Geekapalooza: San Diego Comic-Con 2013

The entire universe in blog form
July 24 2013 10:30 AM

Geeking Out Over San Diego Comic-Con 2013

Comic Con 2013
A banner day for Comic-Con 2013

Photo by Phil Plait

San Diego Comic-Con 2013 is over. I’m home and exhausted, but days later I still have this silly smile on my face.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death from the Skies!  

I was going to write up a bunch of stories, things that happened in the four days I was there, but mulling it over, I don’t think that makes much sense. Too much happened, for one thing; this post would be 3,000 words. Instead, I just want to give a handful of highlights and some thoughts on why this event is so special.

Advertisement

First, I want to thank Slate and the Science and Entertainment Exchange for sponsoring my panels, and Wayfare Entertainment and Magnet Releasing for their hard work on the Europa Report panel. (You can read more about that in my earlier blog post.)

Europa Report panel
A surreptitious shot of the Europa Report panel. From the left: directorSebastián Cordero, musician Bear McCreary, actor Karolina Wydra, JPL science advisers Steve Vance and Kevin Hand. Not shown: 6,000-plus people off to the right.

Photo by Phil Plait

That panel was amazing. We were in Hall H, the big room, with something like 6,500 people. To be brutally honest, it was clear most of those folks were not there for us; they were camped out for panels later in the day. But that’s OK by me: We dropped an amazing movie and a good dollop of science on them. Europa Report is available via download or on demand, and I think it could be the best science-fiction movie of the summer.

I also did my annual Science of Science Fiction panel, and as always it was a blast. We had a standing-room-only crowd, and they were an enthusiastic audience. The panelists—A-list creators of sci-fi for TV and movies—as usual were smart, funny, sassy, and enjoyable. It’s a delight to moderate that panel.

But it’s the interstitials that delight me so, the events between the events. A random breakfast invite from an old friend led to me attending a press conference for The Walking Dead and the reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, the latter hosted by another old friend, Neil Tyson. We had a small amount of time to chat and catch up, and as you might expect, hearing him ponder out loud about how and why we love science was a joy.

Neil Tyson and a zombie.
Well, looks like they better get a new host for Cosmos.

Photo by Phil Plait

Also attending was Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s widow and partner in science outreach. I’ve wanted to meet her for quite some time. She was delightful and, like Carl, Neil, and all of us who love science, ready to expound about our Universe at the drop of a hat.

Catching up with friends at Comic-Con led to a series of encounters like that. I bumped into Max Borenstein, who wrote the screenplay for the Godzilla reboot; Matt Inman from The Oatmeal; and Gail Simone, who will be writing the new Lara Croft books for Dark Horse Comics.* And that’s a tiny sample of the folks who attend as guests; creativity flows through the convention, immersing everyone there who can seek it out.

There are complaints about SDCC: It’s too big, it’s too commercial, it’s too geared toward consumerism rather than creativity. There is truth and exaggeration in all these claims.

It’s certainly huge, with 150,000 or so folks attending. Navigating it can be a nightmare. But there is an advantage to size, and that is the multiplying factor for all outlets of popular culture. No matter how niche your interest, you’ll find some aspect of your geekery there. The size ensures that. I saw artists of all stripes there and a lot of interest in every aspect of art wherever I went.

Phil Plait, Lucky Yates, and Christina Ochoa
Your host, with my friends Lucky Yates (middle; the voice of "Dr. Krieger" on the television show Archer) and marine biologist/science promoter Christina Ochoa.

Photo by Phil Plait

Certainly the commercialism is the most obvious characteristic of the con. There were huge platforms in the exhibit hall with celebrities giving talks, the latest movies and TV shows with imposing (and sometimes obtrusive) displays on the streets and around the hotels—including the sides of entire buildings serving as massive ads for the latest spectacle.

But obvious doesn’t equal dominant. Fans seeking out info about big studio movies and swinging-for-the-fence TV shows could find that easily, but again I point out that the smaller indie movie Europa Report panel was in the cavernous Hall H. Not every venue is loaded with studio tentpoles. And smaller, more intimate topics were ubiquitous. At every booth I saw there were fans talking to artists, to writers, to cartoonists, to creators. You just need to know what you want, or to be open to new things of which you were previously unaware, and the con will provide.

And finally, the complaint that there is too much consumerism versus actual creativity. The point I made above is relevant here as well: You need to look for it. I personally found the loud exhibits and “experiences” (where a fan can go into an interactive exhibit for a movie or TV show) a bit too much for me, but then I’m not their target audience. Other folks loved that, so more power to them.

But if you want to find creativity, it’s flippin’ everywhere at the con. Just wandering around I ran into amazing people who are producing exceptional art of all kinds. I know I have some advantage here; I have friends who are at the top of their game when it comes to making art, and knowing them begets knowing others. But don’t take my word for it: I talked to dozens and dozens of congoers breathless with excitement over meeting their heroes, whether they were actors, writers, artists, or game designers. It didn’t matter what the specific medium was; there were people everywhere rubbing elbows with their fans, and it was wonderful.

When it comes to SDCC, I think the real conflict is having to decide which amazing thing I want to do instead of some other amazing thing happening at the same time. That’s not all that bad a place to be in, all told.

Again, my thanks to everyone who put together SDCC, to my sponsors, and especially, especially to all the people who came up to me, who wanted to talk, who wanted photos, who just wanted to let me know how much they love science, astronomy, and reality. Being a geek, as Wil Wheaton has said, isn’t about what you love, it’s about how you love it.

Love it well.

Correction, July 24, 2013 (at 18:30 UTC): This post originally stated that the Lara Croft series was for DC comics. It is with Dark Horse; Simone also writes comics for DC.