Word on the street is that all things nerdy are cool, including SDCC. That may well be the case – the geeks nowadays are pretty chic. I’m just not one of them. The most prominent lesson I got from my first ever trip to San Diego Comic-Con International was that I am not cool enough for SDCC. That may sound a little harsh and self-deprecating, but I promise you I don’t mean it that way. I’m not trying to put myself down and to be honest I’m not really offended by the concept because it’s the truth. I am not cool enough for Comic-Con.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have an AMAZING time at this year’s SDCC, because I did. I mean, just the experience of being in the presence of that many other fans from all over the world was truly phenomenal, and I would not trade that feeling for anything. But it was also A LOT of work, especially for a little Australian girl with a big social anxiety disorder.
You’d think I would have expected a con as big as SDCC to take it out of me considering my condition, and I did – but I usually find it easier to deal with the social aspects of pop culture conventions because I know I already have something in common with the people I’m talking to. SDCC is so massive, it covers such a wide range of things, and there are a bunch of people there that do not necessarily understand ‘fangirl’. Fans are sharing this space with industry professionals, including a ton of actors, and of course the media. That mix between industry and fandom is part of what makes SDCC so special, but it also screwed with my social safety blanket.
Of course I anticipated this to some extent, but there’s something about the wonder surrounding SDCC that made me think the boundaries between fans and creators would be broken down and everyone would come together to embrace the magnificence of popular culture. Unsurprisingly that unrealistic fantasy didn’t actually come true, but that had less to do with SDCC and more to do with my own limitations.
SDCC really does dissolve the boundaries between fan and creators, allowing the two groups that are normally divided by a screen of some kind to meet face to face. Unfortunately it’s not quite as utopian as I imagined because the things that divide fan and creator are still there, they are just in much closer quarters.
You still have to know someone to get invited to the cool parties, which happens all the time…but when I’m at home it’s not happening in the room next to me. Even if I was invited to that cool celebrity party – or just happened upon someone in the street – SDCC didn’t miraculously turn me into the kind of person that just walks up and talks to random strangers, even if they are celebrities. That’s just not who I am, and seeing someone I love and admire up close but being unable to actually introduce myself was a little disappointing.
San Diego Comic-Con was full of cool people, and it was cool to be around them, but there’s a part of me that wanted to be hanging out with one or two friends laughing and lamenting over the fact that we were not at SDCC.
Anyway, my lack of cool credentials was not the only lesson I got from SDCC. Here are the 10 other things I learnt at my very first ever San Diego International Comic Con.
1. There is an SDCC fandom and this is their con.
Comic-Con is full of fans, but I already knew that going in. What I didn’t realize was that the biggest fandom represented at the convention was the SDCC fandom. These are people that live and breathe this convention. They feel about Comic-Con the way I feel about Harry Potter. This is not a judgement of these people – in fact there’s no way I would have been able to attend SDCC or have an enjoyable experience without them. It’s just not something I’ve experienced before. All of these people are fans of stuff like movies, TV shows, books, and of course comics, but their ultimate fandom is the Comic-Con fandom and they are the ones that know how to make the most of their SDCC experience. In comparison the rest of us seemed to be a little lost and/or overwhelmed.
I wrote about about SDCC being an intersection for fans and creators. The reason for this intersection is that this is an industry event. All those people that work to make the pieces of pop culture we love, they are are working at SDCC. Sure there is lots of fun to be had as well, and it also seems to be a catch-up weekend for an industry of people that are often working all over the world, but it’s still a working holiday. They are there to network, to promote a project, and to gather market research from a captive audience of fans. This means that any fans at SDCC get LOTS of exclusive things and some awesome free stuff, but also the industry people aren’t just here for us fans like they would be at a fan event.
3. SDCC is fairly egalitarian when it comes to queuing.
Getting to SDCC is hard, getting a ticket or a hotel, being able to afford it, there are lots of barriers. But once you’re there you can pretty much see anything you want to see (at the convention) provided you line up early enough. At most other fan-run cons they provide priority seating for a premium price. While I understand the need to make money, that whole ‘money buys a better experience’ thing always pissed me off. This is not so at SDCC. They have a few priority seats for friends of the panelists but otherwise it’s free game. The same goes for autographs. If it’s part of a promotional tour then the autographs are FREE. You might have to line up for a couple of days to get them, but the opportunity is there.
4. There are SO MANY people!
Everyone always talked about how many people there are at SDCC, but it’s difficult to really comprehend the numbers until you experience it first hand. I expected the exhibit hall to be packed. I expected the lines for popular panels to be huge. I did not expect the entire downtown area to feel like a giant game of sardines. The convention center is separated from the downtown area by the train tracks, so everyone has to cross them to get to and from the event. Crossing those tracks kind of feels like a the wall of death at a death metal concert except with zombies wearing superhero t-shirts instead of metalheads. The geeks have inherited the earth…and it is terrifying!
5. It’s all about who you know.
The panel and autograph process might be egalitarian but everything else is all about who you know. Even getting tickets to SDCC you have to know someone to explain and help you with the process, and forget about getting a hotel if you don’t have a team of SDCC vets helping you. Then there’s the many parties that are happening ALL around you, none of which you can attend without an invite – and you can’t get an invite unless you know someone involved with the event. And I’m not just talking about celebrity parties – of course those are hard to get into, but the fan parties are almost as hard. I cannot stress this enough, if you are going to SDCC as a fan, you need to make friends with the SDCC fandom.
So I said that this is an industry event, which means it’s a commercial event. Comic-Con International might be a non-profit organization, but everyone else is ALL ABOUT the profits. Every inch of space is covered with advertisements. You cannot escape it. There are mobs of people walking the streets promoting TV shows – like those guys with the bag pipes (thanks Outlander). You cannot walk 3 feet without someone handing you a flier. The exhibition hall is just one giant shop, and if that’s not enough there are more pop-up shops outside the convention center. Even the locals get into the capitalist spirit – everything is Comic-Con themed. It’s fun to start with but by the end it’s very not fun.
7. There is something for everybody at SDCC.
It’s all about selling stuff, but because they are selling such a wide variety of things there is bound to be something you want. Because it’s such a huge event that attracts so many different companies, there is just so much content that everyone has something to do. If you like a specific genre, or format, or person – you will find something that meets that specific need at SDCC. It also means more variety of people. There are people from fandoms that you might never have crossed paths with outside of SDCC. I am huge advocate of people looking outside their little corner to the wider fandom beyond because it makes for a more inclusive and interested fan experience. SDCC is THE PLACE to widen your fandom horizons.
8. The exclusives are pretty damn cool.
This is what the world outside of SDCC sees. The first look trailers, the gag reels, the deleted scenes, the special addition comics, the exclusive toys. I wish I could tell all of you playing at home that it’s not as cool as it seems but that would be a lie. It is amazing – thousands of fans and the people that made it all sitting together experiencing the trailer for a much-anticipated movie, together. Cheering together, laughing together, occasionally even crying together. It’s beautiful. I don’t think studios should hold that footage hostage or get pissed when it leaks because of course it was going to leak, but regardless of the politics the experience itself is AMAZING.
9. You see more of SDCC when you’re not at SDCC.
That said, unless you are in the panel or at the event that reveals exclusive news then you will miss it if you are at SDCC because you’re too busy doing something else. SDCC is a super fun week to be a nerd because there are videos and gifs and pictures and trailers and news and all manor of other awesomeness that is all uploaded to the internet moments after it happens. I missed all that stuff and I am still trying to catch up on everything I missed out on almost a week later. You physically cannot see everything cool that happens at Comic-Con, you can’t even really see a fraction of all the cool stuff that happens there. In fact I would go so far as to say that you have a better view of Comic-Con from your laptop than you do in San Diego.
10. Being there is totally worth it.
Looking back at this list it might seem like I had a horrible time at SDCC when it was actually one of the best weeks of my life. While I came out of the experience thinking that in general this event is not really for me, I definitely think it was worth making the trip. If I could go back in time I wouldn’t change a thing, and not just because I’m terrified of messing with time-travel. Anyone that has the means and opportunity to go to SDCC should do it without hesitation, you will not regret it. I met the best people, did some silly but super fun things, saw some people that I never expected to see in person. It was Comic-Con, and it was everything.
So there you have it, this is what I got out of my first SDCC experience. I’m not sure I’ll be going back – I have no plans to return at the moment – but if the opportunity presented itself I certainly wouldn’t reject the idea. I just think that SDCC has built this kind of mythical status within fandom and I wanted to bring it back down to earth. It’s not like other cons, but it’s certainly got its qualities (although my liver is happy that I’m back home and detoxing).
I would love to hear what other SDCC attendees think of the event, and whether or not you agree with my assessment. Please lend us your thoughts and lessons in the comments.
Author: Undie Girl
Undie Girl (aka Von) has a BA (Hons) Major in Cultural Studies. The title of her honours thesis was “It’s just gay and porn”: Power, Identity and the Fangirl’s Gaze. She’s currently pursuing a Masters of Media Practice at University of Sydney. Von’s a former contributor The Backlot’s column The Shipping News and a current co-host of The Geekiary’s monthly webcast FEELINGS… with The Geekiary.
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