11 August 2017
I was sitting in a slightly overpriced, but breezy coffee shop just west of the Convention Centre, typing up my notes from Day One: “You have to be absolutely cut-throat about what you want to see and willing to sacrifice anything else to see it…” I sagely declared, “You need to plan and sacrifice accordingly.”
Little did I know, that as I typed this up, I was already failing to heed my own advice: my plan was to get to the Rick and Morty panel two hours early…right after I finished writing my article. What I didn’t know was that I as sat there typing up history, I was failing to learn the lesson of it, as the Indigo Ballroom, Comic Con’s third largest space, was filling up for the wildly popular Steven Universe panel…and that by failing to attend that panel, I would miss Rick and Morty by a factor of about five hundred people.
Failed to learn from history. Was doomed to repeat it.
This was pretty characteristic of my Day Two at the Con, as I learned the hard way that as the days went on, what I’d begun to observe would grow more fervent: lines would grow longer, sweat would become sweatier, and crowds would swell.
And I would miss most of the panels I’d planned on seeing…but end up with my most irreverent photo of the trip. It was a day of highs and lows and ultimately my most memorable of Con.
It began and ended with a line…
Westworld: Journey Into Night
A new-ish feature of Comic Con over the past few years has been the increase in fully immersive, off-site programming to Comic Con. This is usually related to a specific show or network, who want to give fans a chance to really engage with their favourite show, by creating a unique experience. This really helps a show gain attention at the crowded Con, if it’s done well. This year, the big winners were Westworld, Bladerunner 2049, Game of Thrones, and – improbably enough – Amazon’s upcoming reboot of The Tick. While both Bladerunner and Westworld were new to Comic Con, they’re both well known properties, whereas The Tick (based on the much beloved cartoon, comic, and live action series) won a lot of new fans from creating an authentically silly Tick-experience and handing out tonnes of antenna hats that had their brand represented constantly all-over the Con.
For me, I’d decided to try and get into Westworld, but had failed on Day One, being told that people were lining up from 3AM and still not getting in (mercifully, you could wait in the hotel lobby the exhibit ‘began’ in, but still). I was planning my insane run, but decided that as great as the event was (and according to io9’s coverage it was), I realized I’d lose most of a day to waiting and recovering from waiting, while still running the risk of not getting in at all. The experience was the most exclusive at the Con, allowing only 120 people in per day (and travelling without a ‘line buddy’ this was going to be impossible to swing). Similarly, Bladerunner had both a VR experience and a non-VR, but even at lowest traffic, the non-VR was still a 2-3 hour wait.
This experience sounds like my kind of deal, but something you quickly find yourself doing at the Con is determining what is worth it: staying up at all hours, sitting in a hotel lobby, throwing yourself on the kindness of strangers to keep your place in line (itself a frowned-upon manoeuvre) for an admittedly awesome 30 minute experience? Or do you hit several, slightly less awesome but still great panels? From a reporting standpoint, the choice was simple. This was my first real taste of the fact that just because I was at Comic Con, didn’t mean I wouldn’t still miss things and read about them with great interest just like I do at home.
And who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and Westworld will come to Fan Expo. Until then, give the io9 account a read and salivate.
As a side note, FX’s installation seemed pretty weak on paper: they would re-lace your shoes, had a water station, a vampire-themed sunscreen station…but soon I’d realize this was actually the most important exhibit at Con.
I’d learn this in line for Rick and Morty.
The Grand Failure of the Rick and Morty Line
Having finished writing my article and caffinating, I confidently strode past the site of my failed Westworld adventure toward the Bayfront Hilton’s Indigo Ballroom, one of the least attended sites of Day One. There were about eight people in line and I swore under my breath: How dare these folks get here before me? I’m SO EARLY. Ah well, I guess I’ll just pull out my book…
“You in line for Rick and Morty?” Someone much smarter than me asked these people.
“No,” one of the line people said, “We’re waiting for assisted audio devices. You should ask that guy.”
‘That guy’ was the staff member blocking the entrance to the Ballroom hallway, like a movie ticket tear-er.
“Line’s outside,” he said, simply, uncrossing his arms to extend one finger, Ghost-of-Christmas-Yet-To-Come style outside. We meekly followed, stepping out into the blistering heat and – OH GODDAMMIT.
It’s hard to explain how long this fucking line was. I followed it numbly around the corner of the hotel, finally finding someone with an ‘END OF LINE’ sign. My only reassurance was that the Steven Universe panel hadn’t gone in yet…surely most of this line must be for them, right?
The panel was at 1.15; high noon in San Diego is about as sweltering as you’d think. Like an idiot, I hadn’t bought or brought sunscreen and already had a minor burn on both sides of neck. Fearing a worse burn (and hearing years of my Mom and to a lesser extent Baz Lurhmann advocating for sunscreen ringing in my mind’s ears), I flipped my Jays cap around and pulled the brim as low over my neck as I could. In addition to saving my skin (literally) this also proved fortuitous as it led to me making my only ‘line friend’ of the Con: Mr. Detroit.
“Hey, you from Toronto?” well ensconced in book four of The Dark Tower series on my e-reader, I was, at first, irked by having to unplug, but as it turns out, Mr. Detroit was my saving grace in the Rick and Morty line. As his name suggests, he was from Detroit, but had lived in Toronto for a while, before eventually re-locating to Los Angles. We swapped sports stories, tales of stolen bikes in Toronto, Rick and Morty references, and tales of the Con; he’d been coming for several years and was able to fill in some of the knowledge gaps I had and also become my brother-in-arms for facing down the line. It’s a simple thing, but one of the best parts of Comic Con (or any fan event) is that the people in line with you are likely fans themselves. For my part, it was nice to share in the anticipation (and eventual frustration) with a fellow fan. I didn’t know how much I’d been yearning for that until I met Mr. Detroit: Comic Con can be a lonely place, even when surrounded by fellow fans.
An hour and a bit into our wait, we were hanging all our hopes on a tremendous amount of people emptying out of the hall after Rick and Morty. Unfortunately, skewing our odds was the fact that all the animation panels were taking place at Indigo Ballroom…in a row. With the superfans of Bob’s Burgers AND Archer also vying for a place in the room, Mr. Detroit and I realized our odds weren’t great (I took this video) to show just how not great they were) and looking at my schedule, I realized if I sacrificed Rick and Morty, I could still make DC Comics’ Metal panel.
And so, with a heavy heart, I bid farewell to Mr. Detroit. He decided to stick it out, but was as resigned to his fate as I was. I hope he made it in, though. And enjoyed it for both of us.
The Metal panel was better than expected (you can read my thoughts on it here), but I nevertheless regretted being slapped so soundly with my own words by the Con only one day after writing them.
It was a harsh, but necessary, reminder that there is no niche fandom at Comic Con: there are just too many fans.
The upside is, sometimes when you’re sweating to within an inch of your life in an infinite line, you meet just one other fan who makes the whole thing more bearable.
Mr. Detroit, I salute you.
De-hydrated and gently sun-stroked, I stumbled away from the line but saw an oasis ahead: my much derided FX installation…with sunscreen! And WATER! It seemed too good to be true.
Quickly lathering up with vampire-branded sun screen while a bored employee rattled off the basic spiel about the series and the installation, I realized that Comic Con’s least flashy exhibit was its most important: all the others giving away (admittedly awesome) swag cared about my fandom, FX cared about me, as a fan. They even hooked me up with a neckerchief that simultaneously solved my neck burn issue AND made me look like Freddy from Scooby Doo…But ultimately, it was the hydration and sun protection for which I was the most grateful, and which now lead me to now request: give Archer, American Horror Story: Cult, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Legion, and The Strain a watch.
I consider my debt repaid.
The Gradual Mad Max-ification of Tom McGee
The neckerchief was, as it turns out, just the first of many on-site augmentations I’d make to my wardrobe and bag; with so much swag on hand (and travelling very light), I started re-purposing everything I found, or hanging on to it for future repurposing.
The most useful of these would turn out to be the foam Doomfist I acquired at the Overwatch panel (which you can read all about here). Given how little room there was on the floor, the last person I wanted to be was ‘BAG GUY,’ who you’ve probably met on crowed public transit – and so, I’d bought one of those runners’ sling bags, but the fabric provided no protection for my laptop, which lead to a pretty constant stress load.
Having packed pretty frugally to avoid the bag checking debacle my Expedia flights all-but-promised, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with a giant foam fist (of the Doom variety or otherwise), but then inspiration struck like a Doomfist to the head: I folded it in half and stuffed in into the bottom of my bag, where it created a perfect laptop cushioning taco. The swag had become an indispensible part of my gear (and remains so, back in Toronto). From there on out, I refused no swag, and ended my adventure with four one-metre tall bags, two shirts, three small bags, eight pins, twenty seven flyers, two free comics, and one well-travelled Doomfist.
I had to burn the neckerchief (sweat-related casualty).
I considered it a proper Viking funeral for a true companion.
A Blue Jay in King Arthur’s Court
Having failed to get into Fluxx the night before, I set out for MTV’s FanFest – which promised free food, free drink, and a chance to wander the grounds of Petco Field, the Padres’ stadium grounds. Proudly wearing my Toronto Blue Jays hat, I was scanned with the practiced boredom of stadium security before being set loose on the outer grounds of the stadium. If the CBDF party the night before was for the fans and creators of comics, MTV Fan Fest was the antithesis (and in many ways, the avatar of what comic fans hate about what Comic Con has begun): it was hosted by Tyler Posey of Teen Wolf (now entering its last season and still depressingly not Michael J. Fox or Jason Bateman related), and was like a mini-MTV Awards show. Young genre TV fans, screaming when told to scream, were treated to some preview footage of the final season, a chance to howl alongside the lead, and see an incredibly crappy trailer for Annabelle: Creation.
The whole thing had a bit of a carnival vibe to it; a less important version of the off-site installations with a heavy corporate vibe (you could try VR, but it had nothing to do with any show or franchise). As I wandered, sipping my Bud Light, I found the living embodiment of the event: the Fry-ron Throne. Burger King was on-site, with a vaguely Whopper and Fry-themed version of the classic American Gladiators ‘stand on a wobbly thing and spar’ game (which they dubbed Fry Jousting) and a giant fry throne, made to look like Game of Thrones’ infamous Iron Throne…but made of French Fries.
My brain shot to the Doomfist in my bag, my new, treasured neckerchief, and I realized there was only one line left I was willing to wait in.
The result speaks for itself: