San Diego Comic Con 2017: Seven Year (Sw)itch

If you prefer to hear about my experience, you can find them on the Panel to Panel page.

San Diego Comic Con, or as it more frequently abbreviated as SDCC is still one of the largest North American conventions and the largest on the West Coast. In addition to the under estimated 130,000 attendees, it is a place where the biggest talents, living legends and hopeful dreamers assemble into a crazy, cultural phenomenon. With it’s growing popularity, there has been more frequent criticism of the event, as well as yearly controversy stemming from less than ethical fans. These issues are related to what the general public is drawn in to,typically exclusive experiences such as Hall H, items from Hasbro and Funko, and autograph opportunities from celebrities, not to mention the increasing investment into off site experiences. On a different side of complaints, vendors, more notably the comic book sellers are finding less and less fruitful trips, with some mainstays going away. There is definitely a shift in the culture, but as laid out in their mission statement, it is a promotion of pop culture, and what is popular will change over time. Personally, I have been lucky to be a part of that change and I feel like this year, while not over the top, was momentous in its own way. For this entry, I want to address the bad and the good and perhaps offer some perspective to attendees going into SDCC 2018.

Let’s address common issues that have popped up for SDCC: Crowds, Campers, Criminals and Cost.

Crowds: Comic Con has some of the largest crowds, both inside and out of the convention center. As a result, Comic Con International has been dynamic about trying to make changes to the way they manage their event in order to keep those problems to a minimum. The most congested area on the inside is the exhibit hall. With over 700 listed exhibitors of varying size plus artist alley and small press sections, there is a finite space to maneuver. Many of these booths also have displays that are attractions of their own, and daily giveaways that draw crowds. What has to be accepted is that the crowds and the attractions are symbiotic; fans get a keepsake from a company, word spreads, crowds grow, more swag next year. I have been a part of that process, and have moved away from it, but part of some people’s experience is to get their hands on all the free Marvel posters, or Cartoon Network’s daily buttons. If you don’t like crowds, but want those things, it really comes down to how bad do you want it? These items may be free of monetary cost, but there is a price to pay for this exclusive. There are also, of course, the paid for exclusives which have their own hoops to jump through which creates a crowd of their own, but that’s a camping problem…

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Campers: SDCC exclusives are coveted for their perceived rarity and value. Funko and Hasbro likely sit on the top of this tower, as their items sell out year after year. Hasbro and Funko have ticketed systems that regulate the flow, but even then, there may be restrictions and slip ups that leave people empty handed. The sad fact is that not all these people are purchasing for their personal collections, but are often people seeking to resell items to address cost issues, or even to just make a profit from the event. There are many people who can’t get to San Diego, but have their eyes on a prize, so the marked up price for collectors is often paid. These companies also tend to produce similar items annually, so collectors often know what they are looking for, even before they have set their eyes on things.

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In addition to people camping for exclusives, you have people sleeping in line for panels, most notably Hall H. Hall H lines had previously been discouraged, but over the years the event has accommodated die hard fans with a wristband system to discourage the camping, although that doesn’t seem to be the case. People who don’t want to miss seeing their favorite actors on their favorite shows will  do shifts in line over 24 hours ahead of the scheduled panel. On Thursday morning, I saw people in line for Friday panels, which seemed absurd to me, but not any crazier than I had done in previous years by comparison. To people who haven’t truly braved this line, it is undeniably an experience to have sacrificed comfort for a one of a kind day of panels, Saturday being the largest of those spectacles. But for those who believe all sacrifices should yield reward, camping is not for you.

Criminals: SDCC 2017 opened up a new opportunity for scammers, as reportedly, 400 scoundrels found their way into Hall H Saturday after creating fake Hall H wristbands. While a consolation of  4 Day passes was given out to those people, it shows the increasing problems the event has to face to deter counterfeiting. RFID was introduced last year as a means to prevent people from entering with counterfeit badges, or badge swapping/lending. While the crowds seem as large as years past, it can be said that only the most determined people will make their way in unscathed. The event and the organizers also try to keep the event as exclusive as possible, limiting access to the convention area, much to the chagrin of well-intentioned loiterers. All big events have to deal with increased criminal activity, and counterfeiting for this event in particular. Unfortunately, the verification issue may be the fault of CCI, but the perpetrators are the ones that conspired to get in.

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Cost: SDCC is costly. There is no way to have a cheap trip to an event that is built on hype and exclusivity. If you want an experience that is convenient and comfortable, that cost will get just a little higher. It’s important to understand that this event is like many others of its caliber, and while the cost in general seems high, there are many things that go into that cost. The event has so many supplementary aspects, that you miss as the dazzle of the caliber and star power may blind you to. Attendees, for example, may not know about the hospitality suite that offer snacks and drinks for attendees who want to take a break in the evening. While that doesn’t negate costs, it is one of the many small things that the even provides that might be overlooked. As I have learned, if you feel a cost is too high, then it’s not likely something you are whole heartedly interested in, or something you have to consider why the cost wasn’t on par with your experience, and what you should do to change it.

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Now that I’ve highlighted some of the bad, let’s consider what is good about the event: Options, Opportunity, and One of a Kind moments.

Options: SDCC is brimming with programming, and while you can’t always make it to the most coveted events, you’re likely a fan of many things, so if you comb through the program, you may find a lot of different things that will be fulfilling or pleasant surprises. One of those panels this year was a music panel that was moderated by two actors from Fox’s Legion, and featured composers from The Flash, Ash vs The Evil Dead, Legion, Jessica Jones and more. It was nice to be familiar with their work and hear them speak about the creative process that goes into their work. As a comic fan, I was able to attend quite a few DC panels that featured writers and artists, all which presented a different feel and opportunity to interact with the people who have created the stories I’ve enjoyed for the past few years. While you are bound to find a conflict in scheduling, or are dealing with a lot of different agendas, there is something waiting for you in a room you can definitely get in to.

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Opportunity: With the vast number of attendees, professionals and exhibitors, you are bound to find an opportunity for almost anything. Looking to talk to social media gurus, have a brush with greatness, just want to see someone in the flesh? All of that can and does happen. While it is a vacation for most, that doesn’t always mean taking it easy. Planning ahead and recognizing that disappointment may occur will allow you to better lay out alternative plans, or minimizing them to increase your focus. This year a big part of our experience was to attend a blogger party, while we ended up arriving later than expected, it was a worthwhile experience, especially to chat with the host for a bit. We also made backup plans for when we failed to get into the Westworld Experience, and lucked out on seeing a great Voltron panel.

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One of a Kind Moments: Perhaps you will get a selfie with a star, or finally catch a glimpse of your favorite cast, or just a moment with a great creator. It could be as simple as a chat with a fellow campers, or a great altruistic moment that leads to you getting an exclusive you’re looking for. My one of a kind moment this year was being a panelist at SDCC. It was something I had wanted to do after a few years as an attendee and while I have done smaller panels, it was something else to be able to do it at such a large event. It was also great to share that moment with close friends, people I love, and it will be an irreplaceable highlight. But I was also able to see and hear a lot of other people that got one of a kind moments as well, one person walked away with an original sketch from comic superstar Amanda Conner, another saw the cast of Game of Thrones inches away, another got the okay for their attire from Jaime Cheung, and someone got a personal invite to Westworld. Honestly, the shape it may come in is very different, and it’s not that you should expect it, but rather that enjoying yourself and your choices make it happen.

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Sorry this isn’t the usual straight forward  recounting of my experiences, but since I have been fortunate to attend these last 7 years, I feel like intermingling my experiences with a little advice. This event has so much to offer, and while some have grown tired of the superficial, corporate elements that have become a larger part of this event, that people miss what is at the heart of it; a program that welcomes all fans and is meant to provide an experience that is a positive, enriching promotion of popular culture.  Last year, I felt that I no longer needed to attend the convention because it no longer had something to offer me. When the idea of applying for a panel came up, I agreed, while I didn’t think we’d be worthy of the event. Luckily, we had the chance to present and I was able to contribute to the event in a different way to help me appreciate it from a different standpoint. In a JFK manner, I’d say switch up your perspective. Ask not what your convention provides you, but ask what you can provide for your convention’s atmosphere. That’s not to say that you’re doing it completely from the goodness of your heart, but you get to decide what kind of experience SDCC becomes, or any event for that matter. I have had more great moments at that convention than bad, and many of those bad ones are when I forgot about the nature of the convention, or didn’t plan properly to make things happen. There are many great articles that talk about SDCC prep, but I feel what matters most is shaping your own experience. But hey, you’ll know when that switch flips for you.

I also made a personal goal this year to take a lot more pictures, I think I did okay on that too. Thanks to everyone who added to my experience this year by taking random pictures with me.

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