Emily S. Whitten: SDCC Part 1 – Zac Levi’s Nerd HQ!
San Diego Comic-Con International has come and gone, and it was a blast! But boy, am I exhausted. I definitely need a little bit of mellow down-time after all of the (great!) excitement of the biggest genre con in North America (or maybe the world? I’m too tired to look this up, y’all). That’s why even though I’ve got lots of fantastic news and interviews coming your way (Psych! Almost Human! I Know That Voice! Warehouse 13! Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D.! Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox! Captain America: The Winter Soldier! Guardians of the Galaxy! Interviews with voice actors Rob Paulsen and Dee Bradley Baker!), today I want to talk about the most chill place I hung out this weekend – Nerd HQ.
Nerd HQ, now in its third year, is technically not part of SDCC, being the brainchild of Chuck star Zachary Levi and operating as its own thing, but it took place in nearby Petco Park during the con and featured a number of celebrity guests, which made it feel a bit like a mini-SDCC or arm of the con. The atmosphere, however, was a nice and relaxed change from the hustle and bustle of the con floor and crowded panels; and also, it was free to walk around and enjoy the main area, which is cool.
Featuring mainly a long promenade which included an arcade where fans could play video games both old and new (there were several actual arcade games there, along with games on laptops and larger screens for console games), the area also had some nice seating that allowed fans to sit and look out at the field if they wanted to, possibly while eating the food available for purchase nearby. One very nice feature is that the area was covered but open, so fans could get a little fresh air while nerding out during the weekend; which is a great way to decompress after a stint on the con floor or in con program rooms. Just walking around for a few, still immersed in “my people” having a good time but also away from the intensity of the con, certainly did me good when I went over on Saturday.
There was also a stage at the end of the promenade where a YouTube channel (GeekWeek, I believe?) was filming events such as a costume contest and a puppet show to stream throughout the weekend. On the nearer end, a photo area was set up so that fans could get photos with celebrities who dropped by sporadically throughout. Zac was there taking photos when I walked in, and apparently greats such as Stan Lee had also been there at various times. Although the very efficient security whisked me away from stopping to watch the photo experience for too long, I did witness a happy fan on the phone with a friend afterwards, literally in tears because she’d gotten a photo with Zac. So that feature of Nerd HQ was definitely a success in fan enjoyment.
Another great part of Nerd HQ is the Conversations for a Cause; small panels limited to 250 fans, which generally feature guests who are in town for the con anyway. The Conversations took place in a glassed-in area overlooking the field (possibly in the VIP boxes? It was hard to tell with the setup, but it was nice), and (happily for me, after my mad dash from the convention center for the panel I attended) had fans or air conditioning of some sort keeping the area cool. Although the tickets for some of these panels sell out in a hot minute (the Joss Whedon one sold out in 30 seconds or less, along with about three-fourths of the others in the first flight of panels announced), I was able to get a ticket to the Zac Levi & Mystery Guests panel. It would have been fun just to see Zac on a panel, of course; but the mystery guests for the panel turned out to be ace too; being Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk (which made my Firefly shirt especially appropriate attire), and Rob Kazinsky (who turned out to be perhaps the biggest geek of all, and was a great panelist).
Zac both moderated and participated in the panel, which mainly consisted of people asking questions from the audience. The answers were often hilarious and well-worth the $22 ticket price, and Alan Tudyk made things infinitely cooler for the question-askers by bringing along a bag of neat swag to give them (and now I know that if I ever see Alan Tudyk again, I should not give him anything, because he is the World Champion of re-gifters). Possibly the coolest prizes (in my opinion) were several clothing items he had from various places, such as a couple of Dollhouse-related coats, and a giant duster that Russell Crowe and Christian Bale had apparently bought during filming for 3:10 to Yuma and given to him.
Along with being highly entertaining, we learned some new things about the panelists, such as how they got their first big breaks (and with no context whatsoever, because Gondor needs no context, I present this quote from Zac regarding Alan’s story: “Alan, as much as I appreciate your tranny bar story, what was your big break?”). We also learned that Zac’s favorite superhero is Deadpool, which, as anyone who reads my column (or @Ask_Deadpool) will know, automatically raises his coolness factor by infinity; and that Rob Kazinsky manages to be both badass (having been a stuntman and trained extensively with swords) and a nerd to outnerd all nerds, possibly including Zac himself. And Nathan Fillion showed himself to be the sweetheart I already suspected him to be by offering to buy several meals for a poor fan from Australia (I think) who’d had her bags stolen while in San Diego (yikes!).
I did mention that there’s a ticket price for the Conversations; and the photo ops cost money as well. However, the prices are reasonable, and even better, the proceeds go to charity, or more specifically to Operation Smile, which I first learned about from voice actor Rob Paulsen, who also supports them. Operation Smile provides free surgeries for kids with cleft lips, cleft palates, and other facial deformities; and how could anyone not think that’s a worthy cause?
Overall, Nerd HQ is a pretty chill place to go for a break from the SDCC madness, and I had a great time at the panel and a fun time briefly wandering the promenade. I would suggest better availability of both directions (like noting that 7th St. has two names for the stretch next to the con!) and information overall. For instance, visiting fans who haven’t been to Nerd HQ before might not know what-all is available to do for free there; or might not realize they can get photos with celebrities or sometimes walk right in and go to a panel that’s not sold out. Having one of the cheerful volunteers already on hand give out a one-page flyer as fans enter, explaining the set-up of Nerd HQ (and including URLs for things like the YouTube stage, which I can’t find listed anywhere), wouldn’t go amiss, especially since the website doesn’t have really specific information, and cell service can be spotty near the con anyway. There’s also apparently a NERD party sometime over the weekend; and I love a good party, but have no idea where I should have looked to find out more about it. I totally would have considered it if I knew anything more about it!
But don’t take these small critiques to mean I don’t think Nerd HQ is a great thing! It’s pretty rad; and being something that started in a sort of spontaneous way, is bound to have some growing pains. Apparently this year’s HQ was bigger than last; so I’m looking forward to seeing what next year’s is like (while hoping it doesn’t get too big and unwieldy, or it may lose its charm). If I get to SDCC again, it will definitely be on my list of places to go!
In the meantime, stay tuned for all of my other SDCC coverage; and since there’s so much of it, it’ll be coming through as fast as I can get it done, rather than just on my regular Tuesday column schedule. So keep an eye out here to hear about all the other cool stuff I saw and people I talked to at SDCC.
And until then: Viva La Nerdolution! And Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis
WEDNESDAY MORNING: Mike Gold