Comic-Con: The Journey Begins

The following excerpt from my book Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture describes the sense of building excitement as the tribes converge on San Diego for Con week. Previous excerpts here and here.

On the morning of Tuesday, July 12, we headed to Sea-Tac airport for our flight to San Diego. In the departure lounge, we scanned the crowd of families, business travelers, and vacationers for the telltale signs of membership in the tribe of True Believers.

Tuesday was a bit early; the real crowds start to gather on the morning and afternoon flights on Wednesday. Still, we were not alone. There in the corner was a big guy with bushy sideburns, wearing an XXL Green Lantern T-shirt over cargo shorts and sneakers, with an art portfolio on the chair next to him. Probability of Con attendance: greater than 99 percent. A few seats down, Eunice spied a young woman with black eyeliner and lipstick, sporting a tote bag from Emily the Strange, sitting next to a pale friend with lidded eyes wearing ornate Cthulhu-themed earrings. We would spot them at the Trickster party in a couple of days, in line for the sushi bar. Then there was the thirty-something guy reading the Watchmen trade paperback, the young dad browsing Newsarama on his iPad while his kids played Star Wars on their Game Boys, the older guy in horn-rimmed glasses with a battered leather satchel that doubtless contained a tabbed and underlined copy of the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide . . .

Over the next two days, in airports all around the world, underground rivers of fandom were bursting out into the open, forming the tributaries of a mighty torrent surging toward San Diego. When we landed at Lindbergh Field three hours later, we saw more likely suspects in the crowd filtering toward the taxi stand, pulled inexorably together like the pools of liquid metal reconstituting the “bad cop” cyborg in the final moments of Terminator 2.

We took a cab to the Marriott and admired downtown San Diego, decked out in banners and signs to welcome its largest convention of the year. As we approached up the circular drive in front of the two gleaming metallic towers of the hotel, workmen on scaffolds were busy attaching a 30-story banner to the side of the building advertising an upcoming fantasy-themed movie.

The Con does not officially begin until Wednesday evening around 6 p.m., when the exhibit hall opens to attendees, but Tuesday and Wednesday see a rising crescendo of activity as exhibitors set up their booths, attendees and professionals brave long lines to claim their badges and swag bags, and various organizations stage pre-parties and meet-ups ahead of the full-on craziness of the next 100 hours. The anticipation generates some anxiety among the army of service workers who work in and around the convention center area. They either know what they are in for firsthand or have heard the stories from traumatized coworkers.

“Here for Comic-Con?” asked the hotel receptionist with a tight smile. When we replied in the affirmative, she reached under the counter and produced special card keys sponsored by movie studios and comic companies, laying them flat on the desk. Mine was branded Supernatural. Eunice’s was Scooby-Doo.

“Can I have a Smallville one instead?” my wife asked, sliding the card back across the counter. I could see the hotel clerk scan her face for signs that this might be a joke. It most assuredly was not.

There were few obvious signs of Comic-Con in the hotel lobby, although we noticed a luggage cart loaded with Star Wars storm trooper armor. Later in the day, crews would mount gruesome zombie posters on the inside of certain elevators (with doors marked “Don’t Open: Dead Inside” in the style of the Walking Dead comic book and TV series). Parents with small children quickly learned to avoid these elevators and wait for the next one.

We got to our room and went to the balcony overlooking Harbor Drive and the city skyline. It was a glorious sunny afternoon, and the streets were nearly empty.

We had made it, and we were sitting pretty, with all our plans and social events set for the next six days. All that was left was for the storm to break.

If you enjoyed that snippet, good news! There’s lots more about what goes on at Comic-Con and what it all means to the larger world of entertainment, technology and business in Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture!

If you’re a comic book nut like me, miss it at your own risk!”

-Stan “The Man” Lee

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