Monday, July 28, 2014

Report from the Front: San Diego Comic-Con 2014

Another Comic-Con has come and gone and while I don’t pretend to yet be an expert on the event, I’ve only gone eight times out of the last nine, we at Trophy Unlocked would like to share our experience for those who didn't go and compare ours to those who did.

I recently read someone describe Comic-Con as the child of Las Vegas and Disneyland that liked to read comics and watch movies. That’s not too far from the truth, without the gambling and the prostitution. It is an overwhelming sensory overload. There is too much to do and see and no way you can come close to doing it all.

I am not the first person to call Comic-Con Line-Con, and it is certainly that. I don’t know what it’s like for professionals, vendors or the press, but Joe Congoer spends an inordinate amount of time in the queue. And I’m not talking about the crazies who spend the night in line for Hall H or arrive at three in the morning to be first in line for the Hasbro exclusives.

There is a line for everything from picking up your badge, to getting in, for autographs, panels and just about everything else. Now don’t get me wrong, you can develop some very intense and short-lived relationships in a line. My personal favorite was the younger woman with a crush on one of the artists involved in The Hacktivist. While standing in line it was obvious that she had a crush and short of squealing, it was easy to sense her excitement. I held her place in line while sending her to see if she could get his autograph, but she quickly came back. I asked if she wanted a photograph with him and she said yes and even though I was ahead of her in line, I hung around to take their picture together. She thanked me and gave me and my wife a hug of gratitude. I really felt like I helped to make her day.

Welcome to San Diego Line-Con 2014.

Like most Con goers, we plan and plan and plan, making spreadsheets and having discussions on what to take, who to see, what panels to try for and what off-site events we might be interested in. And plan as much as we do, sometimes you have to throw it out the window. Schedules change, artists and writers don’t show up on time and lines get capped. But there are also those moments when magic happens. As an example: Going by the Shout! booth on Saturday morning on our way to Toy Tokyo to buy a figurine of Zombie Kirk Hammett from Metallica, we noticed they were handing out free posters for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s UHF movie, a film we had recently reviewed here on the blog and a favorite of two of the writers. We were informed that there was going to be a signing that afternoon at 5, limited to 50 people with wristbands and just like that I’m going to meet “Weird Al” in person. But before that, my family met Kirk Hammett and in between I was able to meet Dave Gibbons, the artist behind Watchmen, and get him to sign my 12 issues of that ground-breaking comic book. Quite a day, but not the day we had anticipated or had planned out in our living room days before.

Kirk Hammett from Metallica was at Comic-Con signing zombie figurines.

Speaking of standing in line to meet someone, here’s a pet peeve: You’ve been standing in line for sometimes up to an hour to have a moment with someone, maybe it’s a geeky moment, but you’ve put in your time in line for a few moments of face time and someone the artist knows, or someone passing by the signing, will stick themselves into the midst. I had a least two occasions in Artists Alley when I got up to the front and someone who knew the artist would come over and start talking to them. “Have you seen so and so?” “You know it’s been a long time since we talked…” Not that I’m an attention hog, but I’m suddenly just standing there watching two old friends catch up rather than blurting out what I’d been practicing in line to say. It’s rude of that other person to just come up as if the artist wasn’t busy and start talking to them, taking away the time I’ve put in to see them, just because you’re old friends. This is not as bad though as the artist/actor/whatever who is not dedicated to the moment or the reason they’re there, especially when they’re charging for their time (Bruce Boxleitner), but gratefully we didn’t run into any of those this year.

And let's not forget The Aquabats! They were there, too.

Every artist, writer, editor and musician we spoke with were all very nice people. Tired and sometimes overwhelmed by the attention they’re receiving, but very nice and appreciative. You can tell the ones, like Hammett, Gibbons and Yankovic, who are used to the attention from those who are just starting to get it and it’s all so new to them.

One of the coolest exclusives was a Gumball comic book inside a SNES gaming cartridge from BOOM!

If you’re doing a booth signing, most will let you know about their other work they’ve done, which are usually at their fingertips for sale, but that’s part of the dance. And if you like their work, the least you can do is support them. You'd want the same in return, wouldn’t you?

And while you stand in line quite a bit, you also walk and walk, whether you’re going from Artists Alley to the IDW booth and back or just wandering up and down the aisles, you need a comfortable pair of shoes. Comic-Con (in reality the SD Fire Marshall) has a no loitering policy, so you have to keep moving and most walls have a no standing or sitting policy on them. Now I know how sharks feel.

Even the bathrooms seemed to have sponsors.

In the five days were down there, including Wednesday, in which we essentially drove most of the day and Sunday, which was a short day, the Walking Mate app on my phone shows I walked 50.9 miles or a little over 10 miles a day. Add to that I’m carrying a ten pound backpack most of that time and while your mileage may vary, that’s not a bad work out. (Still gained a couple of pounds, which doesn’t really seem quite fair.)

Dave Gibbons, the artist on Watchmen.

That will lead me to food, I guess. We usually bring ours in with us, which saves time and money. Believe it or not the lines are pretty long at the snack bars and they’re not cheap. Though that pizza looked and smelled a lot better than the fried chicken breast I ate on day three, which was about four days old at the time. In years past, we’d relied on the nearby Subway sandwich, which we’d bought the night before. Those got pretty old after a while, so we haven’t quite got the food bit nailed down. Hey, it’s only been eight times.

"Weird Al" speaks to one of the writers on Trophy Unlocked.

One of the improvements/upgrades we made as a family this year was getting smart phones. Part of the reason was to be able to check prices. Sale Items at the Con are oftentimes higher than they would be at say Amazon. But we also wanted to be able to better use the free provided Wi-Fi so as to better communicate with each other. This worked only so-so. I think there are still texts I’ve sent that haven’t been received, such as “Where are you?” and other missives that would have been nice to get more immediately than not. I had to sign in repeatedly to the ATT service because the phone and the ISP didn’t remember each other and who has to suffer? We do. Still you can always call as long as the person you’re reaching out to can hear the phone ring over the din. Someone pointed out that the hall is carpeted to deaden the sound; otherwise I can only imagine how loud it would be.

Another issue with smart phones is that the battery seems to run down very quickly. I would recommend taking a pre-charged charger with you in case your phone is down to 10% and you still have the evening ahead of you.

Clothing is another consideration. We all wore jean jackets, mostly for the pockets, but those get very hot and the last thing you want to be is sweaty. Jackets have their place, but it is not in the Con. We’re looking into cargo pants or some other wardrobe option.

One of the best reasons to go to Comic-Con are the panels, whether they are professional or for pleasure. We didn’t attend as many as we have in the past, but sometimes you have to decide if the panel is worth the time suck. And even for those that are worth it, there is a limit. We had to pass on one for Gravity Falls, because the line was impossibly long. If a show like that is popular then you really need to attend the panel prior and in that case the one before that, in order to get a seat. An hour wasn’t long enough and there was no guarantee of getting in.

The Penny Arcade booth at Comic-Con.

We barely got into one panel thrown by the Warner Archives: Trailers from Hell. Seems it was the panel before one on Mass Effect and the line was not really full of lovers of old films, but rather video gamers. We got in by the skin of our teeth and only as long as we promised we weren’t staying for the next panel (nothing against Mass Effect) and then in individual seats, which turned out to be one behind the other behind the other. But that’s the cool part about the Con, people get exposed to new things and I would imagine a few of those in attendance will check out the Warner Archives Instant streaming service now that they learned it exists. I know that’s how I became exposed to Watchmen; we were attending a panel, Watching the Watchmen so we could attend another panel afterwards. And yes, I told that to Dave Gibbons when I met him.

While everyone’s convention experience is quite different, I really had a good, but exhausting time. I was able to meet people I had only been communicating with through email and Facebook messaging (I won’t name names so they can maintain credible deniability that they know me).

After attending, it’s always a good idea to think about what you did that you don’t want to do again and what you still have on your plate to do. For the latter, it’s getting up at 4 am to get in line for Hasbro. There is something demoralizing when that’s not early enough. It really takes it out of you and when your day can go to 11 as ours did that night, it’s really exhausting and for what? No, we’re done trying to get that golden ticket (or red stamp if you want to be honest).

Things I’d still like to do: Well, there are so many things outside the convention center that I can never seem to get to. And the Con is only expanding out. There’s so much to do inside the Convention Center that getting outside seems nearly impossible. And, of course, there is Hall H. Every year you hear about everyone who lines up the night before and I’ve seen them. But I don’t want to be a part of that. And just about as often I hear that people walk into Hall H later in the day into panels that are not full. So I might just have to try that one afternoon.

Something else I didn't make it over to was the Fox salute to the Simpsons next to the Hilton.

After last year, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go again, but now I’m already looking forward to the next one.

No comments:

Post a Comment