Comic-Con 2009 - In Memoriam

San Diego Comic-Con was a little over three weeks ago, and I'm sure people are still recovering. The weekend just takes so much out of you because it's a non-stop affair with panels in the day, dinners in the evening and parties at night. Throw in camping overnight for panels and you're lucky to grab a couple of hours a sleep each night. Or maybe a nap by the hotel pool here and there. With all that insanity (and insomnia) is it worth going? I think that depends. What reads below are things that I hated about the show, and why I think San Diego won't hold onto the show much longer. Keep in mind that this is lengty, so you may want to print it out and read at your leisure. I also need to caveat this entire piece by saying that yes, I did enjoy Comic-Con. Regardless of the crowds, insanty and general mayhem that the weekend entails, it was awesome to see all the heavy hitters of the industry together and having a great time. Free bags I was immediately floored by the sheer size of the exhibition hall. I've been to New York Comic Con a few years now, and the size of that hall was maybe a 1/5 of what the hall is in San Diego. We're talking massive here. Needless to say, making your way around is a chore to begin with, but it's made especially difficult considering the amount of free bags that people were carrying around. And these weren't just small bags...big bags. And this was the first problem I had with Comic-Con: the free schwag. See, because movie studios, video game publishers, comic book stores, retailers and, oh yeah, comic book studios, have realized that their entire demographic is massed together in the same hall for days they've decided to pull out all the stops and give away whatever isn't nailed down that they can brand. This includes mammoth sized canvas bags, which of course are great for carrying all the other free stuff. But when close to 100,000 people have these bags in an already heavily trafficked room, you get even less room. The hall was a sea of walking billboards; convention goers rapidly moving from one booth to the next like a swarm of locusts in an attempt to get even more free stuff to cram in their already full bags. I get that companies need to advertise. If people don't know what goods/services you peddle, how are they going to buy from you. The problem here is that 75% of the free stuff at Comic-Con isn't comic related. It's mostly movie-related (and getting to be video game related). Do you really need one poster for every direct-to-DVD film that Paramount is releasing in the next few months? Is it necessary to get the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince bag, in addition to the Dante's Inferno and Dark Horse bags? How about some more stuff from actual comic book pubishers? I do give credit to Dark Horse for actually giving away Dark Horse branded bags...they were one of the few publishers to do so. Convention audience Of course if you say the word "free" it's a crapshoot of who you get. Which is another problem with the event: it attracts more than just comic book fans. When the show was first created, it was a mecca for geeks, dorks and comic book afficiandos to meet up yearly and share industry stories, talk about the latest storylines and just feel welcome among others. Now, you've got four different types of attendees: locals, Twilighters, cosplayers and pure fans. The locals are the people that really have nothing better to do, and going to the show isn't that big a deal to them. They roll out of bed, head into town, go to the show and head home at night. But a lot of them are there because of all the free stuff, or to just be on the news. Now, I'm not saying it's impossible for pure fans to be local, but the amount of couples I saw there that looked as far removed from comic book fans as you can lead me to believe that either: Comic-Con is a romantic weekend getaway for couples to travel to and spend together or that the couples are just bored and want to go for the novelty of the show. Whatever the case, these attendees have every right to be there, but they're contributing to the death of the show. Twilighters. I've never seen the movie. I've never read the books. But when tweens camp out OVERNIGHT for a one-hour panel, then you know things are f'ed up. I'm not saying I've never camped for anything, and really what's the difference between camping for Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (a 2-hour movie that had history on it's side and should have been good) and a 1-hour panel about a movie. But you're not paying $40 to get into that movie. These tweens paid $40 for a one-hour panel and then I'd say at least 50% them left the show. And you're probably thinking "if they all left that clears up room." True. The problem is the message it sends to studios that there is a market for these things, and press is great wherever you can get it from. In the future, we can expect to see a lot more Twilight-ish media making their way to the convention, until the unholy day where comic book fans are forced to fight through the Bratz sequel crowd. Cosplayers are great. And this show is the perfect avenue to show your devotion to a character or show. It's also a lot of fun to see some of the rarer costumes that show up, and try to figure out who they are. You'll high-five them out of respect for the uniqueness of the character or the elaborateness of the costume. Some cosplayers however are there for the attention. Is Slave Leia really that original anymore? Is is necessary to have 1 out of ever 3 women at the show dressed like that? And since when did Comic-Con become an anime convention? I didn't know Naruto could multiply like that, or that Final Fantasy VII featured 40 Clouds (did the Shinra SOLDIER unit really have that many big swords?). Some of these costumes are so large that those people take up so much more room. You know how hard it is to get around a Princess Peach hoopskirt in a crowd of 100,000? Not easy. The pure fans are the ones getting lost in the fold. These are the people that are lining up for autographs and panels, but are getting crowded out. Their passion is the reason for the convention's continued success, but good luck finding them at the show. I really want to believe that more of them will start going, balancing the crowds out some and actually making the "comic" part of SDCC mean something again. But comics aren't quite the moneymakers that Twilight or God of War 3 are. Panels I love panels. Where else can you get instant news and information on upcoming events, storylines and characters? And at an event such as Comic-Con, you can expect countless publishers to take every opportunity they can to pry at least a couple of the 100,000+ pairs of eyes away from the booth babes towards their upcoming plans. Awesome right? Not so much. See, because there are so many eyes there, it's nearly impossible to get to some panels. Or even go to certain panels back to back. For example, I went to the Marvel Cup O' Joe panel, which was from 2 PM - 3 PM (I believe). Immediately following it was the DC panel in another room that was something of a hike. Both panels are aimed at giving comic book fans a glimpse into what they can expect from storylines, characters and general happenings. I left the Marvel panel at about 2:40 PM, twenty minutes before the start of the DC panel. What did I see when I got to the room for the DC panel? A massive line. For a DC panel. Now, all props to DC for eliciting that type of fervor for a panel where they're going to be talking about their upcoming year. And keep in mind that there was a dedicated Blackest Night panel, so it's not like these people were all lining up for that. The problem is that so many people lined up for a DC panel, most likely a function of the sheer number of people there. I took a look at the lines and surmised that maybe half the people in line actually cared about DC. The other half were at the convention for another reason and probably thought "well, DC did Batman, and I did really like The Dark Knight, so maybe they'll announce another Batman movie or something!" The back-to-back panel problem was a small microcosm of the problems in Hall H and Ballroom 20. These were the two rooms where all the movie and TV panels were held, and they were virtually impossible to get to. The Chuck panel started at 10 AM on Saturday, and it was already at capacity (via the line outside) by like 8 AM. Twilighters camped out Wednesday night for their panel the next day. We're talking 12 and 13 year old girls camping out for a one-hour panel about a sequel to a movie based on a book. There just seems to be something inherently wrong with 12 and 13 year olds camping out for anything. I never even knew that women were capable of camping out for something sci-fi related. I'm not trying to be sexist, but if you look at just about any comic book related camping line it's predominantly male. The lines to get into these halls was ridiculous, and you basically had to get into a hall about three panels early and stake out a seat. The Iron Man 2 panel was at 4 PM on Saturday, but I made sure to get in there at 11 AM for the Lost panel. I don't even care about Lost, but I had to get there that early to just get a seat. Once that panel was over and we were in the intermission before Solomon Kane (a great looking movie by the way...start talking about it now) I was able to move up to about 2 rows from the stage. Sure, the room turns over before each panel. And I'm sure that there were a few people there that really don't care for Iron Man 2. But if you want a decent seat that gives you a good look at the stage without the assistance of monitors throughout the room, you have to get there early. And plan on missing some other panels. Perhaps because the staff was trying to do some crowd control, the True Blood panel was immediately after the Iron Man 2 panel in Ballroom 20. THE OPPOSITE END OF THE CONVENTION CENTER. Yep. So you basically had to choose between brand new Iron Man 2 footage or a glimpse into the hottest show on television right now. Yes, I realize the inaneness of qualifying that as a tough decision, but when your sole purpose at Comic Con is to see all this stuff it kind of sucks having to make that choice. Security/Staff This has got to be the biggest gripe of the whole weekend. I don't think I've ever been at an event where the flow of people was so choked by the people in charge of directing foot traffic. There were three types of people attempting to be helpful. Volunteers, convention staff and hired security (Elite Security). The volunteers were clearly there just to get admission to the show. Which I applaud. You're big fans of something present at the show, and if you can get free admission for a couple hours worth of telling people to go ask someone else, awesome. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I don't expect volunteers to know everything about the show. I expect them to point me in the direction of a convention staffer that may know, because they're the one running the whole show. Only half the convention staffers didn't know what was going on. The convention staffers suffer an opposite problem of the volunteers. While the volunteers are fans and have probably mapped out their own assault on the show, giving them at least some knowledge of what's going on where, the convention staffers don't care. Sure they have a program, but they don't know where the Stan Lee panel is taking place. They don't know what time Mike Dolce will be signing at the Image Comics booth. They just don't know. So any questions directed at them were typically followed by about 3 minutes of them deciding whether they should try answering you or try finding the one staffer that would know: the one staffer that was already tied up trying to solve about 40 other problems simultaneously. I understand that with a crowd that big it gets hard to know everything that's going on, but I thought the security is supposed to be there for physical crowd control, while the staffers are there for answers. Turns out it wasn't the case. Elite Security. Never in my entire life have I seen such a gross misrepresentation of the word "elite." These "professionals" were worthless. Every one of them had a different answer to the same question. For example, when I first got to the convention center I made my way to a door and asked a member of the Elite Security where to go. I was directed to Door D (I believe), the Press Door. I of course asked at Door F, meaning I had to walk a bit to get to Door D and go inside. There I was greeted by "checkout lanes" for the convention registration, and after giving my name and credentials was given a Press Pass. I was on my way. Sounds easy right? The next day I get on the shuttle, get dropped off, and walk to Door D. Logically, you'd expect to enter the same way twice. Nope. Apparently, I have to enter in at Door C, despite the large sign stating "Press Entrance" hanging above Door D. I understand that Door D is press registration, however when I asked where do press enter I was told Door D. It was only after getting to Door D and trying to go in that I was told to go to Door C. Third day, I get on the shuttle, get dropped off, and walk to Door C. Not so fast I'm told! Press Entrance is Door D. My feeble "but yesterday I was told everyone entered at Door C" argument was ruled invalid immediately, and I made my way to Door D. Guess what happens? "Everyone has to go in at Door C. No exceptions." The above paragraph is pretty much the template for every instance of needing guidance. The Elite Security knew nothing. Which is fine to an extent...they're hired for muscle usually. But the thing that made it worse was that they didn't care either. There was no effort to get help or to solve the problem. If a door needed blocking so people could get in they were brilliant. But if you had a question about where a staffer was or alternate routes, you got nothing. Silence. One Elite member was actually awesome and let me take an elevator down with him to get to Hall H. However, this was after another Elite security member told me to walk all the way over to that spot in the first place. To the spot where no one was allowed. Oh, and did I mention I walked THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF THE CONVENTION CENTER to get to that spot? Closing Thoughts People have asked me what I thought of Comic-Con, and my response has been "it was interesting." Did I have fun? Hell yeah. Would I go again? Gladly. But there are some glaring issues that need to be addressed (see above). And I think that because those issues won't be addressed, San Diego will end up losing the show. San Diegans, here me out before you bring out the virtual pitchforks. See, Comic-Con is so much more than comics at this point. And while the San Diego Convention Center is big, it's bursting at the seams for the show. Rumors have begun swirling that Las Vegas wants a crack at the show, and from what I've heard the Las Vegas convention center is nearly four times that of San Diego (I could be wrong though). If that's the case, it makes sense to have it there for many reasons. The obvious is capacity. A bigger hall means more attendees, more room and more tickets sold. There's another reason however that would solve some of the above problems. Having the show in Vegas makes it more of an event with more deliberate decision-making. That is, Vegas is more than the show. San Diego essentially becomes Comic-Con whenever it's going on. Las Vegas won't. This means that if you want to go you have actually plan on going to the show, and that would require some commitment. Not to mention the fact that for as much as Vegas is pushing the kid-friendly vibe, it's definitely for adults. Which means you would get less families, less groups of teenagers and especially less-Twilighters. Am I being elitist (ageist?)? No. What I'm saying is that an event in Las Vegas would be so much bigger and bring out more dedicated comic book fans. Which is what it needs to get back to its roots. However, the irony is that if this happens, then it will become small again and need to go back to San Diego. And the saga continues. So why not just split the comics part into something else? Maybe have San Diego Comic-Con and then San Diego Pop-Con, and make it a week long affair. That way, you have the dedicated comic book geeks seeing what they want to see, without having to fight through the people there to see How I Met Your Mother? There will be some overlap, with the obvious being comic book TV shows and movies. That way, you're getting your comic book fix and seeing everything (for the most part you want to see). Also, more studios will sign on for panels and such because slots that originally went to comic book publishers will now be open, so it's more revenue for the convention center. But wouldn't you much rather (as a comic book fan) go to a comics-exclusive convention on, say, Tuesday through Thursday, and then experience the rest of it Friday through Sunday? And seriously, take advantage of Sunday. There's a reason why everyone leaves town on Sunday: NOTHING IS SCHEDULED! Why not put some of the TV panels on Sunday? Give people a reason to hang around besides it being Family Day. For those of us that don't have kids yet, there's no incentive to stay on Sunday. People will lament the extra day or two there, and bitch about lack of sleep and what not. But this is the comic book party of the year. Suck it up and live it up. So there it is. A first-timer's thoughts on San Diego Comic-Con. Brendan, great to finally meet you. Yolanda, keep doing what you do at Marvel. Everyone else I met, stay awesome. I really hope to go next year, and I'm hoping I see you there.