How Comic-Con is Like Oktoberfest or Mardi Gras

I had a fit today when my hairstylist told me he’d lost my appointment, so I’d have to reschedule my haircut. In short, I’m having issues about reservations these days, especially about them getting lost or botched. I sat in shock for a day after receiving confirmation that our company actually had reasonable hotel rooms, in walking distance of the Comic-Con. The difficulty of getting accommodation through the convention has brought me to tears on previous years. I’ve written about it before, but comic industry journalist Heidi McDonald has the best analysis about what it was like this year, and some astute speculation on why it’s so.

Like many of the grouchy old-timers, I wax nostalgic for the “good old days” of the con of 15 or 10 years ago, when you could reserve a room at the Clarion Hotel, 2 blocks away, for $89, or even a few years later, when we thought it was a scramble to book rooms there for $129 a night. One year a reservation snafu had us booking out of our Clarion rooms and into the Sheraton Suites a few blocks away, but we could still do that weeks after the reservation line had opened. Around 2003, the Clarion closed down, the convention doubled in size, Petco Arena went up next door to the convention center, the parking and hospitality vendors took a lesson in Capitalism 101, and affordable hotel rooms, reasonable parking rates and a 7 pm dinner reservation became fiercely-sought-after rare commodities. Since then, the Clarion Hotel has been rebuilt as a Marriott Hotel, and if you want to get a room there during the Comic-Con, the cheapest room you can get is $540 a night.

I haven’t personally gone to the Comic-Con since 2005, when the traffic situation was enough to break my fragile facade of calm. In the midst of “Hoteloween” as Heidi McDonald once dubbed it, some attendees are threatening to stop going to the show, or pressing the convention organizers (who are, to be fair, responsive to the concerns of all those involved with the show) to move the convention to a city that could presumably house 150,000 passionate pop culture mavens more easily.

But personally I think the Comic-Con is only going to get bigger and book out even earlier. It was the biggest comic book convention in the U.S. when we started going there, and it still has amenities regional conventions (even though those have expanded in size impressively, too) don’t have, such as on-site child care, gossip-column worthy parties, and people you will never see together in the same place ever again. It’s also much better managed than most regional competitions, and the promoters are amazingly not doing it to run a profit. Though they may complain, the people who are passionate about comics will continue to go to Comic-Con as long as they can afford it. And those who haven’t been going will put it in the category of something that must be experienced, if even just once, and for an exorbitant cost.

No matter where you go, there’s only so much room for so many people to experience something great at one time. We’ve actually been at Disneyland when the gates had to be closed because it reached full capacity. I didn’t like the crowds, but I’ve been going since its ticket book days; Peter was still so enchanted he wasn’t daunted by the masses at all. More similar to Comic-Con in their “only once a year” aspect, Oktoberfest and Mardi Gras were once regional curiosities, until the rest of the world heard about them. Now if you want to enjoy the festivities, you either live there, or you book yourself an expensive hotel room years in advance. I’m not the kind of person who’d seek either experience out: I prefer more obscure festivals, or at least something new or regional enough that it doesn’t have an international draw. But I’m certainly in the minority. For every person who has decided Disneyland (or Oktoberfest) is too crowded or too much, there are 10 people in Japan, or New York, or Nevada who make up their mind to experience it that very year. That’s where Comic-Con is, and soon enough, you’ll have to book your 4-day passes and nearby hotel rooms at $540 a night years in advance if you want to experience it too.

So in short, if you’ve been holding off on going to Comic-Con, go now, because it’s only going to be pricier and crazier in the future. And by going now, you can become one of the grumps like me who grouses that it was better and easier way back when.

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