Sunday, February 20, 2022

I finally went to the Comic-Con Museum

For the last 15 years, Comic-Con has grown from the pinnacle of pop culture conventions into something larger - a sprawling juggernaut that has become a celebration synonymous with comic books and pop culture in general. The folks at Comic-Con International, looking to expand the event's influence with a permanent, year-round location, announced the creation of the Comic-Con Museum a few years ago. I became a member in 2018, and in 2019, the newly repurposed building in Balboa Park opened for a preview of sorts during the '19 convention, ahead of its grand opening a year later.

The grand opening, of course, did not happen as planned, and it's fair to wonder, after two years of not having a regular convention and all of the revenue that streams from that, what the resulting limbo has done to both budgets and plans. In a lot of ways, it seemed that 2020 was going to be the pinnacle of Comic-Con, where it would really flex its muscles and become something more than a week-long experience and start having even more of an influence on San Diego with its permanent residence. Now, who knows? I'll be interested to see how the 2022 show handles what would otherwise be 150,000 people in close quarters with one another.

I didn't make it to the 2019 museum offsite, which featured a lot of Batman memorabilia, while it was open. I never made the time to break away from the convention center to travel the 15-or-so miles to Balboa Park, where the Comic-Con museum sits among other sites of interest. It's never easy to get to offsite events during the show, and the idea of taking an hour away from the convention just for traveling was too much for me at the time. Hindsight being what it is, I wish that I had started or finished a day at the museum back then.

2021 was different, though. After the Special Edition show ended on Sunday, I knew what I'd be doing at 10:00 on Monday, and I traveled to the museum to finally check it out. I arrived about 15 minutes after the museum opened, and I was one of the only visitors for much of my time there. It was a little weird to get the museum almost all to myself, but I was able to talk with some of the staff as I wandered the three floors, which certainly added to the experience.

One of the first things I saw upon entering was the cardboard sculpture display, which showed off these amazing creations, mostly built by children, using cardboard boxes.

Most of the sculptures were labeled with the names and ages of the creators. It was really something to see a beautifully designed, life size figure that ended up being made by a 10 or 11-year-old kid. It was all really impressive!

This Hulkbuster Iron Man was the biggest sculpture on display.

Just check out Black Manta's weapon. Sheesh!

At the very end of the display was this Comic-Con Museum logo. There was a lot of stuff that I loved seeing here, but the cardboard display was probably what impressed me most.

Also in a prominent location were these, and other costumes, which I soon learned were from the Comic-Con Masquerade events from years past. This means that these costumes were also fan-made, and given to the museum to display.

At least thematically, I think this worked really well. Rather than just being a museum for pop culture stuff, they're obviously trying to make it something that feels like Comic-Con and includes some of the best parts of the convention.

Years ago, when Comic-Con had a gallery at the San Diego Public Library (which was pretty clearly a lead up to the museum and its permanent display place), I remember seeing a display of Comic-Con program cover art. I wish that that display had a permanent place here at the museum. I'm sure they've got it around somewhere, and I know that there's never enough space for everything, but having a permanent display of Comic-Con history is something I think they should have.

After seeing the costumes, I checked out the Archie Comics display. Beyond just artwork and collectibles, this wing had a 1950s Archie motif to it.

This display felt a little more random to me than some of the others, without a clear purpose, but there were still a lot of great pieces or art to see.

There was also a small section dedicated to the real-life Archies musical group.

The Gene Roddenberry exhibit was what I was most excited to see, and it inhabited the most prominent location on the museum floor. The display was created so it looks like you're entering the ship through a corridor. On the floor you'll see multicolored lined. Each of these lines included events from Roddenberry's life on them, and you could follow them throughout the exhibit.

I don't know if these costume props are the originals (there was nothing indicating that they were), but they were still great to see.

The Gorn! 

The uniforms, though, were labeled as originals from the various shows. Here we have a Next Generation uniform with Discovery uniforms on the bookends.

Why was this chair roped off? Why wouldn't they let me sit in it? Outrageous!

I believe the Talosian in the middle is from an episode of Discovery, not the pilot episode "The Cage" from the '60s.

After making my way through all of the Star Trek items, I walked upstairs to the Creator's Lab that doubles as a classroom space. I'm sure that those at the museum are itching to use this space more fully, and hopefully they'll get a chance soon. 

The space held costuming materials as well as these models - I don't know who will be able to use this space when it's more widely open, but what I did see was very impressive!

On the drawing board, figuratively and literally, is Captain Carter, Marvel's new What If...? character.

Around the walkway along the third floor, I saw a number of original drawings from Addams Family creator Charles Addams. 

Most of the art dealt with subjects other than the Addams Family. This was my favorite of the dozens of framed pieces on display.

But there was, of course, plenty of Addams Family artwork, too.

I saved the Pac Man exhibit for last. This display felt secreted away in its own cubbyhole, the all-black background from ceiling to floor making it seem apart from everything else. It kind of looks like an arcade from the outside.

There was a lot of memorabilia to see. I think these items were under glass to keep onlookers from getting Pac Man Fever.

The exhibit itself felt a little bit light on content, but these design documents looked pretty cool.

Tucked away in one corner was this really awesome Pac Man pinball machine! I had never played this game before and spent a few minutes with it. The machine was set to free play, and since I was the only one there, I might have played more than my share. It was a lot of fun.

I absolutely loved getting to finally see this museum. There's a lot of potential for exhibits, programming and other types of outreach at this place. It feels like a grab bag of Comic-Con which is exactly what I was looking for, even after leaving the truncated convention just a day earlier. I would love to make it back here the next time I'm in town.

This trip to San Diego allowed me to see a number of things that I normally wouldn't be able to, and I'm really happy to have not only had the chance to get back to this town, but to also explore some things a little more. Before I left, I made one last stop - to the Cat Café in downtown. The cats had moved across the street since the last time I was there.

But they still had cats. I think this guy got adopted just a couple days after I was there.

As I was leaving my parking space, I saw the Peacemaker banner coming down from the outside of the hotel. It's a Comic-Con tradition! I don't know what 2022 will bring for Comic-Con. I know that the organizers are planning on having a show in July. No matter what happens, I was really glad to be able to see the city, the convention, and some of the surrounding area again for the first time in what felt like a very long time. Here's hoping for better days ahead.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

San Diego's Now Or Never Comics

Going to a comic book shop during Comic-Con International may seem like a weird thing to do - and it is - but I've always wanted to go to San Diego's Now Or Never store, and this November, I was able to visit for the first time.

Now Or Never Comics opened in 2018 and it immediately landed on my radar, if for nothing else than the fact that it was a downtown comic book shop that was within walking distance of the San Diego Convention Center. I am a very big proponent of Comic-Con sprawl during the convention, and I'm always excited to see what related events are happening throughout the city while the show is going on. But once Comic-Con starts, reality sets in, and it becomes evident that there are only so many hours in a day. Because of this, sites and events that at one time seemed to be can't miss items end up getting lopped off of convention schedules because of the dreaded time crunch.

If I remember correctly, Now Or Never Comics hadn't opened in time for Comic-Con 2018, and I didn't find time to walk there in 2019. I made plans to go on the Monday after the show ended, but Mondays are the one day out of the week that the shop is closed, so I never made it to the shop until this past year.

Sunday at the Comic-Con Special Edition ended up being a perfect day for me to walk to different locations around town and to see things that I normally wouldn't have time for during a regular show. It was a very decompressed day in general, so I took advantage and spent time walking to a couple different places in downtown San Diego, including this comic book shop located on F Street.

The store is located in a two-story building made of brick and concrete, a somewhat condensed space with high ceilings and seemingly every space utilized. The main floor is populated most prominently by drawers of back issues. I ended up buying that Miracleman issue in the picture above.

There's a lot of charm to the store. It's well lit with a lived-in feel, and even though they sell collectibles, it seemed to me that this was a place where you would take things out of the box and play with them. Note the well-used My Pet Monster sitting in the stadium seats in the above picture.

The second floor of the shop was well organized and even more condensed, with an action figure display there to greet you at the top of the stairs.

The feel and layout of this space was what I'd hope from a comic shop. There was a lot of stuff to check out, and I was excited to wander around.

The store had more toys than I had expected.

But there was still a lot of room for comics. These dollar books populated one side of the upstairs room, while downstairs was where you could find new books, trades and other back issues.

I dropped off a few copies of Planet Comics while I was there. As always, I wonder if anyone went home with 'em or if they're still at the bottom of a stack somewhere.

I'm always excited to go to a new comic shop, and Now Or Never didn't disappoint. The close proximity to the convention center gives me hope that sometime soon, they'll be able to create some kind of space for an event that takes place during Comic-Con. It seems like a great place to have an after-hours signing, to host a mini-panel or to sell some kind of show exclusive. But for now, if you're in San Diego, check out this shop that really captures the feel of San Diego. I hope to go back again the next time I'm in town!

Monday, February 7, 2022

pictures from the 2021 Comic-Con Special Edition, part 3

Sunday was the last day of Comic-Con 2021, and like it sometimes does, it had a very relaxed atmosphere around it. By this time, I had seen most of what I had wanted to, so I was in the unusual position of not having much of anything on my immediate schedule. Because of this, I got to do thing that I otherwise wouldn't, which ended up being really enjoyable. Let's take a look at Sunday, November 28th at the Comic-Con Special Edition! 

Fresh off the trolley, I went to check on the mammoth skull at the La Brea outside exhibit. Yes, it was still there. Good.

It was a Sunday morning in November, and that meant Steelers football. Bub's is a Steelers bar located right by Petco Park, so it was easy to walk from the convention center right to the bar, where I got to watch the game with some fellow Steelers fans! So how did the game go? Let's not talk about it!

I decided to take a walk over to downtown San Diego's Now Or Never comic shop. This shop opened a few years ago and I've always been meaning to check it out, but I never got the chance during a regular year at Comic-Con. A slow Sunday gave me the opportunity to go inside for the first time! My next post, faithful readers, will be all about this store and my experience there.

After leaving the shop, I walked back to the convention, and decided to give Peacemaker's Proving Ground another shot. I tried to wait in line for this experience the day before, but the line was much too long and moved much too slowly.

On Sunday, however, I only had to wait about 20 minutes before I was able to get in. I joined a group of five other people and approached Peacemaker's trailer, which was set up to look just like the character's home in the show.

Once we got inside, we were given some safety equipment and a Nerf gun. After a few minutes of instruction, we were off on our obstacle course-style mission.

I tried to take a few pictures inside the obstacle course, and all of them turned out terrible. This blurry shot is the best one that I managed to get. This was about halfway through, after dodging enemy fire and accidentally killing a hostage.

Once we made it through, we got to this photo opportunity where we were declared Peacemaker Proven (and encouraged to watch the HBO Max show). The whole thing was a ton of fun and easily the best event at Comic-Con this year. During a regular year, this still would have been a really popular site, but it would have taken all day to get through. I'm really glad that I was able to get through this on the last day. I'm really enjoying the show, too!

I then walked back through the Gaslamp, where I was invited to play a game.

Here's Loki and a few variants.

I saw these folks near the Hilton, outside of the convention center. I asked to take their picture and the guy asked if I was sure I wanted him in it as well. The maroon suit looks like something a Batman villain would wear, so yeah, guy, I do.

As I made my way through the Gaslamp, back toward the convention center, I saw some guys handing out tins of mints with the Freak Brothers logo on them. I knew that there was supposed to be an offsite event for this new cartoon (based on the 1960s underground comic??), but I couldn't find it anywhere. At a show that was probably 30% the size of a normal year, that was surprising, so I asked one of the logo-shirted people about it, and where I might find this event. The guy looked so relieved that someone was actually seeking out their space. He pointed me to the lawn area between the Hilton and the convention center.

After some searching, I found the Freak Brothers bus tucked away behind the hedges, out of sight from most of the convention. As I approached, two other workers waved me in and tried to give me more tins of mints. They were obviously thrilled to see someone - anyone - in the area. I was the absolute only convention attendee there. Hiding this bus behind some hedges where no one could find it was a real choice that they made, and it was kind of funny to be one of the few who found it. There was music, some bean bag chairs, a phone charging station, and tables with freebies like posters and, again, mints.

I spent a few minutes check the place out, and eventually another guy wandered in. We played a game of corn hole and then I left. It was weird. Everything about it was weird.

The show ended at 5:00 on this day, and it was getting late in the afternoon by the time I walked back to the convention center. I hadn't been inside at all, so it was time to check the floor out one last time before it was all over.

Things really slowed down toward the end, which was a new experience for me at Comic-Con. It usually rolls right along until they close the doors. But there were still things to see, such as inflatable Gizmo.

And this guy. Video game character? Probably.

I feel like this guy had been waiting 25 years to wear this at Comic-Con. Congratulations, guy.

I guess this was Studio Ghibli's first convention appearance in the United States? Good for them.

At this point, I was just taking pictures of anyone who walked by.

Heritage had this Fantastic Four cover on display, which they estimated would sell for around $50,000. Cool.

Listen, the dress code was pretty lax at this show. It takes some guts to go in like this, but then again, I guess he had his face covered.

This was a really elaborate group costume.

More Spideys! I do not know what is happening with the one in the middle.

Near row 100 and the Funko area, the convention set up a lot of backdrops where you could take pictures. This was, of course, because they had some space to fill, but a lot of people took advantage.

I don't know if they'll ever have room for stuff like this again. It was an interesting way to take up space.

Lumpy Space Princess made an appearance.

The Rocketeer is always a good choice, and the helmet works doubly well this time around.

I was disappointed at the dearth of comic book vendors at this show, especially since it seemed like there were more at the New York Comic Con just a few weeks earlier. But I still managed to get a few books and got to gaze at some more, like this rack that included three copies of Fantastic Four #1!

The show ended at 5:00 with not a lot of the usual fanfare. I made a number of last-minute purchases and tried to take it all in. This was the first San Diego Comic-Con in over two years! It was definitely different, but I enjoyed every minute. It was a lot of fun.

Of course, there's always some residual energy that leaks out of the building when the show ends, and this year was no different. Captain Marvel greeted me outside of the convention center as I was leaving.

The sun was starting to set when the show ended. It made for a calm scene outside.

Cars parked on the curb! Wild. Can't wait to go back.

These two clearly are not speaking to each other. Time to beam up, Spock.

The Peacemaker exhibit stayed open for a little while after the show ended. I ran over and hopped back in line at the food truck. This thing was a lifesaver over the weekend. I ordered some cheese sticks and almost missed my trolley out of the city because of 'em. I had to run while choking on fried mozzarella in order to catch it. Worth it.