[dropcaps color=’#ffffff’ background_color=’#f54325′ border_color=” type=’square’]I[/dropcaps] have returned from my third trip to the geek mecca that is San Diego Comic Con despondently frustrated. How could this be? It is the central hub to all of my interests, including comics, movies, television, video games, and collectibles. After having time to process through everything, I have emerged with an epiphany: the comic con scale is no longer balanced. You see, going to comic con is NOT a vacation. If you are expecting a relaxing time filled with cocktails containing tiny umbrellas and leisurely activities, you are in for a rude awakening. Comic Con is a beat down. Going back to my scale metaphor, on one side of the scale is the weight of the beat down one incurs when attending SDCC. Typically, the counter weight to that on the other side of the scale, is the weight in rewards. SDCC is a quest where attendees all search for treasure in various forms whether it’s swag from company booths, autographs from celebrities, or gaining a coveted seat in “Hall H” to see / hear announcements pertaining to movies or TV shows that are coming out in the next year or two. At the end of the convention, you are utterly exhausted mentally, physically, and psychologically, but it is worth the effort because of the treasure you found and came home with, hence the balance. Alas, this year, there was a disturbance in the force, which needs to be addressed.
Now, I don’t mean to sound glib throughout this entire blog post, so for a moment, I’ll focus on the few gold nuggets that was good about this year’s Comic Con. Artist Alley is one of my favorite sections of SDCC because it contains a wealth of artistic talent all consolidated into one space. These artists come from various backgrounds and all make themselves available to their adoring fans, geeking out on various topics, selling / signing limited edition prints, and doing commissions. It’s an area of SDCC that I feel is pure in the sense that it pertains to the origins of comic con, which is the visuals associated with comic books. AA has evolved a bit since then, including artists from the video game and movie industries, but the spirit of the section has remained intact. One of my favorite artists is Alvin Lee. He is mainly known for his character concepts on the video game “Marvel VS. Capcom” as well as other high profile video games such as the MMO “League of Legends”. Having scored the preview night four day pass, his booth was the first place I visited. When he arrived, he was tired, but happy to see us (there were three of us waiting for him) and we each got to book a commission from him. I requested a Catwoman sketch to act as a companion piece to the Batman sketch he made for me last year. I am thrilled to report that the Catwoman sketch is GORGEOUS. Check out his website www.alvinleeart.com to enjoy his talent. Another favorite artist of mine is Stanley “Argerm” Lau, whose booth was conveniently right next to Alvin’s, believe it or not. It took an hour and a half of waiting in line before being able to purchase prints and luckily, he hadn’t yet sold out of what I was interested in. Last but certainly not least, I was able to say hello to artist Livio Ramondelli, who is known for his G1 Transformers & Star Wars work and buy a couple of his new works to add to my overall collection. Check out www.livioramondelli.com to appreciate his online portfolio. The Mondo booth had a nice selection of prints to sell this year, ranging from the 75th anniversary of Batman, to Guardians of the Galaxy. One of the things they did this year, which is a nice improvement from previous years, is listing the drop times for each day. They still won’t disclose specifically what it is that they are dropping at the various times, but hopefully in the future, they will open up and at least give an overall preview ahead of the show, so folks can plan accordingly. Lastly, the DC booth had an amazing display of Batman costumes and props from all of the movies, which was super cool for a bat-fan like me. Despite the sprinkling of good times mentioned above, there was an overwhelming amount of bad that must be fixed if SDCC is to successfully endure.
To paraphrase and morph George Washington’s famous quote regarding government: Comic Con’s fandom is like a fire that must be contained. As long as there is an enforced structure with boundaries, the fire burns brightly and productively, emitting a warm feeling and visually being an appealing sight. If that fire is not monitored or contained, it quickly goes out of control, consuming everything in sight and burning a lot of folks in the process. The first issue that needs to be fixed is how many people can participate. Allow me to be clear: THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE. Preview night, which used to be a coveted evening that a relatively small amount of folks could qualify for has swelled to include almost as many people as what you’d expect on a regular day. This completely negates the exclusivity of the evening, which used to be a relaxed, enjoyable experience that allowed lucky folks to – that’s right – preview what can be expected as well as enjoy the benefit of having a good chance of purchasing various exclusive items that are quite hard to come by during the normal days of operation due to the horde of fans. I chose the term “fans” intentionally because this show is no longer an event attended by nerds, geeks, and the artistically inclined; it has attracted the main stream masses, who never read a comic book in their lives and had made fun of us who did until comics made their debut on the silver screen, causing the light bulb to turn on in their frosted tip haired noggins that the world of comics is actually pretty freaking awesome. More on that later. The second issue in dire need of being fixed is line cutting. Nothing sucks more at Comic Con than to have spent the night on the asphalt, foregoing the comfort of the hotel room that you paid for (with the astronomically jacked up rates that all hotels extort out of attendees specifically during the week of SDCC – no joke – a room that is normally $150 per night is jacked up to $300+), often times with nothing more than a thin blanket to comfort you, staying there for 10+ hours without leaving, only to have douche bags who DID sleep in their hotel rooms, have a warm meal, and bathe, saunter on up 30 minutes prior to Comic Con and cut in line once they find where their buddy is – and that’s not even the worst of it! You see, when you decide to make the sacrifice of camping out in line, you are doing so to get a good position in line for either the celebrity signings that are raffled off, or to get into conference halls such as the aforementioned coveted “Hall H”. As more and more of these douche bags join their buddies, the chances of you earning your reward for the beat down you incurred quickly dwindles (remember my scale analogy?). So, I don’t care of you are a man, woman, or even a child – you are a bonafied douche bag if you participate in line cutting. I can hear some of you objecting to me including kids. Allow me to elaborate. I love kids. Generally speaking, children are wonderful gifts from God – except at Comic Con. On this latest trip, I witnessed multiple times as one parent stayed in line, only to be joined much later by their spouse and FOUR TO SIX CHILDREN. EACH. These kids know what’s up. It’s not like the one parent who was in line draws during a raffle and then the whole family just moves along – oh no, no, no….the ENTIRE family participates in trying to score rewards. For the uninitiated, SDCC has an average of 130,000+ people attend per day, so your chances of scoring the most sought after experiences are super rare without having to deal with this kind of douche-baggery. Case in point: My friend, who was in line for “The Hobbit” panel signing (limited to approx. 100 people) witnessed one of these families ahead of him score four out of the one hundred tickets. So you know that those parents are going to keep one and flip the other three on Ebay, screwing fans out of having one for their personal enjoyment. The only archetype that is excused from being branded a douche bag are infants. So, if you are reading this and you cut in line, you are a douche bag, pure and simple – and you KNOW IT. So how do we fix this? My friends and I came up with a few solutions (are you paying attention SDCC organizers?):
1. Have a designated time when folks who have gathered in line receive a wristband pertaining to the specific line a person is in. The designated time should be somewhere in the wee hours of the morning when the douche bags are all snuggled up in their cozy hotel beds. 3am – 4am sounds about right. Anyone who attempts to get in line without a wristband is kicked out swiftly and forcibly by the security crews. No exceptions. That way, folks who are in line can get out of line and come right back in without anyone objecting because they have a wristband on. Oh – and each wristband has a sequential number printed on it to keep everyone accountable of where they are positioned within the line. Airline companies such as Southwest employ this with folks waiting to board an aircraft via their tickets – this should be no problem for SDCC to adopt
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2. Add ropes INSIDE the convention center to keep attendees in a single file, starting at the top of the escalators and going ALL the way to where the expo floor opens or to the WB / FOX raffle lines. I cannot tell you how stupidly amazing it is to watch as basic social etiquette is given the middle finger by people who run past the people who were in front of them in line all night in order to get better positioning. In their feeble little minds, they justify their actions by the absence of line ropes. The skeleton crew of volunteers with their empty threats of “don’t run or you will be escorted out of the building” is a joke when you have thousands upon thousands of people flooding the floor. Instead, position the volunteers throughout the roped lines, keeping an eye out for douche bags.
3. Start each line at their source. If for some oddball reason, my second idea is too much for the SDCC organizers to handle, I pose this question: Why line everyone up at one spot, only to move everyone clear across to the other side of the property – why not have folks line up based on the designated lines for each venue (i.e. WB, FOX. expo floor, etc.)? That completely fixes the chaos that ensues when the top of the escalators are reached.
The third issue that has fallen into the “Bad” part of this year’s SDCC experience, is the swag or lack thereof. When you pick up your registration items, one of those items is a huge Comic Con swag bag that is so large, it can be worn as a back pack that would make Costco proud. Typically, companies are very generous with handing out swag. It was only a couple of years ago that at the end of each SDCC day, I would have to unload my swag bag in my hotel room in order to prepare for the following day of swag collecting. This made for a wonderful experience because the beat down of the day was balanced with the garnered rewards. However, I noticed a disturbing trend that began at the 2013 SDCC; companies were becoming increasingly stingy with their swag! 2014 was the worst year I have seen as my bag was EMPTY during the entire 3 days + preview night adventure. The only items that took up space was my camping stool used to sit in lines and my camera. That’s it. All I was able to score was one mini poster for “The Avengers 2” and a keychain from Sideshow Collectibles. I know this was a universal issue because I saw many other attendees with swag bag back packs completely flattened up against their backs toward the end of each day. Now, I do think that part of the problem has to do with the “too many people” problem I mentioned earlier, but the main culprits are the companies.
From a business stand point, Comic Con is a major opportunity to build awareness for your product whether it’s an upcoming movie, tv show, video game, collectible, toy, or comic book and you do this by promoting it not only through your booth, but also by handing out memorable swag. What is at the root of this problem, is supply vs. demand. Companies at the show for some reason have deemed it to be a good idea to have random drops of their swag during each day. This causes folks to constantly behave in a perpetually rabid, neurotic, greedy, mob-like state, which probably resembles what a food drop off point looks like in a third world country from the air as U.N. helicopters do their best to feed a starving nation. Except this isn’t a starving nation and what is being fought over isn’t grain; it’s T-shirts, posters, trinkets, coffee mugs with logos plastered on them, pens that light up, so on & so forth. It’s a glaring first world problem is what it is and it’s embarrassing when one takes a moment to observe this ridiculous sight. While I do understand that the smaller mom & pop oriented businesses can’t facilitate the amount of swag to satisfy the numbers, they also aren’t the booths that cater to the masses. Large companies such as Disney, Warner Bros., FOX, Lionsgate, Hasbro, and Lego among others easily have the budget to bring enough supply to satisfy the demand. Special mention should be given to Lego as they have perfected a very fair way to earn some cool swag in the form of Lego mini figures. This year, they brought a TON and had a system in place that gave each person a randomized 50/50 chance of scoring one. I tip my hat to you, dear Lego.
One of the worst run booths at Comic Con was Marvel. Currently, Marvel has most of the hottest comic-to-movie franchises, including X-Men, The Avengers, and the upcoming Guardians Of The Galaxy (this is not counting the multiple spin offs and other single character movies). Disney acquired Marvel, so it has access to Disney’s very deep financial pockets to produce swag. However, the Marvel staff was extremely stingy with handing it out, so when they DID start to do a drop, people were falling on top of each other to try and score something. And boy did folks get creative. I witnessed people magically not need their canes to lean on, hoisting them up in the air in a pathetic attempt to win the sympathy vote from the staff for a juicy piece of swag. There were multiple times that the Marvel staff had to yell at parents to stop lifting their babies over their heads in order to gain the “aww the baby is soooooo precious!” reaction and score some swag. Oh and there’s the floor security daring their voices to continue functioning after a day’s worth of yelling “if you’re on gray carpet, you need to keep moving!!” to which a scant few obey. This whole situation can easily be avoided if they bring plenty of supply and have it available all day, every day. If people knew that there was plenty of supply, they would behave much more calmly, stopping by the booth at their leisure, enjoying what news the booth had to offer and walking off with a piece of memorable swag to enjoy. If companies complain that people just take large piles of swag with them or they actually do have limits to their budgets, there is an easy fix for that. Have your staff be in control of dishing out the goodies and scan each attendee’s badge as they receive it, so if they try to get back in line for more, you have a record of them and can deny them. It’s a simple checks and balances system that works, something that Lego did with their mini-figures. Most of the booths already employ scanning badges to send you advertisements to your email anyway, so the support is already in place. Here’s the nitty gritty: the people who go to Comic Con are your hardcore fans, who will advocate your product on your behalf to the masses who need convincing. It is bad business to alienate this group and send them away with nothing. There are roughly 7 billion people on this planet, so if you were to supply everyone who attended Comic Con, those items would STILL be exclusive and STILL be considered rare. Feeling burned or neglected as a fan is bad for the future success of any given product, no bones about it and the whole picking and choosing who gets a piece of swag and who doesn’t leaves a VERY bad taste in the mouth if you’re one of the many who walks away empty handed.
Perhaps the largest offense regarding this issue, was on the last day of Comic Con, about 10 minutes before it closed. The Marvel booth had selected folks to walk through and receive goodies (I don’t know what was involved with the selection process) while the rest of us looked on from the sidelines. It didn’t bother me that there were people who won something; what bothered me was what happened afterwards. The Marvel staff began to organize all of the leftover promotional items such as posters & T-shirts into boxes on the Marvel stage – INSTEAD OF PASSING THEM OUT TO US, THE FANS! One of the promotions they had for Guardians Of The Galaxy was a collection of concept art posters (eight total) and if you could get all eight, they could be pieced together to form one epically huge concept art poster that contains all of the Avengers. By itself, it is a very fun approach to promotional items. I kid you not – there were PILES OF EACH poster that were being laid down on the Marvel stage next to their respective packing boxes as well as “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” T-Shirts! This was much sought after swag just laying out in plain view and they could’ve easily distributed it out to those of us on the outskirts, who chose the Marvel booth as their closing spot out of all the booths at the conference, but they chose instead to ignore their fans. This is a very bad user experience.
I want to take this opportunity to clarify that I love Marvel Studios as a company. They’ve done a masterful job of cultivating their world of comic book stories and characters onto the silver screen and I look forward to seeing what they come up with for many years to come. There were many other booths that exhibited the same type of behavior, so I don’t want to convey the notion that I am solely harping on the Marvel booth. If for nothing else, it is because of the fact that I am such a huge fan of the Marvel properties that I feel the need to communicate my slighted experience. I am confident that if enough people voice the same issue, the folks over at Marvel will address it quickly and make the necessary changes to improve the overall experience, which is more than I can say about what made this year’s SDCC experience ugly.
If the issues addressed in “THE BAD” segment caused you to shake your head, feel heartburn, or strangle a cute stuffed animal, what I am about to bring up will either have you jump up and applaud raucously in agreement, or become convinced that mankind as we know is screwed and label it the forth sign of the impending apocalypse. The issue that wins the ugly crown, are MILLENNIALS. Up until now, I haven’t really hung around this generation, at least the younger half of it. If you were born anytime after 1990, I’m talking about you. I have heard the rants from folks such as Adam Corolla surrounding this group and have seen inklings of this acute behavior, but this was the first time it was front and center. You have probably heard about it or seen it too. That’s right – self entitlement. This is a beast that has become unchained, rearing it’s nasty head, and shredding any semblance of social etiquette, threatening to destroy the very definition of the phrase “civilized behavior”, and cast us all back into the dark ages. Now, this may be just what I personally experienced while at SDCC, but the problem wasn’t with the guys…..it was predominantly the girls.
EXAMPLE #1: If you’ve ever gone to SDCC, you know that there are times when the sheer amount of bodies screech to a halt because all of the real estate for being mobile has been used up. This is particularly the case when you reach a part of the expo floor that has meat sacks traversing in 4 different directions simultaneously. Think of it as a four way traffic stop without the traffic light to guide and control the flow. At one point, I arrive at one such instance where we all just stop moving temporarily. A girl, probably around 18 – 22 is going the opposite direction I’m going and realizes that she has become immobile. Does she wait patiently for people to negotiate their way passed each other? Does she motion with her hand and say “oh no please you first” to others? No. Of course not. She decides to run and SLAM into people to force open a path. Now, I am 6′ 1″ and 225 pounds, so it takes quite a bit to shove past me. This girl was about 5′ 3″ and 115. She slammed into me, knocking me so hard, I careened backwards onto the poor soul who was stuck behind me. Desperately trying to prevent myself from completely falling over, I grabbed at the first thing I could, which happened to be her arm, pulled her back over to me, and said very sternly in a fatherly tone “Hey, hey, hey – take it easy!” to which she sheepishly smiled before disappearing into the sea of meat sacks. No apology whatsoever.
EXAMPLE#2: My wife, who is almost six months pregnant, had a similar experience with yet another girl, only this time this girl is behind my wife and concludes that she’s not satisfied with the speed people are moving, so she SLAMS into the back of my wife, knocking her forward, almost knocking her down, and proceeds to shove other people to get to her destination. My focus at that point was making sure my wife was okay, so I unfortunately was not able to bestow some much needed verbal shaming to the selfish little twerp.
EXAMPLE#3: Universal Studios had a promotion going on for the upcoming movie “Jurassic World”, which is slated to come out next year, I believe. They decided to have a safari truck of some sort (I think it’s the same model used in the film) drive around the radius of the SDCC festivities and randomly stop to pass out posters briefly before tearing off to another random destination point. My friends and I happened to be at the right place at the right time as the truck pulled up and parked. A line began to form, consisting of people who were mainly in my age group or older. As soon as the driver got out to begin giving out the posters, a rush of Millennials stampeded up to the truck, completely ignoring the line that had formed. A few of us began to tell them that a line was formed that they needed to respect. A girl who I was making this known to, along with her little herd of friends, pathetically attempted to justify her selfish actions by saying that the people ahead of her were doing it, so by that twisted view of logic, she was exonerated from her actions. I replied to her that “two wrongs don’t make a right” to which she condescendingly retorted (complete with her nose raised high in the sky), “you have to play the game” – as fate would have it, the Millennial locusts who swarmed the truck ahead of her and ignoring the line, ended up consuming all that was given out, leaving her empty handed. The girl and her cohorts began to turn away all bummed when I asked her a rhetorical question: “How’s that ‘game’ working out for you?” This girl ever so briefly twitched as if I had obliterated her brain synapsis – I mean this girl literally had a moment where she physically lost control of her facial expression before flipping me off wildly, exclaiming “FUCK YOU!” and storming off. It is worth mentioning that my wife, who never misses a beat, called out as she was leaving, “claaaaassy!” to which the folks in line murmured in agreement to.
This is just a taste of what I experienced this year at SDCC. It is absolutely appalling to see our younger generation behave in this manner – and for what? Maybe I’m just getting old, but I NEVER treated people who were older than me this way, ever. I was told to respect those that are older than you and to project a sense of selfless propriety, especially in public. The lack of conviction and overall shame for the actions explained above is palpable and I find myself mourning the earlier years of SDCC when one of the highlights of attending the conference was how polite and friendly everyone was despite being packed like sardines to the point of the Fire Marshall having a stroke at the spectacle. There needs to be a societal intervention take place and firmly remind the Millennial generation that despite what they may believe, the world does not revolve around them and no amount of self promotion, hash tagging, or Starbucks runs can replace good manners. Accountability has taken a back seat, which is ironic because the very people who behave in this fashion are completely oblivious to the fact that they are dependent upon the established social etiquette and the rules and laws that folks like me respect that dissuade me from allowing myself to fall to their level because if that line ever gets universally crossed by society, then civilization is lost and the whole world gets really fair, really fast.
This year’s trip was still fun, all things considered. I was able to reconnect with good friends, score some prints, enjoy the latest offerings from my favorite companies, and even emerge with a lovely commissioned sketch. I won’t be attending next year’s San Diego Comic Con, mainly because I will be a first time dad, which makes me both excited and terrified at the same time. The good news is, I’ll be able to vicariously be there via YouTube and the inter-webs. Perhaps in the future, an opportunity will present itself and I’ll give SDCC another chance. If and when that happens, I sincerely hope that it has changed for the better. Despite all I’ve covered, I still love SDCC and do want to see it flourish, but there needs to be a collective pause where the powers that be take a fearless inventory of the current experience and make a concerted effort to fix the shortcomings. The adventure that is Comic Con is filled with beat downs, but if the undiscovered, attainable rewards are balanced appropriately, it will justify the means to a very potentially satisfying end every time.