Comic Con International: San Diego starts on July 9th this year. For fans of mass media geekery, the span of this convention has become The Twelve Days of Christmas in July, when every day brings new announcements, speculations, and things to spend your hard earned cash on. Comic Con: San Diego had pretty ordinary beginnings — back in the 1970s and 80s, it was a nerd fan convention like any other. But the combination of location, timing, and luck have blown an event that once hosted 100 people into one that now threatens to break the convention center in which it is held. Maybe you’re you’re among the 130,000 people who’ll attend the convention over the coming days. If so, lucky you. Maybe you’re like me, a person who has to save her vacation days for family weddings. Or maybe you’re the sort of nerd who’s chronically unable to be in a room with more than 10 people, thus opting you out of both Comic Con and family weddings. Again, lucky you. Either way, we can’t all be in San Diego this week. For us, and for our wish fulfillment, I bring you some facts on the convention that rules them all.
Comic Con takes up all of the San Diego Convention Center, one of the largest in the country. It boasts more than 2 MILLLION square feet of interior space. The convention fills it to legal capacity. The con opens for Preview time on Wednesday, peaking with big announcements and panels on Saturday. In the past, Sunday was “Kids Day”, where long-time attendees would pass their badges off to local kids so they could attend. There were few big-name stars on panels on Sunday and it was a good day to come down off the hangover before boarding a plane back home. But now, Sunday is as busy as any other day. In fact, the organizers are pushing more programming out to Thursday and Sunday in an attempt to relieve the crowding in the convention center.
This is THE room where the largest panels are held, drawing up to 6,500 people. The image above is of the LINE TO GET IN to the hall. This is the hall outside of which people will camp all day to get a wristband that allows them to stand in line the next day to attend one panel. That sounds crazy to those of us without tickets, but the Friday panel line up is something like this:
The Walking Dead panel, featuring much of the cast, the special effects supervisor, and the executive producers talking about last season and handing out sneak peeks on the next season. (That sound you hear is half the Black Nerd Problems squad trying to find a plane ticket to get to San Diego to see these folks.)
The Game of Thrones panel, featuring a similar number of cast and crew with their own batch of peeks and information. (And that sound is the other half of the Black Nerd Problems squad stabbing the first half and stealing their plane tickets.)
The Lucasfilm panel is cagey. The official guide lists only “special guests and a special look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” (That sound is all of us together saying “fuck it” and jacking a plane. No tickets required.)
That’s the casts and crews of three of the biggest industry properties in a back-to-back chat fest. Any one of these groups could draw 10,000 people to a convention. The lines alone could fill the nearest football stadium. Now I may want to sound all casual about it, but honestly, I’d consider going homeless-style in the line to get to see scenes from The Force Awakens before the rest of y’all. I’m just sayin.
The Exhibit Hall
One of the bigger deals about the convention is how many creators do one-off, con-only goodies. This can be anything from artists in the Artist’s Alley doing commissions on up to Hasbro coming out with special action figures. You can check out the con’s website for a full list of all the companies/groups/artists who are offering exclusive items. These range from variant covers to comic books (I’m aiming for an A-Force cover myself) to full lines of Funko Pop figurines. These add a scavenger hunt vibe to the Exhibit Hall, where everyone on is the look out for their favorite rare or collectible item.
Scattered among all of the shopping is of course the cosplay. Some are traditional faithful representations. Some are odd mashups of ideas.
Yes, that’s Sub Zero and Scorpion as mariachi. Why? WHY NOT!
Last year, Adam Savage of Mythbusters used his Twitter account to give hints to his costume of choice. He then showed up in this:
Yes, that’s Admiral Ackbar dressed as a Victorian-era British Admiral. Again, WHY NOT!?!
With so much to see, there’s little wonder that just crossing the Exhibit Hall can take you all day.
Nerd HQ is a convention along side a convention. Presented by Zachary Levi and The Nerd Machine, this is a chance to buy tickets to individual panels held near the convention. You can get closer to your favorite stars and do Q&A sessions with an intimate group of 200 to 300 people. That may not sound very intimate to you, but compared to the 1,000 people audiences the main convention draws, this is like a date on a deserted island. Folks like Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion regularly are on the panels or act as moderators for the sessions. Every year these guys raffle off their own personal memorabilia with the proceeds going to charity. You want to buy that Browncoat t-shirt right off Captain Mal’s back? Well, here’s your chance. Too bad the tickets sold out within minutes.
Recent years have brought more events outside of the main convention. I mean, you’ve got 150,000 fans wandering around San Diego, you gotta entertain them. So what’s there to do if you done with the mob scene in the Exhibit Hall? You can go to The Walking Dead Escape at PETCO Park, where you can pay to be chased around the stadium by zombies. Or you can pay to be dressed up like a zombie and chase some other sucker around. You can hit the Assassin’s Creed Obstacle Course, where last year’s goal time was set by an American Ninja winner. You can try to catch one of the guerrilla movie screenings that go on all over the city. Or *gasp* you could leave the con and see all the other tourist attractions for which San Diego is famous. (Legoland anyone?)
The Best Part
In all of this, the fans are the thing that keep people coming back. We can each find an echo chamber for our own brand of fandom anywhere on the Internet, but a convention is one of the few places where you can be in a physical space surrounded by people who love what you love as much as you do — and no where is that more true than at Comic Con. The shared passion, and the knowledge that the camaraderie is fleeting, make this an amazing time for attendees. Everyone goes home with great memories and a little melancholia until the next year. You can find yourself in a two-hour conversation with a stranger on the best Doctor from Doctor Who. You can be in a photo-shoot with 10 other people all dressed like Naruto. You can just be around other nerds who get it and want to share it. With that, the throbbing sea of humanity becomes something amazing and memorable and worth every bit of effort.
For the rest of us, we get to just hang out in our echo chambers and think about it…or start saving up now. Sign-ups for next year start right away and hotels book up fast, but if you save your pennies, and get that family wedding postponed, you too could be one of the masses at Comic Con next year. I’ll see you there.