(The original title of this article was “Ruminations of a Comic-Con Virgin, or How I Learned to Enjoy Standing in Line for 3 Hours in the Hot Sun Next to a Guy in an Ill-Fitting Storm Troopers Costume”. Alas, that title would have screwed up the site’s theme something awful, so I’ve gone the brevity route instead. Such are the considerations of a webmaster.)
Comic-Con. Pronounced “comi-con”, without the extra “c” in the middle, or so I’m told by a nice gentleman in an ill-fitting Storm Trooper costume as we stood in line for James Cameron’s “Avatar”. I’ve heard about it, I’ve reported on it, and last week, I finally attended one. Along with 250,000 other people, natch. It was, to say the least, an experience, with lots of good, bad, somewhere in-between moments. I learned a lot of things, met a lot of people, made some worthwhile friends, and got shot down by a couple of very hot girls in tight net stockings and red hair. I also wore out my shoes, my hotel still stinks of my two pair of socks, and my behind is still sore from the awful, awful hotel toilet seat which made sitting down akin to laying on a bed of nails. But hey, at least the bed itself was soft and cushy, and my hotel’s LCD TV actually had ESPN in HD. Here is what I learned from my first Comic-Con visit. For all of you who plan to attend Comic-Con ’10, you are free to take these advices to heart, or pretend like I never said anything. It’s up to you, really.
The Infamous Hall H.
By virtue of its 6,000-seat capacity (the largest at the con), this is the presentation hall of choice for all the big movies to present their wares. Studios have been known to bring their entire line-up to the hall and never venture past its walls. That means if you want to get in to see your favorite movie, you need to get in the labyrinth-like line outside the con at least 3 hours in advance. Yes. The line to get in begins outside. You need to maneuver through that line just to wait in line inside the con to get into Hall H. That will take about three hours. At least.
And even then, your movie better not be something like, say, “Avatar” or “Iron Man 2”. You’ll need at least an extra hour for those movies. Chalk up 4 hours of your day waiting in line in the sun to get into Hall H. And once you’re in? Don’t leave. The only time you ever leave is to go get food, and if you do decide to go grab a bite, be sure to get a ticket from one of the door attendees that guarantees you can get back in without having to wait in the dreaded line again. I know movie web guys who got into Hall H in the morning and I never saw them again until the day’s programming was over.
I had heard stories, but nothing prepared me for the reality. Yes, there really is a line for everything at Comic-Con. It doesn’t help that the lines are completely arbitrary and seemingly made up on the spot. More than once, I thought I could slip into a panel unmolested by a line, only to realize that the line for said panel started on the other side of the con.
As with Hall H, you’ll need at least an hour to wait in line for every panel you want to attend. It is a rare panel that doesn’t have lines, though not unheard of. On my first day at the con, I arrived at panels at the last minute and found I didn’t have to wait in line. But forget finding that kind of happiness for panels with a huge fanbase, like Battlestar Galactica or, in general, anything too “geek-ish”. The line to listen to Richard Hatch and the crew of Battlestar Galactica pat themselves on the back for the universe-changing greatness of their show extended well outside onto the patios.
The food at the San Diego Convention Center is, er, subpar. I’ve bought sandwiches that felt like biting into year-old hay. The only edible food in the entire place are the hot dogs (about $5 bucks a pop). After the first two days, I realized buying bags of beef jerky from my hotel and taking them to the con was cheaper and less waiting-in-line-ish. (Yes, there are lines to buy food, too. Have you not been paying attention?) Hey, my hotel may charge an arm and a leg for their food, but the SDCC wanted my internal organs. Buy local and bring it to the con. You’re not supposed to, of course, but really, no one cares. The only exception to this is if you’re on the company dime. Then hey, be my guess and splurge. I’m sure the boss won’t ask why you spent $10 bucks on a slice of pizza.
They’re just like you and me — except richer, prettier, and bang hotter chicks. (Or hotter guys, if they happen to be girls.) Especially in person. Keep those digital cameras at the ready, especially outside the hall doors. Celebrities are rushed in and out for their respective panels on a daily basis. You’ll rarely find one roaming the hallways greeting fans, though that has been known to happen. Sure, they know you’re there to see them, and they appreciate it, but let’s face it, 500 nerds with backpacks and waving around plastic swords rushing you screaming your name will freak anyone out. Unless, of course, you’re Olivia Munn, then you pretty much get pissed when people don’t scream your name and rush you.
There are a lot of panels at Comic-Con. At any given time, there will be 10 panels going on at the exact same moment. There are big panels, small panels, and ones in-between. My advice for all virgin Comic-Con goers is to choose your panels wisely. Yes, everyone wants to get into Hall H to see “Iron Man 2” or “Avatar”, but not everyone can. And as I mentioned, getting into those big panels require a lot of investment of your time. Do you really want to stand in line for three hours in the hot sun waiting to get in, and even then, knowing that you might not make it in on time? While most of these big panels are worth the wait, especially if you’re a fan of the property, some of them are not. Oooh, the latest trailer from Big Studio Movie A. Whatever.
So schedule your panels according to what you wish to accomplish at the con. If you’re press, Hall H is your primary destination. If you’re just a fan, you needn’t ever step foot into Hall H to have the experience of a lifetime. I attended the Ray Bradbury panel and had a blast. Likewise with the Farscape panel. Those were two hours well spent, and I didn’t have to wait in line for either one of them. Meanwhile, some dope spent three hours in line to see basically 2 minutes worth of footage from “Iron Man 2”. I’ll be able to see the same thing a few days later, but he’ll never get to experience the leads of Farscape talk about punching puppets, or Ray Bradbury badmouthing David Frost.
There are a lot of pictures to be taken at the con, so bring your digital camera. Preferably one with a zoom so you can snap pics of your favorite actors on the panel. Every panel allows pictures to be taken, but depending on your seat, you’ll do well to bring something with a powerful zoom. I made the horrible mistake of relying solely on my iPhone for pictures. It didn’t have a zoom function, and the pictures came out blurry. After the first day, I gave up taking pictures of the panels because I invariably ended up with a blurry image of the head of the guy sitting in front of me. Later, after the panels, a lot of the panelists will stick around for a minute or two to pose with pictures, but you better be quick.
But it’s not just about taking pictures of the celeb at Comic-Con. There are a ton of fans who will dress up for the event. Don’t be afraid to ask them for pictures. That’s why they spent all year carefully making those costumes, after all. They want you to ask them to take their pictures. I never met a costumed fellow (or gal) who said No when I asked for a picture.
And one final advice: try to catch at least one screening before the con is over. Sure, mega panels are fun, and so is seeing the first ever trailer or clip from a big movie, but it can’t beat seeing an entire episode (usually the pilot) of a new show that won’t air for months. Now that’s something worth bragging about to the boys and girls back home.
Until then, I’ll see you at Comic-Con ’10.