ARTS FEATURE For the Comic Book Guy in All of Us

Best. Convention. Ever.

The action at Comic-Con officially started on Preview Night on July 22, with Warner Bros. Television’s sneak previews of “Human Target,” “V,” and “The Vampire Diaries,” all three of which, I have to say, left me with a vague sense of déjà vu, especially in the vampire department. “V,” however, is interesting in terms of high-tech visuals. The mosaicked mirrors of the Mothership beaming Morena Baccarin’s elfin face over Los Angeles are quite a sight.

As I waded through the crowd of over 125,000 life-size Batmen, Supermen, Pokémon, Star Wars figures, Roman gladiators, and other stars and creatures of the U.S. and international comic worlds, it was hard to believe that this annual popular culture affair, now in its 40th year, was not “the real thing” – long-time attendees such as Bob Beerbohm have described the first event in 1970 as the “first real Comic-Con.”

The four-day event brings fans, stars, dealers and experts together and has been steadily growing by about 20,000 guests each year. Indeed, “the Con,” as it is affectionately called, is no longer just about publishing. It now encompasses the family of comics-inspired Hollywood film and animation, gaming, internet, mobile, and toy industries.

“San Diego Comic-Con is the center of the universe in the comic books industry. You have to be here, because if you are not here, you are nowhere,” said famed film and television actor and star of the 1980s’ cult classic “The Greatest American Hero” William Katt as he demonstrated the iPhone motion comic book Sparks Part 2, which he co-created and voiced with Transformers’ Michael Bell.

The Sparks superhero-noir-thriller that was published as a comic book series in 2008 is one of the Web 2.0 wonders of this years’ Con. It pushes boundaries by bridging the printed page and animation with ground-breaking lip-synchronization, all available through iTunes.

Katt, also the co-owner and executive producer of Catastrophic Comics, says that his company now tackles the lip-synch technology, still in its infancy in the animated comics sphere, in just 10 days and that it is well worth the technological hurdles: “We make it a very visceral experience, it moves you, your heart rates goes up, and you can hear the music, you get engaged by the application.”

Anthony E. Zuiker and lonelygirl15 creator Equal partnered to deliver another web-savvy alternative: a new crime novel called Level 26 that can be enjoyed through a blog, a social network and “cyber bridges” on its website. Zuiker said that Level 26 represents “the next level of fear,” and that some of the ideas for the story came to him in the shower. “I had a lot of issues, so I decided to put those issues in the most ferocious book ever,” he said in a Q&A session.

Comic book legend and former president of Marvel Comics Stan Lee was also on hand to present his latest high-tech comics collaboration with Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, the multi-platform digital motion comic book series “Time Jumper,” while at the “Made for Mobile” panel, Uclick announced its mobile version of Lee’s “Stripperella,” the animated TV series whose heroine, Erotica Jones, leads a double life as a stripper and secret agent. The comic strip, which was designed specifically for the iPhone, was designed for mobile devices “so that it [could] reach the widest possible audience of intelligent, deep-thinking readers,” Lee said.

In this cut-throat media business as elsewhere, contacts and qualifications count, of course, and networking was a palpable priority for many at Comic-Con. In the sunlit Sails Pavilion, a line of fresh graduates and young artists hoping for their “big breaks” waited with nervous excitement for their turn to have their portfolios reviewed by representatives of leading popular media companies, knowing that some of them, such as Arch Enemy Entertainment, were actually seeking to recruit concept artists and colorists to work on projects.

Just as popular as eating “manga cuisine” or chatting with the Christian comics group, celebrity sightings have been one of the major attractions of Comic-Con. For me, it was Terry Gilliam who swept me off my feet with his humor as he presented his new film The Imagination of Dr. Parnassus. Contrary to most previews, he showed “only the boring bits so that when you go and see the movie you will see the best bits and have your money’s worth.” As he received Comic-Con’s Inkpot Award for Achievement in Film Arts, he let out, “I guess you could take over an airplane with this,” he said pointing at its sharp alloyed edges. Johhny Depp made a two-minute appearance dressed as his Mad Hatter character from Tim Burton’s 3D live-action adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

Reminded of home, I spotted a quite remarkable instance of Bostonian talent: the nomination of the Kenmore Square comic bookstore Comicopia in The Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. Comicopia was one of the 17 comic bookstores this year to be nominated for the award, which is presented to an individual retailer “who has done an outstanding job of supporting the comics art medium both in the community and within the industry at large.”

The night owl in me also had to check the parties and Comic-Con’s Nighttime Programs, which consisted of an impossible-to-choose-from series of films, features and documentaries on each night. The BBC’s The Mighty Boosh Bash hosted by creators Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding and actors Michael Fielding, Rich Fulcher and Dave Brown, (featuring a full cast DJ set) was tempting. But I opted for Circle of Confusion & IDW’s Annual Comic-Con Extravaganza with Wired Magazine.

The posh party was in full swing when I approached its doors quite late in the night, which threatened my admission. “This is it, we are not letting anymore people in,” I was told. But my press credentials and a little powder on my nose helped me pass security. Inside, a relaxed and smiling Circle of Confusion Partner David Alpert told me about his management production company’s successes in expanding to Europe and Asia and about his lifelong passion for comics. “Comic-Con is very international. Anime and manga are hugely popular here. We are very active on the Asian market,” he said of his company, which represents screenwriters, directors, content creators, and comic book libraries and which has the Wachowski Brothers among its clients.

“I’m a huge comic book fan, ever since I was a child, I have had a huge collection, it was great fun,” he said – a comment which sends me back to my own childhood memories of reading with adoration Tintin & Milou. It’s also proof that the Comic-Con spirit is in every comic fan’s heart, big or small.