Comic-Con Report, Day 1 (for me)

Believe it or not, I did survive Comic-Con. Every year I go, it gets bigger, and I wonder if it will ever slow down. It never does.

I hear that this year’s attendance may top 125,000 people. Con management actually stopped preregistration in the middle of the show (for those buying one-day tickets later in the show, I presume) and even shut down on-site registration on Saturday.

Couple that with the heat wave that ran through town, and it was one sweaty, wild time. Since the weather is normally perfect year-round in San Diego, it seemed like few of the restaurants or bars had any kind of air conditioning. At least the convention center had upgraded its system, preventing the roasting we used to see, starting about 3 PM each day. You put that many people in one room, and it gets hot.

Anyhow, here’s how my trip went.

I get up early Thursday morning (about 5:30 AM) and grab the bus to O’Hare. When I get there, my flight is delayed for three hours, so I get into San Diego around 3 PM instead of noon. I had nothing solid planned that afternoon, so no harm done. I missed the Robert E. Howard panel at 2 PM, but I wasn’t slated to sit on it anyhow.

The delay in Chicago is long enough that I decide to grab lunch before getting on the plane. I wander into the food court and nearly trip over myself as I spot a sign for the Billy Goat Tavern. For those of you old enough to remember the early episodes of Saturday, this is the greasy spoon where the guy taking orders says “Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger, No Pepsi, Coke!” It’s a Chicago landmark—if you can find it on the lower level of Michigan Avenue. Reporters and Second City folk hang out there all the time.

It seems someone decided to replicate the magic in seven location across Chicago, plus one in DC. This strikes me as branding taken to the extreme, but I grab a burger there anyhow. I stick with the chips instead of the fries, with John Belushi’s voice ringing in my head, “No Fries! Chips!” It’s all surprisingly faithful.

On the plane, I sit down next to a medical pump field support engineer, who turns out to be a gamer. We spend the entire plane ride chatting while I should be working on The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Drawing Manga, Illustrated: Fantasy Creatures. I’m writing the book on a short deadline for my friends at IDW, and I have a huge chunk of it due on Monday. But I can’t seem to pry myself out of the conversation, so I eventually quit feeling guilty and enjoy it.

We land in San Diego, and I pick up my bag and grab the hotel shuttle. I check into my hotel (Holiday Inn on the Bay, 13 blocks north of the convention center—which is itself nearly a mile long), drop off my gear, and head for the con.

At the con, I give Jordan Weisman a call. I haven’t seen him since he left WizKids, and I want to catch up with him for a bit. We triangulate via phone, and I find him in the aisles devoted to computer games, where he’s meandering along with two of his sons and one of their friends and their father. Between trying to keep track of where the kids keep wandering off to, we chat. Along the way, he introduces me to Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games.

Soon I get a call from Pat Linden of Playmates Toys. I say goodbye to Jordan, who’s only in town for the day, and start for the other side of the hall. I would have loved to have spent more time with him, but both he and Pat are only in the for the day, and my late flight has already sucked up too much time.

I meet Pat, and we catch up for a bit. It’s getting late, and he has to get rolling, but he offers to buy me dinner first. We end up at a restaurant under a pool hall where Wizard Magazine used to hold its parties. We’re a couple of Midwestern boys making games and toys, so we have lots to talk about.

On the way out of town, Pat drops me off at the Conan Properties party at the On Broadway Nightclub. Inside, I meet up with Fred Malmberg, Thommy Wojciechowski, and Leigh Stone, all of whom I work with on the Age of Conan novels. I also run into Jeff Conner, Jeff Mariotte, Maryelizabeth Hart, and many others. This includes Nils Gulliksson, who used to work for Fred at Target Games, back when I developed the Mutant Chronicles RPG for them.

Nils now works for a Swedish computer game company, Hidden Entertainment, and he introduces me to the CEO, Tom Olsson. We set up a meeting for the next day and then devote ourselves to the entertainment, which includes a set of excellent belly dancers. I end up standing too close to the floor and get dragged out to participate a couple of times, which has to be painful for all watching.

Later, Nils introduces me to Alex Horley and his fiancé Stacy Walker. It turns out Alex illustrated many of those same Mutant Chronicles books I wrote and edited, so we hit it off. He and Stacy give Nils, Tom, and me invitations to the Heavy Metal party. After the party winds down, we stuff ourselves into a bike cab and head for the shindig.

The place is packed. We wander around for a bit and have a drink or two. By this time, Nils and Tom are getting tired, so we scoot. They grab a cab, and I decide to wander into the Hyatt bar to see if there’s anyone I know.

I run into Bernard Chang, Tommy Lee Edwards, and Sean Chen. I know Bernard and Sean from back when I worked on the WildStorms CCG, and Tommy illustrated the covers of my Dracula’s Revenge comics that came out from IDW back in 2004. Along with a couple of friends, they’ve formed an illustration studio knocking out some amazing stuff.

I also run into Sean Lashgari, formerly of AEG and now with Hidden City Games. We chat until sometime after 1 AM, when I realize it’s after 3 AM my time. I stumble out of the bar and grab a cab back to my hotel.

And that’s my first day—which is enough for tonight. More later!