The San Diego Comic-Con Experience: Everyone Wants Connection (And Also Cash, Food, and Electricity)

Comic Con Logo Want to know what it’s like to go to San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC)?  I spent four days there plus preview night and I am here to tell you all about it.  Unfortunately, among other things, SDCC is is exhausting so I’m not sure I can do it justice.  But I’ll try.

The first thing you need to know about SDCC is that it’s crowded.  Picture Disneyland on an average day.  Google tells me that that’s roughly 40,000 people.  Multiply that number by at least three, because roughly 130,000 people buy badges for SDCC, and it’s also attended by children under twelve who aren’t counted and by people without badges who hang out right outside the Convention Center. 

Take all those people and pack them into or right in front of a building. 

Then have them all decide to ride Space Mountain at once.  That’s Comic-Con.

My original plan was to take some videos for you guys, but Comic-Con is so crowded that my videos of walking through the Exhibit Halls consisted entirely of people’s backs.  You need a taller reporter.  The crowds move in a current, like ocean currents, and if you want to cross or change direction you must not fight the current but rather move with it and angle very gradually towards the side so that you can make an escape (my husband tells me that’s also how to survive riptides, FYI). 

When you go outside, you have to wait in line to cross the street.  The hallways are fairly clear and it’s even possible in spots to sit down by an electrical outlet.  This is great, because recharging one’s electrical devices is a top SDCC activity.  I have two tips for SDCC attendees – wear comfy shoes, and bring a portable recharger.  Bring a lot of cash, too, and for the love of all that is holy don’t forget to bring a ton of snacks.  Keep the blood sugar stable and you’ll have a MUCH better experience.

I had days at SDCC where, like krill, I drifted the currents of the Exhibit Halls, collecting such tiny particles of plankton (or, in this case, free posters) that I brushed up against.  I met people in person who I had otherwise only known from Twitter – this was a highlight of SDCC for sure!  I attended a couple of smallish panels, a series of mid-sized panels, and I did the Hall H experience, which involves camping overnight you that later you can say that you were in the same room as Robert Downey Jr.

Here’s the deal with Hall H.  Hall H seats 6000 people and it’s where the heavy-hitters have their panels.  On the day I went to Hall H, I was able to see presentations from Warner Brothers, Legendary Pictures, Boxtrolls, Sin City 2, Women Who Kick Ass, and Marvel.  In order to do this, I got in line at 7PM the night before and slept on the ground in a sleeping bag.  It’s like a geek hazing ritual.  I feel I should get a tattoo or something. 

Thanks to the masterful social management of RedHeadedGirl, who spent SDCC manipulating our lives via Twitter from the comfort of her own home, I had a great group of camping buddies (some of which had been in line since 2:30 in the afternoon).  We ordered pizza, we talked books, and we even got some sleep.  If you actually get in, the staff people high-five you and say, “Welcome to Hall H!” and you feel like Queen of the Nerds.  

The rooms, including Hall H, don’t empty out between panels.  So if you want to go to a panel at the end of the day, your best bet is to try to get to the first panel of the day, whether you want to see it or not, and stay there until the panel you did want to see is over.  The best things I saw were things that I saw accidentally.  For instance, I have no interest in seeing Sin City 2:  A Dame to Kill For but watching Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller out geek each other was wildly entertaining.

The biggest difference between Hall H and panels elsewhere is that in Hall H, you are a passive consumer.  In the moment, I cheered and hollered just like everyone else but in retrospect it was a little creepy to be there.  Every time I checked my twitter feed it was full of horrible news about Gaza and Syria and there we are, losing our shit over five seconds of Batman footage, and it felt like I was a resident of The Capitol in The Hunger Games.  Some of the panels were very interesting and informative.  I enjoyed most of them enormously.  However, the fact remains that I could have stayed in bed and watched the whole thing on YouTube later.

In the mid-sized panels (in rooms that hold about 1000 people), there’s a more personal feel, although I might been biased because during the Orphan Black panel I was, excuse me while I freak out, IN THE SECOND ROW!  I also saw panels for Outlander, Bates Motel, and Vikings, in the same room so if you have a question regarding those panels let me know and I’ll try to address it in the comments. 

Audience members had a reasonably good chance of getting to ask a question and they were clearly there for the personal experience.  The crowd was small enough that everyone sort of hoped to have a moment with the celebrities, and large enough to make security very nervous.  This was especially true after the Orphan Black panel, when there was a three-way dynamic with the fans trying to hug the stars, the stars being sweet and gracious and trying to hug the fans without being squished to death, and security trying to keep everyone apart.  I found that to be interesting (I suspect there’s an essay in there somewhere) and uncomfortable.  The panel itself was very warm and emotional  – this was also true of the other panels in that room. 

The weird thing about SDCC is that it’s essentially multiple, completely different conventions all crammed together.  It started off as a comic book convention.  My husband, who grew up in San Diego, used to bike there and buy a cheap ticket and wander in.  Now it’s this vast entity which features some of the biggest names in Hollywood, but the small comics are still there (by their fingernails – but there).  So in the same convention you can meet Robert Downey, Jr. (or see him, at least) and Kaja Foglio (the co-creator of Girl Genius).  There are masses and masses of people and yet I managed to run into people that I knew totally by accident. 

The common thread I saw running through the event is that people crave connection – face to face, human connection – with fellow fans, with fellow creators, and with the people who make the things we love.  I was thrilled to meet friends from Twitter (and deeply flattered that they wanted to meet me).  I was thrilled to be in the same room as Robert Downey, Jr., although I don’t think I’ll do that again.  I was so excited to be in the same room as the cast of Orphan Black that I could have passed out, and I had to hand out all my tissues to people sitting by me because they were so excited that they cried. 

The best two panels I attended were Women Who Kick Ass and Superheroines:  Power, Responsibility, and Representation.  Those two panels were so inspiring and exciting that I’ll be writing a separate post about them. 

A few quick facts and highlights: 

  • Neither Joss Whedon nor Tom Hiddleston were in attendance.  Thus am I saved from horrible, horrible social embarrassment.  You would not believe how insane I would behave if in the room with either of those people.
     
  • I fangirled all over Marjorie Liu and Faith Erin Hicks.  Sarah Kuhn signed my copy of One Con Glory, which is one of the first books I reviewed for this site and thus is near and dear to my heart.
     
  • My daughter met the Mythbusters.  It’s hard to imagine how the rest of her life will measure up to that moment.
     
  • I was with two families and a total of three little girls and most of what they wanted to do was hang out at the Girl Genius Booth.  Kaja Foglio likes my Steampunk hat!  I have pics to prove it!
     
  • You can fit an entire person in the swag bags, but I still failed to bring Lee Pace home for RedheadedGirl.  Epic fail.
     
  • My husband spent two days in a Darth Vader costume to make our daughter happy (she was Princess Leia, and specifically she wanted to go as Vader’s Little Princess, from the adorable book of the same name by Jeff Brown).  At one point my husband took the helmet off and, still dressed as Darth Vader, gave me detailed directions to the Superheroines panel.  That is romance, people.
     
  • I covered the Orphan Black panel in more detail at Geek Girl in Love if you want to check it out.  That cast is the nicest group of people you’ll ever meet.
     
  • I’ll also be writing more about the panel When Myth and Magic Meet Main Street on Geek Girl in Love.  I personally felt quite smug when Richard Kadrey told an aspiring writer, “Write!  Carry a notebook!” and I wrote those words down in, wait for it…my notebook.  Booyah!

And now: PICTURES! (Only a few, don't worry.)

 

Here's the view coming down the escaltor.  Most panels and autograph signings are upstairs.  Hall H and the Exhibit Halls are downstairs.  
That dark mass of humanity on the left side is the crowd heading into the Exhibit Hall.

Guardians of the Galaxy Cosplay!  Group cosplays are awesome!

 

Oh no, Darth Maul is attacking Steampunk Jesus!  The religious protestors outside are right – this is a den of iniquity.

 

Victorian Riddler.  Love her.

 

 

Astrid and Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon - cosplay done perfect -  says Sarah

Hiccup and Astrid!  I took this photo just for Sarah.  Aren't they cute?

 

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  1. 1
    SB Sarah says:

    I have this feeling that Hiccup & Astrid’s cosplay started when someone said, “Dude, your hair is just like Hiccup’s.”

    And then, IT WAS ON.

  2. 2
    Angela James says:

    What a great write-up, thank you! And that Victorian Riddler costume is beautiful. I’ve never had a burning urge to go to SDCC, mostly because I hate crowds, and barely find Disney manageable sometimes, but the inner geek in me wants me to go, dress up and frolic through the halls. Yes, frolic.

  3. 3
    KarenF says:

    Much envy for you getting to see the Orphan Black panel.  I adore that show.  Last year I watched the taped panel on Youtube – I think it was smallish with just the creators, Tatiana Maslany, and a couple more of the actors.  And I thought to myself, “where are the rest of the women… oh…*facepalm* … she’s right there.”

  4. 4
    KarenF says:

    Hit post too soon…. and I see from your write up, you had the same thought.

  5. 5
    CarrieS says:

    @KarenF – oh good, it’s not just me!  One thing I forgot to note is that when TM’s mom watches the show, she says that Sarah looks most like TM and whenever Sarah leaves TM’s mom catches her self thinking, “When are the going to bring Tatiana back on?”

    I’ve also had a moment when I was followed on twitter by someone with a Cosima avatar, and for a second I thought, “OMG, Cosima is following me on Twitter” before I remembered that Cosima is FICTIONAL.  Maybe.

  6. 6
    Bea says:

    Awesome post Carrie! Thanks so much for sharing! SDCC is something I love to know about yet watch from afar.

  7. 7
    Redheadedgirl says:

    Thanks to the masterful social management of RedHeadedGirl, who spent SDCC manipulating our lives via Twitter from the comfort of her own home…

    this is how I’ve spent the past two SDCCs.  It’s a lot less expensive. :D

  8. 8
    Lucy says:

    Oh hey I was at the same “all day in 6a” Orphan Black panel! Congrats on getting in the second row. That panel is always a love fest (well, this year and last year anyway!) Wish I could have said hello!

    I love your description of the crowds- there is nothing else like it.

    Very cool you made it into Hall H! I avoided it this year and it seems like the wristband situation made it even harder to get in. I have camped out before but it used to be that if you were in line by 4 or 5am there would be no problems getting in.

    It is an exhausting experience, and I’m still recovering but have lots of happy memories. Thanks for sharing your experience and great photos!

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