by Karen Veazey
Every time you think Joss Whedon can’t get more likeable he does something to surprise you. More on that in a minute.
Learning the Lines
A couple of things coalesced several years ago that, from what I understand, dramatically changed the experience of Comic Con. One was the arrival of Twilight, bringing out a contingent of young and/or female Twihards gumming up what had been a smoothly oiled machine. Other factors were the boom of comic-to-movie adaptations and massive, effects-driven tent pole films; and the explosion of fantastic original programming on cable networks like SyFy, Showtime and A&E. In recent years, all these things have created the perfect storm to turn the convention center into a seething mass of humanity during Comic Con.
The convention center has two massive rooms where they schedule the most popular panels. Ballroom 20 holds about 4500 people and is normally used for television programming panels. Hall H, with seating up to 6000 is home to the studio movie events. In the years I’ve been here, people have always camped out to ensure they’d get into the Twilight panel, but this is the first year we’re seeing the same effect for some of the TV programming. Last year, we stood in line for about five hours to get into Ballroom 20’s panel for The Big Bang Theory, and thousands of us didn’t get in. This year, people are being proactive and camping in line the night before.
Firefly 10th Anniversary Reunion/Community/The Legend of Korra
Today was a really special event – for nerds – the 10th Anniversary Reunion panel for Firefly. If you’re unfamiliar, Firefly was a space-western show created by Joss Whedon (Buffy, The Avengers) and starring Nathan Fillion (Castle), Adam Baldwin (Chuck), Summer Glau (Terminator: Sarah Connor), Alan Tudyk (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) which ran for only 14 episodes before being cancelled. Frankly, it was ahead of its time, featuring the kind of tight writing, mythology and relevant themes that went on to be celebrated in shows like HEROES, LOST and the new Battlestar Galactica.
The line started forming for Firefly around 9pm last night, right about the time I was sucking down my fifteenth Diet Coke for the day. Of course at 1:30am I lay awake, caffeinated, fidgety, annoyed with myself. We’d planned to head over to get in line at 6am, hoping (but not expecting) to get in to see Firefly. Then I realized I could lie there getting no sleep and maybe get in to see the panel, or I could haul myself over to the convention center to sleep in line, on the ground, and be sure to see it. No contest, I can sleep anywhere.
Apparently I can’t sleep in a line of excited Firefly fans. I arrived at 3am to a charged atmosphere having just missed Joss Whedon, who stopped by and walked the line of campers, signing autographs and talking to each and every person awake. JOSS WHEDON, the man who created and helmed the third most successful movie ever (The Avengers) just cruising around outside the convention center. Needless to say it was a party and I admit I gazed with envy at the quiet queue of Hall H campers for the morning’s Big Bang Theory panel, laid out like a peaceful infant nursery.
And it was completely worth it. Before Firefly we had/got to sit through panels for NBC’s Community and Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra. I love Community, the show that celebrates the homogeny of people and bonds of friendship at the hilariously bizarre Greendale Community College. (Disclaimer: definitely a show with adult themes, which again, is another post for another day.) Community is one of the most inventive, creative sitcoms on TV, sprinkling animated, musical and theme episodes like Law and Order: Greendale College throughout the season. Danny Pudi (Abed) is as sweet and endearing as his character while Gillian Jacobs (Britta), Allison Brie (Annie) and Yvette Nicole Brown (Shirley) are firecracker funny.
The Legend of Korra is an offshoot of the Avatar Airbender series, which I know nothing about but will certainly be looking into now. One of the best things about the Con is these unexpected discoveries; last year I popped into an authors panel on a whim and was treated to George RR Martin dissecting his literary juggernaut Game of Thrones.
Then it was Firefly time. It went like this: standing ovation, questions, jokes, laughter, tears. This is an amazing fanbase and a special group of actors and creators. Small enough to feel intimate, large enough to have carried the legacy of a show for ten years past its retirement. Firefly and its series-finale movie Serenity now live on in fan fiction, Browncoat fan groups and a comics/graphic novel series from Dark Horse Comics. The cool thing is, the cast and creators love the show as much as the rest of us. Joss Whedon has repeatedly commented that this world of space-western fusion is the show he wanted to create since he was a kid; and that this cast was chosen because the characters already existed in their personalities before the characters were ever written.
Whedon is immensely personable despite, as I mentioned, being ridiculously talented and more successful than nearly everyone in Hollywood. The final audience question about what might have been done differently if they knew that Firefly would only last one season brought Whedon and Fillion visibly to tears. The moderator asked Joss to give a final comment on what the fans mean to him and a standing ovation ensued as he struggled for composure. I can’t recreate the atmosphere in words; you’ll have to trust it was a touching moment that leveled the creators, cast and fans into one large glob of happy companionship. Joss pulled himself together to say that the fact that a show that aired for one season could fill the room ten years later made him feel like the world of Firefly really exists. That there really are spaceships and horses and the fans are the people who populated the world of Firefly. We took it with us. It reminded me of a quote from Alan Moore, writer of V for Vendetta, “Artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.”
Never Too Much Fillion!
After a relatively low-key Bones panel with Emily Deschanel, David Boreanaz and Executive Producer Stephen Nathan we headed back over to Nerd HQ for an up close and personal panel with Nathan Fillion. Like last year, he brought along Adam Baldwin and the two riffed and joked with one another and the audience for a delightful hour. After a young boy in the audience asked a question, the stars – who both tend toward colorful vocabulary – delighted in censoring themselves and Fillion ending up donating cash toward Operation Smile for his slip-ups.
After the panel, Zachary Levi was told there was a surprise. Nerd HQ has a photo booth for fan photos with Zach, with proceeds benefitting Operation Smile. A few people had donated $100 for kisses on the cheek and now a gal had stepped forward with $1000 for an actual lip lock. After a hilarious moment of stretching, and a sweet, swept-her-off-her-feet Hollywood kiss, Nathan Fillion dashed back onto the stage throwing money at Zach and grabbed him into a hilarious facemash. Baldwin followed suit and Levi played along as a red-faced good sport. Sides aching with laughter, we headed back to the hotel with full hearts and ready for a nap!
Adding to yesterday’s rules, today we learned some simple truths:
4. Your camera batteries will die at the worst possible moment. Bring extras. Then bring backup extras. Maybe bring a backup camera.
5. Embrace the unexpected. Maybe, if you can’t sleep, you haul yourself over to the convention center in the dead of night and actually get in to the most popular event. And maybe, just when you’re tucking in for a snooze on the concrete, Joss Whedon will wander by. You just never know these things.
6. Lines, lines and more lines are the bane of everyone’s Comic Con experience but they seem to be here to stay. Prioritize your panels and go early to check out the line, then decide how committed you really are. If you’re going to be in line, enjoy it, you’ll make some cool new friends. But do be respectful of the people around you who don’t want to hear every word of your every thought.
7. Never underestimate Firefly fans. Even with Ballroom 20 packed out with no hope of anyone else getting in for the panel, thousands of people still stood in line, undeterred, just in case. If we ever need to mobilize a citizen army call Joss Whedon – these people will follow him anywhere. Bonus: they’re smart!
Up tomorrow: A Wrinkle in Time, Christians and Comics, and the Expo!