Comic-Con 2014: what first-timers have to say

1 AUGUST 2014

A week ago we were at Comic-Con. By now you’ve unpacked and done your laundry, probably regretted a few decisions, and made at least two or three resolutions for how you’ll do everything different next year, should the lottery gods smile upon you. There's always a slight feeling of relief when it's over, isn't there? Especially when you've logged in quite a few summers at the convention center.
For a different perspective, here’s how some first-timers experienced Comic-Con.


Abbas. While he knew to expect lines for the big panels, the fact that there were lines for the exhibitor booths, for the toys, for the outside events, and even to pick up his pre-paid SDCC shirt was less expected. And the panel lines were “a huge shock. Yes, you read about them over and over again but you never quite expect the enormity of it all.”
While he successfully attended Ballroom 20 on Thursday (with an arrival time of 7 am), Saturday for Hall H was a different story. He arrived at 4 am and discovered that all 6500 wristbands had been handed out and there were another 2000 people in front of him without a wristband. So he did the wise thing and went to breakfast. His overall conclusion is that the number of attendees need to be reduced or there should be lotteries for attending panels. He was also surprised at the number of times a staffer directed him to the wrong place and was disappointed that he had to “work” for freebies by watching a demo or sending a tweet, etc. I’ve heard a number of people complain about this.
On the positive side, he was impressed by the good energy among attendees and the civility that tends to prevail even when we’re all feeling hot, crowded and tired of waiting. “The level of courtesy and patience was amazingly high.” He also loved watching the cosplay.

Final tally: “While the experience did not match my expectations, it was still a fun thing to do.”

Fred. His first response was a common one: “All of my planning went out the window when I actually was in the thick of things.  I had to rearrange my schedule on the fly in response to the crush of humanity in the lines.” Yep, that happens. He did make some panels, including The Last Ship, Falling Skies, and the NASA one. He didn’t try for the big room panels based on my comments but says he preferred watching them at home anyhow because the sacrifices to see them live wouldn’t have been worth it. I feel slightly guilty about this.
As a comic book nerd, Fred “really enjoyed the comic publishers' booths.  It was fun to meet some of my favorite artists and pick up a few of their SDCC exclusive variants of the books that I collect.” That said, his exclusives experience was less ideal. “I didn't like how the purchasing procedure for the Lego exclusives seems to be rigged by the vendors.  I saw vendors briefing their "employees" that they had hired to be place holders in the line. So by the time the sale went live, the exclusives were already sold out each day. I later saw these same vendors on the exhibition hall floor selling the exclusives at double and even triple the original price.” Again, this is something I’ve heard from multiple people.
Final tally: “Besides the Lego fiasco, I enjoyed SDCC very much.  I met a lot of great people whom I hope to see again next year.”

Kristen. Interestingly she is a non-nerd who was dragged into this by friends. (I always wonder about those people who don’t even care they have a Comic-Con badge and so I'm glad one has reached out to me.)  I’m happy to report she converted to our ways on the spot; the siren’s song of weird toys and flashy footage and new video games pulled her in.
She made it into Hall H on Saturday but one of the people in her room didn’t get a wristband in time and got shut out, which caused a riff in their group and cast a shadow over the weekend. That can happen when you’re with a group of friends. They stayed in Hall H all the way through Gotham; she was very into the Batman vs Superman footage and though she’s “not a sci-fi person at all” she was intrigued by Jupiter Ascending. I don’t know, Kristen, I’m sensing the seed of sci-fi fandom in you. Just let it happen.
Final tally: “I’m glad I went.”

Ferd and Gail. Overall they had the most positive experience of all my attendees. They got many of their exclusives and hit many panels, including Battlestar Galactica, Under the Dome, Scorpion (which they rated highly), Reign, iZombie (another favorite), Inside the Writers Room, The Whedonverse, and Rulers of the Realm. They also met Jane Espenson, a major SDCC goal, attended Evangeline Lilly’s signing and got autographs from George RR Martin and Anne Rice, along with others.
They couldn’t do everything; while the lines for the Game of Thrones panel was predictably insurmountable, the outside events like the Gotham zipline and the GOT Survive the Realm had too-long lines as well. Ferd wanted to attend the creative how-to panels but there wasn’t time. Next year, Ferd. Their tip for other attendees: they brought along lightweight (12 oz) tripod camp stools that “really came in handy” during long waits in line.

Final tally: “It was awesome fun!”
Tanner. Tanner got a badge as a gift from his grandparents after wanting to go to SDCC for years. He and his friend had "an amazing time" but "got into trouble at one point" - he didn't elaborate. Apparently he didn't wind up in Comic-Con jail or anything because he managed to get into the Sons of Anarchy panel on Sunday and he also scored some free video games. The girls were also hotter than he expected. Glad the women of SDCC exceeded your expectations, Tanner. Maybe you can put together a calendar next year.
Final tally: "Definitely going next year."

Nina. She came with her boyfriend. They did two separate shows, as couples sometimes do; he vanished into the flashy world of gaming panels and tournaments and she went to the cosplay panels and the voice acting panels. She expected “more real opportunities” to “meet people” and find out how to break into the industry. “These panels give advice but that is as far as it goes. I didn’t find out anything I didn’t already know.” Fair enough. While I do think the creative tracks offer value at SDCC, they aren't the place to be discovered. To make connections, you need to be at the right bars and parties. (And not reek of desperation and professional failure.)
Unfortunately her own costume failed her, so she was unable to carry out her first major cosplay adventure as planned. I can see where that would be a huge disappointment. Left to her own devices, she found a few TV panels to go to but they were all inaccessible. She and her boyfriend did make the Fight Club panel and she was bored.
Final tally: “It wasn’t very helpful.” She doesn’t know if she’ll be back.

Amber.  Amber and her husband possibly set a Comic-Con record: they spent less than an hour in line the whole weekend. Their secrets included skipping Hall H and Ballroom 20 and exclusives and magically getting their Friday badges at 8:30 in only 15 minutes. (That's one thing that has improved; with the higher number of people attending Preview Night, Friday, Saturday and Sunday badge lines are much better than they used to be.) That said, they did hit a huge number of panels and had a generally well-rounded Comic-Con experience. That included a post-Eisner party, the Masquerade, the Nerd HQ Orphan Black panel and the Playback Room at the Omni to watch some of the biggest panels there. Their one disappointment was the Game of Thrones: Survive the Realm experience, the lines for which ultimately proved impossible.

All in all they had a great time, made friends, and called the Con-goers "overall such a happy, considerate crowd." True, that. Also noted: "We couldn't have made it without Twitter and our back-up battery for our mobile devices." Next year they intend to buy Thursday if possible, submit faster for the hotel lottery, and hit the popular outside events on Thursday when the lines aren't quite as long. And take Monday off work because "Comic-Con felt like a cross between Disneyland and Vegas to me, and we were exhausted when we got home."

Final tally: "We had a BLAST!"

So, no real surprises here. Some people had a great time, some people didn’t. Again, Comic-Con isn’t for everyone. And despite all of the warnings about the lines, there was no way to fully grasp their extremity until viewed in person. I think it's like seeing a dinosaur in person - it's not an experience you can be adequately prepared for.

And that wraps up 2014. I’m now shifting to an off-season posting schedule. Thanks for reading and I hope that whether you stayed home or saw the show, you got something out of Comic-Con this summer. I’ll be back with updates on Pre-registration and any other news that washes up. Until then, stay nerdy - and try not to miss me.


  1. I was a first-timer this year and I came to find all the veterans' comments about the crowds being "overwhelming", "mind-boggling", "incomprehensible", etc.etc. to be mainly hyperbole. It's not Mardi Gras. It's not New York on New Year's Eve. The veterans make it sound like you're about to be air-dropped into a market square in Pakistan. At worst (on Saturday), it's rush hour in New York. I was actually fairly impressed at how well the San Diego police, convention center staff and CCI volunteers kept things running relatively smoothly under the circumstances. Yes, you need to come ready to embrace the chaos from time to time and you definitely need to have good crowd skills (and manners) but I didn't find the crowds anywhere near as intimidating as the veterans made them sound.

    (Here's one big crowd tip: don't go on Saturday, or at least don't go indoors. Saturday is a great day to wander outdoors and watch the cosplayers. But it's obviously - OBVIOUSLY! - the worst day to go shopping in the exhibit hall. I had an absolutely splendid day on Saturday because I didn't set one foot inside the convention center.)

    Ditto the line-ups. I took in a lot of great activities yet spent a grand total of 4 hours in lines. It's a matter of setting priorities and not making stupid choices. Is it actually worth 2 hours in line to get a piece of Adult Swim swag? Is it worth waiting hours to get into the Old Spaghetti Factory when there are a handful of other restaurants nearby that are almost empty? Many of those line-ups are caused by sheeple behaviour which, I thought, we nerds were supposed to look down upon.

    1. I agree that you need to make smart line choices. And I continue to be amazed at how many people will wait an hour for a restaurant that's either a) familiar to them or b) a Comic-Con hot spot when there are many good places to eat that are almost empty.

      As for the crowds being overwhelming, I would say it's the entire experience and multitude of options that is overwhelming. It's hard for many people to focus and remember their original plans when they're in the thick of it.