February 26, 2007

It's All Geek to Me

Getting into The Spirit (among other phenomena) at New York Comic Con

By John Lichman

(L-R) Gary Coleman -- yes, that Gary Coleman -- awaits autograph hounds with new friend at the second annual New York Comic Con (Photo: Matt Buchanan)

The most frightening thing you could ever imagine hearing is a 'tween in a hand-made Robin costume crying out for his Batman. But that was the scene over the weekend at Javits Center, home to the second annual New York Comic Con. Held in the center's overcrowded basement in 2006, the hosts wised up this time around and gave almost all of the building to the nerds.

Friday was a rough start as exhibitors, costumed heroes, red-shirt volunteers and Star Wars Stormtroopers all tried to help the crowd find panels and celebrities alike. The fest officially kicked off with a screening of Train Man: Densha Otoko, in which a mild-mannered geek (or otaku if you want to be nerd PC) stands up to a drunk harassing women on a train and begins a relationship with one of them. The fun part comes when the otaku begins relating the story on 2channel, a massive Japanese Web forum. After being contacted by one of the women (whom he dubs "Hermes" based on the thank-you gift she sends), he sweeps up the Interweb with his drama. Interestingly, this is all supposedly based on true events, though many claim it's too perfect; in any event, it has been adapted as a radio play, a TV series, a comic book and was released on US DVD earlier this month. It's only a matter of time before this gets remade with 2channel being replaced by Blogger.

After a look at Train Man, The Reeler caught up with its old friend Bill Plympton, who premiered his latest short, Shut-Eye Hotel. "It's very different from my other films," Plympton said while manning his booth, stacked with DVD's and original cels. "It's much more of a murder mystery. ... It's very cartoon noir. It's about a hotel where people get murdered." As for who the culprit is, it's inspired by a "true event" that happened to Plympton while staying at a hotel.

Plympton appeared to enjoy his first day at the Con. "It's really good people," he said. "They love this stuff, [and] they know my work, which is always nice. I am disappointed that there is not more animation exposure here; it's mostly just books and comics and merchandise." He also screened four clips from his upcoming feature, Idiots & Angels, about a "sort of asshole" who finds out he's growing wings. Even though it was a work in progress, it has the feel of Plympton's usual dark humor and more of that self-described cartoon noir.

At the end of the day, ImaginAsian TV screened its new show Uncle Morty's Dub Shack. "It's basically a parody dubbing show," said Justin Sevakis, the network's manager of strategic development programming. "Basically we take indescribably awful old movies from Asia and cut them down to 11 minutes, re-dub them and tell the story of the people dubbing it, throw away the script and just goof on it." That night, the first season finale showed with a re-cut Heroes Of Shaolin, now about the world's greatest lover, a new take on "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" and soy linguini being made from... well, sound it out and you'll laugh. Give it a look if you miss Mystery Science Theater 3000; it should eventually be coming to DVD after a few rights are cleared up.

TOP: (L-R) ImaginAsian exec Justin Sevakis and Uncle Morty's Dub Shack star Trevor Moore; BOTTOM: Director Eli Roth discussing the follow-up to his film Hostel (Photos: John Lichman, Eric Kohn)

Saturday morning featured the "Slayer Tales" panel to commemorate the 10th anniversary of cult-TV phenomenon Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Bianca Lawson ("Kendra") said exactly 12 words for the hour, while Nicholas Brendan ("Xander") mysteriously couldn't show up until after the panel. There were four other actors whom only the hardcore fan remembered. The Reeler quietly waited for it to end and then ran.

A panel about the development of The Spirit, based on Will Eisner's historic comic character, with producers Michael Uslan and F.J. DeSanto ended up being the best of the weekend. "Our team is very New York centric," Uslan told the room, listing executive producer Benjamin Melniker and Steve Maier, DeSanto, writer/director/illustrator Frank Miller and himself, despite being from Jersey. After getting a hold of the rights to Eisner's work, Usland said he swore to Eisner that nobody else was going to touch this project if they didn't get it. "We have had many lucrative deals put in front of us that we turned down over the years," he confided.

Miller, who is adaptatng and directing the project himself, wrote an e-mail to the panel; he could not attend after breaking his hip a few weeks ago in a fall on an icy sidewalk in Manhattan. Uslan said that Miller is crediting Eisner with the storyboards and himself for contributing the in-between additions. Much the same way as Sin City was made, Miller is looking at a straight panel-for-panel translation. "[Technology] is exactly the other element that's changed everything," Uslan said. "Up until now, you wouldn't dare do the Silver Surfer or The Green Lantern. But now the technology allows you to do it; it won't look cheesy, and you can do it within the limitations of certain elements." The Spirit's hometown of Central City -- based on New York -- will be adapted using digital replicas of the backgrounds rather than brick-and-mortar urban locations.

"One of the things I like most is we're doing this independently," said Uslan. "By doing it independently that means to me there will never be a situation where by our choice we ignore 60 years of history and mythology of a character just to create something new out of whole cloth and throw it out there." Perhaps the biggest question, however, is if production of Sin City 2 -- another Miller project scheduled for a 2008 release -- would go up against The Spirit. "We are really all kind of waiting to see how all the pieces are going to fit together," Uslan replied. "Right now, if I had to guess I would say we're going first." Currently, no actors are attached, though Uslan claims many are vying for the part.

Between the cold weather and lackluster panels, the rest of the Con didn't offer up much -- unless you count Eli Roth explaining how Hostel is, in fact, a slam against capitalism, later telling a crowded roundtable that he learned more about filmmaking from his time at a summer camp than film school, making every NYU film student tear down their Cabin Fever posters and replace them with Chris Columbus' works. Roth did officially accept the term "Splat Pack," acknowledging that every few years, the film world needs to come up with a quirky name for genre directors.

And as the sun set on another New York Comic Con, The Reeler saw that lone Robin once again; this time, he managed to hook up with two Spider-Men, a Wolverine and some sort of ninja fellow. It may have been uneven, but the Con was mildly fun -- if very, very disturbing.

Advertise on The Reeler

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


TrackBack URL for this entry: