So, I did this thing last week. You may have heard of it. It’s called San Diego Comic Con. You might know it as Comic Con International. Or as That Big Fucking Thing That Happens Every July That Everyone Talks About. I’ve been tweeting and facebooking a lot about it, using the hashtag #SDCC. So have a lot of other people. The internet’s pretty much been talking about it non stop, just like every other year. So why did I go this year? Well, primarily because I had the vacation time, the funds, and a group of friends to share in the experience with. And now I bring my experience to you, dear readers, so that you too can decide whether you want to brave the crowds, the cameras, the EVERYTHING, for yourself. Because let me tell you, it was probably one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life, in a completely good way. And it can be for you, too, as long as you remember some very, very important things about it. Such as…
1. It is a gigantic media spectacle. Yes, I’ll just call out the elephant in the room right away. The media has pretty much taken over this con and used it as a lens in which it distills the fact that ‘geek culture’ is really popular these days, for whatever reason. Big companies use it as a vehicle to make big announcements, and a whole lot of them have absolutely nothing to do with comics at all. It’s pretty much expanded to envelop all of the aspects of what it means to be a ‘geek’, be it comics, movies, video games, books, television shows, anime, and everything in between, and all the ‘big names’ in these things are there. This is why the crowd is so big: people of all walks of life are there, and all of the things that are present in the convention have outgrown the capacity of the convention itself.
2. There are rock stars at the convention, and you will not see them unless you are very lucky, very patient, or both. You are probably neither. It’s true, the world of geek has its rock stars. Their names are Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, Matt Smith, among others. Don’t get me wrong, they are all very nice, gracious people, and I’m not using the term ‘rock star’ to imply in any way that they aren’t, it’s just that these are the people who absolutely everyone would want a picture with. Sometimes these rock stars wander around among the normal folk, but are so quickly mobbed that you really have no chance to see them. And even if this were not the case, well, let me put it this way. There is only one Joss Whedon. He can’t be in five places at once, and a guy like him is doing events All. Goddamn. Weekend. And it’s pretty hard to get into those events because /everyone wants to/. This year, there was a Firefly tenth anniversary panel. People were lining up for over a day in advance in order to see this. If you are a normal human being, you probably won’t get in. We didn’t, and we got there fairly early in the morning. And even if you DO want to do something like wait in line all day for an hour long panel, well, that’s an entire day’s worth of other stuff you won’t be doing. More on that later.
3. The exhibition hall is packed to capacity with people, and none of them really know how to navigate a crowd. Now, I’ve been to Japan. In Japan, people are used to being bunched together and moving, en masse, from one location to another. There are unspoken rules of the crowd, and pretty much everyone knows what they are, and they also know that in order to follow those rules, the concept of the personal bubble must be abandoned. And they know how to move with the traffic flow. This is not Japan. People do not know those unspoken rules. People will be just walking along in the middle of a high traffic area and stop, because they see something, because they’re checking their phone (more on that later), or just for no goddamn reason at all. And it’s annoying as all hell.
4. You will be herded like cattle. This is related to #3. Because no one knows how to navigate a crowd, there are convention center staff who shout instructions at you. Mostly those instructions are “Keep moving”. And you should follow those instructions, because there are more people in that convention center and downtown area than it was really designed for, no matter what the fire marshal says. And there are lines for everything, and those lines need to be wrapped around so that the lines don’t interfere with each other and are some sort of organized. In that sense, it’s really more like an amusement park than a convention sometimes.
5. You will be protested, picketed, and preached at. For some reason, various radical churches seem to believe that Comic Con is a hotbed of satanic worship. Now, I was there for all four and a half days of the convention, and I never even saw a minor demon, though I did see people who played them on television. Maybe that’s what they’re protesting. Who knows. What I do know is this: I have a very concrete set of beliefs, and while this is neither the time nor the place to belabor those beliefs, I will say that one of the major tenets is that one should not force their beliefs at others who are not receptive. Or to put it a different way, beliefs are like dicks: at least 50% of us have functional ones, and while the ones who do think theirs is the best, it’s really pretty sickening when they wave it at you on the street while shouting at you through a loudspeaker.
6. In San Diego, all the food is overpriced and the service is shit. Maybe I’m used to how things are in the midwest, or maybe it’s just that there was a con in town, but you’d think that these restaurants would want to make a good impression on out-of-towners so that they would, I don’t know, come back. Maybe that’s just not how things work down there. Almost every place we went to, we had to seek out our service. It was really pretty disappointing.There were two notable exceptions to this: Sushi Den in the Gaslamp district, and California Pizza Kitchen in Fashion Valley Mall. At both of these places we received some of the best service I’ve ever had in my life, and I left tips that reflected that sentiment. All the other places we went added their gratuity into the check automatically. It’s one thing to be screwed, but it’s quite another to be screwed, know it, and not be able to do anything about it.
7. There are so many people in that area that using the data connection on a smartphone is absolutely impossible. Though I guess it’s better than it has been. At least this year, everyone could call and send and receive SMS text messages. Apparently this is the first year that has been the case. 4G was down practically the entire time though. That is why all my twitter and facebook updates from the con were sent from my hotel room after we had gotten well away from downtown San Diego.
8. Taxis are fucking crazy. True story.
9. There is something there for everyone. Now, I’m not the world’s biggest comic book geek, and my wife is even less so (we know that Bruce Wayne is Batman, though I’m not entirely sure who Robin is these days, and we only know who Nightwing is because of our friend who is /really/ into Batman). So we really didn’t think there would be all that much there for us. But that’s where that last part of #1 comes in, the part where the convention has grown to encompass /everything/ about being a geek. There is so much there that no matter what facet of the ‘culture’ you identify with, there’s going to be something there you WILL geek out over. Case in point, my wife is into books, and there were so many panels about books, book series, authors, and even teaching, that she geeked out over things just as much, if not more, than I did. You just have to know where to look.
10. If you avoid the media spectacle, you will get in to everything you want to get in to. This is true: if you’re good at planning your schedule and you avoid whatever the “Top Ten Most Anticipated Panels At SDCC” are, as reported by every internet site ever, then you’re going to be able to see everything you want to see. And you won’t even have to spend all that much time in line, either, as long as you get to where you want to go at least an hour before it’s slated to start. The only panels I didn’t get to see were the ones involving the aforementioned rock stars, and I knew I wouldn’t going into it. Some people go just to see those things, and those are the people who are disappointed. Additionally, those are the people that the convention really didn’t start out as being for, anyway.
11. Similarly, you’ll meet famous people too, they’ll be really nice, and since they’re at the con to begin with, chances are they’re geeks as well. I met a lot of really popular authors and artists there, and most of the time I didn’t have to wait in massive lines to do it. The only exception was for autograph signings, and even then I got to converse with the authors doing those signings and really share some great moments with them. For example, Marie Lu (author of the teen dystopian novel ‘Legend’) is a very nice person who also happens to be my age, something I didn’t actually know. We saw Richard Speight, Jr. (who played Bill, from Jericho, and Gabriel, from Supernatural) just walking down the street on the way to a restaurant, and he was happy to shake hands with us and let us get a picture. Sylvia Feketekuty, who writes for Bioware, was just amazed that people wanted to meet and take pictures with her, and was very gracious about the whole thing. And I have many, many more examples as well, though I won’t belabor the point.
12. You will be pleasantly surprised, especially if you go to something you didn’t think you’d ever go to. Case in point, I went to a panel on Tron: Uprising just because it was immediately before something else I wanted to see. In that panel, I saw Elijah Wood, Bruce Boxleitner, and Tricia Helfer, three actors whom I really like, and wasn’t even expecting it. Also, I heard some authors speak and it really made me interested in their books even though I probably never would have even heard of those books before.
13. There are a whole lot of ‘normal’ people there. What I mean is, the cosplayers only make up about 10-15% of the people there, and out of the rest of them, only a very small amount are the kind of socially inept creepers that people still seem to think that every convention attendee is. Most people are just that: people. They’re just not the kind of people that major news outlets care to focus on when they spotlight conventions because it doesn’t get viewers.
14. It’s a goddamn good time. It really is. As much as I had some negative things to watch out for on this list, the positives outweigh them. I just think that people tend to expect things out of this convention that are unrealistic, and that the media perpetuates things about the convention that either are not true or that are actually a detriment to most people’s experiences. I will admit, after seeing what a spectacle the whole thing /can/ be, I do think that it’s an example of geek culture selling out. But if you avoid that aspect and seek out the things that aren’t popular, the things that stay true to both your interests and the true roots of what it means to like these things, then the things you do get to see will be just as important to you as the things you might not get into due to overcrowding.
So, I’ll leave you with that. No, I didn’t get into the Firefly panel, but you know what? It’s all over Youtube anyway, and I don’t begrudge the people who did get in. When it comes down to it, it’s the organizers’ fault for not putting Firefly in the biggest room they could get their hands on, because there is simply no reason to ever underestimate that show’s popularity. Not now, and not ever.
Also, fuck True Blood. If it weren’t for True Blood, I could have seen the Warehouse 13 panel. That is all.
[This article is reposted with my permission at Attack Initiative.]