Stephen Colbert introduces The Hobbit Panel
The San Diego Comic Con International is one of the most impressive events for anyone who has even the most remote interest in any of the following to try and get to:
Art (all kinds of art – jewellery making, leather work, costuming, graphic, traditional, sculpture – it is ALL here)
Gaming (all types, all formats, all consoles, board games, tabletop, role playing you name it SDCC has it when it comes to games)
Writing – all kinds – for TV, for books, for graphic novels, for film, for Web
Fascinating, creative, talented and friendly people
I have been fortunate enough to attend the last three. My love affair for this extraordinary event began back in 2011 when I was visiting the US with colleagues for a conference. We had a few days at the end to fill in and I wanted to see San Diego, it was a beautiful city, gorgeous weather and it had this quirky little thing I’d heard about called Comic Con. We were, sadly enough, flying out the day official Comic Con had started. I didn’t even get into anything, didn’t see a panel, didn’t walk the floor, didn’t have a badge – one CC worker took pity on me and handed me a copy of the thick event guide and Souvenir book and after that and catching a glimpse into the main Exhibit Hall I was hooked. I made a vow to myself as we rode the cab in very light traffic towards the airport that Thursday that I would be back and that I would somehow acquire one of these more precious than unobtanium badges that gave me access.
And so it began – gaining in 2012 a Thursday and Sunday badge, then 2013 a Thurs/Fri/Sat and Sun badge and then this year finally gaining all 5 days access – beginning with Preview Night on Wednesday and access to the main Exhibition Floor from 6pm all the way through to Sunday. These badges are virtually a lottery type of acquisition these days…those who have attended previous years do get priority over those who haven’t but even with this it’s a fairly stressful and anxiety laden procedure to ensure you get them. Picture a small army sitting in different parts of the world glued to their monitors clicking for the Sales page along with about a 120 thousand other people at the same time. Step 1 was achieved all the way back in February. Operation: Get to 2014 Comic Con stage 1 was a success – as we attained badges for our little group.
Next challenge a hotel room or other accommodation nearby. This too becomes a lottery with the hotels all around the area just blocking off Comic Con week entirely from being booked by anyone (irrespective of whether they are coming for the event or just holidaying). They then put their rooms up and available through an online system that again opens only at a specific date and time. You must list your top five hotel preferences/room types, click submit and hope for the best that you’ll be one of the lucky ones to grab a room. Then of course there’s the local San Diegoans who rent out their apartments/condos/homes for the week of Comic Con, fleeing the insanity of an extra 180 thousand people in their city and the sometimes insanely hiked up prices of the hospitality businesses during this time. Airnb and numerous other websites help with advertising these and if you have enough people to go in with this can be a worthwhile venture. One must always remember though that not always do these places have enough physical beds and ultimately some people make do with a couch or sleeping bags on the floor. So finding a Condo nearby this year was an absolute bonus and paying about 105USD per night for our five night stay even better. Most hotels around there are a minimum of $200 mostly above $300 per night.
Just being in San Diego itself is a highlight, it’s a beautiful place with beautiful coast and plenty to see and do (without hitting Seaworld even once – and I will never EVER recommend that place). If you want your animal fix get on to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park – this is one of the best conservation parks in the world. So my advice? Avoid the packed planes, trains and buses trying to deliver 180 thousand plus people into the downtown area from Tuesday onwards. The train from LA’s Union Station was perfect and I would head down on the Monday or earlier. You won’t be twiddling your thumbs waiting for Comic Con to start by any stretch of the imagination.
Comic Con for me really came into it’s own this year. I think I finally appreciated this very tangible atmosphere of collective appreciation for the things we are passionate about. I found myself musing on things like the labels of “geek” and “nerd” and is it really that necessary to separate the two? Is not nerd and geek just two terms that can apply to anyone who has ever had more than just a passing relationship with anything they’re passionate about? Wasn’t the World Cup attended and watched by millions of football geeks and nerds? The Tour De France is for those who get their cycling geek on. I am a complete geek and nerd for all things dogs, Border Collies, dog training and agility. I also geek out over music, movies, books and TV shows. I tell my students all the time – find something you love doing, that entertains you and then devour it whole. Be active about going out and enhancing that whole experience for yourself. Comic Con is populated by thousands of people who are extraordinarily passionate whether it be about one really specific character in a game or whether it be about a multitude of text types and activities. You and your fellow 179 thousand 799 fans are there because you love something there. That whole idea just by itself is enough to make this event a much less singular event and much more of a collective experience. I met and spoke to at least 20 plus people I had never met before. Some of whom I exchanged contact details with. For the rest of the year I usually go out of my way to avoid any and all contact with people I don’t know. I’m just not that kind of person. I’m not of the whole “a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet” kind of mindset. In fact many would likely describe me as fairly anti-social. I’m pretty particular about who I want to spend my time with. I recall having just this type of conversation with a fellow agility/dog geek friend in LA. We’re around the same age with this shared passion and we both acknowledge that for the most part we just don’t like people. It’s true. More often than not in the past when I have let that anti-social bubble deflate I find that most adults just disappoint and frustrate me. So I tend to avoid all new social interactions and thoroughly enjoy the ones that I have. Comic Con is the antithesis of this. I find it absolutely fascinating that it is highly likely that the majority of attendees are very much like me when it comes to social interaction. Yet Comic Con completely subverts this behaviour.
Those who haven’t gone to Comic Con or have never heard of it when you tell them you are attending, frequently barely contain their glee at possibly uncovering one of those “freaks” who like to dress up in costumes. No I don’t dress up. Why not? Because I have way too much respect for those Cosplayers (hardly “freaks”) who do it so well. It takes effort, dedication and commitment and no small shortage of creative skill to pull off a decent character costume and I have nothing but admiration for those who commit 100% to such endeavours. I almost get offended on Cosplayers’ behalves when people react as if they’ve discovered this juicy guilty pleasure people choose to indulge themselves in when dressing up. More power to the Cosplayers, especially those who do it well. I took a heap of pictures of some fabulous outfits and the details and lengths some Cosplayers went to had me truly astounded at their talents.
So how do you explain Comic Con to a non Con goer? It’s a tricky one to adequately respond to. I’m not out to sell it that’s for sure (I think 180 thousand fans is quite enough) but I am out to be as accurate and as articulate as possible in describing it. I talk about what panels are and the hugely varied and wide ranging panel topics. I talk about the movie and TV industry representation and how all my favourite TV shows attend with cast and crew. I talk about the like-mindedness of fellow con goers and that vast array of off site activities to choose from – perhaps a Symphony performance of the stunning soundtrack from the latest Star Trek film, perhaps some gaming interplay at Geek and Sundry, or even a live Shakespeare performance right outside the Convention centre. Outdoor and indoor advanced movie screenings or just some classic cult hits from the past? Feeling like having a chat with the creator of your favourite show? Or attending an Author book signing? There is no way I can do justice in one blog post to the simply massive range of choice in Comic Con week. There is simply too much to list. And as one friend likes to say – if you don’t make it to your first choice then you’ll be at something else you wanted to see, listen, do instead.
I go because I like taking photos, like chatting to the creators of some of my favourite works (be it novels, comic books, graphics, TV or film) I love seeing sneak peeks into upcoming projects and I love supporting the incredibly creative and thought provoking community that Comic Con plays host to. I love wandering the floor and seeing the various displays and picking up new extracts from soon to be released novels or upcoming comic releases. I pick up collectibles for my favourite shows, Supernatural being the main one. But first timers need to come to grips as soon as possible with the not so positive aspects of Comic Con. When you have 180 thousand people descending on one location there are going to be drawbacks. You need to get over any aversion to lines pretty much instantly. Assume that you will be lining up for everything. Then assume those lines will take up twice as much time as you anticipated. Once this becomes a known and general acceptance in your mindset and approach to Comic Con the far better you enjoy it. Also figure out your usual budget for a week’s holiday and then double it. Even if you do account for the Comic Con prices of food and accommodation you will, without a doubt, see stuff on the Exhibition Floor that you simply must have. Whether it be that exclusive talking Sheldon Cooper figurine or limited edition Millenium Falcon key chain or that cult classic vintage film poster ultimately if you prepare by overestimating your funds then this only adds to the enjoyment. It was cool to have a spare 20 bucks on hand to grab a Smile for Smiles photo with Craig Ferguson and his off-sider Josh Robert Thompson. I also like seeing those in the entertainment industry letting their hair down and enjoying themselves. So many of them are total fans of their fellow artists and their work and it’s just delightful to see them interact and appreciate each others work as strongly as the fans do themselves.
This year I chose Hall H for both Saturday and Sunday panels. It’s a hardcore decision because it does involve lining up the day before if you want a chance at a decent seat. Those that are happy to play the chances game and just want to be in the room and don’t care about where they sit can often jag a spot near the back but for those who have never been in this room they need to have a good appreciation for the size of this hall. It holds 6,500 people. If someone was to ask me if Hall H Saturday was worth trying to get in line from 10.30am on the Friday for a decent seat the answer would be unequivocally and emphatically yes. The intense energy, the palpable air of excitement, the surround sound and massive wall to wall screens plus the trailers with the sneak preview clips visual smorgasbord brought by the studios was just phenomenal. I loved every moment – even the lulls in activity. I attended panels in multiple rooms and would have liked to have gotten to more – but again that’s the sacrifice you make when choose to spend a long time in lines. The Exhibition floor is so massive it’s advisable to do it in stages. I dedicated at least two afternoons to doing it justice. Even still I’m left with the lingering feeling that there is quite possibly booths that I missed. But I’m okay with that.
So I’m planning on heading back next year, hoping to be successful in the online clicking madness that is the SDCC Pre Reg Badge Sale. I’ve attended a number of Cons now and when the money you spend on them needs to be rationed I truly believe that this con is the best value for money.