In a lot of ways, Comic-Con is like The Hangover, except with this guy as Mike Tyson:

Every year, I vow to keep a cool head at Comic-Con. And every year, I find myself overdosing on all things pop-culture; lost in the maze of artists, booth babes, cosplayers, and standing in never-ending lineups that seem to snake around the convention center like sea monsters.

But I’m not complaining. I know that it’s impossible to get a handle on the sensory-overload reality of Comic-Con. It usually takes me until the plane ride home until I even start to piece together what exactly happened, and Comic-Con 2010 was no different. Five days went by in the blink of an (non-stabbed) eye.

But luckily, I’ve got breadcrumbs in the form of swag and comics still littering my floor and a camera full of strange photos to help me navigate me through last week’s blur of pop-culture insanity.

There was lots of good stuff: The JJ Abrams/Joss Whedon panel, discovering Sinatoro, a sci-fi indie flick written by mega-mind Grant Morrison, the demo for Marvel Versus Capcom 3, and the trailer for ‘The Walking Dead’ show, andthe previously-mentioned suitcase of comics that I brought home. But, for what it’s worth, here’s are my favorite moments from the pop-culture labyrinth of Comic-Con 2010:

Scott Pilgrim Versus Soulless Pandering

The presence of Scott Pilgrim loomed largely – and literally – over Comic-Con.

As my plane descended on San Diego, I saw the downtown core from the plane window, including a massive Scott Pilgrim vs. the World ad plastered onto the face of a hotel overlooking the convention center.

One complaint about Comic-Con — that increases with each passing year — is how Hollywood is pushing the comics out of Comic-Con. I’m not sure that’s the exactly the case, but Scott Pilgrim’s appearance this year is a perfect example of how Hollywood marketing doesn’t have to suck.

With the Scott Pilgrim Experience  — a SP-themed mini-convention across the street where free custom screen-printed shirts were made, video game demos were played, autographs were signed, and free garlic bread was eaten — three sneak previews of the movie, an awesome Hall H panel that had Michael Cera donning a Captain America suit – attendees were definttely being sold something at Comic-Con, but instead of pandering it,  it instead felt more like celebrating an awesome pop art achievement with a mob of people that were all equally stoked.

It was doubly-cool that the final book of the Scott Pilgrim saga, ‘Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour’ was released right before Comic-Con started. I got to pick up a copy at the Oni booth, along with a set of awesome gig posters. My own personal Scott Pilgrim experience dovetailed on Friday, starting with reading ‘Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour’ in the morning, and ending with a screening of Scott Pilgrim Versus The World.

[The sneak preview went over like a great rock show, discovering my new favorite band alongside a thousand close friends, and the final volume went out on a perfect note, with Bryan Lee O’Malley taking his game to yet another level. The two blended together like a Sonic Sasquatch made of pure-win.]

For all the marketing dollars and hype put into all-things-Scott-Pilgrim-related, I’d still argue that SP vs. the World was the perfect spiritual totem for Comic-Con. It’s a movie based on a comic/manga that’s infused with video games and rock n’ roll. Scott Pilgrim is a worthy poster kid for the pop arts blender that was Comic-Con 2010 — especially when compared to shallowness of The Green Hornettes and the Las Vegas-style pamphlet bombings that were happening across the street from the convention.

It sucks that if the movie doesn’t make tons of money, Scott Pilgrim’s presence at Comic-Con will be seen as a failure to a bunch of suits . But I kind of hope that Bryan Lee O’Malley and Edgar Wright take more satisfaction in the Ramona cosplayers that keep showing up at Comic-Con for years to come.

Fight For Your Right For Magnets

Fred Phelps’ Travelling Circus of Hate and Media-Whoring briefly picketed the convention on the first day. I hesitantly stopped by, to see if there was anything photo-worthy. I was surprised to be greeted by the radness of this counter protest:

In a brilliant display of absurdity, a group of nerds made sure all cameras were on them instead of the scary nutters. With all the canned announcements that come out of Comic-Con, the anti-protest was something truly unexpected. And it marks the first time Furries used their power for good, instead of badbadbad.

Knife To The Eye

The eye-stabbing in Hall H will be a watershed moment for Comic-Con 2010.

For some, it will represent the nerds becoming too powerful. Or maybe as the defining moment that Comic-Con jumped the shark.

But for me, it was chance to experience Comic-Con’s greatest conflict firsthand — the ever-blurry line between press and fan, and the weird bonding that happens in 3 hour-long lineups.

After waiting for a little over two hours, I made it to the lobby that funnled into Hall H. This is where aperson in front of me got a text message — which he announced to everyone around him — saying that someone had been stabbed inside Hall H, which was met mostly with disbelief. Then there was an eerie calm around the hall. No one was allowed in, and no one left. It was like this for a long time. I think someone cosplaying as a tumbleweed even blew by.

Then a stretcher was carted in.

Time passed. Then the stretcher came back out, empty.

Lots of jokes were made in between — whether the stabbing was a viral marketing push for The Goon movie (“Knife to the eye!”), to debating whether or not the Comic-Con eye logo would be changed to a Nick Fury-like patch next year. And as jokes were made, worse case scenarios were imagined.

Then there was a lot of hushed silence and turned heads as Pen Stabber was escorted outside by police, with his hands behind his back.

I tried to step outside to take some pictures during the whole fiasco, but a police officer at the door told me to step back inside the lobby as I snapped a photo. I offered him my press pass.

“But I’m press?” I said/asked.

Without looking, he told me again to step back inside, forcing me to decide between giving up my spot in line to see the Avengers Assemble or getting the chance to take a photo a guy who potentially murdered an eyeball. Stepping out of turn would have put me at the very back of the monstrous lineup outside.

So, I found my new friends in line, as the real info started pouring in over my twitter feed from the real media working within eyeshot from me.

(My favorite thing about the above photo is the girl that totally thinks she’s taking a picture of a Police Academy cosplayer.)

Avengers Assemble:

I don’t think a single person with Internet was surprised with the Joss Whedon/ Avengers’ confirmation. Same for with the plans to unveil The Avengers lineup at Hall H – complete with Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and the Norton/Ruffalo swap. Most of it it was written about weeks before it happened. (With Renner being all-but announced the day the before.)

And I’m still not really sure what’s weirder.

  1. That I waited in such an epic line to see a photo op that had been described to me weeks before it even happened, or;
  2. That a potentially watershed moment for blockbuster movies was essentially having the cast of Iron Man 2 share a stage with nu-Captain Kirk’s dad, Human Torch, Mark Ruffalo, and The Hurt Locker guy.

Maybe it would have been cooler if they had all come out in costume. (Maybe Cera in the costume scared Chris Evans off this idea?) Or maybe the giant cement pillar that blocked my view of the stage dampened the experience a bit.

Meta-Con:

I have a weird theory that Comic-Con literally represents the state of the comic book medium  –I think it really holds up for the 00’s, when mainstream comics were trying to attract big names to write the books, and superhero movies were blowing up, with hopes of comic stores being flooded with new potential customers that just saw ‘Elektra.’

This was the Trojan horse moment for Hollywood to ‘takeover’ Comic-Con.  The comic book industry wanted the masses to know about our cool, accessible comics/properties, as well as the celebrities that showed up to our conventions.

But now, as the medium itself is showing the birth pangs of a digital rebirth, it’s fitting that Comic-Con itself is at a literal crossroad, with a possible relocation to Los Angeles or Anaheim in the future. I’m not too terrified about the future of comics or Comic-Con, but this year did feel like a ominous indicator of something, like a creeping foreshadowing.

This is a total tangent, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Morgan Spurlock’s documentary on Comic-Con. It was initially reported that they were following seven different Comic-Con attendees stories — getting a good cross-section of the experiences. (I had a chance to briefly talk to Spurlock during the Con and he said they were actually following around 12 — probably a few stories will be cut, I guess.)

But even with a large, (hopefully) diverse cast, I still have doubts that it will be enough to really grasp the enormity of Comic-Con. I’ve been going for 14 years and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the cultural importance of Comic-Con, as an event and as an institution.

If you go by what ‘Entourage’ and ‘Entertainment Tonight’ have told us about Comic-Con, it’s a place A-list celebrities go to pander to nerds. I think I read somewhere that Simon Pegg wanted to have Comic-Con featured in Paul after his first visit in 2004, and in the context of the movie it seems to be a pivotal location to have embedded in a potentially quintessential nerd road story.

At a press panel for ‘Futurama’, Matt Groening talked about his history with Comic-Con, and how the convention works as a barometer, of sorts, for his career.

When he first started showing up at Comic-Con in 1979, in the early days of his ‘Life Is Hell’ strips, he was given no respect by other indie cartoonists. It wasn’t until ‘The Simpsons’ were on Tracey Ullman that other cartoonists even talked to him. Now, with ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Futurama’ as pop-culture institutions, Groening is another successful creator that’s been  all but knighted by the King of Comic-Con.

But ever since the first year I attended, Comic-Con has always been kind of a summer camp, where I get to hang out with friends I only see once  year. And over the years, it turns more and more into a magical place where all of our nerdy interests live under one roof. It’s the ultimate comic book crossover — Muhammad Ali versus Superman smoked through Grant Morrison’s pipe, with reality and fiction impossibly tangled.

Or, maybe it’s simply a place where a gender-swapped Deadpool can get freaky with Bruce Lee from Game of Death and somehow it makes total sense. Or at least it does until the plane ride home.

Check out more of Ryan’s Comic-Con photos on flickr and at pastemagazine.com.