The geek extraordinaire talks us through his current projects (including Netflix's The Sandman and a new comic book from Dark Horse) and returning to the con.
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Patton Oswalt remembers when San Diego Comic-Con was a lot smaller. These days, the summer convention is the go-to place for massive entertainment corporations like Disney, Warner Bros, and Netflix to showcase their upcoming movies and TV shows. But back in the '90s when Oswalt was first attending the annual convention, Comic-Con was a lot more focused on the titular comics — and more intimate as a result.

"It was just smaller. There's no better way to put it," Oswalt tells EW over Zoom, just a couple days before this year's con begins in earnest. "It felt more niche, more personal and friendly. Now it's way bigger and it's not as face-to-face as it used to be. But I guess that's just what happens."

That bigness is complicated by the ongoing pandemic, which is why this weekend will be the first in-person iteration of San Diego Comic-Con since 2019. Oswalt says he'll be wearing his N95 mask as much as possible, though he won't be walking the convention floor as much as he used to all those years ago. He'll be busy moderating a panel for the hit Apple TV+ show Severance on Thursday in the convention center's massive Hall H, then hosting a livestream for Amazon Prime Video's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Friday and doing press for Netflix's The Sandman.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 18: Patton Oswalt attends the premiere of "Gaslit" at Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 18, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/WireImage)
Patton Oswalt is moderating multiple panels at this year's San Diego Comic-Con.
| Credit: Dia Dipasupil/WireImage

Based on the Neil Gaiman comic series of the same name, when castings for The Sandman were first announced last year, it was a delightful surprise to see Oswalt attached to the role of Matthew, the talking raven companion of protagonist Dream (Tom Sturridge). The casting came as a surprise to him too — especially since he didn't even have to audition.

"Neil just asked me," Oswalt recalls. "He said 'hey, would you be Matthew?' I was like, 'holy s--t, yes!' I was very, very happy."

"I had done some stage readings with him for American Gods and I've just been friends with him for so long. But I still feel like a kid that won a radio contest. The level of talent that I'm working with on that show, and the level of material that I get to do, is just fantastic."

Matthew is still new to the world of The Dreaming, and acts as an audience surrogate asking Dream to explain aspects of this complicated fantasy world. So it makes sense why Gaiman would want Oswalt in the role of Matthew, because even in our current age of nerd ascendance in pop culture, Oswalt stands out for being a premier representative of the comic book fan.

Back in 2010, he wrote a seminal essay for Wired called "Wake Up Geek Culture, Time To Die" in which he contrasted the modern zeitgeist with the one he had grown up in in the 70s and 80s, where nerd interests like superhero comics or Dungeons & Dragons were niche interests that required dedicated research rather than clicking on a single deep-dive YouTube video. How have things changed — both for the worse and for the better — in the decade since that article was published?

"What's changed for the better is more diversity," Oswalt says. "You're getting told these stories from different viewpoints. I thought that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was fascinating because it looked at the history of Captain America and the Avengers and said, 'this is also part of the problem with the world.' But the downside is you get a lot of people on the top telling writers and creators that there are expectations to be met. They have expectations for the audience and they imagine the audience has expectations for the material. Sometimes that stifles risk-taking and creativity. So it's a balancing act. For every step forward, you also get some steps back, unfortunately."

M.O.D.O.K -- "DAYS OF FUTURE M.O.D.O.K.S" - Episode 110 -- The family reunites for Lou’s Bar-Mitzvah but the surprise return of a villain threatens M.O.D.O.K.’s past, present and future in the show’s season finale. (Photo Courtesy of Marvel)
Hulu's animated 'M.O.D.O.K.' series starred Patton Oswalt as the titular, big-headed supervillain.
| Credit: Marvel

Yet even though most people are now familiar with names like Captain America and Nick Fury, there are still hidden treasures to be found within modern nerd culture. Take Marvel's M.O.D.O.K., the stop-motion supervillain series from Hulu that starred Oswalt as the voice of the title character last year. Although he was created by Marvel legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, M.O.D.O.K. (a giant floating head with arms and legs whose acronym spells out Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing) still remains a deep cut in the publisher's pantheon.

"I love working with the deep sandbox at Marvel," Oswalt says. "I love the B and C-level characters, the low-stakes criminals with low-stakes abilities. They let us use the Tatterdemalion, one of my favorite obscure villains! That made me really happy."

The M.O.D.O.K. show was Oswalt's introduction to producer Jordan Blum, who he describes as both "a walking encyclopedia of comics" and "a solid storyteller in terms of characterization and emotion." The two then teamed up to write a M.O.D.O.K. comic for Marvel that integrated their concept of the character with comics canon. Now they're working together again on a new comic series for Dark Horse called Minor Threats, which features a bunch of low-rent supervillains teaming up to take down a much bigger menace.

Minor Threats #1 Kindle & comiXology by Patton Oswalt (Author), Jordan Blum (Author), Scott Hepburn (Cover Art, Artist), Ian Herring (Colorist) Format: Kindle Edition
'Minor Threats' is a new Dark Horse comic out this August from writers Patton Oswalt and Jordan Blum.
| Credit: Dark Horse

"It's a story of low-level, blue-collar supervillains having to get together, kind of against their wishes, to take down a much bigger supervillain," Oswalt teases. "This villain is making life hard for all the low-level people because they've killed a top-tier superhero, so now all the other heroes are basically clamping down on the criminal world. These villains are like, we gotta capture this guy or we can't operate. It's bad for business!"

Minor Threats #1 hits stores in August, the same month that The Sandman premieres on Netflix. Stay tuned for more coverage of Comic-Con this weekend on EW.

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