Cinema Siren at Comic-Con: Through an Insider's Eyes

San Diego Comic-Con opens with huge crowds, swag and high hopes.


SAN DIEGO—Whenever "What is Comic-Con?" floats out into the air, it shocks Cinema Siren into speechlessness. San Diego Comic-Con, (SDCC or just "Comic-Con" for those in the know), is the largest gathering for entertainment and pop culture in the world, and happens in San Diego every July at this time. 

It garners so much press coverage and we at ArtInsights have so many friends and colleagues whose livelihoods depend on a successful SDCC, it's hard for me to imagine anyone still in the dark about its existence. The geeks of the world know all about it. One certainly can't wander into an Apple Store, for example, and have any of the employees not give great sighs and groans when one informs them one is going to Comic-Con…

So, as the 39th annual Comic-Con blows through San Diego, bringing with it money and mayhem, it's up to me to tell you kind Cinema Siren readers all about it. Preview night happens Wednesday night, which I attended in all its insanity. Events, panels and releases are happening throughout the rest of the weekend. For those curious about what's going on here, below are the most anticipated panels, and the properties getting the most buzz or promotion.  Understand, every attendee has their own obsessive "must see" list from the 186-page events guide, but some interests are universal... 

To wit—some of the top most-wanted panels:

  • The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (which will likely feature most or all of the film's stars)
  • Frankenweenie
  • Oz 
  • Wreck-It Ralph (which will have Tim Burton and stars of the films)
  • The Expendables (which will feature Sly Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme and others)

Events happening offsite 

The Art of Frankenweenie and HGTV Electrifying Garden: I saw them building that exhibit in a tent across from the con, and it has gotten much press. As you'd expect, there is a strong Tim Burton following here, and this collection is continuing the momentum from the monumentally successful Tim Burton one man show at MOMA.  

"We Can Be Heroes" DC comics art exhibit: A traveling exhibit of art created by DC artists including Jim Lee and Alex Ross that raises awareness, and ultimately money, for their "We Can Be Heroes" initiative which helps end hunger in Africa.  

Grimm airstream trailer: For those who watch the show, it features the trailer that the character keeps all his information and weapons in to help him keep the world safe from monsters and is parked across from the con.

Syd Mead signing: The famous movie concept artist will be signing exclusive prints of the U.S.S. Sulaco from Aliens at the SEGA Arcade, which is set up down from the con on Harbor Drive.

All over the con (file under shameless promotion): Showtime is all over the shuttle buses with a Meme-like ad campaign for their shows.

Total Recall has taken over much of the Gaslamp District and has billboards hanging all over the buildings across from the convention center. (Sometimes, as with Cowboys and Aliens, that level of promotion is a portent of bad reviews…)

'Average' vs. VIP access

Even more than last year, sponsor studios and channels are promoting themselves by taking over restaurants, turning them into "pop ups" and renaming them for the duration of the con. Some are accessible to the average attendee, some are VIP only.

All things SDCC smack of exclusivity. From the tickets, which sell out a year in advance, to the collectibles only available here, to the panels people wait for days in line to see, and the parties that surround the con to which only the most elite of Hollywood and Madison Avenue are invited, there is a clear hierarchy inherent to this convention. 

There are those who scored a basic convention ticket who are at the bottom of the hierarchy (although all their fellow geeks at home will turn lantern-green at the mention that they're going). And those at the top, with the power to glean one of those super-exclusive VIP after-party invites—or slip into a panel from the back entrance (you have to be someone like Tim Burton for that kind of flexibility).  

I've done everything at San Diego Comic-Con short of actually working for the convention itself, so I've experienced the entire stretch of this hierarchy. I've been at dinners with the top artists and executives at a studio, and I've been turned away two people short of getting a con "exclusive" My Little Pony toy (no judgement, people, it was for a friend). 

I've run panels where up to 600 people were turned away, and been kicked out of the con for not having a badge. Exhibitors are kings of the badges, as they are allowed inside two hours before anyone else, and the biggest exhibitors pay the exorbitant prices for the plushest carpets and best positions in the hall.  There is, however, a five-year wait to be a new exhibitor. The positions in the exhibitor hall are set and never change, so those in Siberia stay in Siberia. 

Hall H (nicknamed "Hell")
As to the 100,000-plus who come to the con…The attendees have such a hard time getting into the biggest panels, they often wait for days to gain entrance for the day of their panel. Since the room isn't cleared between panels, most will sit in the room all day, regardless of when their favorite is scheduled. The biggest space is Hall H (nicknamed "Hell"), and all the biggest events happen there. 

Several years ago, I remember Twilight fans started waiting on Tuesday morning for a Friday panel, hence the term "Twihards." Unfortunately, this year was no different, and one 53 year-old woman was killed Tuesday morning running across a busy street as yet unmanned by security, in an attempt to keep her place in the Twilight panel line. 

That story is very sad, but telling. Every day at the opening of the Exhibitors Hall, repeated for the first 10 minutes, we always hear "no running in the hall.  if you run, you will be removed from the con."  Without that announcement, I could imagine people getting trampled on the way to getting their free swag.

A few expressions unique to SDCC (that I think might describe the experience as a whole with a little more clarity): 

  • "Comic-Cardio": Whether an exhibitor or a member of the press, sometimes something needs to be covered, or a question needs to be asked, and invariably it's across the entire convention center. Time for some Comic-cardio! No gyms or exercise rooms need be utilized during SDCC, we are all running back and forth so many times, or up and down the entire length of the stairs to the panel rooms so often, we all lose weight after four days, even if we partake of the dubious pizza/hoagie offerings inside the exhibitor hall.
  • "Comic-Coma": This is a grueling experience I could liken to dropping acid. No matter how well I describe the con, unless you do it, you'll never quite understand. When I say it's crowded, I mean more people are crammed in one place than you've ever imagined. There is more stimuli than your brain can handle, and more to see than you'll ever be able to get to during the con. All of this leads inevitably to "Comic-Coma." This is the zombie shuffle you are reduced to after standing in line and then perusing wares in the exhibitor hall for hours. When you start to forget your own name or can't finish a sentence (not joking here), it's time to call it a day well spent and go to the pool, or after party or whatever reinvigorates you.
  • "Comic-Cough": Exhibitors in the hall are speaking through the din of attendees as they try to pitch their wares, and when I had a booth, the mix of a raised voice being used for four days and the carpet chemicals, cardboard boxes, and plastics, breed a cold-like affliction we call "Comic-Cough." It goes away after three or four days away from the con, and fully a third of the conventioneers come down with it by Sunday.
  • "Comic-Calm": I showed a vague interest in seeing some art by a company that sells unlicensed (read: uncool…) images of re-imagined movie posters and stood near the front of the line, only to get the severe stink eye and dressing down from a guy who informed me "the line is all the way around the back of the con."  I said: "Ease up, big fella. I'm an exhibitor. If I wanted this stuff, I'd have bought it four hours ago while you were standing outside…" We both probably could have used some "Comic-Calm." This is an idea some big company ought to embrace that will produce a "vitamin-water"-like product infused with Xanax. It would go a long way to easing the grumps in line.  

Survival tips

Siren Spouse and I have walkie-talkies, the con vets communication of choice.   They are sure to work in the energy-sucking center that drains all phones within hours. We also always carry Band-Aids, water, lots of cash, energy bars and an iPod to use as we walk like sardines through the con. 

Years ago (I've been going to SDCC since 2002) I made a T-shirt to wear at my booth that sported the top 10 tips for surviving San Diego Comic-Con. So amused by it were the press staying next door in our hotel, Siren Sister and I got on TV with them, which promoted my gallery ArtInsights better than a booth ever could. You have to be a bit geeky to get it, but here it is:

Cinema Siren's Top 10 Tips for Surviving San Diego Comic-Con:

1. HP stands for Harry Potter, not Hewlett Packard and Firefly isn't just a glowing bug.

2. 501st is not a brand of jeans.

3. Get in here in the morning and get outta here before the AC konks out around 3 p.m.... It is not pretty.

4. Note to fangirls: Consider rocking the Princess Leia slave girl costume very carefully. We applaud you, but gravity is a harsh mistress.  

5. Essential for standing in line: An iPod and a vodka martini Camelbak.

6. The way to a fangirl's heart is through her eyes, not through her cleavage—you may be wearing a Superman costume, but you don't have x-ray vision.  

7. Wear a different shirt every day. Yeah, fanboy, I'm talking to you. I recognize that pizza stain from preview night.

8. Beware of rotund superheroes with costumes so skintight they lend a new x-rated meaning to the game "I spy."

9. If you have to start a sentence with "Just out of curiosity," you can't afford it.

10. There's a fine line between fandom and obsession…More than four hours waiting for a free bag or 24 hours waiting in line for a panel crosses it, my friend.  

Halfway through "Preview Night," I visited the lady's room, only to notice a bunch of feathers and bits of latex on the floor of the stall. I thought: "Only at Comic-Con." Stay tuned for the next update, and, you know…may the force be with me. Or..I aim to misbehave. Or…Bazinga!

Continue to fill in your favorite pop culture catch-phrases here. I'm off to the Con.  

Jason Spencer July 13, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Biggest/Best news to my ears so far out of Comic Con? Neil Gaiman returns to Sandman. Here's the Newsarama story (and video): http://patch.com/bvdhb
Leslie Perales Loges July 13, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Love your insight on SDCC, Leslie! I always think, "I would LOVE to go to that some day," but reading about the crowds makes me think perhaps I'd just rather live it vicariously through you. :) Have fun and tell Michael I say hi!


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