SDCC: The 2013 Review

As the months turned into weeks, and the weeks narrowed down to days leading up to my first Comic-Con, I didn’t really know what to expect. Typically, I don’t go to any conventions with a whole lot of expectations because I am pretty boring like that, and I tend to prefer to let things happen as they come, and to simply roll with the punches. The only sentiment that I was really forewarned about was to prepare for lines, and lots and lots of lines.

To cut to the chase, I can say that I had a pretty good time out in San Diego, and Comic-Con itself was pretty worth it. I’ll admit that there was a moment in which I grew exasperated with the incessantly endless crowds and I thought that I wouldn’t want to come back, but as the convention went on and I figured out how to cope with, and avoid them, that sentiment dwindled. I’d consider going back again if the opportunity presented itself.

The thing is, this is not going to be a review where I gush about how Comic-Con was the greatest experience of my life and how that it was the best convention evar. In the grand spectrum of things, I had a good trip, but I don’t feel the need to sugar coat or not mention the things about it that are worth mentioning, good or bad. Which is kind of another way of saying that I did have some gripes, but I’m going to try and be as eloquent as I can when addressing them. But really, there was a lot to like about the event as well.

This is pretty much going to be a verbose post with a whole lot of words, so if you’re waiting for the rest of my photos, I’m still working on them, and they’re going to take a little bit more time.

No matter what I write beyond this point, nothing will ever trump the simple fact that Comic-Con is in San Diego. Seriously, that place is like paradise. Counting this past trip, I’ve been to San Diego twice, and each time, the weather was like the greatest weather in the world. While it was hitting mid-90s with daily rain back in Atlanta and the rest of the east coast throughout the duration of the trip, San Diego was cool, breezy and dry the entire time, and even got a little chilly in the evenings. I have a few baseball buddies that live in the area, and they attest that perfect weather is pretty much the norm out there, and I couldn’t be any more thankful to just how awesome the weather was while I was out there.

As it pertains to the weather, San Diego is pretty much one of the best cities in the United States that I’ve ever been to.

So, as I briefly alluded to, there were a ton of people at Comic-Con. Words really can’t describe just how packed the city of San Diego was during this event; people told me well in advance to how crowded it is, and I saw and endured it myself, and I don’t really think there’s a way to succinctly describe just how packed it is, just about everywhere you go. Think somewhere along the lines of about 10,000 DMV lines, about 500 Black Fridays and a Taylor Swift concert, all combined into a singular event, although I suspect I might be shortchanging these numbers.

There was almost literally nowhere you could go where there was convention programming or convention-related programming where you didn’t face a massive crowd and/or a ridiculous line. The larger the deal of the event/booth, the longer the line went. From my hotel balcony, I could see the line just to get into the convention center on a daily basis stretch to well close to half a mile. It didn’t matter if you were trying to get into a panel or a restaurant or get an autograph, there was pretty much a line for absolutely everything. Except for meeting Virgil.

Needless to say, this made for an extremely crowded event, no matter where you went. At no point from the start of preview night, to the night before I left the convention was there ever once a “slow” period, anywhere. Walking anywhere was a matter of practicing nimble footwork, anticipating others and preparing for inevitable rubbing of shoulders. It didn’t matter if you were walking down the sidewalk outside the convention center, the hallway inside the convention center, the inside of the exhibitor’s hall, or anywhere in the Gaslamp Quarter, getting an arm’s length anywhere around you was a luxury that was seldom to be had throughout the entire trip.

I actually felt a little bad for all of the San Diego rent-a-cops that probably saw the dollar signs and volunteered to work the convention, because they were simply in a position where they could not have been the biggest bad guys on the planet. There couldn’t possibly be enough sidewalk to contain the hundreds of thousands of people all marching in the same directions, headed for the same destinations, and when people leaked out onto the streets because of sheer numbers, the inevitable wheelchairs and strollers, or spatially inconsiderate costumers and/or photographers, cops were yelling at people and people were yelling at cops. No winners.

One thing I eventually learned is that the convention pretty much revolved around the hours of the day in which the exhibitor’s hall was open. The vast majority of convention programming that occurred at the convention center itself happened in the hours of the day in which the exhibitor’s hall was open, and at around 7 pm each day when the exhibitor’s hall closed shop, the largest flood of attendees and dealers poured out of the convention center, causing some of the worst human traffic on the planet. I did absolutely everything in my power to avoid being in front of the convention center once the clock struck 7 pm, or anywhere near the 5th Street crosswalk, the largest vein of people flooding into the start of the Gaslamp Quarter.

The convention center itself was long as hell. And now just “hell” but like “hey-ull” like the way Ludacris would say it. And the exhibitor’s hall was pretty much almost the entire length of it. Seriously, it’s the biggest dealer’s room that I’ve ever seen in my life, not to mention the most crowded. Speaking of the dealer’s room, I have to say that it was a logistical nightmare. Now I get why they want to put certain booths close to others, because of their similarity in industry, genre or products, but from the standpoint of distribution of people, it really sucks when Mattel in 3300 is doing an event, while they’re right next to Hasbro in 3360 that’s doing an event, right next to the Lego booth in 3400 that’s doing an event, and then there are 800 people crammed around each booth, plugging up every single possible walkway while the smaller business dealer tables in the 900 block of the exhibitor’s hall is next to deserted in comparison. Again, I get why it’s laid out like such, but I can’t say I necessarily agree.

But for what it’s worth, Comic-Con’s exhibitor’s hall had pretty much everything a nerd could want, and I didn’t even really get to examine about 80% of the things in it. Seriously, it was so crowded, it deterred me real fast to wanting to bother checking out a lot of dealers because I didn’t want to have to fight to see. I have to say that Comic-Con’s exhibitor’s hall isn’t exactly the best place to do impulse shopping, due to the overall difficulty in just being able to browse, but if you’re willing to put the effort into it, or do your research in advance, there’s definitely treasure to be found in it.

However, I’m a sucker for exclusive items, and when I found the list of exclusives that were going to be available at Comic-Con, I jumped all over as many as I could, to the point of where I got extras just because I could. My key scores were the exclusive Dexter bobblehead, Brock Samson figure, B-MO plushes, and the UDON Street Fighter hardcover comics, even if some of them required almost two hours of waiting to acquire. I’m pretty sure I could be duped into buying just about anything as long it was labeled as “exclusive” and I felt that I’d either want it or felt that I could flip it.

Now before this turns into any more of a gripe session about how crazy packed and line-filled that Comic-Con is, I really do actually have some good things to say about the whole experience.

Without question, the absolute coolest thing about Comic-Con was the city-wide event it ultimately becomes. The influence the convention has over the entire surrounding area is a cultural marvel, in just how far beyond the walls of a convention center the whole event encroaches. Gate agents at San Diego International Airport wearing costumes and nerdy t-shirts, employees of hotels and restaurants all across downtown San Diego also wearing capes and other comic book-related regalia, and pretty much every single public transformation vehicle had been turned into a mobile billboard for various cartoons, movies and other geek-centric media.

It’s truly a marveling thing to see just how much the city transforms to accommodate Comic-Con. It’s definitely something that no other convention necessarily has the power to do, and it’s kind of refreshing to see an entire region like that reciprocate the appreciation of welcoming and accepting the event as much as the event is glad to be there.

To add to the transformation, it was amazing to see how many local businesses turned the reigns of their spaces to varying corporations and other entities throughout the event. Entire restaurants transformed their establishments and/or changed their names outright. TBS rented out an entire art gallery, and turned it into the King of the Nerds cereal bar, where nerds like me could eat cereal, play retro arcade games, and be inundated with King of the Nerds previews.

Although almost equally crowded and with lines of people trying to get in and see all these things, it’s definitely an experience walking around the Gaslamp Quarter, just to see the transformations and corporate takeovers of a lot of these buildings, places and establishments.

Speaking of corporations, Comic-Con definitely had a corporate feel to the entire event. Being the biggest convention in pretty much possibly the entire western hemisphere, it’s definitely the place where corporations want to conglomerate and have a large presence. Not to say that the presence of large corporations and public entities was a bad thing at all, but it’s definitely prevalent.

What was a major thing with Comic-Con were the numerous company parties all throughout the city, after convention programming typically ended. In fact, it was almost formulaic how each day went – between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. was the “convention day,” where there were a litany of panels throughout the convention center and the neighboring hotels, and the exhibitor’s hall was open. Across the street in the Gaslamp Quarter, all sorts of companies were doing promotional events, giving away swag, and just drawing attention. And then when 7 p.m. rolled around, the convention center funneled everyone out, the panels ended, and the evenings were more or less left for private parties or independently-run events and programming.

That being said, I have to say that for people like me who typically roll with the punches and try to do things as they happen, Comic-Con isn’t necessarily the best place to do that. I was lucky enough to be with people who could get me into a party or two, or had enough lingering connection with some old WCW colleagues to get into another one. But I would have to imagine that if you don’t make some sort of plan or have any parties to go to, things could potentially be kind of dull in the evenings. Every bar and restaurant becomes packed to the gills with massive lines to get in, and if you have no premade plans you really might not have anything to do.

Back to the parties though, although I’m thankful to have been able to have gotten into the Facebook and adult swim parties, there’s something ironic about the concept of the vast myriad of private parties that happen all throughout the area during the con week. Over the last decade or so, and the growing acceptance and popularization of geek culture, a commonly-heard sentiment amongst convention crowds is how “it’s turning into high school all over again.” What better way to embody this cliché than to have private parties where peoples’ names need to be on a doorman’s list in order to get in? Obviously, this isn’t applicable to every party out there, as there were plenty of parties that let pretty much anyone with a con badge in, but those were also the ones with lines out the door and lacked that sense of exclusivity that a lot of people often seek.

Switching gears, I was looking forward to photographing costumes at Comic-Con, mostly because it would be a vastly different crowd than what would be at like Dragon*Con. Sure, there’s always the chance that people like me make the cross-country trek, but the vast majority of people would still predominantly be from the west coast, and I was hoping on seeing some unique faces and costumes in a vastly different setting.

It turns out that Comic-Con, at least to me, doesn’t seem like that big of a deal when it comes to people coming out in costumes. It could very well have been the simple case of me being in the wrong places at the wrong times, but wandering the halls and being around the nicer looking outdoor areas resulted in not a whole lot of variety or quantity. That’s fine and all, but for some reason I thought I’d see more costumes in general. Not to say that there weren’t any at all, but I guess what I’m saying is that the ratio of people to costumers seemed vastly less than what I had thought I’d see.

One thing I’d like to point out that I actually began to aggravate me as the days passed were all the religious picketers. Now I have nothing against a person’s religious choices or if they do or don’t choose to practice religion at all. The first day, it was more like “oh, there are religious picketers,” but then then later on it’s “man, don’t these guys ever give it a rest?” and by the time Saturday rolled around, and they were beginning to equip megaphones and started just outright accusing people of blasphemy, I started to get really agitated by their presence. I had no idea San Diego was a place where such fervent bible-thumpers lived, and that’s coming from someone who lives in the god-fearing south, but I have to say that it was a little on the excess throughout the entire time.

Something I noticed on a nighttime walk around the city that I hadn’t noticed previously was people actually camping outside of the convention center. Camping, as in setting up sleeping bags, and bringing pillows and blankets, to hold their spot in line for something the next day. I was actually a little baffled by this, and it wasn’t until I spoke to a security guard and asked him if what I was seeing really was people camping, to which he confirmed. Apparently, at the time I was walking by, these people were camping out for the opportunity to get into the X-Files reunion panel. Key word being opportunity, because to my understanding, they were camping out so that they could receive a lottery ticket that gave them the chance to get admission into the X-Files panel. In other words, these people camping were not guaranteed to get into the panel they were willing to camp out overnight for.

I’m pretty sure there aren’t a whole lot of things in the world I’d be willing to camp outside in a line for overnight to see. I like X-Files, Community, and The Walking Dead as much as many other of my fellow nerds do, but I’ll be damned if I’m sleeping outside next to 300 other people for a chance to get a chance to be in the same room with cast members.

Apparently, according to the security guard I was chatting with, this is also a very common occurrence. The silver lining he cleverly quipped was that at least, most of these guys brought deodorant with them. But really, this is the kind of thing that is a little overkill for me when it comes to my opinion of fandom. I’m not really that big into panels and lots of programming to begin with, but I have to imagine it really deflates one’s enthusiasm when you plan on wanting to wait for 3-4 hours in a line for a chance to get a chance to see something you’re enthusiastic about, only to discover that there are people willing to give up 12+ hours in advance plus their entire night already ahead of you 400 people deep. Seriously, nothing is really that worth it to me to do that.

But anyway, as I come close to encroaching on 3,000 words, I think I’ve written about most of the things that I’d planned on writing about. Crowds, parties, religious zealots, the transformation of the city and the overkill of people camping out. I suppose that covers it all, until I think of something I wish I brogged about, that I can simply brog about later if I bother getting to it.

The highlights of SDCC for me would have to be:

  • Meeting Chuck Palahniuk for the second time, and getting an advance copy of Damned, his next novel that is due out in October.
  • The adult swim fun house just outside of Petco Park was probably the most ingenious, entertaining and most amusing attraction of all the things that were available to do around the convention.
  • The Facebook party that had a swanky open bar at a speakeasy, where the drinks were precariously strong.
  • Seeing a live edition of The Eric Andre Show at the adult swim party, that was quite possibly the most insanity crammed into a stage show that I’ve ever seen in my life.

Overall, the entire five-day trip was a good trip. I ate a ton of good food, went to Richard Walker’s three times, spent some time with good people, bought things, saw things, drank too much, and even managed to not necessarily lose any money during two separate layovers in Las Vegas. As for SDCC itself, it’s a large, massive, gigantic entity that my usual convention rules simply cannot apply to. But being what it is, it houses events and draws guests that other conventions simply can’t do. It’s not necessarily the greatest convention experience on the planet as many have attested to in previous years, but for what it’s worth I still had a good time. If the opportunity presented itself to where I could go next year, I think I would.

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