SDCC 2013: The Experience, The City, And The Extra-Curricular Events

Photos ©2013 Patrick A. Reed

I’ve just about finished unpacking my bags from this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, but it’s going to take a while longer than that to unpack my head of all the insanity and adrenaline and excitement that filled it over the five days of the convention.

The thing is, simply referring to Comic-Con as a “convention” doesn’t really convey the scale of the madness.  There is an actual con at the center of all the hoopla, but it’s only a small portion of what’s going on – the entire CITY effectively becomes part of SDCC, with companies setting up events, concerts, pop-up storefronts, and expos in every available space.  Half the city’s bars and restaurants are decorated in some kind of pop-culture motif (the “Shire Tavern”, for example), and those that aren’t are still filled with masquerading merrymakers.  Advertisements cover the sides of hotels and stretch across office buildings.  Every venue in town is booked with industry parties.  It’s deeply surreal and overwhelming.

So, with the knowledge that the con itself is only the start of the Comic-Con experience, I set out to make the most of my time in San Diego.

The parking lot of Petco Park (home to the San Diego Padres) was converted into the “Comic-Con Interactive Zone”, a giant funfair filled with attractions based on various pop-culture phenomena, including a “Walking Dead “obstacle course, a Hello Kitty market, a “Mad Max” diorama, and an oversized Smurf village.  Giant inflatable Teen Titans populated the park in between the convention center and the Hilton Bayfront, and Daleks, Hobbits, and heroes of all sizes and shapes lined the streets and sidewalks.

Disney devoted a showroom to promoting their upcoming “Disney Infinity” game, with consoles and TVs set up to demo the gameplay, scenic artists sketching at easels, and waiters passing through the room, offering trays of complimentary hors d’oeuvres.

The Scholastic Books party, on a hotel rooftop a few blocks from the convention center, was one of the highlights of the weekend.  A DJ was spinning goodtime pop music, delicious food was available for anyone wanting to snack, and a great group of industry pros was present.  The main event was an unveiling of Kazu Kibuishi’s cover painting for the new edition of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” and an artist signing followed.  Everyone got gift bags full of books and promotional items, and the creators wandered around, signing and sketching, chatting and socializing.

DC / Warner’s “75th Anniversary Of Superman” party was a little more traditionally extravagant – a red carpet was set up for celebrities, creators, and DC brass (which featured Henry Cavill, Dan DiDio, and Jim Lee posing with a CGC-graded copy of “Action Comics” #1), there was a photo-op set where partygoers could don a red cape and strike their best Superman pose, and wonderful conversations could be found at every turn.

There isn’t really an appropriate way to explain how bizarre and all-encompassing the effects of the con are – it’s like an entire city is gripped in collective insanity for a week, and then, on Sunday night, it all evaporates at once.  Teams of workers suddenly appear, deconstructing the displays and taking down the attractions.  Giant balloons are deflated and packed away, and tractor-trailers park on every corner, loading up all the pieces of the weekend’s fantasy worlds and shipping them away to warehouses.

And once it’s all wrapped up and you’ve flown home, it’s almost like it never happened…  Except for the giant stacks of books and toys packed in your suitcase, the photos and notes you’ve taken, and the fact that it’ll take you a couple days to stop staring at ordinary people on the street in an attempt to identify their costumes.