Monday, July 22, 2019

My First Comic Con - July 2019

While I was living back home in Michigan, every July for the past eight years or so, I closely monitored the Twitter updates, and media articles about all the activities related to the San Diego Comic Con (SDCC). I knew that once I moved to California, I would have to try to attempt to attend one day. In late Spring of 2018, it was revealed that a sci-fi project that I was very familiar with, Dune, was going to have a new adaptation done by one of my favorite directors, and it was going to star Timothée Chalamet. Once I learned this, my interest in getting personally acquainted with Comic Con immediately took on new urgency.

I registered with Comic Con in July, and waited for badges to on sale in November. The first round of sales is a pre-sale that occurs in late October, for those who attended the most recent Comic Con, it's a head start on those who skipped the most recent con, and those who have never attended, or haven't attended in a while. Thankfully, in early November, I was able to buy a badge for the Friday and Saturday. Although when I was granted access to the site, all 4 days, including the preview day was still available for purchase, I only wanted to do two days to start. Now after attending my first comic con, I will add on the Thursday, so I can have more time to visit the exhibit hall and off-site activities.

Thursday, 18 July -

I arrived in San Diego around 3:30 pm. Checked into the hotel that I won the lottery for - Hampton Inn San Diego Downtown. It's along the Pink shuttle line, but it's an easy 28 minutes walk (for me) to manage. The shuttle takes approximately 30 minutes. I walked around the San Diego Convention Center to familiarize myself with the logistics of the convention, as well as the off site activities (which I unfortunately was not able to take advantage of). I did have a Stranger Things fan party to attend, and luckily I was one of the first ones there and got in rather quickly and easily. I hung out for just over an hour as I had planned. Needed to get back to the hotel to be well rested for my first Comic Con day.

Friday, 19 July -

After collecting my lanyard, comic con guide, and bag, I proceeded to the rest of the Exhibit Hall and to say I was overwhelmed is a serious understatement.

It is stimulation overload when I first entered into the exhibit hall. You just let your eyes guide you and your feet take you where you naturally gravitate towards. It's similar to shopping at a mall, the weekend before Christmas with a very specific list of things to buy and only so much money. My eyes glazed over many of the fabulous exhibits there as they were interesting, but since I was not a fan, nor familiar with the product, it was easy to just look from afar with a smile and I kept moving to the next exhibits. I would say that the majority of loyal SDCC attendees are such hardcore fans, that at least 80% of the exhibits there will appeal to them. For me, I would estimate that maybe 30% of the exhibits appealed to me. And that's fine because of that 30%, those exhibits had 110% of my attention. I put so much money into the badges, which is like $70 per day, I spent approximately $110 on pre-sale items, and the hotel and parking fees, that I had a strict $100 spending budget for the exhibit. My total comic con trinkets spending wound up to a mere $62. Huzzah! This includes reimbursing my GA who nabbed the last remaining Dune boxes for us while I was trapped in Hall H.

I participated in a Star Trek Discovery 'beam up' exhibit, which was a lot of fun. But for this ONE activity I wanted to participate in at 10 am on Friday morning, I waited in line for about an hour. This was OK, it goes with the territory. Star Trek has a lot of fans and it's just something that you do at Comic Con: wait in line. But I have my limits, and there are only so many hours in the day. Can you imagine waiting in line for 1-2 hours for several exhibits each day of the con? That's why people attend all four days so that they can play the wait in line game for as many exhibits as possible. That's fine for some people, but thankfully for me, I'm only interested in doing this for a select few exhibits, and Star Trek was the only one worthy of my line waiting attention this year. Now, had Warner Brothers been on the ball and had Wonder Woman and The Joker at their exhibit, instead of focusing on their TV shows I don't give a damn about, I would have lined up for them. Warner Brothers is expected to return to SDCC next year, as they are the studio for Dune (hint), and to properly introduce Robert Pattinson as the new Batman.

Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne entering Carnival Row Ballroom 20 panel stage

Ballroom 20 screen

By 1 pm, I was loaded down by stuff I collected, so I headed back to my hotel for a breather before I dealt with the line for Ballroom 20, another conference room for popular panels that is a beast to get into. The new Amazon Prime series, Carnival Row, starring Orlando Bloom was scheduled at 4:45. After my break, I headed back to the convention center to get in line for Ballroom 20. This is a 3500 seat auditorium, so it can fit half of Hall H. The most popular and highly anticipated TV programs are presented in this conference room. The line was quite impressive and when I was directed to the end, I was exasperated. But alas, I was informed by one of the volunteers that this line was nothing and that I would definitely get in. So word to the wise, if you plan on attending Comic Con in the future, and don't like the length of a line (other than Hall H), don't let that concern you too much, just ask volunteers around you and they will assure you that you'll be able to get in. If not, they will also tell you so. I had a good seat in Ballroom 20, just one seat off from the aisle (my preferred seating). I could see the stage clearly, but had to rely on the large screen for up close views of the faces of the people on the stage. We saw several impressive clips for Carnival Row, cementing my interest in seeing this show when it comes on in late August.

After I left Ballroom 20, I went into the exhibit hall once more realizing the Saturday was going to be monopolized by Hall H, so I quickly walked through it again to pick up a few more things. My suggestion about how to navigate the con is to ID the exhibits you MUST participate in and plan to wait in line for however long you desire. Then after that, walk through the con per each zone, directly in the middle of the path, looking left and right to see what's on both sides. Some exhibits that weren't on your radar may stand out, and you go there and you may find something that you didn't realize you wanted. It's all about pacing yourself and know what you like. If you don't READ comic books, there's no need to go to the comic book section. If you love limited edition comic art, then focus on that section and look for interesting art to buy. If you NEED a Funko exclusive, enter the lottery and hope you win. I entered autograph signings and exclusive lotteries and didn't get a thing. So, that saved me money.  I left the exhibit hall around 6:30 to go get dinner in the Gaslamp area. I was back at the hotel by 8:30 as I needed my rest to get up early for my Hall H adventure. (more after the cut)

Saturday, 20 July -

"I'm not easily frightened and intimidated, but, the Hall H line at San Diego Comic Con frightens and intimidates me." - Personal Memoirs of Simone Cromer, Blogger, ToZ

The podium on the stage of Hall H

Hall H at San Diego Comic Con is a legend in of itself. When people make their plans to attend Comic Con, 60% of them are planning down to the final second how to navigate the lines in order to get into the panels. The other 40% simply gave up and are smart to realize that the con has equally exciting activities and other panels as alternatives. This year, in my first Comic Con, I was one of the 60%, but I didn't waste a lot of brain energy strategizing how to manage the Hall H line - I was really nervous about the entire thing and just hoped that things would work out for me. Although I was not willing or able to camp out overnight, let alone for several days as many Saturday (Marvel Day) Hall H line people have been planning for the past 6 months, I was planning to get in line by 6am to 'put in time' to earn a seat in Hall H. I had read up on the drama of the Hall H lines, but what I saw leading up to the July 20th lines not only scared me, but made me all the more grateful how my GA saved me.

I can't go into details, but what I will say is that my work at Club Chalamet has not gone unnoticed, and someone with the ability to make my passage into Hall H stress free is an example of how karma works for those who like to give back to others. This particular Hall H day was going to go down in the record books and everyone wanted to be there.By time I arrived, even at that time in the morning, there were THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE mulling around, thousands in those lines, and hundreds of staff and security. There was also an 'everything else' line for all the other panels that were not Hall H related.

The one thing that stands out to me about the attendees of Comic Con is that they are extremely dedicated, have a strong community of supporting each other, and see nothing wrong in spending hundreds of dollars on hotel rooms that they will not sleep in because they prefer to camp outside to wait in lines. A girl I sat next to in Hall H, did a camp out for the previous day's Hall H, so this was her second day in a row of camping out for just Hall H. That just blows my mind. But she saw nothing wrong with it, she was willing to do it, and she reaped the reward by getting inside Hall H. Around 8 am, the Hall H people started to organize us and separated the press crew from the guest list folks. We then got processed with a metal detector wand, and our names crosschecked on the guest list. Once that was done for me, I then breathed a sigh of relief now coming to terms that I was going to get inside.

Although the first panel, Star Trek, was going to come on at 11:45, they let us in at 9:30. Trust me, they need those 2 hours to slowly let in nearly 7,000 people who have wristbands, and have gone through a more thorough security check. Once I got inside and it was HUGE, with seven thousand gray seats perfectly lined up in balanced sections. I purposefully did not want to sit in the front row. I was perfectly happy with an aisle seat in the 6th row. Again, all this is a test drive for next year, where if I'm lucky enough to have this access again, I'll head for the front row. But this time, it's all about observing and just appreciating the access head start that I got.

This image reveals how vast Hall H is. I'm center, 6th row aisle from stage.

A strange thing did happen though. Seconds after I sat in my seat, some out of breath and exasperated hefty overnight camper dude asked me if he could sit in my seat. There were literally three hundred great seats nearby of his choosing, but this mouth-breather wanted MY seat. I just told him no and looked the other way. I'm like, really? WTF? The sense of entitlement of some of these people are fucking amazing! Moments later... "the others" came, and the energy level changed. They were panicked, and running to the "best" seats, throwing down sweaters, bags, blankets into empty seats for friends, talking loud, navigating, all hurried and insane.

I don't know how normal it is to have so many dedicated reserved seating

My seat. Perfect spot. Close but deliberately not front row.

Full House at Hall H

For the next hour or so, people continued to mull into the venue, and some desperately came all the way up to the front, under the delusional pretense that a seat was magically waiting for them. This prime seat real estate sold out within the first 15 minutes. At this time, I went to go into the lobby to get a coffee, it was freezing in Hall H, and I'm glad I recalled reading about how cold it gets in there. So I came prepared with my theater blanket scarf. At around 11:25, an overhead announcement instructed people to get into their seats as the first panel, Star Trek will begin.

Star Trek

I wanted to be in Hall H not only for research purposes for next year, but I LOVE Star Trek. It was a fabulous panel, which introduced the new shows and talent for each series. The highlight was Sir Patrick Stewart, aka, Captain Jean Luc Picard. There was a standing ovation for Patrick and I was so glad that happened. Because the audience mostly comprised of people who were ONLY there for Marvel, I was bummed out by the lack of enthusiasm the audience showed for some members of the Star Trek panel. Marvel fans can be quiet rude. But then again, Marvel knows this put prefers to have their fans suffer through panels they don't give a rat's ass about. It's a great disservice to the earlier panels of hard working talent that deserve respect.

Other Panels

The HBO show West World had a panel after Star Trek. I don't watch that show, but I was interested in what they had to say about it. From what I learned, it is a show I would like to see one day. Again, the audience was muted during times where applause should have been more respectful and robust. The next panel was a series of short animations that were quiet fun and beautiful to watch. Interviews with the directors of the final animation was nice, but again, most of the audience was just waiting for Marvel. Finally, the 'Women who kick Ass' panel by Entertainment Weekly was awesome, but surely the manboy Marvel fans found their phones and laptops more entertaining.

The major gripe I have about Hall H is that people who really would have appreciated watching all the panels that preceded the Marvel panel, were prevented from getting in because of the thousands of hardcore Marvel fans that hogged valuable line space. When 10k people line up to get inside a 7k conference space, a majority of the people who would have been more receptive to the non-Marvel panels were relegated to the end of the line, pushed further and further back as the Marvel Only people helped their friends get in line, or blatant lie-cutting took place. It was posted all on Twitter. A lot of people were very, very upset in not being able to get inside. But Marvel doesn't care, in fact, they love hearing about people camping out four days before the Saturday panel.

Marvel Finale - Everyone on stage

Full slate of upcoming Marvel film and TV projects

Me supporting both Star Trek and Marvel


The panel that EVERYONE in the auditorium was waiting for! Marvel's President, Kevin Feige came out on stage to thunderous applause. This is what they have been waiting for 24 months. Kevin introduced, one by one, all the upcoming projects and the stars of those projects.  The next one was better than the last one and it was insane. The energy level in the room was at an amazing level. I've never been around such frenzied nerds. All the manboys nearby who were comatose during the preceding panels, came alive for the Marvel panel. I've read about reactions from within Hall H going about seven years or so, and therefore, to be there and witness it in the flesh, is unreal and an experience I did enjoy. When Tom Hiddleston came out, the crowd screamed and they chanted 'Loki! Loki! Loki!'. Even I chanted loudly because Tom and his petulant spoiled psychotic brat Loki is brilliant! I'm so looking forward to the TV series, and that means I'll have to subscribe to Disney+. Damn. The energy levels was starting to feel like a religious experience. I see how intoxicating it is for nerds to be in the same space with their superhero actor idols. Jeremy Renner came up on stage from the audience, I even shook his hand as he passed by!! His 'Hawkeye' TV is going to kick ass too.

Scarlett Johansson came out on stage with the new IT girl, Florence Pugh. They flew in from London while they are filming Black Widow. And after only 30 days of filming, they had a brilliant clip to show us. That movie is going to rock. Even if Scarlett thinks she can play a tree, I still like her and will support Black Widow. It seemed like eternity that Marvel was up on stage as they have so many awesome multi-verse films and TV-shows coming out between Spring 2020 and fall 2022.

The finale was introducing Mahershala Ali as the new Blade. It was as if there was a minor earthquake in Hall H, people lost their shit! I did too... happily! Blade is fucking kick ass, I love that MFer! And while Mr. Ali is a tad overrated, he's still a very handsome man, reminiscent of Wesley Snipes in the lovely rich ebony skin tone, to take over the mantel for Blade. People outside of the Marvel world don't realize that Blade helped kick start the success of Marvel Studio films back in 1998. So to have new Blade films, people were just beyond ecstatic, because he's such a beloved character. And then, the Marvel panel concluded. I think those who camped out for several days and got in felt it was all worth it. It certainly was for me.

I took loads of photos, but I just wanted to share the highlights of what I experienced. Marvel greatly impressed me and I'm so thrilled to have been a part of this.

Hall H Line -

It appears that SDCC recognizes that nerds will do whatever they have to do to experience being close to the celebrities they deeply love and worship. And so they have no incentive to change things. As abnormal it is to me that grown ass people camp out for days to get into Hall H, they have no problem with it at all. Some love it. It's a badge of honor to camp out and be rewarded by getting inside Hall H. As I mentioned above, I do not have the patience, or time to waste by standing/sitting/sleeping in line to see famous rich humans. I just respect myself and my time much more than that. I think that even if  SDCC offered an entrance lottery to 500 people, it would help just a little and alleviate some of the lines. But what do I know, this is just my first comic con, and I'm not a real "nerd". Even with all the line chaos, and seeing the word "clusterfuck" on twitter in reference to the line up, it's far too stressful, and I think, unsafe to participate in camp out lining up to gawk at millionaires on top of a stage that no fan can get to. People were talking about line cutting and physical fighting, and cussing each other out. I get stressed out reading about that!

If you're reading this and thinking about doing Comic Con next year, and you want to do Hall H, you should have friends to do this with, or make friends. There are line groups you can sign up to join. You will have to put in time for your group, and it may be during the night shift, or under the blazing sun. But if you want to get into Hall H, unfortunately, this is what you have to do. This is the grim news I wanted to share, and you may not like it, but if you go into this knowing what you have to do, then you can persevere and get inside and experience something unique.

An alternative to Hall H for your popular star or film, is that studios are smart when it comes to Hall H. They know that the majority of people that once they get inside at 9:30 am, they aren't leaving until the hot panel leaves the stage at close to 7 pm. Therefore, like this past Saturday, Marvel had other mini-panels and autograph sessions during the same time that the earlier panels were on in Hall H, but none of the Marvel fans in Hall H wanted to risk leaving and not getting a chance to re-enter. They camped outside to camp inside all day in Hall H. So, say if Dune attends Comic Con next year, and they have a panel at 4 pm or later on Friday or Saturday at Hall H. If you can't get into Hall H, there might be an autograph session you can line up for instead. Either way, you can make out with some kind of fantastic experience if you study the schedule and select which option that is most convenient and easy for you. Again, either way, you will have to commit in some form, lining up at the ass crack of dawn in order to get the comic con experience with your favorite star or Hall H panel. Oh, and one more thing. SDCC shows a tape of the Hall H panels starting at 8:30 pm in another conference room. So you do have the opportunity to watch a repeat of the Hall H events with a large gathering of Comic Con fans later that day. It's a win-win.

I look forward to attending Comic Con next year, but first, I'll  have to be able to get a badge. And that's no guarantee, that's what's so crazy about the prep for attending this event. It's not guaranteed you can even get a badge, and if you do, you may only get a one day badge as the other days are sold out. I hope you have enjoyed reading this and if you have any questions, please post your comment below.

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