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Comic-Con ‘09 and Convention Hell

posted Aug 30, 2012, 12:03 AM by Douglas Sun
Originally posted: July 24, 2009

Just a quick post about Comic-Con ’09, because my visit was itself quite abbreviated; no pics, and only one profound observation, which I will save for the end. Because of uncertainty over my schedule and travel budget, I reserved only a 1-day pass — for Thursday, since Friday and Saturday were both sold out by the time I got around to registering. It was very much a testing of the waters rather than a deep plunge for my first-ever trip to Comic-Con, but it was the best I could do.

By logic, then, I had hoped to pack a lot into my one day at the show — and would that it had turned out that way. Instead, it turned out to be one of those days that I will probably tell people about when I want them to feel sorry for me, or when I want to feel sorry for myself.

Actually, it was a day that got much better as it went on, but my fine plan to catch the 7:50 a.m. train from Fullerton to San Diego fell apart pretty quickly, when a major accident brought the southbound 57 Freeway to a halt, with me stuck right in the middle of the muck. As a consequence, it took me roughly four hours to complete what should have been a 40-minute drive to the Fullerton station, and I missed not only my scheduled train, but two more departures after that. Fortunately, the Amtrak agents were quite nice about letting me into the next train south, thanks to which I finally arrived at the Convention Center around mid-afternoon.

The upside of my catastrophic morning was that I arrived after the crowds for registration and badge pick-up had dissipated — because of course, nobody is stupid enough to pay for a 1-day pass to Comic-Con only to waste half of it by not arriving until 2:30 in the afternoon. Getting crushed in the registration horde was something I had dreaded, so it was a relief to miss it, whatever the price.

That left me only several hours and dinner before I had to catch the last train back north. That gave me just enough time to walk around a bit, mostly in company with Pat Brunet, and catch up with Jeff Tidball (of the Gameplaywright blog), who came out to work at an exhibitor’s booth. And that was it, mostly. At a remove of 24 hours, I can recall glimpses of cosplay (generally an older set than the cosplayers you see at AX, interestingly), the gigantic face of Skipper from “Penguins of Madagascar” looming over the Nickelodeon booth (my pic of the sign did not turn out well, alas), the customary expensive convention food, and bobbing and weaving through the crowds that seemed to be everywhere.

In regard to that last item, Pat told me that Comic-Con claimed attendance of 125,000 last year, and given how quickly passes sold out this year, it figures to be at least as much again this year. Its popularity and its mandate have grown incredibly from the days when, as Kim Unger once recalled to me, the registration staff consisted of three guys with clipboards. I wonder, however, if it is at risk of succumbing to its own success, as it is more and more the case that popular events are drawing more people than they can accommodate, and the whole thing is feeling somewhat overbooked and over-subscribed.

When I finally flagged down Pat via cell phone, he told me that he was standing in line for the “Robot Chicken” panel discussion. I went to the head of the line, then followed it out into the hall, down the hall and outside the building, where I found him sitting under a tent into which about 80 people had been herded, very much like cattle. In the end, he waited in line for about an hour, and he still didn’t get in because there simply wasn’t enough room for everyone who wanted to see it. And apparently, this is not an uncommon occurrence at Comic-Con these days, to pay good money for the privilege of standing in line for an hour or two at a time, only to be shut out of the thing you waited to see. To be honest, it doesn’t speak well of the self-respect of fanboys and fangirls who will put up with this sort of thing without giving up all together. And I wonder if Comic-Con is seriously in danger of becoming, as Yogi Berra once said of Yankee Stadium, so crowded that nobody goes there anymore.