For one week each year, San Diego becomes the center of the entertainment universe. What started as a gathering place for comic-book lovers and science-fiction fanatics has become something far more complex. It’s a veritable pop-culture blender of movies, TV shows, comics, video games, role playing and some activities that defy explanation.
I’ve been to comic conventions before, but San Diego Comic Con has become more like a Woodstock, err Bonnaroo, for all things geek. Each year over 100,000 people descend on the city for four days of events. At any given moment, there are a dozen different panels being hosted and hundreds of companies vying for attention. There are concerts, movie premieres and late-night parties. Essentially, there’s a good time to be had.
It’s overwhelming at first. Picture the population of Wilmington crammed into a 10-block radius. There are people everywhere. Crossing the street often felt like a scene out of “Braveheart,” with two armies charging at one another. It’s an agoraphobic’s worst nightmare. The main hall features trade show-style booths, from artists, comic book publishers and television networks. Within the first hour, I had seen Johnny Knoxville, bumped into legendary comic creator Stan Lee and witnessed a dozen girls dressed like Catwoman.
The senses are under constant assault. Loud speakers blare out announcements about upcoming events and guests. The roar of conversations from the tens of thousands inside fill every corner of the main hall. At every turn, someone is trying to hand off promotional items. I didn’t so much walk as weave my way through seas of fans. Every major film studio and television network is hocking their wares, pushing the new shows for their fall schedule. Video game companies are giving fans an opportunity to play un-released games which have months before they see the inside of any player’s box.
Speaking of fans, there are a lot! Dedicated, passionate people who aren’t afraid to get a little crazy. Dressing up in costume is commonplace at Comic Con. Those who do dress up put a lot more effort into their getup than the typical store-bought Halloween costume. These are intricate—at times, extremely impressive—styles of fabric, hardware and studio-professional makeup. Sure, there are a fair variety of bargain-basement Batmen and some Jokers who look like they spent a little too much time in Mom’s eye shadow, but there’s some real craftsmanship to be seen.
Just like Halloween, it’s hard to ignore the scantily clad women in costume. Sociologically, it’s the most fascinating aspect of the main hall. Watching these young ladies walking around in almost nothing, posing for photos, which are being taken primarily by guys. I tried to wrap my head around the appeal. Yes, it’s nice to see an attractive girl dressed in skintight leather, or see a dozen girls dressed in the “Slave Leia” costume from “Return of the Jedi.” I’m a guy and a geek, and the last time I checked, I wasn’t dead. But when piles of guys crowd around women with cameras, snapping photo after photo, it makes one ponder the creep factor. These are 40-year-old men snapping photos of 20-year-old barely dressed women. Maybe it would seem less weird if there weren’t 10,000 kids in attendance. Seeing these women ogled by middle-aged men is a fabulous psychological quandary.
For the true fan, there’s a lot to experience at Comic Con. Within the span of a couple of hours, I had gone from listening to Francis Ford Coppola opine about the future of digital cinema, to hearing 2,000 girls scream like rabid wombats over members of the “Twilight” cast, to watching 1,000 fans dressed like zombies parading downtown. Five minutes later I saw a flash mob of Arabian dancers performing in front of the convention center.
Comic Con is kind of like going to Disneyland. There are cool things to see, fun things to do, and lines that seem to stretch into infinity. There’s a line for everything: to get Joss Whedon’s autograph, to attend a panel featuring the cast of the “The Amazing Spider-Man,” to go to the bathroom, or get a table in a restaurant within 10 blocks of the convention.
Much of the fun of Comic Con is just being there at the epicenter. Being part of the manic energy that permeates every venue. Getting the chance to listen to a respectable writer talk about his trade or to geek out over the cast of a favorite TV show. This is truly an event for the most devoted fans, and they’re rewarded with four days of all-access insanity.