Once a year, the sound of marching boots echoes across the Gaslamp District of San Diego as the uproar of over 100,000 pilgrims cross Market Street. At the peak of every summer, in the midst of July, the downtown hotels and hostels swell, the trolleys overload, and the sight of stormtroopers, superheroes, robots, and people so bizarre they fail description becomes commonplace. This is the sight of downtown San Diego during the event known as Comic-Con International.
On July 11, the San Diego Convention Center will open its doors for the 42nd annual event that showcases the latest in pop-culture entertainment from around the world. Attendance has ballooned over the years to over 130,000 costumed fans and curious on-lookers.
The crowds invading the convention center have become such an issue for San Diego that, several times in the last decade, Comic-Con threatened to relocate to Los Angeles or Anaheim. Several planned expansions to the convention center (and a proposed $520 million dollar expansion to the seafront district), however, have ensured a deal for the convention to remain in San Diego until at least 2015.
A mistake many hold concerning Comic-Con is that the convention is all about comics. While Comic-Con, originally held in the US Grant Hotel, was created in 1970 to bring together comic fans and comic artists, the convention has grown into a more varied form of trade-show for the entire entertainment industry appealing to a wide variety of guests from the nerdiest Star Wars fan to the most casual television viewer. In fact, the convention has considered changing the name several times over the years, but due to the brand recognition of “Comic-Con,” the name has stuck.
The actual “comic” section of Comic-Con is quite small, dominated mostly by large booths for the major comic companies, Marvel and DC. Most true comic fans head to the small corner of the convention floor known as “artist ally,” where a small number of tables house the few comic artists that faithfully appear every year to sign autographs and sketch drawings for fans.
The rest of the 615,701-square-foot convention building (and spilling over into the neighboring hotel lobbies) houses video game demonstrations, glass cases holding movie props, celebrities signing autographs, band performances, and panels for upcoming major feature films and television shows, these being the most popular and crowded areas of the convention.
This summer features exhibits and panels for upcoming comic film releases such as The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man while also featuring panels for the new Twilight movie, the new Pixar film Brave, and literally any sitcom currently on television from The Big Bang Theory to Two and a Half Men.
Walking the floors of the convention center is an exhilarating but also frighteningly frustrating endeavor. Comic-Con’s most fascinating experience is the truly surreal walk from one end of the convention to the other, passing thousands of fans in costumes ranging from cheap Halloween costume quality to the professionally crafted, mechanically functioning, and frighteningly real. You can spot dozens of Batmen, Darth Vaders, Wolverines, and characters from media so obscure and so random, you would never know what the person is (and since many fans remain “in character,” you may never find out).
But the experience is also a taxing one, as the number of people all crowded into a single enclosed space, all dressed in layers of leather and rubber, and all during the peak of summer creates an environment of exhaustion, frustration, and…smell. Finding the right room for the right panel for the right movie or show can become a detective mystery in itself. The amount of confusion and chaos concerning ticket procedures, VIP areas, and even the right door to enter can vex even the most hardcore Comic-Con veteran.
In fact, this Motions reporter has found the best way to enjoy the convention can also be the easiest: plopping down at a Gaslamp District bar and gazing at the weird and the bizarre as it passes by the front door. This way, one can enjoy a beer in the process. And air conditioning.