Why would an Adventurist ever go to Comic-Con?
Isn’t it the mecca for nerds, make believe and sedentary activities like reading comic books and watching pop culture? We first went because my kids were just those types of nerds but there was so much more. We saw a celebration of indigenous culture replete with costumes, myths, heroes and legends. The true believers work all year preparing for their celebration. Both patrons and producers alike gather at Comic-Con to share their obsession. It is both the largest convention of its kind and the largest convention in San Diego. Now that we are travel writers, we felt obliged to cover an event of this magnitude in our backyard. By the end of the day, our obligation turned to admiration for pageantry, passion, and the art of storytelling. Warning for all those who will proceed, this post is as photo intensive as Comic Con is visually stimulating. We’re putting in linked thumbnails and if you’re reading this on a phone or tablet, make sure you come back and check out the full set of pictures on your computer.
A Brief History of Comic-Con
The Golden State Comic Book Convention of 1970 gave birth to Comic Con. Three hundred people attended the first Con at the U.S. Grant Hotel in Downtown San Diego. By 1991, it moved to its current home in the San Diego Convention Center. Now it spans four days, Thursday through Sunday, is attended by nearly 200,000 people and brings nearly 200 million dollars of economic impact to San Diego. The highlights include:
- panels, seminars, and workshops with comic book professionals (over 1000 total panels)
- ~350 hours of programming on all aspects of comics and pop culture
- Promotion of upcoming releases ~100 tv shows and 50 movies
- Collectibles, merchandise, and art for sale and display
- Rub shoulders with famous celebrities and fanatic fans (including autograph sessions and extensive cosplay)
Gone in 60 Minutes!
Why do only 200,000 people come to an event of this magnitude? Because tickets are hard to come by. This year’s con sold out in under an hour! Even if you were “in line” when the event opened, you wouldn’t expect to get a spot. This is the nerd equivalent of entering the permit lottery for high demand trips. You don’t know when you are going to get a rafting permit for the Grand Canyon but you keep applying. Someday you will get it and then you better go and rock it to the max. Even if you don’t get in there is more happening outside the Convention Center than inside so Comic Con weekend can still anchor a trip to San Diego. One day of Con spectacle and then exploring the rest of the amazing offerings of America’s Finest City.
Converging on The Convention Center – Crowded and Crazy
No way in hell we were going to drive downtown during Con. Aside from the $60-$100 dollar parking cost, we didn’t want to fight with traffic. Our friends took the public bus right from their house. The Con runs special busses that come to almost every hotel even remotely close to downtown. We took the trolley, which was absolutely packed with no parking at the transit center, but at least it didn’t have to stop for traffic. It was like a warm-up for the waves of humanity waiting for us…..Oh the humanity. There are two types of San Diegans. Those who go to Comic Con, even without tickets, and those who avoid it like flesh eating zombies. For us, it comes down to challenge by choice and expanding your comfort zone. Yes, it is crowded and crazy, but on the bright side, it is crowded and crazy. The infectious energy from the true believers permeates the air and transfuses you to the core if you let it.
Barbarians at the Gate
We circled our prize for hours, taking in the sights and sounds of the fray. The streets of Gaslamp were filled with promotions ranging from Batman vs Superman to Powerpuff girls. You could take a virtual reality visit to the latest Fox shows or take a photo op tour of South Park with a real school bus, cut out characters and many backdrops. A pedestrian bridge crosses Harbor Drive and the trolley tracks. On the east end of the bridge was a parking lot that was filled with food trucks and more pop culture booths. The west end of the bridge was a large open space between the Hilton and the Convention Center. This is where the premier outside attractions were. 20 story high build murals and 30’ high sculptures promoted The Strain. Son of Zorn hosted a climbing wall. American Horror Story had a virtual reality tour. Adult Swim had an inflatable play area and zombie tour boats were docked in the harbor. We didn’t have hours to spare waiting for these events but they are there. Next year we’ll make sure we come earlier in the week so we can play on the toys. We continued to the Entertainment Weekly take over of Embarcadero Park which featured more food and exhibits and live music. It was on the other side of Seaport Village from main Comic Con happenings so it was less crowded but definitely worth checking out. We looped back through the Hyatt and enjoyed a late lunch in the Gaslamp District before entering the Con.
Nerd Shangri La
The cosplay got better with every step we took to the Convention Center. Some were corporate sponsored, like Kubo and the Two Strings, while others were labors of love.One gentleman was telling the story of how his paper mache cosplay took over 1000 hours to complete. The RF chip reader beeped and we were in. We were welcomed to the vendors by a giant statue of a Warcraft orc. The sensory flood was followed by Star Wars, Marvel and DC collectibles of every description. It wasn’t all flash. There was a deep respect and homage to the history of comic art with Golden Age artists and collections. The booths were interesting, but buying merch is contradictory to our dreams of living out of our suitcase. Still, the 3-d puzzle map of Westeros was temping since I love maps and Game of Thrones. The other interesting phenomenon of being in the high rent district was elbow room and amenities. It was ever so less crowded and the air conditioning felt exquisite. We could find seats, restrooms and water fountains. The food service was better outside, but everything else was on point. Maybe not everything else. Some of the cosplay passed solidly into the realm of disturbing. Middle age, hairy, chubby men should not cosplay Princess Leia, especially in the slave girl outfit, just saying. Even the weird was entertaining, as we enjoyed our pop culture window shopping.
A Stately Pleasure-Dome Decree
At least 17 different rooms in the Convention Center hosts various panels and screenings throughout the Con. These events run nearly continuously and almost always require a wait. The largest venue is Hall H which seats over 6,000 people and has people camping out overnight to get in line. If you’re going to one show go big. We queued up for Kevin Smith to end the evening. Clerks was an influential movie for alternative kids of our generation but we couldn’t figure out why Kevin Smith would be in Hall H at Comic-Con. We entered the line at 6:30 for what was scheduled to be 7:00 show. The line didn’t look too long so we felt we could probably get in. It didn’t move for a long time, well past 7:00. I assume the preceding Marvel panel ran late or perhaps it was accumulated delays from the day. Either way, we really didn’t mind resting in the shade after a lot of walking. Once we got in, Kevin was already speaking. There was a good crowd but still plenty of seats. We learned a lot. First off, Kevin great storyteller and the sort of person I would love to hang out with. He had infectious enthusiasm and positivity. He loved telling stories and savoring every event in his life. He also loved comics. Which is his favorite Batman? Kevin Conroy, the voice actor for the animated series. The person he would most like to eat dinner with? Stan Lee, the creator of most of the Marvel heroes you know and love. He wove long and elaborate stories about his run ins with JJ Abrams that started with a gift of swag and progressed to visiting the set of Star Wars and eventually voicing lines for a stormtrooper. Isn’t that every boy’s dream to walk on the Millennium Falcon and see his name in the quintessential Star Wars scrolling credit. He also said something that really spoke to us as burgeoning bloggers. Go, find your voice and do it. Tell your story. Specifically, he said everybody should podcast, but I think he would approve of any and all creativity, positivity and dreaming.
Closing the Con
Kevin Smith’s story brought Comic Con home to us. It’s about passion, creativity, and possibility. It is about your childhood dreams that don’t have to die as an adult. For true believers, it is almost a religion. For us on the periphery, it is a chance to enjoy the pageantry, customs, and rituals of a unique and vibrant culture. If I were hiking in the Andes and came across an indigenous woman weaving, I would stop and take the time to learn a little bit about what she was doing, why she was doing it and what it meant to her. Nobody would question the authenticity of that experience, or its adventurist nature, even though that woman would never harness up and rap down a cliff. Comic-Con is the best opportunity to explore pop culture with its true and vibrant followers.
The Adventurist Guide
We promised a guide, right? Here we go in a bullet-pointed list:
- Try and get a badge at least once. There is a fairly complicated process where you sign up in winter to be eligible during the public release. You’ll get an email notifying you when the release is. Put a notice on your calendar and get in the digital queue. Who knows, you might get lucky.
- Consider going even without a badge. San Diego has lots to see and do and Comic Con makes for an entertaining day from the outside looking in
- Pick a hotel on the Comic Con bus route or downtown. Fighting Comic Con traffic for four days will drain you. There are plenty of places to stay where a charter bus will pick you up at the door. If you have to make it on your own to downtown consider the trolley or Uber, but beware of ‘surge pricing’.
- Plan for the crowds. This is a broad topic. Yes, you have to prepare mentally for the mass of humanity, but it is more than that. The Con opens on Thursday with the busiest day on Saturday. Set aside non-peak time for “doing things” at the Con like the booths outside or even walking the vendor store. Let Saturday be your time for people watching and going panels. On the subject of panels…
- Sequence your panels. There is a long guide that accompanies Comic Con that comes out a month or so before Con. Read it and pick what interests you. Know that you will have to queue up ahead of time and plan accordingly. It’s a great time to eat and recover. Also, once you are in Hall H (and perhaps other venues) you don’t need to leave. If you can make it a twofer or threefer the line is well worth it. Some people stay all day. Bonus points to anybody crazy enough to plan no hotel and sleeping the Hall H line overnight, every night. We would love to hear your story.
- Play the long game. Wear comfortable shoes, drink plenty of water and bring snacks. It is exhausting to walk for hours and fight through crowds in the middle of summer. San Diego can have some warm weather this time of year plan you walking time and sitting time well.
- Keep an open mind and enjoy the show. If you’re reading this guide you’re probably not in the fandom. Listen to their passion and admire the pageantry. It’s one amazing ride of consciousness, weirdness, and celebration of nerd culture. Reach back to your inner child who would absolutely have loved this.