It’s the mid-to-end of July and you know what that means? Writers, directors, actors, cartoonists, animators, assorted creatives and super-fans go to Comic-Con in San Diego (July 18-22). Yet, whether you’re a Trekker, a Potterhead, a Marvelette or whatever we are calling those newfangled Rick & Morty people, we know you can always get your pop culture on right here in our lovely city.
What better way to celebrate the child within all of us than at the extraordinary The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited, on view until September 2 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Brentwood. The exhibition features “more than 100 objects and twenty-five historic puppets—including Kermit the Frog, Rowlf, Ernie and Bert, Grover, and other popular favorites” celebrating the peerless Jim Henson and his world-class team of creators with whom he “created an unparalleled body of work that continues to delight and inspire people of all ages to create a kinder and gentler world.” The traveling exhibition was made possible by the George Lucas Family Foundation and Cheryl Henson. For the Star Wars obsessive, think of it as witnessing the birth of Yoda (we kid—any would be Comic-Conventioneer knows how important Henson and his generation-spanning creations are).
If you want to get your fix of anime, manga, anime fans, Japanese cultures and the most traditional forms of cosplay, get yourself to Little Tokyo. There you can visit Kinokuniya, the venerable Japanese book and stationary (and dolls, trinkets, DVDs, etc., etc.) emporium where the Japan-obsessed go for their paper-based media. The shopping center where Kinokuniya is located (Weller Court) is also home to many cosplayers and Japanese-influenced subcultures, and you can mingle with them all year round, including Comic-Con weekend. Cosplayers get their outfits and gear at the shops around the traditional Japanese Village Plaza, L.A.'s longstanding hub of anime and manga fandom.
What would Comic-Con be without comic books? Well, at this point, probably the same, since Hollywood super productions (Marvel in particular) and genre TV have reoriented the convention’s mission (to the regret of a lot of comics fans) towards high-end, spectacular and audiovisual. Devotees of graphic literature still have several good options for their reading needs, including Silver Lake’s Secret Headquarters, the little comics boutique that could. Still going strong with a good selection of mainstream, superhero, alternative, and indie titles, and staffed by an unusually diverse and knowledgeable team of booksellers, SH will put the “comic” of Comic-con back at the center, where it should have always remained.
Up the street on Sunset, lovers of novelties, books, figurines, trinkets and also costumes (and who isn’t) can work on their pop-culture-infused costumes and decorations at Wacko and Ozzy Dots. Wacko (officially known as Soap Plant Wack) just celebrated its 47th birthday as L.A.'s largest and most famous novelty store, which also houses the art gallery La Luz de Jesus. The figurative pop surrealism La Luz is known for (think Juxtapoz magazine and street art) has always been extremely simpatico to comics and pop culture iconography, and it syncs perfectly from the more alternative aspects of fan culture that have always been connected to the original spirit of Comic-Con.
Ozzy Dots is a veritable costume warehouse in a tiny shop and it’s worth a visit anytime except Halloween day, when all the last-minute revelers create a mob scene within and outside the store.
And if high-end characters, official movie franchises, plentiful snacks and all-ages selfie ops are your thing, head straight to the one and only Universal Studios Hollywood. Fans wait a whole year to attend Comic-Con and experience this kind of big-budget, tentpole-tie-in extravaganzas that we enjoy all year. Ride the Harry Potter rides, run away from the Walking Dead, pop by the Simpsons Kwik-E-Mart, and generally enjoy splurging on the kind of high-octane, adrenaline-pumping entertainment that only Tinseltown can create.
If you’re feeling a little more low-key, Hollywood & Highland offers multiple Supermen and Spidermen hustling their likenesses for a few bucks. You never know who might be behind that mask!
Many people go to Comic-Con to get a little of the magic of cinema up close and personal. If magic is what you’re looking for, there’s no need to drive all the way almost to Tijuana—Los Angeles is of course home to the world-famous Magic Castle, a legendary private club for magicians that features different types of illusions, from the intimate to the Vegas-ready. Getting in is a little difficult (you have to know a magician, a non-magician member or stay at the nearby Magic Castle Hotel), and you do have to dress up, but the hoops they make you jump through are 100% worth it.
If you’re looking for live entertainment with a nerd twist, burlesque troupe The Dollface Dames are presenting their Geek to Chic show on Friday, July 20, at Bareburger in Santa Monica. The show is billed as “A Night of Burlesque for your Inner Fanboy or Fangirl! Comic books, graphic novels, movies, anime, and more! see them all come alive on stage – let your inner nerd come out at this epic show!” Which means it’s ideal for the Comic-Con left behind.
On July 21-22, the historic Vista Theatre in Los Feliz is hosting the Secret Movie Club screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2003) in 35mm. The film is mandatory viewing for anyone interested in anime (or anyone with a soul, really) and the Secret Movie Club screenings are always well curated and full of surprises. On Saturday the 21st, The Vista is also hosting a midnight screening of a 35mm print of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, the film widely considered as the harbinger of the “Blockbuster Era” of filmmaking (and which has almost completely taken over Comic-Con).
Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre Sunset has cleared its usual programming of improvised comedy to host three shows of Cheap Ass Comic-Con, presented by the Unfinished Target on July 21. Their description is all you need to know: “You know Comic-Con? The one in San Diego? The one that has a bunch of sponsors and costs a lot of money to get into? This is like that, but it's an immersive experience that takes place throughout the entire UCB Sunset building, and the only sponsor is the Unfinished Target™ at Sunset and Western. Come meet the celebs who didn't make the cut for real Comic-Con, make your way through panels, VR experiences, our version of the Exhibit Hall, and more. It'll be just like you're at Comic-Con, but cheaper! And funnier! And cheaper!”