For around the past decade or so — about the time mainstream Hollywood realized the value in courting fans at comic book conventions and other popcult events — San Diego’s Comic-Con International, in terms of sheer size and attendance, has grown to the point that even the massive walls of the San Diego Convention Center cannot contain the action. For example, last year, Cartoon Network transformed the Gas Lamp District’s [The name for the array of shops, hotels and restaurants surrounding the Convention Center.] Ciro’s Pizza, into The Adventure Time Pizzeria – to promote the titular cartoon. Warner Bros./TBS rented gallery space, and displayed fan art devoted to talk show host, and self-professed geek, Conan O’ Brien. Comedy Central even took over an entire park to recreate the city of South Park.
As a hit TV show based on an Eisner Award™ winning comic book series (produced by cable powerhouse AMC, and published by Image/Skybound respectively), The Walking Dead, in Comic-Cons of the past, has had a relatively, well, conventional presence. Last year, the show, although certainly a hit with fans of the comic, was still between its first and second seasons – so it hadn’t firmly cemented its position as an AMC ratings juggernaut. However, AMC’s Walking Dead booth was still incredibly cool – offering fans an opportunity to pose for pictures next to a lifelike wax sculpture of Michael Rooker as Merle Dixon (the white supremacist fans loved to hate, if only for a couple of episodes) in the predicament the series’ survivors last saw him: handcuffed to a pipe at he top of a building, with a herd of “Walkers” breaking down a door do get to him. And as always, the publisher of the comic has always brought their A-game, in terms of exclusive merch.
Comic-Con 2012 is a different story altogether – quite literally. First, the landmark issue #100 (an amazing accomplishment for a book that isn’t based on a superhero that’s been around for a couple decades) will be available at Con first, before it hits the specialty shops – and with seven variant covers. There will also be exclusive Mini-Mates figures, as well as an exclusive Michonne action figure. To be sure, all of these exclusives are very, very cool.
However, the real action for diehard fans of the show and/or comic will actually be across the street, at PetCo Park. If the notion of living in the world of the Zombie Apocalypse, if only for a little while, appeals to you, The Walking Dead Escape promises to be the “fleur de lis” of fan experiences – “everything your heart desires.” Chicken Soup for the Zombie Lover’s Soul, if you will.
Taking place (in quasi “real time”) during the early days of the Zombie Apocalypse [According to Walking Dead creator, Robert Kirkman, San Diego is the first major city to fall to the hordes of undead “Walkers” - or “Roamers,” in the comics.] The Walking Dead Experience is an immersive experience, dropping ticket holders into the middle of a FEMA Evacuation Zone stationed in PetCo Park. There are a number of experiences available to fit literally any budget:
Survivor ($80): Is outrunning hordes of flesh-eating monsters your idea of a good time? Have you watched a survivor fall on the show, and thought “What an idiot. I could have gotten away from that one”? Well, now you can put your money where your mouth is. According to the site, participants at the Survivor level can expect to traverse rope bridges, climb cargo nets, and crawl through other obstacles, all while trying to stay “uninfected.” A “Knott’s Scary Farm” style maze with true balls. Be advised: you cannot bring weapons – even props. Also, the $80 ticket price goes up to $90 at the door.
Walker ($19 / $39/ $149): Do you think Greg Nicotero and KNB EFX are the greatest team of zombie makeup artists since Tom Savini picked up a tin of greasepaint? Or perhaps you just want to indulge your inner flesh-eater. There are several ways for you to get your zombie on – and all of the makeup will be done by Nicotero and his team, who (perhaps ironically) bring zombies to life every week on The Walking Dead. For a mere $19, you can play the role of a Walker for four hours, limping and shambling through the Evac Zone – the Survivors are your buffet! For $39, you can do the same for two and a half hours [The logic being that you are more or less an “extra” in this story come to life, so more “work,” means less money you have to pay.] or, you can be a Horde Master, and lead your own horde. The $149 tier is for “Horde Heroes” – who can stake out their favorite part of the evacuation route and terrorize Survivors for as long as you like.
NOTE: All Walkers and Survivors will receive a complimentary copy of Walking Dead #100 with a special, eighth variant cover.
Spectator ($15): If neither of the above options appeal to you, but you’d just really love to sit back and watch the action for a while (specifically, two hours), you can hang out in the bleachers at PetCo park and watch the Survivors dodge throngs of Walkers at the Escape Party. Food, beverage and merchandise will be available for purchase.
Volunteer (4 1/2 - 6 1/2 hours of your time): Euphemistically speaking, Comic-Con is no cheap ticket. If you want to participate in the Experience, but are earmarking what cash you have left — after convention tickets and a hotel room — for food and/or a little shopping at the convention, you can help the crew putting on this incredible show in the role of a FEMA volunteer, managing the flow of Survivors through the Evacuation Zone. So you still play a vital role in the story – you just don’t get the cool makeup. For the minor “cost” of the donation of a little of your time, you can be part of all the fun.
NOTE: Spectators and Volunteers will receive a complimentary poster of the exclusive Walking Dead Experience variant cover of issue #100.
Follow the above links for more details and to purchase tickets. You can even track the progress of the zombie infection at zombievirus.org. I have one caveat, specifically for all you aspiring zombies out there: think very carefully about how much time you really want to spend in makeup, walking around in the open air in July. Yes, you may not be in direct sunlight — and if so, not for very long — and yes, the Convention Center, and PetCo Park, are right next to the Pacific Ocean. However, it’s still Southern California in July. So if you want to be a zombie all day, stay hydrated. All right, my fellow Fridge Nukers, I imagine I’ll see more than a few of you next month! Until then, practice your crawling, dodging, and diving… or your shambling, gnawing and groaning.