J.G. Quintel has been going to San Diego Comic-Con for a decade now. He started out his journey here as a fan, a CalArts student who caught wind of the event from his brother. Quintel would register to attend the convention after he arrived at the venue. He would walk into panels at Hall H, now the home of blockbuster convention talks and long lines. He did this anonymously. Ten years ago, people didn't recognize Quintel.
Just as San Diego Comic-Con has grown in popularity over the past few years, so has Quintel. He created an animated series for Cartoon Network called Regular Show. It's about a bluejay named Mordecai, a raccoon named Rigby and their eclectic group of friends.
Over the course of four seasons, it's become a commercial and critical success Regular Show already has an Emmy to its name and was just nominated for two more. People cosplay characters from the show at conventions and swap all sorts of Regular Show references online.
Here at Comic-Con, the fans are plentiful. They packed a large hotel ballroom for a Regular Show panel on Friday morning. That afternoon, they were waiting in line for entrance to the Regular Show Regular Zone exhibition at the New Children's Museum, located across the street from the convention, next to a small park where inflatable versions of Mordecai and Rigby are hosted high in there. This is Regular Show's year at Comic-Con, and no one is feeling it more than Quintel.
On Friday afternoon, Quintel and a small group of people involved with Regular Show headed down to the museum to check out the exhibition. As they waited their turn, one fan after the next came up to Quintel. There was a boy who asked the show creator to pose for a selfie with him and a handful of teenage girls with cell phones ready for the photo op. A young man requested that Quintel sign the small synthesizer that he was carrying. At Comic-Con, whether or not he's standing near images of characters he created, Quintel gets stopped a lot.
“In animation you always figure no one is going to recognize us because it's the show that they like, but people are asking for pictures and drawings, which is super cool,” he says. “It's a very weird thing.”
It's not just the kids who are asking for a minute with the guy who gave a bluejay and a raccoon an anthropomorphic life. “I've been stopped by people my age, saying I watch this with my kids,” he adds. “It's so awesome.”
Maybe Quintel understands the root of the fans' fascination. He grew up idolizing guys like The Simpsons creator Matt Groening and Beavis and Butt-head mastermind Mike Judge. He still sounds giddy when he recalls the time he got to sit in on a table reading of The Simpsons, saying that it's because of shows like that he ended up in the animation world.
Now, Quintel might be having that same impact on a new generation of cartoon-lovers. At Friday morning's panel, an army of children lined up behind the microphone with the usual Comic-Con crowd to ask Quintel and pals questions. Some of the fans were so young that they sounded as though they were talking through loose teeth.
They asked the kind of odd, but thoughtful questions that adults never seem to ask, questions about alternate universes and time travel as it relates to the show. The young fans are also the ones who point out the continuity errors that are par for the course in television shows that have over 150 episodes to their credit.
When we chat, Quintel notes a question from the panel, where one fan asked how Rigby could be allergic to eggs in one episode and consume them in another.
“The really little kids and teenagers, they probably watch the show a lot more than adults,” says Quintel. “It's so with them that they notice the little inconsistencies and the mistakes. It's really neat to hear those questions.”
Thanks to its popularity, Regular Show's presence has been amped up at Comic-Con. This year, the big event happened outside the convention hall when Cartoon Network installed the interactive Regular Zone exhibition at the New Children's Museum. It was a massive undertaking involving the cable network's in-house marketing and creative teams, plus outside contractors and help from the museum. It's the second time that Cartoon Network has pulled off such a feat. Last year, they had an Adventure Time event at the same museum.
Quintel was involved in the creation of the exhibition. It's his art that is featured on the posters attendees receive after making their way through the course. He also recorded some lines as Mordecai that play in one of the rooms, and consulted with the team on different elements on display inside the museum. He knew what would be inside the exhibition, but he hadn't experienced for himself until Friday afternoon.
I followed Quintel and the Regular Show team down a dark staircase inside the museum. We stepped into a real life version of the type of arcade you would see in the series. It was an intentionally ramshackle room, much like the arcades you might find attached to miniature golf courses or inside strip malls, ones that look as if they haven't had a facelift since 1980.
The Regular Show crew ran towards functional versions of games that have appeared in the show, parodies of real-world arcade staples. They played with all the enthusiasm of kids at a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party until it was time to move onto another room, where they furiously pounded the buttons of old school game controllers. When it was all done, they stopped by a prize redemption stand and collected their posters and fuzzy dice.
“I knew how it was going to be, but I didn't know how it would feel to actually go through the space, to actually go through and see the smoke machines and the lights and the neon signs that they make are really cool,” says Quintel. “It really felt like a weird, '80s arcade. That's exactly what we wanted it to be, all smokey.”
Regular Zone turned out to be a hit for the Regular Show team, and their show is certainly one of the big hits of Comic-Con.