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Outside SDCC 2016
San Diego Comic Con International is well-known as a mecca of popular culture. Once a year the biggest names in entertainment come to the city to present the latest in Television, Movies, Comics, and Collectables to the masses. Those massed descend upon the city in the tens of thousands. Entry is exclusive and limited to those who purchase admission months in advance. Those who are lucky enough to attend are treated to a feast of the senses, massive displays of merchandise and artwork, music and movie clips, and panel after panel of producers, celebrities and artists speaking about current and upcoming projects.
Then there’s me. I have never been in a position to attend this convention for one reason or another. Time, distance, and circumstance has always been in my way. Even now, living in the city playing host to the convention I sit outside the doors, marveling at the crowds and the cosplay like Bartleby and Loki after the end of days. That changed this year. Accompanied by my wonderful girlfriend, I braved the crowds and traffic to see what the comic con experience was like from the outside. I was not disappointed.
This story begins with the fandom that brought me to Busy Little Beaver, LLP’s parent organization, in the first place. The Hollywood Premiere of Star Trek Beyond, the first outdoor IMAX presentation, took place on the “preview” day of the convention. Already the streets were flooded by fans, cosplayers, and collectors and chief among them all were the Trekkies. I came to the Convention center Hilton to join a group of Trekkies in a small party celebrating the release of the movie. Many were in costume and I was awed at the detail and love that went into them. The Crowd was immense, as many are for Hollywood Premieres, and was made bigger by the people attending the preview day.
We did not linger in the city long that evening as we had tickets to see a marathon showing of all three of the new Trek movies. We bid farewell to our newly made additions to Trek family and set off for a very long night of movies.
The second day began with a late start and carried on into the evening with simple the life feed of the convention from IGN and Nerdist. That evening on the podcast Super Geeks we spoke briefly about the convention and the early news and I voiced my regret that I would only experience the convention through the live feeds. One of my Co-Hosts, Anthony reassured me that there was much more to see outside the convention. So I began to research and resolved to get off my butt.
Day Three. I was overwhelmed. Downtown San Diego was completely transformed into a shrine of fandom. The streets were filled with Stormtroopers, Red Shirts, Mandalorians, Superheros, Barbarians, and Doctors. Every vertical flat surface had a banner for an upcoming film or show, gaslamp quarter was choked with pedestrians and street performers, MLK walkway was lined with vendors and exhibitors, and even vaunted Petco Park was reserved for a related event. I was in awe.
My Girlfriend and I wandered the walkways marveling at the numerous and varied cosplayers passing by in an endless stream of humanity. Everywhere you looked was an example of fandom at its best. The crowds were thick even as you moved away from the convention center. Smaller exhibits were sprinkled everywhere featuring presentations ranging from fixed exhibits like Game of Thrones and Suicide Squad, to roaming bands of hirelings in Guy Faux masks promoting Mr Robot.
The lines were long for many of the exhibits and neither of us had the patience to stand around in the oppressive heat. Eventually we came across a parking lot fenced off and claimed for Square Enix. There they had several attractions with social media elements to promote their three major titles: Deus Ex, Final Fantasy XV, and Tomb Raider. Despite the heat we ended up spending most of the day at the “Experience” as it was dubbed. The heat wore us down eventually and we called it a day.
On the fourth day we set out again with excitement and anticipation. Saturday is the big day, the biggest announcement and events of the convention are often held on Saturday. This year Marvel and DC had their major news but this time Star Trek was in full representation for its 50th anniversary showcases. Rei and I headed for Petco Park which was occupied by the largest exhibit outside the Convention Center, Camp Conival. This event, hosted by both Nerdist and Geek and Sundry, took up a quarter of the stadium and held activities ranging from a scavenger hunt, two panel stages, laser tag, and a library of tabletop games free for attendees.
Practically every building we passed was housing an event of some kind, lines stretched around blocks, and sidewalks overflowed with people. Every available space was occupied, even parking lots were given over to exhibitors. One such lot behind Petco park was given over to a “Free Event Area” hosting a small fleet of food trucks, a ferris wheel, and small attractions for Ash vs Evil Dead and Sony. Parked in that lot was the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen(GISHWHES) bus. As the name implies it is the hub of an international scavenger hunt hosted by Dimitri(Misha) Collins, Castiel of Supernatural.
It is common practice for prominent actors and celebrities to wander the floor of the convention. Last year Loki actor Tom Hiddelston paraded outside the convention hall soliciting for Loki’s army. This year Micha Collins took his GISHWHES bus around downtown, livestreaming his route via facebook live, and stopping to find and pick up fans along the way.
My girlfriend caught the broadcast as it began and was eager to find the bus and go aboard. The next three hours was spent racing from one end of downtown to another seeking out the bus. I had been dragging her to one event or another that day so I didn’t mind chasing after her each time she caught a hint of a landmark on the video feed. We finally caught sight of the bus as it turned into the convention center drive. We sprinted across the footbridge, weaving through the crowd and arrived before the bus drove off again.
The bus drove back to the free event lot so we made our way back there. My girlfriend outpaced me by at least a hundred feet in her excitement. By the time we arrived a line was forming. Many were Supernatural fans while many others were GISHWHES participants. The lines were divided into two categories, VIPs who donated craft and school supplies, and those that did not. Through the generosity of the volunteers and guardians Rei and I were given VIP access and the opportunity to meet Misha. We were close to the bus when he stepped outside and recognized my girlfriend from the bus tour. He came directly to her and greeted her. She shed joyful tears as he hugged her, thanked her for being a fan and a supporter, and recorded her favorite catchphrase from the show on her phone, “Hey, Ass-butt.” It was a wonderful way to wrap up the day.
Ah the final day, the melancholy that comes with it, and the mad dash to see everything you may have missed. In our wanderings over the previous days we covered perhaps a quarter of what was available outside the con. While there was no way to see everything we resolved to see as much as we could. We traveled down the MLK Promenade parallel to the convention center. Vendors and exhibitors lined the walkway giving out free promotional items such as fans and 8oz water bottles. Exhibits ranged from Amazon’s Man in the High Castle to A massive South Park Experience. Even on Sunday the lines were long so we opted for a different experience to wrap up the con. We went to a Cat Cafe.
The Cat Cafe blends together a full service cafe and a socialization and adoption hub for cats. During the convention demand and traffic is high so we had to book our 30 minute session in advance. The cafe itself was well stocked and service was good. The cats themselves were kept in a large sitting room where attendees mingled and interacted with the cats. The sitting room was large and decorated with cat trees, perches and small beds. Seating for the people was ample with a selection of benches and tables. Soft music and pastel colors gave the room a very calm feel that was reflected in the attitude of all present.
While I may not be a cat person I do not dislike cats. My girlfriend, on the other hand, is rather obsessed. I often tease her that she is only a few steps away from status as a full-fledged crazy-cat-lady. She loved the place. While I made pleasant conversation with the cat chaperones she was down with the peacefully napping felines with a huge smile on her face.
San Diego Comic Con is an intense and memorable experience even if you don’t have tickets. The outside activities are so varied and numerous there is no way to see it all. I look forward to trying again next year. I’ll see you next year, outside comic con.