I watched my last roommate leave the day after San Diego’s legendary Comic-Con. I opened the balcony door and let in some sea air on the first sunny day I have seen all weekend. I haven’t been to Comic-Con in twelve years; when you could still walk up and purchase a one day ticket to the largest comic book convention in the country. Since then, there has been an explosion of Hollywood money injected into the convention in a level that has yet to be replicated by any other organization. Has this money created the mark to beat? Was San Diego mostly hype? Can something this large actually be run well when other conventions one-third their size have regular staffing quality problems? I had been asking myself those questions for months when I was lucky enough to get a 4-day badge. Let’s see what the results are…
I stayed at the Hilton Harbor Island, which, for those that know me, is a very far choice in hotels at four miles away. You see, the hotel registration opening is announced in advance as there is a rush of hotel reservations. My entry was put in about 12 minutes after the opening of registration. I did not even get a confirmation of my entry for two full days, so it did not surprise me when I was put on a waitlist for the hotels. Later, a small group of hotels was taking reservations and the Hilton Harbor Island was one of those choices, so I jumped at the chance of surety in my lodging.
The hotel is quaint. It’s only 9 floors and on a man-made peninsula across from the airport. You’d be surprised that the rooms are so well insulated, you NEVER hear an airplane. There were few extra noises in the hotel and it was relatively easy falling asleep. It was more difficult to stay asleep with the sea air adding decent humidity to the area at all hours. We really could not figure out the formula to a comfortable night’s sleep until Night 3. A bit late, right?
Fortunately, Comic-Con has an unbelievable shuttle system. The entire system was sponsored and funded by NBC Studios. Do you know what that means? NO SCHOOL BUSSES. These were proper chartered busses with legroom and dignity. During Day 4, I walked with my youngest child in a stroller and my wife, and the shuttle drivers didn’t balk when we asked to stow the stroller. They did it with a smile and professionalism. The shuttles ran non-stop during the hours of the convention. If you had some late party you had to be to in the Gaslamp District, you have a ride back to your hotel… if you can stagger to one of the shuttle stops.
I still do not like taking shuttles because I prefer to be in strong control of my schedule at a convention, but I will not be disappointed if I have to take Comic-Con’s current system.
I’ve seen longer lines outside Anime Expo, and that is not a compliment of the Anime Expo.
This was a convention of over 120,000 people and, due to work, I could not make it to pre-registration like I usually do. I waited at about 7:30 in the morning on Day 1 in a line that ran the about 2/3 of the front of the convention center, around the back, and wound again behind the building in the marina. From the time I stood in line to the time I made it to the front was about 75 minutes… total.
I waited a second time with my wife who had a Sunday Only badge, and the line and total time were very similar.
Comic-Con seems to understand that people will spend a lot of time waiting for various reasons, so they have a tremendous bank of, not just scanners, but PEOPLE waiting to help hurry you through registration.
I am starting to wonder if registration processes and staffing is an indication of how well a convention uses its available funds…
As I said before, it has been years since the last time I was at San Diego for a convention. It has been an equal amount of time since I have been inside the convention center. My memories of the place were that it was cavernous with lots of space and the ability to hold something titanic. At the time of 2004, it felt like the San Diego Convention Center was just too much of a building for Comic-Con.
Oh, what a difference time can make.
Now, the convention center is bursting at the seams with people. Even with near shoulder-to-shoulder conditions in some halls, there was this feeling that the building was still huge. Most of the ceilings are at least 20 feet over your head and there is a sense of awe generated by the architecture and the large windows letting in a more than enough light.
This place is incredible, but they are evidently not done yet. As part of the arrangement keeping Comic-Con in San Diego until 2017, San Diego has been working hard on an expansion project adding a new wing to the convention center where a patch of grass on its southeast side sits. The grass will be added to the new roof and ramp work in the building. My only concern is that they may be stuck with a similar situation to Fanime where their expansion cut off a significant amount of walking and traffic area. Hopefully, the SDCC staff will have a better idea of how to help the Comic-Con workers and guests.
How can I sum this up….
OH… MY… GODS…
It has been a VERY long time since I have seen a hall of vendors that strikes the chords of fans both young and old so thoroughly in any subject, let alone several of them. I saw products that were loose, boxed, officially graded, classics, new, signed, specialty, custom, and commissioned, as well as a large amounts of artists that contributed to what made those products so famous. If you had any sort of interest in comic books or toys in this building, you would be very likely to find it or a vendor you could contact later to help you acquire what you were looking for.
The hall was also well laid out with sections that often helped augment the rest, including the large sponsor booths in the center of the convention center flanked on one side by independent comic book and related dealers, and on the other side of them are the video game vendors and booths. On the other side of the convention center were other mixed vendors and a bank of artists both established and independent. It can make wandering both harder and easier since you know where to find everything you’re looking for, but you’re more likely to run into cross-traffic since other people have the same map you do. Everyone is rushing to find something before the fourth day is over.
This is also part of the problem…
You see, many of the larger booths, Marvel, DC, Kotobukiya, Hasbro, Mattel, Toynami, and about 15 others, had convention exclusives, items said to only be sold at that convention, and because of those exclusives, there were long lines outside of a lot of those booths, creating a fearsome logjam of people in the middle section. This crowding was further added to when other lines for autographs at smaller booths snaked down some of the larger walking corridors and the outer walls of the convention center. When someone big like George R.R. Martin or Stan Lee is out for autographs (and they both were), you could imagine the lines of people waiting.
The convention is also one of the few that is progressively more busy up to and through the last day, so by Sunday, the Exhibition Hall is almost unbearable with people shuffling like rush hour traffic and very unwilling to give you a moment to cross.
Though, that was the day Edward James Olmos crossed paths with me while he was shopping. Surreal, right?
Panels are more varied than you would think. While Marvel, Fox, Sony, DC , Dark Horse, ABC, and NBC had panels on their largest series, characters, there are a bevy of series for smaller properties and older properties.
I managed to get into panels by Mattel and World Wrestling Entertainment, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Battlestar Galactica, and X-Men and managed to see a lot of things I never imagined. The biggest surprises of the weekend were surprise visits by Christopher Nolan announcing his work on the Man of Steel follow up, Batman/Superman, Joss Whedon announcing Avengers 2 – Age of Ultron, and showing the entire first episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Tom Hiddleston opening the Marvel movies panel in full Loki garb and character.
Where a lot of conventions promise unique happenings, that promise is often fulfilled by the fans more than the organization or the companies sponsoring it. In Comic-Con’s case, they don’t just deliver, they do it so many times that you wish you could divide yourself and be in a lot of places at once.
Compared to anime conventions, cosplay is light at Comic-Con.
The average anime convention has about one in six people cosplaying. You can’t turn around without seeing someone wearing something bright in your vicinity. At Comic-Con, that kind of influence, possibly inspiration, for costuming isn’t deep in the fabric of the fan base, even though there are some pretty famous cosplayers as exhibitors in the main hall.
There are a few groups that do gather, but they are much further in between. Adding into this issue is that there is nowhere in the front of the convention center to gather without becoming an instant fire hazard, so the gatherings are held in locations often outside of or behind the convention center.
To put it bluntly, cosplay is just not a large part of the success of this convention, and without some excellent planning, I don’t see that changing any time soon.
I have never… not EVER… seen staffing like this.
Staffing tends to be low point of the conventions I visit, and the type of people Comic-Con has selected to represent it, as well as the staff of the convention center, puts a lot of other conventions staffing efforts to shame. I discussed it with several people to confirm I wasn’t being narrow-sighted, but Comic-Con and the SDCC have consistently friendly and professional people with strong knowledge of the building and the surrounding area. They had moments when they couldn’t answer a question immediately, but they knew who to refer to and get you to the results you’re after.
Though, keep in mind that lines are a very regular part of this convention. You will line up for convention exclusives, signatures, panels, and events in a lot of places. Though I have to say, those lines are well guarded by staffers about every 15 to 30 yards. I had not heard of staffers mouthing-off to fans or being completely obstinate. Actually, when I tried to enter an area though the wrong door, I was given a polite, “You can’t do that, sir,” and was pointed in the right direction.
It was very freeing to have such a strong support structure available and have the staff willing to help make a convention great.
People that tell me Los Angeles is such a great place for a convention can now officially back off. There is nowhere in California that has bought into their convention as strongly as San Diego has.
If you leave the SDCC, you cross a street, sneer at the local religious protestors, and you’re dropped off at a bevy of restaurants and shops that have geared their menus and wares for the weekend. I saw tourist shops that had a set of comic-related items in the windows, a grill restaurant that put up decorations and menus using the alien language of SyFy Channel’s Defiance television show, a building that advertised TBS’ King of the Nerds show with a complimentary cereal bar, a classic gaming arcade, a Sega arcade (though it was more of a demo advertisement for their new games), and several props, including an X-Men Days of Futures Past sentinel head. You can walk for blocks in San Diego’s Gaslamp District and find other restaurants and vendors doing their best to attract the money the convention brings in.
And that leads into…
There are a lot of bars that litter the Gaslamp. They already do fair business, but that doesn't stop them for trying to bring in the yearly visitors. I heard about at least three cosplay parties and competitions in the local bars and there were special nights and parties galore for people to entertain themselves with. Some had entry fees while others were free.
Basically, after days of shopping, bartering, and hunting down celebrities, someone outside of Comic-Con thought that fans would need a place to unwind and have a drink, and they were very right.
Someone even had the bright idea to take part of the five floors of Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, and turn it into the Walking Dead escape, where you pay a fee and do your best to stay ahead of the zombies littering the area. You will have to navigate barriers all the way up to dilapidated cars and keep from being lunch for the horde. However, don’t expect much great advice from the people who paid to be spectators. They tend to chant, “FEED THEM! FEED THEM! FEED THEM!”
Comic-Con may not advertise itself as a 24-hour convention, but it might as well be with what the city’s locals have added to the equation.
It has been said for years; there is no convention in America like San Diego Comic-Con. It often ends up on lists of “10 Things You Should Do Before You Die.”
I don’t know if I would be so dramatic about it, but I will fully say that this is a convention that everyone should try to make it to every year. There’s a high chance that you will be nose-to-nose with a celebrity who helped shape your childhood or elevated your interest to new heights. There’s also a good chance that you’ll be able to find that key issue that’s missing for your comic collection. Whether you can afford it is up to you, though.
I am actually sad a convention is over for the first time in years. I’m always sad to see my convention friends go, but the idea of waiting 12 months for this convention is outright painful.
Visit a lot of places if you can, but this convention… this experience… should be your yearly goal.