Comic-Con is handled a lot like the coach of your favorite sports team; If you like what Comic-Con does, it is praised as the Phoenix of the conventions, it is the Alpha and Omega of all that is. If you don’t like what Comic-Con does, it is treated as the Dark Phoenix of conventions, it needs to go away fast before it consumes what little goodwill you have left for it. In our case, it was Jeremy’s second year and Jesse and Steve saw this juggernaut for the first time.
Can something as large, crowded, and uncomfortable as Comic-Con be fun, or does it need an overhaul to make itself more desirable? Well, we can’t invite you to Hall H, but we can let you know what we did see. Let’s go through it:
Jeremy: We were lucky enough to grab our first pick for our hotel selection and we stayed at the Declan Suites. These rooms are very spacious. Each room is a mini-suite with one-or-two beds behind a separate wall and door.
We enjoyed the counter, table, desk, chairs, and couches that were available. It was the first time since 2006 I have shared a room with multiple places to sit that weren’t beds. The room even had two televisions, once in the living room and another in the bedroom. We were initially told that we would not be able to plug video devices into the back of the televisions in the rooms, however, in our room, we were able to plug in two devices. They are also renovating the rooms before next year’s convention.
The hotel lobby is relatively small. There are only three attendants available at the most, but the hotel is not large and there was rarely a long line of people waiting at any time during our stay. It also took time to get used to the lobby being on the 12th floor. The lower levels are parking. We didn’t have a chance to check out the pool (due to my overscheduling), but we did go to Deck 12, the restaurant in the hotel. They actually serve very, VERY good food for very affordable prices.
The consensus was that the Declan is on our list for Comic-Con 2015.
As for the shuttles, for the second year, NBC sponsored the shuttles, so all of the buses were full chartered buses. There were no school buses or uncomfortable rides. We were lucky in that the Declan's front door was around the corner from a shuttle stop. There was a problem I didn't encounter during my stay on Harbor Island last year in that the Green Line shuttles ran a zig-zag course through the heart of the Gaslamp up to the Convention Center's front door. Though the walk from the Declan to the Convention center isn't too long, having the shuttles available to take the load off is very helpful.
The drivers are (mostly) very courteous and professional. During Preview Night, the driver for my wife and I pointed out four places we should eat and gave us tips on how to move through the area on foot. I visited a couple of those places and the driver's advice was solid. I watched one driver help someone with three over-sized Hasbro bags load them underneath the bus.
Steve: As a first time attendee, I feel lucky that the Declan was my first hotel experience. Check-in was simple, though we did have to wait about 5 min as 2 of the 3 attendants were occupied and the 3rd seemed busy with paperwork. The elevator system could be confusing at first, since the lobby was on the 12th floor. The hallways were strangely warm, like near outside temperature warm, but once in your room, things were adequate. The room was large, comfortable, with plenty of seating and bed space. My only complaint with the room was the bathroom door/s. The only access to the bathroom was from the sleeping area, and the doors for both the sink and the toilet/bath/shower were sliding hollow wooden doors. Trying to be quiet and not wake anybody was challenging even when awake... done half asleep and I was surprised no one was throwing pillows at me. The shuttle system was a first for me, and while I found it convenient to get out of the heat and saving on foot pain, you could honestly walk the same distance in about the same amount of time as it took riding the bus.
Jesse: The hallways were unusually warm, like walking outside minus the humidity. I have found evidence of an air conditioning system in place and that it was working, but the temperature felt like it was just below the ambient outside temperature. This is certainly no deal breaker but it did feel a little odd despite everything else being air conditioned to an agreeable temperature.
The Declan is pretty far from the convention center and the nearby shuttle stop is a welcome treat. For those who traveled south, by car, to this congregation, the Declan is located only a few blocks from the highway with a gas station nearby. When all good things come to an end it’s nice to have an exit strategy.
Jeremy: Comic-Con International made a major change for registration this year. During prior years, all registrants would go to the Salis Pavilion at the San Diego Convention Center. This year, for Day 0, anyone who didn’t have a 4-day badge with Preview Night or Thursday Only badges had to go to the Town & Country for their registration package.
When I read that months ago, I thought that this had the potential for a disaster. Splitting registration personnel, trying to get supplies to two different locations, making people take a long shuttle ride from one location to the next. This could make the Anime Expo registration look like a dream.
It did not.
Two of us went to the Town & Country and was dropped off by car a bit away to make things easier for the driver… It took us longer to walk to the Town & Country than it did to register. Six minutes. Six minutes was all it took for us to enter the building to the time we walked out with our convention bag, booklets, and badges. The line barely stopped moving.
Comic-Con has managed to make their off-site registration very smooth with how they disperse people to the various registration personnel and make things move as fast as possible. Their staff were also very attentive to both questions and their surroundings. They were direct and courteous with people, as well as forceful when necessary to make sure things moved well.
Not only that, they beefed up their shuttles to this location for this day to keep things from becoming ridiculous. We must have waited behind 150 to 200 people for a shuttle ride, and we assumed our wait would be a couple of hours. Nope. It took about 40 minutes to get from the back of the line to sit on a shuttle and be on our way to the Convention Center.
I didn’t experience the registration at the convention center, so I will let the others talk about that.
In short, Comic-Con International, at both WonderCon and Comic-Con, has shown that they can consistently put on a convention with the slickest registration operation I have ever seen. They are the mark to beat and the format to copy, period.
Steve: I only had a pass to the convention for Friday and I wasn't feeling well that morning. I took my time getting down to the convention center and I was expecting to pay for my tardiness. I couldn't have been more wrong. After getting off the shuttle at Hall E and being directed to Hall B for registration, it honestly took me longer to fight through the crowd than it did to register. There was NO line and the only hold-up was the wait for me to dig my ID out from my wallet. I don't think I have ever had a registration that easy.
Jesse: Day 1 registration at the convention center was a bit confusing but, big signs and well informed staff point me in the right direction. I eventually found the line, thankfully it wasn’t line-con. It moved and quick pace, in hindsight I may have cut in during a line break, the staff is very adamant about keeping pathways clear and unobstructed.
The line began outside where you had to flash your con registration papers to staff before they allowed you in. From there we were directed to a pair of escalators taking us to the upper level. We were then directed by several more staff to an exhibit hall where the onsite registration was taken place.
The hall looked like a huge sweat shop factory, that isn’t a bad thing. There were plenty of staff directing con-goers to available registration clerks. After acquiring my badge I was directed to a row of tables where they had neatly prepared huge tote bags with the essential you would need for attending, including guide and lanyard, into a grab-and-go station. The whole process took less 10 minutes, maybe less. One added note, the organizers had the foresight to bring in several industrial air conditioning units pumping cool air into the hall keeping staff and con-goers alike comfortable.
Jeremy: The building, under normal circumstances, is cavernous. The San Diego Convention-Center (SDCC) is designed to feel very open. There is a lot of glass on the font side of the building and it lets in a lot of natural light that adds to what would probably be a very open feeling usually.
The second floor is all meeting space. There are several large and small ballrooms to hold meetings and/or panels. The back of the second floor is littered with patio space and staircases that are very good for photo shoots with a lot of light. There is also the Salis Pavilion, a large glass box that held most of the registration area, the primary signature areas and lines, and an area dedicated to portfolio reviews by a rotating roster of representatives of different companies.
There are several places that it is possible to get a snack or something approaching a full lunch inside the convention center, but, as with a lot of recent convention food reviews, expect to pay a premium to get something convenient inside the SDCC.
The lower floor is about ¾ of a mile of continuous available dealer’s space, and Comic-Con has put in as many booths as reasonably possible, including several oversized booths and a small area of tables for people to sit for at least a bit. Do not expect to hang out without a chair, though. I watched staffers tell anyone sitting on the floor to either find a seat or move on.
There is one last section to the lower floor, and that is the legendary Hall H, the largest panel room that I know if (and really have yet to see). Comic-Con has used Hall H, which could be part of the dealer’s space, as the place where their largest and most-popular panels occur such as movie panels, hit television shows, Kevin Smith, etc. The line for Hall H is so large, they don’t even have it in the building. They put it in a small grassy area next to it with a full set of tents and security to keep people in line and secure.
San Diego easily has the largest convention center in California and have approved another 225,000 sq. ft. expansion to keep it as the largest.
Steve: I was honestly impressed with the convention center. I was very spacious, clean and well lit. Even with as many people (and there were WAY too many) it wasn't difficult to walk where you needed to go, as long as you paid a little attention. Even with my backpack and a bag in hand, I wasn't having to shove or jostle anyone. For someone of my size, that's actually kind of rare. Once inside the Exhibit Hall, however, things got a lot worse. I still didn't have to push or shove to make headway, but there were instances where I had to wait or aggressively cut people off just to make it to a new aisle. I started walking with my backpack in front of me to make sure no one could grab anything inside... I would have never felt it with all the jostling from other con-goers.
Jeremy: You’ll notice again that this section isn’t called the Dealer’s Hall when it comes to Comic-Con. Not every booth in this room is going to sell you something. Several of them have items to show off ahead of their retail release or will have more signings than sales.
But, don’t think that makes this room easy to move through.
This year’s Comic-Con again reached its cap of 130,000 people, and that means that this building is stuffed with bodies. During this year actually did seem easier than last year to get from section to section of the map. However, with convention exclusives being offered at several of the large booths in the middle of the map, there was a lot of crowding in that area during most of the operational hours of the hall. This was added to when other booths had celebrities for signatures in their booths. This may be able to be to be alleviated if you moved these signatures upstairs to the Salis Pavilion since there were a lot of people holding signature sessions up there that had little to no visitors.
There is an expansion scheduled to begin in 2015 to the Hall H end of the building, but that doesn’t mean that more bodies wouldn’t be added since there’s more space to put people in, to say nothing of the likelihood of more booths for dealers.
There are people that do not like the layout of the hall, but I find it more convenient as it has definitive sections for buying of comics, toys, artists, and the central section of the larger exhibitors. It involves a lot less guess work as to where to find types of dealers. But, those dealers offer a wide variance of products and purposes. I contacted dealers who helped me with signings of older books, buying graphic novels and comics, artist prints, older toys, and convention exclusives of a lot of different kinds. I even managed to score a couple of convention exclusives of my own.
The Exhibit Hall can be very intimidating and frustrating to people that have a busy schedule, but if you put in a little time and effort, you will find things that will make you the envy of your circle of collectors.
Steve: The exhibit hall was worth all the crowding, though! I had seen the map that the convention had released prior to attending... that in no way prepared me for the actual size of it. I only had about half a day due to my tardiness, and I was severely rushed to try to see the whole thing. I wandered from booth to booth, happily geeking out over the displays, items for sale, or even just the atmosphere.
Jeremy: These panels are all industry-based. Even the panels with lower numbers of fans are being put on by industry individuals and are pretty well organized in general. There is a good knowledge by the staff that things staring late on a packed schedule can drive an entire group of panels late, and they work to avoid that pitfall.
I managed to get into a small number of the panels I wanted to visit, but I still didn’t feel like I wasted my time. I had interaction with comic creators and TV stars who hosted and starred in the panels. They featured a combination of news I heard before and reveals of characters and stories I haven’t heard of before.
Panels also tend to be one of the biggest draws of registration. There are a lot of people that want to rub elbows with their favorite stars, and this is as close as a lot of them get. It’s a valid reason to attend, as well. I was steps away from C.M. Punk in the Exhibit Hall, and I found out later that a person in a Spider-Man costume was actually Daniel Radcliffe in disguise. I also heard Jack Black was running around in a costume of his own.
All in all, going to the panels was a fun group of memories that feel irreplaceable.
Jeremy: Cosplay was even less prevalent this year that it was last year at Comic-Con. I don’t believe this has to do with cosplayers avoiding the convention, as the arranged groups were pretty large and fun. I think this issue has to do with the sheer amount of people who have come for products and signatures and aren’t cosplayers themselves who are in attendance. Whereas a lot of conventions probably have about 4 out of 10 people cosplaying, Comic-Con feels more like 1 out of 20-to-30 is cosplaying.
The busy nature of the building and lack of places to congregate inside without becoming a fire hazard also doesn’t help. Cosplaying by nature is an attention-seeking hobby, but San Diego Comic-Con does a good job itself of keeping people’s attention and doesn’t leave a lot of room for free time for those that are hungry for news and panels, let alone if you’re in line for Hall H.
There is a Masquerade, but there was so much going on, none of us visited it.
Lastly, there is also the proximity of a lot of the hotels to the convention. Due to the dense nature of traffic and the local populace in the Gaslamp, my shuttle ride that should have taken 9 minutes to the convention center took about 20 minutes. Not a bad time if you’re going once, but when you multiply that several times if you change costumes, your time in such a densely-packed building quickly diminishes, so the convention isn’t helpful to cosplayers who change multiple times per day.
Cosplay just isn’t a huge deal at Comic-Con.
Steve: The cosplay was varied and scattered throughout the crowd. I found a lot of the time I'd notice an interesting costume, but by the time I could point it out to my friends, the costume in question was already swallowed by the crowd. With all the crowding, stopping people to get a picture could be very inconvenient, rude or dangerous, depending on the location and time of day. The variety of costumes was very wide. Sometimes I found myself questioning if the person in question was wearing a costume for a character I was unfamiliar with (not unheard of!) or if they were just expressing their own personal style. I had a lot of fun just crowd-watching, as there was a lot to see.
Jeremy: These people make “no” a very acceptable answer.
Before you say, “Have you lost it?!”, let me explain.
I like dealing with the Comic-Con and SDCC staff. They are very courteous and considerate throughout my weekends here. I don’t mind when they don’t have the answer I want because they treat me with respect throughout my time there. (Before people ask, no, it’s not because I was listed as Press. Comic-Con denied my application.)
I don’t fear asking them tough questions or asking directions through the building because these people are well trained in how to deal with people and with the logistics of their departments. I wasn’t dragged from person-to-person to answer a “Where can I find-“ question. No one dismissed me or pushed me away when my problem wasn’t convenient. I heard “sir” a lot as people directed me from place to place.
In fact, two of us went outside near the Ballroom 20 line to take in the view and get some air. When I got a call to meet someone, we headed back inside, and on our way, one staffer asked us, “Hey, did someone save your place in line for you?” The staffer was actually concerned we were losing our place in line for a bathroom break. I was nearly floored that the guy seemed to care about our convention experience and it was Day 2 of the convention, after 1½ days of people already running around the building.
Like I said, even when these guys denied me something I tried to do, I was okay with it just because I was treated like a person, not a walking wallet or someone that didn’t matter since they already had my registration money. This is an organization that understands that their primary service is customer service and organization, and they offer that in spades.
Jeremy: San Diego’s Gaslamp District is an interesting mix of the old and the new. Several of the buildings definitely predate my lifetime, but a lot of buildings have either been refaced or been built recently. One of our shuttle drivers did say that just a lifetime ago, the area was pretty close to ghetto status. However, there has been a lot of construction in the area. Given the changes since the economic downturn, a lot of high-earning people have moved back to the city areas. Similarly to Los Angeles, there has been a lot of gentrification in the area, meaning a lot of condominium complexes and apartment buildings have recently been built.
However, also, similar to Los Angeles, the gentrification means there are some displaced homeless people wandering the area. Just a couple of blocks from my hotel, during a food run, I spotted two homeless people sleeping right off the street, as well as another that had an odd trance regarding a newspaper stand. This is not a place to tarry at all or you will find yourself in an awkward situation, at best.
Now, don’t think I’m getting down on the Gaslamp. A lot of the stores and areas of it are good enough to walk around in. Most of the bars have private security watching them and the restaurants are mid-to-high end places that can make you a savory plate of food. There is a lot to do in the area if you need a break, and that break could be almost as interesting as the convention.
Steve: I have to say, I was a little taken aback at first. A lot of the buildings in the area were undergoing renovation, others were modern and a few were very run down. There was a lot more vagrancy than I was used to, as well. I would suggest using common sense in unfamiliar areas, traveling with friends and staying on well traveled streets. The condition of the sidewalks with the overcrowding from the convention made navigation difficult at times, but was still preferable to walking down less well lit or traveled side streets without friends.
Jeremy: This place is much more fun than Downtown Los Angeles and L.A. Live. There are a LOT more bars and restaurants in easy distance from the SDCC. Those bars can run from a cost of about $12.00 per entrée to $17.00 per entrée, so if you are not one of the ramen-only-during-conventions people, you will need to budget yourself around $20.00-to-$25.00 per meal unless you feel like walking a half-mile every time you need an inexpensive meal. But, those bars add both ambiance and good food to your meal, so you should probably consider checking out the Restaurant Guide if you’re going to Comic-Con or not and pick some good places to eat.
Most of those bars also have different types of drinks that they serve, and a lot of have tailored their menus for the Comic-Con crowd. Take a night off and go to a bar for a good meal and a good drink.
Do yourself a favor and don’t spend all of your time in the building. Sometimes, you can make a unique convention memory when it’s you and your friends laughing for an hour and sharing some food.
Steve: I can't say I'm much of a party person. I'd much rather be at home curled up with a book or playing on my PC, but when at a convention, it's nice to get out and have a good time with your friends. Man, does the Gaslight have a lot of places to get out to! Bars, restaurants, ice-cream parlors, haberdasheries (I'm serious), you can find TONS of stuff to do. A lot of the businesses revel in the convention crowd, changing menu items, drinks, uniforms, window art – all to attract convention business. Make sure to remember a food budget, or you might have to settle for Subway, though.
Jeremy: There are still problems with this convention. Some of the smaller dealers are strongly considering not going to 2015 simply because they are being crushed by the weight of the larger booths and their large share of people’s spending monies going to convention exclusives. There are crowding issues, like when the Game of Thrones cast was doing a signing at the Warner Brothers’ booth. (Good luck with little things like walking around this area.) Convention exclusives are difficult to get and the Hall H line, for very popular panels, may require over a full day of your convention time, which is significant when you only have 4½ days maximum to do anything while those doors are open.
But, the positives far outweigh the negatives. There are so many things to do and see, and you are extremely likely to either flesh out your collection or start a new one in the fandom of your choice. This is your once-per-year unique convention experience. There are very, VERY, few things like San Diego Comic-Con. Even if you don’t make it next year, keep trying. One year’s frustration can easily be wiped away by going the next year. Trust me… It took me four years to get in the first time, and it was more than worth it.
Steve: I had a great time at this convention! If you take it at your own pace, and pick and choose your events wisely, there is much to see and do here. Even without a badge, there are plenty of events to see and participate in outside the convention. Experiencing the atmosphere is an event in and of itself!
Jesse: I have mixed feelings about my time at Comic Con. The large crowds are my chief complaint, but due to the large number of attendance it is an inevitable outcome. The staff was very professional, useful, and kept things running smoothly in spite of the number of attendance. The panel lines required a level of dedication that I wasn’t willing stand in line for, and I really wanted in on several panels. This was an overwhelming event for me and I was completely unprepared for it, but next time I will know what I’m getting myself into and be ready.
THE ROLLING 20’s
JEREMY, STEVE & JESSE
P.S.: Don't forget to visit our SDCC Gallery!