Comic Con ’13 Day 1: Nerd HQ, Psych, NASA

By Karen Veazey  @kmyvz

San Diego Convention Center has closed for the night but the Gaslamp Quarter is party central. MTV, Wootstock and Geek & Sundry are hosting the larger events while industry parties and special screenings are tucked into secret hotels.

Right now I’m happy to be far away, cozy in comfy clothes enjoying quiet time by the bay after an exciting first day of Comic Con.

Much Madness Happening at Comic Con

Much Madness Happening at Comic Con

I keep thinking the Con won’t get any more popular, but the first round of tickets sold out in 93 minutes last fall. Over 140,000 people crowd the Convention Center for the four day event consisting of discussion and Q&A panels from networks, studios, writers, fans and scientists. Plus an awesome 525,000 square foot exhibit hall. (I think it’s awesome, my sister thinks its borderline masochistic to spend time in there.)

As a whole the Con isn’t for the faint of heart, the crowds are overwhelming, the lines are long and you’ll be walking all day. But for a fan, it’s a once in a lifetime event to see the people who create your entertainment – or science – up close and unplugged. Plus TBS set up a free King of the Nerds cereal bar this year. You give us free cereal we make you a king.

Come to the nerd side, we have cereal

NERD HQ at Petco Park

We spent most of today at our favorite offsite spot, Zachary Levi’s Nerd HQ (more info on what Nerd HQ is all about here.) Nerd HQ has become so popular in just its third year that nearly all its Conversations for a Cause panels sold out in less than three minutes. Limited to 250 tickets, with proceeds benefiting Operation Smile, it’s well worth $20 to see panels like Supernatural or speakers like Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Buffy) in this intimate setting. It can literally save you hours of standing in line at the convention center to see the same panel from the far corner of a ballroom with 2,000 other fans.

The HQ relocated to a much larger, more comfortable setup at Petco Park with a ton of opportunities for online and arcade gaming. I squealed when I saw Galaga and wasn’t a bit embarrassed about it.

You can play the new D&D online game Never Winter to win prizes, or check out the amazing technology of the Virtuix Omni interactive virtual reality system. Whether you game or not this is cool technology you really don’t want to miss so check out the demo on their fully funded Kickstarter.

On our schedule today – Nerd HQ panels with Psych, Zachary Levi and the NASA Mars Curiosity JPL Team.

PSYCH

Dulé Hill and James Roday – USA’s Psych

The cast and writers of USA’s Psych love their fans and don’t take themselves too seriously. Their show is edgy family fun that winks at the conventions of crime procedurals and you can see they’re all grateful for how good they have it.

No surprise reveals from this panel from stars Dulé Hill and James Roday, writer Steve Franks and producers Chris Henze and Kelly Kulchak, but keep an eye out for their upcoming musical episode in December and a remake of an episode from a previous season. That’s unprecedented in television and I’m really curious what it will look like. If anyone can pull off something like that it’s this Psych team,

Fans were also relieved to hear Maggie Lawson’s character Jules will be back this season despite her new lead role in ABC’s family comedy Back in the Game.

ZACHARY LEVI

Zac Levi talks with fans at NERD HQ panel

Zachary Levi could be Ryan Seacrest in another life. He spent all day hosting panels, taking photos with fans, then wrapped the day by doing his own Q&A panel.The big question was what’s up next for Zac, who’s currently starting on Broadway in First Date.

He spoke pretty extensively about his entrepreneurial ideas and desire to help create content that gives more control to the fans. Less about studios and money, more about content and fan support. It’s a bold statement from a fairly young actor, and one which could get him in trouble with future jobs. But he believes in his vision and as a fan of many good canceled shows -*cough* Arrested Development *cough*- I hope he succeeds.

Talking about why he supports Operation Smile through Nerd HQ Zac encouraged fans to think bigger. “Go find something, be bigger than yourself.” Which kind of perfectly sums up what the guy is all about.

 NASA JPL MARS CUROSITY TEAM

Seriously smart: NASA JPL Mars Curiosity Team

I’m going to try and contain myself here because the NASA JPL team rocks.

I went to this year’s Con with one big goal, to see the Thursday afternoon panel for the upcoming Ender’s Game movie (Nov 2013 from Summit Entertainment.) I even planned to camp out overnight if necessary. But when I heard Nerd HQ added a panel with the NASA JPL team at the same time as Ender’s Game it was no contest. These guys are the real deal. In fact Curiosity Flight Director Bobak Ferdowsi introduced his co worker by saying “Raise your hand if you sent commands to a real spaceship yesterday.”

Ferdowsi, Fred Serricchio, and Rob Zimmerman showed the video of the landing and talked about their own experiences working on the Mars rover project. It’s fascinating science. Did you know that spacecraft are built using “old” technology, since the tech approved for the space program is usually several years old by the time the build starts, and older yet by the launch date? Me either! By the way it’s not bad tech, I was just surprised anything going into space isn’t blinged out with the newest shiniest gadgets we could slap on that thing.

One comment on the video about the landing summed up how great science is in real life – to paraphrase: Things are tough in our country right now, but that’s a ton of American ingenuity that just touched down on Mars.

We are still doing great things. And this team of funny, unassuming, relatable guys who happen to fly spaceships came to share their part in that with us nerds.

Always do science when you can

The panel was announced just a few hours before it went on sale so it didn’t sell out, but watch for it again the future. Zachary Levi recommended that if you enjoy things like this, or want to see a particular panelist, tweet them and let them know.

You can watch all the Conversations for a Cause videos here, and if you like them consider a donation to Operation Smile on behalf of Nerd HQ.

A Nerd’s Eye View of Comic-Con

by Karen Veazey

San Diego Comic Con is the beginning of my fiscal year, my Chinese New Year – the four days of the Con forming a cusp between all I’ve loved in pop culture over the last twelve months and all I look forward to ahead. Our theme this year is looking for Comic Con miracles, launched yesterday when we went to pick up our badges, a normally hours long process of standing in a line of giddy anticipation. Yesterday we got in line at noon, knowing the scheduled start time for badge pick up was 3pm. When they opened the line at 1pm we suddenly gained the whole afternoon to pore over the schedules and, most importantly, nap. Kudos to the Con! Our first CC miracle.

NERD HQ

Comic Con spills out of the Convention Center into the Gaslamp Quarter of downtown San Diego. First thing on today’s agenda was Nerd HQ – Zachary Levi’s (Chuck, Tangled) brainchild of an off-site hang-out on Seventh Ave. where you can eat, play the latest game releases and get up-close and personal with the casts and creators of your favorite shows.

Hourly panels held at Nerd HQ include casts from shows (Psych, Chuck, Robot Chicken) and films (The Expendables 2), and creators like Joss Whedon and Damon Lindelof. Most if not all these will be in panels at Comic Con itself, but with no guarantee of getting into those panels it’s worth the $20 ticket price to see your favorites, especially since all proceeds go to Operation Smile!

The “Chuck” Panel/ Karen Veazey

Each panel is moderated by Zach himself with the infectious enthusiasm not of a star, but of someone who really believes in doing good with what you’ve been given. Watch Zach for a few minutes and you won’t be surprised to learn he is a man of deep faith and strong family ties. His sister helps run Nerd HQ and his dad stood off to the side watching today. We enjoyed back to back panels of Psych (with Dule Hill, James Roday, writer Steve Franks and producers Chris Henze and Kelly Kulchak) and Chuck (nearly the entire cast.) Seating at the panels is limited to 200 people and the Q&A format provides an intimate experience just short of having a private lunch. If you can afford it (and survive the head-banging experience of the still evolving ticket sales)

Nerd HQ panels are the highlight of the Con. To give you an idea of their popularity, 20,000 ticket buyers hit the site simultaneously this year, crashing the servers and pushing sales back a day. In other words, business as usual regarding ticket sales for anything related to Comic Con! To stay up to date on Nerd Machine events (the parent org of Nerd HQ), panels and tickets sales for next years Nerd HQ, check out www.thenerdmachine.com. All the panels can be watched on streaming at http://www.break.com/nerdmachine-2012-livestream/live-from-nerd-hq-chuck-pt-1-2347642 Very cool on their part!

Defiance Café

The Defiance Cafe /Karen Veazey

Each year The Syfy Channel takes over the café of The Hard Rock Hotel. The past three years it’s been turned into Eureka’s Café Diem and now, with Eureka ending, its been morphed into the Defiance Café. Defiance doesn’t launch until April 2013, but Syfy is giving it a long promotional lead time as the show aims to chart new territory in TV programming. Set in a world of alien/human war, Defiance will run a television show and online MMO side by side, apparently the action of the game determining some of the course of the show.

With Eureka and Warehouse 13 Syfy created some pretty family friendly shows – well, by basic cable standards – but Defiance looks to be much more along the lines of Fox’s Falling Skies, and the online game is billed as a first-person shooter, so parental oversight may be called for. The game can be played at the booths of Defiance Café and when we head back over there again we’ll try and get our hands on the controls. At $17 for a salad though…it better be good.

Panels: Dystopia and Science

The afternoon held two of my favorite panels. “Hungry for Dystopia” included writers of young adult dystopian literature talking about what motivated them to create their similar yet vastly different storylines. Get it? HUNGRY for dystopia, as in The Hunger Games? I didn’t because I still don’t understand why they call it The Hunger Games anyway. But I digress…the best moment by far was during audience questions, when a young boy approached the mic, baffled by how to get up to it. When a kindly audience member leaned it over to him he eloquently asked whether the authors felt writing dystopian literature made them adopt a more cynical viewpoint. My sister, a pediatrician, commented that is typical of that age – they can fix your iPad for you but can’t figure out how to get up on the table to reach it.

We couldn’t get into the Science Channel’s Stuff You Should Know panel on “Time Travel: Science Fact or Science Fiction” so we grumped on down to the Expo hall. More on that tomorrow, the Expo hall deserves lots of attention on its own. Next came “The Science of Science Fiction” featuring writers and producers from Prometheus, Thor, Eureka, Battlestar Galactica, X-Men: First Class and more.

This is where I turn into an uber-nerd as I’d love to devote pages to these people with their incredible mix of brainiac intelligence, pop culture knowledge and writing ability, but I’m afraid it’s just a “me” thing. I’m always amazed that these sessions don’t have lines out the door and down the block like the panels for Twilight and Dexter. Maybe the writers need to sparkle?

The crux of this session was twofold. 1) Writers need to build a world, create scientific rules for it and stick to the rules. At the end of the day nobody cares HOW Thor’s hammer works, but if it suddenly does something outside the set of accepted rules, the audience checks out. 2) When the writers know more science they have more options. That doesn’t mean they have to understand all the science, but they need to take the time to work through it with their science consultants. This truly is a panel that celebrates the sometimes rocky marriage of entertainment and science professionals – opposite sides of the science-fiction coin.

Party Time!

There are parties at bars and freestanding displays all over the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego tonight but we aren’t cool enough to go to some (read: over 30) and just weren’t interested in others. I understand the History Channel is here with a nationwide grilling tour but it was packed out tonight. Comic-Con normally does a fantastic job providing shuttles from hotels all over the city to the convention center but things seem a little off-kilter this year. By the time we saw the line for the shuttle back to our hotel we decided to forgo the downtown fun and get some sleep. Still, it’s midnight as I I wrap up day one in that glorious ether of excitement and exhaustion that typifies the Con.

I leave you with the unofficial Rules of the Con we are making up as we go along:

  1. There is no pity at the Con. If your feet hurt, you should have worn better shoes. If you’re tired of standing in line, well, so are we. If you didn’t get that collector Comic-Con only edition of the Tardis you were after, it’s a TOY. Chill. And have fun.
  2. If you are texting and walking you deserve to get run over by the horde behind you.
  3. Ladies – cover it up. Everybody loves good cosplay, but if any part of your costume can be worn to the beach then it doesn’t make you look sexy, it makes you look desperate for attention. Harsh, but true.

The sweetest, funniest, geekiest oogling I saw today was a group of fan boys when a group of Disney princesses walked by. The fully covered kind, not the Little Mermaid kind. If we want to change how women are portrayed in science fiction, how ‘bout we don’t perpetuate the stereotype? But alas, that’s a who different post for a whole different day.

More fun and rules tomorrow! Same bat time, same bat channel!