I think I could argue both sides as to whether pop culture is something that should be celebrated to excess. I also acknowledge the Comicon seems to barely be about comics anymore and more about whatever major Marvel/Star Wars/SciFi/Fantasy event is popular within 6 months. These are valid criticisms of San Diego Comicon when you compare it to its origins in the late 80s to now. However, my counter argument is that something like this that has grown to such ridiculous proportions you have to keep around just to see how else it can possibly evolve. Plus the weekend is nuts.
I’ve been to Comicon 3 times in my life so far and each one has offered some of the most entertaining weekends I could experience. It has it’s ups and downs and Comicon definitely tends to favor those who like to plan ahead but don’t let that deter you. Let me tell you about my most recent Comicon experience and why I love this ridiculous kerfuffle.
First things first, getting the tickets. These tickets are nearly impossible to get I have tried every year for the last 8 years and only gotten lucky 3 times, which compared to some people is still incredibly lucky. The process is tricky and you can find all the details on their site here. Overall to get the tickets you and up to 3 others max can buy for each other and that makes your overall chance at getting the tickets around 20-24%, so not great. However there is hope, a lot of the best parts of Comicon don’t need the ticket at all.
This brings me to the first great thing about Comicon, the outside venues. Every year a good portion of the Gaslamp Quarter is taken over by companies to promote whatever big show/event/blockbuster they have got.
This year there was a big Blade Runner interactive experience, an Amazon Prime Lounge(this one was needed, so much walking), a Walking Dead zombie avoidance practice, and Adult Swim carnival, and so so many more I can’t even begin to list them but I’ll try to list what I can:
Orlando Jones was officiating marriages and doing Karaoke next to a bar that was taken over.
Flash Gordon was a guest bartender at Waterfront Bar and Grill
Free Zachary Levi party at the Children’s Museum…don’t get drunk and tell the cab driver the Children’s Hospital though…that’s awkward.
Jay and Silent Bob Get Old show and frankly Matt Smith is all over Comicon.
For two nights in a row they booked out PetCo Park for events that were all free to get into. One night for a fandom fest where the beer and food were both free(!!!!) and there was numerous obstacle style challenges around (because that’s a good idea with free beer) and a live band. They were promoting Teen Wolf when we got there but whatever, you throw a giant free party I’ll get behind it.
The second night was a Rick and Morty party where a drunk Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland showed the 2nd episode of season 3.
The ridiculous part is this is less than 10% of the events that are going on that don’t require a badge and are generally free to get into. You could have an incredibly fulfilling Comicon without even entering the convention center. In fact, we had more fun this year at the outside events.
The next best part of Comicon, the free stuff. You’ll get shirts, towels, useless novelty items, and more and you’ll love every minute of it. You’ll seek out the free stuff like water in a desert. There was a lounge for a new show called Diplo(pictured above) that gave out free candy and noise makers that paid for itself as we used it whenever we took a shot. The Adult Swim Park gave out so many mini Squanch toys that I’m thinking of leaving them hidden around my office to confuse people. I got a limited edition Hellboy poster just because I was in the right place at the right time. If there is one piece of advice I can offer, leave a lot of space in your bag when you come out, it will be full when you return.
This does lead me to the major downside of Comicon, the lines. At some point you will be in a line and it will be long. Whether a panel or exhibit or just to go take a picture with a plastic statue it will happen. I asked a few con veterans about this and they blame one piece of media that started it all, Twilight. They said before Twilight you could park at the convention center and most panels were basically just walk-ins. However when Twilight came to Comicon roughly 10 years back the fanbase decided to camp out, and when people heard about it they assumed that was the norm and everything snowballed. Now my advice on this is do the main convention center events Thursday and Sunday. The lines for us were never longer than 45 min-1 hour and we walked into some pretty major panels(Bright, Doctor Who, Dirk Gently) plus the Exhibition Hall was more manageable on those days.
Back to the nitty gritty we come to my favorite part of Comicon, the parties. Liquor can range from free at many open bar parties to ridiculous at over $10 for a beer if you wander into the wrong hotel lobby but honestly any of the special event parties are usually very fun. Also most of the time the bars are open. We went to a promotion of the new Kingsman movie and they took over part of the Hard Rock bar and were giving out free booze and hamburgers. I nearly cried.
We also enjoyed just people watching, we would sit at the Water Bar and watch people walk by or find any patio and nurse a beer and stare at the ridiculous costumes.
Overall, Comicon San Diego is still the convention king. Other cons can offer a different experience and definitely are less broad but the pure scale of this one is unmatched. You can build whatever custom experience you want and just let the wave of bright colors, loud noises, and ridiculous people wash over you.