"Doug Loves Movies" at Comic-Con with Doug Benson, The Nerdist’s Matt Mira, and Geek Nation’s Clare Kramer.
Photo by Jessie Maltin "Doug Loves Movies" at Comic-Con with Doug Benson, The Nerdist’s Matt Mira, and Geek Nation’s Clare Kramer.

There are many ways to navigate, or experience, San Diego Comic-Con International. This year I was an Official Guest and the subject of a Spotlight Panel, which was quite nice, but I also spent time in the crush of humanity on the exhibition floor. As you may know, some veteran attendees and dealers bemoan the fact that a once-clubby gathering of fans and dealers has become a chaotic destination for pop culture fans of all ages and stripes. But, as I learned, one can choose how to experience this unique event.

My Comic-Con sojourn got off to a great start Wednesday night when I appeared on an episode of Doug Benson’s popular podcast Doug Loves Movies recorded at the American Comedy Company in San Diego’s Gas Lamp District. This has become an annual event and it was well attended; Doug tells me that as his fans are at his home base in Los Angeles, the enthusiasm level is exponentially higher out on the road when he plays his trivia contest “The Leonard Maltin Game.” I shared the stage with The Nerdist’s Matt Mira and actress Clare Kramer, who is also the co-founder of Geek Nation, which was well represented at Comic-Con. I also salvaged my reputation, somewhat, by actually coming up with some correct answers during the quiz. We all had a great time. Afterwards, my family and I found the streets of the Gas Lamp District had become a kind of happening where we had lively conversations with strangers and ran into a number of friends. One acquaintance dubbed it Nerdi Gras.

Gene Deitch happily poses with his Inkpot Award
Photo by Jessie Maltin Gene Deitch happily poses with his Inkpot Award

While literally thousands of fanboys (and girls) lined up for hours to see stars and creators of their favorite TV shows and preview upcoming movies, I participated in a handful of more modest-sized panels. Jerry Beck, of Cartoon Research, and I moderated a tribute to veteran animator and Oscar winning filmmaker Gene Deitch, who flew in from his home in Prague to mark the publication of his new book, Nudnik Revealed, from Fantagraphics Books. It was great to hear Gene relate some of his experiences working for animation legend John Hubley, the UPA studio and Terrytoons, where he created Tom Terrific, before setting off on his own overseas. Nudnik is a pet character of his who is enjoying a kind of renaissance thanks to this book and a new DVD. At the end of our hour-long session, Gene was presented with Comic-Con’s beautiful Inkpot Award.

On Friday, I was part of a panel sponsored by Warner Archive celebrating that DVD label’s B movies, joined by Warner’s movie guru George Feltenstein, his podcast cohorts Matt Patterson and Dan Ferranti, and screenwriter/film buff Josh Olson. We had a great turnout and the crowd responded well to a fun selection of film clips that ranged from Bomba the Jungle Boy to The Phynx.

I’m always wary of book signings but I was relieved to find a line of people waiting for me at the event that followed in the convention center’s official autograph area. I met a lot of nice people there; in fact, everyone I encountered over the weekend who wanted to say hello or get a photo was polite and friendly.

The lively crowd at Rotten Tomatoes’ panel "Your Opinion Sucks"
Photo by Jessie Maltin The lively crowd at Rotten Tomatoes’ panel "Your Opinion Sucks"

I can’t use those exact terms for the folks who packed the room for Rotten Tomatoes’ Friday night panel titled Your Opinion Sucks, but I was pleasantly surprised that—given the passionate feelings expressed—everyone was well behaved. I shared the stage with RT editor Matt Atchity, Scott Mantz of Access Hollywood, Ben Lyons of Extra, Jim Vejvoda of IGN, Jenna Busch of Fanhattan, Nell Minow of Movie Mom, and RT’s senior editor Tim Ryan, with the effervescent Grae Drake serving as interlocutor between us and audience members who wanted to challenge our thoughts on some of their favorite films. It isn’t easy to face a teeming crowd and stand by an unpopular opinion—but I survived.

The stylish Inkpot Award
The stylish Inkpot Award

On Saturday, Comic-Con stalwart Mark Evanier invited me to be a surprise guest at his annual Quick Draw session, which featured three cartoonists (Neal Adams, Scott Shaw!, and the amazing Sergio Aragonés, who wield the fastest pens in the West. In my segment they tried to convey the names of Oscar-winning films through strictly visual language, and I stumbled through an attempt to guess the answers—before an audience of 3,200 people. The one that came immediately was Adams’ rendering of the White House with the words “in Spanish” below. I knew right away he meant Casablanca. Whew!

Later that day Mark interviewed me on my own Spotlight Panel, which was relaxed and enjoyable—and led to a most unexpected conclusion, as I was presented with a Comic-Con Inkpot Award! I had no idea I was going to be honored this way and I couldn’t be happier.

Navigating the exhibition floor and checking out the various dealers is the most challenging part of the convention nowadays, as the sheer crush of humanity in the aisles is daunting, to say the least. But I did get to see some old friends and make a few small purchases—trying to show restraint. My wife surprised me by purchasing a limited-edition steel blue Robby the Robot, which along with my Inkpot will remind me of the 2013 Comic-Con International for many years to come.