What the Heck is Comic Con?

Last weekend over 130,000 (!) people arrived at the San Diego Convention Center for the 2017 San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) event. What started about 40 years ago as a relatively small  event – I think of it then as a comic book collector’s dream weekend of discussing their favorite superhero stories with other like-minded nerds from around the country – has ballooned into one of the world’s largest destination for all things pop-culture. SDCC draws people from every continent to experience the latest and greatest offerings from movies to television, video games to toy collecting, and book publishing to, of course, comic books.

When I say that 130,000 people is a lot of people… I mean it is A LOT of people. The 2017 SDCC was my first ever time attending, and I was woefully underprepared for what that number really meant. To make a long story short, most accounts suggest that SDCC was a relatively manageable event to attend until 2009. That year, the cast of Twilight attended “the Con” (that’s the in-group lingo for the event, I learned last week) to debut footage for their next event. Since then, masses of people who have never once read a comic book attend the event to see the latest exclusive trailers for upcoming major movie releases, gather hints for upcoming plot lines on their favorite television shows returning for the Fall season, or just to see their favorite celebrities “in-person” at various panel discussions. Now, the lines are so long and the venue is so crowded at times it is literally difficult to move. And yet, people come.

Separate from the silver and small-screen offerings, toy collecting is one of the hottest things at Comic Con. Several years ago, I remember seeing Funko Pop! Vinyl figurines for the first time and having no idea why anyone would want to collect tiny pieces of molded plastic with giant bug eyes that semi-resembled obscure pop-culture characters. Now, separately from my time at SDCC, I’m the proud owner of about a dozen Funko Pop! figures that I display in my home office. I didn’t pick any up this year at SDCC partly because there weren’t any I wanted, but mostly because people literally camp out in line for 12 hours overnight for the chance at a ticket to MAYBE get the SDCC-exclusive figurine they wanted from the Funko booth. Maybe.

For the lucky ones that do get their hands on some exclusive collectables at the event, there’s apparently a profit to be made. I heard someone in line behind me saying there are some Game of Thrones exclusives (retail price of $10) that were already on eBay for $200+ during the second day of the convention. Apparently, there’s people who attend SDCC solely to buy and flip exclusive toys for enormous profit margins.

Meanwhile, the rest of the convention exhibition space (where the toy collecting takes place) is a huge draw for many people to the convention. You could spend two entire days combing the half-mile long exhibit floor and not see or experience everything there is to offer. Nickelodeon had custom shirts for sale (sold-out daily in minutes). Netflix, Marvel, and Warner Bros gave away free posters and swag for their upcoming projects. Comic artists, writers, and celebrities did in-booth (and very lightly advertised) signings with “capped” lines. Hundreds of stands sold custom artwork, rare and valuable comics, used toys, anime DVDs, and offered video game demos. The most unique thing I in the exhibit hall saw was probably a large booth space which showcased items from the personal collections of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, to be auctioned off this Fall on eBay. Neat stuff, but pretty random to see a vintage Singing in the Rain poster at an event started for comic book fans.

Ultimately, at the core of SDCC is the fans. People come from near and far to have the chance to totally geek out with like-minded people over things that are oftentimes deemed too nerdy to talk about publicly. This seems like a good transition into discussing Cosplay (a term that combines Costume and Play). At least 1 in 5 people at SDCC donned a costume and strutted their stuff around the convention center. Think of it like another time, besides Halloween, where it is socially acceptable for grown men to wear full Spider-Man outfits, and for adult women to wear pasties and body paint instead of a shirt. Also, lots of Wonder Woman costumes (apparently replacing last year’s hot costume, Harley Quinn).

I didn’t Cosplay, but I did meet some awesome people. In the line for the bathroom (20-minute wait), I had an awesome discussion with two guys about the merits of Rogue One vs The Force Awakens, whether or not Valerian will someday be considered as good as the Fifth Element, and if it would be worth my time to watch Iron Fist on Netflix before the Defenders comes out in August. Ultimately, we agreed that people were overly harsh on some CGI effects in Rogue One, The Force Awakens was 10 times better than anything George Lucas did with the prequel trilogy, only time will tell about Valerian (none of us had seen it yet), and unfortunately, I probably should just power through Iron Fist.

As I was standing in this line, I thought to myself “damn, this is awesome”. Here I was, talking to two perfect strangers about things I’d normally be too embarrassed to talk about super publicly. There was no judgement over our difference of opinions, we were all coincidentally wearing different Star Wars shirts, and most importantly, I felt this immediate sense of trust with them. They’d spent the time in the long lines like I had, invested a pretty penny in being there, and were just as excited as me to see the upcoming panel (Warner Bros was about to premiere the Justice League trailer).

So, what is Comic Con? It depends on who you ask. For some, it is an excuse to turn a profit on toy collecting. For others, it is a way to score that autograph they’ve always coveted. For me, it was a chance to experience in-person an event I’d heard so much about and see for myself just how powerful the experience could be. What did I learn? What did I do? Looking forward to sharing that soon!