By now most of us are home from San Diego Comic-Con: doing our laundry, organizing our piles of comics and t-shirts and exclusives, and maybe contemplating what we should have done differently. 2017 was not the smoothest year by any yardstick - and while every summer brings a crop of attendees who swear off SDCC forever, this year seemed to move even more people across that line.
So how did this year go?
Let's just get right to it. The Hall H line is always a tour through hell, but this year it reached new levels.
The initial scandal was a dispersed line that was replaced by a later line. Unfair! We thought that would be the Hall H line scandal of 2017; little did we know that someone apparently made fake wristbands to let other people cut in ahead of the people who were legitimately wristbanded.
Right now different stories are still coming out so I'm going to report pure hearsay and gossip:
- My friend's friend saw someone let in a massive crowd of people ahead of him.
- Someone else reported seeing an actual bag of the fake wristbands - though I'm a bit dubious of this story.
- People believe it was an inside job, aided by a volunteer or staffer.
I think CCI has stepped up its game in many ways over the last 5 years - the smoother badge sales, the Toucan blog - but the issue with lines is an area they need to tackle more adeptly. The wristbands aren't enough. I know no one wants a Hall H lottery but I do think that would be the fairest and most peaceful way of allocating access. In general, there is no easy answer that will make attendees happy. Often attendees have a rather childish attitude here; they know we have 30,000 people who feel entitled to entering a room that holds 6,000 but they expect CCI to develop a system that can painlessly cater to their individual needs. Hall H can't accommodate everyone, it's that simple, and as long as it's a battle of wits and tenacity, we'll see more crime and deception in the mix. Just my opinion; I always welcome hearing ideas for fair and efficient Hall H access.
This year set a record in the number of people I know who never set foot in the Con. They were all about offsites and events. I kind of love these people because I'm the exact opposite and it keeps them out of my panels and lines - but I do question how long this population can increase. Attendees who come solely for that purpose must realize that offsite lines are becoming the new Hall H lines, with people lining up earlier and earlier. Eventually we'll have attendees battling the badge and hotel sales to spend a grand total of maybe 2 hours all weekend in actual offsite participation.
While the Game of Thrones experience delivered with its little videos, more people seemed impressed by Blade Runner (below). The Westworld experience also wowed, but ultimately left a sour taste in many attendee mouths, give how it was open to fewer than 500 people the entire Con. After sending out elaborate invitation emails, it felt like a tease. I thought the Netflix offsite was better than Blade Runner, though I'm not sure who agrees with me. I didn't do anything with the Tick and haven't heard much about it either - it might have been great, but it was overshadowed by Blade Runner and Netflix buzz.
The Tech Pavilion was my favorite offsite, but ignored by most attendees. While the robotics weren't all that impressive, some of the other technology was worth checking out. Not only did it offer better VR than Blade Runner (and let attendees chill out on beanbags while watching 360 dome films of trippy Vedic mythology and Neil deGrasse Tyson cosmology lessons), it was easily navigable, involved no lines and actually offered something you can't get at home. The kind of offsite would have been the dream of SDCC attendees 15 years ago; alas, most of today's attendees would rather spend 6 hours in the sun hoping to see Barb from Stranger Things.
As always, I chatted with other old-timers about the changes at the Con. Most seemed resigned and adaptive, but two told me they decided this was their last Con. (A thought I entertained at length on Preview Night.) Several pros I know couldn't afford to come; the Archie booth was gone; the big Bud Plant booth, one of my top 3 favorites, shrank to the tiniest size possible. I bought armfuls of books from Fantagraphics and Prism and a few other comics/books and that was about it.
I thought both Preview Night and Sunday were more crowded than last year, while Saturday was more manageable. The entry processes weren't great, with some confusion on what kind of lines people should stand in and how they should be let in. I feel this should have been more smoothly organized.
This isn't exactly a change, but the demographic this year felt less geeky than ever. Another veteran attendee and I agreed to stop referring to attendees as nerds, because the vast majority are celebrity hounds and mainstream fans. I don't mean that to sound elitist (as I'm sure it does) but maybe 1 out of 12 people I meet at SDCC can talk comics, science, anime or gaming. That sense of nerd community has become faint. I realize we live in an era where people think watching "Rick and Morty" makes them a nerd but I'm not willing to evolve on that language point yet.
In terms of what didn't change: Several people made a now-recurring complaint that the same panels are offered year after year. I think CCI is trying to stay current by bringing us panels on AI and diversity and LGBTQ rights, and people like Roxane Gay, but I also think there's a reason we see so many "How to Break Into Comics" and "Women in Comics" panels - people go to them.
Otherwise, while there were a few switcheroos here and there, it mostly felt like business as usual. I don't view the Hall H debacle as a change but the next logical development in an ongoing dysfunction.
Most of the staff were just fine - but I did encounter some aggressive security and volunteers. Some seemed legit ready to snap. One actually barked in my face when he blocked my path to a women's room and yelled at me to use the restroom behind me, which was a men's room. Long day, I guess. A first-timer couple I know were shaken by a bad experience with a staffer, who they felt overreacted to them asking why they couldn't enter a certain area. In general, people just seemed exasperated and defensive this year.
However, what bothered me more was the change in some - not most, but enough - attendees. Is it me or is there a new ruthlessness in our ranks? It's not just the Hall H fake wristband issue. And yes, I know we've always had those cutthroat attendees who would sell their grandmother to get into a Marvel panel. But there seemed to be more people willing to use more underhanded tactics to get what they wanted. It was very disheartening. I posted a few months ago about an increase in people who contact me to demand extra tickets, badges and hotel rooms without so much as a "Hello" - I don't know what laboratory this strain of attendee is being bred in but they need to be discontinued.
I also ran into more people who seemed unable to handle the crowds, lines and general inconvenience of Comic-Con. Were they first-timers? I don't know. On Sunday, one guy was literally pushing my back in the Exhibit Hall and almost toppled me onto a stroller with a baby in it. I turned and told him I couldn't go anywhere and to stop shoving me. He griped about how slow-moving the crowd was. You think? Welcome to Comic-Con. Another guy snapped at a little girl so harshly her father stepped in. Usually everyone is polite and understanding about the claustrophobic swarm that is the Exhibit Hall, so I'm hoping I just saw the few exceptions.
I thought the cosplay was average. My favorites were a Sid and Nancy couple, a refreshing change from the 437 Wonder Women strolling around. Most of what I saw was fairly traditional. Of course there's always world-class cosplay at SDCC, but I feel like Dragon Con and Emerald City are becoming the destinations for the really innovative cosplayers.
Announcements and Trailers
Two people said to me they thought this year was "weak" in terms of bombshell announcements. Was it shocking to find out that Wonder Woman 2 was happening? That American Horror Story's new season would be called "Cult?" Not really. I don't think DC announcing a "Shazam" movie rocked anyone's world either.
The most controversial announcement was "Confederate," the new series helmed by the GOT team that will focus on what would have happened if the South won the Civil War. Ben Affleck hinting that he may be leaving his Bruce Wayne days behind wasn't exactly lamented. And we found out Doctor Who actually can be called Doctor Who and not just The Doctor, which settled a long-standing debate.
Matt Groening's "Disenchantment" coming to Netflix was well received. What we saw of CW's Freedom Fighters, featuring a gay superhero in a Nazi-victorious world, got mixed reviews. I think most people are wary of potential Supernatural spin-off Wayward Sisters. And I know people are extremely wary of the new Netflix Death Note, and not just because of whitewashing. (Though I maintain that Willem Dafoe as Ryuk is perfect.)
I thought some of the comic book announcements were good, especially the resurrection of old favorites like Sandman, Arkham Asylum and The Invisibles. Harley and Ivy Meet Betty and Veronica will be a surefire hit. Especially intriguing: Andrew Aydin (of John Lewis's "March") may be writing more graphic novels about the civil rights movement, and one could just possibly concern Maxine Waters.
DC admitting its sales troubles was interesting. They announced a new strategy of evergreen stories that sit apart from the monthly titles; we'll see if they help. The Gerard Way Young Animal crossover with mainstream DC could be invigorating - and I'm fairly optimistic about DC's new The Terrifics (cough, not at all like The Fantastic Four, I'm sure) who will be part of their Dark Matter imprint.
I'm still collecting reports from first-timers, which I'll publish in a few days. I might also do a post on their questions, as I heard from many people who were stunned at the lines and chaos (despite being warned.) And news will continue to flow out all week: who got the best buzz, who failed, deals that were made and problems that arose.
If you came away from San Diego Comic-Con with a feeling of something unfinished, my advice is what it's always been:
- Be more proactive about shaping your Con destiny, instead of waiting for it to be delivered. I don't just mean getting in line early enough or doing the right research. Think about what you really want out of Con (more parties, more career advice, more art and media discoveries, etc) and dedicate yourself to making it happen. Often that means sacrificing other parts of the Con.
- Identify what bothered you and find a new Con where it's not as much of an issue. If you want more of a focus on comics, go to Emerald City with me next March. SDCC may be the most hyped Con but it's not the only game in town by any means. Also consider other types of conventions. I know former attendees who now spend their time at cons for anime, books, death, science and specific fandoms and they're much happier.
- Think about stepping away from Con life in general. SDCC is right smack in the middle of summer. It can be hard to plan other vacations or summer travel with so much time and resources flowing to Comic-Con. Maybe it's time to put it to the side and go see the world.
But I know most of you are committed to next year. You're already hunting down hotel rooms, deciding which of your friends to initiate, and planning your Returning Registration strategy. The next badge sale might be months away but SDCC life is never really over - because most of us don't want it to be.