San Diego Comic-Con: Putting the Fanatic Back into Fan

I skipped out on the last two years of the San Diego Comic-Con because it’s just to freakin’ huge for my comfort: in particular I loathe being caught in a huge crowd. But this year, Neil needed a ride to the show, and like his dad, he’d be heartbroken if he missed out on it. We could shuffle our crew around to make room for me and Kelly in the hotel room, and since I was driving (in a car that reminds everyone I RLYH8LA, no less), I could always bail out for a day at the beach or the zoo. I ended up hitting a happy balance: I nibbled at the show visiting it for just a few hours a day, and balancing it out with other things. It kept me mostly sane, so I was still capable of enjoying the little of who and what I did see, but it was still overwhelming at times.

Now, the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con was massive, crowded and chaotic. As Peter warned me, the 2008 con would be even more so,and he was right. Though it’s been trending in that direction, this year the con actually hit full capacity, which in real world terms meant everything overflowed capacity. Every hotel room in San Diego and beyond its borders was booked. Light rail trains were standing room only and busses had to turn away riders. The sidewalks and crosswalks around the convention center were packed and security had to constantly warn pedestrians not to stumble off them, lest they get hit by a bus. And as for the aisles inside the convention center: there was many a time they were nearly impassible because of the press of people. Theoretically, it can’t ever get more crowded than this (unless the convention organizers manage to bend space and time, which they may be looking into), because every ticket and exhibition space was sold out before the convention even began.

Like others who have been going to this convention for years, I could wax nostalgic for the old times, when I worked the booth and could kick back and hang out in between visits from potential customers. But honestly, the people who are coming now are overall a better crowd. Besides the genuine comic book geeks, the show used to have a fair share of snotty looky-loos and bratty kids. I particularly remember some stoners laughing at the very idea of comic book information on a computer; and a pair of 10-year-olds going from table to table with the mantra “what do you have that you’ll give me for free?” With few exceptions, the people who come now are serious attendees: they know what they want, they know what they’re looking for, and they watch for what they’re interested in. There’s no time, or room, or energy to be an ass. If you’re in for free goodies, there’s so much to be had it couldn’t be carried about by one person, so there’d be no point in hitting up random tables.

On the other side, there can be a frightening edge of obsession in some of the fans. Some people aren’t just serious about their pop culture interests: they’re really really obsessed. The person wearing the Luke Skywalker costume may simply be a Star Wars fan; or he could be someone who has embraced Star Wars as a lifestyle and religious philosophy, and to your horror, may openly describe himself as Wookie-sexual. Since the panels were, well, overflowing, some fans would find a seat for an earlier panel and sit through it in order to have a guaranteed seat for the panel they wanted. At the Jim Butcher panel I went to, I sat next to a man who’d been there for two panels before, and planned to keep his seat until the Nickelodeon Avatar panel 4 hours later. And that was nothing compared to the people who camped out in front of the convention center at 4:00 am (yes A.M.!) so they could see the Heroes panel which didn’t begin until 10:30 am. The organizers moved the opening time to 9:30 am from 10 am because the crush of the crowd had had them consistently opening the con earlier than planned: but that just meant that, instead of beginning to line up for the show at 7 am, now the fans were lining up to get in at 6:30 am. Such dedicated fans are not so unusual at Comic-Con, and it’s only until you return to the real world that you remember most of the people in this great grand world couldn’t tell you Ghost Rider’s secret identity, and they don’t really care, either. They may not even (OMG) know who Ghost Rider is.

It all reminds me that the positive word “fan” came out of the less complementary word “fanatic.” And given the effort and ongoing energy it takes to get into the San Diego Comic-Con, being a fanatic may be the personality you need for this kind of a show.

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