I survived Comic-Con International and came out the other end with a few new friends, a couple of dreams achieved, a handful of comics and a new definition of the word “big.”
Last week I wrote about my expectations for SDCC and mentioned that “big” was the one word people used to describe the con. I can now confirm that, on the whole, that is accurate. I can also understand just why it was hard to formulate other words to describe the show. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how it feels to have absolutely no idea where you are in the midst of hundreds of cosplayers. It’s hard to describe the special blisters that pop up after walking hurriedly from one panel room to another, located all the way across forever. No one would think to mention just how much empty floor space is available outside of the main exhibit hall, enabling people to sprawl out and crash. And I’m not even sure that the word “big,” when used by my friends, acknowledged the fact that the entire Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego essentially becomes a whole other show floor. Every bar had a superhero on its sign, every hotel had exclusives and media events, and every street corner had a tipsy Batman or two.
So yeah, it was big.
It was also proportionally bigger than every other convention I’ve gone to — and I’ve been to quite a few — in almost every way. The panels were proportionally bigger, only because the top floor of the convention center seemed to have a TARDIS-like storage capability. There were so many rooms, crammed with so many panels! Since I went as a CBR reporter, I actually spent a decent amount of time absorbing Panel Culture. I found myself next to people that were excitedly and strategically planning where to camp out for what panels and when. When I go to cons, panels tend to be one of my lowest priorities (the lowest: exclusives), so this was the most time I’ve spent in this area.
The panels I covered were all interesting, and I was quite pleased to see the Gender In Comics panel packed to capacity. I got a surprise during the Tick 25th Anniversary panel when voice actor Townsend Coleman unexpectedly busted out his Tick voice. “The Tick” was such a big part of my life in middle school, and to hear that voice coming from that person right there? It was pure magic. Yep, I’ve found real magic, and it’s hearing the man who voiced the Tick say “Spoon!” The magic causes you to grin uncontrollably, by the way.
The media presence was also bigger than anything I’ve ever seen before, though I wouldn’t say that the media-to-vendor ratio was any different from New York Comic Con. But while the area devoted to media properties didn’t seem overwhelming when compared to everything else, the booths that took up that floor space were impressive. A giant pirate ship, a replica of “The Walking Dead’s” prison, a floor-to-ceiling replica of “Adventure Time’s” Ice King’s head — the booths were full-on impressive, even if I wasn’t personally interested in what they were shoving in my face.
But the vendors were as impressive, too. I saw four copies of “Amazing Fantasy” #15 side by side in a glass case, and a startled noise came out of me that I could not replicate even if I tried. Sure, some of the comics vendors seemed to have just dumped a few garbage bags of ’50s funny books into an eight by eight block of space, but a lot of them had solid deals. And after hunting through about a dozen different retailers, I finally found “Marvel Super-Heroes” #13, first appearance of Carol Danvers. Yeah, it’s got some staple problems and the previous owner decided to color in every woman’s lips with a bright red marker (not going to think too much about that…), but it’s mine and it was five bucks.
The only thing that was not proportionally bigger was Artist Alley, which was a colossal letdown. If “big” doesn’t quite describe how big SDCC is, then “small” doesn’t quite describe how teeny-tiny Artist Alley is. Yeah, there were maybe fifty artists (which is about a tenth of what HeroesCon in Charlotte can claim) and yeah, they did represent a wide cross-section of artists, but that couldn’t save that part of the floor from just being a major bummer. It was pushed all the way over to the side, and was separated from the Small Press section by an expanse of mountainous and highly trafficked pop culture booths. It felt cramped, it felt forgotten and it just felt kinda sad.
None of this should be taken as a knock on the artists who populated Artist Alley; it’s a knock on how SDCC handles those artists. I love Artist Alley. That’s where I spend about seventy percent of my time at every convention. I don’t go to panels or signings because I know I can find the creator at their table and have a quick one-on-one convo that will mean way more to me. But that was not to be done at SDCC. Talents I would have liked to have said “hello” to, like Brian Bendis, Mark Waid, Paul Cornell, Gail Simone and plenty more were all at the show, but nearly impossible to find. And these are creators that I have seen have tables at other shows, so that was a bit disappointing.
The creators I did find, though, through snooping and fate, were all thoroughly awesome. I got to meet Kris Anka and Chris Samnee for the first time, and both were incredibly rad to talk to. Kris even contributed to my TV characters sketchbook with a drawing of Bill Hader’s Stefon from “Saturday Night Live.” These interactions are why I go to comic book conventions, and the very few I had at SDCC made the trip worth it.
Of course there’s one thing that San Diego offered that I have yet to experience at any other con: absolutely wonderful/chaotic moments that truly boggle my mind on a grand scale. The first happened on Friday evening in the lobby of my hotel. There, out of the corner of my eye, I saw John Ratzenberger. Yes, Cliff Clavin from “Cheers.” The reason this moment — and the ensuing picture I got with him — classify as a mind-boggler is because, well, I had no idea that Ratzenberger would ever go to SDCC. I’ve also been marathoning “Cheers” for the past six months, and Cliff is my favorite character (this is the sole thing I told Ratzenberger as my friend Justin Aclin took my beloved picture). I did not, however, tell Ratzenberger that my Cliff Clavin appreciation is more than partially responsible for me having a mustache right now, nor did I tell him that I am considering being Cliff for Halloween (mashed-up with classic Scotty from “Star Trek”… it’s a whole thing). So yes, the fact that the one actor from a show that I’ve been obsessively watching all year just happened to be in my hotel lobby on Friday night? That’s a mind-boggling and awesome thing.
The other one caused me to do a bit of ugly crying while I sat alone in my hotel room and relentlessly refreshed my Twitter feed to keep up with Marvel’s Hall H presentation. So why the ugly crying? I — and I’m trying to not freak out while typing this — met Joss Whedon.
Explaining just how important Joss Whedon is to me is a big enough topic that it needs a whole other entry. Trust me when I say that I would be a completely different person doing a completely different job in a completely more Tennessee-located city with a more confused notion of myself if I hadn’t seen the “School Hard” episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in 8th grade. never looked back. Joss Whedon’s work has affected my life a ton. Meeting him was a big deal.
Honestly, meeting Joss Whedon could have only happened because of the domino-like series of events that have led me to where I am today, all of which started thanks to Whedon himself. With the help of “Marvel’s the Watcher” host Lorraine Cink — who I know through the NYC improv comedy scene, which I’m only involved in because I moved here to pursue my Joss Whedon-inspired dreams — and Marvel’s Director of Communications Arune Singh — who knows me because of this column, which I have because of a separate chain of events started when I moved to NYC — I got to come face-to-face with Joss Whedon. Life. Is. Weird. Right? And great.
The meeting was brief, sure, but I got to tell him that he was “my favorite person ever” and I shook his hand. Just like with John Ratzenberger, I could not quite convey to this celebrity the magnitude of importance the encounter held for me, but that’s fine. I know, and I have that experience now.
I think I did Comic-Con right. I can’t imagine how it could have gone any better, really. I met people I’ve always wanted to meet, I reconnected with dear friends I only see a few times a year, and I experienced the rush and thrill of the most over-the-top comic book convention in America. By the time I left on Sunday, I have to admit, I was kinda ready to mentally prepare myself to camp out overnight next year just for the chance to be in Hall H for Marvel’s presentation. That’s how into the madness I got.
I’m also glad that I can now weigh in on the big ever-present debate regarding SDCC: are comics being edged out? I don’t know what it was like in previous years, but on the whole, my experience at Comic-Con was very comic book focused. I was satisfied with it, and I felt like there was definitely enough comic book stuff there to keep me occupied. It doesn’t feel marginalized or edged out — mostly. Yeah, Artist Alley is a big problem. But it’s a testament to how overwhelming the rest of the comic book stuff is that I managed to get by — and get excited about — a show where my go-to thing was nearly non-existent.
I had a great trip, and CBR made it all possible. I know I’m writing to the choir here, but this is a special site, run and maintained by a staff of A-List people that I’m pleased to know and honored to be included with. I would have never made my way to SDCC without them, and I’m glad they gave me the experience.
Also my hand has touched Joss Whedon’s. Top that, NYCC!
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).