Seriously, doesn’t this chair look like it was made of the material they were trying to find a use for in the first episode of Better Off Ted…and turned into a chair so irritating that it increased worker productivity because people couldn’t get comfortable? (You can see it in the middle of this 10-minute preview.)


It was the chair in our hotel room (the converted bank office with the impressive lobby). Fortunately it wasn’t nearly as scratchy as Viridian Dynamics’ “Focus Master.” (Incidentally: more Better off Ted episodes are starting up in a couple of weeks for the summer!)

Some graffiti on plywood in the Gaslamp District area:

And then there was this “You Are Under Surveillance” sign. Something about the combination of the sign, the stairway, and all the posters on the walls just looked interesting.

As Comic-Con International strains at the boundaries of the San Diego Convention Center, it’s begun spilling over into the city. Go back 4-5 years, and the most you would see would be the occasional street light banner or bus stop advertisement. Now, there are people handing out flyers as far out as the trolley stops, and walking around the Gaslamp in ridiculous mascot costumes (the sandwiches a few years ago, the donuts this year). There are displays near the trolley stops. There are buses wrapped with full advertisements for movies and TV shows, shuttle vans labeled U.S.S. Enterprise — there was even an ice cream truck parked for several days on 5th street with a Eureka ad on the side (and probably something inside it, but I was always on the other side of the street when I saw it).

It’s mainly the TV and film studios (except for the flyers), and it ties into something that author Robert J. Sawyer mentioned at his spotlight panel: Convention-goers are nexuses (well, nexi). We’re the people who are so into movies, TV, games, comics, etc. that we’ll put in the effort, time and expense to go to this kind of event, and we’re likely to talk about it. They’re counting on us going back to our offices or dorm rooms, hanging out with friends, blogging, posting on Twitter, or otherwise telling everyone we know about how cool this and that new movie is going to be.

In short: It’s an advertising blitz designed to kick off word-of-mouth hype, aimed at the crowd that’s both most primed to receive it and most likely to spread it.

With the massive convention floor and unbelievable crowds, they’re doing everything they can to stand out. So we get the viral marketing, like the ads for TruBlood, the Humans-Only Restrooms signs, the army of people in Quarantine outfits, the Neighborhood Watch–style sign for The Spirit. We get the swag. We get the celebrity appearances. We get displays of terra-cotta warriors to advertise The Mummy and replicas of the Owlship from Watchmen.

All that brings in more people, which of course makes the event more attractive to the studios, so they put in more effort, which brings in more people, and they start promoting movies that have nothing to do with comics, sci-fi, fantasy or horror, the genres that used to be the main focus for the con. (I remember thinking that Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle was an odd choice to promote at Comic-Con. This year, the sequel blended right in.)

The con seems to have reached an upper limit in terms of the number of people it can handle at the current venue, which is contracted through 2012. I wonder whether Hollywood will demand bigger crowds — which would probably be best handled by spilling into neighboring hotels — or be satisfied with the numbers it’s got.

Night EyesOur first night in San Diego, we picked up our badges for Comic-Con, then went out to see Avenue Q. We took the trolley back, and as we walked up the hill from the Little Italy trolley stop, we saw a pair of giant cartoon eyes looking out over the city from a balcony near the top of a nearby building. I thought they might be satellite dishes with convenient lighting, but then I remembered the number of odd publicity stunts connected to the Simpsons movie. No idea whether it’s related or not.

The shuttle route from our hotel to the con passed by this mural, which plays with the nature of the constructed reality. The wall is a newspaper page. The face is a sculpture, a painting. The hands holding the chisel and paintbrush, of course, are just as artificial as the face being created.

Mural on a building

We noticed an interesting coincidence at Horton Plaza. Just a few doors down from the Post Office was an Aeropostale clothing store:

Aeropostale and Post Office

Bench: Sit.  Stay. Heal.This bench was in front of a hotel, probably the Hilton San Diego Gaslamp. I suppose that makes the pun on dog training more appropriate, since it’s a block away from Petco Park stadium.

Quiznos DrinkI’ve always figured standing out on a street in a mascot costume must be miserable, especially in summer. But how much worse to be dressed as a giant soft drink? I suppose this would go with last year’s walking sandwich.

Now, you have to wonder about AMN Healthcare. It’s clearly a set of initials…but how often do people complain about health, insurance, and the healthcare industry? It’s just one letter off from “Damn Healthcare.”

AMN Healthcare

Awning: Sin NiteclubBack to the shuttle route, next to (or possibly connected to) the Martini Ranch spotted in a previous installment of this series, was this nightclub that made no pretensions about what people are going there for. Also note that it’s a “niteclub” — is that a nightclub with fewer calories?

Then there’s this place, which employed the ultimate euphemism:

F-Street: San Diego's ultimate sensual well being adult store

That’s got to be the most convolutedly delicate way of saying “sex shop” that I’ve ever seen.

I wanted to call this “Oddball Comic-Con,” but decided that might be a little too close.

Stormtrooper Elvis poses with SauronStormtrooper Elvis has become such a fixture that I almost didn’t bother taking a picture of him when I saw him this year… but then I noticed his pose, and the Sauron statue in the background.

Free Hugs

There were a number of people walking around with “Free Hugs” signs, most of them women, but a few men. I never actually saw someone take one of them up on the offer, though.

Man holding up a book and a sign saying "Free!"On the subject of “Free” signs, I found it amusing that the Bantam Dell booth was trying to attract people with a hand-lettered cardboard sign proclaiming, “FREE!”

Circle of lights with cross-bars.
At one point I looked upward at the ceiling of Ballroom 20. With The Dark is Rising being made into a movie, I saw this lighting fixture and cross-beams and immediately thought of the Sign of Fire.

Flyer Man: FrontThis guy had the ultimate cheap costume: A roll of tape. He just took every freebie flyer that was handed to him, and taped it to himself.

Baseball cap: (fu) CKY (ou)

There’s apparently a band called CKY. Some of their merchandise manages to work the name into a rather rude saying…

There was a group of women in identical red dresses, with identical hairdos, and identical shoes. I saw a few of them wandering the floor on Saturday, but didn’t realize just how many there were until we left the convention center for dinner, and saw them crossing the street.

30+ Women in Red Dresses

Edit: Milla Jovovich in Resident EvilMystery solved? The Resident Evil panel featured 17 Milla Jovovich doubles wearing her iconic red dress. This looks like more than 17, and the dresses don’t seem to be ripped in the right place, but this could be them.

Continued in Strange Sights of San Diego.