by Chandler Banks
[Ed. note: Chandler Banks is a 17-year-old cosplayer/journalist who went to Comic-Con for the first time this year, and agreed to share her experiences with us. Although folks in the comics business have our own dread and anxiety about The Big Show, it’s important to remember that for many people, it’s a magical experience. I’m sure you’ll be as fought up in Chandler’s enthusiasm as I was.]
Before SDCC this year, I was a long-time nerd that had never been to a convention. And man, did I pick a hell of a con to start with. As a 17-year-old girl bound to a dinky little knee scooter for the weekend thanks to a recent ankle surgery (if you’re reading this and you were there, yeah, that was me), I knew I had a weekend ahead of me that was as exciting as it was daunting. I had a general idea of what SDCC is about, but in the end it was bigger and better than I had imagined in just about every way.
WHAT BLEW MY MIND
• The size. I live in New York; I’m no stranger to grand scales. But the image of SDCC that I had built up in my head was nothing compared to the view in the exhibit hall alone. Art, comics, collectibles, apparel, further than the eye can see. It’s its own world that’s so easy to lose yourself in for the weekend.
• The cosplays. I, like most people, got to the exhibit hall early in the morning before it opened so as to get my badge as early as possible. I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of pictures of to-die-for cosplays online, but seeing all of them in the flesh (or paper mâché) is entirely different. Honestly, I wish I would’ve alotted myself more time for open-mouthed gaping on the sidewalk.
• The great outdoors, but with free wi-fi. When packing for the con, I asked my convention veteran friends for advice. They told me two things: Leave room in your luggage, because you’re going to buy a ton of merch’, and if you’re sleeping out on the Hall H line, pack as if you’re going to spend the night in the woods because it’s like camping just nerdier.
• Speaking of friends, I got to meet my GISHWHES (Greatest International Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen) team for the first time. They’re even cooler than I thought they’d be, and they’re really my closest friends that are into comics and “fandom” the way I am. I had my friends and was surrounded by a whole slew of people with the same interests as me for the first time. Talk about liberating!
• This is the first time i’ve seen any big celebrities in the flesh. I gave Mary J. Blige’s dad a ride home from Dunkin Donuts once (he turned out to be pretty cool), but that’s about it. This weekend I got to see these people that I’ve respected and admired for so long up close and personal. Once it actually hit me, it was surreal.
• Contrary to what the internet made me dread, no thirty-something-year-old guy in a My Little Pony shirt and a matching fedora pointed to my Captain America shirt and declared me a fake geek girl. At least not to my face.m
• San Diego! I had only been as far south as Santa Monica in the past, and boy San Diego was a very pleasant surprise. The Gaslamp Quarter where the Convention Center is located is gorgeous, and there are plenty of off-site SDCC activities around in case you somehow tire of the exhibit hall and the panel rooms.
• Speaking of off-site, I’m going to take a second to gush about The Nerd Machine. Run by Chuck’s Zach Levi, for the past few years they’ve been offering the Nerd HQ experience for free. This year and the last it was held at the beautiful Petco Park (about a five minute walk from the Convention Center). The popular events there include Conversations for a Cause panels and Smiles for Smiles photo ops, both fairly priced and the proceeds of which go to Operation Smile. I went to the Supernatural panel this year, and it may have been the highlight of my already amazing weekend. It’s much more intimate than the Hall H/Ballroom 20 panels I attended since the room seats around 300 compared to Hall H’s ~6,100. The actors are more relaxed like this, tickets are sold ahead of time so there’s guaranteed seating. No camping out! Just get there in time for the panel if you have a ticket, and if you couldn’t get one they usually let around 50 people in for standing room. If any celebrities you’re interested in ever have a Nerd HQ Conversation, you won’t regret going. Or maybe just use the beautiful Petco Park as you and your friends’ home base and hang around the gaming gallery. They also have some pretty killer merch’.
• You never know who you’re going to see. Stephen Colbert surprised everyone as the moderator for the Hobbit panel. I accidentally got on line for a George RR Martin signing. Aisha Tyler surprised us as the moderator for the SPN Nerd HQ Conversation (I sat two feet from her. /screams). You can meet and chat up with comic industry legends (I got a Thor drawing signed to me by Neal Adams). There was a guy hanging around the Hall H panel that I suspected was Osric Chau from Supernatural (because that’s exactly the kind of thing he would do, so naturally, I took a selfie with him. Spoiler alert: it was actually Osric Chau.
• The whole atmosphere surrounding the event. Now here’s where I get really sappy: As great as it was to see all the work that artists and fandom merch retailers etc. brought, my favorite thing about SDCC was the overall atmosphere of the convention. It’s not about bringing a wad of cash to California to buy all the merch you could get online just sans shipping, it’s not even about looking at all the cosplays (although don’t get me wrong- those seriously kicked ass). Because everywhere you go, you’re reminded that the industry could not and would not exist without the love the fans bring to the table. At every Hall H panel I saw, an actor or producer would set time aside to personally thank the fans for keeping them going, and express that they only hope that they deliver material worthy of them. Everyone’s there to immerse themselves in an environment built on and for an appreciation of art in some form(s). I met a couple that was going on their 8th year in a row attending together. They weren’t particularly die-hard fans of anything, they just liked what the convention is all about. It’s different things to different people at different points in their life. It’s seeing a community that otherwise lives in your laptop laid out before you. I must have turned to the crowd and declared “these are my people!” to my friends three times before they told me the joke was getting old (that didn’t stop me from doing it twice more, mind you).
BE PREPARED FOR
• Waiting in line. This is where it’s extremely handy to come with friends. If you’re in one of the bigger “fandoms” and know , it will probably have its panel in Hall H
• Poor health and hygiene. Everyone has a different experience, but as a first time con-goer I got absolutely caught up in doing as much as I possibly could before the convention ended. I got in late Friday night, slept in my hotel room. Them by 7:00 am Saturday I was getting my passes and going to the exhibit hall and queueing up for a panel in Ballroom 20 and then finagling my way into Hall H and freaking out over the Marvel panel’s SDCC exclusive footage and running out of Hall H to battle to get back in line for Hall H (hello darkness, my old friend) for Sunday’s Supernatural panel and trying to sleep while reveling in my own sweaty filth and getting a surprise cup of coffee from Misha Collins (he was wearing a wolf t shirt and a cupcake apron and he handed me a cup and suddenly I was someone who drinks coffee) and then going back to the exhibit hall (I could’ve spent all weekend in there and not seen anything) before having to run across the street for a Nerd HQ panel and going back to the exhibit hall to soak up as much as I can before it closes until next year, and THEN maybe stopping to realize that you haven’t eaten or slept* or maybe even breathed in 48 hours.
• To clarify: I wouldn’t change any of that for the world. Just be prepared for it is all.
• *DISCLAIMER: there are plenty restaurants and sleeping accommodations in San Diego, and I’m a girl that loves her food and sleep. But my friends and I were simply too busy to even remember that hunger and sleep-deprivation were things.
• Line drama. For the smaller halls, this isn’t real an issue, but I’ll give you a rundown of how Hall H works. SDCC’s getting bigger each year, so the infamous Hall H lines get more hectic each year. The line for Saturday’s panels included big hits like Marvel and The Hobbit, so the line started at 11:30 a.m. on Friday. People start forming “unofficial” lines off-site as early as they could so they can be at the front, and those lines get dispersed until such a time that security declares it time to select an unofficial line to be the official unofficial line that will be the line moved to the tents on-site where the official lines stay for the night. One security guard will tell you you’re on the right line, then another security guard will come along an hour later and tell you you’ve been on the wrong line this whole time. Sorry, bud. It’s just as confusing and chaotic as it sounds. Worth it? Totally.
• Spending money. I spent all of mine. I would have spent more if I had more. I needed to buy all the things.
• A lot of walking. Especially since I was handicapped for the weekend, it takes its toll. Wear comfy shoes, unless comfy shoes don’t go with your cosplay. Then you work that cosplay.
WHAT I’M TAKING AWAY FROM THIS
I want to go back next year. Seriously, if you have the chance, go. I was anxious about going on one leg, but I’m so glad I didn’t let that stop me. What a wild ride.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.