Once again I’ve experienced the massive nerd-gasm that is the San Diego Comic Con, and can report that it was everything you might expect: crowded, sweaty, exhausting and damn fun! Speaking as one who’s attended nearly every year since 1987, I found this year’s Con as wonderfully intense as any that came before.

2011 actually marked a little remarked-upon anniversary: it was the Con’s twentieth year in the San Diego Convention Center, where it moved from the more modest San Diego Civic Center back in 1991. Back then I recall being amazed by the bulk of this new venue, which, believe it or not, was less than half its current size; contrast that with today’s expanded Convention Center, which this year was all-but bursting at the seams with a crowd of 120-some thousand nerds. The Technicolor insanity of the event was in full bloom, with every conceivable costume on display and enough presentations and activities to fill an amusement park. Best of all was the fact that, in a welcome break from the past few years, the presence of TWILIGHT was mercifully subdued.

I do have a complaint, however, one shared by quite a few Con regulars. It’s the obnoxious new pre-registration process that took place during 8-11 AM on Thursday through Sunday, with all sorts of new rules. Among other things, you could only purchase a 2012 pass for the same amount of days you attended this year (so if you wanted to go four days next year but could only attend a single day this time you were shit out of luck) and only a certain amount of passes were sold each day–meaning that if you were to arrive at around 9 AM on Sunday (as I did) you’d have found (as I did) that registration was “capped” and have to take your place in the online registration stampede this October. Aaaaaaaaaargh!

But let’s move on to a more pleasant topic: the dealers’ room! The dealers “room” of the Convention Center is actually a massive enclosure roughly the size of two football fields, with several hundred dealers hawking collectibles of every sort. The small and esoteric dealers that formerly packed the Con have long since been driven out by what I understand are insanely high prices demanded by the Con’s overseers, but there was still plenty of good stuff to be found. Among other cool things, I got a set of Humanoids graphic novels for a buck a piece.

As for the presentations that have become so integral to the event, I caught a few. It’s been widely reported that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson appeared in the fabled Hall H on Friday to promote their upcoming TIN-TIN movie; I missed that presentation but did make it to Hall H for a few others.

Hall H, for those who don’t know, has become the focal point of the Comic Con. It’s a HUGE room (I spoke with a Con employee who claimed she lost 15 pounds last year just traversing Hall H), and the one covered by all the media outlets. There are at least a couple dozen other rooms in the Convention Center, but to the mainstream media it seems that Hall H is the Comic Con.

For me 2011’s major Hall H event was the annual “Evening with Kevin Smith.” Smith is to the Comic Con what Bruce Campbell is to horror conventions: a beloved fixture who always draws enthusiastic crowds.

Kevin Smith’s appearance on Saturday evening was a typically jocular one. He began by admitting he was stoned, said Fuck every other word and was typically self-deprecating (a gushing fan told Smith he was “one of the best directors I’ve ever seen,” to which Smith replied “You haven’t seen too many directors, have you?”). His big announcement was that he’s decided to stop making movies–it being “time to step aside and let somebody else do it”–and concentrate on his pod cast. But that didn’t stop him from promoting his new flick RED STATE.

For RED STATE Smith claims he stepped far outside his comfort zone to make an action-intensive quasi-thriller he described as “Quentin Tarantino crossed with the Coen Brothers,” about “three kids who go into the woods to find sex but find God instead.” He showed a five minute clip featuring a pursuit and large-scale shootout seen thorough ultra-mobile handheld camerawork. I found it difficult to tell if the film looks worthy or not, but, as promised, it does indeed seem very un-Kevin Smith like.

Other things Smith spoke about: his young daughter, for whom he recently invited the TEEN WOLF cast to his house; a Bill Shatner panel from the day before that Smith “loved” moderating; scribbling “Fuck TWILIGHT” on a TWILIGHT poster at last year’s Con, which got the owner of the poster in hot water with his girlfriend; and the 1995 Comic Con premiere of Smith’s MALLRATS, which received such an enthusiastic reaction from Con-goers that the film’s distributor was fooled into believing it might receive a similar reception during its actual release. It didn’t.

Here I’ll have to insert a brief digression based on that last point. It seems that the so-called “Comic Con stamp of approval” has become obligatory for pulp-themed movies of any sort, which I’ve always found thoroughly ridiculous. If I’ve learned anything from attending this event year after year, it’s that Con-goers tend to like EVERYTHING they see. If you’ve been reading the media coverage of this year’s Con that’s appeared thus far you’ll know what I mean: according to these pundits, every movie previewed in Hall H, from TIN-TIN to the new SPIDERMAN, looks like the greatest thing in the world. This of course illustrates one of the Con’s strong points, namely the staunchly positive, non-judgmental outlook it promotes. That means little, however, when the movies Con-goers orgasm over actually hit theaters; I recall SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, STEALTH and Robert Zemeckis’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL receiving particularly rapturous receptions at the Con, only to be released and…well, you know!

A future example of that type of film, I believe, is next summer’s animated DOROTHEA OF OZ, which was previewed in Hall H. Said preview consisted largely of a video presentation that included cutesy and annoying interviews with the cast and clips from the film, based on which they might as well retitle it SHREK GOES TO OZ. The audience ate it all up, of course, particularly the in-person appearance of Patrick Stewart, one of the film’s voice-over cast members. Making his first-ever Con showing, Stewart received a standing ovation and much sycophantic laughter after nearly everything he said, as well as a happy birthday sing-a-long led by co-star Megan Hilty–who wore a very revealing blouse that showed off her two best (and certainly biggest) assets.

Another memorable Hall H appearance was by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. The director of EL MARIACHI, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, SPY KIDS, SIN CITY and PLANET TERROR, Rodriguez is a rare moviemaker who’s as visible and charismatic–if not more so–as most actors.

Here Rodriguez was his usual likeable self in promoting his upcoming HEAVY METAL anthology project. He spent much of his presentation in motivational speaker mode, urging the audience to follow their passions and ignore the admonitions of “Mr. Negative.” Rodriguez also plugged a website where fans can submit their own ideas for the film (www.amd.com/heavymetal). All well and good, but then he brought out a tech guy who blathered about “Pushing the boundaries of technology” and I got bored.

I sat in briefly on an upstairs panel (yes, there were presentations in rooms other than Hall H) for the new Marvel game CAPTAIN AMERICA SUPER SOLDIER. A couple Marvel bigwigs appeared onstage but couldn’t seem to work up much enthusiasm for the game (definitely not an encouraging sign!), and quickly launched into a succession of previews for Marvel’s other new games.

On Sunday I caught the first half of a panel called “Writing for a Middle Age Audience,” featuring around ten or so kid book writers. Of this panel I primarily recall that the moderator spent an enormous amount of time introducing the panelists (none of whom I’m familiar with) and a Con employee irritated me by continually wandering back and forth through the audience, apparently due to all the kids present–who, I might add, all behaved themselves, goddammit!

Sunday, of course, was the Con’s final day, and so a melancholy one. I spent it largely wandering around and watching the vendors pack up their wares. Their combined efforts helped once again to make for a successful Comic Con, of that I can’t deny, and portend promising things for next year. Let’s just hope that messy registration issue gets worked out.