So, Jessica Pryde wrote an amazing post extolling the virtues of the smaller comic book convention. And she’s absolutely right on all counts — please, go read her post — but I felt like I needed to say something about the merits of the larger convention. Specifically, I’m going to talk about that big mother effer known as the San Diego Comic-Con, which I’ve attended for about 15 years straight. Frankly, at this point SDCC knows me almost as well as I know myself, and we’ve come to a bit of an understanding.
My first trip to SDCC was in, I think, 1994. It was part of a trip to Southern California with my then girlfriend, and we crossed the border into Tijuana one day, and then strolled into Comic-Con the next. It was a simple task to grab a day pass, walk onto the floor, and chat with Vertigo writers like Garth Ennis and Peter Milligan.
But, my oh my, has it grown since then.
Given the work it takes just to get a ticket, to book a room, to fight the traffic and the teeming masses, it’s no wonder that you’ll often hear comics fans complain about show.
Yet, despite all of that, there’s a reason that Comic-Con is such a massive success.
The trick is to make Comic-Con work for you. And there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind.
Note: I’m going to call it Comic-Con here, because for most of the West Coast, I think that’s just how it’s known. The proliferation and growth of cons has maybe made “SDCC” the more appropriate term, but for me, it’s always gonna be Comic-Con. Or Nerd Prom.
Make Your Preparations.
I moved to Los Angeles in 1998, and from 1999 through 2014, I’ve attended Comic-con every year. I’ve seen it grow from a small show to what I can only qualify as a “Pop-up Disneyland.” The show has spilled out of the convention center and taken over much of the surrounding area. In fact, this year, I had several local residents tell me there were going to Comic-Con without tickets. They had no interest in tickets; simply going downtown was spectacle enough. They wanted to watch the cosplayers, to check out the free tents set up by studios to announce video games and movies and new fall TV shows.
There’s no getting around it; you’re going to have to take the bad with the good: crowds, lines, heat. You have to prepare. Comfortable shoes, water bottles, deodorant. Lots and lots of deodorant. Like, maybe some extras to kindly hand out to those in need.
Note: You know that’s not a bad idea. Slap a Batman logo on it, and folks might see “free swag” and not “offensive gesture.” What? It could work.
Anyway. You plan your whole year around it. Get yourself into that headspace, and then when you get there… somehow, it’s not quite as bad as you think it’s going to be. In fact, as the con has exploded out of the convention center, I’d argue that the crowds are now more evenly dispersed. There’s still a pretty big squeeze through the Hollywood studio pavilions, but this past year, the video game demos moved into the neighboring Hyatt, and I think that’s added a little more breathing room.
The Big Con is a Buffet.
There are two things to understand about a buffet.
- Everything is there.
- You cannot consume everything.
People will tell you: “Oh, Comic-Con isn’t about the comics anymore.”
I disagree. It’s not that it’s not about the comics. It’s that it’s about everything, and as such, the comics seem dwarfed by the money spent on the giant pavilions brought in by the Hollywood studios.
But: I’ve been to small, medium and big cons. And I will tell you that the comics section of Comic-Con is as big, if not bigger, than all those other shows. The comics are definitely more of the focus of smaller shows, but in terms of the actual square footage, the actual number of publishers showcasing their products, the actual number of vendors selling comic books? Comic-con still has it all.
So, you’ve got your comics. You’ve got your big movie announcements, your screenings, your toys, your artists’ alley, your video game demos… and just typing that gives me whiplash… Where am I looking? What am I looking at?
That’s when you remind yourself: I don’t have to consume everything. I’m going to pick ONE thing and go and enjoy myself. And that one thing? It’s definitely here.
Personally, I gave up trying to do anything in “Hall H” (where they show exclusive footage and make big Hollywood announcements) about 10 years back. I just read about it online later. And I’m totally okay with that.
I Contain Multitudes.
I love comics. I’ve gone from being a guy who likes comic books to someone to makes comic books. And those are sometimes two different things.
I’m also a filmmaker. And I love movies.
I’m also a father. And if your experience with parenthood is anything like mine, then you know that your child can go from Thomas the Tank Engine to Power Rangers to X-men to Halo in the seeming blink of an eye.
At Comic-Con, I can be each of these things — father, professional, consumer — and I can choose when and where I will be that thing. When my son — now a teenager — was younger, Comic-Con was a place for him to hunt down Justice League Unlimited toys. More recently it’s a place to demo upcoming video games. I have spent days with my son, experiencing the convention as he experienced it — as a theme park devoted to all aspects of pop culture. I’ve watched him identify and revel in people dressed up as mutants, super-heroes, assassins, soldiers, wizards, and more.
When he was around 5 or 6, if you asked my son what is favorite holiday was, his response would be: “Comic-Con.” He’s older now, and he doesn’t feel the same — but I wouldn’t trade that time for anything in the world.
That’s not just his experience; it’s my experience as well. I can spend a day at Comic-Con just shopping for comics. I’m still a consumer. I still like rifling through 50% off trade paperbacks and dollar bins.
I’m also a professional, and while many professionals will complain and suggest that a smaller con is better for engaging with other creators… I’m not quite sure I agree. I’ve had as many great conversations at Comic-Con as anywhere else. I’ve attended parties and gatherings, and I’ve always had time to stop and chat with other creators on the floor. Just not near the big Hollywood booths.
Just this past year, an artist friend and I went to a birthday dinner for some animation people, then we went to a Drink & Draw event in the Gaslamp, and then we walked back to the Hyatt bar, where… well, everyone goes. It’s chaotic, yes. But you prepared for it, remember? At the bar, I immediately met up with a dozen or so friends, acquaintances and colleagues. Yes, it’s as exhausting as a day at Disneyland, but… it was all there. All those people were there. I had some great conversations, met some wonderful people, and had a very memorable night.
Anything Can Happen.
As a professional, I made my first comic book deal at Comic-Con. Everyone says that never happens anymore. Well, it happened for me in 2011, and I was out at lunch (or was it breakfast?) with Panelteer Ali Colluccio and some other friends, if I recall correctly, when I got a telephone call from my artist, Jared Souza, that Hermes Press wanted to meet with us about our proposed book, Sparrow & Crowe. Shortly after Comic-Con was over, we had a publishing contract.
Funny, reminiscing about this, I’m recalling something else. Just a small thing, not nearly as important or life-altering as my first publishing contract, but I’ll leave you with this. I told you I was a filmmaker, right?
I handed Joss Whedon a copy of my film.
This was probably about 2005 or 2006, so Whedon was Whedon, but he wasn’t yet Avengers-level Whedon, and Comic-con was not quiiiite yet the insanity it has become.
I’m almost embarrassed by my audacity. He was very nice, even if I was clearly accosting him like every other fan. But I had just completed my first short film. And… there he was. Right outside the Dark Horse booth.
And, look, I’m sure he never looked at the film. I know that. Even at the time, I never expected anything. It was just a moment… a single moment at a big convention, in which I was able to give something I made to a guy whose work I really respect and enjoy.
And that happened at Comic-Con.