The first-timers of SDCC 2017

30 JULY 2017

San Diego Comic-Con ended a week ago. There's been plenty of analysis (in my circles at least) on what could be improved, what worked well and whether or not each of us will be in Returning Registration. But we all know whose opinion really matters - those attendees who walked into SDCC for the very first time. What did they think?


Matt used to go to Comic-Con with mutual friends back in our kitten days, circa 2002-2006. Then he got married, procreated, and sank into a quagmire of adult responsibilities that eliminated SDCC from his budget. Last week was his first time back in 11 years and despite being warned, he was in shock for the first 3 days.

"Obviously I knew it would be crowded but nothing prepared me for the lines, the impossibleness of buying what my son wanted and how much time it would take to get anything done. I feel like I did more in one day before than I did all of Comic Con this time. The crowds were bad, really bad. I didn't have a Saturday badge and thought I would find things to do but I didn't. This year was to see if the kids could do OK there and I don't think they could."

He and his family are headed to WonderCon maybe, but probably not SDCC anytime soon.


I met Mia at the bisexual panel and later at a party, where she expressed her dissatisfaction with the social side of the Con. She is a non-geek whose friends got her a 4-day badge (not bad, given the bloodbath that was Open Reg) and promised her that SDCC was one party after another. The party scene turned out to be less than vivid for them. She wound up sticking her toes into the world of comics and anime since she was in the thick of it and is so far enjoying what she bought. But she and her friends were so bored with the Con by Sunday they wound up going to the beach. Now that she's home, she regrets the money she spent on her badge and hotel.

Is she going back? "Maybe for 2 days."


Devin's Con began on a bright note when a friend picked up 4 exclusives for him on Preview Night, freeing him up on Thursday to do Hall H. He got in - but left after two panels because he was bored. This proved to be the unforeseen failure of his Comic-Con experience: he just didn't have the patience to either wait in line and/or sit in the same room for hours. Given that he came to SDCC mainly for the biggest Hall H panels, he didn't know what else to do. After one round of the Exhibit Hall on Thursday afternoon, he felt done with the Con.

At that point, he began to focus on partying which led to (at different intervals) sunburn, hangovers and dehydration, to the point where he almost passed out and was taken into a restaurant to drink water and rest. "If I had a room in the Gaslamp, I think I would have had a better time. But taking the shuttle back and forth is too slow and I spent so much on Lyft rides, it just wasn't well planned." He was also disappointed by SDCC on an amorous level, as he'd heard it was "Geek Spring Break" and was hoping to meet someone. He didn't.

Will he be back? "I don't know yet."


Andrea is a "huge geek" who tried for a badge the first time this year and got Thursday and Sunday. She and her friends spent their time wisely: "So Thursday we went to a couple panels, we got into Voltron. We visited the Exhibit Hall and we were OVERWHELMED to say the least. I barely bought anything the first day because I was so shocked at the crowds and the artist talent and all the booths and aaaaaagh it blew my mind. We also were lucky enough to get into Hall H for the Bright panel, Will Smith is the best. We also went to the Netflix experience, so cool. Sunday we lined up early and got into the Supernatural panel. We literally died, it was so awesome. Then we hit the Exhibit Hall again, this time I actually bought some pretty cool stuff and got a lot of free stuff too. Overall my first experience was amazing and hope to come next year and the next and the next and forever and ever. "

Despite being literally dead, it sounds like Andrea will probably return.


Have you ever bought SDCC badges with your significant other and then broken up before the Con? It's the worst, right? This happened to the luckless Gabe, who found himself alone in his room at the Westin and more or less alone at the Con. He knew two other couples there but felt like he was "imposing" on their activities and consequently had a rather lonely inaugural Comic-Con.

But he hasn't ruled out next year: "I did like it. I bought a ton of stuff on the floor. I didn't go to Ballroom 20 or the Hall H but I saw some of my favorite show panels in Indigo room at Bayfront. I just had nowhere to go at night and felt like a loser. I want to go next year with a full pass, with friends."

What he didn't like: the Playback room. "Waste of time." Also in disfavor: the off-sites. "I had nothing to do Sat so I waited for Game of Thrones but finally gave up. Just too hot out. I did the Kingsman pub and that was good, but the Tick and the Netflix ones weren't worth the wait."


Tami is another lucky first-timer whose oldest friend, a five year SDCC veteran, got her a 4-day badge and "helped me map my journey." She wrote a very detailed account of Thursday, so I'm including a truncated version.

She awakened at 3:30 am to catch the first tram downtown and meet friends who'd been holding their spot in the Westworld line since 10 pm the night before. "First lesson of SDCC: you had better know how to queue properly.  Line etiquette dictates that you may hold spots in line for other people, but the agreed cap is for 3 other people.  If you hold the line for a party of 15, people behind you begin to snarl and foam slightly at the mouth."

While in that line, she had a lone celebrity sighting: Eric Roberts. "Second lesson of SDCC: Pay attention to who is around you.  You never know who you may run into."

After successfully getting a Westworld appointment, they got sucked into a Hall H vortex via typical SDCC chaos. "To our left slightly, we notice that the giant line to Hall H is moving.  We decide to investigate.  Turns out all of the people who were in the line that snaked over by the Bayfront are being moved over by tents closer to the convention center.  We watch as one worker is letting people cut through by the side of the building to those tents; while another worker is telling people they have to go all away around.  While they argue, BFF and I follow the people who go by the side of the building. I do see this quite a bit at SDCC: workers that don’t quite know what is going on."

In Hall H, they saw the Kingsmen panel and got to see Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges and "watched Halle Berry chug down the Kingsmen brew that they brought.  I hope to god that wasn’t real booze.  Isn’t she a type 1 diabetic?  Anyway, there were lots of movie clips, some swag, and my recollected crush on Colin Firth to keep me satisfied and happy with the whole ordeal." After that they did the Westworld experience, filled with "creepy actors, super strong drinks, and a free cowboy hat." That night they did the Fandom party at the Hard Rock Hotel where she apparently met my friend Robert, because as ginormous as SDCC is, it's also downright tiny in some ways.

Tami thought the smaller panels were "totally underrated" and listed 3 dislikes: getting yelled at by staff in the Exhibit Hall ("If you don’t want people to take pictures of the Marvel actors signing autographs and clogging up the walk ways, then move the signings somewhere else") and people lining up for Saturday Hall H on Thursday, pointing out, "I get the lines, I really do; but these people are missing all of rest of the whole SDCC by standing in line for one event for two days." She also had a negative experience where the Netflix offsite was supposed to start at 11 but didn't open until noon, which meant the people who'd waited in line for 5 hours had to rush through it to meet other obligations.

In short, Tami was an unusually high-functioning first-timer and came away with a valuable lesson: "As I learned over the four days I was at SDCC, you need a plan or you are dead in the water."

I also heard from other first-timers with complaints: there was too much Trump-bashing, the Con didn't offer enough for gay people, activities were too spread out, there wasn't enough going on to justify the badge price (what?), there were too many people in the Exhibit Hall, staffers couldn't answer questions, people were mean, transportation sucked, the panels were boring - you get the idea. I decided to not include the ones that were just a litany of grievances, because everyone's already heard them. One couple I've been speaking to for months was so furious over the lines (and an exclusives kerfuffle I can't quite comprehend) that they refused to discuss the Con at all with me. And then there was the woman who wrote very earnestly, "I don't think the organizers know what they're doing!" That was cute.

On the whole I noticed fewer first-timers this year, and those I did meet were better prepared. It's not like 2011 where starry-eyed attendees would show up and immediately crumple from the chaos, like Bambi getting shot. The Darwinian nature of the badge and hotel sales seem to winnow those people out, with only prepared and educated attendees successfully clearing the various hurdles. Unfortunately that same dynamic has made the Con more extreme in some aspects, as the pool of attendees equipped with tricks for getting badges and rooms and standing in line grows ever larger - making even basic Con skills not quite enough.

I hope you had a beautiful Comic-Con. If you didn't, remember there are other Cons - you can still get tickets to Dragon Con and Boston Comic Con (which I may be hitting) and the Emerald City sale is right around the corner. You might find someone letting go of a NYCC ticket. There are plenty of options, is my point. And if you were a first-timer who found SDCC falling short of your dreams, don't necessarily write it off - figure out where it came up short and then decide how you can rectify that next year.

Thanks to everyone who sent me their stories. I'm sorry I couldn't include them all.


  1. My third timer story is that we're getting too old to be going. Still love it, love the special energy, but my wife and I feel lijke it demands more and more whole delivering less. That's okay, sometimes you need to know when it's time to go home. Have fun next year.

    1. I understand completely. There's life beyond Comic-Con.

  2. You still don't sound like you. next year will be better. This was just too soon.

    1. I'm fine! Sorry to be such a downer - I promise to be more fun next SDCC. :)

    2. And thank you for Sunday and everything else. A dozen hugs for you.