What you didn't like about Comic-Con

29 JULY 2014

Stories from my first-timers are still coming in so those won't be up for a day or two. In the meantime, I'm going to answer a few questions and observations from disgruntled attendees who were clearly surprised by Comic-Con and what they found there. The lines. The unfairness. The failure to dazzle. Everyone has expectations and sometimes those expectations go down in flames.

Why do they let so many people in? It's too crowded. No kidding. First off, while everyone would like more breathing room in the convention center, it always seems to come at the assumption that other people would be losing their badges in return - not them. Fewer people = a smaller chance you'll get a badge.

Yes, the convention center is being expanded but it's not going to double the space, as people keep saying. We don't know the number of extra attendees that could be accommodated. We do know the plan is to add 740,000 square feet to the 2.6-million-square-foot center IRT exhibition and ballroom space, along with a 5-acre rooftop park and a 500-room expansion of the Hilton Bayfront. That's all well and good but it's not going to admit an extra 80K people.

Why doesn't it just move to Vegas? Every year talk of Vegas comes up. But they have virtually no reason to fill their hotel rooms with our stingy selves instead of gamblers and business people who will pump cash into their economy. According to the NYT, we only spend $603 per person at Comic-Con. San Diego, on the other hand, adores us and wants to hang onto us. And CCI is very much a Cali organization.

The system is rigged against people with single day badges.  I know. My dream is that they keep the Town & Country open Weds-Saturday and let everyone get their badges a day in advance. I don't understand why they can't make this happen.

Where are all the comic books? Back in 2006, I'm guessing. It's been 80% Hollywood for quite a while now. Everyone knows that if you need space on the floor, you head over to the comic book area - it's nice and spacious over there. You can still pick up books and get them signed at Fantagraphics, Last Gasp, Drawn and Quarterly, Top Cow, Image, Boom! and such but it's not the place to hunt for back issues or discover indie artists and writers. 

The lines make it impossible to see anything. It's true that investing in one line comes at the expense of other panels - along with sleeping and eating sometimes - which means you really need to decide whether it's worth it. And ultimately, whether Comic-Con is worth it. I'm always accused of "negativity" on this blog but I am just trying to realistically prepare people for what awaits them. If you think SDCC is going to be a four-day dream of panels of all your favorites shows and movies, you're going to be very chagrined when you realize you can fit in maybe one panel or one day of panels, half of which won't be to your taste.

The staff was rude. Some of them are. Some are pretty nice. I've already heard a few "a security guard ruined my show" stories and I'm always sympathetic but at the end of the day, there's not much redress here. That's why I always advise attendees to suck it up and be as charming as possible. I'm not a particularly obedient person and I quite understand the impulse to tell off a fascist guard - but it is always, always better to take the long view, swallow your gall and preserve your SDCC freedom. You won't achieve anything by challenging them in a belligerent way. You have to be smooth about it.

The entire set-up is unfair. There are a lot of small (and considerable) injustices. One set of doors opened first so those people got in ahead of you and got your exclusive. People with inside knowledge or access seem to be beating out normal attendees. Parties are advertised that then shut everyone out. Part of this is the chaos and size of the Con and part of it is The Powers That Be not particularly caring.

I wasn't impressed. Great, now you know not to come back. I don't mean that sarcastically. It's good to know that SDCC isn't for you. Despite the ravenous demand for badges, many, many people have walked away from San Diego Comic-Con over the last six years because it just doesn't do it for them anymore. It's a valid feeling. For me SDCC is currently more about the experience - finding weird things like shirts with Vampira and the dead Shining twins on them and the occasional rare comic book, seeing friends and hearing artists talk about their work. I'm done bemoaning the lack of comics and have accepted what SDCC is. I'll be at Emerald City and other Cons to get a taste of what it used to be. I suggest everyone look elsewhere too if San Diego was a vast disappointment.

At some point, you have to accept that the halcyon days of SDCC are gone and they're not coming back. We just have to make the best of what's out there. That said, I'm sorry for all of you who had a bad experience this year. Remember, Cons are going to keep mutating and we shouldn't think the current state of San Diego will last forever. In a few years, it may break into 2 Cons, look wildly different, or fall into the shadow of a more popular competitor. Anything's possible for our future.

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