San Diego Comic-Con is Bigger On the Inside

San Diego Comic-Con is the parable of the blind men and the elephant. It’s the Mirror of Erised. It’s the cave on Dagobah—what is in there is what you take with you. It is huge, it is sprawling, it contains multitudes, its name is Legion.

It’s been a few days and I’ve put a few more nights of actual sleep between me and the convention. I still have one more thing I want to write up—the best panel that I went to there, and why you should be reading Saga if you aren’t already—but I wanted to go ahead and get some thoughts on the whole business out there before the con hangover completely fades away and while the memories are still reasonably fresh.

This year, I picked and chose across a wide variety of things with a particular focus on panels that seemed likely to generate interesting conversations, as you’ve probably gathered from my previous posts. Unlike years past, I never did make it into Hall H, not even for a bit; nor did I go to any of the big TV panels. Hall H has become its own adventure in which getting in line at 10 pm the night before is the new normal. At my age, I want neither to stand in line for 12 hours, nor to be in a room all day with a crowd that has been standing, sitting, and sleeping on the sidewalk for 12 hours. Sometimes I like to tell SDCC newcomers about how in 2005, I walked into the hall to see the V For Vendetta panel about twenty minutes before it began. It seems like a distant legend.

In general, the strategy of negotiating any SDCC line, even for the smaller events, seems to have become more baroque than it used to be. If you want to see the spotlight on Brian K. Vaughan, do you stake out your place in the room one panel in advance? Two? How many people are in 25ABC for Gargoyles and how many have been there for an hour already waiting for Fight Club, which doesn’t start for another hour and a half? Is the line out to the patio for 6A composed of people who want to see George R. R. Martin and a number of other fantasy writers of note, or is it fans of Norman Reedus? (It turned out to be the latter, for what it’s worth.) Unless your interests are fairly esoteric, you can’t be all that confident that you can simply sail into a room five minutes before the hour.

For some years now, events have spilled out into the parking lots, galleries, and empty spaces around the convention center, and though the Peak Scott Pilgrim days are no more, there’s still a fair bit of extravagance about—the Assassin’s Creed: Unity obstacle course; the Vikings village; the “interactive zone” at Petco Park where Reedus, Martin, and VFX designer Greg Nicotero presided over a cosplay contest sponsored by Courtyard by Marriott. And there was also the one of the two ridiculously long lines of the weekend to which I did subject myself: the Game of Thrones “Survive the Realm” exhibit, the one where, if you were one of the first dozen or so people in line, you could get a free permanent tattoo. I was not in that group, though I did speak to a few of them; one couple there Sunday morning was actually back for a second time—having gotten Stark direwolves before, they were considering Targaryen dragons next (which seemed to be the two most popular choices all around). Tattoos aside, the whole business is no more or less absurd than any other happening in or around the convention center: five hours in a line for a walk through an exhibit of costumes and special effects, an Oculus Rift VR tour of the Wall, and a chance to get your photograph taken on the Iron Throne. Also a t-shirt; always the free t-shirt. Did I pass up the photo-op and the shirt? Did I hell.

Just hanging out on the Iron Throne with my iPad. As you do.

Just hanging out on the Iron Throne with my iPad. As you do.

Anyway, this is really just a bug’s-eye view of the whole thing from the perspective of a bug with a particular set of interests and who isn’t there in a professional capacity (save as press). Because SDCC has reached a scale where the convention can be entirely what you choose make of it. There is really no single experience of SDCC. It’s not simply that what is overwhelming to one person is pure paradise to another; it’s that the convention offers so much that even two people whose schedules are largely similar will still have a completely different perspective to one another.

One of the friends I went with spent most of her time attending panels about novels, YA fiction, and publishing, because she’s a YA novelist. Her con experience overlapped with mine, to be sure, but I guarantee you it wasn’t the same. My husband went mostly to comics panels and panels about movie FX and production design, including a presentation by VFX master Phil Tippett. Other people seem content to spend their entire weekend chasing exclusive toy and collectible sales across the convention floor. There are the aforementioned Hall H diehards. And notwithstanding the media coverage of the celebrities, the cosplay, and the splashy TV and film panels, you can still productively spend the entire weekend having yourself an actual comics convention, and never see a TV star even once.

But this is basically logistics that I’m talking here. Why do it at all?

Well, on Thursday afternoon, while I was sitting in yet another line, I became aware of a man nearby waxing enthusiastically about how he’d just come from a panel where he’d gotten to see his all-time favorite WWE wrestler. It made him feel just like a kid again, he said, and he was practically incandescent with happiness. I don’t know anything about pro wrestling—but I was genuinely happy for the guy.

That’s the thing about all conventions, really, whether it’s Gallifrey One or Moogfest or SDCC, or even the pocket-sized Austin Comic Con that we have here in the fall. It’s a bit of time you get to spend insulated from the world by the sheer force of your own enthusiasms and those of the people around you, whatever those specific enthusiasms may be. It’s the kind of escapism you get out of your favorite book or TV show, but it’s all around you, as are people who are similarly transported. It can get weird, exhausting, and frustrating. But it can also be really, really fun. And that’s the rush that keeps people coming back.

Oh, the other long line I waited in? It was to get Guillermo del Toro’s autograph:

Guillermo del Toro SDCC

And that’s the other thing about conventions: they can give you that chance to tell a creator in person just how much their work meant to you, and to thank them for it. And that’s pretty cool too.

Karin Kross is back from her sixth San Diego Comic-Con. She can be found elsewhere on Tumblr and Twitter, and she, her husband Bruce, and her friends Shellie and John posted about SDCC at nerdpromnomnom.


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