This is the second of my Top Ten Highlights of 2014 posts, looking back at my personal high points of the last twelve months – I haven’t done any Top Ten Movies or TV posts (I honestly don’t feel I’ve seen enough films this year to be completely objective, I’ve been sat in front of this laptop for so much of the year, trying to get the website fully up and running, and I’d hate to leave anything out that deserves due praise. But Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has rocked, let’s be honest).
Let’s crack on, shall we?
6. The Weeks Surrounding San Diego Comic-Con
Myself and my wife Caroline flew out to San Diego deliberately early this year because we felt that we hadn’t taken enough time in previous visits to truly appreciate the city of San Diego outside of Comic-Con… and we’re so glad we did. Meeting up with friends who had chosen to come in early, too, making brand new ones, getting a full sense of the culture, the vibrancy, the colour, the warmth and the sheer breadth of appeal of this gorgeous city – this was simply one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.
For example, we’d never taken the chance to look around Little Italy before – what a great part of San Diego that many might not experience if deciding to stay Downtown for the Convention, it’s a brilliant hive of activity with outstanding restaurants, stunning architecture and one of the best British Pubs I’ve ever visited, outside of the UK. We were invited to eat in this area twice during our trip, once in the week leading up to the Con in the company of Clydene Nee, the director of the Artists Alley department of SDCC, who Caroline and I wanted to meet up with and thank for all the support she’s given me over the years as a Staff Volunteer (and also to honour her for all her hard work and commitment to the organisation, in the face of deep personal hardships – Clydene is a absolute true inspiration to me) and then when the Convention had wrapped up, in a charming and colourful Italian restaurant with David Glanzer of CCI. Both meetups were not about work or the Con in particular, they didn’t feel formal at all, they were all about celebrating and living life, culture, the people we’d met and the things that we’d seen – a vibe that Little Italy embraces as an area of San Diego. Marvellous.
We also had incredible meal and fantastic times with new friends, brothers and San Diego locals Martin and Dennis Burke and their charming, much better halves, at Slaters 50/50 (and then a sip or two at the sumptuous Stones Brewery – I’d check that place out, if I were you. Incredible…), a great post-Con night out with Kelly and Kerri, room-sharing with Rachel Bueno, walking around Seaport Village, exploring San Diego Zoo, Caroline and Rachel heading off to take in the Gay Pride… all of this before the bedlam and chaos of 140,000 people that descends on the city and transforms it into something else. It was so much fun to just relax and breathe in our California adventure in the company of wonderful people – and damn right we’ll be doing it again! July Fourth? Wouldn’t miss it for the world!
5. Guardians Of The Galaxy Premiere (21st July 2014)
As part of our lead-up to San Diego Comic-Con, and while Caroline and Rachel were having a ball in the company of the city’s gay community for Gay Pride, I joined fellow SDCC UK Attendees Neil and Sharon Williamson on a road trip to Los Angeles to camp out, outside of the El Capitan Theatre, to watch the hustle, bustle and excitement of yer actual Hollywood Premiere – Guardians Of The Galaxy was coming to town!
This was before the astonishing box office take of the film cemented its place as a cornerstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and of superhero movies in general – indeed, now it’s quite hard to even call it that as Guardians is more of a standalone space opera than embedded comic book franchise flick. Even so, we were expecting crowds to be forming from the early hours so, in the dark of a early Monday morning, we headed off – and discovered that, okay, maybe this wasn’t going to be the total bloodbath we were expecting. Finding ourselves a spot alongside the red carpet on the busy-but-hardly-packed sidewalk, we set up camp and prepared ourselves for the blistering California sun to arc over head.
I’m not going to go into full detail about our day here – that’s what the Live Blog was for and, at some point, I really should upload all the vids I recorded of the celebs that arrived for the event – but let me quickly summarise for you now: we ate lots of sweets, waved at Ryan Penagos from Marvel who I tweet to from time to time (and have interviewed for the Cup O’ Tea Hangouts), tweeted to director James Gunn about our L.A. adventure, got ushered to the Fans Pen right by the red carpet, had Gunn recognise us from our tweet, got to see the stars of the film – Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Michael Rooker, Benicio del Toro and more – incredibly up close and personal as they passed by and said hi to us, got a free copy of the incredible soundtrack, had a great meal in the Hard Rock while we geeked out about our amazing day, drove home.
4. The SDCC UK Attendees Meetups
I don’t have to post here about how much the SDCC UK Attendees Group means to me – I’ve said it on numerous occasions and I think they all know exactly how much I care for each and every one of them, they are just rockstars for making the expensive and ardious journey, just for this event. But I have to list the Meetups that we organised this year – the Preview Night Meetup at the Hilton Gaslamp Firepit and the Sunday Night Pub Crawl, starting at Wet Willies in Downtown – purely because I think this was the first ones I’d attended where I stayed out late and properly enjoyed them!
In 2013, I had to duck out of the Preview Night Meetup due to me having Staff Volunteer responsibilities early the next day, and, on the walk back to the condo, Caroline twisted her ankle and broke her leg, meaning that the rest of the Con was quite the ordeal for her. It also meant that any late nights out were curtailed as she couldn’t keep up with the efforts of getting around which were tiring her out. This year, we made up for it! We both really made the efforts to not be the party poopers and tried to make sure we were close to being the last ones out the door – hell, we closed down three bars on the Sunday! Lightweights!!
This, combined with the more informal meetups during the week of the Con in the company of some of the loveliest people it’s been my privilege to meet, made everything worthwhile – guys and girls, you are the stars of the whole Con for me and it’s my humble honour to have created the Group that’s brought you lot together. (Oh, and gotten you addicted to making your way to San Diego each and every bloody summer, nearly leading some of you to bankruptcy. Oops – my bad!)
3. The Hall H Line Experience
Dovetailing into that was the experience of the Friday and Saturday of San Diego Comic-Con: the HALL H LINE EXPERIENCE! I capitalise that because it truly was an epic couple of days which just blows me away every single time I think about it. Indeed, some of it was quite surreal.
I had run the Artist Alley Room 2 on that Friday morning and had intended to head down to where the line might be forming to see what the lay of the land would be… Only to find that a surreptitious line had already formed, been corralled to a corner of the grass outside the Hilton Bayfront by the Godzilla Experience and were being sneakily kept out of the way by CCI in an attempt to not cause a rush by people, hearing of it on the grapevine. And, ooh look, who’s at the front of the line? Only a bunch of the UK Attendees Group that had taken advantage of the line forming and, experience queuers that we we, set up camp. I got my gear together and plonked my arse down.
What followed was a wonderful celebration of camaraderie from all quarters; from the people in the line who recognised the efforts we were all going through and helped each other out where we could (with water, food, watching of each others gear, toilet breaks and such), to the civility and calm of forming the queue and moving it across to the tents (I credit this to the SDCC staff and volunteers who were determined to keep us informed with all updates, the very best they could – even Hall H Program Director Eddie Ibrahim came out to see how we were doing. Damn right, I got a photo…!). When I disappeared to cover the Eisner Awards in the Hilton Bayfront, our fellow line buddies were there to keep an eye on one another. THAT’S why I keep coming back to San Diego Comic-Con, by the way. It was a pleasantly mild evening and we couldn’t have asked for better camping out conditions.
The icing on the cake was the surprize line visit, at two o’clock in the morning, by Hobbit stars Lee Pace and Andy Serkis – when I asked them if we could have a pic taken with the UK Attendees in the line as a Group. my heart swelled with pride that something I’d put together years before now lead to this opportunity. I’m also incredibly grateful to Pace and Serkis for having the patience while we gathered ourselves for those pics, as well as the individual ones that we all wanted. They could’ve easily told us to go jump, knowing how little time it would have taken for their visit to become public knowledge and turn into bedlam but they were generous with their time and happy to help. (Gods, that Pace boy is a tall chap! I mean, I’m six four and he’s easily got a few inches on me! Damn…)
Then, of course, there was the Hall H Saturday itself – it was nearly an anti-climax after the night just gone but thankfully 20th Century Fox, DC Entertainment, George Miller, Chris Hardwick, Sir Ben Kingsley and the Boxtrolls cast, and the entire Marvel Studios roster managed to make it all worthwhile (the less said about the Legendary panel, along with Natalie Dormer and the moderator of the Women Who Kick-Ass lineup, the better)… it truly was an epic day and one that I’m not going to forget in a hurry. I’m going to do a Retrospective on that Saturday in the New Year, now that plenty of videos of most of the panels are now available online – watch this space!