Thursday, thousands of comics and entertainment fans will descend on San Diego for the annual San Diego Comic Con, a three-and-a-half day festival we nerds understand to be the Super Bowl of Pop Culture. Only it’s bigger than the Super Bowl, because people from “Game of Thrones” will be there, and no one will be throwing any balls at our faces, which is a vast improvement over high school, where our problems with nearsightedness and depth perception first reared their ugly heads.
SDCC has been around since 1970, when it started as the Golden State Comic-Minicon, with two major science-fiction writers and around 100 attendees. This year, SDCC will be packed with nearly 200,000 fans of all stripes—from anime to comics to movies to television and beyond—who will wait in endless lines to buy exclusive Comic Con souvenirs at exorbitant prices, dress up in uncomfortable costumes, and commune over microwave popcorn and beef jerky in Hall H as they wait in desperate hope that enough people will have to exit the conference’s main exhibition room to perform necessary bodily functions so that they’ll get a seat for the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” panel.
If you’re one of the privileged few who snagged an SDCC pass (they sold out in under a minute) but you aren’t a career nerd, or you’re just wondering what all the fuss is about, here are five things you need to know about SDCC in order to get the most out of the next few days.
1. San Diego Comic Con Is the Comic Con
I’m a “cosplayer.” Suffice it to say that I dress up like various comic-book characters and attend about five “comic cons” a year. They’re all fun and entertaining, big enough to turn my feet into giant blisters walking around the convention floor, and every one of them offers ample opportunities for me to embarrass myself in front of B-list actors from my favorite movies and television programs, or to stutter mutely in front of legendary comic-book artists.
But San Diego Comic Con is the yearly mothership of conventions, where studios roll out trailers for hotly-anticipated sci-fi blockbusters, where major video-game manufacturers debut their next best thing, and where comic-book artists from around the country convene to showcase their wares.
It’s huge. Genuine stars go to SDCC. Production companies and distributors use SDCC to debut some of their biggest projects, and all of the major movie houses, TV studios, production companies, video-game companies, and comic-book publishers are generally represented. For most of the attendees, SDCC is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
2. It’s Not Just About Comic Books
Honestly, “Comic Con” is a misnomer. It’s an entertainment convention, and while it may attract comic-book dealers from across the country, anxious to sell their rare and hard-to-find comics to a bunch of customers they don’t often see, the offerings cover a huge bandwidth, and SDCC covers a host of “fandoms,” the various social tribes that crop up around particular geeky genres. On Thursday alone, there are panels covering “Call of Duty: Black Ops III,” a video game, to “Doctor Who,” a BBC television series, to “Mockingjay,” a movie, all of which feature big names associated with each, who will make every effort to be as vague as possible about their respective projects.
But there are practical panels, too. SDCC is a gathering of people who have, increasingly, been bringing their extracurricular activities closer into their everyday lives. Thursday will feature a panel about bringing sci-fi into the classroom, a comic-book “law school” for up-and-coming artists who want to protect their work, and a panel hosted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where scientists involved with the ongoing “Mars project” will give SDCC attendees a “sneak peek” at their ongoing mission into the Final Frontier.
There’s truly something for everyone, including, but not limited to, fans of “Miami Vice.” No, seriously.
3. It’s a Huge Economic Boon, and Not Just to San Diego
San Diego will pack in so many nerds this weekend that shuttles will run to and from the convention center nonstop. If you’re going to the event, you’ll spend a huge chunk of your time riding on repurposed school buses, reliving some terrible memories of childhood. To keep the convention in San Diego, in fact, the city had to get local hotels on board with price controls, so that one-night hotel room stays at the San Diego Super 8 don’t start costing more than a weekend at the Four Seasons in a major European nation (at least, one with a functioning economy).
SDCC teems with merchandise that’s exclusive to the convention. It’s hard, as an attendee, to keep a hold on your pocketbook, because nothing says “I’m the finishing touch for your vintage Craftstman bungalow” like a screen-accurate Stormtrooper uniform (you could use it as an auxiliary bar at parties! Except someone will probably spill red wine and ruin its mint condition). And nothing will impress your friends quite like a hand-carved Poison Ivy statue, in her pin-up costume from the Detective Comics #32 variant cover, even if it’s more than your mortgage payment.
4. It’s About the Fans
You know all those viral videos out there of your favorite movie and television stars randomly handing people coffee while they wait in an inexplicably long line for what appears to be nothing at all, or random people in ’90s band tee shirts getting tearful hugs from Robert Downey Jr.? Those things happen at Comic Con.
Every year, there are some serious questions about the necessity and size of SDCC. It’s outgrowing its convention center, it’s getting too commercialized, it’s being taken over by movies and television and it’s less about the comic books that kickstarted the whole thing in the first place. But ultimately, the core of Comic Con is the fans who buy the tickets, who watch the shows, and who wait in endless—no, seriously, upwards of ten hours or more—lines to ask their favorite celebrities and artists questions, and every year, those same celebrities and artists go out of their way to make the experience special. Ultimately, that means that the fans get a fantastic experience.
5. You Can Participate From Home
Got Twitter? Good. Keep an eye out. Because you can take part in the best aspects of SDCC without all the drawbacks—the crowded halls, the suffocating claustrophobia, the endless need for hand sanitizer and cell-phone charging. Yes, you’ll miss out on the thrill of getting your plastic Hulk Hands autographed by Mark Ruffalo, but he’s tough to talk to these days, anyway, if you’re in any way opposed to a socialist approach to global climate change. You’re probably better off.
But it’s important to keep an eye on social media if you’re truly curious. Like with the recent “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” trailer, most of the big stuff the fans will see at SDCC will hit social media almost immediately. If you want to be ahead of everyone at the water cooler, or impress your neighborhood video-game savant, you’ll want to be paying close attention.
This year, fans expect plenty of exciting things fans to be revealed: the trailer for “Mockingjay, Part II,” information about Marvel’s recently announced Spiderman-Avengers crossover, sneak peeks at “Batman vs. Superman.” You can also rest assured that the Internet will explode over the sneak preview of Supergirl from Warner Bros. television, over the upcoming Bruce Cambpell-Sam Raimi throwback project, “Ash vs. Evil Dead,” over the premiere of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” an adaptation of Jane Austen’s famed novel released in book form last year, over Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming movie “The Hateful Eight,” and over more than a few stills from Twentieth Century Fox’s upcoming “Deadpool” movie starring Ryan Reynolds as everyone’s favorite costumed Marvel madman.
Stay glued to your PC, friends.
As a bonus, I’ll answer your most burning question: yes, it’s awesome to dress up. If you’re unable to hit up SDCC this year, I heartily recommend spray-painting yourself a funny color just for the hell of it. I’m a professional “cosplayer”—which means I make and wear costumes to conventions—and I can’t recommend enough the practice of morphing into your favorite character from anime, movies, television, or comics as a hobby. It’s real, and it’s fabulous. And if you’re on the ground at SDCC, make sure to take a few photos of various costumed characters just for me.
I promise, it’ll make me hate you for beating me out for credentials this year just a liiiiiitle bit less.