SDCC Meltdown Sunday

There is really only so much volume and stress any system, even one as well-managed as the San Diego Comic-Con can endure. After 4 days of activities staring at 7 am and running to 3 am; of crowds gathering as early as 4 am and filling every available space around the San Diego convention center; of a cell phone tower being so trafficked it crashed, I believe the convention had nowhere to go but to actually begin a meltdown on Sunday.

To my surprise, when Carl and I walked into the convention exhibit floor at 9:15 am on Sunday morning, it was already abuzz with attendees lining up, shopping, and taking pictures. The show schedule said the show didn’t open until 9:30 am, which was already an early opening concession to the crowds which had been arriving earlier and in larger quantities every year. The security guard I spoke to swore to me that he was only letting in exhibitors and Comic-Con staff (whose badges looked similar to regular attendees’.) I could obviously see that most of the people on the show floor were regular attendees. Now, I don’t mind early admission: honestly the show floor could be open from 6 am to midnight and it would still be busier than any other comic book convention anywhere, ever (though I think as exhibitors we’d be dead from exhaustion within a day.) But I would really like to know when the show is open, unofficially as well as officially, so I know to be there. If the friends, family, and assorted hanger-ons of selected V.I.P.s are going to be browsing past our booth at 8 a.m., especially en masse, I would like to have a heads up about it, and not just 15 minutes before it happens.

The convention finally just gave in and officially opened the show at 9:20 am. Mark got in line for a giveaway and found out all the tickets had already been given out to the people who’d gotten in before that. When Peter and I got to the 4000-person room for the Hamlet 2 panel at 10 am to sit through the 10:30 am It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia panel beforehand, it was already half full. Enough people had arrived at god-knows-how-early-an-hour to snag the free prizes It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia was giving out (DVDs of the first season to the first 45, and t-shirts for several thousand more.)

Neil had originally wanted to see the children’s independent film festival after the Hamlet 2 panel, but he opted out. I took Kelly there instead, though I have to say it was more G-rated film student films than films specifically meant for children. Kelly was a good student, however. She paid attention to each film and loved being able to ask the director a question about it. I was proud of her that she always asked a question that was relevant. She has a strong future as a panel attendee.

Since people were actually beginning to leave the show on Sunday afternoon, it reverted to barely manageable, and I enjoyed the last few hours. That doesn’t mean the meltdown wasn’t still in effect. Ever since we had Neil, we’ve been aware that the show generously offers child care for the exhibitors. For safety reasons, children aren’t allowed on the show floor during tear-down, and it’s nice to have someplace safe to put them instead of having one parent trying to entertain children for hours as the other struggles to pack up the booth in a timely manner. But now that the show attracts a higher-end industry show presence, the day care center is less used than it used to be: many mom-and-pop type operations simply can’t afford the cost of this bigger, splashier show. And 90% of the security guards as well as people with Comic-Con staff badges didn’t even know where the child care was, and in fact, were often surprised to hear such a thing existed. Finally, one security guard had heard of it and pointed me in the right direction.

The rest of the experience went smoothly, the con being over and all. But I have to say, one big speculation I’ve had with Peter is how the con will evolve from here to handle its popularity and success.

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