McClain panel 2

WELCOME TO EARTH-4

A Weekly Column with J. Torrey McClain

I got to drive 125 miles south and east yesterday to visit the horde of awesome that is Comic-Con.  As usual, it was a blast and I wish I had the mutant ability of Jamie Madrox the Multiple Man to see every panel, hang out at every booth, visit every place outside the Con and then at the end of the day, try every dessert at Café Zucchero.  However, I am just one man in one place at one time in this universe.  So, let me break down my small piece of Saturday in San Diego.

The Great

– As a Los Angeleno, the two banes of my existence in this metropolitan monstrosity are traffic and parking.  Driving down took only two hours and I found a lot that only charged $5 for 12 hours.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

– At forty minutes before high noon, I made my way to room nine and the line forming outside.  The line kept on filling and filling and soon I was glad to have foregone any extra time on the floor, for I got to see “Berkeley Breathed: The Last Comic-Con Panel!”  The whole session consisted of Breathed joking about himself, his love of merchandising and his “tiff” with Bill Watterson.  Sitting in the room laughing made evident the comic quickness of the mind behind Opus and Bill the Cat.  It made me miss “Bloom County,” “Calvin and Hobbes” and “The Far Side,” all bits of my past that now only show up in collections (like the future upcoming collection of Breathed’s work “Academia Waltz” from his time at the University of Texas.)  The bit of the panel that will stick with me the most is about how times have changed and how the comic pages have begun to fade.  Pieces of art, comedy and commentary that were in 100 million newspapers on kitchen tables 30 years ago, now barely make it out of the tin boxes in the vestibules of IHOPs.

McClain panel 1

– I may have missed the “Saga” panel at 1 pm, but I caught Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples during the “Strong Female Characters” panel two hours later in the same room.  June Brigman, Colleen Coover, Sara Mayhew, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Paul Tobin, Vaughn and Staples talked about what it takes to make strong female characters, how they approach it and listed some of their current favorites.  The story that will last with me though came from the moderator, Maggie Thompson.  She told the story of her husband reading to their daughter a run of “Fantastic Four” every night before bed.  As a gift for their daughter when she was away in college they gave her a bound collection of a great many of those same stories.  When she received them and started to read the stories, she angrily called her mom and yelled that these were not the stories her father had read to her.  It turns out that her father had read her all of Reed Richard’s lines as the words said by Sue Storm.  He didn’t want the only female superhero in the story to be the one that fades and hides.

– I returned to Donovan’s in San Diego to visit some friends and once again got to enjoy some of their fine food.  I had the three sliders and after a lunch of only a Snickers bar in between panels (but I’ll have you know, it truly satisfied – now Mars, please send me a free box), those burgers hit the spot.

– I paid my respects in person to the player and the man of San Diego baseball, Tony Gwynn.

McClain baseball

The New

– While waiting for the aforementioned “Saga” panel that I missed, I met a couple of new people waiting for the 2 pm panel.  I decided to wait with them (as I planned on going to the 3 pm panel) and catch this other panel with them.  I’m glad that I did. In it, the new book by James Frey, Endgame: The Calling made itself known to me.  I later went down to the Random House booth and got a free galley of the book and got it signed.  The stories from this panel that stick with me involve Frey’s research regarding the “Great White Pyramid of Xi’an” and the evidence of ancient civilizations in that region of China.  After reading Endgame, I may have to find a nice history book about the pyramid building civilizations of China.

– As a tie-in with the book, there will be a puzzle inserted within the new copies to be released in October that will lead to a “key” and the first person to claim the key will be rewarded with a treasure of $500,000 in gold.  The second book will bring about a treasure of one million in gold and the third one, $1.5 million.  This idea came to Frey because of his childhood interest in the book, Masquerade and the puzzle within that led to a jewel-encrusted rabbit.  Now, I have to check out this picture book and sharpen my puzzle abilities for the upcoming year.  Fellow panelist Mat Laibowitz will design the puzzles.

– Another tie-in comes from Google VP John Hanke, the man that helped to guide the “Geo” section of the Google empire, the group behind the game Ingress, available as an app in the Google Play store and on iTunes.  I can’t tell you much about it, other than a similar game system will be developed into the story associated with Endgame.  However, I just downloaded it, I will begin playing and I may have to write and update you later about my experiences.

– The aforementioned current recommendations from the “Strong Female Characters” that I’ve added to my reading list include Rocket Girl, Drinking at the Movies, Cursed Pirate Girl, and Rachel Rising (that I had forgot to add after reading C.J. Bunce’s discussions.)

McClain panel 3

The Tasty

– The cannolis at Café Zucchero in San Diego’s Little Italy.  Delicious.

– As part of waiting in line, I also heard from one of my fellow line mates about Baker’s Drive Thru in San Bernardino and Riverside.  Now, I have a new place to try on my way out to visit my sister in Palm Springs.  She claims it is better than In-N-Out, and after learning about her love of The Thrilling Adventure Hour, I am more than willing to believe her good taste.  Mmmm, banana milkshakes, barbacoa burritos and burgers.  Mmmmm.

Thank you San Diego.  Thank you Comic-Con.  See you next year!