There was a dark period in my life, long before the glitzy world of canine assasssin’ing, when I covered San Diego Comic Con every year. To quote Neil Diamond:
Did you ever read about a frog who dreamed of being a king
And then became one?
Well except for the names and a few other changes
I you talk about me, the story’s the same one
But I got an emptiness deep inside
And I’ve tried, but it won’t let me go.
That was Comic-Con. I’ve seen things, images that still haunt me, of giant burly men stretched into spandex, their neck beards spinning off into infinity. I haven’t been in a few years, but like the guy who got bitten by a shark, I still find myself regaling loved ones and the occasional passerby with entertaining anecdotes. Here’s what I learned, mostly so you don’t have to.
- There Are Plenty of False Positives
Sucker Punch. Cowboys and Aliens. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Read through any “Winners and Losers” column and you’ll find it has no bearing on any future results. You “win” Comic Con in the same way you “win” an ESPY. No one remembers anything about it the following year, and only about 6,000 people watch it happen live. Oddly, it’s almost as if any idiot can cut together a 90-second trailer that makes The Amazing Spider-Man look cool.
- Hall H is a Joke / Nightmare. It’s a JoMare
I recorded this video at Comic Con 2009:
Used a FlipCam. Was about 750 yards away from Kevin Smith when he was talking, I recorded this off the giant monitor that was closest to my seat. 100,000 people have seen the video since. I’d guess around 400 other people also recorded this moment. Looking back, I could have filmed this via Skype connection whilst on my luxury yacht, surrounded by strippers. Physically being there did nada for me, and you can’t get a feel for exactly how giant and antiseptic Hall H is without having stepped inside it. Sure, I’ve been in the same room as Robert Downey Jr. as he talked Iron Man, but if I’d shouted, “Yeah, but does Tony Stark drink any bitches pretty??!” at the top of my lungs, Downey Jr. wouldn’t even have heard it. Plus, my section of 1,000 people would have immediately booed me for interrupting Downey Jr.’s sanctimonious “craft of acting” speech. Then, after my 1,000 people booed, the other 5,000 would have booed too, just to have something to do. You aren’t in the “same room” as the actors and directors, you’re in the same zip code.
- You Walk Eight Miles a Day, Minimum
This one is probably a positive, as I’m told American obesity rates are skyrocketing (Liv Mas on My Fourth Meal!). The San Diego Convention Center, from end to end, is around a third of mile. There’s a chance I’m making that number up, but whenever I made plans to meet someone one the other side of the convention center we made sure to allow 20 minutes traveling time. Add in the teeming masses and it’s basically impossible to get anywhere. Get comfy, Voltron, because you just won the “claustrophobia” lotto.
- Little Italy is a GEM!
San Diego has a Little Italy district, and it is simply divine. If you’ve never shotgunned garlic bread and spaghetti into your gullet after not eating for 16 hours then you haven’t lived. It’s like all the best parts of a Matt McConaughey movie.
- Sure, You Could Theoretically Buy a Comic Book …
Comic conventions used to be about buying comic books. Now, I don’t want to go all Newsroom on you, but back in my day if you wanted to buy ALL the Alf comics they had you could accomplish such a thing. You could even mouth-hook your way into that coveted first edition of G.I. Joe: Special Missions. Nowadays? You can’t even get on the convention floor without taking an elbow from an Ewok. Plus, if you have any sort of aversion to armpit smells you’re doomed. DOOMED, I tell ya!
- The Food is a Hate Crime
The rules of SDCC are simple – and they are encapsulated in this clip from Total Recall:
In 2009 I got in line at 4am for the Avatar / Twilight panels. Comic Con had cleverly scheduled them back-to-back on Thursday, using the tried and true “Fuck everyone” technique. Their theory was diabolically simple, for they knew people would be crazy for both panels, so why not get them out of the way before the weekend insanity? Crowd Control 101. Also, Avatar and Twilight fans were entirely different demographics, so they figured they could just pit them against each other like moron gladiators. Keep in mind they would be showing some footage from each film, but not the entire film, so we were lining up to be the people who saw the first shots of Edward or a Navii IN THE WORLD.
Well, at least for about 12 seconds until everyone posted it everywhere on the Internet. But wow, those 12 seconds of glory.
So, back to our thread, 4am, in line, surrounded by Twilight and Avatar fans. We were let into Hall H around 10am, and I’d already burned through my protein shakes for the day. I sauntered up to the “concessions” booth, ready to just destroy my body with processed food. After six hours of sitting around on the grass, chatting up really pale people, I figured I’d earned the right to engage in some very serious emotional eating. Only one problem – the food in Hall H is not food. Oh, it’s priced like food, and pictures of it kinda/sorta look like food, but it’s not something you’d ever serve to your cat or gerbil. They “prepare” it in microwaves, it’s about $5 for a hot dog that tastes almost precisely like cardboard. Now, I’m not one of those assholes who goes around spouting, “YOU DO THE MATH!” – but you do the math. Hall H seats like 6,000 people. How would you feed them all at once with facilities resembling a food truck? The answer is simple, and it dovetails nicely with Comic Con’s scheduling methods. EATING IS FOR PEOPLE THAT DON’T STAND IN LINE FOR TWO DAYS TO WATCH A TEASER TRAILER. You a legit Twi-hard? Then you’ll happily go without food, woncha? Woncha, baby?
- Marketing Triumphs All
Comic Con is the ultimate in the Tom Sawyer “fence painting” syndrome (literary reference, heeeyoooooo). You’ve got an audience marketers would kill to advertise to – young teens and 20-somethings with disposable income who like to dress up like Pikachu. But how to get them to “buy in” to the idea that being marketed to is awesome? Simple stuff – just enforce the scarcity and use words like “exclusive clips” in every single communication. There isn’t another example in the world of people paying hundreds of dollars to watch commercials, penned in like animals. And guess what happens if you buy a ticket, but don’t get to see the panels you like? Tough shit. Shoulda gotten in line earlier. There are legit comic cons in the world where you can see a panel, buy a comic, and get that Stark Trek villain’s autograph. It’s just that San Diego Comic Con isn’t one of them.
NOW, does Comic Con say “Well, you can’t line up until Midnight on Thursday, so your suffering will at least have definitive limits”? Nope, quite the contrary. They LOVE it when people get there on Monday with all their gear. “Hey,” they think, “People love this Con!!” Never mind the poor bastards LIVING IN A TENT for three days to see Kristen Stewart chew her nails for half an hour. And of course the rest of the world writes off the entire enterprise, correctly thinking, “Well, if you want to go to a convention where crazy people hang out …”
- There Are Some Hilariously Terrible Panels
You’ll see a never-ending tweet/news stream coming out of San Diego over the next few days, updating you on everything from the new Superman film to the new Bond film to the new Vampire film. It will seem like SDCC is the center of the movie universe, mostly because studios have spent millions of dollars to create the world’s largest flytrap. But there are things you’ll never see, anywhere, because people either 1) don’t report on them or 2) no one clicks.
I was there when they showed a cartoon DVD of The Hulk vs. Wolverine. The entire “straight to video” enterprise was around 25 minutes in length. Their only goal was to drum up support for when they released the DVD, and they figured showing people the entire thing would definitely make them want to purchase it later.
The movie ended, and they opened up the floor to questions. There weren’t any, as we’d just seen the entire cartoon. So they played the DVD again. That’s how they spent their coveted hour in Hall H, and after that they shuffled off stage, never to be heard from again.
- Everyone is Very Invested in Making Sure You Know How Lucky You Are
Before each panel some knucklehead comes over the PA system and tells you just how angry everyone will be if any of the footage gets leaked to the Internet. “It’s an honor that the footage is shown here,” they tell you, “We want to make sure the studios are really happy.” Yes, indeed, we wouldn’t want for any of that precious trailer goodness to make it out onto the web, at least not until the exclusive slushy Skyfall deal is signed with 7-11, right? Hey fella, not everyone gets to spend time with Robert Pattinson and 6,000 squealing teenagers, you should count your lucky stars.
- The “News” Isn’t “News” and Pictures Will Get You Clicks
Serious listeners of The Frotcast will remember Vince’s story about attempting to “cover” Comic Con. He showed up early, bright eyed and squirrel-tailed, tried to get into panels, and generally ruined his life for a few days. Then, an epiphany, he’d just take pictures. And yeebers jeebers, this totally worked. Readers were just as interested at looking at pictures of people dressed up like Princess Leia as they would have been in the new Darkwing Duck promotional poster. Granted, marketing has never been more transient or disposable, but Comic Con takes it to a whole ‘nother level.
If you’re going, whether to cover it, or as a fan, I salute you and wish you luck. Just make sure to pack a few extra protein shakes.