Oh, SDCC. San Diego Comic Con: The yearly nerd-pilgrimage to the whale’s vagina* to learn and experience the latest and greatest in pop culture. Sure, it used to be solely about the comics. Sure, over the years it has become less and less niche as comic books themselves have effused into the mainstream. Yes, “going to Comic Con,” can now mean many things. It can mean you’re going for one day to “check it out,” because it is kinda the cool thing to do these days.
But for my ilk, “going to Comic Con,” means a touch more. It means committing to the whole 4-day shebang, plus preview night. It means taking half the week off work, paying for a hotel room, stocking up on bare essentials at Costco, standing/sitting/sleeping in line for a chance to see that exclusive Hall H trailer with your own eyes, months (or hours) before anyone else will. It means going after Comic Con exclusive merch and possibly flipping them on ebay. It means the actual trading/selling/buying of comic books on the exhibit floor and supporting your favorite indie artist by commissioning a piece in Artists Alley.
That’s what it means to the other 3 folks who are happily snoring away in the same hotel room as I am, while I write this article.
Because of its popularity, though, with attendance well over 100,000 people, the whole process has changed. It used to be back in the day, as my cohorts will tell you, that you could drive down to San Diego the morning of Con (Kaaaaahhhn!), saunter up to the box office at the Convention Center, and buy your 4-day pass into nerdtopia. Even I remember the last time I was at Con, in 2009, I bought my 4-day pass a mere couple months before the event. I just went onto the the Comic Con website, clicked, “Buy 4-Day Pass,” and holy balls, I was set. No Comic Con IDs, no waking up at 8am on a random Saturday 6 months before Con, booting up your laptop and your desktop, opening up multiple windows, and refreshing the hell out of every one in an attempt to brute force your way into a digital queue where you would maybe perhaps be able to buy a ticket for one day of con… if you’re lucky.
As such, getting into Comic Con proper has become a much more exclusive thing – not because they let fewer people in, but because a larger and larger portion of the general populace wants to part of the club. That leaves some nerds with passes good for only one or two days of Con (as you can only buy days a la carte now). Even still, it leaves other nerds in the situation I am now: Completely passless.
Luckily, though, much like the cultural element that started Con has effused into the popular culture, Con itself has bled far past the walls of the San Diego Convention Center and into the streets of downtown San Diego. While some of these spaces and events are reserved for badged attendees, there’s still a good chunk that you can do without a badge, and have a rather good time at SDCC.
Across from the convention center, Comic Con rented out an entire parking lot, and filled it with exhibitors like the TMNT Pizza Thrower come to life, a Sin City booth, superhero facepainting, a 24 drone-flying race, and other things. Closer to the Convention Center, there was a Simpsons and Gotham exhibit, complete with a giant Homer Simpson head (which I learned has a theatre that continuously ran highlights from the 500+ episodes of the show). Also open to the public, exhibits to Avatar: Legend of Korra, Constantine, and The History Channel’s Vikings.
Then, there’s Petco Park, ballpark/mall home of the San Diego Padres. Exhibits and events included Nerd HQ, concerts (which I think might actually require a badge), and The Walking Dead Escape (which doesn’t require a badge, but does require you buy tickets).
And of course, there’s still just sitting around and people watching while enjoying some of the restaurants and shops in the Gaslamp Quarter. There’s a good smattering of cuisines that should be able to placate any palate. Want Pizza? There’s several pizza places. Feel like pulled pork and Tri-Tip? They’ve got that. Shawarma? Boom. Irish pub food? Got it. Pad See Ew? There’s a couple of Thai places! Though, I must say, there is one Thai place you should definitely not go to… bleh. Just ask Agent Justin and Reserve Agent Jamal.
Post-panel partying? You’ll find a few of the organized parties and events in the Gaslamp, like the ones put on by Geek & Sundry, but there are also lots of other bars that can be an awesome meeting place for your crew to meet and debrief after a day at Con. This year, we ended up at the Marble Room bar arcade. They have a happy hour at some point, which we just happened upon. Not sure exactly when it starts or ends because.. con-induced time distortion. But, they also have 10 or so co-op arcade cabinets you can pump real quarters into, like Street Fighter II Championship edition, Galaga, Pac-Man, and Off Road, amongst others. There’s also an Air Hockey table, a Beer Pong table, and some oversized Jenga. You really can’t go too wrong with Jenga and beer, can you?
You may also be attacked by Cactus Jack. Bang bang!
Finally, if you just feel like hanging out, you can post up at a random corner/street and people watch. You’ll see a portion of the cosplayers coming straight out of Con (usually not the more complicated ones, because walking in that much costumery can suck). Too, though, Con panelists and celebrity attendees roam the streets of the Gaslamp Quarter along with everyone else sometimes. Case in point:
— Justin Quizon (@JustinQuizon) July 26, 2014
Look at these dapper fellows.
You see, there’s tons of things to do if you’d like to experience Comic Con without experiencing the sometimes trying madness of the exhibition floor. Sure you’re not gonna get the full brunt of the Con panels, but hey… you also didn’t pay the money! Besides… someone’s gonna leak those bad boys soon anyway, right? Right? Oh come on! My heart yearns for some Avengers 2 Ultron-y, broken Cap shield-y goodness. And really, just hanging around con is a cool way to immerse yourself in the con funk-y aura of Comic Con, without all the commitment. Sure you’re friends are gonna have a pass and leave you alone to finish your article alone in a random coffeeshop while they stand in the autograph line for Welcome to Nightvale, but hey, thems the way the d20 rolls.
Haha guys… I kid. I kid.
UPDATE: Or, you could just wait until Sunday, when your friend gets tired of Con and lends you his pass. Heh.
*Yes this joke is getting old, but I’m kicking it with steel toe boots until it stops neighing.