Most of my first-timers have weighed in. On the whole, they had a more positive experience than last year's.
Alex I – He is a Star Wars fan from Mexico who's experienced in big conventions, but had never gone to SDCC. The lines took him aback, as did his inability to land the 6” Boba Fett, despite many valiant efforts to do so. That is the worst feeling, isn't it? He experienced that fun dilemma where you’re told you can’t form a line for the exclusives you're hunting, so instead you anxiously circle the booths: “I felt I was a zombie in walking death.” However, he did get to do Ballroom 20 and Hall H – and interestingly, his friend actually believed that because Comic Con said they discouraged camping, there would not be a Hall H line. That is just adorable. Luckily he overrode her, they camped and got in and were infected by the joyful madness that tends to sweep Hall H. Overall, as a Star Wars fan, he was somewhat disappointed, but still intends to go next year and this time he’s wiser: “I wish I had not wasted so much time doing lines. There is no physical way you can see all and do the lines.”
Sophie – Apparently her Con experience hinged on getting into the Supernatural panel on Sunday, which she did, so she was happy. She only had passes for Friday and Sunday, so she spent Saturday doing the events around town – Godzilla Encounter, Dracula’s Tomb and the Petco Park parking lot, which was actually a smart plan for even people with four-day badges. The surrounding events were really good this year. However, she made the mistake of asking a security guard or volunteer about a panel line and was told it was already closed; later she found out it wasn’t. The lesson here: those people don’t always know what they’re talking about, and while most of them probably have good intentions, I swear some of them will try to mess with attendees for the sheer evil thrill of it. (She said she wants to go back.)
Andrew - aka Spider-Man, who had the Midas touch. He got: sketches and autographs from Jim Lee, Greg Capullo, Scott Snyder, Bryan Michael Bendis; made it onto Good Morning America; cosplayed as Spider-Man and took somewhere around 1500 photos with people; met Stan Lee and won a “golden ticket” drawing for a Stan Lee signing; did Hall H; got a sketch from Todd Nuack, who drew his very first Spider-Man comic. This guy was clearly tapped by the nerd gods for great things.
Brendan - He had the most negative experience. He hates crowds and apparently no one told him that the Con can feel like an enormous human trash compactor. But to be fair, Travel Planners also screwed up his room (me too, Brendan) and he kept waiting in lines for panels that he ultimately failed to get into, and he “didn’t see anything but overpriced crap” on the floor. Well, then. Comic-Con is not for everyone. I doubt he'll be back.
Stephanie - She's not a first-timer; she actually used to go the Con circa 2004, so she was in for a bit of shock on her return. She hated the lines, hated the disappearance of the booths she used to go to, and felt the indie artist presence was too diminished and Hollywood too pronounced for her to belong there anymore. She said she will be sticking to smaller Cons from now on.
Ryan and Katie - As a couple, they technically attended the Con, but spent most of their time going to Gam3rCon, the Samsung party, other parties and Wooster. I’m including them because all of that is part of Comic-Con, even if it’s not a typical first-timer’s experience. They seemed disinterested in the Con proper, but loved everything they went to and will “probably” go back next year.
Alex II - He is an aspiring novelist who treated the Con like a giant workshop and networking event. He went to a lot of the creative workshops and the Comic Creator Connection, which he said didn’t really deliver for him. It wasn’t clear if that was because he’s a novelist and not a graphic novel writer, or that event is a bit of a dud. All in all, he felt he got some good advice and made some valuable connections.
And finally, today I met a first-timer who just shrugged and said "eh" when I asked her how she liked it and I also got an irate - I'd even call it livid - email from a guy who took his son as a birthday present and was just enraged by all the inefficiencies, delays and disappointments. I don't think people anticipate how stressful Comic-Con can be. Especially if you're used to controlling or dominating your environment, in which case the constant bowing down to other forces - long lines, security guards, scheduling conflicts - can feel like an outrage.
I only met two of my first-timers in person, but it's obvious that Con demographics are changing and people attend for widely disparate reasons. I was contacted by a huge number of writers this year, so many that I'm thinking of hosting a networking event for writers next summer. As far as all the nerd talk, the truth is that San Diego Comic-Con is more mainstream than ever. Granted, both "nerd" and "geek" have hopelessly elastic definitions at this point, but the idea of the Con as a giant bee hive of awkward fanboys is outdated. Yes, there are still plenty of eccentric people and others with odd social skills (like the guy who kept asking to borrow toenail clippers from other attendees at my airport gate) but Comic-Con now draws in people of all ages and interests. And I don't see that changing.
I hope you had a good time this year. I hope you'll be back next year. And on that note, I'll be posting in a few weeks - whenever we get ready to plunge down the rabbit hole of pre-registration and start the madness all over again.