Another year, another San Diego Comic-Con! Jeremy and the rest of the Rolling 20’s made the trek back to San Diego’s Gaslamp to see how the convention progressed, and maybe even get into Hall H this year!
This convention has made so many Top 10 lists across reviewers… does it still deserve to reign as the king of conventions, or has it begun a slide that has been seen too often in conventions over the decades?
There’s no time like the present to find out…
The San Diego Comic-Con hotel system took a major shift this year.
While prior years’ rooms were allotted on a first-come, first-served basis, SDCC and their Housing Bureau, OnPeak, shook things up by moving to a lottery system similar to the registration queue. Since we were not prepared for this kind of change, we ended up nearly out of the hotel block all-together. After some trades and a last-minute waitlist request coming through, we landed at the San Diego Airport Hilton, also known as the Hilton Harbor Island.
The hotel has great views in most directions, either over a local marina or over the Coronado Bay and military base. Every room has a small balcony big enough for two adults to sit comfortably and every room is very spacious. The décor is in whites and blues to go with the maritime atmosphere and location.
The bathroom is where I personally had some trouble. My first two mornings at the hotel, I showered with no hot water whatsoever. I was freezing. Apparently, I was just unlucky as my other roommates didn’t have this problem, and on the third day, there was finally enough hot water for my section of the building during my shower.
All in all, this is a fine hotel. The staff were attentive and very aware that they wouldn’t see many people during the day due to the 30-minute shuttle ride needed to get to the convention center.
Speaking of which, the shuttles ran well and NBC did a great job of sponsoring the shuttles again. All busses were full charter busses with the air conditioning working overtime and the drivers being attentive. On our last day, we even had an apology from the person watching the line for our shuttle at the convention center because we might need to wait about 15 minutes, which was the average time expected between shuttles, anyway. They even got on to apologize for the crowding at the end of the block slowing our drive out. They were almost over-concerned with our needs.
Honestly, as long as you find a hotel with a shuttle ride you don’t mind, there doesn’t seem to be a bad hotel in the convention block for your needs.
This is where a lot of people run into a problem. Nineteen-in-twenty people, to be precise. Let me explain.
There is a lottery system in place that requires you to log into a virtual waiting room, and once that room is locked and the process begins, the people waiting are shuffled into a 100% random order. Between this system and the demand for badges every year, you have a one-in-twenty chance of getting any sort of badge; one day, full weekend, anything. For every 1 person that gets a badge, there is 19 more left disappointed.
Now that this has been explained, it’s the best system for a bad situation. With such high demand, there isn’t a better way I can think of to disperse badges as fairly as possible and prevent the convention from becoming the same 130,000 people every year in the building.
If you are one of the lucky few, Comic-Con International has streamlined the process very well. They have moved to a new RFID/paper combination badge that they will mail out to you about four weeks before the convention. If you forget or lose this badge, you will have to pay to replace it. I don’t know what that cost is because each of us were very careful NOT TO LEAVE THEM ANYWHERE!
After you arrive, you have the option of waiting for a registration bag and the convention guides, but if you’re halfway familiar with the building, this is a luxury you could afford to skip until things run smoother further into the day. Personally, I went on Preview Night for my extra gear and it was a walk-in process similar to what registration used to be. The choice is yours.
Comic-Con International is still leading the way with the smoothest registration process I know.
This building is long and old, but it is still one of the best suited for this convention experience.
The San Diego Convention Center was given a minor repair renovation to repair the façade and cracks in the concrete recently. You wouldn’t know any of that was a problem with how quickly staffers and vendors worked through the building.
The San Diego Convention Center has a decoration and theme fitting with its location near the water with sea greens and blues and concrete gray, and the time it was built. The building is obviously older, but San Diego has continuously put money into the building to at least keep it up to date. There are lots of windows on the second floor letting in a lot of natural light and giving you the chance to people watch the throngs who are wandering San Diego’s Gaslamp if you’re inclined.
The Salis Pavillion in the center of the second floor isn’t much more than a glass box with canvas overhead to block direct sunlight, but there is something special about that area and how it sits centrally to so many things going on. I would recommend it as a place to meet friends if you get separated.
If you crossed Vegas, Disneyland, and the Diamond Previews catalog… that might get you halfway to what to expect here.
It’s hard to put into words, but I’ll do my best. Most major businesses that go to San Diego Comic Con as exhibitors will put serious money into larger booths to make them practically interactive experiences without you having to buy anything right away. Marvel and DC have large screens and regular shows and signings; American Gods and Ash vs. Evil Dead had screens with footage and free swag; Fox always gives away posters and poster tubes to bring you to buy more; the Walking Dead always has a place for you to get photos with walkers; and Capcom lets you try games and buy exclusives.
This is just the beginning and doesn’t mention medium-and-smaller-tier vendors who have a plethora of items to fill out your collections and the Artist’s Alley filled with notable industry talent who are actually a lot of fun to interact with if you spend more than a few minutes with them.
It’s not a perfect experience, though. Getting exclusives from boothes with tickets requiring you to come back at a specific time can be a crucible and there are a lot of booths EVERYWHERE that have people lined up to buy something or get a signature. This creates a log jam that can really try your patience. Then there is the general crowding can be overwhelming, even for experienced conventioneers.
With that, said, do not give up. There’s so much to see and hidden gems everywhere that can really add some panache to your collection that you have to put in the time and see it through.
This is an area where most people have a problem. Most people have a problem with panels at conventions because they can’t find anything interesting; the problem with panels at Comic-Con is that people of a lot of different interests find so many panels that they end up having to make choices each day of what they want to see.
Personally, I had to make choices multiple times in every day’s schedule of what to see. Panels with Peter David, G. Willow Wilson, Kieron Gillen, Voltron, X-Men, Justice League, The Tick, The Expanse, and so many other items, I can’t list them here without giving you way too much to read. Just about every panel is entertainment or industry, so do not expect fan panels of any sort. This is one of the biggest nerd-related trade shows in the world, so don’t expect to see panels on your first cosplay, photography, or “why your anime sucks”.
And none of that has even dealt with Hall H; Comic-Con’s largest panel venue seating 6,500 people. This monster, assuming you can wait through the lines to get in, can be some of the most interesting panels you will see all weekend, but can easily eat up a day of your time and make you unavailable for the tens of other things happening that day.
You will need to plan your weekend like you are walking to Mount Doom… one wrong decision, and your party is in serious peril.
If you’re looking or cosplay, you should go to another convention.
As stated above, this is a gigantic trade show. San Diego Comic-Con doesn’t draw fans through fan events, but by offering a solid block of industry, celebrities, reveals, and exclusives, so people are less likely to wear costumes at Comic-Con.
Don’t misunderstand, it exists, but it is a pretty light part of the formula here. Between the sheer number of things to do and see, even as a people-watcher, I really didn’t see much. Sure, that could have been because I spend days bouncing between panels or inside Hall H, but what can you do? This is one of the few conventions where costumes is overpowered by everything else.
If cosplay is your thing at a convention, I would recommend Comikaze or WonderCon ahead of Comic-Con.
The city is almost as interesting as what goes on inside the convention center.
The Gaslamp is a section of Downtown San Diego that is littered with entertainment venues; galleries, pubs, restaurants, bars, comedy venues, band stages, symphony houses, movie houses, and a mall. You can feel a bit of history wandering between the brick buildings dotted with more modern eateries and venues. There’s even four corners that still have gas lanterns that are lit nightly.
There is a ton of third-party events happening during Comic-Con. A lot of companies rent spaces, stores, and restaurants and deck them out with different things that usually don’t require a Comic-Con badge to enter (though you may need to buy a ticket beforehand for these events). If you don’t happen to get a full-weekend Comic-Con badge, you can easily fill a day wandering the area for the up-to-30 things per day happening outside of the convention center.
The local restaurants are high quality. Despite your budget or prices you are looking for, there is a high likelihood you can find something to fit it, though you may need some patience to look for it if you didn’t do research on the area.
That doesn’t mean you can walk around with your nose in your phone. This area is already usually full of locals going from bar to bar for drinks, as well as a notable homeless population due to the temperate climate, so you should be wary, but there is also a large police presence and a lot of lighting and third-party events dotting the area. With some awareness, you should be all right.
If you think that because most of Comic-Con closes at 7:00 p.m., you’ll be left with little to do, San Diego has a lot to do and appreciate.
You can walk the Marina behind the convention center and either relax or look at the lines for the next day’s activities (assuming you aren’t in one of those lines). You could have a night as a foodie and find a restaurant to your liking. You could see if one of the local comedy venues has an open ticket for the night. You could go to one of the bars and talk with locals or other con-goers. (The Double Deuce even has a mechanical bull and a door with a life-size Patrick Swayze in it.)
This section of the city has a pretty unique feel, kind of like Main Street in Disneyland, but for adults and with less mouse-ear hats.
That being said, you should still keep an eye open. There’s some semi-aggressive homeless around and someone I knew had a bag stolen from them while they sat on a bench. Granted, the police recovered it (and they did great, fast work), but that means that there’s people that know that a lot of cash is in the area and will do their best to get a piece of it.
San Diego is not the most fan-friendly show. Actually, when it comes to fan-friendliness, this convention is pretty low on that scale. However, the convention more than makes up for it in unique experiences each and every year, opportunities to meet you favorite creators, and pick up items that will make you the envy of most of your fellow geeks.
Make your plans for 2017 and start making them now. If you wait too long, you’d be surprised how long it is before your chance to go disappears and you’ll spend another year reading the news, rather than watching it unfurl in it’s full glory.