As many have noted, this year’s San Diego Comic-Con was a success in that, unlike years past, no one got run over by a car, fell off a gate, got stabbed in the eye or died trying to get into a Twilight panel. The last few years of the Con, everyone has gotten used to the whole “It’s too big and crazy!” mindset so they’ve figured out how to deal with whatever logistical nightmares need to be overcome to experience Peak Con Moment. I wasn’t even hungry once this show, for reasons I’ll explain in down below. (Spoiler alert: trail mix.) However I joked around with the original “eating scraps” crew, filmmakers Jordan Renneart and Patrick Meaney about the bad old days many times. I think everyone joked about the bad old days when we didn’t know how to survive Comic-Con. We’re Navy Seals now, trained and elite.
The con was a little bit smaller than last year, and last year was a little bit smaller than the year before. I don’t mean in terms of people—there seemed to be more look-e-loos than ever milling around the Gaslamp. No, smaller in terms of movies, sure, but also pop-ups, parties and massive marketing pushes from studios. Now granted the “activations,” as “they” call the events and booths and Giveaways and experiences, were huge and complicated, from a Scream Queens vertical drop ride, to the hellish Adult Swim theme park our behind the convention center. People slept outside for 24 ours to get into the Star Wars panel and they were rewarded with a once in a lifetime concert march and complimentary lightsaber. That was a very big activation, and I’m sure people will be talking about it for years to come. All the X-men on one Stage taking a selfie with Stan Lee. Warner Bros.’ $600,000 surround screen and Batman v Superman trailer. These were big things. But it’s a thrifty time in Hollywood, and studios now realize that just because a movie is boffo at Comic-Con doesn’t mean it will be boffo in real life. The big promotions were all for films coming out far in the future, not next week, as with notorious underperformers Scott Pilgrim, Cowboys and Aliens and even Snakes on a melon-farming Plane.
When I say Comic-Con was a little smaller, I mean just that: a little smaller. In years past every pedi cab was decked out with Dexter or Comixology. Not any more. The party scene was much less extravagant this year. Float was as busy as ever, but no giant parking lot bashes. (One popular empty lot is being turned into another hotel.) Fewer storefront conversions as well—the rising costs of renting out these venues caused even Hollywood to say, hm, maybe not. Additionally, the Comic-Con model is being exported to D23, Star Wars Celebration and CinemaCon, with maybe a little SXSW thrown in, although I hear that has peaked as well.
And here’s one fun fact that really stunned me: The Wired Cafe only ran for ONE DAY this year, Thursday. Formerly the place to be seen milling around like a nerdlebrity in training, it got too crowded last year, and I guess Wired decided that one day was enough Game of Thrones beer guzzling for the Entourage set. Nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded.
Not that there still wasn’t plenty to do! Off site video game lounges, Funko fests, parkour courses, zombie runs, and the TV Guide yacht are all still there. And what wonders will the new Marriott Hall hold when it opens next year? Comic-Con is going to stay wild and exhausting and too much to see and do for the foreseeable future but it’s going to evolve, like everything else.
The other big question of the con was what place comics hold in it. Yes yes, comics are the HEART of Comic-Con, but as I reported for PW, it’s become a total brainer for some people. Anina Bennett and Paul Guinan announced they aren’t doing big shows any more; Eric Shanower gave up his long time booth for an artist’s alley table because of the costs. I’ve seen a lot of quiet grumbling on FB and in person about sales not being enough to offset the costs and headaches. Of course a lot of people had great shows, but it really is all about the exclusives and show specials now and those are mostly toys and art prints.
The biggest change at Comic-Con isn’t the cosplayers or the celebrities, but the Collectors. Since getting a badge is a lottery, the people who are most motivated seem to be people who want those exclusives and the overall “activation” not people who want to buy comics, what with about four comic cons every weekend to choose from, and great shows like TCAF and Emerald City for more hard core comics people. I think the fretting I heard from people was about this demographic change and not the show being “too big.” I’m not sure how to change this. You can’t set aside a bunch of tickets just for people who want to see Sergio Aragones and David Aja, although that would be nice. CCI itself does as much as ever to make sure comics are included, and the programming is the most comprehensive in the world, but comics folks may need more motivation to brave the craziness…and I have no idea what that would be.
And littler or not, it is still crazy. I’m sitting here two weeks to the day after I left for Comic-Con, but that doesn’t count the month of intense planning before hand, the mad rush to get everything done just for those five peak days, or the literal months of planning that go into exhibiting at the show for publishers and studios alike. The last six weeks were an insane sleepless grind, but as I sit here I can’t believe it ever happened. I always say Comic-Con marks the end of the fiscal year for comics. For whatever reason those of us caught up in the experience spend the whole year building to it, imagining what might go wrong, or right, how to accomplish everything in the time allotted short of a Time-turner, then blam it happens. Decisions must be made: do that thing you like that you’ve been doing every year for 20 years that you only get to do once a year…or try something else? It’s the ultimate FOMO of YOLO.
Since everyone else has written their con report and no one cares anymore, rather than shape this into a majestic essay, I’m going to go to the bullet points for further observations, then to the Travelog of pictures and then WE’RE DONE. I have exactly 365 days to plan for Comic-Con 2016. Better get started.
• The Eisner wins for modern comics stars Gene Yang, Raina Telgemeier, Ed Piskor, Noelle Stevenson and so on was rightly seen as a watershed but I haven’t seen as many people including Comics Alliance’s win for Best Journalistic Presentation included in that group. CA has been at the forefront of promoting this “modern” view of comics, and when they won early in the evening that should have been a clue as to what was going to happen. It’s about time they won and congrats to the whole crew, especially Beat prodigal Steve Morris.
• I kept hoping to run into people like Michael DeForge and Chip Zdarsky just to hear how they liked Comic-Con. I saw DeForge and Patrick Kyle checking out the Marriott pool early on and he seemed to be having a good time, and then I moderated a panel he was on, but perhaps his twitter feed was the best indication. I glimpsed Chip once but the crowds kept us apart.
• So many people leave badges at the front desk of the Marriott Marina that they have an entire log book just for badge pickup. That kind of blew my mind. I stayed at the Marriott for the first time since…oh the 90s, and it was awesome. My room happened to be the one closest to the elevator so I could get from a much needed lie-down to a panel in room 23AB in 13 minutes! (I timed it.) Marriott 4 life.
Congressman John Lewis. At Comic-Con. In costume. (Recreating his trench coat and backpack from Selma 50 years ago) pic.twitter.com/T4EHdbKZhs
— TopShelfProductions (@topshelfcomix) July 11, 2015
• Congressman John Lewis cosplaying as himself was probably the most awesome thing at this year’s show.
• While the show was generally smooth, the Funko booth has turned into the New Hall H! It was a hotbed of dissent and chaos. Normally I drop by there late on Sunday just as the show closes to get a thank you present for our cat sitter, but they wouldn’t let me in! Turns out, there were problems all week, as the Unofficial Comic-Con blog reports
According to Funko’s Marketing Coodinator Cameron Deuel, once the convention kicked off, Funko was “noticing a disturbing amount of people lingering around [their] booth before the floor was even open,” which likely meant that exhibitors were swapping badges with regular attendees and hanging around the booth, an unfortunately common occurrence at Comic-Con. This led to frustrating situations for fans who had been lined up for hours, as that combined with the already mad-dash to the booth made it one of the most frustrating lines of the convention.
“My friend and I got into line for Preview Night at 9:15AM on Wednesday,” Stephanie Kariott said. “We were one of the first 10-15 people near the escalators at the G Hall entrance. When we were let in, I booked it to the Funko booth, and as I’m sure you know, by then it was already a madhouse. I jumped in line and spent about 45 minutes not moving at all and not even knowing if I was really in line or if they were going to cap it off in front of me.”
To avoid the camping out in front of the booth Funko started giving away tickets for each day, but didn’t announce it. You can read about how it all worked out in the above post. Some people didn’t get their toys—including The Beat! Here’s just ONE account:
My friends and I tried getting Funkos three different days. The first day (Friday), the security guards told my BFF and I that the line started at 1pm, and we couldn’t hang out around the booth. They said, “If you hang around here, we’ll remember your face and will kick you out of line.” That put the fear of God in us, so we went and hung out at a nearby booth (luckily we knew someone working at the booth). We kept seeing the same people hanging out at other booths and circling around like sharks. Another friend tried to sneak up a little closer. As he describes it, Funko announced that the line was open. In the time it took for him to reach for his phone in his pocket to let us know, they immediately announced the line was capped. Pretty disheartening, but I tried again Saturday. That’s when I found out about the ticketing. Decided it would be worth a shot to ask if anybody in line could buy for me. I lucked out, and the first person in line was only getting one or two things, so they bought most of what I wanted. When I talked to my larger group of friends that night (we had a full group of five), we discovered that there were two different stories for ticketing, according to the security guards: 1. They would be passing out tickets in front of G. 2. They would be passing out tickets at the booth. We decided to shoot for G first on Sunday. Nobody was there, so we went immediately to the booth. Our group attempted to fan out amidst the ever growing mob, and of the five of us, two managed to get Group 2 tickets. So our experience wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, but it was definitely a lot of work.
• Artist Ben Templesmith is one of those who decided to host his own offsite, Squid Con, held at the Hilton Bayfront Bar, as reported on by the LA Weekly’s Liz Ohanesian:
The Seattle-based artist describes SquidCon as an “experiment,” a chance to manage his presence at the massive pop culture convention the way he sees fit. “I’m doing it my way this year,” he says. Templesmith, who is from Australia, but has lived in the U.S. for seven years, started attending SDCC in 2001. Two years ago, though, he called it quits on a convention that had ballooned into a major destination for people with a greater interest in blockbuster films and television epics than comic books. “It got too expensive,” he says.
That’s a complaint that plenty of people have had about SDCC. Attending the convention can be a complicated, and pricy, ordeal. Whether you’re going for fun or work, the process of getting a badge requires a rush to the online registration site months in advance of the July gathering. Status as a media professional is not a guarantee for a badge, let alone a spot in one of the hotels that take reservations by lottery. Lodging comes with a hefty price tag too. Even if you are part of a large group crammed into one room, you can expect to pay at least a couple hundred dollars to stay the duration of the con. Then there are the fees for parking and other transportation-related needs, plus food. If you’re an artist, you can add the cost of getting your work to San Diego and running a booth from Wednesday through Sunday to your budget. Even for someone like Templesmith, who has enough of a following to have run several successful crowd-funding campaigns, that’s big pressure to produce sales.
While one man in a bar isn’t the SlamCon that Tr!ckster once seemed to be about to become, is this an idea that may someday catch on? Marriott Hall?
• One venue that was set aside to be comics centric was the San Diego Public Library where panels were held for three days. Unfortunately, from what I heard it was under attended. This is a great venue that should be part of the show — and it isn’t THAT far away as you can see its dome just beyond Petco from the skywalk over Harbor Drive. Hopefully this will be implemented again next year but maybe promoted more.
• You’ll read more about this below, but one of the signature moments of con for me was during a preview night tour of the AMC booth where the women who runs activations told me about how they plan the zombie stuff around iconic scenes from the previous year’s show. “WE don’t have much room to work with,” she said. “Our booth is only 20×40.” That’s 800 sq. ft. Pretty big for a NYC apartment but small for a major booth by one of the hottest properties in pop culture. “Have you ever tried to get a bigger booth?” I asked. With a wistful expression she said “Oh we’ve been trying for that for years. Maybe some day.”
That really brought home to me the real estate crunch on the show floor. Now granted, AMC also had the whole Hilton outside area for a Fear the Walking Dead activation, and parties every night, and a lot of space, but the show floor is super super crowded not just for comics but for EVERYONE. A lot of people have been suggesting that the under the sails area be turned into something more practical than autograph signing, but that would mean my shortcut from the mArriott to room 24AB would be gone, so I’m not sure I like that idea. Anyway, everyone has the same space issues at Con.
• SPekaing of WALking Dead, even though he had THREE TV SHOWS—Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead and Outcast—and a movie—Air—being promoted, Robert Kirkman was the biggest no show. I’m told he’d had throat surgery and in some cases you just can’t talk after that or you have permanent irreversible damage. I hope he’s feeling better and back up to chatting with Chris Hardwick real soon.
• The CBLDF Party was OFF THE HOOK THIS YEAR. So many people! I barely got to talk to all of them, but it was so wild and great and fun. This has really become THE comics party of the year, and it doesn’t even need free drinks.
• During my one trip to one of the major media hotels I was invited into the nerve center for one of the BIG BIG BIG websites and holy shit, it was like NASA mission control with a couple dozen guys at computers. Made me sitting in the press room with a laptop feel naked and alone.
• A Cat Cafe opened on Island just off Third St!!! I never got to go, alas, but one comics pro who I told about it cancelled her plans and raced off immediately.
• The Lion cold brew coffee at the Lion Cafe on 1st St. is great every year.
• All during Con I kept thinking “When this is over I need a massage” and when we got to ur friend’s house in LA where we were saying she announced she was getting a massage the next day. OMG. Little House Spa. It was a real James Bond massage with the ladies walking on my back and I was sore for two days but it was amazing. A new con tradition.
• Probably something I’m forgetting. Anyway. PICTURES.I’m going to split this into a couple of pages to prevent browser crash.
Conan O’Brien’s four night stand hosting his show was the most promoted thing when I arrived, as the luggage belt advertising shows, and I thought it would be the biggest thing at the con. Henry went to one of the shows, and I heard Conan himself was seen out and about on the street enjyoing the scrum, but this soon got lost in my own scrum.
The first night in town we stayed at the Horton Grand for old times sake and had an amazing room right on the corner of Island and 4th. The only problem with the room was that it was very far from the wireless router and the internet was appalling. I had to sit in the bathroom to get a signal. Oh well.
Here’s where I was standing in the above picture from the street.
On Tuesday before the show I went to visit IDW and got a tour from Alison Baker. As I think I told her and Ted Adams, IDW may just have won the office space race among comics publishers. Granted I have a lot to go to, but it will be hard to beat the clean-lined high ceilinged vibe of this former army barracks.
Perhaps the best part of the office tour was this authentic Kevin Eastman Habitat!® Not an office, a habitat.,
Eastman was also the subject of the first display in the art gallery attached to the offices. This is a great space, and the area itself is something of an up and coming arts space for San Diego. A lot of potential!
This is apparently the Dirk Wood habitat? There is a little band rehearsal space to let off steam. If any other publisher has such a space please let me know.
So many instagrammable moments. After the IDW visit, I went to the nearby Trader Joes and stocked up on trail mix, Kind bars and a bottle of wine for emergencies. That was really all I needed. I never set foot in Ralphs and I never got hungry!
Speaking of Ralphs, everyone is in the spirit of the con now.
After dinner and a party at a haunted loft, we walked back to the hotel and discovered a gang of feral cats living in this little park on the opposite corner. Every time I passed by for the next five days we’d see some of these cats! Hope they are being taken care of. They looked pretty happy.
The first line, on Tuesday, apparently just to get in and get those exclusives.
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.