San Diego Comic Con is not the first con that I have attended, but it is easily the largest and busiest. For reference, I attended New York Comic Con fairly routinely from 2007 to 2010 and have been to some of the smaller horror, sci-fi, and comic conventions that pop up in New York and New Jersey. I also once attended PAX, which has become one of the largest gaming conventions in the world in the last few years. For me, an integral part of the con experience is the extent to which I experience sensory overload, and SDCC trumps every other con I have attended in that regard.
After waking up at an ungodly four in the morning, I acquired some caffeine and began the journey to San Diego with Dale, BuyIndie Comics.com’s fearless Editor-In-Chief. Fearing that the traffic would be nightmarish (it is LA), we began our journey on the I-5 at five o’clock in the morning and arrived at San Diego only two hours later. It was seven in the morning in San Diego, and traffic was gridlocked after wave upon wave of con attendees crossed the street (some illegally to the dismay of already disgruntled security guards). Believing that we had arrived with plenty of time to spare given that we would not be able to pick up our badges until 8:30, I was unprepared to not only park several blocks from the event but also to see thousands of people crowd the convention center. I am told that this year was a particularly busy year for SDCC, but I also feel as if previous cons I had attended had done little to prepare me for the size of SDCC.
This became painfully obvious once we gained access to the Exhibition Hall and were able to gaze at the monoliths of comics consumerism. (Well, comics, movies, video games, tv shows, toys, and other things peripherally related to geek fandom.) The truth is that San Diego Comic Con is not really about comics. Aside from Arists Alley and a few aisles reserved for independent publishers, the vast majority of the show floor is comprised of booths directed at comics fans. As Dale and I slowly pushed our way through the crowds in a main artery of the show floor, I remarked that “we made a bad move walking between the Lego and the Star Wars booths.” A woman who overheard my comment asked sarcastically “why are you at Comic Con, then?” That comment is a fairly accurate summation of the SDCC experience; there is more on offer, at least at first glance, for folks who are interested in Lego or Star Wars than there are for people who want to meet and interact with comics creators.
There was also a moment where people had stopped moving while near the Marvel booth because someone on stage (yes, they had a stage, I don’t know why either) was going to present Captain America’s motorcycle. We were warned, however, that the “Shield agents” next to it were there to protect it, because Captain America was likely to get angry if anyone were to touch it. Now, I don’t read a lot of Captain America books. The last time he was even on my radar was when he died a few years back. But, nothing about Captain America strikes me as the type of character who would fly off the handle and ruthlessly beat someone for touching his property. (I’m pretty sure they’ve mistaken him for Ayn Rand.)
Fortunately, we were able to skip a big part of the spectacle and meet up with some of the independent creators who were at the show. Dale seems to know everyone, and everyone seems to know Dale. We were able to have a long conversation with the wonderful team at CME and get a sneak peek of some art that will be coming out soon; it was exactly the sort of thing I wanted out of my SDCC experience. Tagging along with Dale gave me access to passionate creators of all stripes. In contrast with the distant, corporate attitude on display at some of the bigger booths, the writers and artists in the indie section of the exhibit hall took the time to talk to us and explain their art. I had more fun having a face to face conversation with passionate people than watching a PR rep make an announcement. Furthermore, this is something that any fan can replicate at SDCC. If you like someone’s work (and there aren’t a million people in line to ask them questions), you can ask them a question and get an answer. Most artists are there to talk to you and engage with their audience, and even though this aspect of the convention is relegated to a few smaller areas of the show floor, it is still possible to engage with creators.
At the end of the day, the passion of the people we met more than made up for the stuff that was not much of a draw for me. (And, before I sound like too much of a snob, let me say that I did go by Square Enix’s booth and gawk at the pretty Final Fantasy games… I drooled. Dale laughed. Good times were had by all.) The passion of creators was at no point more evident than during the Insights into Indie Publishing panel, which was well attended and featured Dale as well as several other artists who know what it takes to make it as an indie creator. (Not to spoil it for you, but it takes hard work, reasonable expectations, and a whole lot of love for what you’re doing.) With digital publishing, Kickstarter, and a host of other tools at artists’ disposal these days, I left feeling like there was going to be a lot of new comics to read in the near future.