Before I get to reviewing my first Comic Con experience, I have to confess something. I’m not really that into the full Comic Con mindset. Honestly, I probably represent the softest form of the soft-core fan. Generally, I like the TV and movie elements, would never dress up in costume, don’t collect all the fan gear, and am happy to simply sit in the big hall and listen to the actors tell behind-the-scenes stories. I don’t need to meet them, have a picture taken with them or get their autograph (well, that’s not entirely true — I would, but I’m just not willing to shell out $50 a pop to do it).
For those of you who are not hard-core fans, the conventions are really geared towards a mash-up of several genres. I’ll probably do a poor job of summarizing, but here goes:
- Science fiction — in written, graphic/comic or video format, this is the overwhelming genre for most of the guests, often linked to the big series (Star Wars, Star Trek) or the big TV shows (Firefly);
- Comic books — a lot of the smaller breakout discussions, and a LOT of the vendors are comic book writers, animators and collectors, but this goes way beyond the simple collections of superhero comics to include full graphic novels in the Japanese tradition (called manga);
- Anime — the Japanese abbreviation for animation, this is a genre defined more by look ‘n feel more than anything else — whether animated video stories or on paper, they are always bright, colorful and action-packed;
- Gaming — at the risk of offending true gamers, this includes role-playing games, video games, and table-top board games;
- Steampunk — a weird mash-up of sci-fi set in the 1800s, where “sci-fi” was mostly steam-powered machines; and,
- Other — Horror is big, not sure I’d class it as its own area though, and there are lots of other little miscellaneous areas.
From that list, I’m pretty much only interested in the first one, and part of the second one (when comic book super heroes are made into TV or movies).
So why would I go to Comic Con? Because it is a huge part of geek culture, it was here in Ottawa, and the tickets weren’t that expensive ($55-$75 for three days). I can’t imagine going to one of the huge ones in San Diego, but the one in Ottawa is small enough in size to still be manageable (this was only it’s second year).
Never having been to such an event before, I had no idea what to expect for line-ups to get into see certain guests. I didn’t think it was worth it to shell out close to $200 to get the VIP front-of-the-line tickets (more on that later), so I was part of the masses when lining up for individual sessions. Prior to the weekend, I assumed I would go early each day, sit through as many of the panels as I could, grab some food there, and basically hang out for the day. Not quite what happened though.
I thought Friday was going to be a wash — it opened at 2:00, but I work until 5:00, figured I would miss most of the guests that day. Which was a bit annoying, as they had panels scheduled with Levar Burton (Geordi from Star Trek and host of The Reading Rainbow, although non-geeks probably know him from Roots), Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian from Star Wars, although non-geeks might have spotted him recently doing cameos on NCIS and White Collar), and Kevin Sorbo (Hercules, of course, but also Captain of the Andromeda). I was pleasantly surprised that all three were actually scheduled late in the day (i.e. most > 5:00). However, by the time I got there, Billy Dee Williams had been rescheduled earlier in the day (so I had missed him), the lines were insane and since all of them were more “Tier II priorities” for me, I decided to spend the night enjoying wandering around the convention hall, checking out vendors and various guests’ costumes. You’ll see in the link at the bottom that there are pictures of a landspeeder model (from Star Wars) and the original Batmobile (from Batman which debuted on TV in ’66). I also have a few photos of various costumes — Star Wars ones were the most interesting to me, although I thought the ones from Sailor Moon were really well done (and thanks to the Comic Con organizers who put lots of photos up on their FB site for sharing!). Mostly I just wandered around and got my bearings.
Saturday morning, I was there bright and early though. And I’m going to digress here with a small note about logistics and line-ups. I’ve done logistics for conferences (never on this public scale though), and so I’m pretty comfortable with some of the challenges. Rule #1 of any convention is to eliminate any confusion with anyone about where they’re supposed to go or how they are supposed to get there. The opening morning setup in that regard was a disaster.
The main hall holds 2500 people on chairs, another 500 or so probably standing. The first 10-12 rows were for VIPs — if you shelled out the $200 for a ticket, you could go to the VIP line and snag one of those seats up until 10 minutes before the panel — at ten minutes before, they open those seats to anyone and the regular masses (already sitting in rows 13++) rush forward to get close. Even for Firefly, I would estimate only about 60% full for the VIPs before they got to move forward. Now, aside from VIPs, the regular masses (i.e. 2000++ people) have to line up in advance to get into the hall, get seated, watch for an hour, get their butts out, and get the next group in for the next panel. About 30 minutes between each panel. That’s a challenge, and with limited space for 2000+ people to line up, there’s really only one solution — have them line up outside in a tent. Think of a theme park ride, same deal. You line up, then the previous group goes through, you move forward x number of spaces, and wait again. The only difference is that each “90 minutes” they clear out the entire line at one go for different panels.
Here’s the problem — the people lining up for Firefly were being told to go stand at the end of a line that also included all the general admission people looking to pick up their tickets. In other words, the fans who already had their passes and badges were going through the same line they had already gone through just to be told which line they were supposed to go to for the Firefly panel. Note that this is the only time this would be a problem for two groups at the same time i.e. early on Saturday morning while people were arriving to get their badges (for many, their first day) at the same time the first panel was lining up. All at the same initial entrance to the tent. Now, the admissions ones were directed into what would later be a VIP line for other panels (they had a separate spot for VIPs for this panel, just temporarily), and to the left of that small line was a snaking line for Firefly.
But the woman doing directing had no idea what to do with people coming out of the convention centre asking where to go — she didn’t want them to immediately butt-in line ahead of the mixed admissions/Firefly fans nor did she want to send them to the end of the line AGAIN, but she was anyway. It made no sense. So I flagged it for the coordinator for the lines (a tall guy on roller skates). He basically shrugged, didn’t care.
Now, as both a conference organizer and a patron, that kind of attitude just ticks me off. So I went and found his boss. Took me about 10 minutes of asking for directions, finally found the guy, and very politely said, “You should know…”. He immediately said, “Okay, thanks, let’s go solve this.” Good response, and by the time we walked back to the location, the tall guy was apparently fixing it after multiple complaints. Sounds great, right? No, because when I got back over to the Firefly line, the woman still had the same problem — let them butt in or send them to the back of the line. A bunch of us finally just ignored her shouts and directions, walked past her and went to the Firefly line. Later, of course, the “second group” (i.e. the admissions group) were gone, so it was only panel people lining up each time, but for that one, I really felt sorry for the girl directing traffic — her bosses did her no favours, that’s for sure, and a lot of people were royally ticked.
Now, here’s the second thing as a “general guest”. Outside of Firefly, everybody wanting to go to the main events in the plenary hall could get in. The only point to lining up is how close to the front you would be. There are big huge video screens, so seeing wasn’t much of an issue, but if you wanted to be close, you had to be near the front of the line. For Firefly, that line up started — STARTED — 90 minutes before the event. It was not a warm weekend in the end, and the wind by the airport was freezing cold. I was wearing jeans and a polo shirt, with a spring jacket, and I was COLD. I only lined up about an hour before to ensure I got in (and because I didn’t really know any better). The tent had a wall down one side, the other three were open, and the wind was killer. Look to the photos in my gallery below, and you’ll see two young girls in Sailor Moon costumes (they looked awesome by the way, very anime-like, perfect colouring, etc.). But look at the costumes — short skirts, thin tops, lots of skin. Outside in May with a cold wind blowing. There were LOTS of people in costumes like that (particularly superhero shticks). Brrrr…I have no idea how they survived the line-ups. If any anime babies are born in the fall, 9 mths after Comic Con, I’m going to attribute them to some people’s cuddling going a little far.
For the big draws of Saturday, I caught Firefly, Batman, and Michael Shanks. On Sunday, I caught Wil Wheaton. I’ll cover those sessions in Parts II, III, and IV. In the meantime, I have photos below.