The expansive San Diego Convention Center: home each year to Comic-Con International

San Diego: Comic-Con International 2008. It was big, it was loud, it was crowded. It was also full of some amazingly cool stuff (the Hulk, Iron Man, Star Wars, etc) and spectacularly cool people (Ray Bradbury, Floyd Norman, Harold and Kumar)! And babes. A serious amount of babes. Who said sci-fi was just for the boys? With The Joker currently causing chaos in the theatrical The Dark Knight and Wonder Woman about to become The Next Big Thing, these two were certainly the most spotted costumed characters at the Con, where hundreds of thousands of fans descended to celebrate at the altars of their favorite cults. The geek surely has inherited the Earth!

Bustin’ makes me feel good: the GhostBusters videogame babes
Into this throng came three lone strangers…well, okay, they weren’t alone (with our families there turned out to be a bunch of us!) and we weren’t strangers…technically, even though this was our first in-person meeting – ever! It’s often easy for the readers to overlook the fact that the contributors to their favorite website may not all work out of a single office. The truth is that websites are usually put together by people separated by many miles, and in the case of Animated News & Views, it’s actually thousands of miles! James, who takes care of our general existence, overseeing various technical and creative aspects of keeping things ticking over, is perhaps the nearest to our readership, living in Tennessee. Randall, who mostly contributes DVD reviews in addition to the occasional historical article and jumping into to Toon In for Ben on the front page of Views at times, lives in the somewhat appropriately named Saskatoon, further out in western Canada. And then there’s Ben, the voice of Views and probably the noisiest of us on the Forums, who lives just north of London, England.

All three of us have known each other now for a number of years. James and Ben were both founding members of Animated News, while Ben and Rand knew each other from a now defunct website before hooking up again to launch Animated Views with James a couple of years ago. It was back then, just after launching Views as a companion to the News service, when we thought it would be a neat idea to eventually meet up someday, and the notion of a mass visit to the San Diego Comic-Con, to put names, voices and real faces to the words we had exchanged so many countless times over the web, was brought up. At first, this was only a semi-serious suggestion; after all, we’re a pretty spread out bunch! But we were such a tight unit despite the many miles between us, and the idea stuck. The longer we toyed around with it, the more real it became. Last year, we decided to go for broke. It was too close a call to arrange things for a visit in 2007, but we three resolved to make firmer plans for 2008. Suddenly, that time of year was upon us, and for the first time ever, Animated News & Views was meeting up for real in Southern California, set to join the Comic-Con crowd before heading up to Anaheim for some rest and relaxation in Walt’s original Disneyland, staying, naturally, at the Disneyland Hotel.

Would the earth break open at the point we made physical contact? Would our meeting bring about the collapse of the universe? Would we bring unbalance to the Force? Was it all a colossal mistake to try and replicate the warm relationships we shared online in the real world? Our individual experiences below provide the answers…

Arriving in – and exploring – San Diego

James R Whitson writes…I love animation — obviously! But I admit my desire to head to Comic-Con was driven probably as much by the TV and film aspects of it as well. So while I hit many of the animation panels, my schedule was a little more heavy on non-animated stuff than the other guys.

comic-con-sign-1.jpgThe first consideration when my wife, Tami, and I were planning the trip was how to get there. Driving from Tennessee to San Diego would have been a four day drive. But gas prices, hotel costs, and sheer boredom made that option less attractive. I don’t like to fly but was willing to tough it out if necessary. Then I checked train routes. As cool as a trip to Comic-Con is, how cool is a train journey across America as well? That decided it! We’d take a train from Cincinnati (the closest Amtrak station) to San Diego. Upgrading from coach seats to a roomette with fold down beds was a no-brainer for the three day trip. And with the room came three meals a day in the dining car at no extra cost. We were set!

So the big day (Sunday, July 20) came and off we went. My parents, who would watch our seven year old daughter and four year old son while we were gone, drove us the four hours from Knoxville to Cincinnati. Our train was scheduled to leave at 1am. It was four hours late due to problems with a freight train in front of it. We nearly missed our connecting train in Chicago that would take us to California. But we made it with just seven minutes to spare before it would have left without us — the next train wouldn’t have been for two days! Other than an hour long delay because of a tornado, the rest of our trip was uneventful and just as cool as we had hoped.

Randall Cyrenne writes…I was the first to arrive, after two plane trips followed by a train ride from LAX to San Diego, finally settling in at a hotel known as The Dana, about ten miles from San Diego’s convention center. Ben and James had decided to join me there, but they would arrive later. I brought my wife Tess and daughter Jade with me (while our one-year old Parker stayed behind with my parents), and we all decided to use our first day to figure out the transportation system, as we would have to rely on buses and trolleys all week. The bus brought us to Old Town, a transit hub named for a nearby historic district. My vacation got off to a great start right there in Old Town when I cluelessly stumbled upon none other than the Chuck Jones Gallery, which was celebrating Comic-Con by bringing in DC Comics and sci-fi movie art. I was quite thrilled with my discovery, and spent about an hour perusing the fine animation and comic art, and had a prolonged chat with a charming (and quite pregnant) gallery worker named Erin. My first fun trip purchase was also made there — a coffee table book of Chuck Jones’ Looney Tunes oil paintings. Very cool.

The good vibe kept up that afternoon at Balboa Park — a very nice area that includes the world-famous San Diego Zoo, but also has about 15 museums, gardens, and a Science Center. While the whole park is fantastic, my personal highlight was at the Science Center, which was hosting a Star Trek exhibit!! Many costumes and props were on display, and best of all, they had an original captain’s chair as a centrepiece of a re-creation of the original series’ bridge! Despite the inflated cost, I couldn’t resist having my picture taken there, as when else would I ever have the chance to sit in Captain Kirk’s chair? Ah, yes, the vacation was off to a wonderful start!

Chuck Jones and Star Trek — both unexpectedly — in one day. How cool is that?

The next day was spent at the Zoo and then National City, where my Filipina wife was able to visit some Filipino shops, as well as the Filipino fast food place Jollibee, where you can get a burger with bacon and pineapple, or fried chicken.

Ben had arrived that day, so we had our fateful first meeting at the hotel once I returned from National City. Perhaps not surprisingly, we got on quite well right off the bat, and it hardly seemed to matter that our friendship had been entirely in cyberspace until that point. We stayed up late discussing our love of Superman, our hatred of Superman Returns, and he ridiculed me incessantly for liking the recent Beowulf movie (a rare point of contention between us). The next day I went with my family to Sea World for a few hours before hooking up with Ben to meet Erin at the Chuck Jones Gallery. This made us a little late for meeting up with Ben’s lady friend Jen, and James and his wife Tami, but soon we were all at last off to Comic-Con!!

Ben Simon writes…I simply wasn’t ready to jump on the plane for California the night before we were set to leave! As a workaholic, I love devoting my time to as many projects as possible, and in the handful of months leading up to our departure, I was really spreading myself thin. Apart from ongoing real work, I am also a founder member of Elstree Screen Heritage, a group of local volunteers who are dedicated to preserving the legacy of this once-famous film studio which is situated in my town (and from where I am work based). During June and July, the town regular holds an annual civic festival, which includes many events put on for families and children, and I have been a supporter for almost twenty years. We also pick this time of year, for various reasons, to run an Elstree Film Festival in the second week of festivities – something that is a lot of fun, but a lot of extra work!

So, in the weeks leading up to our planned trip Stateside, I was completing a small publication on the 80th Anniversary history of Elstree Studios, organizing a week-long Film Festival (and guests’ arrangements!) and contributing to other events, including commemorative plaque unveilings to Christopher Lee the week before we were due to pack and leave! To say it was all a rush and a blur is an understatement! I was returning hired camera equipment one moment and packing my suitcase the next. Jenny and I had the plane tickets booked months ago, but if it wasn’t for James and Rand hunting online for hotels and transportation, I’m not sure where we would have ended up! Nevertheless we were up (at 3:30am!) to catch our ride to the airport and check in for our 8am flight to Chicago, where we connected to San Diego International. I’m no fan of catching films on planes, and the pickings were decidedly slim, but I was able to finally plug into Horton Hears A Who, which even in flight conditions worked its magic for me. Things were off to a good start!

The Dana hotel and its Mission Bay marina

We landed on the afternoon of Tuesday 22, and were shuttled to The Dana On Mission Bay, a boutique hotel that had been chosen for its views and placement near the beach and other attractions, but which turned out to be a little out in the middle of no-where. It was a nice enough place (with a great waitress service – wink!), but was never less than twenty minutes walk or ride to wherever we wanted to get to. Note for next time: stay closer to the Con – while we may spend more on a room it will save on fare and allow us to repeatedly drop off our cool pickups rather than having our hands almost drop off from the weight of the bags! After checking in at The Dana and doing a spot of exploring, we had the evening free and so I called up my best friend from the old days, who had relocated to the States and currently lives in San Diego. Naturally…right when we arrived, he was in San Francisco!

We went for dinner (The Dana’s Blue Pearl restaurant serves a mean vegetable soup!) after leaving a message for Rand and got back to find a reply. We agreed to meet at the pool, and it was so odd to finally hear Mr Cyrenne call out “Ben?” as I scanned poolside trying to make him out in the darkness from the photos we had exchanged before leaving. We left our ladies (my girl Jenny, Rand’s wife Tess and daughter Jade) and headed for the bar, where we lost track of time catching up like old friends. As the evening became in danger of becoming the next morning, we headed back to our rooms and I handed Rand some bumph that I’d hauled over with me (copies of the Elstree mini-book, Festival programme, the pilot for my show Ginja Ninja and a pitch for my animated musical of The Emperor’s New Clothes), which was less a show and tell opportunity and more a case of wanting to share what I’d been up to and prove I wasn’t leaving the site in the lurch for nothing recently — not to mention copious amounts of Cadbury’s chocolate that we’d stocked up on as per Tess’ request! We’d previously posted a listing of the events and panels we wanted to try and cover at the Con, and eventually between the three of us we did actually make it to a great deal of them, but on that night before it all seemed like the adventure was still ahead of us…

Day One: Preview Night – Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Ben: The day got off to a great start, with a trip over the bridge and down to the beach, where Jenny and I got our toes wet. I knew I probably wouldn’t get another chance to see much of the outdoors, so we enjoyed the couple of hours we had and found quite a few nice looking places to eat — not that we’d make it back there! Rand had told me of the Chuck Jones Gallery he’d come across the day before and shown me the very cool book that he’d picked up there. We had an hour or so before we’d arranged to meet James in the lobby and so hopped on the bus downtown.

Old town San Diego is very quaint…a recreation of times gone by. It was quite fascinating to see costumed characters running for mayor, and the reconstructions of original store fronts, but we pretty much raced through on our way to the gallery, maintained by Chuck’s family. Inside were some real treasures of animation and graphic art, including one Batman image by Alex Ross that I was quite taken by but that had already been earmarked for sale (phew!) and an amazing piece by the Ellenshaws (Peter and Harrison) that evoked Snow White and the Dwarfs’ cottage. We met with the delightful and knowledgeable Erin Liddell, who showed us some unique pieces and kept us talking until Rand pointed out that we were going to be late to meet James! I bought my own copy of the Jones book and we headed back to The Dana.

Rand, Ben, and James make their historic first
in-person meeting at The Dana in San Diego

Soon the “Three Amigos” were complete, when Rand and I met James in the hotel lobby. Like three youngsters meeting together at a party, we didn’t quite know what to say to each other — how do you chew on small talk when you’ve been typing to each other for so many years!? So we headed right out the door and introduced James and his wife Tami to San Diego’s transport system (it’s easy when you know how, and we pretty much got the hang of it by the last day)! The queue for the convention center was lengthy to say the least, but we didn’t do bad — there were at least as many people behind us as there were in front! In fact, everything went very smoothly and having been involved on the fringes of such events and knowing what’s involved in their organisation, I was suitably impressed with the slick operation and crowd control — these guys have done this before!

The usual suspects: James, Ben and Randall
James: We arrived in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon. Ben and Randall had already arrived so I called their rooms. Randall’s wife, Tess, told me he and Ben had left. Left?! Had they already gone to pre-registration at Comic-Con without me? We waited in our hotel room for about two hours and I had just decided to get ready to head to the convention center alone when Ben called. They had gone to a cool shop Randall had found and were late getting back. We planned to meet in the lobby and head to the con!

The first meeting of the three of us went surprisingly well! No awkwardness at all, it was as if we’d all known each other for years — which we had technically!

Randall: At the convention center we waited in line a good long time for registration. But that’s okay. People-watching in that line-up was veeeeery interesting! Plus, by the time we were registered, they were opening up the main floor for the Preview night. Right off the bat, I met Lou “Hulk” Ferrigno, so obviously that was a good omen. We were then a little stunned to come across celebrated animation author/historian Jerry Beck at the ASIFA booth, where he was being interviewed on camera. We bided our time for a bit, then shared some nice words with him. I mentioned to him how much I enjoyed his recent Hanna-Barbera book, though I neglected to mention I’d done an online review of it. Mr. Beck knows of us, of course, as he has been interviewed on Animated Views in the past about his DVD consulting work, and he has linked to us from Cartoon Brew on occasion.



Robin the Toddler Wonder! Plus, meeting Lou Ferrigno (above) and Jerry Beck (below)

James: The line for pre-registration was massive. I think most people going to the con pre-registered! But we got through it and headed to the main floor for Preview Night. Geek nirvana! We just walked around randomly in awe at first — hitting the Warner Bros, Sony, Disney, DC, and other huge booths by the majors before settling down, getting our bearings, and looking around the smaller booths.

Ben and Randall meet Rocket Johnson
We pulled out our map and headed straight for the Rocket Johnson guys. They had a surprisingly long line in the independent publisher section which blocked several other booths (whose inhabitants weren’t very happy). I was so intent on everything going on around us I didn’t notice Randall and Ben had got their books autographed by a couple of the artists there. So everyday I would go back to the Rocket Johnson booth to get autographs of the artists who were taking turns manning it. This paid off nicely when one day John Musker (co-director of The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet, and the upcoming The Princess and the Frog) was taking a turn!

Ben: Finally we were inside and as many others did, we punched the air and stated that “wow, we’ve actually done it” and, as Rand said, we felt pretty cool with ourselves for making the trip actually happen. Preview Night wasn’t so much a sneak of what was in store, but mainly an extra few hours available to the four-day pass holders to make their way around the huge exhibition hall. What I appreciated most here was the ability to get a rough grasp on layout: big studios on one side, the sci-fi comics/animation crossover appeal in the middle, and the freelance artists and smaller booths on the other side. With a lot of the crowd already sporting the handy and attention grabbing Wonder Woman swag bags, we jumped into the heaving crowd at the Warners booth to nab ourselves the one carrier that would matter for most of the week: something big and surprisingly comfortable to put our stuff in!

Annie Award winner James R Whitson!?
James: Next up we hit the ASIFA-Hollywood booth where we met Stephen Worth and Alex Vassilev, who were running a demonstration of one of their biggest projects, the Animation Archive. On display was a computer running the digital database part of the archive (other parts at their Burbank location include the physical archive and a museum). The database allows animators to search thousands of high resolution images, digitized films, and other information using keywords. It’s an amazing project and I hope we can do a more in depth report on it in the future. Also on display at the ASIFA booth was an Annie Award. Since I’m sure there won’t ever be an award for Best Animation Reporting I knew this was my only chance to get to hold one! Mr. Worth said it was the actual award they hand to winners on stage (and take back off stage!) before giving them an engraved award later. While we were perusing the archive and manhandling the Annie, historian Jerry Beck was giving an interview. When he finished we got to talk to him for a bit. He was very nice and obviously very passionate about the field. He asked about the logos we do when an animated film is released and Ben told him we do all those ourselves except for one that Bill Plympton did for us. As Ben said this, who walked up but Bill Plympton himself! Very cool!

Rand: Spending time in that exhibit hall was intoxicating. It’s like an airplane hangar stuffed full of geeky goodness. We picked up plenty of cool freebies (like Warner Brothers’ very cool — and huge — animated Wonder Woman tote), as well as the graphic novel Who Is Rocket Johnson?, which was done by a clan of Disney artists. I also met comic book artists Bryan Hitch and Ethan Van Sciver, and marvelled at displays for all the comic and movie companies.

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The Rocket Johnson guys; Ben swipes the Annie Award

Ben: While the sheer scale of the hall is impressive, I wasn’t too daunted, having been to the equally huge if not even larger center in Cannes which is home to their famous Film Festival. These things are really a matter of logistics, and if you can find yourself a spot to root yourself down, finding one’s way around is a pretty simple affair. Likewise with all the panels, it was merely a matter of planning. After visiting the Disney animation guys at the Rocket Johnson booth and picking up their unique book, we spent time at the ASIFA booth being awestruck by the good work Stephen Worth and his colleagues there are doing, before talking shop with Jerry Beck for a few minutes. Then it was back to the hotel for a late dinner (so late in fact that we missed the restaurant and had to order pizza on room service!), some catching up and planning the days ahead.

James: The floor was so fun that I decided to skip the screening of J.J. Abrams’ new show Fringe and just keep exploring the booths. We then headed back to the hotel for a late dinner before calling it a night.

Day Two: Thursday 24 July 2008

Randall meets a Super lady!
James: We got up early for our first real day at Comic-Con. It took us about an hour to get from our hotel to the convention center using public transportation.

Before the con started we had each made lists of every panel we were interested in. It was full of overlapping panels and scheduling conflicts. We knew we weren’t going to see everything, but at any given time we could look at our list and see what was going on that we wanted to see and decide where to go based on our mood, our interests, and the line involved!

Rand: Thursday brought the first full day of the Con. We had read how difficult it could be to get into the panels you really wanted to see, so we were intent to get there early and rush to whatever panel interested us the most. For Ben and me, we definitely wanted to first take in the Noel Neill panel. Ben and I are both big lovers of the big guy in the red cape, and looked forward to the chance to see the original screen Lois Lane in person. We were somewhat shocked to find that we were among the first to arrive, so we got great seats and settled in for an enjoyable reminiscence. The icing on the cake was when Ms. Neill consented to an autograph and photo session after the panel. On the right, of course, is Ms. Neill seated next to me. Me and Lois Lane!

Quick change: Ben with original Lois Lane, Noel Neill
Ben: So here we were at Comic-Con on the official first full day of business (and yes, beneath all the gawping at cool stuff, Comic-Con is all about the business). Funnily enough (or not, when you think about it!), we were all fairly interested in the same panels a lot of the time, and although we did split up to go for things that meant more to each of us, this was handy overall for meeting up and waiting in line together. We had been warned that trying to get into any panel was potentially crazy, so even though we had an hour to spare, Rand and I went straight for the Noel Neill room – after all, how often do you get the chance to meet the original screen Lois Lane!? This was a great starter panel, with a fun presentation that packed in many moments from the George Reeves Adventures Of Superman series from the 1950s. And Noel didn’t look any different from when she did back then, save for the more silvery hair. Though, like many actors who signed television contracts in the early days, she complained she doesn’t see anything from home video sales, she didn’t bemoan the fact repeatedly and didn’t come off as sounding overly bitter. She was a class act who sat around for autographs and photos afterwards, and it was a real slice of nostalgia meeting Noel Neill – just super!

Rand and I stuck with the Superman theme, heading into our next panel almost immediately, and again getting very good seats up front. Despite the warnings, we were finding these Comic-Con panel shenanigans a breeze! Though I’m more a follower of The Man Of Steel on the screen, it was interesting to hear what the comic book guys had up their sleeves for the next few months – or what they could tell us anyway. And herein lies one of my personal disappointments with the Con itself: for the most part, the guests are here for publicity purposes and even though they’re speaking directly to their core fan audiences, there are still embargoes on the material they are allowed to speak about. So quite a few of the panels we enjoyed seemed more of a chance for fans to tell the creators they admired how much they admired them, while said creators spilt little beans, in retrospect. I wondered how James was getting on in the Disney panel in another room…

James: I had about four things to choose from to start the day with and decided to hit The Disney Animation Story Process panel. Among the participants were Nathan Greno (head of story on Bolt), Don Hall (head of story on The Princess and the Frog), Mark Kennedy (head of story on Rapunzel), Joe Mateo (story artist on Bolt), Michael LaBash (story artist on Bolt), Paul Briggs (story artist on The Princess and the Frog), and Josie Trinidad (story artist on The Princess and the Frog).

The Disney Animation Story Process panel

Most of the discussion was stuff you could find on most Disney DVD special features. The most interesting talk was listening to each person discuss how they got into the story department. Hardly any of them started there and each had a different path that led them to decide that was where they wanted to be. They also showed a then unseen clip of Bolt.

In the early afternoon my wife, who had spent the morning at the hotel, joined us at the con to see Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl series of books. There were five panels I was interested in — all overlapping. Looking further down the schedule I could see that my Friday and Saturday agendas were jam packed. So I decided to skip the panels and spend that time on the main floor. We had barely scratched the surface the night before. You could almost spend the whole con there if you wanted, there was so much to do!

I met back up with Ben and Randall to see The Digital Bits panel. We were let in early and the panel for the TV series The Middleman was in progress. I had wanted to see this panel but have not seen an episode yet — I have all of them recorded on my DVR a home! Rather than be spoiled I put on some headphones and watched some Futurama on my iPhone! Finally Bill Hunt of The Bits took the stage. He was joined by several of the creators of DVD and Blu-ray discs from the studios. The panel was almost completely filled with Q&A from the audience. I admit I was a bit dismayed as most of the panelists seemed pretty down on Blu-ray. They either thought it wouldn’t last or didn’t think the special features were that compelling or worth creating for.

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Wonder women and rambunctious robots!

Ben: One of the panels I was most looking forward to was The Digital Bits’ DVD/Blu-ray Producers gathering, which I had read about each year on their great site, and to which both Rand and James wanted to attend too. Sadly it wasn’t the best year for any major announcements, though it was interesting hearing the views of several major industry players on standard DVD content and where the next generation of Blu-ray could take us. Afterwards I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the Bits’ editor Bill Hunt and to Constantine Nasr, the documentary filmmaker responsible for producing the many fine featurettes on the Looney Tunes releases amongst many other wonderful bonuses. In fact, it turns out in this crazy small world that we had a mutual friend back in England and we ended up talking for quite a while, so much so that I lost James and Rand as they headed off in the direction of other events.

Rand: I found Comic-Con to go much easier than expected. I got into everything I planned to attend (except for the BIG movie panels — more on that later), and found the crowds significant but not overwhelming at all. Maybe I’m just accustomed to crowds, after living in Orlando for a few years and experiencing crowded days at Walt Disney World or the FX Collectibles Supershow. Anyhow, Comic-Con wasn’t as traumatic for me as some people seem to find it. I loved every second of it. The only downside is that there’s so much going on, that you really have to pick and choose what you want to do the most. There were six panels starting between 10 and 11am the first day that I wanted to attend, but you just can’t come close to taking it all in.

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A female Robin joins the Batman crew; Bats himself with another Amazon princess

James: Randall took off for his next panel, and Ben stuck around to talk to some of the people from The Bits. I had three things left on my agenda (two of which conflicted of course). I decided, however, to call it a day at the con. My wife’s birthday was Saturday, but the Friday and Saturday schedule was too filled for us to celebrate properly. So we headed out for a nice dinner and a quiet relaxing evening before the madness still to come!

Rand: After Noel Neill’s panel, I did get to see the DC Comics Superman panel (and the end of Richard Hatch/Battlestar Galactica), Bill Hunt’s DVD producer/Digital Bits panel (and the tail end of one for the TV show The Middleman, which I know nothing about), the end of Mondo Marvel (Comics), and all of DC (Comics) Nation. The DC panel was fun, and included a surprise appearance by filmmaker Kevin Smith, who has signed on to write a Batman miniseries. I also of course spent some time on the exhibit floor, where I made purchases, especially at the great Bud Plant booth. That evening, I stayed for the superb documentary Will Eisner: Portrait Of A Sequential Artist. One day in, and I was already thrilled with my Con.

Ben: A nice side effect of standing around outside The Bits’ panel room 5AB was being recognised by one-time AN&V writer Lindsay Mayer, now a Blu-ray advocate. As well as catching up, we chewed the fat and complained about Disney’s handling of their Platinum series. Before long, we both realised that we were missing the Floyd Norman panel across the hall! I was invited over to the Hard Rock Café to join a private party for the Bits guys but got a call from my old friend, who was just getting back into town from San Fran. By the time I’d found my bearings again, it was too late to try for the Bill Plympton panel, and I decided to skip the Will Eisner documentary screening in order to pick up a couple of rarities from the main hall and head back to the hotel for something to eat – I was loving every moment, but was also tired, hungry, and my bag was way too heavy!

Day Three: Friday 25 July 2008

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Costume watching is fun!

Rand: On Friday morning, I took in a preview for the new cartoon series Batman: The Brave And The Bold, which was also getting a good push on the floor downstairs. I absolutely loved the preview, which showed off a bright and bold style including Dick Sprang-influenced character designs (courtesy of showrunner James Tucker), and gave a terrific sense of fun. This Batman will be less dark, though not jokey. I think many will be surprised and impressed by the voice work of Diedrich Bader as Batman. Yes, he was Oswald on The Drew Carey Show, but he actually has an impressive baritone voice that is reminiscent of Kevin Conroy. He said that his Batman would still be the guy we know and love “(pause for effect)…with timing.” Don’t worry, though. It looks like Batman will be the straight man in this show, where he teams up with other DC heroes in various locales. I wasn’t looking forward to this show when it was first announced, but now I’m really pumped to see it.

James: Friday was scheduled to be one of my busiest days. So many good panels to try to get into — the last ending at midnight! First off, my wife and I headed to a panel for one of our favorite new shows of the past television season, The Big Bang Theory. It is about a group of geeky friends and what happens to their lives when a beautiful girl moves into the apartment next to them. If you are in any way nerdy you will love this show! What is so great about it is, unlike other shows, the geeks are not treated in a condescending way. They are the protagonists and, while written nerdy, they are treated respectfully by the writers. And based on the accuracy of the geeky conversations the writers appear to be pretty nerdy themselves! A bonus on this panel was that it was hosted by Adam Savage of Mythbusters, another favorite show of mine.

Cast of The Big Bang Theory; Mythbusters’ Adam Savage

Ben: By Friday I for one had begun to slip into the flow of things. My fairly early night before, and a filling breakfast sandwich, meant I could go the full distance for the next couple of days. Although there were other panels that interested me, I was admittedly intrigued to go for the Industrial Light And Magic And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull event, just to see what the official word was on this very disappointing film.

A very animated Princess Leia model represents LucasFilm’s other major Star Wars franchise
The whole morning had been given over to LucasFilm in room 7AB, where The Clone Wars was getting a variety of pushes…to only a moderately full room, it has to be said. I decided to come back for Indy…it wasn’t going to be hard to find a seat here. Back at 11:30, it was indeed easy to find myself sitting down front and eager to hear the Lucas boys talk the talk.

One of the biggest disappointments with the Crystal Skull, for me, was with the amount of plainly obvious CGI on show. The basis of the talk today was to show how much of it was actually really shot for real. After some mumblings about how Indy didn’t really do much in Raiders, hence the lack of involvement from him in Crystal Skull, I sensed the lack of electricity in the room and found that no-one was that excited to be there. We’d all seen the movie and been disappointed and were waiting for explanations. Suspiciously, the panel seemed all about justifying all the complaints the majority had with the movie!

An argument was made for the jungle chase scene being shot “for real” and not the result of an effects stage shoot. Well, that depends on how you look at things. It’s true that two jeeps were filmed out on a dirt track, with the stunt artists doing what they do best. But then to add in all the foliage, remove the safety wires, rotoscope the live-action out of the image and essentially replace everything apart from the actors and the jeeps – well, that’s pretty much the same as creating everything from scratch save your physical elements, right? With the same shots being played over and over, I (and a fair few other people I noticed) took the chance to sneak out, deciding that Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is basically a lost cause.

Please, no torture! Ben with 24 director Jon Cassar
Not wanting to waste any more time, and thinking that I was probably too late to get in, I went for the giant, 6500-holding Hall H to hopefully spot the Watchmen preview. Too late by a long shot – as James and his wife Tami quickly discovered, one has to essentially wait in line from the morning opening to get into Hall H, and camp out there for the day! I reasoned that I didn’t come all this way to stand in a line and that, like Indiana Jones, we’d probably all be discussing how disappointing these films were in a few months’ time anyway (my only real disappointment in terms of previewed footage was not hearing or seeing anything about the Tron sequel, which turned out to be big news after we’d left!).

So I went for a full assault on the main exhibition hall, working my way up and down each and every line and attempting to stop by each booth. And I was pretty glad I did – finding some wish list rarities at the book stores and bumping into Eric Goldberg, who had a quick chat and very kindly signed my copy of his new book before the official line began, as well as Jerry Beck again, while I bought his Hanna-Barbera Treasury volume, and Jon Cassar, the director of my favorite (live-action!) show, 24, who was signing copies of his behind the scenes photo book on the series. Also on show was a stunning recreation of Halloweentown from The Nightmare Before Christmas. You could buy it for the cost of a small house!

The Halloweentown model promotes the upcoming Blu-ray release of The Nightmare Before Christmas

James: With only thirty minutes until the Watchmen panel, I decided the line was probably going to be prohibitively long. Instead I figured I’d do lunch and head to the Joss Whedon or Spirit line. I assumed The Spirit would be the more popular of the two so I headed towards Whedon. When I got there I noticed it was already out the door of the convention center. It was a nice day so I headed towards the end of the line. I kept walking. After about five minutes of walking I still could not even see the end of the line! As I said before, we made a list of everything we wanted to see regardless of any time conflicts. So after pulling out my list I noticed there were several other panels I could go to without having to waste so much time standing around.

Joe Ruby and Ken Spears with a familiar friend
Rand: I tried to line up for the Watchmen movie panel, but was probably hours too late. This meant that the Spirit movie panel later on in the same hall was also likely out of the question, so I happily checked the schedule to see what else I could do that day. I immediately focused on two of the panels that Mark Evanier would be moderating that day, both with a Seventies theme. I caught the end of the comics one (with Mike W. Barr, Jim Starlin, Len Wein, and others) before getting treated to one of my favorite events of the weekend — a panel with Joe Ruby and Ken Spears. These legendary animation producers not only ran their own studio (at one time they were Hanna-Barbera’s chief competitors on Saturday mornings), but they also were instrumental in many of Hanna-Barbera’s greatest successes. It was simply amazing to hear about their creation of Scooby-Doo in their own words, since Warner Home Video has not yet seen fit to recognize them on the various DVD sets.

There were other notables there, too, as Ruby-Spears has employed some notable artists over the years. Animation director Gordon Kent and “Disney Legend” Floyd Norman were seated just two rows behind me, while Darrell MacNeil (animation artist, and co-writer of Animation By Filmation) was in-between us. This made Ben envious later on when I told him, since he had missed seeing Mr. Norman’s panel the day before (and so had I). However, we made up for that later on in the weekend when we bumped into him in the hallway and shared a nice conversation. Mr. Norman even complimented us on being smart enough to seek out some of the old-timers at the show, since they had great stories to share.

Left: Gordon Kent, Floyd Norman, and (seated in front) Darrell MacNeil at the Ruby-Spears panel
Right: Floyd Norman and Rand later in the halls at the Convention Center

James: My next choice was the panel for the TV show Ghost Hunters. Unfortunately the daily con newsletter mentioned the hosts of the show, Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, would not be attending as announced and other team members, Robb Demarest and Donna La Croix, would be taking their place instead. My wife went but I decided to pass.

Scott Kurtz of PvP
With The Spirit and Ghost Hunters panels out I was able to go to a panel I had assumed I would have to miss — An Introduction to Webcomics. I’m a huge fan of an online comic strip called PvP by Scott Kurtz. He and several of his friends (Kris Straub of Starslip Crisis, Brad Guigar of Evil Inc, and Dave Kellett of Sheldon) recently started a podcast for wannabe webcomic artists. I’m no artist but I started listening because Scott and Kris were so funny together on another podcast they used to do. While they are all still very funny together, I discovered this podcast also had some great content, not just for webcomics, but for anyone trying to build a website and a community around it.

Next up was the panel for the TV show 24. Ben and I had decided to meet up for this one as we’re both big fans of the show. We got to see an extended preview of the upcoming prequel episode airing later this year. Then the producers, with cast members Kiefer Sutherland and Carlos Bernard, sat for some Q&A. Sutherland was articulate, polite, and very cool. He seemed very down to earth. When asked by a fan why his character says “dammit” so much he said Jack Bauer has a lot of frustration in his life and that is one of the very few FCC approved ways for him to show it out loud. As the audience member left the microphone Sutherland channeled Bauer and screamed “dammit, don’t turn your back on me!” to roars of laughter from the crowd! Completely unlike his (presumed dead but apparently alive) onscreen persona, Bernard was a very funny guy. When a producer mentioned they’d killed off his character more times than any other only to give him a reprieve, Bernard stood up, pulled $40 out of his pocket and threw it to him. When someone asked Sutherland how much control he had over which characters are killed off Bernard again pulled out $40 and threw it to Kiefer! Based on what little they could tell us and the clips shown, it looks like the long wait for 24 to return may be worth it!

Afterwards, as with most panels, fans rush to the front at the end hoping to talk to the people on stage. While waiting outside the doors we were wondering where Ben had gone. Turns out he had headed to the front. On a panel like Introduction to Webcomics you can get up there and talk to the panelists no problem as they are not as well known and are willing to hang around. But on the panels with celebrities so many people mob the stage and the famous people are whisked away so fast that there is no hope of seeing anyone. You’ll have to read Ben’s account to see how in the world he came away with Kiefer Sutherland’s autograph!

Carlos Bernard and Kiefer Sutherland of 24

Rand: My Friday was wrapped up in room 6A with attendance at its last two panels. First, there was the Peanuts panel, where we saw the widow of Charles Schulz, as well as animation producer Lee Mendelson, and numerous cast members of the original TV specials. Lots of good anecdotes were shared (such as the young cast once being approached by members of Jefferson Starship for their autographs), making for a highly enjoyable panel. Lastly, I went to the DCU Final Crisis panel, which included several DC Comics staffers talking about their latest universe-shattering event.

Ben: King Kong is one of my all-time favorite movies, and a special 75 Years panel sounded like a good bet, though as it slowly slid into a series of the participants’ anecdotal tangents one guy in the audience called out “hey, we’re here for King Kong”! Panel and audience members reminisced about the film, how they first saw it, and what they liked about the various versions over the years, but it was clear that if Jenny and I were to make the 24 panel starting soon, we’d have to jump the Empire State Building and head over to CTU, or rather room 6CDEF to meet our co-fans James and Tami. A terrific panel, the stars of 24 were great value and in the face of a somewhat showboating Carlos Bernard, Kiefer Sutherland showed just what a class act he is. Some secrets were spilled, some footage from the upcoming special was screened and the only thing to surprise was that the web trailer, which had been made available a while ago but that not many in the room had seen, wasn’t shown on the big screen. However, the electricity in the vast room was evident, as was the camaraderie the stars and creators of the show shared. Although you never know if you’ll live or die, it sounds like a heck of a lot of fun going to work with Jack Bauer! For fans of the show, it was admitted that the last season had gone off the rails a little, but that Jack would be back, dammit, and better than ever!

The packed 24 panel
As the panel ended and the crowd rushed towards the stage to meet Kiefer, I remembered my 24 book in the bag I was holding. We were right near the back and it didn’t look likely that I’d make it to the stage even before Sutherland left. I hesitated and then went for broke, pulling the book out and just about making it before…Jack Bauer had left the stage and was walking out behind the black curtain that shielded the likes of them from the likes of us. The Comic-Con people were professional in their people-barrier approach to keeping the fans and celebrities apart, but I spotted an opening. Darting between a break in the curtain right at the exit, I held out pen and page and called out. “Kiefer, would you please sign? I got Jon’s this morning and I’ve come all the way from London”, I added in for good measure. “From London?” Kiefer asked. I replied yes, and he took the book from me. He’d spotted Cassar’s writing of my name and personalised the book for me, handing it back with a “here you go Ben. Enjoy the rest of the convention”. Wow, I survived an encounter with Jack Bauer, but though I lived to tell the tale, I couldn’t live down the fact that I’d thrown “London” into the conversation as an attempt at an impressionable gambit with my site friends, and soon “I’m from London” became the line to quote when one wanted to skip a line or grab another autograph. They were just ribbing me, I knew, but it worked, right guys?

James: The convention center is near a cool neighborhood known as the Gaslamp Quarter. Ben’s girlfriend and Randall and his family had explored it a bit, but Ben, my wife and I had not. We were getting hungry and still had about six hours to go before our last panel ended at midnight. So I agreed to skip the Mystery Science Theater 3000 panel to go get some real food rather than just another pretzel dog! Apparently a lot of people had the same idea! Everything was crowded! We ended up at a TGIF’s that didn’t have a wait. Not really the unique type of restaurant we were looking for but at least it was real food!

Ben: We’d knew we’d be sticking around late into the night, so found the TGI Fridays in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego for a bite to eat before heading back for the evening session, but our plans were thrown into the air when our next panel, Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog looked like it would be a case of “house full”. We’d aimed on doing Jerry Beck’s Worst Cartoons and then Dr Horrible but the spill over potential for Horrible had been gauged so big that the Con people arranged for satellite rooms to show the same program at different times. Since I’d arranged to meet my old San Diego pal after the show, it made more sense to hit one of the earlier Horrible shows and then get to what we could of Worst Cartoons. Both had to be seen to be believed, and both were hysterically funny. Joss Whedon’s Horrible melded the quality of his Buffy musical with the kitschy renaissance of Neil Patrick Harris as a wannabe mad scientist and resulted in a very funny spoof whose three parts played very well as what can only be a pilot show for more to come. Please can we have some more?

Late night San Diego
James: When we got back the last things on our schedule were Jerry Beck’s Worst Cartoons Ever and then Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. The late night showing of Dr. Horrible was scheduled in a fairly small room and as we were heading towards Worst Cartoons we saw a sign warning people that they were expecting the Dr. Horrible room to fill quickly. So they were adding four showings of it in other rooms at different times. We decided to catch the first showing of it, then the last half of Worst Cartoons before getting home a little earlier than expected. If you haven’t seen Dr. Horrible, go see it now! It is great! I’d seen it at home on the computer beforehand, but seeing it on a big screen along with Ben, who had not seen it yet, was very cool. We rushed over to catch Worst Cartoons afterwards and it was probably some of the funniest stuff we saw all week! As we were leaving Ben saw Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day, and Nathan Fillion from Dr. Horrible. It turns out the late showing was not just a viewing but a panel as well! I was a little disappointed but much more tired so we called it a night and made the hour long journey back to the hotel.

Ben: Worst Cartoons Ever! proved to be just that; the oddest selection of truly terrible toons that featured odd poses, complete lacks of staying on model between shots and jump cuts aplenty, not to mention nonsensical scripts and plots that made no sense. And these were no amateur films – these were either theatrical or television outings from the medium’s early years that supposed to be rivals for the Hanna-Barbera kinds of programs. More than anything, these cartoons really were the worst; so bad they’re just bad, but no less hilarious just the same. I don’t think we laughed as much as we did that night! As we left the screening, the “sold out” panel for Dr Horrible was about to start and I just caught a glimpse of Neil Patrick Harris and the cast running through the halls to make their seats. Maybe I should have called out I was from London? While James and Tami jumped on the trolley back to the hotel, Jenny and I met up with my old friend Derwayne, now running a bar or two downtown, who dropped us back at the hotel. As always, we got chatting and it wasn’t until gone 4am that we realised what the time was! With another early start, we broke the party up and grabbed a couple of hours shuteye. Tomorrow was another big day!

Day Four: Saturday 26 July 2008

Where’s WALL-E? One half of the Convention Center’s enormous main exhibition hall

Ben: As expected, the weekend saw the Con reach capacity – as if it hadn’t been full enough already! – as many folks who couldn’t come during the working week joined us. I couldn’t imagine what the main hall would have been like, but lucky for Rand and I we were going to be camped out in one room for most of the day. The morning got off to a great start with the Ralph Bakshi panel, and even though we got there half an hour early, Mr Bakshi was already speaking nine to the dozen, evidently getting there early himself and not wanting to waste time. Ralph is the kind of guy one either loves or hates, the self-confessed “bad boy of animation”, and whatever one might think of his output, he’s a very important figure in the animation landscape. With his beautiful new book Unfiltered just out, I wanted to get a signed copy and hear the man speak in person, and I wasn’t disappointed as he reeled off frank and unapologetic stories of his life in his chosen field.

The bad-boy of animation: Ralph Bakshi mouths off

Rand: Saturday morning held another highlight for me, when Ben and I attended a panel devoted to animation director Ralph Bakshi. Now, I have to admit that I don’t care all that much for his movies, but there is no denying that they have a unique voice. As expected, Mr. Bakshi gave a very frank panel. It was long, too, as he started quite a bit earlier than scheduled. This was great, as he had much to say and share. In fact, this was one of the most entertaining times I had all week long. He even owned up to the cocaine sniff in his Mighty Mouse show! (It was John K.’s fault, of course.) Afterwards, he did a signing of his new book downstairs, which Ben and I gladly took in as well. I also enjoyed meeting Victoria Bakshi, who thought the name of my hometown (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) was hilarious. The book is gorgeous, by the way, and full of insight on his films.

Bakshi and Rand

Ben: The big news here was that he’s committed to a Wizards II and will use CGI for the first time in one of his films. Well into his seventies, it’s great that talents like Bakshi are still out there, still angry, and still wanting to tell their stories their way, and screw the system. After the panel, the majority of us rushed to the Bakshi Productions booth where copies of Unfiltered were on sale, and being signed by the dude himself. Securing my copy with Victoria the day before, she’d also told me that the controversial Coonskin was currently being worked on for an eventual DVD release. Who’d have ever thought that some of the most exciting pieces news to come out of Comic-Con would have been announcements by Bakshi? The man continues to make waves, that’s for sure. Go Ralph!

Bakshi and Ben

James: After my experience with long lines the day before, I knew there was no way I could make the Lost panel at noon if I tried to also go to the Ralph Bakshi, Futurama, Simpsons, or Fairly Odd Parents panels in the morning. The Lost panel was being held in Hall H which seats 6,500. The panel before Lost was Heroes, so I knew that line was going to form early. Later in the day, Disney/Pixar was going to have a panel in the same room. So the wife and I decided we would get to Hall H as early as possible and just plant ourselves in our seat for the entire day!

So of course that was the day that the trollies were running late!

For the first time during the con we got there after the doors had opened. We headed for Hall H where the line was already winding around a courtyard, coiled like a snake, three or four times. From there it went behind the convention center. The building is massive. So when I say the line went from one side of the convention center to the other side, that is a long line! But it didn’t stop there. From there it wound back to a nearby marina. The line finally ended behind a hotel in the next block! After quite some time we finally made it to the front of the line and into the hall right before the the Heroes panel started. I’m way behind in the show, and waiting for the Blu-ray release to completely catch up. So while it was cool that they showed the entire first episode from the upcoming season, I had to put my headphones on and watch Futurama to avoid being spoiled!

The cast of Heroes

As many Heroes fans left afterwards we were able to move from the back of the hall to the near the middle. Next up was the Lost panel. I admit that this panel above all others was almost single handedly the reason I wanted to come to Comic-Con! Things kicked off with producers (and fan favorites!) Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof in a video clip. One was wearing a “New York Yankees 2012 World Champions” shirt and an eye patch while the other was wearing an “Obama – Four More Years” shirt and sported a beard. They discussed the show in the past tense. Obviously a “flash forward”, as seen on the TV show!

Lost’s Carton Cuse, Damon Lindelof, and Matthew Fox
They then took their seats for the panel along with two massive drinks, similar to huge Big Gulps, with the Dharma logos on them. They said that to pay for the panel they had a sponsor this year and part of the arrangement was they had to turn the stage over to the sponsor for their first five minutes. A representative of the Dharma Initiative came out and discussed a booth they had set up on the main floor where they could “test” new recruits. He had heard Comic-Con attendees were supposed to be among the best and brightest and was disappointed they had only found five good candidates. He announced those names and had them come on stage where they were to be taken back to the Dharma booth to see a special video.

From there the producers took over and answered fan questions. After their answers they would give the questioner a prize — some cool, some not so much. Someone who asked a question about a writer got a copy of a script signed by the writers. Someone who asked about an animal got a polar bear plush. A guy who was the spitting image of Hurley got a jar of Dharma ranch dressing! A person who had a complaint got a copy of the Heroes DVD! And the person who asked about Jack got a Jack action figure signed by actor Matthew Fox who appeared from backstage. Near the end of the panel one of the Dharma recruits came running back onstage holding up a video camera yelling that he finally had the proof! After some back and forth they finally showed it as they called security. The video was of the five recruits heading to the booth to watch a special message from “Dr. Marvin Candle”. Some time travel aspects of the show and the reconstitution of the Dharma Initiative were discussed before he was “caught” taping and had to run for it! I’m sure it’s probably on YouTube if you’re a fan of the show and want to see it in full. Overall it was fun, but there wasn’t nearly as much cool information talked about as in past panels.

Legendary author and uber-geek Mr Bradbury (as seen on a large projection screen)
Ben: Just as James and Tami found themselves locked into the giant Hall H for the duration, catching panels on Heroes, Lost and Disney/Pixar’s Bolt and Up, Rand and I found ourselves ensconced back in room 6CDEF for a number of panels: the annual Quick Draw!, where selected artists vie to be the first and funniest improvisers on the block, Cartoon Voices, a smattering of the top names in the business showing why they’re so good at what they do, and a spotlight on DC Animation’s Original Movies, which looked at the popular video series and premiered footage from the next in the line, Wonder Woman, out next February. Best of all came at 3:30, when living legend and World’s Greatest Fantasy Author Ray Bradbury – a geek himself who has, as I understand, visited the Con each year since the beginning – joined us. He was ostensibly there to promote a new film version of his short story Chrysalis, which truth be told looked somewhat painfully amateurish, unfortunately, but it was fantastic hearing from the man himself.

Rand: Ben and I spent the next few hours in Room 6CDEF. First up there was Quick Draw!, featuring Sergio Aragones, Scott Shaw (and someone else — sorry, we came in late!) being challenged by Mark Evanier to create lightning sketches of suggested images (eg: “Donald Duck’s worst day”). Mr. Evanier then hosted a panel on cartoon voice actors, including Chuck McCann, Phil LaMarr, and others. This panel was also tremendously entertaining, as the various panellists shared their famous voices and performed an off-the cuff rendition of a classic Superman radio script adapted by Evanier.

Next up in that same room was Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano and others discussing their latest DC animated movie, Wonder Woman. Though Keri Russell was sadly not in attendance, castmate Nathan Fillion was there. The audience seemed to approve of the clips from the movie that were shown, and I do think they’re on the right track. I’m looking forward to seeing the Amazon princess’ first animated movie.


san-diego-comic-con-2008-17.jpg san-diego-comic-con-2008-2.jpg

Above: Daphne and Velma waiting at the trolley stop; Below: other cool costumes inside the Comic-Con

And THEN, again in the same room, came the legendary Ray Bradbury, probably the greatest living author of speculative fiction. Now THAT was awesome. Though he came in using a wheelchair, the man was very passionate with his speaking. The message that “love is everything” came through very clearly, and listening to him was a little inspiring. The only thing that almost ruined it was that we had to endure a couple of young producers pushing their Bradbury film adaptation. (The trailer for it certainly did nothing for me.) But it was all worth it to see Mr. Bradbury in person. Ben even got an autograph, on a Looney Tunes book, no less! (Bradbury had done the introduction for it years ago.) Pretty cool, Ben!

Ben: We made sure that, during the day, we kept inching towards the front rows until we nabbed ourselves a cool spot. One of the books I’d picked up the previous day was Steve Schneider’s That’s All Folks!, a history of Warner Brothers cartoons with a foreword by Bradbury, a big cartoon and movie nut and friend of practically anyone who’s anyone (Walt Disney, Ray Harryhausen, George Pal) himself. Now, the book has been something I’ve been on the lookout for anyway, but I was determined to get the foreword signed by the guy who’d penned it. Mr Bradbury had mentioned his experiences working with John Huston on Moby Dick, a film made at the very Elstree Studios I had just documented. Naturally, I had a copy of my mini-book with me and thought it might make a nice gesture to present something back to Ray. Sure enough, he appreciated the offer and signed my Bugs Bunny book. Despite my signature-hunting while at the Con, growing up on some major film sets means that I’m not actually very star-struck usually, but one thing I do appreciate are books inscribed by those responsible for them, and it doesn’t get any bigger or rarer than Ray Bradbury!

Bolt directors Chris Williams and Bryon Howard
James: Back in the huge Hall H, we were able to again move up a few more rows for the Terminator panel. It’s not a franchise I know a lot about but we weren’t about to leave and risk losing our seats for the Disney panel! Despite not being completely interested in the topic it turned out to be pretty fun. One of my favorite actresses, Bryce Dallas Howard, was there. And McG was very entertaining. Even the clip of the upcoming film they showed was very cool even for someone like me who didn’t know the back story. Though with the language some of the participants on the panel used maybe it wasn’t the best thing to schedule right before Disney!

By 2:30pm we were now only about 25 rows from the front of the stage! Our strategy of staying put in Hall H for most of the day was paying off nicely. Finally we had come to the Disney/Pixar panel. They started off with Bolt directors Chris Williams and Bryon Howard. They discussed some of the aspects of creating the film. They then previewed about 20 minutes of mostly finished animation from the film itself! One segment showed one of the reasons Bolt believes everything in his TV show is real — cats messing with his head! With all the animals in the production locked up at night, the cats like to break out of their cages and have some fun at Bolt’s expense by sneaking into his trailer and saying things like “You may have won today but we’ll get you next time”! The bulk of the film shown was an action scene from the beginning of the movie that shows a scene from the Bolt TV show. They then, inexplicably I thought, showed the scene where Bolt finally realizes that he is not a real super dog at all. From what we saw it looks like a very fun movie. But it seems very much in the realm of the more modern DreamWorks style of story and comedy.

Up director Pete Docter
Next up was Pete Docter with the first ever preview of the “adventure-comedy” Up. He explained they were a little scared because they’re all perfectionists at Pixar and they’ve never shown clips that weren’t finished so far before the film opened. Up is about a 78 year old man named Carl Frederickson (voiced by Ed Asner). In his youth he met a girl named Ellie who lived in the same small midwestern town. But she had big dreams of adventure. They grew up and got married and swore to each other that one day they were going to go down to South America to see Paradise Falls, the worlds largest waterfall, and all sorts of things no one else has ever seen before. Unfortunately life gets in the way. Though they have a great life together they never make good on their promise and now Carl is an old man, a widower, living alone. And worse, developers are taking his house and he’s being put in an assisted living home.

The five minute clip shown at the panel starts at this point. As the people come to take him to his new home he asks for one more minute to say good-bye. He goes inside and the workers see a ton of balloons inflate out of his chimney. The house eventually lifts off its foundations and floats into the air. As the city passes under his feet Carl gets comfortable in his chair next to Ellie’s empty chair. Then there is a knock at the door! The clip ended here.

Docter explained that at the door was Russell, a 9 year old Wilderness Explorer (think Boy Scout) who has all his badges except for the one for assisting the elderly. The two of them make it to South America where they are thrown from the house in a crash landing. Carl is able to grab a garden hose before the house floats away again, and the two of them have to pull the house, like a parade balloon float, 15 miles to the falls. From there, the two least likely people to survive in the jungles of South America end up on the adventure of a lifetime. Docter talked about the setting where most of the film takes place — South American mountain formations called tepuis. They jut a mile high out of the jungle and are flat on top. They are very inaccessible; many have never been set foot on before. And they are made up of some of the oldest rock on the planet.

He also mentioned that Michael Giacchino will score the film. The voice actors for the film include Asner, Christopher Plummer, Delroy Lindo, John Ratzenberger, Bob Peterson. Peterson is also the writer and co-director. Lead editor is Kevin Knowlton (I think he said!) and head of story is Ronnie del Carmen. While it’s too early to make many assumptions, it does look pretty good and even with the little they showed you could already feel an emotional pull from the story.

Jet Li and Brendan Fraser
I was very tempted to stay for the next panel in Hall H. At this point we were now in the third row and up next was the Universal panel featuring the cast of the new Mummy movie. I’m a big fan of Brendan Fraser — yes I know a lot of his movies are cheesy but he is just so darn likable in everything he does that I’m just a sucker for anything he is in! However, Treasures of the ASIFA Archives was calling and after the taste we had had on preview night I was ready for more. So I left the wife to finish her day in the big hall while I headed off to one of the more intimate rooms to meet Ben and Randall. The ASIFA panel featured Stephen Worth and legendary animation director Ralph Bakshi. And very quickly it was obvious the outspoken Bakshi was taking over the panel and there wasn’t going to be any talk of the ASIFA Archives! Luckily for me I had missed the previous Bakshi panel — Ben and Randall later told me they had heard all these stories already! He had some fun and interesting anecdotes. But his brash style of creating a film probably wouldn’t go over well with animators today who are used to a more collaborative process.

Ben: My Bradbury book signed, we ran across to room 10 where James had been waiting in line for the ASIFA-Hollywood presentation of treasures from their archive. We were expecting some “rarely seen films” and such, but what we got was more Ralph Bakshi! There was certainly a divide in the audience who had expected the more cute and cuddly aspects of animation over Bakshi’s rough and ready versions, as many of the same questions as had been asked in the morning panel were repeated. Nevertheless, Ralph spun off the same stories almost word for word verbatim, and despite being amazed at the energy the guy still had after an extensive morning session and a day of signings, there wasn’t a lot of new ground covered except for his true feelings on his participation on the classic Spider-Man shows of the 1960s! “Can I go now?” he asked before marching off and being caught by more fans wanting their Unfiltered books signed. James remarked to ASIFA’s Stephen Worth that the panel wasn’t quite what we were expecting. “No”, replied Stephen, “it wasn’t what I was expecting either!”

Rand: The ASIFA panel oddly turned into another Bakshi panel, which wasn’t as interesting the second time around. I’m not sure what happened, but it seems that the original program wasn’t available. It’s a shame — I could have gone instead to panels on The Legion Of Superheroes or Joe Straczynski. I was curious to see a Steve Ditko documentary that night, but Ben warned me it was lame, so I decided against staying even later to see a Wolverine And The X-Men preview. I did, however, manage to get Neal Adams to autograph some Batman books for me before I left that day, Golden Age Batman artsit Jerry Robinson signed a Batman drawing for me, and I also picked up limited edition Peanuts and Batman figures, so I left plenty happy overall.

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Hellboy likes pretzels!; Neat-o Plastic Man and Green Lantern John Stewart

James: It was getting late now and I still had one more panel I wanted to see. However, after all the time we’d spent at the con so far we realized we had not yet got to sit down together and discuss Animated News & Views! So I scratched the Mythbusters panel and headed back to the hotel with the guys for dinner and discussion.

Ben: I was semi-interested in seeing a Work In Progress presentation of the Mutant Chronicles feature, if only because I had been around during the original test-shoot in London, but without the lure of any other panels that evening, we waited to see the first of the costumed characters start to head into the pavilion for the annual Masquerade party before heading back to The Dana. An early night before our final day proved to be a worthy chance to catch up with each other and what Tess and Jade had been doing while the geeks (yes, including Tami and, for the most part, Jenny) were enjoying the con. Meeting at the hotel restaurant, it was a very relaxed atmosphere, and I think we were all glad that we taken the time out to meet up like old friends and share this particular adventure. What fun!

After our girls had all turned in, it was back to the bar for the boys, and we squeezed in some after-hours talk about the website. Not having to wait for time zones to play catch up in sending replies back and forth meant that James and I especially worked through a few things that we’ll be working on over the next few months.

James: It’s hard to believe it’s already been five years since we started News. And to be honest, other than adding Views, things are pretty much the same now as they were back then. Hopefully, though, after the talk we had we have a new course for the site and you’ll see some big things to come in the future!

Day Five: Last morning and Disneyland – Sunday 27 July 2008

James: Sunday morning we all checked out of the hotel and checked our baggage at the train station before heading to our last day at the con. Unlike previous days Randall’s wife and daughter joined us, as Sunday at Comic-Con is filled with more activities that are family friendly. First off my wife and I headed off to see new episodes of one of my favorite animated shows, SpongeBob Squarepants! They also screened a show I had only seen in passing my kids’ rooms called The Mighty B, which was very funny.

Rand: Sunday was designated a “family day,” and as we were checking out of our hotel that day anyways, I brought along my wife and daughter to the Con. (Their last few days had involved more time at Sea World, National City, and the hotel pool.) Jade, who is almost seven, was thrilled to have the opportunity to see a couple of new Spongebob Squarepants shows, though she was less impressed by the Little Mermaid prequel. (It’s not a good sign when even your young target audience doesn’t care for your movie.) I skipped those things, however, and took in the packed Smallville panel, which I enjoyed, even if I’m behind on the show. I then attended another DC Nation panel, where they dropped the bomb that Neil Gaiman will be writing Batman in a few months.

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Ben escapes Guantanamo Bay; Kumar & Harold (Kal Penn and John Cho)

Ben: I’m a big Smallville fan. Next to 24 it’s about the only regular series I go out of my way to catch on television. I was pretty excited at getting to the panel for the show, but my glimpsing of Neil Patrick Harris a couple of nights before had drawn my attention to the Harold & Kumar booth, where NPH and the boys themselves, Kal Penn (also a 24 alumni) and John Cho, were signing their new movie on DVD and Blu-ray. Although NPH wouldn’t be there on Sunday, the allure of having a Blu-ray (natch!) copy signed by the two leads and the writer-directors was too much to resist, so as the doors opened, Jenny and I rushed to get in line. Being presented with orange jumpsuits, we waited diligently until called up to meet the guys. The Harold & Kumar movies aren’t for everyone, but I find them a blast. If Smallville had still been the powerhouse it was in its first few seasons, I might have been more tempted to seeing Chloe Sullivan and the other Daily Planet rookies, but as it was Harold & Kumar had more pull.

What would Neil Patrick Harris do?

Having done some professional voice over work in the past, I sat through The Business Of Cartoon Voices, but found it to be very LA-centric. Although we apparently live in a time where the internet and high speed channels can appear to make the world smaller, it was fairly clear that unless I relocated to Los Angeles, I wasn’t going to be able to sit in the same room as these other guys and, as such, make much of a noise. Many of the same faces (or should that be voices?) were then off to participate in another Cartoon Voices panel, but having caught the show the previous day and heard some of the same career stories already, I decided to skip that (as well as the Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning children’s premiere, which I caught a few minutes of and felt I’d seen enough) and went to concentrate on a final few hours walking around the main hall.

James: Next up I had some scheduling conflicts to work out: Phineas and Ferb, Nick Jr., Chowder, and Cartoon Voices all overlapped a bit and there was no way to see them all. I decided to skip the first two, get in line for Chowder, leave early, and see the last half of Cartoon Voices! The main reason I wanted to see the Chowder panel is because I’m a fan of Tara Strong, who also plays Timmy Turner in The Fairly OddParents. In Cartoon Voices, my main interest was getting to see Billy West who plays Philip Fry in one of my favorite shows, Futurama. It turns out the Chowder panel also featured some other Cartoon Network shows as well. First up was The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and its creator (and voice of the title character) Thurop Von Orman. He was very entertaining and it looks like a great show. Next up was Chowder. And unknown to me, besides Tara Strong, another voice actor I like is in the cast — John DiMaggio, who plays Bender in Futurama. On top of that, yet another actor I like is in the show — Dwight Schultz, from The A-Team and several of the new Star Trek series! At that point I decided to stick around for the entire panel! The three of them were very funny together and I’ll probably enjoy the show even more knowing who else is in the cast. Last up in the panel was Maxwell Atoms of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy fame. He showed a clip from his upcoming special Underfist.

Thurop Von Orman, Dwight Schultz, Tara Strong, John DiMaggio, and Maxwell Atoms

Rand: I rejoined Tess and Jade to see the other Cartoon Voices panel, the highlight of which was seeing Billy West in action, even if the panel wasn’t quite as entertaining overall as the previous voice actor one I’d seen. We then spent some time in the exhibit hall, before meeting up with the others to catch our train to Anaheim…

Ben catches up with Disney Legend Floyd Norman between panels

Ben: By Sunday, we were Comic-Con pros. We played the system pretty well and got to the panels we had been really interested in. Sometimes you have to get over the excitement of catching a sneak peek and rationalising that any given film will eventually be trailed to death on TV and that any eventual disc release will cover the same ground in depth. This thinking helped me skip a fair few panels and allowed me to partake in several other delights, such as bumping into Floyd Norman in one of the halls with Rand and enjoying his company for a good few minutes, speaking about the state of Disney television animation, and catching glimpses of Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno (whose picture I was quite happy to snap without having to shell out his “twenty dollars” fee).

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Comic-book heroes: Marvel’s Stan “The Man” Lee, and Lou “The Hulk” Ferrigno

I was also more concerned with catching stuff on the “shop floor”, the rarities that couldn’t be picked up anywhere else, and would continue my zig-zagging up and down the rows and rows of booths whenever I had a few minutes. With us planned to head off around 2:30pm, I took a final opportunity to complete my full circuit of the various booths, picking up a last few bits (the limited Disney/Roald Dahl-inspired Dark Horse Gremlins comics, a Return To Oz soundtrack score and the new Mickey Mouse Treasures package in that unique Disney line) along the way, and coming across a few very expensive prop finds from a couple of my favorite movies: Cliff Secord’s Rocketeer helmet going for just under $20,000, Marty McFly’s Hoverboard from Back To The Future Part II a bargain at $30,000 and a copy of Oh La La a steal at “just” $2000!

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Rocketeer to the rescue! Oh La La – it’s a Hoverboard

James: After another walk through of the main floor my Comic-Con was over. I let my poor feet rest for awhile while waiting for the others to finish up. Around 4pm we all were done and headed to the train station for a much needed trip to Disneyland!

Jenny and Jabba
The con was great but very tiring! If I ever go again I will definitely plan to get a hotel within walking distance of the convention center so I can maybe grab a half hour nap or dip my feet in the pool in the middle of the day. Being so far out and having an hour of travel each way added to the brutality of it all!

But the best part of it all was finally getting to meet up with Ben and Randall. They were just as great in person as they are online! And I think we’ve built an even better foundation of friendship on which to build the site in the future!

Ben: By the time we were ready to leave, it really was time to call it a day! The awe-inspiring effects of the con had worn off sometime on Saturday, and a stronger and stronger sense of déjà vu meant that rather than enjoying the experience, it was slowly becoming something of a tedious chore to get through. Essentially, after four and a half days roaming the San Diego convention center, we were all shot! It took us another hour and a half to make it back across the hall one last time (giving Jen the chance to pose with another old Elstree friend, Jabba The Hutt) and meet up at our selected meeting point. Tired, but emotionally satisfied, we stood for one last group shot at the con doors before heading off to jump on the Amtrak train bound for Anaheim, and Disneyland!

Last day at Comic-Con 2008: Ben, Jen, Tami, Tess, Jade, Randall, and James

Our railway journey was eventful to say the least! It was a scramble to find seats, and none of us ended up seated together. We lost Rand, but James and Tami were almost nearby, stuck downstairs with a bunch of revellers that we could hear upstairs! We had a couple of “interesting” passengers in our area ourselves: a half-cut drunken Barbie type, who was intent on telling everyone how great she was, and her equally alcohol-fuelled mother, also a Barbie type, but not wearing nearly as well as she thought she could dress for! After nearly two hours of overhearing their overloud conversations with other strangers on the train, we hit Anaheim, and a couple of cabs later, we were at the Happiest Place on Earth!

Rand’s little Supergirl
Rand: So, that night, we were in Disneyland, baby! James had the genius idea to get us a table at Goofy’s Kitchen where we were staying at the Disneyland Hotel. Not only is there a fantastic gourmet buffet, but you also get greeted by an array of Disney characters — which naturally wowed my little girl. This was a great way to begin our time at Disneyland.

Ben: We’d elected to stay at Walt’s original Disneyland Hotel to feel immersed in the magic, and it was exactly the right place to stay for two full days in the park. Our passes started the following day, but Downtown Disney, which connects the hotel to the Disneyland entrance, is open to all comers, so we were able to stroll about there for the evening and grab a gourmet buffet meal at Goofy’s Kitchen, a fun environment where anything goes (especially the food!) and the characters come to watch the guests eat! While we were there, Jade was suitably impressed to meet Minnie, while Goofy left a lasting impression on me too! James and I spent another hour or so walking around the World Of Disney store, talking more about the website and how the next couple of days were going to be the real holiday part of our vacation.

Spending Time At Walt’s Park:
Monday 28 – Thursday 31 July 2008

Partners: Walt and Mickey
Ben: The last time I was at Disneyland was ten years ago, when we were in LA for a series of pitch meetings, and I only got around six hours to explore Walt’s original park. Since then it’s gone through a major clean-up, and a fairly extensive overhaul, with new rides and an entire new theme park in the shape of the California Adventure, newly built on what used to be the original park’s car lot. Exploring the park is always fun, and one really does feel the real world melt away, replaced with a place filled with what can only be described as magic. The only thing to really surprise was the lack of crowds for what one would have imagined to be the busy season, but then we were visiting on weekdays. The Fast Pass system meant we could pick up tickets for a few rides while we strolled around and waited in line for others, but even then the majority of lines weren’t that long to begin with.

Hopping onto the boat for the near legendary Jungle Cruise was our first port of call, which I hadn’t had time to ride before, followed by a return to the adventure with Indiana Jones that still captures the feel of the original films much more than the recent fourth outing. The rest of the day is a blur of rides, though highlights were return visits to Pirates Of The Caribbean (now with added Jack Sparrow, and very nicely integrated he was too), The Haunted Mansion, Star Tours and, most memorably, Splash Mountain, with the emphasis on splash! James isn’t a water ride guy, so he was well placed to take a shot of Jenny, Tami and myself as we got well and truly soaked on the final plunge down!

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It’s time to raise the curtain on MuppetVision 3D, and Disney Studios on the Hollywood backlot

The super-secret
entrance to Club 33
I’d not been able to see the Walt Disney World rides before, but newly arrived from Orlando in the California Adventure park were Muppet Vision 3D, truly old-school fun thanks to the participation of Jim Henson as Kermit in one of the last projects he was involved with, and Soarin’ Over California, the amazing flight over the state that does indeed have the effect of having audience members raise their feet so as not to brush the tree tops! While not as invigorating in the story sense as Universal’s Back To The Future Ride, which uses similar technology, this was still an exhilarating experience!

Just about dry from our Splash Mountain dip earlier on, Tami and I braved another white water rafter, the Grizzly Peak River Run, and got almost as wet again! We decided that the next day would be water free, but managed to dry off in line for Toy Story Mania, the absolutely fantastic new attraction that takes Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters to it’s logical next step.

Naturally, an astro blaster had to be mine, and despite Jenny questioning the real practical need for an astro blaster in the house, I was encouraged to snap one up anyway (thanks, Tami!). The day was completed by meeting Mickey in ToonTown, experiencing the simply amazing Fantasmic live show – all cheese but of the very cool kind – and the evening fireworks…what a blast!

Of mice and men: Mickey and Ben

Rand: Disneyland was naturally fantastic, but as I’ve visited Walt Disney World about two dozen times, and was still in the afterglow of Comic-Con, it didn’t have the effect it might otherwise have had. Still, we all enjoyed it immensely. I particularly liked Disney’s California Adventure, which had many things that were new to me. We also experienced an earthquake there (my family was in line for the Monsters, Inc. ride), which I thought was cool but my wife was decidedly less impressed with. Nothing was damaged, but many of the rides got shut down for a few hours while Mouse troops dutifully did safety checks. Much shopping could then be done, and I picked up an Imagineering DVD and a Disneyland Then And Now type of book, both exclusive to the park. Another favorite purchase of mine was a Jedi Mickey Mouse figure!

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Rand, wife Tess, and daughter Jade at Disneyland

Disneyland’s opening day
Ben: The next morning proved to serve up the most nerve-wracking “ride” of all: at 11:42am, the recent earthquake hit Anaheim right as we were between the gates of Disneyland and California Adventure. I tried to explain that the entire complex was built on a massive gimbal and that it was all part of the fun, but the others weren’t having any of it! Unfortunately the shake meant the closure of the moving vehicle rides, which meant we didn’t make a return visit to Space Mountain or the Matterhorn Bobsleds, but we weren’t affected too much otherwise.

Our second day in the parks was mostly about catching up on the rides we hadn’t done yet: the newly themed Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (much improved and using the Nemo characters very cleverly and entertainingly), and a handful of Fantasyland journeys: the Storybook Land canal boats, Alice In Wonderland and Mr Toad’s Wild Ride among them. We even got to ride Walt’s own horseless carriage on our way around! California Adventure held many treats too: as well as the seaside fairground atmosphere and pier, I was impressed with It’s Tough To Be A Bug and the Monsters Inc ride, while the terrifying Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror scared the wits out of me!

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The good, the bad and the…wait, that’s not right!

I met two of Walt’s most celebrated ladies: the sweet, Snow White, and the sour, Cruella de Vil, who when I told her was scaring me now just as much as she did when I was a child, retorted “I’m the woman of your dreams, daahhhling”! Another highlight was the Grand Opera House, currently still home to the 50th Anniversary celebrations that include a fascinating look at the history of Disneyland, featuring a wonderful special co-starring Steve Martin and Donald Duck that I thought was so well produced that we ended up catching it twice!

Model attraction: a recreation of the park on its first day in 1955

James: I never thought I’d ever go to Disneyland. When would I ever be in California? With a trip to Comic-Con already planned, a trip to Disneyland was a must! I’ve been to Walt Disney World several times. And the most startling thing about Disneyland compared with WDW is just how surprisingly small the Sleeping Beauty Castle is!

Swimming is bliss in Jen’s future!
Ben: We unfortunately had to say goodbye to James and Tami after lunch, as they had to leave to catch their three-day train trip home, but on the flip side this meant that Jenny and I could explore the rest of what we hadn’t seen alone. We were both disappointed with Innoventions overall, though I found Jen’s predicted image to be hysterical – looks like she’s going to have a high old time in the future!

A spectacular fairytale parade later, we ran around the park catching the last few attractions we wanted to experience, including the Disneyland Railroad, Tom Sawyer Island, the Mark Tawin paddle steamer and, of course, The Golden Horseshoe Revue. Night time saw the return of the Main Street Electrical Parade, this time to the California Adventure park, followed by a quick jump into line for the last chance to go shoot ’em up on the excellent Toy Story Mania again!

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Mark Twain riverboat; Billy’s Hillbillies at The Golden Horseshoe

Back at Disneyland, the crowds gathered for the pyrotechnics of Fantasmic and the fireworks, which we took as a cue to slip back onto some of the more packed rides again, which were this time people free. A rest at The Enchanted Tiki Room and a final stroll around Main Street saw a couple of purchases (a Disneyland: Imagineering DVD set and the Then And Now history book) before we headed for the Monorail. A quick journey back to the hotel would have made things perfect but we missed the last departure despite having been told there was a final service at 12:30. Ahh, well, we’d had such a great time anyway, I guess we’ll have to wait until we hit Disney World before I get the Monorail experience!

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Day and night: Disneyland’s Ward Kimball and Electrical Parade trains

Rand: James and Tami, also Disney park vets, left the second day there, while Ben and I caught WALL-E together with our entourages on the third day, before he and Jen rushed off to get their flight. I stayed at the parks late that night, in order to take in the Electrical Parade and finally Pirates Of The Caribbean, which had been closed down earlier.

Ben: Rand, Tess and Jade were due to have an extra day in the park, but for us it was time to leave on Wednesday afternoon. We checked out and left out bags at the desk, ready to catch the 3pm express shuttle to the airport, but still had some time to fill. We met the Cyrennes for lunch and managed to squeeze in a last-minute trip to the Downtown Disney movie house for the morning showing of WALL-E. I’d really hoped to have caught a Disney movie in the States, and the pure amazement we experienced at seeing WALL-E put the perfect capper on the entire vacation. With minutes to spare, we hurriedly said our goodbyes rushed out while the end credits scrolled on, reclaimed our luggage and made it to the pick-up point just as the bus rolled in. A hour’s drive to LAX for our check-in time, and we were soon on the plane back home.

Ben and Randall at Disney’s California Adventure

Rand: The next day for my family included a breakfast buffet at Goofy’s Kitchen, a bus ride to Anaheim, and two plane trips before we arrived home just before midnight. I stayed up a little longer to unpack my swag and reminisce about what was the vacation of a lifetime — one I hope to repeat in a few years. I certainly hope to go back to Comic-Con some day. I also told Ben we’d have to meet again in Orlando in five years, and I think he plans to hold me to it!

Ben: We’ve already joked about meeting up again in five years or so for a complete Walt Disney World adventure in Orlando, but what the other guys don’t realise yet is…that’s no joke! This has been an amazing experience, not only actually meeting up and cementing firm friendships, but recounting it again for this article. I can’t wait to do it all over again. See you in five years!

James and Ben at Disneyland

Text and photographs © 2008 Animated News & Views, not to be reproduced without express permission. All elements represented in the stills are copyrighted to the respective original artists, or the owners of the work reproduced. All rights reserved.