A roundup of Comic-Con

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek television series, was the featured guest at one of Comic-Con's early panels dealing with science and pop culture. // Michael E. Bakich
The world’s greatest pop-culture convention is over for this year. San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) 2018 — the 49th incarnation of this great event — started Thursday, July 19, and ran through Sunday the 22nd. Actually, a preview night occurred Wednesday, July 18, for professionals, exhibitors, and press. And, once again, that was me. Press. I was there for the whole shebang, met some wonderful people, and experienced lots of great events.

Comic-Con started in 1970 as a three-day gathering called the Golden State Comic-Con. The event drew 300 people. This year the attendance approached 180,000. Unbelievable!

The historic Spreckles Theater was the setting for four Conan O'Brien shows during Comic-Con. Tickets to those programs were among the hardest to get at the convention. // Michael E. Bakich
The central area of Comic-Con features the exhibitors. Here’s where comic book companies, video game producers, movie studios, and collectible manufacturers and dealers set up more booths than you can shake a lightsaber at. Nearby, Artist’s Alley features the best illustrators from each genre producing sketches for sale and signing already completed works.

Surrounding the exhibitor area, rooms large and small (and I’m not kidding here; capacities range from 280 to 6,500 seats) host panels, seminars, and workshops featuring some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry and pop culture. At Comic-Con 2018, some big names attended.

And not just in the convention center. Television personality Conan O’Brien, a favorite of nerds and geeks (two former derogatory terms that people now wear with pride) set up for four shows at the Spreckles Theater, in San Diego’s Gaslamp District, which borders Comic-Con and feeds its attendees.

Former astronaut Leland Melvin talked about living and working in space during National Geographic's MARS panel. // Michael E. Bakich
And how, you might ask, does all this pertain to Astronomy? In many ways, my friends. As many people over the years have said, the only difference between science and science fiction is timing. In the past, Astronomy magazine has covered the relationship (see, for example, “The science of Star Trek” in our January 2012 issue). You know, I still have a burning desire to ask comic book authors or screenwriters, “What’s it feel like to create a whole race of extraterrestrials?”

And I found lots of examples of science at Comic-Con. The National Geographic Channel had a huge presence, hosting both panels and parties. One dealt with the second season of NatGeo’s upcoming Mars miniseries. Along with several of the cast and production staff, other guests included Stephen Petranek, whose book inspired both the project and the series, Andy Weir, author of The Martian, and former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, whose insights about actually living and working in space were terrific.

Cosplay was everywhere at Comic-Con. Here, Loki and Hela pose for a pic. // Michael E. Bakich
The other NatGeo project that got lots of attention at SDCC was the second season of Cosmos. Originally hosted by Carl Sagan way back in 1980, the new programs feature the latest science, top-notch visual effects, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

I attended a party only a couple blocks from Comic-Con for NatGeo’s Mars on Friday night. Food and drink were complimentary and special guests gave insight into exploring and eventually colonizing Mars, while others talked about creating the show.

The following afternoon, I attended another NatGeo party, this one a beer- and wine-tasting event hosted by Tyson. It was a celebration of his popular series StarTalk. There were no formal talks, but Neil walked around chatting with attendees and signing complementary copies of his book, StarTalk.

Other panels that dealt with science were “Snoopy Space Traveler: The History and Future of Snoopy and NASA,” “The Science of Cool,” “Shattering Stereotypes: Badass Female Scientists in the Lab and on the Screen,” “The Science of Star Trek,” “Popular Science: Beyond Entertainment,” “More Science in Your Fiction with the League of Extraordinary Scientists and Engineers,” “Superhero Science,” and “No Tow Trucks Beyond Mars.”

As a member of the press, I get invites to all kinds of events. One, sponsored by the National Geographic Channel and hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, celebrated the astronomer's StarTalk television series. // Holley Y. Bakich
One of the highlights of the convention for me was an opportunity to record a short video interview with Andy Weir, author the The Martian and Artemis. I made that a separate blog for it, which you’ll find here.

San Diego Comic-Con 2018 featured a lot more science than any of its previous incarnations. I salute the organizers: Well done!

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