Wizard World Meets Mercury Rising

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Jessi Brown and I weren’t the only ones who showed up at the wrong convention center that Friday afternoon. A couple days earlier, in the middle of a stressful workday, a hippy massage therapist told me that it was the start of Mercury Rising – the time of year that all travel and communications go down the tubes. I hadn’t taken him too seriously at the time, but it was beginning to look like he was on the money.

It would be Jessi’s first trip to a comic book convention, after having been introduced to the world of graphic narrative through ravenous reading of Grant Morrison’s epic cross-over Seven Soldiers, she came with an open mind. She was only searching for one comic book, a copy of The Black Dragon #2, a six issue Chris Claremont & John Bolton mini-series from the late 20th century. It seemed pretty obscure, but then I was looking for one issue of Dazzler and a few more of Howard the Duck.

After getting off the Blue Line at the Transit Mall station, we walked toward the Long Beach Convention Center, where the event was held in 2004. There was no sign of a comic book event; no Wizard World banners, no line of t-shirt bedecked nerdlingers, and a notable lack of body odor. We found an attendant at an info-booth. He said that we weren’t the first people to ask about a comic book convention, and that he had no clue where we should be headed. Then he pointed us to the hotel behind the convention center and said that everyone whom he had sent there hadn’t returned. That could have been ominous.

After fumbling with the hotel’s internet kiosk, we found that the Wizard World event was being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, about 40 minutes north and 15 minutes from home. It wouldn’t have hurt if the site had put up a change of venue banner, but let’s just chalk it up to Mercury Rising. The next time a bearded guy in Birkenstocks tells me to check my travel plans; I’ll call my travel agent. As it was, we missed the two Marvel and DC events, which is fine, because I hate those things anyway.

When we got off the Pico station of the Blue Line we could see Wizard World signs a couple blocks away. It was a significant change of venue, not just in neighborhood but in scale. The three exhibit halls of the Long Beach Convention Center offers 224,000 square feet. The Los Angeles Convention Center boasts about 720,000. Wizard World felt not-quite-snug down by the coast, but in the Downtown Los Angeles it might drown.

Wandering around the show floor on Friday afternoon, the show feels a bit anemic. There’s a large amount of space going unused and the apparent low attendance isn’t helping that much. Last year’s event was alive with hustle and bustle, but this year’s felt spread too thin. Of course, it might have helped if everyone went to the right convention center.

I introduced Jessi to Jason Martin, who had a booth pimping his super-hero reality show comic Super Real. He sat in a crowded booth waiting for passers-by, who were trickling in. She was intrigued by the concept, not hiding her obsession with reality TV. We picked up copies of the book to check out later.

After a little bit of hunting, I filled the hole in my Dazzler collection! A few minutes later we got Jessi’s comic for a total expenditure of $1.50. Then after searching through booths full of half price back issues, I picked up some of those Howard the Duck issues, saving issues 1 and 2, and a few others for times when the budget wasn’t as tight. It was a move I’d regret for the rest of the weekend.

By Saturday afternoon, it had become clear that something big was going to happen. Unfortunately, that something was the Los Angeles Marathon. The annual race through the City of Angels would take a wide arc around the Convention Center, closing off all of the major streets nearby on Sunday Morning. Some exhibitors seemed worried, but at least attendance was higher than on Friday.

Next to the theatre where two Wayans were hawking their new blaxploitation flavored comic Super Bad James Dynomite, was a panel called “TV Geeks Who Write Comics,” featuring Damon Lindelof, Jeph Loeb and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, all from the staff of the hit ABC television drama Lost. The trio answered questions from the audience, like “Was the Prisoner an influence?” and “Are you ever going to explain the numbers?” If I had realized earlier that the panel would be so Lost-centric, I probably would have watched the Wayans. My fault for not knowing that Loeb was new to the Lost staff. Well, any panel is good for taking some weight off your feet, and it was entertaining enough.

Immediately following that Jessi picked up a slice of malformed pizza from the cafeteria and then we headed over to the Wizard School, which last year was my favorite section of the event. Allan Heinberg was returning to share his ideas in a lesson called “Writing for Television and Comics.” The students seemed to have plenty of questions for the Young Avengers and former OC scribe; so many that he went a bit over time. Towards the end of the session, one very patient looking man raises his hand for a final question. “I flew all the way here from Texas to meet you,” he says, indicating a hefty box of comics. Apparently Mercury Rising (or a misinformed volunteer) kept Allan from attending one of his signings. Feeling bad, he offered to stay to sign whatever he could.

Squeezing a few interviews into the remaining hour of Saturday, I decided to give up on finding those last seven issues of Howard the Duck until Sunday.

When we got off the Blue Line on Sunday morning, there were signs of a Marathon, but the walkway was completely clear. Streets were still closed, but pedestrians could walk pretty freely. After entering the hall, there were more people than on Friday, but probably not as many as there could have been. We squeezed in a final interview and I picked up 3 of Steve Gerber’s classic satire about a Fowl.

It was quite a fun weekend. Some exhibitors were dubious of the change in venue. Los Angeles is closer to most of Southern California than Long Beach, but also much more problematic when it comes to traffic, even when there’s no Marathon going on. Downtown Los Angeles has never been known for being an easy place to drive. If only more people took the subway…

Yeah, right.

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