By Gabriel Neeb

The Comic Con International: San Diego holds a Talkback Panel every year to try and figure out what went right and what went wrong. The format of the Talkback Panel does not lend itself to formation of easy narrative. One representative from CCI sits behind a desk and answers questions from the line of convention attendees, taking down notes and suggestions, and responding when necessary. This year, the task fell to John Rogers, President of Comic Con International’s Board of Directors, to moderate the panel.

I attend Talkback to start the process of bringing myself down from the experience of CCI. Four or five days of intense exposure to fantastic events and ideas alters attitudes and removes you from the experience of daily life. I love the intensity, but I need to land in the real world with the wheels down. Talkback helps to lower my mental landing gear.

When there are few problems in a given year, the panel can be full of compliments. When there are big problems, Talkback can be unpleasant.

So how, based on the questions formed by the experience of attendees, did the convention do this year? It did well- which is great for the convention. However, there are some troubling aspects that need to be addressed in the future. If you want to skip to the end, I’ll save you the trouble. I’m sure CCI will make substantial fixes to these areas, but they’ll need another Talkback panel in 2013. After all, a perfect convention wouldn’t need feedback.

The most troubling failure had to do with the treatment of disabled attendees getting into panels and having access to autograph lines and giveaways, the sort of things most attendees take for granted. For a handful of panels, and at least one panel each in Hall H and Ballroom 20, the security guards and line monitors took the number of specifically designated disabled seats (seats with a red covering) as the upper limit of how many disabled Attendees could be allowed into that panel. For instance, one attendee cited an instance where the guards allowed only 84 disabled individuals into Ballroom 20 because there were only 84 seats with the red covering (Ballroom 20 has around 3500 seats). This tactic was repeated elsewhere by what I hope were ill-informed and confused personnel. Another story related by an Attendee involved a woman on a walker being removed from an autograph line because she was “too bulky” (the words told to her as she was kicked out). There is no happy ending to any of the stories, but I took some level of comfort in the moderator’s extensive note-taking and additional questions as each attendee described their experience.

The incidents themselves are troubling enough, and they indicate a failure of training and communication with the support staff necessary to manage tens of thousands of people with tens of thousands of physical and mental differences. To make matters worse, CCI has had a traditionally robust and often commendable section dedicated to disabled services. While there’s usually one or two complaints at a given Talkback panel (out of two or three dozen attendees commenting), at least a third of the attendees had some story or request. With the culture getting unhealthier and the number of military personnel leaving service for one physical or mental issue or another, attention must be paid to this or CCI, and society in general, will have larger problems in the near future.

A popular topic at Talkback has been how accessible the big panels of Hall H and Ballroom 20 have been. This year, these rooms were packed with fans that spent 15 to 20 hours in the outdoors to get in. I have one friend who spent six hours and didn’t get into the Firefly Reunion. A number of ideas were floated by attendees including a “Hall H” only pass- which was quickly downplayed by the moderator and the groan of the audience as such a creature would violate the conventions purpose of “celebrating the popular arts.” A more accepted (by moderator and audience) suggestion, given the ubiquity of media devices attendees possess (iPads, iPhones, etc), was for the big panels to be streamed to attendees. As the price would probably be less than an actual televised transmission (which has been looked into and dismissed as prohibitively expensive), it was believed that this was a more acceptable compromise for exposure.

Physical presence, the actual number of attendees in seats, was addressed by some attendees suggesting the use of Petco Park for panels. The moderator quickly dismissed this as at least two thirds of the seats are in the sun, which might be fine in April, but not so much in July.

Another suggestion which often comes up in Talkback was the possibility of clearing rooms, but this time there was a twist. One section of a particular panel would be “Current Panel Only” seating: attendees would have a special line for a single panel- they would be led in to those seats and then forced out at that panel’s end. This produced a positive response from the audience, though the moderator was a bit confused by the concept and downplayed the possibility since it involved the creation of more lines.

The Talkback Panel reflected positively on the organization and execution of CCI this year. With the exception of the horror stories about disabled access, most of the attendees seemed more interested in suggesting ideas and procedures. Even what might have been the controversial move to place 2013 registration for attendees solely on-line in August was greeted with satisfaction by a few attendees, even if there was some confusion as to how it would work (same as regular registration). The moderator did say that registration for professionals was a mess and work was underway to improve that area.

The atmosphere of Talkback was much more positive than the last one I attended in 2011, where attendee after attendee castigated CCI for the asinine pre-registration procedures at the Manchester Hyatt. Aside from the problems mentioned above, I take comfort in the willingness of CCI organizers to listen and take abuse. It means a better convention, if not a perfect one.

At this point, I would like to encourage future attendees to attend Talkback Panels in the future. The City of San Diego is trying to approve an expansion of the convention center. For various reasons I’ve developed as a resident of San Diego, I’m pretty sure it’ll happen. If it does, something needs to happen which no one has probably considered. The organizers of CCI: SD need to have a role in the planning. It is the biggest client of the convention center, and their input can have a positive affect on future conventions since they could modify designs that pleased architects, politicians, and builders- but not attendees. And CCI:SD can only provide good input, if attendees provide good ideas for that input.


  1. One issue for the Talkback Panel is that it only occurs on Sunday, so unless you attend Sunday you can’t provide any feedback. There are thousands of single day attendees (and even pros) earlier in the week, a demo that’s not being captured in this forum.

  2. A number of ideas were floated by attendees including a “Hall H” only pass- which was quickly downplayed by the moderator and the groan of the audience as such a creature would violate the conventions purpose of “celebrating the popular arts.”

    So, being forced to camp out for three days before your chosen panel so you can get in, and if you do get in, you have to sit through panel after panel of presentations that hold no interest to you until you get to the one that does, while people who might be interested in said panels can’t get in because they couldn’t rearrange their schedules and are only able to wait six hours outside in the blazing sun, meanwhile, both groups of people are away from the con floor and all the exhibitors, artists, and vendors and therefore lacking being exposed to anything new, this is “celebrating popular arts?”

    Okay then.

  3. I wish I had attended the Talkback panel. This was the first year I had a disabled pass/badge, and I was surprised at how little a difference it made. I was still made to stand in line after line (or elected to leave when I couldn’t manage to do so without much pain). Even within certain vendors there was confusion. One vendor with an extremely long line told me I would have to wait,but when I got to the break point in the line near the front, another representative told me I should have just come right to the front. Other vendors didn’t know what to do when a disabled person asked if there were any accommodations. As for the meeting rooms? I was so discouraged after being told there was no available disabled seating at a couple of smaller rooms that I dared not try for Hall H or Ballroom 20. I now wish I had pressed the matter, not that it would have made a difference, I suppose.

  4. Maybe they(CCI:SD)could take on line registration for each and any of the panels at no additional cost to the attendees. They could register for the various panels after they have been confirmed to attend the show.

    It would allow the attendees to spend less time waiting in lines and more time seeing the show. I believe the LA Times Festival of Books already uses this format.

  5. @Gort – Good point.

    While I am sure a daily Talkback would make a board member groan, at the same time it would be important to catch problems *as* they occur during the show, which might give the organizers time to fix something later on in the show. It would also give them more feedback for specific events and problems. At this point, only the die-hard, 4-day passers, dead-doggers are able to contribute.

    Perhaps a special online / email / blog / twitter / facebook connection could allow more people to communicate with the convention on a daily basis.

    Though I’m sure that reading and filtering all that daily data would also be a daunting task. I don’t envy the organizers of such a huge event.

  6. I was at the panel and confused about the number of folks who seemed to feel entitled to exclusives because they were disabled. Is that really the way it should work?

    Wrt rooms it seems like the number of disabled seats should reflect the disabled population of the con as a proportion.

    One of the best ideas I heard was not nec line capping but reflecting the chance of entry based on position. The lines get so long that I can see it being difficult to understand where you really are in line against number of seats.

    The woman pulled out of the image line is definitely a problem.

    Accessibility is one thing. Privilege is another.

  7. I have to agree with the issue about strollers. As a parent who had kids in strollers I never would have EVER considered dragging a baby through the swarms. It’s not safe for anyone.

  8. So, roughly ten to thirty thousand people can sit in the blazing sun for three or more hours to watch a baseball game several times during the warm weather months in San Diego, but making people sit in the same seats for an hour or so won’t work?

  9. “So, roughly ten to thirty thousand people can sit in the blazing sun for three or more hours to watch a baseball game several times during the warm weather months in San Diego, but making people sit in the same seats for an hour or so won’t work?”

    Or STAND outside in a line for four hours…

    I think a better reason for not using Petco is the multimedia. Unless the studios are willing to subsidize a giant LED screen in the infield…

    Otherwise, it’s perfect… lots of bathrooms, concessions, you can sell VIP tickets for the box seats (or have corporations buy them, just like MLB). Lots of spaces to rent for various functions…

    Heck, cover the playing field and errect tents! PetCoN!

  10. I liked the first person who spoke at the Talk-Back and their suggestion: something about a lottery.

    IIRC, the idea was that after programming was announced, you would go online and put in for what you wanted, i.e. “Friday Hall H” or “Saturday Ballroom 20.” A lottery would determine if you got tix for those days in those halls.

    If you have those tix, you need to show up at a certain time before the first panel. If you don’t, or leave at some point during that day’s panels, a standby line will be there for those without tix who will be given your spot.

    When you combine that with a live simulcast, you have a recipe for success. It’s time to end people having to camp out for a ridiculous amount of hours JUST to get in. Most people just want to get in, they don’t need to be in the front.

    At CC 2008, lining up around 8am got me into Saturday Hall H. This year, it was 6am. At this rate, in a few years it will be 4:00am, and then 2:00am. UNLESS they do a lottery so people can have tickets and not wait in line for hours PLUS a live simulcast so people who can’t get in can still see the panels live.

  11. Great panel coverage. This was the first time in nine years that I’ve taken the time to attend Talkback, and I’ll go back next year for sure. It’s fascinating to hear about the problems that would otherwise be completely hidden to me.

    There was a fairly telling moment in the Talkback that you didn’t mention. An early question was predicated on the assumption that the convention center expansion would be built and the space allocated to some of the larger panels. The board president said, “I am aware of a potential plan to pay for an expansion. Do you see any construction? I’m not counting on it happening.”

    Given that the con organizers have said publicly that, in the absence of a completed expansion at the end of their current contract, the convention is moving, it sounded to me like Comic-Con has one foot out of San Diego already.

  12. I’ve seen very little written about the lack of “redshirts” this year. Elite Security was nowhere to be found this year (well, Sunday I saw one Elite staffer working the parking lot in Little Italy. But as far as the convention…) With only a few exceptions, CSC (the yellow & black shirts)ran things VERY tight in the hour before the doors opened and, as this was the first year I recall them as the PRIMARY security team, it may have had a lot to do with their thinking the handicap seating would be limited to just what they saw as opposed to what Elite’s people had allowed.

  13. Torsten, the existing scoreboard in left-center field is already either LED or LCD and more than capable of showing the media clips; except, possibly any in 3D. If any panel was so popular, the seating bowl wound up being too small (not likely, but possible), the park area past the outfield has its own LCD screen to show the panel and clips to any overflow.

    Ryan, historically the board has reason to be pessimistic. BUT, a financing plan is in place, the NIMBYs haven’t filed any lawsuits and the architectural work has been done. If there aren’t any environmental or Coastal Commission hold ups, I’d be cautiously optimistic.

  14. Until the new expansion of the convention center is built, it might be worth a look to see if it’s feasible to do at least some “Hall H” events at Petco Park or at the downtown Performing Arts and Convention Center.

    Having “badged” events off-site may be part of the answer.

  15. Ryan,

    Yes, the details and drawings were released a year or two ago. As i recall, in addition to the increase in meeting and exhibition space, the plans called for bay side shops and restaurants on the ground floor and a park with grass and trees built on the roof (to replace the existing parkland sacrificed to the expansion). This would be at the Hilton end of the building, building out towards the water.

  16. My children were frozen out of an animated series panel because the Firefly contingent camped out beginning the night before to get into the room in advance of that panel. As a result, they took up most of the seats on the preceding panel and prohibited a lot of people from attending that panel. There has to be a better way to ensure access to panels for the people who actually want to attend.

    Also, did the gridlock traffic Wednesday afternoon around Town & Country on Hotel Circle come up? That was an alternate badge pickup area and caused gridlock that backed up onto the freeway. It took me (and later my wife with my two young children in the car) nearly a half-hour to get off a short off-ramp, on top of all the other traffic in the area!

  17. Trev, I’m betting the statement about the exclusives is meant more in line of stating that disabled con-goers should have the opportunity to be able to get some of their own considering how fast the minute the doors open and everyone runs to get in line for the exclusives, disabled fans will ALWAYS be the last to get there.

    There probably should be a set number of them meant specifically for the disabled fan base so while obviously, not everyone’s going to get one (like all con goers) they should have their own mini version of the Con Rush.

  18. Evan, completely agree. That seems fair — but then what happens if they sell out ahead of the ‘regular’ ones? I think CCI would still hear complaints.

    btw, did anybody mention what an awesome job John Rogers did? The guy was completely unflappable. He could not be flapped. Maintaining composure in the face of a line of people who’s almost sole reason to be there is to complain to you was phenomenal.

  19. Fans at Comic Con (or any other con for that matter) should NOT be allowed to wait and camp out for days/hours just to see only one or two panels that they like in addition to other panels that they do not care for. Comic Con needs to change its rules for lines and enforce new line rules for panels. You should only be allowed to wait one hour prior to any panel of your choice. So, if someone wants to see a panel that you don’t care for, that person gets in, and you have to wait for your panel to start by waiting outside. It’s problems like these that keep me and many fans out of the TV show and movie panels.

    As for us wishing to meet and the writers and artists at the con, I wish there was better access to these talented people. I think artist alley should be held at different location inside the convention instead of the exhibit hall. Or maybe at one of the hotels. That way fans can actually spend some real time with the creators instead of being inside the overcrowded exhibit hall. Because of the crowds and stress, some artists are skipping Comic Con altogether, like Jeff Smith. Sometimes I wish there were comics only cons but I know that they wouldn’t be as successful. So far, the upcoming Long Beach Comic Con is the closest thing to a comics only con. And the jury is still out on the upcoming San Diego Comic Fest. Will it be a success? Will anybody go? Will it be a growing con that people will go to year after year, or just a one time event?

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