Enjoying Comic Con from Afar

This marks my 6th year of not attending Comic Con, and this year, it was the best ever. My friends, family, and colleagues have been manning a booth at the show since 1994, and I worked beside them up to 2003, and the last time I set foot on the convention center floor (as their guest) was in 2008.

It always drove me crazy for its logistics — even in 1994, the show snarled traffic and packed sidewalks — but by 2008, my inner claustrophobe was ready to lose it* as just crossing the street had to be done in groups of huge compressed mobs being screamed at by some security person.

All the Comic Con attendees have their priorities, and being the hard-core fanatics they are, they will do anything to fulfill them. One of my priorities was having a nearby hotel room to which I could escape easily to get away from the horde and sleep, especially when we had to be at a booth at 7 am for a 13-hour day which includes the occasional but inescapable attacks of energy vampires. As it turns out, every single other person who attends Comic Con also has the utmost need for a hotel room in the Gaslamp district, too, and is offended that I might think my priority overrides his. One needs to be in the midst of the party scene and to be able to drop in on others, as if it were a college campus, and it would be the end of the world if he missed out on a 3 am catfight by being 15 minutes away. Another requires a nearby place with a private bathroom he can use as he’s sitting in line for 2 days. Yet another has a disabling phobia of public transportation and traffic jams and the doctor’s note to prove it. And as the show biggered, biggered, and biggered still, there was just no way all those people were going to be accommodated. For the record, when early exhibitor hotel registration (bemoaned by non-exhibitors) placed us in Hotel Circle, we cancelled and booked a house for the whole staff, which has the added advantage of a kitchen, so we don’t have to scrounge for seating and overpriced food in overcrowded restaurants.

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How anyone manages to see anything these days also boggles me. Back when I was working the booth, it was possible to look at the schedule and beg off on booth duty to see an interesting event. I could head over a few minutes before a talk began to see creators talk about writing for comics, meet a favorite science fiction author, or see some indie film shorts. These panels still exist, and they’re not as hard to get in to as the panels about TV shows with no connection to comic books, but the rooms are now half-filled by bored people texting on their cell phones as any particular panel is something to sit through while waiting for their event to begin. And booths with giveaways are so mobbed that if you just try to go past, there’s a fair chance you’ll be sucked in to the vortex and end up being handed, say, an oversized purple SyFy bag you have no idea how to use.

This year was by far the most enjoyable for me not going. Shiaw-Ling dubbed this year’s event “line con” because (in her experience at least), there were more lines than ever: a line to get a wristband so that you could go stand in another line; a line to use the bathroom; lines you end up standing in just because you were standing in the wrong place as the line formed, etc. The line for Hall H reached truly epic, news-making lengths this year, and it’s almost like people just got into that line just for being able to say they stood in that line, which is a level of groupthink I don’t get into. Whoever it is you want to see can almost certainly be seen somewhere else, and/or isn’t worth giving up days worth of your life for. So all you line-standers, I’m glad I’m not you.

As for what there is which is to be enjoyed, my friends had me covered. Tony volunteered for booth duty in exchange for being able to go to the show, and he peppered his Facebook feed with pictures of fun cosplayers and geeky show floor goodies. Peter and Neil wandered out into the Gaslamp district, which is now a public Comic Con in its own right to check out the experiences. Petco Park now typically gets turned into some sort of pop-culture-themed obstacle course, and I’ll almost certainly hear the details of that from Shiaw-Ling or others. And one, if not several people I know, will scoop up free schwag for me such as fiction books, bags, and t-shirts. Meanwhile, Joe stayed behind to man the office for the entire week, so I didn’t have to go in.

Despite my daughter’s desire to see the show, it’s far too crowded for me to contemplate being there again. I was there the year the fire marshall shut the exhibition hall because it was too crowded, and the next year, the floor was reconfigured with wider aisles. But as far as I can hear, it’s even more difficult to get around now, and were there a need to evacuate the hall, people almost certainly would be trampled. I reconnected with a high school classmate who is now covering the show for a local radio station, and while being the cheery person he always was, he groused about the speculators who just come to buy exclusives which they can then resell, and the stargazers, which is a natural complaint for a long-time attendee. But it’s a circular game. Exclusives are crafted because they then have a guaranteed sell out product due to the speculators, and the speculators come to buy the exclusives. The stars come for the stargazers, and the stargazers come for the stars, each exclaiming that there is no other venue like this in which they can enjoy each other.

And so the show goes on. And I enjoy not being there.

* Who am I kidding? More accurately, I managed to hold it together more or less, but I was screaming on the inside. For four years afterwards. And I still shudder at the prospect of being squeezed and blocked in an an inescapable position by all those sticky people, ever again.

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