New for 2015, my Han Solo costume. Cute, simple and comfy for a long day!
We came, we waited, we saw, we waited some more and I daresay we conquered the beast that is San Diego Comic-Con International over July 8-12. One does not simply walk into Mordor and the same is true of SDCC. It’s busy. It’s crazy. The lines are insane. The volume of people can literally crush you. But if you plan, have patience and hydrate, you can experience some amazing things, things that will only ever happen at SDCC.
True confessions time, I went into this SDCC as likely my last. The stress and complications associated with going have risen exponentially since I began going in 2009 when I bought single day Friday tickets for the boys and me online in March as a last minute add-on to our annual beachside vacation. Now you have to have a registered account (easy) but the previous year’s attendees still have an enormous advantage over the general public- we have a separate badge purchase day. Going to SDCC each year keeps your account active and I have been unwilling to let my status slip.
This year the hotel lottery was a complete clusterfuck with major technical glitches I have yet to read a reasonable explanation of. The parking spot lottery was more complicated and complex than ever. My friend Wil and I spent three hours trying to secure lodging- by far the most stressful and expensive part of your SDCC experience- and failed using the official channels. In the end, we used Airbnb and were fortunate not to be gouged with the price.
My main reason for returning this year was simple- Star Wars. I figured Disney and Lucasfilm would pull out all the stops for THE FORCE AWAKENS. So imagine my disappointment when all the pre-con announcements confirmed a minimal Star Wars presence.
Or so we were led to believe.
Me, Lady D and Bkitty. I have attended SDCC with these ladies since 2009!
The Truth About Hall H and those pesky Wristbands!
Traditionally Hall H and Ballroom 20 host the biggest, most sought after panels. I have spent many hours in line and inside a panel room, but haven’t given up that kind of time since 2012. In fact, my last two SDCC’s were great without being in a high-profile panel. So when Lady D said she really wanted to be in Hall H all day, which meant camping out Thursday night, I agreed because the day included The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones (I’d never been to either panel and HBO always gives swag) and Star Wars.
SDCC began a new Hall H wristband program last year to reduce the need for camping out, limit people holding places in line for large groups and create the best sense of fairness for 7000 seats at a convention 130,000 attend.
I’ll say this- SDCC is still working out the kinks in this system. The good part- a wristband guarantees you a seat in the first panel of the morning (you may then stay all day). The bad part- you stand in line to wait for the wristbands, which are distributed at 8:30 p.m. the night before. Once you have your wristband, you may campout if being up close is important to you, or you may go home and as long as you’re back in line (separate line for wristband folks) by 7:30 a.m. you’ll get inside.
The mistake we made was getting in line late Thursday afternoon. Apparently people started getting in line as early as 9 a.m. Thursday morning (or earlier). Personally I’m glad we all enjoyed a full day of the con before getting in line, but it turned out to be a big risk. We could tell we were far back, but given that Hall H holds nearly 7000, we felt confident. At 8:30 p.m. the wristband distribution process began and this is where SDCC organizers really failed.
They had three people, with about four security people walking with them, handing out, individually since they checked your badge, wristbands for 7000 people.
There’s a term called “the fog of war” that refers to all the misinformation that gets communicated at the beginning of an event and how complicated it is to determine fact from fiction in the heat of the moment. This is exactly what happened. The #HallHLine Twitter feed blew-up and what we, at the back of line saw frightened the hell out of us. Massive line-cutting, useless security to prevent people from cutting and a slow-as- molasses process for giving out the wristbands. Wil and I did a few rounds of recon to get to the truth, and at that point, everything we read on Twitter was accurate. The two line security people at the front of our section of the line confirmed the process.
I’m disappointed about the aggressive line-cutting. It doesn’t reflect well on the geek community but speaks to the frantic desire to “win” a coveted seat in Hall H. Despite all this, we remained confident we’d still get a wristband.
At 10:30 p.m. I did another round of recon. Twitter was reporting that people in our section of the line were screwed, that another section was hidden from view behind Joe’s Crab Shack on Enbarcadero Island. I discovered this was true. About 1500 people were lined up back there and they were section two of the line and we were in section three. As it turns out, our line security people were well aware of those others and basically did a “don’t tell unless they ask” approach. We were in shock now, and very concerned about getting wristbands.
At midnight the three wristband givers approached the front of our section of the line, Twitter said that they were down to less than 50, out completely and waiting for hundreds more. I noticed a huge swarm of bodies out of line near the front- these were the cutters. By now people in line were well aware of cutting tactics and word spread down the line to call out cutters. And people did. After seven hours in line together we all knew who was supposed to be next to us.
In the end, we did get wristbands, I believe we were part of the last 50 given out. It was 12:30 a.m. We went home to sleep and were back in line by 7 a.m.
This was a ridiculous process that could be greatly improved by ditching the wristbands and automating Hall H entrance through the bar codes on our badges. Have people swipe their badge to reserve a seat and then before they enter Hall H, they swipe again. If it doesn’t come up green, then they don’t get in. Even if they had only four or five iPads or kiosks for swiping, they could use staffing to ensure the line isn’t compromised. Please fix this SDCC!
If ever there was a day to be in Hall H…
So we got into Hall H, found a seat near one of the big screens and hunkered down for a long day. Hall H is self-contained with restrooms and food vendors, so you don’t need to worry about losing your spot, or about people getting in who aren’t in line.
The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead panels were great fun but my favorite was Game of Thrones because Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne, is delightful to listen to. She is statuesque and amazingly beautiful, though her character is always made fun of for being ugly and unwomanly. You could see her drinking in all the energy and fan-love in the room, which made her all the more appealing. What I enjoyed most was how she spoke about women’s roles, the one she plays and the balance of being a strong woman who doesn’t fit the traditional standards of beauty not only in Westros, but here in the US as well. I highly recommend watching the Game of Thrones panel if you’re a fan of the show.
It was all fine and dandy but as we waited for the Star Wars panel to begin, the air in Hall H changed. Suddenly more security were visible. Something was up. The only thing we could imagine that necessitated this? Harrison Ford, who never participates in Star Wars fandom.
The panel began (watch it here) and what happened there is now part of SDCC and geek legend. And I was there. I had goosebumps, I teared up. My stomach hosted butterflies and in general I felt less like a 48-year-old mom of two and more like a 10-year-old girl as the hour progressed.
For you non-geek readers this may seem like a great opportunity to say “get a life Dawn” but let me ask you this, when was the last time you felt the pure joy of expectancy? Because that’s exactly what happened. Remember what it felt like when you believed in Santa or the Tooth Fairy? Remember magic? Have you read The Polar Express? Well Santa Claus came to Hall H that day. His real world name is J.J. Abrams.
Not only did I witness the Legacy cast- Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford- I saw the new cast. (Please watch the panel for Gwendoline Christie again, she’s fantastic!) Then J.J. invited us all to a concert featuring the music of Star Wars.
And in calm, orderly fashion (so unlike the mess of the wristbands the night before) 7000 people left Hall H and walked behind the convention center to Embarcadero Island.
They gave us all light sabers! Michael, Lady D, Bkitty, me and Alex.
We were all a bit excited!
The sun went down and our light sabers glowed bright. What a magical evening!
But Wait! There’s more!
It’s hard to imagine anything great happening after Friday night’s activities, but SDCC does go on. Saturday my goal was to get into the HBO Game of Thrones Experience, something I missed last year (they closed the line right as we arrived).
HBO brings props and some interactive features to an offsite exhibit. The big draw is the Iron Throne, which you can sit and pose in. Wil, Rick and I waited over four hours to get in. When we finally did, we were disappointed to discover the exhibit was one more long line as each person had to stop and do one of the interactive features. Okay, so this was cool-
White Walker me
But we were beat. Luckily we were able to bypass the biggest line- for a sword interaction- and get in line for the Iron Throne. They had about six costumes- Dany, Cersei, Arya and Tyrion, but I sure wish they’s brought more props because I was far more interested in those items than the interactive features. Luckily the Iron Throne did not disappoint.
Had to ham it up!
Wil did some business.
Rick did 80’s sitcom smile.
At the end of the exhibit they had photographs of the jewelry and other small props (real items would have been better) and we did get a great limited edition T-shirt with art from Robert Ball.
I would only recommend this exhibit if you are a huge fan and want to give up the better part of the day. What I wanted most of all was to sit on the Iron Throne (got bruises from the sword hilts) and that was fun, but I wouldn’t do it again. The exhibit travels and I think they bring more items to the traveling venues, so that may be a better option.
Lions and Tigers and Zombies
Part of my personal theme for SDCC this year was to try new things. To that end we sighed up for The Walking Dead Escape. Petco Ballpark is transformed into a safe zone following the zombie apocalypse. It’s one part haunted house, one part obstacle course and one part crazy. Wil, Alex and I signed up as survivors and Rick opted to be a zombie. We chose to go in during the day light hours and I’m glad we did!
You are grouped in waves (the entire operation was extremely well run) and enter the safe zone. Army tents, netting and such are everywhere, giving the feel of an emergency. We started in, all agreeing to stick together, and three minutes in I hear screaming at the front of our group and now everyone is heading toward me. That’s when the running started. Running UP the ramps to the top of the ballpark. The ramps have blood, body bags and body parts littered about them. And walkers. Some lunge at you, some don’t. There are barricades and netting you must past by. You can’t see if anyone or anything is behind them. Plus you have to avoid tripping or being pushed by other frightened survivors.
It was scary as hell and fun, but running uphill like that nearly killed Wil and me. Alex took off at the first scream and we never caught up to him-lol.
See how sweaty we are?
Here’s small taste, I realized I couldn’t film and dodge the undead at the same time.
This was an offsite attraction we bought tickets for and really was a blast. I would recommend it (we did the VIP pass so we could have the proof of badassness via a T-shirt) but I won’t be doing it again, once was enough! I wonder how the visibility was at night inside the park, with all those body parts on the ground, you could easily trip.
All done- a good time was had by all.
Where do we go from here?
Like I said earlier, I went into this SDCC thinking it was my last. It turned out to be my best. Not only did I witness the biggest event (Star Wars) but I planned my time better and balanced new activities ( GOT Experience/WD run) with the traditional, like walking the floor. I spent about 12-15 hours in lines, but each time I was with friends, friends I don’t see often, so I can’t call that a waste of time.
In the end, I will try to get passes for next year again. I’m not ready to give SDCC up. But if I don’t get them, I’ll be okay. There are so many great regional cons out there (my own Phoenix Comic-Con included) that I’ll have plenty of opportunities for geekery.
As long as I have good company, I’ll be fine.
At the Blind Burro.
Couldn’t stay away from the Blind Burro’s SDCC-themed cocktails!
Best advice if you want to attempt going to SDCC for the first time?
Never give up, never surrender!