Comic-Con happened last weekend, did you hear?
Comic-Con is a beast. Sweaty, smelly and final. It's insurmountable and unbeatable. It's the monster that never dies, and the sequels keep getting bigger. It will return next year. Nothing you can do will stop it.
Journalists will try to tackle it, and, yes, some will make scratches until The Con gets annoyed and rolls over them, assimilating them into the mass of swelling mouths, each one parroting The Con's message.
Tackling it from any other angle besides total submission is a practice in futility. This is apparent during the moment I step into the San Diego Convention Center. For weeks prior, CityBeat staff writer Joshua Emerson Smith and I have been trying to think of different ways to cover this thing, ideas that involved a Star Wars scavenger hunt, line culture and taking Twitter requests.
But what can been said about The Con that hasn't already? Ugly people dress in costumes, hot people dress in costumes, the line for Hall H is awful, comics aren't just for kids any more—blah, blah, blah, jerk-off motion.
The crowd milling through the hall all have the same leaden faces, which stand in sharp contrast to their dislocated, googly eyes. No way I'll be doing anything independent of this mass. I feel my face become heavy like theirs. I join the herd and head to an Under the Dome panel.
As a bunch of people who've unfollowed me on Twitter already know, I watch Under the Dome every week. Monday's have become "Dome Night" in the Bradford household, as in: "Don't disturb Ry Ry, it's Dome Night," which is what I say to an empty room because my wife is asleep and chooses not to address the inherent sadness of my watching habits.
Under the Dome is not a good show, yet I'm obsessed. Mini-domes, axe-murderers, raining blood, ghosts (maybe) and Dwight Yoakam have all entered the second season. So much insanity often makes one forget that there's a goddamn (goddome?) dome covering the town, and most characters have to spend every line of dialogue on exposition.
Under the Dome is a train-wreck, but I watch it as a remedy to curb the hysterical groupthink that has infested pop-culture.
The fact is, there's so much shit to consume at any moment, and if you're not current with it, you're made to feel irrelevant. People now apologize on social media for not liking shows. That pervading assimilation is constantly at play during Comic-Con. Big media companies have done an excellent job of passing the mainstream off as cult, and everybody just ends up watching, consuming and loving the the same shows, movies and music. It's all streamlined.
But there's no pressure to like Under the Dome. My Facebook and Twitter friends couldn't give less of a shit about it. It's my proverbial whipping boy. I hate-watch it.
So, I revel in how awful the Under the Dome panel turns out to be. None of the actors have good presence, and silence punctuates their discussion. They speak with marketing slogans. One of the audience questions is: "If a real dome came down, who would you want with you?" and the producer of the show says "CBS." Seriously. The company who employs him.
Oh yeah, someone at the #UnderTheDome panel asked "if a real dome came down, who would you want w you?" and producer said "CBS" What a dip.— Ryan Bradford (@theryanbradford) July 24, 2014
Downtime. I scroll through the Comic-Con PR emails I've received. One from "Judy" asks if I am available to do an interview and lists some potential celebrities. I see an option to interview Mike Tyson and ask for it. She gets back to me immediately and wonders if a round-table interview works. I respond with "It sure does!" I can't think of any of the textual padding that's now required for semi-professional correspondence—something like "that would be great"—so I just tack on another exclamation point.
"It sure does!!"
The Walking Dead is huge here. Nearly the entire Image Comics booth is dedicated to the comic. People shell out good money to get an official Walking Dead clobbering stick. Panelists talk about creator Robert Kirkman as if he were the second, third or fourth coming (remember, you gotta hit them in the head).
I wonder if anyone else sees the irony of the ubiquitous zombie imagery.
I step into the exhibit hall to find CityBeat columnist Dave Maass, who's repping the Electronic Frontier Foundation during The Con. People glacially shamble through the thoroughfares—literally waddling from side to side because any overcompensation in stride will send you into the person ahead. People stare at their phones or stop without warning to take a picture of a costume. It's a traffic-engineer's nightmare. And this is why plucky journalistic pieces are so difficult: It takes fucking forever to do anything.
From the time I enter the hall, it takes nearly 20 minutes to reach Maass. We chat for a couple minutes before I hold my breath and plunge back into the stream.
Still no response from Judy. I send her another email: "Interview still at 3:30?" I decide to just head over to the Hilton Bayfront, where the interview is supposed to go down. People at Comic-Con are generally accommodating to press here, and everything's such a shit-show that nobody really has time to double-check credentials, or they simply don't care.
It takes another 30 minutes just to cross the street. I end up in front of the Hilton Gaslamp. The wrong Hilton. A giant Constantine from the upcoming NBC series looms over the plaza. James Spader's voice booms out of the speakers (a promotion for a show whose name I never learn), repeating a line of dialogue with maddening frequency: "Janice, I'll take a rain-check on the stroganoff, but it smells delicious!" I watch out-of-shape people do parkour on a course sponsored by Assassin's Creed.
Not for the first time today, I think: What am I doing? Not just in these crowds, but in life. I don't even care about Mike Tyson. Why do I even want to be involved in this roundtable? It feels like I'm a puppet of The Con, where its interests are suddenly mine. A literal zombie. I wonder if Judy ever feels this way.
Two hours at The Con today, most of it spent shuffling and mouth-breathing. Forget it. I walk to Monkey Paw, a bar more than a mile away from the convention center. The beer helps me feel alive again.
Assassin's Creed is a game about jumping around, I think. This would explain the aforementioned parkour course. However, this doesn't explain the old-timey shave station with professional barbers they've set up adjacent to the course. It has something with the game's setting, the French Revolution.
The barber chairs sit in front of guillotines. I guess the tie between razors and beheadings are close enough to justify the barbers.
I've made an appointment to get a shave because the people organizing it were aggressive with their invites, which, in light of Judy's rejection, makes me feel welcome and eager to rebound.
I arrive 40 minutes late, and they still let me cut the line. I climb up in the chair—the sudden royal treatment blinds the totally weird experience of being publicly shaved in front of a group of strangers.
Woody from Lefty's Barber Shop in Pacific Beach is the man who works on me. Amid the glut of out-of-towners, it's nice to have a nice moment of local reprieve. There's something admirable about a promotion that uses local talent rather than flying it in.
Due to some Schick co-sponsorship, Woody shaves me with a safety razor. Suddenly, the fact that I got to cut in front of people who will wait hours to experience a basic morning ritual that any of us could do ourselves feels heavy, like if I got to cut in line for someone to brush my teeth.
That's not to say that Woody doesn't do a good job. I would definitely go back to him. He doesn't even judge me when I request a mustache, because in my head, a public shave doesn't "count" if it's not ridiculous. When he's finished, a Schick rep says "Killer 'stache" with super-fake enthusiasm and takes my picture.
The realization that I'm the smelly guy at Comic-Con hits hard while waiting for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30th Anniversary panel to begin. The bike ride from North Park to the convention center isn't long, but my stench is like that of a Tour de France rider. I feel sorry for former CityBeat art director Adam Vieyra, sitting between me and a woman eating a Caesar salad.
I also feel sorry for the women on the "Ladies Unite!" panel, who are advocating the importance of women-created content to a room of dudes wearing turtle bandanas and green pajamas who've arrived early to secure a seat.
Just like every boy who grew up in the '80s, I was a huge TMNT fan, and this panel is a fan's dream: creator Kevin Eastman, the dude who voiced Michelangelo in the cartoon, the guy who played Keno in Secret of the Ooze, even a representative from Playmates toys—all the people who were compartmentally integral to my past obsession are here.
Eastman proves to be the star of the show. He regales the history of the turtles with humor and self-deprecation, but with the authority of a man who's managed to control the licensing and trademarking of his creation and turn it into an empire. I almost wish the entire panel was just Eastman speaking, but the moderator is flawless with segueing and incorporating every member of the panel into the discussion.
This is the moment when I forget about the crowds, the corporate co-opting, the unapologetic commodification. At it's best, Comic-Con will honor your interests, not force them. For that hour, I'm not a journalist, not a skeptic, but that 6-year-old kid rewatching episodes of TMNT on corroded VHS—the same kid who made his mom call toy stores asking for a "Baxter the Fly" TMNT action figure. For that hour, I'm just a fan.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @theryanbradford