With a rich history spanning nearly 40 years, Comic-Con International has been attracting fans of all facets of pop culture. What was once a small convention that had an attendance of about 300 people in 1970, this year’s Comic-Con had an attendance of over 125,000. What started as a gathering of comic and sci-fi fans in the basement of the still standing U.S. Grant Hotel, today Comic-Con has taken over the entire San Diego convention center. There are more than 450 different events that cover not just comics and sci-fi, but movies, television, gaming, and anime, Comic-Con truly has something to offer everyone.
This year marked my second time to Comic-Con. Having been attending anime conventions regularly since 2000, last year really opened my eyes to how large Comic-Con is in comparison to even something like Anime Expo. This year was no exception. First timers can really get a scope for how massive it is on Day Zero. The day before the convention opens, they give 4-day attendees a chance to visit the dealer’s hall to get a head’s start on their shopping. The moment I step foot into the dealer’s hall, I was overwhelmed. My first step into the dealer’s hall filled me with an overwhelming feeling. Looking up you see a sign marking you are in aisle 5200, and far in the distance you might make out aisle 100 on the opposite side of the hall. There are booths for video game publishers, movie studios, TV networks, toy makers, comic publishers, vendors and everything in between.
For those unfamiliar to Comic-Con, but who might have gone to anime conventions in the past, nothing can quite prepare you for the more popular booths. One booth that stands out in particular is Hasbro’s. Comic-Con has always been famous for offering exclusive merchandise that you can only purchase at the event and Hasbro – makers of such popular toy lines as G.I. Joe, My Little Pony and Transformers – leads the pack. The Hasbro exclusives are so popular that in order to get in line, you need to line up at a separate location and get a ticket to return to the booth. That’s right, you need to line up for a chance to go line up in another line.
Many other booths share the same kind of craziness. For example network booths that offer autographs sessions from its stars end up feeling like controlled chaos at best and drowning in a sea of people at worst. For example, even though I had a ticket that allowed me a chance to get an autograph with the cast from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, did not necessarily mean it was going to be an easy process. What made things really difficult was that no lines could be formed until 15 minutes before the actual signing, and of course people showed up long before that time. Milling around the booth, it felt crowded but relatively comfortable, that was until they announced the line was officially starting. What followed after that was a massive rush of people trying to get near the front of the line. Feeling like I was about to be swallowed up by the mob, I took refuge near the corner of the booth and was at a point where no one else could cut in front of me. It was possibly one of the most stressful moments of the convention, but in the end getting a chance to tell the cast members of your favorite show how much you enjoy their work and having them respond back to you in a truly thankful way really exemplifies what Comic-Con is all about.
Now all that I have talked about, that’s just the dealer’s hall and there are still many other things I can talk about that one aspect, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Of course it wouldn’t be a convention without panels. Looking at the panel schedule you’re sure to find many panels you would love to attend; unfortunately, what you find is that so many of the panels overlap each other that you have to choose which ones you truly want to go to. While it is cool to go to panels in the massive Hall H, which seats 6500 people, with its high profile movies like Iron Man 2 and celebrities like Robert Downey Jr. in attendance, I prefer the smaller more intimate panels. Two of my favorite panels from this year were the Rifftrax and Kung-Fu Extravaganza. Rifftrax is a group of 3 alumni from the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 TV show. MST3K was one of my favorite shows growing up and having a chance to be 20 feet away from the original cast far outweighs seeing someone like Robert Downey Jr. on a large screen. They did a live riffing of a safety training video and took suggestions from the audience to what movie they should riff next. Sadly the Super Mario Brother’s movie lost to Dragon Wars in the end.
The second panel, the Kung-Fu Extravaganza was hosted by Ric Meyers, who Fanime attendees may already know very well. For people who love Asian cinema, the panel is sure to entertain you with 3 hours of the best action scenes from films old and new. In fact, because of this panel, I can recommend two great films fans of the genre should check out – Red Cliff and Yip Man. Red Cliff, released last year and directed by John Woo it is a great period piece from the Three Kingdoms era. The second film, Yip Man, is a movie about the life of the celebrated master of the legendary Bruce Lee. Both of these film feature awesome fight scenes that will leave you stunned.
So you got a brief look into the dealer’s hall and panels, which granted make up much of what Comic-Con is all about and yet there is still so much more to talk about. On the gaming side, I got to try out games like Left 4 Dead 2, Brutal Legend, Dragon Age, Singularity, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 and Tatsunoko vs Capcom. On the autograph side, among the famous people I got to meet included Matt Groening, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick – the creators of The Venture Brothers, John Kricfalusi – creator of Ren and Stimpy, and Danny Devito to name a few. In addition to what I purchased at the dealer’s hall, I got swag that ran the gamut of free t-shirts and comics, to door hangers and a unique one of a kind Venture Brother’s cup. Among one of the bigger events I missed was the masquerade. It’s such a huge event that you can either watch it live in the hall, or watch a simulcast in a panel room. You could even watch it on a big screen as you enjoy free munchables at a party-like environment that even features a bar to get your drink on.
Of course I’m sure most people will agree that the best thing about Comic-Con and conventions in general are the memories that you forge. Whether it’s staying up all night playing board game and swapping stories with your friends in the hotel room or meeting new people who geek out at the same things you do, it’s always a great feeling knowing that you can celebrate your fandom with thousands of other people. Even our road trip down to San Diego, which consisted of me driving for over 8 hours each way, is something that I wouldn’t want to replace. If you haven’t been to Comic-Con yet, I can’t recommend it enough. As I said before and I’ll say again, even if you have no interest in comics whatsoever, no matter what your fandom is, you’ll find a large group of people to share it with at Comic-Con. I look forward to returning year after year after year as I know that each year will be better than the last. Here’s to you, Comic-Con International! Congratulations on 40 years and counting!