What’s San Diego Comic Con Really Like?

Hey DisinfoNauts: I just got back from San Diego Comic Con, and I thought you might enjoy my observations as well as some raw video I shot from the exhibit hall.

So you want to go to San Diego Comic Con, huh? Maybe want to catch a few exclusive screenings, rub shoulders with celebrities and browse the endless aisles of fan-friendly merchandise? Sounds awesome. But it doesn’t sound like the Comic Con I just got back from, or the one that you’re likely to experience. Let me enlighten you.

I’ve attended San Diego Comic Con every year since 2010, and I love it, but part of learning to love SDCC has been letting go of the con that was always in my head to make room for the actual experience.

If you’re going, then the first thing that you should probably accept is that you’re not going to see any of the big panel events without some major sacrifices on your part. All of the big movie and TV panels take place in “Hall H”, which might as well be another country for most attendees. See, the thing is that while you might only want to see a panel at four PM, you’ll never get to be there unless you go ahead and line up in the Hall H line hours in advance. How many hours? Oh, try somewhere between 18 and 24 hours, and we’re talking about standing (or sitting, or sleeping if you have people to watch your stuff) outside in the elements. The people willing to do this may or may not get a seat in Hall H, and if they do, they won’t be leaving until the hall closes. Event security doesn’t clear the crowd out between panels, so once it fills up, you have no chance of getting in. The same goes for the bigger panels outside of Hall H. Just give it up unless you have a couple of hours to burn waiting in line and you’re really, really lucky.

Some people consider the Hall H rush to be part of the fun of SDCC. They like waiting in lines and talking about what they’re there to see. Then again, some people love going to the shopping malls on Black Friday. I’m not either of these kinds of people, but I guess I can see where they’re coming from. It’s the experience, I guess. The people who camped out for two days to see a Twilight panel seemed to be having fun when I interviewed them a couple of years ago. It’s just not my scene. Twilight or long lines.

At my age, I am very particular about where and how I invest my time, and sitting for nine hours in order to see a celebrity on a huge screen talk about a trailer that’s going to be on YouTube within two hours anyway isn’t a wise investment for me. Your mileage may vary. Your best bet is to check out the smaller, less-hyped panels. You can usually walk right in, and you get to see some cool stuff that the big media groups will miss. I caught some never before seen footage from The Empire Strikes Back by attending a panel on Star Wars novels. Cool, huh?

Speaking of mileage, you should be aware that the exhibit hall is enormous, but that it will be packed with people. Imagine the largest crowd you could, and then put yourself in the middle of it. Pull your arms in tight and give yourself a hug. That’s how you’ll feel on the convention floor for almost the entire time you’re there, and while you’ll be walking a good bit, it will all be done at a snail’s pace. It’s worth it, though. The exhibit hall has tons of awesome stuff to see and buy, including memorabilia, clothing, books, DVDs, plus your favorite artists and writers signing their work and sometimes even giving it away. With a little patience and good timing, you’ll find yourself stumbling into people you like who are just hanging out at their booths. I met Hellboy artist Mike Mignola that way, as well as Ancient Aliens’ Giorgio Tsoukalos, fantasy author Peter Beagle and about a dozen more nice folks.

Just be aware that people will step on your toes, bump into you with their backpack and do other things, normally by accident. You just try to keep cool, smile and say “excuse me” when it happens. Some things will not happen by accident, though. Some people lose their patience. If you’re a man then they may attempt to put their hands on your arm or shoulder and bully their way around you. I’ve had that happen once. If you’re a woman, they may say something lewd, or grope you. I know people who have had that happen to them. However, these are by far rare occurrences. Most people are well-behaved, nice people just trying to see the show like you are. Further, the majority of them are happy to shoot a photo for you, tell you the time, give you directions or just about anything else. The real creeps are very few and far between.

Sadly, even nice, well-behaved people carry germs and smell when they get sweaty under their full-body Chewbacca costumes, and a tiny proportion of these nice people may already have hygiene issues prior to hitting the con floor. Altogether, stress, germs, funk and grime in a closed-in environment can become the perfect Petri dish for creating the disease known as “Con Crud.” The Con Crud, as you have probably guessed, is a generic name for any number of flu-like illnesses that can spread like wildfire in an environment like SDCC. I’ve had it twice. Both times I spiked 102 F fever, and basically felt like garbage for a week and a half. It’s not nice. With all of that in mind, you’ll want to bring plenty of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, water and probably a Vitamin C supplement to take the entire time you’re there. I always do, and it’s probably a good idea to do this at any crowded public event.

I mentioned seeing celebrities on the exhibit hall floor. Yes, it can happen, but when it comes to the bigger stars, it’s more likely that you’ll see them walking the streets or at your hotel or a local restaurant. I’m not a big celebrity kind of guy, but I’ve seen a handful that way: Penn Jillette, Adam Savage, Ron Perlman, etc. I usually leave them the hell alone. Anyway, I recommend that you do the same. Telling your friends and coworkers that you saw an actor on the street is as good a story as you stopping them to share a few quickly forgotten words. Hell, if you catch him or her at a bad time, then it’s probably going to be a better story…unless you enjoy verbal abuse.

There’s one other thing you’ll see plenty of at the exhibit hall: free stuff. Play your cards right and with a little luck you can get tons of free books, graphic novels, clothing, video games, and tons of weird little tchotchkes. Sure, some of it is garbage – maybe a lot of it is – but I’ve scored some nice things that way, including signed books and limited edition t-shirts. I’ve also snagged things that I know other people might like – or at least be bemused by – back at home. It’s really easy to get stuff for kids this way. Children lose their minds when you give them a huge stack of freebies, presuming they’re appropriate.

If there’s one impression of San Diego Comic Con that I could leave you with, that would be “too much.” There’s too much to see, too much to do, too much ground to cover. You’ll never see all of it in one day, two even. You’ve got to spend your time and your money wisely. If you abandon the sanitized, highly organized image of the con that is being fed to you by the media and learn to accept it as the pop culture madhouse that it is then you’ll be much better equipped to do just that.

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  • Strongest Mustache

    lol sounds like all cons, just bigger… i would love to go if i happened to be in san diego the same week it was open, but i wouldnt go to california for that alone.

  • InfvoCuernos

    I used to go every year until about 2006- then it started getting ridiculously crowded and you had to wait way too long to rub on all the nerds( I’m sure that’s mitigated by all the hot cosplay hookers roaming around, but not much). I’m glad I saw all the cool people I wanted to see back then.

  • Anarchy Pony

    Matt has all the fun.

    • Matt Staggs

      I’m reaping the rewards of many years of burning the candle at both ends. :)

  • Conspiracy Carrot

    At about 4 minutes in the constant panning was beginning to make me nauseous. And he didn’t even zoom in on Poison Ivy’s bikini-clad bum, or whomever she was.

    • Matt Staggs

      HE would not have appreciated that. Sorry!

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