Comic-Con Diary, Day 1: Fear and Branding in San Diego

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Dateline: San Diego! Where every year countless hordes of “Trekkies” and “cosplayers” and other freaky “pocket protector” types descend on the convention center for what “some” have called “nerd Woodstock”…

OK. Now that’s taken care of.

The first thing you notice when you get close to Comic-Con is the creeping branding that grows on everything. It’s like a rapacious mold. The entire exterior of my hotel is one gigantic Cowboys and Aliens ad. I’m looking out at the world through somewhere around Daniel Craig’s right nipple. The inside of the elevator is a wall-to-wall ad for True Blood. One of my hotel keys is an ad for Lord of the Rings: War in the North. The other key is an ad for the complete Smallville DVDs.

(PHOTOS: Comic-Con 2011)

You get the idea. I’m just trying to give you a feel for the situation on the ground here. This is the place where all the shows and movies and books that you love will be force-fed to you till you can’t stand them. One day they’re going to put an ad on the last flat surface in all of San Diego, and it’ll be like when they cut down the last Truffula tree in The Lorax.

I had been scheduled to interview Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried today, but the schedule got borked, so I spent most of my first day as what they call a “professional” here at The Con, which means I’m being a novelist rather than a journalist. My plane ticket here was paid for not by Time but by my book publisher, who sent me here to flog my new book. (I will flog it once here, then leave off flogging for this and all future columns: The Magician King, out August 9. There. Done.)

So I gave interviews. I signed autographs. I appeared on a panel called “Magic & Monsters.” I tried to make the case for a five-year moratorium on new books with monsters in them. We, as a culture, are busily chewing through all the major monster types – vampire, zombie, werewolf – to the point where they’re practically used up. They’re not scary anymore. They’re like tuna, they’re getting overfished. Let’s let them grow wild for a while.

Yep. I made the case.

Afterwards, to reward myself for having been vaguely coherent on the panel, I went to Hall H – the huge auditorium where they put the really heavy hitters – to hear Jon Favreau and Guillermo del Toro talk. Two large men. As Favreau put it, “We never look thinner than when we’re sitting next to each other.”

They’re also very funny next to each other. You don’t always get that with directors — two years ago I watched Peter Jackson and James Cameron in this same hall, and I left halfway through. It was all technical jargon and mutual congratulations.

But these guys actually like each other. Apparently del Toro helped out with the puppetry on Cowboys and Aliens — they both bagged on directors who use too much CGI instead of puppetry. They’re both doing work for Disney too — del Toro is working on The Haunted Mansion. “One of the best days of my adult life was when they opened the Haunted Mansion for me at 5 AM. It was research!” He laughed. You could tell he can hardly believe how awesome his life is.

He added: “I’m a weird fat motherfucker! And you know what? I plan to stay that way.”

Favreau showed a few minutes of Cowboys and Aliens, which was enjoyable, but not more enjoyable than it had to be. It wasn’t weird. It was pretty, but not smart and sharp the way Iron Man was. There was none of that twinkly Downey Jr. self-awareness — I never cracked a smile. It looked like a movie made by people who knew they had a rock-solid billion-dollar idea on their hands, and they went for the base hit. I hope the full version will prove me wrong.

The most surprising thing about the talk was that there was no line outside. I just breezed in. I was almost disappointed. I wanted to get in the face of the guy at the door. You’re just going to let me in? Come on. This is Comic-Con. I came here to wait in huge lines! Do you even know who I am?

MORE: San Diego Comic-Con, Day Zero: Has the Nerd Bubble Burst?