A neon green double-decker bus blasting the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme whizzes by, with at least 30 fans screaming the lyrics at the top of their lungs. A group of wizards pose for a photo with their wands at the ready. Along the marina, there is a line of 200+ people waiting for something coming up the next day. Somewhere, someone is crying because they got to be in a room with Jason Momoa.
This is San Diego Comic Con.
I once saw San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) described as "the nerd version of Coachella," and I have to admit, I find this a pretty accurate description. SDCC is a conglomerate of moderated panels, movies, television, pop culture, comics, artists, live music, and more. For 5 days (including preview night), geeks from all over make the trek to San Diego (more specifically the San Diego Convention Center and Gaslamp District) to participate in events, see their favorite actors and directors, meet their favorite artists, and mingle with fellow fans.
Thousands of cosplayers flock the streets of the Gaslamp District, which gets significantly transformed by networks, TV shows, promotions, movies, and fan parties. SDCC is a long weekend where fans can truly be themselves without the questioning or judgement from the mainstream majority. Cosplayers are mostly approached for photos and compliments! There are no side-eyes or judging glares. SDCC simply accepts fans as they are. After all, fans are the ones who have given entertainment giants like Marvel, Warner Brothers, and DC the support they've needed to become who they are now.
On one hand, many fans view SDCC as a vacation - between booking a great hotel in the Gaslamp District along with the general allure of San Diego`... it can definitely seem like a vacation.
I am here to tell you that I am not one of those people. SDCC is game time.
We trickled into our hotel room at The Lafayette Hotel, a cute boutique hotel with a fun pool and moderate accommodations. Four of us split a family suite, and there was more than enough space for us. Ashley and I shared a bunk bed in the second room, while Christine and her sister Caitlin shared a bed in the first room. Each room came complete with a spacious closet, TV with cable, and a full bathroom.
The Lafayette Hotel is super cute! I wish we'd had the time to enjoy the pool and the restaurant on the property. I'd surely go back, sans Comic-Con, to enjoy this boutique hotel.
PRO TIP: DISCUSS YOUR PLANS WITH YOUR GROUP. BE TRANSPARENT, AND ACCEPT THAT YOU MAY HAVE TO GO SOME PLACES ALONE. IT PREVENTS DRAMA WITHIN THE GROUP AND EVERYONE CAN BE HAPPY THAT WAY! COMMUNICATION IS KEY.
Up early, we began our first full day at the Con. We'd discussed our goals the night before, and the girls were joining in on one of my priorities that morning: Laika Live, a temporary off-site (meaning not at the Convention Center and not requiring an SDCC badge) exhibit showcasing the behind-the-scenes magic of Laika. Our hotel was only 15 minutes from SDCC, so we took an Uber.
PRO TIP: LEAVE PLENTY OF TIME FOR YOUR COSPLAY! I WOKE UP EXTRA EARLY SO I COULD TAKE MY TIME, AND IT PAID OFF.
Laika is the studio that has produced some wonderfully whimsical stop motion films, such as Coraline, Paranorman, and Kubo and the Two Strings. I waited four hours to get into last year's exhibit, and I did not want to repeat that mistake again! This year, the exhibit was 3x the size of last year's, and I was also inspired to do my first cosplay as Coraline.
We got in line a little less than an hour before the exhibit was scheduled to open. The line had started wrapping around the corner, but it wasn't too bad. Our first semi-win! To make things even better, Laika cosplayers and their party would get to pass the whole line!
Jolene: 1 SDCC: 0
We were sought out (blue hair and a bright yellow raincoat are hard to miss) and escorted to the front of the line at 9:50AM, ten minutes before opening. When the clock struck 10AM, we were the first to be escorted into the courtyard, where we played some trivia with our small tour group, before heading into the actual exhibit.
This year's exhibit was more than an upgrade from last year - it was incredible. We began with the Pink Palace and then got to meet some armaturists, who help create the dolls and all of their details.
PRO TIP: DON'T RUSH TO GET INTO THE CONVENTION CENTER. THOROUGHLY CHECK OUT WHAT IS AVAILABLE OFF-SITE AND MAKE YOUR PLANS BASED ON WHAT YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO SEE.
It was totally worth waking up a little earlier and way more relaxed than rushing to the convention center immediately. We took so many photos and got to see the artists at work. Laika is such a passionate, unique studio and that came across in our short time at the exhibit. They were almost as excited as we were to be there!
We continued on with the off-site activations, like the FXhibition - a section outside of the Convention Center sponsored by the channel FX. Each year, they have a little village of off-site activities and freebies related to their popular shows. I was too afraid to go into the American Horror Story activation, but we did manage to get into the Legion-inspired art installation with a moderate wait (1 hour).
After some funny photos and crazy lines, Ashley and I headed inside to the exhibit floor while Christine and Caitlin stayed at the FXhibition.
Even though we'd been at SDCC for half a day already, it didn't feel real until we scanned our badges to get into the Convention Center. The cool AC hit us as we walked in, but so did the crowds. I'd forgotten how insane it gets inside!
Met with hundreds of booths, we explored as many aisles as we could, dodging cosplayers and posing for photos (a lot of people loved my cosplay!). By chance, we meandered by the ABC booth and there was a signing going on. It seemed pretty empty, and as my eyes scanned the situation, I realized it was Nathan Fillion! We jumped in line, waited a whole 10 minutes, and got to meet the man himself. Security was kind enough to take photos, too - most of the time, this is unheard of at SDCC.
So far, my first day had been way too easy, and I didn't know it was about to get even easier.
Ashley and I were pretty tired from walking, so we found a place inside to sit. I pulled up the Comic Con app to see what was going on - by then, it was before 4PM. The Venom panel was coming up, and... could it be? Twitter reported pretty short lines and strong possibility that we would get in!
Hall H is notorious for being one of the most grueling situations at SDCC every year. Since it has the largest capacity, holding over 6,000 people, the largest and most exciting panels are reserved for this place - it is not uncommon to find fans lining up a full 24-hours in advance.
We decided to brave the notorious Hall H line and see if we could miraculously get into the Venom panel. Venom is one of Marvel's anti-heroes, sort of like the considerably darker version of Spiderman. The film is starring Tom Hardy and is bound to be a box office success. Why wasn't the line more crazy? This is the thing about SDCC: You truly, genuinely never really know what's going to happen. You have to be faithful to utilize resources like social media and apps to stay on your toes. If I hadn't checked the reports on Twitter, I would have never even considered trying to get into Hall H.
I texted my friends semi-frantically that we'd gotten a spot in Hall H, and there was a good chance we'd make it into the panel. Long story short, we got in! We got to see some awesome clips from the upcoming movie, and my favorite part was hearing about Tom Hardy's creative process as Venom. It was awesome!
I'd like to take this moment to point out that you won't notice much mention of food or eating... because we didn't, really. That's another thing about SDCC - you are so invested in the atmosphere, events, waiting in lines for things... that you have to fight to find time to go to the bathroom, stay hydrated, or eat an actual meal. By this point in the day, it was probably around 7PM and we had only eaten one meal at lunch... plus our day was not yet over.
I dragged my tired legs over several blocks to the FYE pop-up shop (another off-site perk) for a signing.
PRO TIP: KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED FOR SIGNINGS! NOT ALL OF THEM ARE WELL ADVERTISED OR VERY BIG. YOUR FAVORITES COULD BE DOING SIGNINGS AT ANY GIVEN TIME DURING THE CON.
I made a graphic novel purchase and got myself into a signing with one of my favorite artists, Lights. She has been a singer/songwriter as well as a visual artist for a LONG time, but we were celebrating her graphic novel, Skin & Earth. The signing wasn't for another hour, and there was an unprecedented turnout, so we waited a long time. A LONG time. By the time the night ended, our feet hurt, my wig was giving me a headache, and we hadn't eaten since.... I'm not sure when.
This is what I mean when I say that I don't view SDCC as a laid-back vacation. We'd been up since 6AM, we barely ate throughout the day, but at the same time we got to meet some amazing people, see amazing things, and have experiences that are unique to SDCC.
Saturdays are always insane at SDCC, and historically, the biggest and most popular panels are often scheduled for Hall H on Saturday. This year was no different, as the Fantastics Beasts panel was scheduled for Saturday morning, meaning people were lining up starting on Friday afternoon. The good news is we had all decided to opt out of trying to get in that panel. Besides, we were already exhausted from a long day on Friday!
We still got up pretty early, I spent a bit less time on my Saturday cosplay, and we were off to the Convention Center again. This time, our group split in half - our plan was to spend most of the day in Indigo Ballroom for a slew of panels, but I didn't want to go in too early; Christine and Caitlin wanted to catch some earlier panels so they went straight for that line.
I've become completely enamored by a series on Syfy, and this year I felt that it was more than necessary to visit the Syfy off-site. I'd heard wonderful things about it from last year - epic fan parties, giveaways, and tons of fun. Well, I wanted in on that fun!
Ashley and I got in line for the Bingo Trolley, since the Karaoke Bus line was much longer. And yes, those are exactly what you think they are. We waited a little longer than we'd planned, but it was worth it. After 2.5 hours, we made it onto the Bingo Trolley!
Head over to Part II to read about what happened next!
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