I saw a lot of odd and awesome things at the San Diego Comic-Con. My favorite was this:
Batman taking a walk.*
There were many people cosplaying Batman, but this guy was the best. He was a full-on, bad-ass, Christopher Nolan-films Batman with an iron jaw and cold blue eyes peering out of the darkness of his grim mask.
And he was walking down the sun-drenched marina boulevard.
The boulevard is behind the convention center. Not that many Comic-Con attendees are out there. They came to San Diego to buy exclusive My Little Pony toys and perhaps catch a glimpse of Joss Whedon eating a taco.** They did not come for the sun and ocean. So the boulevard is a mix of Comic-Con attendees and people who just, like, live in San Diego or something.
Almost everyone who passed the Dark Knight felt compelled to say out loud, “It’s Batman!” There are a few phrases in our culture we compulsively say out loud regardless of how obvious the statement might be:
Some tipsy dudes who were not with Comic-Con exchanged fist bumps with Batman. Still overcome with the need to share the obvious, one dude said, “Dude, we just fist-bumped Batman!”
A small child approached Batman. His father bent down, his Comic-Con badge proudly displayed, and said, “If you’re going to take a picture with Batman you better put a smile on your face.”
And he did.
This is my second year going to Comic-Con. Before I went the first time people warned me about it like I was headed to a war zone. Bring your own food! Carry an oxygen tank! Tape your wallet to your flesh so you can feel it being ripped off of your body! Wrap your soul in protective armor to defend from the giant corporate monster that is Comic-Con!
I recognize a lot of the snark is accurate. It is crowded, expensive, corporate, and there’s nothing quite as depressingly ironic as watching a dude dressed as Hawkeye entirely miss the urinal then leave the bathroom without washing his hands.
But I like it.
Both years I’ve attended the convention, the streets of downtown San Diego have been covered with signs proclaiming that Comic-Con is “Celebrating the Popular Arts.”
The first year, I thought this was smooth marketing speak to say, “Yes, it started out as a comic book convention, but now there are panels with LL Cool J about NCIS: Los Angeles. They’re both popular. Just let it be.”
This year, when I saw the signs saying “Celebrating the Popular Arts” I was elated by the word “popular.”
I started my career as a writer and a comedian writing comedy sketches and plays within the confines of the world of traditional theater.
There are many things I love about traditional theater.
The attitude toward the concept of popularity is not one of them. Theater tends to retain a disgust with the “popular” back from the days when almost everything on television was a crappy, repetitive sitcom. Popularity often brings with it the implied suggestion that you are dumbing your art down to the lowest common denominator to get butts in the seats. Of course, all theater productions want to get butts in the seats. So, particularly in small to mid-size theater, the dangerous word “popular” gets translated into “important,” “relevant,” or “Shakespeare.”
So when I saw the word “popular” proudly plastered all over the town, I started thinking about what it actually meant to Comic-Con–both my personal experience of the event and the event itself.
Over the last few years, I’ve been branching out to do a hybrid of storytelling and stand-up comedy around the country. I’ve been writing spec scripts for TV shows and movies and web series. I wrote a book about the wide world of geekdom. It’s the work that has brought me to Comic-Con to frolic in the sun with Stormtroopers of all shapes and sizes.
This year, I performed at the comedy and music geekstravaganza, w00tstock starring Paul and Storm, Wil Wheaton, and Adam Savage. The audience for this show is a big pack of self proclaimed nerds. I did one piece aimed at the target demographic about Star Wars told as a collection of tweets. I’ve also noticed that geeks don’t need every piece of entertainment to be geeky. So I took a risk and performed a story about a time I did some commercials with a bear.
Here’s the story. Here’s the commercial. It went well.
The vibe in the room for w00tstock is incredibly accepting. It’s an audience that is happy to celebrate new people and new ideas. For example, the awesome Bonnie Burton and Anne Wheaton did a presentation about putting googly eyes on things.
Even within the traditional world of geek, things are changing. I went to exactly two Comic-Con panels. One was Geek Girl Fashion. The other was Old White Guy With Strong Opinions About Star Trek. Again, there’s quite a spectrum.
I had meetings about writing for two specific properties. One is based on a comic book about superheroes. One is based on a web comic about a charming dude who likes to have fun and makes the occasional Lord of the Rings reference.
The artists I’m meeting with believe in their art and want it to be good. The business people want the art to be good so it will be popular so they can make money. They are not in the least bit subtle about this and it’s very refreshing from my perspective.
Trying to see it from a bigger perspective, Comic-Con is a huge mash-up of artistic interests, corporate interests, cosplayers, fans, famous people, fans trying to see famous people eat tacos, and people trying to make it in any of the many industries represented at the Con.
It’s all tied together by the idea of popularity. Everyone at Comic-Con is interested in what people like. This brings us back to Batman.
Batman walks down the street and everyone wants to take his picture, shout his name, and bump his fist. They know him. They know his story. He is a part of their lives. Geeks, drunks, kids, grandmothers, even birds seemed to screech like they recognized him. All of his incarnations, all of his stories have had a profound impact on a lot of people for a long time.
Batman is popular.
To put it another way, this dark brooding man who dresses up like a bat to fight crime has made a lot of people happy.
What the hell is wrong with that?
Good job, Batman, good job.
*My second favorite costume was Lazy Obi-Wan Kenobi. He had a lightsaber, a Jedi robe, blue jeans, and some ketchup stains.
**I did not see Joss Whedon eating a taco. I did see Matt Smith drinking beer. At last call, someone bought him another beer. He only took one sip of the beer and put it down. After he left, I was very tempted to go drink the rest of The Doctor’s beer. I am not proud.