SDCC: The Meaty Bits or Comic Con Carne

This year’s San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) was the forty-third installment of the annual convention. Personally, it was our fifth year attending and the second year we’ve made it inside without buying tickets. This is all thanks to good friends and a tremendous amount of luck. While it’s always fun to hang out around Downtown San Diego for the four days of nerdy festivities, basking directly in the bustling glow of the sweat and acne in inside the convention center is unmatchable. With a day of our choice at our disposal, we decided to venture inside on Saturday and add our grease to the mix. Saturday is historically proven to the busiest day at SDCC so we decided to skip the panels, and their day-long lines, to check out the main exhibition floor after visiting the registration desk.

The process to get your admission badge is nearly effortless. They either have this system down to a science or their hidden superpowers are being able to complete registration at the speed of light. After receiving your badge, the staff will hand you the classic “Comic-Con Starter Kit” before entering. This kit usually contains a handful of free souvenir books, a smattering of advertisements, a program guide, the floor layout, and the rest of the usual, unnecessary accouterments. The most important part of this, though, is that they also hand over your first monstrously-sized, over-the-shoulder Comic-Con style bag of the day. This year they added a surprise modification to the classic bag and instead made it a giant backpack; that included an unfoldable Batman cape, naturally. Admittedly, this backpack made it a lot easier to carry the inevitable wave of free swag and must-have purchases that you'll be bombarded with. The downside was that it also added a good inch or two of pointed plastic to each side of every SDCC attendee. Considering that the arteries of Comic-Con’s aisles are already clogged tight with a mixture of zombies, rascal scooters, strollers, and heavyset super heroes, to have what is essentially a giant kite strapped to your back might not have been the best idea. Of course, the crowd found a way to make it happen; working together in an awkward, sideways shuffle.

The first thing you’ll notice when you enter the main exhibit hall is that the floor is absolutely swarmed. Every bit of space, about 616,000 square feet, is packed shoulder to shoulder with action. Booths of varying sizes and importance were laid out fairly close to one another and it seemed like a more ideal layout compared to previous years. While there is definitely a main drag, visitors were at least forced to pass some of the more independent exhibitors. These smaller booths are what really fuels Comic-Con. Sure, everybody likes Wolverine and Batman, but the opportunity to meet some of your personal favorite artists/creators is what this is all about. While it’s impossible for independent booths to be as snazzy as the big exhibitors at SDCC, the getting is just as good. Being able to pick up some rare merchandise, get a photo with a personal hero, or even to be introduced to an inspiring new series is worth much more than a free “Big Bang Theory” tee shirt. Seriously, are you going to wear that? If so, Bazinga on you. No matter what level of nerd you consider yourself to be, if you look hard enough there is something that will drop your jaw at SDCC. Not a single niche goes untouched.

Still, the smaller booths are sprinkled outside of their towering corporate counterparts – like serfs to a castle. Big name exhibitors are clumped together by industry (toys, television, comics, and video games) and it’s here that you can get your hands on the newest products and information that the rest of the poor saps without tickets will have to wait months for. Or minutes, with the internet. These are also the places to go if you’re looking for raffles and a generous heap of free stuff. It’s a lot like driving to the rich neighborhood to trick-or-treat because they’re handing out full-size candy bars. Their enormous overhead displays also serve as convenient marking points if you happen to lose your place. It’s easy to get caught in the ebb and flow of the mob and completely lose track of where you were.

It’s also easy to get lost after trying to chase down Matt Groening as he tries to bob and weave through the crowd, attempting to delay his inevitable identification and subsequent capture. The diverse mix of big name brands and small, independent creators is more than enough to keep you interested for days at a time. While wandering among this entanglement of booths, you’re also bound to find a bounty of hidden gems that don’t fit into either category. For example, while squeezing past the cluster of flesh lingering outside of the Mattel booth, we stumbled upon Lou Ferrigno. That’s right, T.V.’s Lou Ferrigno, who hit his peak of fame in the late 1970s, trying to squeeze $20 out of attendees for a picture with him. Needless to say, the booth itself was empty. Instead the crowd gathered in a six foot radius in front of the fading star; settling for a far off selfie with Lou Ferrigno for the cool price of $0. Take that lesson to the bank, Hulk.

The crowd at SDCC is impossible to avoid, so don’t try to be crafty unless you know where you’re going. It’s a lot easier to just get used to the “step, step, pause” rhythm, which gives you some time to look around while the people in front of you stand absolutely still to check their watch, catch their breath, or whatever the hell else they might be doing.

It’s also common for the walkways to come to a standstill in the presence of a scantily clad cosplayer. Just long enough to get a creepy stare in. These cosplayers seem to get increasingly elaborate each year. The days of the half-ass costumes seem to be dead or specifically reserved for cult favorites, in which case a shoddy costume just makes the reference even funnier. It’s also fun to see versions of your favorite characters playing out menial tasks around you, like Colossus and Psylocke fighting off boredom in an exceptionally long line or Luke Skywalker desperately trying to get service on his phone. For the most part, the crowd is considerably well behaved and respectful of any personal space you have left.

Comic-Con is a rare time of year in San Diego. The streets are absolutely overrun with activity and people that are genuinely happy to be there. An optimal climate for those trying to embrace their inner-weirdo. Nearly every business in the Gaslamp District is holding a special event, the trolley signs are translated into Dothraki, Superman and Mario are sharing a cigarette outside of their hotel – there’s magic to be found all over the place. It’s one of the rare times in the year where everyone is comfortable being themselves, even if being themselves involves dressing up in a ten foot robot demon. If you’re anywhere in San Diego during Comic-Con, you're doing yourself a disservice if you don’t force yourself to get swept up and sweaty at this four day fun fest.