Jeremy, Steve, Jesse, V, and others from the Mission Start Podcast all made the trek and journey to San Diego’s Gaslamp District for Comic-Con 2015. Jeremy has raved about this convention for the last couple of years, and Steve and Jesse had their first Comic-Con in 2014. Now, the three of them convinced V to make the journey from Texas to California to see if she would like the convention experience. How did they react to the convention, and would they want to come back?
Time to visit Comic-Con and see what shakes loose!
JEREMY - This year, we lucked out and managed to book our stay at the Marriott Marquis and Marina. The hotel is well situated for Comic-Con activity as it is located just next door to the San Diego Convention Center. Actually, if you didn’t know any better, from the outside, the hotel and convention center appear to be one building.
The hotel is decorated in mostly whites and cream-colors with oak trim for the fixtures in the rooms themselves. The rooms were spacious with good space to stretch out and not worry about where to put your convention loot. Even better is that every room has spectacular views of either the harbor or the Gaslamp District, which is alive at night with neon, bars, and tall buildings.
While the bathrooms were large enough for two people to do what they needed to without crowding, we did have a problem with a noted lack of ventilation in there. A cool shower could still fog up the glass and add humidity to the room in a matter of minutes. If you and your room mates are friends, you could crack the door to alleviate this problem, but if not, it is a major imposition.
The hotel was put into more use than just convention people sleeping in it. The Comic-Con merchandise booth and Nintendo Lounge were both in the hotel, but you wouldn’t know it with how much space is in the hotel lobby and meeting space.
The staff was also very professional and courteous, giving us ample help with our issues during the time of our stay.
We would stay here again, but with the Comic-Con hotel lottery system and the sheer number of options in the area, I couldn’t say if we will be until we get to March of 2016.
The shuttle system is still top notch, but that probably has more to do with NBC paying for a large amount of the shuttles and wrapping the busses in advertising for their newest crop of shows. The drivers are very knowledgeable and eager to talk about what to look for in terms of food or fun in the local area with few exceptions. If you don’t want to walk, the shuttle is well worth the time and run 24-hours per day during the convention hours, but, realistically, the late night shuttles run about every 30 minutes or so, so a walk within the Gaslamp may be faster depending on your patience.
JESSE - As described by Jeremy, the room with a nice warm tone. The lighting was sufficient to keep those creepy dark shadows away once the sun had set. This warm setting could not help you forget you were still in southern California during the height of summer. With the lack of good ventilation in the bathroom, room conditions could almost match outside conditions minus the coastal breeze.
One thing I observed was the paint application done to some of the surfaces of our room. Most of the room had decent wallpaper on most of the walls; the bathroom walls and room ceiling were covered with a cream-colored paint. With my amateur knowledge, the painting appeared hastily done with some imperfections visible at a glance on the vertical surfaces in the bathroom. The work done on the ceiling, at the room entrance, failed to hide the installation work on the sprinkler head. These are by no means are deal breakers, merely nitpicks at best.
Despite my negative observations, the room was adequate to our needs. The close proximity to the convention center is a sweet bonus, alleviating much travel time and stress.
JEREMY - It still gets no better than this.
I had to register on Day 0. Now, to put this into perspective, I didn’t leave my hotel room until after 3:00 p.m. Things were already well underway. I walked out of the Marriott Marquis and Marina and travelled ¾ of the length of the convention center until I found a door marked for pre-registration. I thought I had something wrong, so I asked the line guide at the door about my registration. She looked at me and said, “It’s fine. There’s no line upstairs, so go right up.”
After my dumbfounded expression and taking an escalator, she wasn’t kidding. I walked almost directly inside where people quickly pointed me out to the next point to get a badge, and after two additional directions (each telling me to have my paperwork and I.D. out and ready), I gave an attendant my registration printout and my I.D.
The total time from entrance to having my badge and registration pack was about two minutes. With the walking, it was somewhere between four and five minutes.
Other conventions have finally found ways to limit the headache of badge dispersal, but Comic-Con has refined it to very-near and art form.
JESSE - Registration was a breeze much like last year, nothing else needs to be said.
JEREMY - The San Diego Convention Center is not the newest or largest convention center in the West Coast, or even in California, but their design of the current building still makes this one of the better places to hold this particular convention in California.
While there is a slight curve to the layout of the building, they provide a very large contiguous hall to provide vendors and artists a good chance at attendee dollars. Additionally, the amount of meeting space here isn’t just notable, it’s downright massive. I had the good fortune to attend panels in both Ballroom 20 and Hall H, the two largest meeting spaces that have reputations of holding extremely entertaining panels. Both of these spaces have a number of projection screens for those that couldn’t sit in the first section of the rooms. I don’t’ think anyone feels left out if they make it to these rooms. There are also a number of smaller meeting spaces and ballrooms in use for other panels throughout the day.
There building itself is colored in whites, blues, and concrete gray. Once you understand the layout of events and how people line up for specific rooms, it is actually not to hard to get around here (well, except for the 129,999 other people in the convention).
JESSE - The space within the convention center is massive. The upper levels, the bulk of the panel rooms are deceivingly big due the large curved windows providing light and an open view of the Gaslamp District. The only downside I had was the two-story escalator trip to that level, as it poked at my acrophobia.
JEREMY - In a single phrase: “sensory overload.”
While certain sections of the Exhibit Hall do have the look and feel of smaller conventions, when you wander towards the center of the map, you find that changing rapidly. Fox, ABC, Marvel, DC, Sideshow Collectibles, Kotobukiya, Image Comics, IDW Comics, Diamond Distribution, Square Enix, Nickelodeon, Roddenberry Entertainment, and more companies had large scale booths with unusual items, if not stores with convention exclusives for the offering. In the case of Hasbro, they had both a booth to show off their toys, and a separate Hasbro Toy Store booth to sell the exclusives. I can only imagine what that cost.
There is also a distinct layout to the Exhibit Hall. When you study a map, you see that there are clear sections for industry artists and Artist’s Alley, toys and collectibles, golden and silver age comics, modern and economy comics dealers. You can find other kinds of dealers sprinkled throughout the hall selling clothing, specialty clothes, comic book grading companies, replica costume sellers, and niche vendors of a variety of types.
If you’re looking for something for your particular fandom, this is the place you have a good chance to find it, or meet someone who does.
JESSE - I spent the bulk of my time within the exhibit hall; my feet and calves can talk your ears off about the abuse I put them through. My chief complaint last yearswas the massive crowding, especially in the Exhibit Hall. Now it may have been absolute shock and the grandness of this convention, because it did not seem as crowded as I remember. Perhaps it was lack of Marvel Films the thinned the crowds, I cannot be sure.
With the thinner crowds, the usual booths had their gatherings, Hasbro, Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers, and Funko just off the top of my head. Warner Brother’s crowding was as bad as I remember it, catching glimpses of “Teen Titans Go!” voice cast and “Arrow” cast.
V - As a first-timer to Comic Con, I must say it was worth it. Although I was prepared for the volume of people that would be there, it was still awe-inspiring, and I soon found many things I was interested in. There’s something for every nerd-dom, including my random interest in modern fantasy art – this was something I never would have thought to find here, and yet I have to say it may have been my favorite part. That… and the Magic cards.
It would have been nice were there more places to sit and rest, however, as I found myself fighting back pain with all the walking and standing that I did. When I did look to sit down, there was hardly any room among the food tables.
JEREMY - The panels here are as the legends have told, and, frankly, will probably have new legends written about them.
Just in the short time I wasn’t running around for press duties, I saw panels for Doctor Who, Minority Report the Series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, Con Man, and Lucifer, and each were very memorable, even if I wasn’t interested in the subject material. The companies presenting here do their best to pull out all of the stops to captivate people for at least an hour and convince you that you are worth their marketing and memorabilia dollars.
The panels I saw in Hall H were filled with stars and high-profile projects, though the gem I didn’t expect was the all-star cast of Con Man and how lively it was (and how odd it is to sing Stand By Me to Wil Wheaton; don’t ask).
I am not the best panel person because I want to see and/or hear things I’ve never seen before at them. At Comic-Con, that happens 80% of the time, minimum. And… I will forever be jealous of the people who went to the LucasArts panel and was treated to a live concert of Star Wars music at the Embarcadero on the marina. Lucky bastards.
JESSE - I actually made it to some panels this year!
I shot for about dozen panels, but only made it to four. Most were abandoned do to exhaustion, one because I showed up too late (Gravity Falls). Those that I did attend were, My Little Pony, Lucifer Pilot, Robotech 30th Anniversary, IDW comics. Of the four I did attend half had any energy (MLP and Lucifer), and one put me too sleep (Robotech). It is a real shame because I really like Robotech.
V - I was dreading the notion of waiting in line for hours to see something, but it was worth it to see the preview of Lucifer, and to catch the panel for The 100, the cast of which was as intense and intriguing as their characters. The Marvel panel seemed worth the entire trip, even without the bloopers and teaser video. Next year, I would plan to attend more panels.
JEREMY - Cosplay here just isn’t as important as it is in other conventions.
While there are people cosplaying, and some of them (like a 9-foot Wookie) is impressive, the layout and crowding of the convention itself makes it pretty problematic for cosplayers to get attention. There is no place in front of the hotel to have gatherings. In fact, it was even had for gatherings to occur in the park next to Hall H as that was taken up by the FX Interactive exhibit and fenced off.
The next likely place to hold gatherings is the back of the convention center on the second floor terrace and staircases, and that is a relatively out-of-the-way place.
Additionally, the density of cosplay here is not only much less than other conventions, but it is much lower than even last year at this convention. This is by no means an attempt to say cosplay at Comic-Con isn’t worth it since people still eagerly take pictures of cosplay, but it isn’t a place where cosplay thrives.
JEREMY - These people, whether it be Comic-Con International people or San Diego Convention Center staff, will make you feel special.
These people are very well trained and familiar with their buildings and stations, as well as a good amount of the area immediately around the locations Comic-Con is using. It is this amount of dedication and preparation that makes Comic-Con conventions and events very interesting and easy to navigate with minimal preparation.
With that said, preparation on your part would be very advisable. Although the organization of the staff is high, you still need to familiarize yourself with the timing of when to stand in line for panels, as well as where those lines are placed as they aren’t often in places within eyesight of the entrances.
It is this organization, though, that makes your attempts to get tickets to autograph signings or convention exclusives much smoother. There are regular checkpoints along where lines go through where people will direct you to the queues for Hasbro, Lego, Bandai, and other ticketed booths and lines.
If you need help to find something, these people will usually have the answers.
JESSE - I feel that new organization practices were implemented this year, particularly for Hall H. Attendees were lined up for particular days for Hall H as apposed to first come first serve and wait for your panel to come up method that I have heard in prior years. I cannot be sure of procedures for it last year, but this definitely helps get more fans into the panel instead of letting them broil in line for days.
JEREMY - I really liked the Gaslamp during my trips of the last two years. This year, I have decided that I really like it.
The area comes alive during convention hours with all kinds of restaurants and mom-and-pop shops with a variety of things to be bought and eaten. Actually, a lot of the shops will suddenly have a lot of comic book-related items for sale to the local populace. In addition, the restaurants will have their staff dress up to some degree to entice the attendees to come by.
This city pulls out the stops to support a convention that brings serious money to the local economy and is willing to host a lot of parties to keep the happy vibe going. This is what makes Comic-Con feel less like a trade show and more like a near week-long festival.
There’s even more places to eat and have a bit of relaxation walking toward the Marina away from the Manchester Grand Hyatt.
Come ready to have fun.
V - While I was out of the convention, I did other things including the Walking Dead Fan Fest. Most of the Walking Dead Fan Fest was comprised of various vendors selling Zombie-related items – weapon replicas, fan art, and clothing, primarily. The largest line was congregated around the makeup artists who were busy preparing zombies for the Walking Dead Escape. The detail that they put on the zombies was incredible – we saw many of the “zombies” walking around.
Apart from the vendors, there was a life-size Battlemech and several game consoles and PCs for game testing. We got to try the Oculus Rift, which was worth the entire trip. I’m glad I made it into the Fan Fest for this if nothing else, although I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more to interact with.
JEREMY - The Gaslamp District without the convention happening is already alive with bars and restaurants. There is not just an unusual density of things to do here, there’s an extreme variety of choices of things to eat. It’s a great feeling to be able to step out of the Convention Center and feel like you still have a choice of too many things to do.
The area is also alive with cabs and taxis at three in the morning, in addition to the convention shuttles, so you will have your choice of how to get around.
I can’t even list all of the different places and ways for you to have fun during the late hours.
JEREMY - In my experience, there is no better experience.
San Diego Comic-Con is the place where you can find collectibles, celebrities, information, and the opportunity to try something completely new and see if you like it. Over the last three years of this era of Comic-Con, I have consistently had experiences that have made the trip worthwhile, or have managed to get unusual items that appreciate in value very quickly. Now, my wife, my daughter, my podcast-mates, and my friends are getting quickly hooked on what Comic-Con is and can be. This is the one convention that, when it is over, I am sorry that I have to leave.
And, now that Comic-Con is going to stay in San Diego for the next three years, without any significant breakdowns, it looks very likely that this trade show and experience will stay crowded, but still the most varied and fun experience in California.
Make plans now and budget your money for Comic-Con 2016. You owe it to yourself.
JESSE - I went into this convention with low expectation. Last year, I horribly hid my displeasure about my first experience with San Diego Comic-Con. Now I believe it was simply a sudden shock to my anti-social shell, which is slowly being cracked and peeled away. I am doing mild stupid and silly things that I would definitely feel embarrassed doing anywhere else. Acclimation slowly setting in as I‘m becoming less of a social recluse and slowly expressing my fandoms that date back to the 80s. This convention certainly an experience I am glad to have had, and not one I did alone.