After attending my first San Diego Comic Con, I have returned with a new understanding and appreciation of the event. Not a comic book gathering by any stretch of the imagination, Comic Con is the pinnacle of pop-culture conventions. There you will find stars of television and film, books, toys, displays, previews, comics, artists, props, costumes, games, and anything to do with entertainment in the modern age. The Comic Con atmosphere crackles with electricity, with anticipation, and exuberance. It is a visual feast of cosplay and people-watching. It is a festival of sights, sounds, emotion, and intrigue as you are swept along with the crowd to be informed, entertained, and bewildered.
At the conclusion of each day, you cash out, exhausted from walking for hours and being tossed here and there on the waves of 130,000 people going 130,000 different directions — but you don’t care. You crash for perhaps four or five hours but wake the next day, eager for the experience to continue. But what is all the fuss about? For the uninitiated, allow me to break down the basics of Comic Con from the viewpoint of a first-timer.
Comic Con is really broken up into four similar but discrete parts. First, you have the convention floor. A couple of million square feet dedicated to everything the entertainment industry has to offer. Starting with Artists Alley, a collection of the finest comic book and graphic novel artists the planet. Beyond that, the convention hall stretches into the distance with thousands strolling, shopping, talking, and snapping photos. The ambient sound is a tapestry of chatter, booth sounds, announcements, and music. Major vendors and noteworthy companies fight for your attention under banners like Sony Pictures, Marvel, DC, Mattel, Hasbro, Playstation, Xbox, Warner Bros, Capcom, Activision, Cartoon Network, G4TV, LucasFilm, Dark Horse, and Spike. Furthermore, major studios pitch The Hobbit, Ironman 3, Batman, or perhaps an HBO or Showtime program of note. One may find almost anything on the floor, well, anything except perhaps a little wiggle room. If you’re someone who is anti-social or tense in a tight crowd, forget Comic Con — there is no such thing as personal space on the convention floor. But why do so many people attend this once-a-year event?
The Con has been co-opted by popular culture. Movie studios, television, gaming companies and others realized the halo effect around the comic book crowd. To quote Joss Whedon, major companies began to “mine” this crowd for their attention and money — and it has worked. From what I hear, many comic book purists now dislike the direction of Comic Con and pine for the old days where the crowds were smaller and the intent was more genuine but if my experience was anything to go by, those days are long gone. The modern Con seems perfect and my guess is the convention floor will continue to be bought out by major movie studios looking to push their wares.
Panels & Live Looks
The second part of Comic Con are the panels. Sorted by location and popularity, panels are a chance to see your favorite stars up close and live. Panels range from basic “how-to” classes all the way up to high profile events like The Big Bang Theory (cast), Walking Dead (cast), Game of Thrones (cast), The Expendables 2 (cast), Firefly Reunion (cast), Battlestar Galactica – Reboot (cast), Falling Skies (cast), Bones (cast), Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (cast), Ironman 3 (cast), among others. My personal high point was seeing Joss Whedon and the entire cast of Breaking Bad, live. Joss is intense, hilarious, witty, and clearly a master of his craft. The Breaking Bad cast was astonished by the crowd of 4500 people cheering their appreciation for the show — it felt like a rock concert in there.
Autographs & Chitchat
The third part of Comic Con is the autographs that allow personal brushes with the stars. I never really fancied myself as a autograph hunter but this event provided the opportunity to personally meet Jamie Hyneman (Mythbusters), Adam Savage (Mythbusters), Grant Imuhara (Mythbusters), Emmy Rossum (Shameless), Cameron Monaghan (Shameless), Jeremy Allen White (Shameless), and Stan Lee (Marvel). I’m still not an autograph guy but meeting Emmy Rossum in particular was, well, a little intoxicating. She was charming, cute, and actually thanked me for standing in line to meet her. That is how you treat the fans. However, the most fascinating moment came while waiting in the Stan Lee World of Heroes panel. Now, once more, I’m not much of a comic book guy but I hear Stan Lee is quite the name in the genre. During the panel, Stan Lee tells the room of roughly 2,000 people, if you were given a red ticket when you walked in, you will be one of 100 who get a limited edition signed poster from Stan Lee. The room of 2,000 oooooh’d and ahhhhhh’d but it made no matter to me; we arrived at the panel late so I was without the aforementioned red ticket. After the panel was over the room partially cleared so we moved forward to get better seats. Once settled in near the aisle, I saw this average looking guy strolling past then noticed an usher with a “Stan Lee World of Heroes” shirt stroll up. He slipped his arm over the guy’s shoulder and quietly asked, “Hey man, do you like Stan Lee?” The guy muttered he does to which usher snapped out a red ticket and handed it to him. Bam! The guy perks up, thanks the usher and storms from the room. This happens right in front of me so I jump up and say, “Aw, that was amazing! Do you have anymo—-” I don’t even get the words out when the guy grins, snaps out a second red ticket and hands it to me. Bam! I’m floored. I mean I know who Stan Lee is and suddenly I get a chance to meet the guy and get his autograph in person?! I’ll spare you the rest of the details but my Canada buddy also got a red ticket and we both get the treatment. That is how random and nifty Comic Con is. I personally took all the following pics, the sharper the image, the closer I was.
People & Cosplay
The final and truth be told, most interesting part of Comic Con is the people. Whether you’re watching the crowd, participating in an event, meeting new folk, or simply hanging out, the people are amazing. Irrespective of what line I stood in or where I hung out, striking up a conversation with anyone was easy. From sentence one, all attendees have the Comic Con experience in common so chatter naturally springs forth. No matter age, race, size, or appearance, I spoke to dozens of people while waiting in line or hanging out. I remember Pedro, Vicente, and Carlos from Denver who were intent on seeing the Legend of Korra panel. There was William and his sister who’d flown in from Singapore to see both the Firefly and Breaking Bad panel. Or how about Katherine and Jessica, both raving Breaking Bad fans. There was the gal in the signature line who I gave my George RR Martin autograph ticket to (hope he was better to her than my Canada buddy). Not forgetting the gal in the Stan Lee autograph line who’s husband has an entire bonus room dedicated to comics and loves to brag it up. Or the multitude of people hanging in the hot tub (end of day) swapping stories, sightings and experiences. But the high point for me was a guy named Joe (and his buddy, Hank). Joe, an older fellow, has been attending Comic Con for years but brings with him a schtick of sorts. You seen Joe likes to take pictures of anyone in cosplay. The standard greeting is something like, “Oh hey, great costume. Can I get a quick picture?” Sure! However, after the picture, Joe will ask them to strike a certain look or pose but will use a word that is moderately challenging (for some). Last year he asked people to look, “pensive.” Now and again he would receive a blank look in response then explain, “You know, like you’re deep in thought, scratching your chin.” Ahhhhh, the light bulb would come on. Well, at this year’s Comic Con Joe had a new emotion/word. After getting the standard photo, Joe would ask, “Okay, can I get another picture but his time look indignant…” Hah, just makes me laugh thinking about it. Great guy, wish I’d gotten his contact info.
Exit Stage Left…
For me it ended all too quickly. The chaos, the crowds, the events, the pace, and feel of Comic Con are unique and deeply satisfying. To once more quote Joss Whedon, “Ooooooh, I’ve found my tribe!” and that truly coins the feeling and vibe of Comic Con. I can say with all honesty, I will be attending Comic Con on many more occasions.