San Diego Comic-Con–Still the greatest show on Earth

SDCC 2012 Overnight crowdSan Diego Comic-Con 2015 begins tonight at the San Diego Convention Center, officially remaining the home of the greatest convention in the world for the next few years now that the city has signed new agreements with Comic-Con International.  This past week you may have seen the annual feeding frenzy of naysayers, grumps, and fogeys, many from the mainstream press, who come out of the woodwork each year to talk about “the good old days,” why they aren’t coming back to Comic-Con this year, why they won’t come back again, how “crazy” Comic-Con visitors are, and posting their annual lists of all the reasons Comic-Con is somehow a bad or odd thing.

Don’t believe any of it for a second.

Maybe these folks didn’t score tickets, maybe they truly think a quaint small-town Con with merely a handful of guests and attendees is the best thing since sliced bread, maybe they forget that the good ol’ days weren’t all that good, or maybe they just don’t understand how pervasive pop culture is in the 21st century.

I’ve been to some great San Diego Comic-Con weekends over the years and wouldn’t swap them for anything.  And don’t get me wrong, local and regional Cons are great, but make no mistake, nothing compares to the excitement, energy and all-out fun you can only have in a venue full of 130,000 like-minded people.  You can’t get that anywhere else.

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Let’s dispel some Comic-Con myths:

Comic-Con Badges are Too Difficult to Obtain.  The badges required to attend Comic-Con are no harder to get than tickets to anything the excited masses want to attend.  They are no more difficult to obtain than tickets to the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Olympics, the World Cup, the All-Star game, tickets for [insert the name of the current greatest pop or rock band here]… you get the point.  Should attending the big annual nerd and geekfest of the year require any less effort than the biggest sporting event or best music show?  If can follow basic instructions, the SDCC process for purchasing tickets is straightforward.  And you don’t need to attend last year’s show to be able to get into this year’s show–a myth still perpetuated on the interwebs by those not-in-the-know.

Accommodations are Impossible.  In truth, we spirited types, the folks that wouldn’t think twice about going on a week-long hiking trip in the mountains, those spontaneous people always ready to try something new, or those more eccentric people who would spend four days trying to win a car by standing with their hands on it, and those with lesser ambitions, maybe those who simply look forward to hanging out overnight outside in the most beautiful city in the U.S., can simply hang out in lines overnight for Hall H and skip the hotel as I did back in 2012.  Sure, I even had a hotel but spent the night in the lines anyway.  Just bring your backpack.  Con-goers are the best people around.  They will hold the line for you so you can take bathroom breaks.  Despite the ongoing allegations that people at Cons smell bad, I’ve never encountered it.  And if you’re not up to “roughing it,” San Diego and the surrounding areas have great hotels, at rates comparable to any major metropolitan area.  You don’t need a car, just bus in or take a cab.  If you do drive, it’s not that hard to find a place to park relatively close.  Our own writer Jason McClain drives down each year from Los Angeles and always finds a place nearby.  Easy peasy.

SDCC 2012 The line behind us

The Lines are Horrible.  Some of the most fun I have had at Comic-Con is standing in line talking to strangers turned friends.  I met my friends Cody and Sam waiting in line back in 2012.  Sure, back before my first Con I heard all the horror stories about the lines.  But once you get there the lines are part of the fun.  Folks who come in groups bring games.  Others swap notes on any and every subject with people around them.  At night the lines spread out as more and more people interact with each other.  Someone loaned me a pillow although I slept none.  The overnight lines are the best all-night party you’ve ever been to.  If you go to the Con for a few days, you can well afford to build in time to see the artists and writers you want to see, a few of the celebrities you want autographs from or want to see at panels, and still have plenty of time to explore the vendor floor, the Gaslight District for food, and the outdoor exhibits surrounding the Convention Center.  I have always found it possible to dip into a panel or two at days’ end and after a day of walking around you’ll probably want to sit for a while and catch your breath.  The better you plan, the more you can see, and the more fun you can have.  If you go with an attitude to have fun–which is the mindset everyone else around you will have–then you will have a stress-free weekend.

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It’s Too Expensive.  There’s a misnomer that everything at Comic-Con is expensive.  In truth, there is something for all price ranges, from a $25,000 original artwork from Michael Turner or Alex Ross, to fifty-cent comic book long-boxes to sift through if that’s your jam.  And you’ll find plenty of free swag, too–everything from posters for movies being released next year to cool giveaways of vendor exclusives.

Freddie Williams II sketching at Comic-Con

Hollywood has taken over Comic-Con.  Hollywood has an awesome presence at Comic-Con.  You can’t miss the great booths from the likes of Warner Bros. and Disney.  WETA always has one of the best showings at SDCC.  Celebrities will be ushered in and out and you will have ample opportunity to actually talk with some of your favorite TV and movie stars.  Don’t believe people who tell you that there are too many people to be able to rub elbows with celebrities–it’s because there are so many things to do that what *you* want to do is not necessarily what everyone else wants to do.  I’ve seen members of the casts of Star Wars (including Mark Hamill and Peter Mayhew) and Star Trek (including Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, and Avery Brooks) at stints with nobody at their booths–easy enough to walk right up and ask questions and get autographs.  By the way, celebrities are just fine with you coming up to talk–you’ll find pretty much none of them require you buy anything, although you’ll find most Con goers are in line for an autograph or photo.  Just ask or look at the celebrity posted rules before snapping photos.  But just as Hollywood has an awesome presence at Comic-Con, so do the comic book creators. “Oh, but C.J., you don’t understand, Comic-Con used to be about the comic book creators.”  It still is!  Just as you can walk up to TV and movie celebrities, you can walk right up to hundreds of comic book writers and artists in Artists Alley, with many artists available to sell artwork or craft a sketch for you.  The same thing that goes for the Hollywood types goes for the comic book icons–there is so much for everyone at SDCC that you will have plenty of opportunities to talk with whomever you want.  I have spent more time–and had greater opportunities–to talk to iconic comic book creators, and even commission artwork at the show from them–at SDCC in the past few years than at local conventions.  Those who think SDCC of 20 years ago was somehow better than today have obviously not actually attended the show in the past 20 years.  Or they have a fear of crowds.  Comic-Con crowds are simply a blast.

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Cosplayers have taken over.  So what?  As cosplay has become more and more popular each year, you might find it fun to simply sit on the benches or the hall floors and just watch people.  You’ll find the best costumes of every franchise, superhero, pop culture icon and mash-ups of the new and the old at SDCC.  Some things you’ll recognize, like dozens of Slave Leias, and some you won’t (who is that anime guy?).  If no one around you is talking to each other, be the one to start the conversation.  The next thing you know everyone will be chatting away.  Talking in lines at SDCC is infectious.  And hey–why not wear a costume from your favorite book or show?  At the very least find a shirt with your favorite superhero or favorite classic TV show.  You may feel more a part of the group.  But beware: once you start wearing costumes to events you won’t stop.  The more involved you get, the more fun you’ll have.

The bottom line?  There is something for everyone at Comic-Con.

So if you are attending this year’s show, have the time of your life.  If you aren’t, add San Diego Comic-Con to your bucket list or future vacation planning.  You will not regret it.  And ignore the haters and whiners.  We’re all glad they are staying at home.

C.J. Bunce

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