Wednesday, August 8, 2007

NeilCon, or the Neil Gaiman Subset of ComicCon International 2007

As I've seen mentioned a few times, the San Diego Comic Con International is so big that you basically need to decide what convention you want to make for yourself. This year, I elected to make my Comic Con experience focus on Neil Gaiman. I didn't see everything he was one, but made it a point to catch his spotlight panel and two of the three movie presentations he was part of at the Horton Plaza theatre.

First off, a somewhat organized report on the screenings:
One of the highlights of this year's Comic Con International were some special screenings arranged for three movies based on Neil Gaiman works. First up was one for Beowulf, for which a screening was held on Wednesday night with Neil Gaiman and co-screenwriter Roger Avary. With it happening on Wednesday night, there was confusion about who could actually get in to see it, though. The people at the Paramount booth either didn't know about it, claimed it was for press only, or later claimed it didn't actually happen. It did happen and Paramount did screen a taping of it on Thursday afternoon a couple of times. I was not able to make any of those screenings, but did see Gaiman and Avary talk about the movie in the big Paramount presentation on Thursday afternoon in Hall H. Gaiman first took the stage to talk about Stardust with screenwriter Jane Goldman, showing an extended clip from the film. When they were done with that segment, Neil walked off stage as he had been told to do, and then came back on stage with Roger Avary. You can see video from those panels on Youtube. First the Stardust segment with Jane Goldman and then the Beowulf panel with Roger Avary.

Thursday night was a preview screening of Stardust, with Neil Gaiman and Jane Goldman introducing the movie and holding a short Q&A session afterwards. For this screening, there were 50 VIP passes made available via the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for which those who sprung for it got a limited print by Charles Vess (1 of 50) signed by Gaiman and Vess, a set of the Stardust frangrances by Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, and a VIP ticket to the screening. Paramount also handed out passes at their booth, having them snatched up very quickly by fans eager to see the movie early. Of course, they handed out more passes than there were seats and those who arrived late weren't able to get in. Having sprung for the CBLDF VIP package, I was able to bypass the line outside and take a seat in the reserved section.

As it grew nearer to the start of the Stardust screening, the theatre filled up and sitting down the aisle from me was Charles Vess and, I assume, some other people involved with the movie. Neil and Jane were introduced and did a short introduction for the film and then did a Q&A session afterwards. I'll be posting a detailed review of the movie later this week, but I quite enjoyed it and the audience gave Neil and Jane a standing ovation as they went back to the front of the stage for the Q&A session. As Neil had indicated onstage earlier in the day, the movie is different from the book in such a way as to describe the book as the Earth-1 version of the story while the movie is the Earth-2 version. The story was restructured a bit so that we actually met up with Tristan Thorne much earlier in the movie and he has a much quicker journey to where the star has landed. When asked about the role of Captain Shakespeare and if it was expanded for the movie because the signed up Robert DeNiro, Goldman indicated that the role had been expanded as part of creating the movie script and that it grew a bit more when DeNiro was brought on board. Gaiman talked about when he visited the set and was able to walk around on the full size flying ship set. He recounted that he put a flying ship in the story because he thought it would be neat to have Charles Vess draw a flying ship as part of the illustrations. It took him a few minutes to write it, and probably a few hours for Charles to draw it. When he was standing on the set that took workers two months to build and several million dollars, he started to feel a bit guilty about it, though. For those wondering why it is Tristan Thorne in the movie while in the original book it was Tristran Thorn, Gaiman said that when director Matthew Vaughn was getting things written down, he referenced a British paperback edition of Stardust that had the character name as Tristan Thorne on back of the book and once Michael had it written down that way, it stuck. Thus probably perpetuating the Earth-1 vs. Earth-2 analogy.

During the Rogue/Focus pictures panel in Hall H on Saturday, Neil Gaiman once again took the stage, this time with director Henry Selick to talk about the stop motion 3D animated movie based on Gaiman's Hugo, Nebula, British Science Fiction, Locus Poll, and Bram Stoker award winning story Coraline. They formally announced a special screening that night with passes being handed out at the Rogue Focus pictures booth later that afternoon. I managed to get by the booth and get a pass, although it appeared that the passes that were more popular were those for a preview screening of Balls of Fury. I imagine that people who were in Hall H that heard about it didn't want to leave the hall to get a pass for fear they would not be able to get back in and those who might have wanted to see it didn't even know it was happening. Those of us who were able to check Neil's blog knew that something was happening and were able to figure it out.

After packing my stuff up from the J. Michael Straczynski spotlight, I caught the comiccon shuttle bus up to the Horton Plaza and found a relatively short line of fans lined up for the screening. I was early enough to have time to get something to eat and relax a bit before heading back to my place in line, seeing that it had grown a bit while I was away. They did have a couple of posters on display outside of the theatre and it was a fairly relaxed crowd when they started to let us in. As expected, they were checking bags and purses to prevent anyone from taping the presentation. They were relatively nice about it compared to other screenings I've been to and since most people had come directly from the convention, they still had their cameras. I was allowed to keep my camera by removing the memory card and putting it in my pocket. After the screening, I was able to take a couple of pictures (really dark, though) of Neil and Henry signing the posters they handed out.

The crowd was a mixture of Gaiman fans (a couple of girls dressed up as Death and Delirium), industry types and Gaiman's family (his daughter Maddy and son Mike) as well as his assistants who had been watching over him all weekend. Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick sat down in the front of the theatre and started with showing various test footage of each of the major characters including Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning), her Mother and the Other Mother (both voiced by Teri Hatcher), her rubbernecked Father (voiced by John Hodgman), the obese Miss Forcible and top-heavy Miss Spink (voiced by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, respectively). Selick noted that French and Saunders had originally been cast with the other roles (French as Miss Spink and Saunders as Miss Forcible) but that when they were doing readings, something seemed to be missing. When they had them switch parts, it really clicked and that is how it has ended up. The look of the character design in the movie is different from the Dave McKean illustrations in the original book and were primarily developed by visual designer Tadehiro Uesugi. We saw test footage of characters walking and moving as well as some test footage with syncing the faces up to the dialogue. In most footage there was still a line below most characters foreheads that is part of the physical puppet. Selick indicated that they planned to remove those for the final film as well as the visible support beams needed for some characters. Gaiman indicated he kindof liked that lines on the face and hope they stay in. I guess we'll find out when the movie is released next year how it ends up. After concluding showing us the test footage, they asked us to put on our 3D glasses and screened a mostly completed section of the film lasting about ten minutes that showed Coraline discovering the door between her house and the Other house and ending with the discovery of the Other Mother with her noticeable difference from her real mother. The 3D is more subtle in the real world and is more noticeable in the Other world. The footage looked very good and the look of the film is really outstanding visually. Selick said that when they decided to do it in 3D, they redesigned and rebuilt some of the sets to make it work better in 3D and it really did look good. It think this will set a new standard for stop motion animation and will be worth catching by viewers of all ages.

After the screening was done, Gaiman and Selick took a few more questions and then it was announced that those with pieces of paper stuck under their seats with stars on them would be getting a special poster made for this event and that Gaiman and Selick would sign. They were numbered and on thicker paper and look really neat.

The rest of Neil Con
In addition to the offsite screenings and appearances on the panels in Hall H, Neil was quite busy the rest of the time. He did one full public signing up in the autograph area on Friday where they did a random ticket drawing for people to be able to be in the line. They had several hundred people filling up about four bays trying to get the few tickets that were available, for which I was not one of the few to get them. That wasn't the only signing opportunity, though. Neil also did a couple of signings on Thursday and Friday for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund where for new or renewal memberships, you were able to get an item signed. Also for the CBLDF, they did a special poster of his poem "Instructions", illustrated by Brian and Wendy Froud, that originally was going to be a signing at the Imaginosis booth where Brian and Wendy were most of the weekend. Realizing the demand for Neil, they made it a ticketed drawing with a notice in the daily paper about it. The mention didn't specify it also required purchasing the poster (with proceeds going to the CBLDF). WIth the late notice, there was a much smaller crowd for the drawing and most people that wanted the ticket were able to get one. During this signing is when Claudia Christian stopped by to tell Neil how much she liked his work.

Neil also made an appearance at the CBLDF Auction (or was supposed to) and also presented at the Eisner Awards on Friday night. It was here that his co-presenter, Jonathan Ross, decided they should re-enact the Madonna/Britney Spears kiss for the audience. It was near the end of a long ceremony and you can see what happened here on YouTube.

Neil's spotlight panel on Friday was well attended and Comic Book Resources has a very good report on it. Neil did cause a bit of a stir during the panel when he removed his leather jacket!
During the panel, Neil's assistant also handed out sample t-shirts from the Neverwear venture.
There's also a few bits of video from this panel online on YouTube. Panel opening, Scary Trousers, ComicCon's Early years & Charles Vess, Imagination, Scandanavian Death Metal.

The other panel Neil did was on Sunday in a Jack Kirby Tribute panel with Mark Evanier, Erik Larsen, Darwyn Cooke, and Mike Royer. This was the panel Neil was most looking forward to doing and CBR has a report on the panel.

Following the Kirby panel, Neil was off and running up to Los Angeles for the star studded premier of Stardust in Hollywood. Photos on IMDB from the premiere can be found here, starting with Neil in the slideshow. Charles Vess also reported on the premiere on his blog with a report and a photo of him and Neil together. (Note that at the time I posted this, the greenmanpress site appeared to not be responding. Possibly overloaded due to Neil having linked to it on his journal).

You can also look back on Neil Gaiman's online journal for his thoughts on Comic Con including a couple of videos from his daughter, Maddy. While waiting in line and in the audience for these events, a lot of people were surprised to hear about the other things happening, all of which they would have known about if they'd read Neil's blog before the con.

I think that about does it for this entry.

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