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'Fifty Shades' author delights fans at Comic-Con

Published July 13, 2012 1:29 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

San Diego • Lola De La Cruz cried when she met author E L James. The 29-year-old fan had waited since 4 a.m. to accomplish the No. 1 thing on her Comic-Con to-do list — meet the writer of "Fifty Shades of Grey" — and 12 hours later, she got her chance.

"The relationship that's in the book is something that I've always wanted and haven't gotten in previous relationships, so it kind of gave me that hope that there's something still out there," she said as she wiped away tears after meeting James Thursday at the pop-culture convention. "It brought me back to life, so to speak."

James can relate. The 49-year-old mother of two was a fan herself, moved to start writing after reading Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series.

"I don't think I've ever been swept up in something like I was swept up with that," James said Thursday before her Comic-Con appearance in San Diego. "I read them and reread them and reread them, and then I sat down and wrote a novel."

That book hasn't been published — yet — but she followed by posting new pieces online. Those stories found an instant audience and eventually became "Fifty Shades of Grey."

Thursday's visit wasn't the London-based writer's first time at Comic-Con. She actually had come once before to participate in a panel for fans who wrote fiction inspired by the "Twilight" series.

Now, she's the bestselling author of her own literary phenomenon — a romantic trilogy that commanded a seven-figure publishing price, has been translated into 42 languages, is dissected by book clubs and talk-show hosts and set to be made into a movie by the Oscar-nominated producers of "The Social Network."

"It's just crazy," James said, sipping a latte on the patio of a hotel near the San Diego Convention Center. "This whole thing has just been mindboggling, how it's happened and how it's exploded, and so quickly."

The "Fifty Shades" books, which follow the relationship between college student Anastasia Steele and billionaire-bachelor-with-a-taste-for-bondage Christian Grey, were published in April by a division of Random House, Inc. and have already sold more than 16 million copies.

So what's the appeal of the titillating tale?

"It's a fantasy novel," James said. "It's a love story at its heart, which I think women like to read — a passionate love story. It's got some kinky sex in it, which is kind of interesting. ... I mean he is just ridiculously wealthy, ridiculously accomplished, as well, and it's nice to go on a holiday and just escape into their world."

As 30-year-old fan Jennifer Norling of San Francisco put it: "There's humor, there's love, it's intense. It's pretty much everything a woman would want in her love life."

But, please, don't call it "mommy porn."

Though James said she doesn't want to be "a social commentator," she isn't a big fan of the term some journalists and pundits have used to describe her books' erotic content and female fan base.

"I think it is disparaging. It's actually quite misogynistic," she said. "Women like sex. If it's done well, it's really quite good fun."

Also fun for fans of the book — and James herself — is speculating who will play the central characters on screen. Readers share endless ideas on Twitter, and while James finds some of their suggestions perplexing, she hasn't ruled anyone out. She also betrays no favorites.

Besides, she's still not sure how involved she'll be in the production or if she might contribute to the screenplay. Universal Pictures and Focus Features announced producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti earlier this week, "so it's like, what's next?" she said.

She almost didn't want to do the movie at all.

"Books are such a personal experience for every individual reader," she said. "I just thought it's going to be really hard to do."

But she owed it to herself — and to her story — to go for it.

"If the book says anything, it's life's not a dress rehearsal," she said. "Just go and do stuff. I'm trying to embrace that."

In other news from the convention:

Mintz-Plasse says 'Kick-Ass 2' may be coming • Christopher Mintz-Plasse has spread the word at Comic-Con: a sequel to "Kick-Ass" appears to be on the way.

The co-star of the 2010 action comedy said Friday that "Kick-Ass 2" looks as though "it's going to happen."

Mintz-Plasse says shooting might begin in September.

The actor dropped the news during a panel to promote "ParaNorman," an animated horror comedy featuring the voices of Mintz-Plasse, Kodi Smith-McPhee and Anna Kendrick that opens in August.

At the end of "Kick-Ass," Mintz-Plasse's wealthy young comic-book devotee was left on the verge of entering the super-villain business against the film's star, Aaron Johnson, who plays another youth gaining fame as a superhero.

'Community' producers won't 'screw up' 4th season • Despite a shake-up in the administration, the cast and crew of "Community" assured fans at Comic-Con that the show isn't changing.

Friday morning's "Community" panel at the pop-culture convention was the first opportunity for the NBC comedy's cast and crew to address fans since the show's creator, Dan Harmon, was replaced as show runner by new executive producers David Guarascio and Moses Port.

Port told the crowd that the cult comedy about a wacky community college study group would continue to be a "weird, wonderful gem."

"We are fans of the show first and observed it from afar," said Port, who previously worked with Guarascio on ABC's "Happy Endings."

"We're not gonna screw it up," added Guarascio.

"Community" cast members Joel McHale, Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi and Yvette Nicole Brown were on hand for the panel, while their colleagues Donald Glover, Jim Rash, Ken Jeong and Chevy Chase were not.

Earlier this year a clash between Chase and Harmon became public when Harmon released voicemails from the actor. Chase said in one message that "Community" was a "mediocre sitcom" that was "not my kind of comedy."

Harmon later apologized on his Tumblr page for sharing the voicemails.

About 5,000 con-goers packed into a San Diego Convention Center ballroom for Friday's panel.

"We may not win Emmys or even be nominated for them, but we win every fan poll, and that is because of you guys," Jacobs beamed to the crowd.

The writers and producers teased that the upcoming fourth season would see the study group venturing into the zany mansion of Chase's Pierce and to a convention for "Inspector Space Time," the show's beloved "Doctor Who" parody. Port also said "Community" would again feature "a little inventive animation."

The ratings-challenged show is moving to Fridays when the fourth season premieres Oct. 19.

'ParaNorman' conjures up zombies at Comic-Con • The makers of the animated tale "ParaNorman" like to think of their film in terms of odd combinations. Horror and comedy. John Carpenter meets John Hughes. "The Breakfast Club" meets "The Fog."

Or, as writer-director Christ Butler told a crowd Friday at the Comic-Con fan convention, "a zombie movie for kids. Why not?"

Opening Aug. 17, "ParaNorman" tells the story of a boy whose ability to talk to the dead makes him the best hope to save his town after a witch's curse raises an army of zombies. With a voice cast that includes Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, "ParaNorman" comes from the makers of the 2009 animated adventure "Coraline."

Butler, fellow director Sam Fell and producer Travis Knight said they were aiming to mix a lot of styles, among them the coming-of-age tales of "Breakfast Club" filmmaker Hughes, the wild 1980s youth adventures of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and the zombie horror of "Night of the Living Dead" creator George Romero.

"Originally, it was very much influenced by the kinds of stuff I grew up watching, so it was 'The Goonies,' 'Ghostbusters,' and also a lot of horror movies that I shouldn't have been watching when I was a kid," Butler said.

The filmmakers showed off a handful of scenes of the 3-D comedy, including one of Smit-McPhee's Norman in a graveyard surrounded by growling but goofy zombies rising from their graves.

"ParaNorman" was the third supernatural animated comedy previewed at Comic-Con, along with Adam Sandler's monster mash-up "Hotel Transylvania" and Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie," his animated story of a boy who raises his dog from the dead.

Like "Frankenweenie" and "Coraline," "ParaNorman" was shot through stop-motion animation using puppets that are painstakingly photographed a frame at a time.

"What could be cooler than stop-motion and zombies? Two tastes that taste great together," said producer Knight.

Teen-ager Smit-McPhee said his voice started to change halfway through his recording work for "ParaNorman."

"Now when you hear the movie, it doesn't even sound like me," Smit-McPhee said. "That voice will always be there, and I can't get it back."

Kendrick plays Norman's whiny older sister, who spends much of the movie bickering with her kid brother. The "Twilight" co-star, who plays one of Kristen Stewart's gabby school friends, said she asked the "ParaNorman" filmmakers if they hired her because of her work in the vampire franchise.

"They said, 'No, we haven't seen those. We just listened to your voice in interviews,'" the nasal-voiced Kendrick said. "I have a cold right now. Usually, I have a really sexy deep voice."

Burton recalls his Batman as lighter Dark Knight • Back in the day, Tim Burton remembers critics finding his take on Batman rather gloomy.

Burton's Dark Knight looked as though he was having fun in the sun compared to where the current Batman series has taken the comic-book vigilante on the big-screen.

"I recall at the time, people worried about our version being too dark," Burton said of his 1989 "Batman" and the 1992 sequel "Batman Returns." "It's like, well, it looks like a lighthearted romp in comparison. 'Batman on Ice.'"

Opening next week, "The Dark Knight Rises" wraps up director Christopher Nolan's trilogy that launched with 2005's "Batman Begins" and continued with 2008's "The Dark Knight."

Nolan elevated the superhero genre to grand proportions, with Christian Bale's Batman becoming a haunted wreck and a hunted fugitive unjustly condemned by the city which he gave his all to protect.

Burton's Batman, played by Michael Keaton, was a dark soul, too, but the films had a levity and a campier quality that has diminished as today's stream of superhero flicks take their idols and action more seriously.

"The great thing about what comics have done is that you can take something and look at it in different ways," Burton said in an interview at the Comic-Con fan convention, where he showed off footage of his animated comedy "Frankenweenie," due out Oct. 7.

"It's like a folk tale or fairy tale. You can kind of revisit things and show things in a different way."

Burton, whose biggest commercial success began a decade after his Batman movies with such blockbusters as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Alice in Wonderland," is revisiting one of his own early stories with "Frankenweenie."

The tale of a boy who resurrects his dead dog, Frankenstein-style, started at a live-action short film Burton directed in 1984. He has expanded on the story to create a feature-length black-and-white update using stop-motion animation, in which puppets are moved and photographed meticulously one frame at a time.

"I felt quite grateful that I got to do the original in live action, because I was, A., a bad animator, and B., not very communicative, so it really forced me to talk," said Burton, whose "Frankenweenie" voice cast includes past collaborators such as Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short. "If I'd done stop-motion at the time, which I don't think would have happened, I probably wouldn't have been able to move into live-action like I did."

"So all these years later, to come back and to do it in I think its more pure form, stop-motion, exploring other kids, other monsters, weird teachers, things related to the story that were kind of rattling around, made it feel like it was a new thing. I didn't feel like I was just revisiting something. It felt like it was a whole new project."