I should have known San Diego Comic Con would be a bonkers thing to experience for the first time. A few months ago, my girlfriend and I had to wake up way too early on a Sunday to boot up several laptop screens at once, all of them hoping to enter the lobby for ticket handouts at this year’s Con. After nearly an hour and half of waiting came a quick-pulse panic as we got in and put in our registration and payment info as swiftly as possible, as if a bomb would go off if we didn’t. When the dust had finally settled, and it was confirmed that I would finally get to go on my geeky pilgrimage after years of waiting, I was both overjoyed and exhausted. I told my girlfriend this, commenting on how amazing it was, yet wondering why it had to be so chaotic.
She just laughed. “Welcome to Comic Con,” she said.
Flash forward a few months, and we finally arrive in sunny San Diego. And let me stress the word sunny. As in hot as High-Sparrow-roasting Wildfire. Yes, as if to plague everyone that dared dress up in an elaborate costume, the humidity in San Diego that particular weekend was an equatorial level of insufferable. Walking with bags of nerdy loot, in hordes of people at a crawling pace was made all the more worse with the inevitable curse of profuse perspiration. Trying to get into the convention center, or trying to seek food and refuge in the nearby Gaslamp Quarter was always an ordeal unto itself.
But you know what? I hardly cared, given that the entire region was made into an entertainment Mecca. Before I even got into the con, I was amazed at the amount of surrounding attractions. Entire buildings were plastered with eye-catching posters for new shows or new seasons like “Son of Zorn” and “The Strain.” Little carnivals were set up for the likes of the zany Adult Swim or the Conan show– Comedy Central even went to construct a huge replica of South Park for passer-bys to explore! I always knew that Comic Con was a big deal, something that everyone came out for. But it’s one thing to know that, and it’s another thing to actually be there, in the midst of an entire city taking a week to say, “Hey, we know you’re a nerd and like nerdy things, but we’re here to say nerdy things are the absolute best, so here’s literally all of them you ever loved.” It felt like home.
And yet, still all of that paled in comparison to the feeling of walking into the exhibit hall for the first time. Row upon row upon row of vendors selling comics and plush and collectibles and clothes and everything you can imagine. Before, I’d wondered how my girlfriend could blow through a wallet picking a bunch of stuff up, but it didn’t take long for me to go on a bankrupting binge. I began hunting for exclusives– nay– I became addicted to them! The Stan Lee Funko Pop, the hardcover volume of “Monstress,” and the Dark Horse silver Night King bust and golden “Halo” banshee aren’t just decorations, they’re declarations of my devotion to my favorite fandoms. They say I was there to revel in their glory in a way that only a select amount of people could.
However, there’s a reason it’s called “Exhibit Hall,” and not “Buy Everything Hall.” The actual exhibits on display are some of the most eye-catching things at the entire affair, the great shows of production value and hype that make SDCC king of the cons. Nickelodeon was hard to miss, with giant orange lettering, a line to pose with pictures with the Rugrats, and a stone face for “Legends of the Hidden Temple.” Well established shows, and shows yet to come both stepped up their game, with AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and Starz’s “American Gods” being the standouts in my mind. The former had a stunning wax recreation of the Season 6 Negan lineup, and the latter gave away some sweet tote bag swag and let you pose with a white buffalo atop a pile of bones (which excited me as an avid fan of the Neil Gaiman novel the show hails from). Finally, video games had almost an entire section of the hall devoted to them, with The Behemoth offering up a look at the new game “Pit People,” Nintendo having rows of TVs set up for some “Splatoon” play, and Microsoft allowing people to play demos of the new “Gears of War 4.”
Cosplaying is an integral part of the comic con experience as well, and it was hard to miss a lot of the outfits at SDCC 2016. I saw a full-bodied sculpted suit of Durotan from “Warcraft” lumbering around, and several team collaborations for “Overwatch” and “Suicide Squad.” Speaking of “Suicide Squad,” booty shorts and baseball bats were around every corner at the convention, as Harley Quinn was by far one of the most popular outfits of the year. There were loads of Deadpools running around too, naturally, as well as a lot of wastelanders sporting their “Fallout 4” pip boys. “Pokemon Go” proved itself to be still the biggest current phenomenon as you could hardly walk ten feet without seeing someone dressed as Pokemon, trainers, pokestops, or even cell-phones displaying the app. Finally, it warmed my heart to see that “Star Wars” was arguably the most popular thing among the kids in attendance. To anyone who complained about agendas corrupting “The Force Awakens,” I would like to point you to all the little girls absolutely ecstatic to run around with tri-bun hairdos and staffs as Rey.
But let’s be real, the panels have become the biggest attraction at the event, and for good reason: all of the coolest behind the scenes and first looks at some of the best shows, movies, and comics occur there. Some of them were even worth the camping out and forgoing of meals! “The Walking Dead” featured Jefferey Dean Morgan taunting the cast with a baseball bat, Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus fighting with glitter on stage, and the season 7 trailer showing a glorious King Ezekiel. The “Luke Cage” panel was probably my personal favorite, as we got to see exclusive clips and trailers from not only this show, but a slew of other upcoming Marvel Netflix titles, as well as insight into the creative processes approaching them (like every episode title in “Luke Cage” being a song title, signifying that Netflix binge-watching has taken the place of the experience of sitting down and listening to an album in a single sitting).
Some were a tad disappointing however, given a lot of the effort involved in seeing them. As much as I loved seeing some of the “Game of Thrones” cast sitting only a hundred feet away from me, there weren’t a whole lot of the A-listers on the show in attendance, nor did they have much to say about season 7 or interesting tidbits involved with season 6. “South Park” felt the same way, with Matt and Trey being hysterical and revealing in their conversations with Chris Hardwick (Apparently Trey Parker plays Dungeons and Dragons with Elon Musk, who prefers Human Paladins), but offering little in details about the upcoming season 20 or the “South Park: Fractured But Whole” video game. And as much as I love Joss Whedon, I’m sorry, but I didn’t wake up at 4 in the morning to wait under a tent for five hours so I could hear him just blather on like a post-finals English class lecture.
Finally, I want to recognize some of the actual comic book panels at the Comic Con. It’s a bit sad how comics feel pushed to the fringes of the party that they started, but stuff involving comic books still hold the charm and ingenuity that made this convention so energetic to begin with. The crowds at the Spotlight on Kieron Gillen panel, or the Image Comics discussion were more lax, allowing the artists to let loose and be more personal, offering up insight into the difficulties and fun of working in the medium. The big movies are what everyone thinks SDCC is now, and it’s a shame that these smaller, more refreshing events often go unnoticed.
Okay, but remember how I just said I had to get up at 4 in the morning at one point? Yeah, that’s because the lines to do literally anything popular at Comic Con were absolutely insane. So much so, that we had to arrange with an online group of people to take shifts camping out in the sun and then again in the early morning in order to get spots in the coveted Hall H. Timeslot wristbands, sunburns, and dehydration all seemed to just be a part of the norm.
It isn’t just for the panels, either. Most of the exhibit hall requires patience, with plenty of hoops in the way of scoring some of the coolest collectibles. Funko Pops, Hasbro, Mattel, and Blizzard Entertainment had lines longer than some panels, often going along entire walls and then being broken up again by workers with signs to continue along other entire walls. I knew stuff sells out at Comic Con, but it’s nuts that limited edition items require you to forgo waiting to see panels and skipping meals in order to grab a ticket that will let you actually buy the thing. I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to pick up an exclusive Jyn Erso figure from the upcoming “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” but alas, I walked to the Hasbro booth every day, and every day I saw the two of the worst words to read at the con: Sold out.
I learned the hard way that sacrifices have to be made, because you sure as hell can’t do everything there is to do. On Friday, I tried having a whole block of back-to-back panels, but I was just too exhausted to do any of the stuff I had planned after 6 p.m. On Saturday, I wanted to get exclusive “Dark Souls” comics, grab my “Game of Thrones” swag, and then come just in time to catch the Q&A for Geek & Sundry’s “Critical Role,” but alas, navigating through all the crowds proved too time consuming, and arriving 15 minutes before the panel proved too late. The room had filled up before they could get even fifty of the people ahead of me.
It’s a bit of a Catch-22, really. The best part of Comic Con is that it’s the one place all of your favorite nerdy things are cranked up to 11 and happening at the same time, all for your indulgence. The worst part of Comic Con is that you have to choose what you love more, and devote your entire time to only those select few things.
But despite all that, I had an absolute blast at SDCC2016. Once I learned how to navigate the crowds and prioritize what I wanted to do, Comic Con offered a variety of experiences and goodies I couldn’t get anywhere else. I got to meet and see more interesting people in a few days than I have in a few years. I got to be in the same room as some of stars of my favorite movies and shows, learning about what’s in store for the next year of entertainment. And I got to roam one of the largest collections of geeky paraphernalia in the whole world, giddily gathering goodies like a kid at Christmas. I felt impressed at times, and disappointed at others. I felt excited every time a new day started, and I felt destroyed and bankrupt every time the day ended. But most of all, I felt excited to do it all again next year.