Or alternatively: “Why DorkDaddy Won’t Be Going To Comicon This Year”
For the uninitiated Comicon is the annual convention of all things pop-culture that takes place in San Diego every year in July. When it started up 40 years ago it used to be all about comic books. It was humble, and intimate, and fun. Over time it grew, and became *the* comic convention to go to. You could find celebrities there to sign autographs, and vendors looking to promote their new products handed out swag like Halloween candy.
I attended Comicon every year from 1993-1999. It was a great time. You could show up on the day of, purchase your badge right there, spend the day walking around, and come home with a bag full of freebies, and autographs from Lou Ferrigno, Eric Estrada and Stan Lee (the Godfather of the American comic book industry). Then I went away for a few years to, you know… get an education, build a business, start a family. Every year in July for 12 I told myself “I’ll get back there someday”.
My oh my, how things have changed.
Now it is *THE* place for any big-budget franchise looking to generate buzz. It has become an obscene orgy of fanboys and fangirls – both dressed up as their favorite scantily-clad characters from pop-culture (these are comic book people we’re talking about here. Exercise isn’t usually #1 on their daily activity list. Also, the characters they dress up as typically wear nothing but spandex – or less. You connect the dots.) wrapped in a cocoon of toy, videogame, movie, TV, book and clothing producers all promoting whatever it is they’re going to be hocking in the next year with the volume turned all the way up. There are panels where you can see screenings of footage from whatever movie you’re going to be geeking out to in the next 9 months (and often see the director/actors talk about it live on stage). The cast from popular television shows are there to talk about the next season and field questions from fans. Hasbro, Kenner, X-Box, E.A., DC, Marvel, Lego all have “exclusive” products you can only get on the floor on certain days at certain times (just the sort of thing collectors go batsh*t crazy for. Within minutes the products can be found on Ebay at astronomical prices). In short, it’s nerd-Mecca. At the end of Comicon weekend you’re absolutely exhausted… in a Las-Vegas-bachelor-party-you-barely-remember sort of way.
This is the story of why I will not be going back there this year:
Last year I celebrated my triumphant return to Comicon, 12 years after my last trip to San Diego. Two years earlier, in 2009 I tried to make it happen, only to find that you could no longer buy a pass the week before the event. In June when I looked into it I found the entire event sold out. I was bummed, but I understood. I’d be smarter the next year. In 2010 I thought I’d get a jump on things in February. I went to the registration website to find – guess what… sold out. Really?! In February?! I was not going to let that one get past me in 2011. I registered for the official newsletter and subscribed to Comicon’s Facebook and Twitter feeds to make sure I didn’t miss out.
When at last it came time to register (online only this year, the first time they went that route) the countless throngs of people slamming the registration server all at once crashed the entire system. Registration was put delayed until they could fix the system. Two months later… same thing. System CRASH! Finally, another two months later online registration worked… but just barely, and only for those who could sit perched over their computers like vultures for an hour while the registration system barely limped along. Hundreds of people timed out, or lost their connection to the server, missed the window to purchase before it sold out, and were incensed. For my part, the first thing I discovered was that there was no chance of getting a full weekend pass (the event spans four days). Those were all sold out on-sight last year. Only one-day passes available. Fine, one day was all I needed anyway. I managed to snag a pass for me and my buddy Ken who’d never been and wanted to check it out. Score! After 12 years I was heading back to Comicon!
When we got there it was like discovering that the girl you had a crush on in high school was now a chain-smoking, gin-swilling baby-momma, living in a trailer, with bad hair extensions, botched plastic surgery working on her 4th husband. The ocean of people surrounding the San Diego convention center was akin to the pictures you see of Woodstock. A labyrinthine system of lines tried to funnel Comicon goers in the right direction and to the right places, but if there’s anything comic book people know how to do, it’s lines. Everyone was there hours before the doors opened, and before officials could manage traffic. In short, it was a mob scene. In my day you could just walk up, register and walk in. Clearly this wasn’t the same Comicon I’d left 12 years earlier.
When the doors opened there was another labyrinthine set of lines through the bowels of the convention center to get your badge and goody-bag – people trampled over each other like it was the Kentucky Derby to get their badges and bags first. You see, in my day if you wanted to attend the Peter Jackson “Hobbit” movie screening in “Hall H”, all you had to do was go. But in 2012 there are so many people at Comicon, there just isn’t enough room for everyone. To see Peter Jackson talk about “The Hobbit” you have to be one of the first few thousand through the gate and camp out outside “Hall H” all day. And that’s it. No other panels. No walking the floor. You can’t even go out to lunch (unless you have someone hold your place in line). If you want to do an event you have to pick that event out ahead of time and dedicate your entire day to getting into that event. That’s it. That’s your day.
Gee. I would have LOVED to see Peter Jackson talk about “The Hobbit”, or Johnathan Favreau talk about “Cowboys And Aliens” (Harrison Ford made his first ever Comicon appearance at that presentation), but I only had one day there. I sure as hell wasn’t going to spend it duking it out with a crowd of people way more obsessed than me on the issue. Oh well. No presentations for me. That’s OK. What I was really looking forward to was just walking the exhibit floor, taking in the spectacle, maybe buying a cool Tshirt or ball cap, maybe seeing a has-been celebrity. So Ken and I headed to the floor.
I should say now that I really had only one “must do” on my list. I wanted to get Stan Lee to autograph a coffee table book celebrating 50 years of Marvel Comics for Episode V. As far as I’m concerned, I’m over that sort of thing. But Stan Lee is in his 80’s. He’s not going to be around much longer. Presumably when Episode V is old enough to appreciate who Stan Lee is, Stan’s gonna be gone. But how cool would it be if Episode V had that book, and inside the front cover read “Dear Episode V. Stay strong true believer. Stan Lee”. So I schlepped the coffee table book all the way down to San Diego in a backpack and carried it around the whole trip with that mission in mind.
Again, in my day Stan Lee could be found at the Marvel booth at a scheduled time, and you could just walk up to his table, maybe wait in a short line, and shake his hand after he signed your whatever. The program indicated that Stan would be signing at 10:30 that morning and anyone wanting to meet him should show up at the Marvel booth at 8:00 to get a ticket. OK, fair enough. Turns out when you show up at the Marvel booth you draw a ticket out of a hat. If the ticket has a star stamped on it, you get to come back at 10:30 to meet Stan. If not, so sorry. And wouldn’t you know it? There’s already a 20 minute line just to reach into the box. Oh well. It’s Comicon. That’s what you do here. So we got in line for a chance to get Stan Lee to sign the book for my kid.
In line ahead of us are a couple of girls, couldn’t be more than 21. One girl says to the other, “Why are we even in this line?”
The other one responds “I think this is a line to get an autograph from Stan Lee”.
“Who’s Stan Lee?”
“I don’t know. Some old guy who used to make a lot of comic books I think. Must be a big deal ‘cause the line’s pretty long. Anyway, we don’t have anything to do until Jack gets here so we might as well wait in line”.
And with that girl #2 retreated into her iphone, presumably to send a text to Jack “where R U?!”
We get to the front of the line and naturally the “Who’s Stan Lee” girl pulls a winning ticket. Good for her. Maybe Jack will appreciate it. My buddy Ken reaches into the bowl. Nothing. I reach into the bowl, invoking all the karmic powers of the universe and pull out… an empty ticket. No star. But that’s OK. They’re going to be open for another 30 minutes. Ken and I quick get back in line and wait 30 minutes for another shot. As it turns out we were the last two to get a chance before they closed the line. Of course we both turned up empty… again.
As we’re walking away, a little bummed about missing out on Stan Lee for my son and a little bitter about wasting the better part of an hour in the pursuit, we see “Who’s Stan Lee” girl standing just 15 feet from the Marvel booth pronouncing like an auctioneer, “I’ve got winning ticket for a Stan Lee pass here! $100 if anyone wants it! $100 for a Stan Lee pass!”
You’ve got to be kidding me! I hauled this book all the way down to San Diego, carried it around on my back all day, stood in line twice for an hour to get an autograph for my 3 year old son who might actually appreciate it someday only to be skunked by the cruel mistress of fate, and “Who’s Stan Lee” girl is pissing all over that noble effort by pulling the winning ticket to something she doesn’t even want, and trying to hock it for a profit.
It’s the American way.
That’s when I knew that this wasn’t my Comicon anymore. It’s grown too big for its britches. It isn’t just for people who love comics anymore. It’s for everyone – which isn’t bad in and of itself. It’s an amazing experience that everyone should be able to experience. Where else can you take a picture with the actual Delorian from “Back to the Future”? Where else can you get green-screened into a anctual Justice League comic book cover (for $ of course)? Where else can you see zombie-apocolypse-Wonder Woman walking around with way too much junk hanging out of her star-spangled trunks, or unexpectedly run into and shake hands with Rowdy Roddy Piper (we did get to do that), or nearly get run over by Billy D. Williams in a wheel chair as security tries to rush him through the VIP exit (that actually happened to us too).
I’ll go back to Comicon again when my kids are old enough to appreciate it. I have visions of it being an annual pilgrimage we make, a tradition we do year after year. But those days are still a few years off. In the meanwhile, given my experience last year, I genuinely don’t feel the need to make the pilgrimage down to San Diego anymore.
And then there was this celebrity we ran into. It would have been the crown jewel of my son’s collection if the price tag hadn’t been $15,000.
P.S. Ken, I still think pumping albuterol through the air conditioning system was the idea of the century.