Living in San Diego, it’s impossible to ignore when Comic Con comes to town. Like a grand circus, the downtown areas become flooded with visitors from all over – all with a shared love of geekdom in one form or another. Tabletop fanatics, anime fans, comic book lovers, cosplayers…the list goes on, and their fandoms converge on America’s Finest City for a weekend of nerdy revelry.
Yet, in my 7 years living here, I have never attended this grand celebration of geeky-ness. The last time I attended was 12 years ago, when I came to visit the city in order to meet my then-girlfriends family and enjoy a few weeks hanging out with her over summer break. Back then I was able to stroll up on Saturday and buy a one-day badge, a completely radical concept given the epic struggle for badges now.
So, when the opportunity presented itself for my wife and I to secure weekend badges through a friend of mine, we decided to capitalize on it.
I’ll start off by saying that my wife is the yin to my yang when it comes to geek culture. I love it all: anime, video games, Magic: The Gathering, comics, manga…I’ve got a vested interest in all of these categories.
My wife, on the other hand…not so much. Her biggest fandoms are Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and more recently, Critical Role.
Furthermore, when it comes to conventions, I’ve regularly attended anywhere between 1-4 conventions a year for the past 15+ years. She’s never been to a single one.
So, you can imagine my excitement when the plans to attend San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) came together. There was going to be a Talks Machina panel (Critical Role talk show that typically airs on Tuesdays), which was a major draw for her, and beyond that we began to review the schedule and make a plan together on what we wanted to see.
Typically, when you’re going to introduce someone to a new hobby, you start slow. Anime fans have a good idea of good shows for “beginners” – shows that don’t lean too heavily on tropes or fanservice, and that offer a storyline and delivery similar enough to mainstream entertainment to ease people in. If you’re wanting to take someone from playing board games like Clue, Sorry! and Monopoly to grander titles like Twilight Imperium and Gaia Project, there are some other games you introduce them to first in order to get them familiar with core mechanics. With conventions, you think you would want to start small too, right? Not quite.
SDCC regularly charts as one of the top 10 conventions in the country when it comes to attendance. It gets crowded. It gets busy. However, given its long history and massive roster of attendees, the entire staff has the weekend down to a science.
My wife and I rode the trolley downtown (you couldn’t pay us enough to fight for parking in the area) and strolled up to the convention hall on Day 1 to pick up our badges. A single question got us in the right direction, and within 5 minutes we had our badges on, bag and guidebook in hand, and were ready to go.
This was my experience at SDCC 12 years ago as well, and it was refreshing to see that despite the constant demand and growth of the show, the registration and badge pickup process was still remarkably smooth.
Of course, one of the biggest draws for SDCC, and conventions as a whole, is the massive exhibit hall floor. Hundreds and hundreds of vendors, big and small, showcasing their wares and offering up exclusives to lure in geeks who save up all year to stock up on anything and everything. We spent most of Thursday acclimating ourselves to the show as a whole – including identifying the major parts of the exhibit hall and the booths where we wanted to circle back and take a closer look.
Now, we couldn’t spend the whole weekend shopping (though if you did, you’ll find no judgment here), so we did plan some panels to attend as well. Our first was a panel on Art during the Holocaust – a cheerful topic to kick off the weekend.
In all seriousness, the panel featured Holocaust survivor Ruth Sax, who found herself living through not one, not two, but three different concentration camps. She faced the infamous Dr. Mengele half a dozen times, and has lived to share her story in the book Try to Remember – Never Forget, which was published with the help of her daughter. The panel recounted her journey, and touched on some of the art and comics that emerged from this dark chapter in mankind’s history.
Despite the nature of the subject (or indeed, perhaps because of it), there was a surprisingly large line to enter the panel. It was orderly, the process was smooth, and we made it into the room to enjoy the programming. This was her introduction to lines and what to expect from attending panels over the weekend. We knew we would have to wait for the things we really wanted, and adjusted our schedule accordingly.
Over the course of 3 days, my wife got to enjoy a real glimpse into the heart of geek culture. Dedicated cosplayers showing off in breathtaking outfits, booths showing off exciting exclusive pieces, fans thrilled to see their heroes in the flesh. There were “Critters” (fans of Critical Role) all over the place, and the Talks Machina panel was easily the highlight of the weekend – particularly with the hilarious “safety video” they screened beforehand in order to make sure questions were directed properly.
While she tapped out by Sunday, I would consider the weekend overall a great success. Whether we’ll be able to make it back to SDCC next year is up to the fates, but at least now she has a better idea of what it is I’m up to when I’m gone.
Reflecting on the weekend as a whole, I honestly think that SDCC is one of the best conventions out there. From AAA guests and panels to crisp organization, it offers up some of the best entertainment in the industry. As a result, my wife has been properly introduced to convention culture, and I think she might be ready for more…
What do you think? Were you able to attend SDCC? Or have you introduced a friend or loved one to conventions in a similar way? We’d love to hear more in the comments!