For years it seemed San Diego Comic-Con attendees were a fixed group of people who steadily accumulated attendance years under their belt. We all belonged to buying groups, we all knew the tricks of the trade when it came to competing for tickets and exclusives and hotel rooms, and so there didn't seem much room for newcomers - though a few got in every year, of course.
It seems the pandemic reswizzled the mix, though. Special Edition obviously welcomed in many first-timers, SDCC 2022 attendees bought their badges in 2019 (yes, those are the right years) and ... then we had our current Con. Which brought a surprising number of first-timers to my door. Was that just me or did you notice that too?
A few weighed in:
17 years old, Ava is a budding artist who had attended a small city Con before. Her impression was that Cons were largely about walking around and looking at cosplayers. And that's probably what SDCC would have been for her on a large scale had I not intervened. (Sorry to give myself credit, but it's just true in this case.) I know Ava's mother and so I hovered over Ava's SDCC journey like a slightly interfering angel, trying not to smother her while still making sure she got a good experience, and it gave me a great idea of where some first-timers get lost.
In this case: really not grasping the basics. When I pointed out the CCI Toucan blog and other information, she and her friends had no idea there was anything to learn. They tried to park downtown, then drove back out and took the train in. Somehow they heard Jamie Lee Curtis was there, which they considered a big celebrity get (if they only knew) and then tried to use the Exhibit Hall Map to figure out where her room was. At this point, I realized first-timers can walk right into the convention center without even realizing they're supposed to go upstairs and get their bag and books.
Their 2 days at the Con were thrilling and included a Great British Bakeoff encounter and some creative panels. Verdict: they returned home exhausted but ecstatic and plan on going back.
Victor and Luke
These two college students are from my area, and I actually hired one on the spot since he had a skill set I need. These guys found the Con underwhelming - crowded, yes, with a lot of choices in terms of panels and activities, but they found most of what they chose to be a little more humdrum than they expected. I think this might be because the two of them have different interests but felt they had to do everything together. I get why people do this but really, it helps to have the freedom to just pursue your dream Con and then meet up for dinner or something.
What they did like were the Shatner and Star Trek panels. I know for Con veterans, Shatner might seem like he's been at every Con ever but for these two first-timers, it was a special experience. They also learned more about the Star Trek universe and found out what they hadn't seen/consumed; they were especially excited to buy an episode script.
Their biggest complaint: the food. Too expensive and mediocre quality, and apparently that was across most of the places they went. They were bitter about how much they spent eating out and will be better prepared for next year.
Leah attended with her boyfriend at his request; going was his dream, not hers. But she said she found it "incredibly well organized" which is literally the first time I have ever heard someone say that. She was impressed by the sheer gargantuan size of the Con and how many different nerd interests were represented - gaming, anime, science fiction, comics, etc.
Leah basically tagged along with her boyfriend all week, which led her to a bittersweet Sunday, when she realized there were many things there she might have enjoyed herself but missed out on. She never bothered to look up the programming, read the guide, or do any research, and wound up kicking herself.
But now she knows. I think there are a lot of people like Leah, who associate SDCC with hardcore nerddom and assume their own interests are too mainstream to show up there. Wrong!
I met this guy in line for the Haunted Mansion. He came to SDCC by himself for... wait for it... the offsites. Now, I know attendees who prioritize offsites but they're still interested in the Con itself. I didn't realize SDCC offsites had gained such a prominent reputation that people would attend solely for them. And frankly, I don't really get dealing with the stress of a badge sale and the hotel lottery to stand around sweating in long lines for a fleeting promotional experience.
But this guy loved them! Especially Paramount! He was so pumped talking about them that even the tediously long Haunted Mansion line couldn't dim his enthusiasm. (We separated inside so I don't know what he thought of it.) He liked Jurassic Park and AMC Immortal Universe/Vampire and really just had a grand old time. I asked why he didn't just go to Universal Studios or Disneyland or whatnot but he felt SDCC was in a league of its own.
I met an older couple who had come to SDCC as a bucket list thing. Honestly, their feedback was a litany of complaints. I think they were a classic case of assuming SDCC was all glamorous red carpet parties and celebrities, which it isn't even on a good year - but this year was especially disappointing for those expectations. This couple was baffled that SDCC is as popular as it is. I told them it probably just wasn't their scene but they are determined to come back when SDCC is back in the Hollywood saddle.
Was this your first Comic-Con? What did you think?