Many people agree: San Diego Comic-Con has become too crowded. Too commercial. Too expensive. Too hostile to comics dealers. Too ableist. Too everything. Writers seem to delight in portraying the show as a bloated, aging Broadway star, oblivious that its best days are behind it.
That seems harsh, and a little hysterical. I just got back from my first Comic-Con, and it was a blast, one of the best cons I’ve attended.
Yet America’s most famous geeky pleasure could do with a little reform.
With annual revenues approaching $20 million, Comic-Con itself may think everything is excelsior. But let’s pretend for a minute it sees the need for change. And let us further imagine it asks me to make recommendations.
Here are my top three.
You’re gonna need a bigger host
Rob Bricken of Nerd Processor suggests wrangling Comic-Con’s bulk by making it longer: a sort of fandom Iditarod. I doubt it would work, but he’s on the right track.
My proposal: make the venue bigger.
Well, not the whole venue. Just Hall H.
Called “the most important room in Hollywood,” Hall H houses the must-see panels. It is where movies and shows are previewed, and where A-list actors appear, sometimes unannounced (Tom Cruise sneaked in this year).
Hall H holds only 6,500 people, and with 130,000+ SDCC attendees, this means the lines are long. Oregon Trail-long. I talked to a guy in line for Saturday’s Marvel panel who had been there since Thursday night. The line has its own Twitter account, with over 16,000 followers.
People should be free to follow their hearts, but this is ridiculous. The most popular panels should be moved to a larger venue, one that holds more than 6,500 people. With more slots available, the competition for them will lessen, which should result in shorter queues.
An outdoor venue — say, the area behind the convention center — would be great. A stage and giant screen could be set up, and people could stand or sit on camping chairs, as at a concert.
One risk, of course, is bad weather. Another is that some undesirable without a Comic-Con badge could sneak in. An awning over the stage solves the first problem (don’t worry about attendees; they won’t let a little thing like a monsoon deter them), and extra security should do the trick for the second.
Don’t like the movie-on-the-lawn approach? Fine. Use Petco Park.
Home of Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres and a five-minute walk from the convention center, Petco Park has a capacity of 42,445, which should put a Millennium Falcon-sized dent in the normal Hall H line. All the Padres would have to do is schedule away games during the weekend of Comic-Con, which shouldn’t be difficult: many teams have to work around other events scheduled in their facilities.
Would the cost of renting Petco Park be prohibitive? Not if attendees help defray it. If all 42,445 seats were full (no problem) and every attendee paid, say, $10 (a pittance), that would raise over $420,000. Per panel.
In the words of Ryder from The Taking of Pelham 123, “that’s a good deal.”
Information wants to be found
For most conventions, it isn’t hard to figure out what’s going on. The convention website lists what will take place when, and which guests will be there.
The SDCC website includes basic information about convention access, prices, and policies. Specifics about events and guests, however, don’t always appear. The convention has essentially outsourced this to the San Diego Comic Con Unofficial Blog (emphasis mine).
The blog seems helpful, though first-time attendees wouldn’t know it exists, as it isn’t linked from the convention website. There is also a Twitter account, though the 280-character limit is more conducive to amuse-bouche, not the five-course meal of, say, the master panel schedule.
SDCC is the most-covered convention in existence, so the problem is not that information doesn’t exist. It is that the information is scattered among a variety of unofficial, possibly unreliable sources.
I see no reason why SDCC, with over $25 million in assets, can’t create an official information clearinghouse.
The other problem is that, with no formal connection to convention management, there is a greater chance for errors.
Consider autographs. The unofficial blog has an autograph page that was updated until July 16, two days before the convention start. The page seems comprehensive. Except:
- Robert Kirkman. The page says autographs by the Walking Dead creator are “ticketed.” Yet it doesn’t explain how or where to get the tickets.
- Todd McFarlane. We are told how and where to get tickets, but there is no explanation that the tickets (wristbands, actually) were limited to attendees — i.e., no vendors or professionals. I watched vendors walk away sadly, Soup Nazied by Image Comics staff.
- Jock. This DC artist’s Saturday signing is not listed on the blog, though it was on a schedule at the booth he shared with some other artists. I showed up for the signing, only to find out I had to have a ticket, which was not advertised anywhere, including at the booth.
- Tom King, Mitch Gerads, Nick Derington. I was the beneficiary of this boo-boo. According to the blog, their signing was ticketed. Except it wasn’t. I walked right in.
- ABC booth. The blog has this statement: “There’s no guarantee that the process will be the same in 2019, but it’s worth noting that last year, to attend the ABC signings, you needed to grab a ticket from the ABC booth, which were given out beginning Preview Night, and continued into Thursday morning, after which they were gone.” So . . . how will the signings work?
- David Lloyd. The artist and co-creator of V for Vendetta, one of my favorite miniseries, was not advertised anywhere I could see. I happened across his table in the dealers’ room and was as shocked as if I had awakened to a Violet Carson lying on my nightstand. I told him I wished I’d known he was going to be there, and he laughed, a little ruefully. He said he has attended the last five years. Each year, he asks DC and SDCC to promote him. Each year, neither gets around to it.
If there was this much confusion over autographs — and these are just the autographs I was interested in — what other disinformation might be out there?
(On the plus side, David Lloyd made me a dope sketch.)
We don’t need no stinkin’ wristbands
Speaking of autographs, notice how a lot of the problems described above have to do with the ticketing/wristband process?
I have never liked the practice of issuing autograph passports. For one thing, it’s too easy for mistakes to occur (see above). For another, people have to stand in line twice — once for the ticket, and again for the autograph.
I suggest doing away with the ticketing process.
Lines don’t need to be artificially limited because there is a natural limit: the end time of the signing.
I saw this work to great effect at Mysticon, a science fiction convention in Roanoke, Virginia, where George R. R. Martin was the guest of honor. He had several signings that weekend, none of which was ticketed. He signed for two hours each time, and when the session ended, anyone left in line was dismissed. Of course, there was no one left because about thirty minutes before the signing ended, the line manager capped the line.
No fuss. No confusion. Smooth as a Game of Thrones theme jazz cover.
(I met GRRM at another convention, and that time, his line was totally bollixed.)
Mysticon is a small convention with a small staff and fewer than 2,000 attendees. It is held in a Holiday Inn. GRRM signed in one of the ballrooms, and the line wound through the hotel. SDCC has many more attendees, but it also has much more space and an Anubis army of volunteers.
A few autograph lines shouldn’t be hard to macro-manage.
It was a joy to go to the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con — the 50th Comic-Con, as signs across the city proclaimed. Like any con, SDCC has problems, but they are the good kind: problems born of success, not struggle.
I hope I am able to go again next year. Multiple years, in fact. Not two, not three, not four . . . you get the idea.