It's another year at the San Diego Comic Con, and as always, I'm shocked at how fully it transforms the place. The trolley stop has signage in Klingon. The ice cream trucks are advertising Adult Swim. There's a giant Scott Pilgrim display outside the hall, competing for attention with the Flynn's arcade for TRON. The entire city's been taken over and made into some kind of earthly paradise for nerds.
It's a little overwhelming, really. It's just too big to grasp. "You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space." Sorry, bit of a Douglas Adams moment there.
But really, it's big, and because it's so big it's a different event. The wonderful aspect of Comic-con was being able to see all the nerds from the different USA fandoms in one place. With everything out in the open, there's the constant feeling that you've reached some kind of promised land, where there are others like you out there. Other events let you feel like you're in a little corner of home and remind that there are others like you. Comicon drops you in the middle of a functional society of geeks. A city just for you.
The not-so-great flip side, of course, is that with so many people around, the sheer scale makes it hard to get around, hard to do things. You'll always be missing some events, no matter what. I know people who spend the entire con in hall H, watching the big stars strut and fret their hour upon the stage. I know others who spend the day in costume, just being photographed and being seen. The number of things that compete for your attention feels endless.
I myself solve the problem by wandering around and getting free goodies. The dealer's hall is probably the largest I've ever seen. It spans from halls A through G of the convention center, an area the size of 8 football fields, not including end zones. The companies have taken it over, turning it into a mecca of rare goods and spectacular presentations. Comicon isn't the first show characterized by free giveaways, but the sheer amount and variety dwarf any other show currently running, at least in my experience. The only show to match it is the fabled E3 of the elder days. From booth to booth, one sees endless rows of t-shirts and bags, every booth struggling to outdo the rest in the Darwinian hunger for greater display.
And then there are the show-only sale items, a tradition that I can't help thinking is a carryover from Comiket. Those are sold out as soon as the door opens, often posted on eBay the same day.
But really, I wasn't there to collect stuff. I was there to see friends perform in the Masquerade. The costumes in San Diego are always spectacular -- the audience has been known to turn on people who aren't up to standard. The last few years, I've been roped into service to record video of the Masquerade. It's somewhat difficult! Unlike most anime cons, the press don't have a filming area in front of the stage. They do have a backstage area, when they can take photos as people go on and off, but I wanted to film the actual performances, so I had to set up in the general admission stands, fighting tooth and nail to find a place.
Over the years, I've found a really nice spot (a closely guarded secret) but there are always issues to overcome. Last year security kept walking past, blocking my shots about half the time. I wasn't able to fully set my tripod, because it would have blocked the walkway. More importantly, I was freezing. They put the AC at maximum to keep the room cool, and since I have to set up early, I get the full brunt of the air conditioner blowing into an empty room. Once the room had warmed up, I had a new problem -- my lack of sleep after having been at Comicon for a few days. Then my constant caffeine intake caught up with me, and I had to use the bathroom.
So, picture it. I'm fighting to keep my camera steady, shivering, needing to fall asleep and run to the bathroom at the same time. For two hours. Have some pity.
But in the end I succeeded through force of will. I managed to film the entire thing and show my friends, who were very happy to be able to see themselves, and I could tell them that the audience loved it. That's Comicon. You struggle for a while, but it's worth it. You're struggling for something.
And at the end of the day, it's difficult not to see the convention center as a giant beast sprawled across the land, some mighty and transcendent engine of glass and steel. It's a big thing we've made. We should be proud.
my favorite moments at comicon.