trapped and attacked by a too-curious zombie.

When the lights came up, Hardwick introduced cast members from the show, including: Jon Bernthal (Shane), Holden, Steven Yuen (Glenn), Lauren Cohan (Maggie, a new character), Chandler Riggs (Carl) and Norman Reedus (Daryl).

The panelists got off to a boisterous start when Yuen asked the crowd to say “Hi Steve!” for him to capture on his iPhone. After they did, Kirkman said, “Now say ‘Steven sucks!’” And they did.

Asked about the show, Holden said, “Our zombies are amazing. *They* sell the show. If you weren’t scared of them, it wouldn’t work. They go to zombie school…” and the audience snickered, “…no really! They do! The guy who attacked me in that scene, it was so funny, he was hanging out, wearing sunglasses and smoking. He was so nice, I had to tell him, ‘Don’t be so nice to me, I have to jab a screwdriver into your eye in a minute!’”

Yuen said, “Glenn grows up a lot this season. He was a kid and this year he meets someone who makes him…” He trailed off, and Hardwick asked, “Who could that be?” And Cohan smiled. “Maggie is a new character they meet on Herschel’s farm,” she said. “She’s introduced there and she starts a relationship with Glenn. It’s first love for both of them…and of course, we spent all that time checking ourselves for ticks. Ruined a few shots that way, I think.”

Riggs, who seemed much more self-possessed than his twelve years should allow, said that he was lucky to play two characters, in a way. “Carl was so scared last year, now this year he’s growing up and getting used to what’s happened. He lies, he steals… he’s fun to play.” All this said while Reedus held up two fingers behind his head.

About Daryl, Reedus said, “He’ll survive and he’ll protect you, but he can’t connect emotionally. I say he’s one guy who really, really needs a hug but if you tried that, he’d stab you. It’ll be something to watch, how he has to deal with that.”

Holden said, “It’s exhausting playing a character who’s sad and suicidal. This year, Andrea decides she’s going to learn to survive and be a leader.” Considering that the others only reluctantly trust her with a gun, and the skills she develops in the comics, it’s an interesting start to her journey.

Yuen added that everyone gives 100%. “Everyone is there all the time, whether you’re in the scene or not. It’ll be over a hundred degrees, high humidity, but we all do it. And the stuff they put in…is anybody censoring this?”

Nicotero laughed and said, “I put in stuff that I, as a fan, want to see. I’ve worked on all those movies and there are things that I feel ought to be there. Sometimes we’ll do stuff ‘just for fun’ and the censors will leave it in.”

Cohan said, “I never worked on a show this intense. I enjoy what everyone’s doing and everyone is so committed to making this show the best it can be. One thing: the sets. They’re incredible! The farm is this place where you can feel all these beautiful memories were made.”

Asked about their downtime, Riggs said, “I like it when my friends are normal. (The panelists reacted with mock outrage.) Not that you guys aren’t normal! But some of them haven’t seen the show, and none of them walk around saying ‘Oh, I’m friends with Chandler Riggs…‘”

Reedus said he’d spent the earlier part of the day playing paintball with his son. How did it go? “I shot the [expletive] out of those little…” and he trailed off as the audience laughed.

When a fan asked if the zombies are evolving, Kirkman said, “Well, they’re getting better looking, thanks to Greg and his team. They aren’t getting smarter or weirder, though.” Nicotero agreed, saying “Bicycle Girl (the subject of his six-part webisode) was our iconic walker—she’s tragic and even though she wants to eat you, you still feel for her. The gaunt aesthetic goes back to the comic…and yes, we do ask random people to be extras. I’ve told people at bars, ‘you’d make a great zombie.’ And we get people that way.”

Will there be more webisodes? Nicotero said, “I hope so! We had three million hits on the webisodes and John Esposito, who wrote the one we have online, is in the front row. Now all the extras are coming up with back stories for their zombies…”

Kirkman said, “It’s a great reminder that they used to be people, that they were our friends and neighbors and family. It keeps the tragedy real.”

Asked what weapon they’d choose in a zombie apocalypse, Bernthal and Holden chose guns, Yuen chose a bo staff, Cohan asked for a bladed boomerang a la Road Warrior, Hardwick said a katana…but Riggs stole the show by saying he’d want a flamethrower with a bayonet.

The last question was about fan favorite comic book character Michonne. Kirkman said, “She’s coming! We want to do it right.” Hurd added, “There are so many great characters to bring into the show. Don’t worry, you’ll see them.”

And with that, the panel shambled off into the undead-infested depths of New York Comic-Con…

SATURDAY: AVENGERS

Last Saturday afternoon was the crown jewel of the con: the panel covering Marvel’s next epic movie, The Avengers. Hosted by Chris Hardwick, the first to be introduced was Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Comics and executive producer of their films. Feige said that he wasn’t what the capacity-crowd was dying to see. Did the crowd want to see the Avengers trailer on a big screen?

The crowd most enthusiastically did. So the much-played trailer was shown on the room’s three huge screens, to deafening applause.

Hardwick then brought out the guests: Chris Evans (Captain America), Clark Gregg (SHIELD Agent Phil Coulson), Cobie Smulders (SHIELD Agent Maria Hill), Tom Hiddleston (Loki) and special guest Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/Hulk).

Asked about how it was to film a big, multi-hero story, Evans said, “It’s great! Honestly, it’s nice to share the load. If we didn’t get along, it could be really tricky—this might be a franchise and you don’t want that second or third movie to get awkward—but we all got along so well. And it was so nice to film in normal clothes! I tell you, we shot battle scenes for two weeks and, well, you have to time those bathroom breaks…”

To which Hiddleston added, “Welcome to my world.” He said that Loki, in this film, is not a happy man. “He’s confused as to his place but he knows what he wants and how he’s going to get it,” he said. “I guess Marvel thought I was all right in ‘Thor’ so now I’m the main villain here too. It’s truly great to be the big bad guy against the world’s greatest heroes.”

Asked about his wardrobe, Hiddleston said, “No T-shirts for me, no. It was all leather and metal. That’s how we like it in Asgard. My day is spent getting into costume, so that helps me get into the right state of mind: evil.”

Smulders said that, first, she was *not* going to sing her character’s song from “How I Met Your Mother” (to loud disapproval). But this was her first con. “This has to be the best way to be introduced to conventions,” she said. “I had the easiest costume…and I tell you, I loved seeing how the costumes were created.” Asked how it was going from a sitcom to an epic superhero action movie, she said, “Intimidating. I mean, I was excited to be working with Joss, who was already a friend—but I’m still pinching myself.”

Gregg said that it still amazed him that Agent Coulson had apparently caught on as a fan favorite. “This is my fourth movie. Did I know…? No, no idea. I never thought it would take me to New Mexico to work on ‘Thor’…and then Joss Whedon sees me and says, ‘Guess what, you’re in Avengers!’” Then he sang an improvised Avengers theme with ended with “muscles all bulky and a guy who’s Hulky”… which got applause from the room and the panel alike.

Ruffalo said that he built his version of Banner from those who went before, including Bill Bixby, Eric Bana and his friend Edward Norton. “He’s like our generation’s Hamlet—everyone gets to play him,” he said of Banner. “He’s a little more mature than the guy in the last movie but he’s still Bruce Banner.”

Feige then asked the crowd if they’d like to see Ruffalo in action. He said, when the trailer came out before New York Comic-Con, they had a problem; everyone had seen it already. Whedon had a solution: let’s just cut another chunk of footage to show. And so they did, to even louder applause, featuring Ruffalo.

The crowd saw an extended scene with Ruffalo as Bruce Banner (aka the Hulk) and Scarlett Johanssen as Agent Natasha Romanov (aka the Black Widow). She’s there to bring him in—peacefully, if possible—and help Nick Fury with a problem that could mean the end of the world. “Oh, that again,” Banner scoffs.

Then the action switches to New York City, where Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wages war on mankind with the help of something… alien. Many somethings, actually. In the clip’s last moment, Loki snarls at Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), “I have an army.” Tony, drink in hand, replies, “We have a Hulk.”

Cue an ovation.

Fan questions then dominated the remainder of the panel, with the majority going to Hiddleston. He said that his costume was hardest to put on, no question.

All of those on stage said that they geeked out when they were on the set and saw Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Downey (Iron Man) and Evans (Captain America) together for the first time. “It was amazing,” said Gregg, a comic book fan from a long time back. “There they were…and there was Mark in speckled pajamas (for motion capture.”

“This is the first movie where it’ll be my performance (underneath the CGI) as the Hulk,” Ruffalo said. “I get to play Banner AND the Hulk.”

Evans, asked if he prefers the Human Torch (from his two Fantastic Four movies) or Captain America, Evans thought it over, then said, “Cap. It’s a tough call but I have to go with the guy. But I had a great time with the Fantastic Four, too.”

One tidbit: “ruffalize” became the verb of the panel, after Ruffalo used it to describe his way of making Bruce Banner his own. The other panelists picked it up with enthusiasm.

The panel ended with Hiddleston singing a bit from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” after a fan compared him favorably to Gene Wilder. He said that was quite a compliment, considering Wilder’s range and talents.

*********************
Stay tuned- I'll be back with more!

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