For an event that has over 100,000 attendees, Comic-Con is largely an individual experience. To some, it is a cosplay mecca, where they can find appreciation whether they dress up as a mainstream superhero or the most obscure anime character. My husband enjoys getting a first look at TV pilots and sneak previews of upcoming seasons. My artist friend Michael spends the majority of his time on the convention floor, intent on covering every square inch of it and discovering new artists along the way. Last year, I discovered a whole new Comic-Con world: Magic the Gathering. There are tournaments and panels and basically people playing all Con-long. For many of my friends, it’s an opportunity to market whatever project they’re working on and network with people they think can help their careers. For others, it’s just a gigantic Tweet-up where they can meet and greet their virtual friends IRL. Some even go down to San Diego for the four days but skip the Con entirely. With an event this large, it’s just impossible to experience all that there is to offer, so everyone goes with their own unique idea of what it will be for them.
What Comic-Con means to me can be summed up in two words: Joss Whedon.
Every year I attend with the singular goal of getting the most out of my Whedon time as possible. Even though his panels are usually in the afternoon, I don’t want to risk getting a crappy seat (or worse, not getting in at all) so I spend the entire day in Ballroom 20 awaiting his presence, slowly edging my way up towards the front section. Trust me, it’s better to get there early in the morning and sit through three panels of Stargate (yes, you read that right—three) than to sit out in the sun for hours waiting to get in.
I’m usually exposed to something I didn’t really know about. For the triple Stargate year, I was able to overcome my bias against the franchise and discovered Stargate: Universe, which is actually quite good for those of you who haven’t checked it out. Another year, I discovered Big Bang Theory, and now I wonder what my life would be like without Sheldon’s company.
Throughout the day I am joined and abandoned by friends, and I make new ones that aid me in my seat quest. In the end, all the sitting and seat-hopping and bad-panel-watching is worth it when Joss strides out onto the stage. At the risk of sounding like a total moron, I have to admit I get goosebumps when he first appears. Well, usually I do. This year, for some reason, was different.
I went to Comic-Con with that same, singular (some might say pathetic) goal in mind. I was thrilled to discover that there was not just one Whedon panel—but two! Sure, one of them was shared with some J.J. guy (apparently he’s done a few TV shows and some little movie called Star Trek, so maybe one or two people have heard of him,) but basically I was going to get double the Whedon time.
Everything went as planned. I sat through some panels that I didn’t care about and some panels I enjoyed. (This year, I hilariously missed the Stargate: Universe panel even though I really did want to see it.) I chatted with my fellow Con-goers about various nerderies. I helped friends get better seats. The usual Con experience for me.
But when Joss came on stage, there were no goosebumps. I don’t know who was off their game, him or me, (my money’s on me) but this year I sat through both of the panels without getting the giddy rush I imagine teenagers feel when they see their favorite band on tour. You know, the one that causes them to shriek at the tops of their lungs for no apparent reason.
(For the record, I have never shrieked at a Joss Whedon concert, er, panel.)
I listened with interest, but there was no revelatory moment that made the whole Con worthwhile. Perhaps it’s because, though I’m excited he’s directing Avengers, I’m not really a film person. I prefer the long-form storytelling that television provides. Or maybe it’s because he had no real new announcements to make. Yes, I know, he confirmed that he was directing Avengers, but we all kind of knew that. And Cabin in the Woods is still eternally on hold. The only new snippet was Wastelanders, a web series he will direct with Warren Ellis as the writer. Unfortunately, what I love most about Joss is his writing, and I’m not sure how I feel about Warren. Perhaps I just haven’t been exposed to enough of his work. Plus, that’s on hold until this whole Avengers thing passes.
Besides that, the panel was mostly questions that I’d heard answered other years that I’d attended about how Whedon felt about some character or another’s motivation. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself and learn some new things about the man. Who knew his comic love came from the time his father brought home a bunch of Spider-Man comics as research for stories for The Electric Company? There was still Whedon’s self-deprecating wit to enjoy, (“I do have an Alien egg. But I had to bury the franchise in order to get it”) and even a surprise guest: Nathan Fillion showed up at the Whedon panel in disguise—mustache, long brown coat, and all. Still, overall I was just…underwhelmed.
By the time it was all over, I didn’t have the inspiration, drive, or determination that I usually do after leaving his panels. And for a moment, I thought…uh, why did I come here?
But the moment was fleeting. In seconds, I realized all the things I still had to do at the Con. I had barely spent any time on the floor. I had yet to meet some of my Twitter friends. I was dying to see the pilot of No Ordinary Family and curious about what a Magic the Gathering panel would be like. And I really, really wanted to see Jensen Ackles during the Supernatural panel for reasons that had nothing to do with how attractive he is. At all. Really. Not even a little bit.
But perhaps what I was looking forward to most were the tiny moments of connection ahead of me. Like riding in a hotel elevator plastered in a life-size advertisement for True Blood that allowed me to admire Eric Northman’s very attractive and looming presence with a random stranger, only to embark on a discussion of the merits of the show. Or the way I would be able to skip ahead in lines because I have friends—new and old—seemingly everywhere. Or even the unexpected marriage proposal during the Kevin Smith panel between two geeks who had met at the Con the previous year. I come to bask in the omnipresent geekery.
Perhaps a man named Joss Whedon put it best, but the reason I enjoy Comic-Con so much is because, year after year, “it’s like just returning…to home base.”
Juliana Weiss-Roessler is not a vampire… yet. She has been writing professionally for 10 years. Currently, she’s an editor for PinkRaygun, a geek girl e-zine, and a food and organic living contributor to Savings.com. She has ghostwritten one sci-fi novel and is now ghostwriting a second one. You can learn more about her writing at WeissRoessler.com or follow her geekery and adventures onTwitter@julweiss.