I’ve never done cosplay to the extent that San Diego Comic-Con attendees do, but I do dress up for Halloween every year. And last year, I happened to dress up as Christian Slater from Heathers — complete with bomb wrapped around my waist, leather jacket, and a cigarette dangling from my lips. So imagine my shock when I saw Christian standing a few feet away from me at the Star Trek Beyond premiere party. I wondered if I would be drunk enough to tell him that Heathers is my favorite movie by the end of the night.
It almost feels sacrilegious to admit, but I’ve never attended San Diego Comic-Con. Chalk it up to growing up in the Midwest, with the West Coast only something I dreamt about while watching teen dramas on television. Or ending up in New York after college, far too broke to justify paying for a trip just to be up close and personal with my favorite creators in comics, television, and movies. But like Orphan Annie was adopted by Daddy Warbucks, I’ve been adopted by MTV — sent to Comic-Con to run amok and experience it all for the first time.
The first day of SDCC is a preview day, which means that San Diego hasn’t been completely taken over by the convention yet. San Diego residents were still able to jog through the convention center, rudely baring their abs in a place where I thought I’d be fine shoving food into my mouth without having to interact with aspiring actors and models like I do in L.A. on a regular basis. Crew members were busy assembling outdoor venues and inflating huge Powerpuff Girls balloons. Cosplayers were few and far between: I only noticed a girl dressed as Rey from The Force Awakens, a couple of Doctor Whos and their Companions, and some scary girls who looked like they were in The Shining, walking around in matching dresses with Hello Kitty dolls sewn to them.
The best thing SDCC ever invented is parties. Because there’s free food and alcohol. My first party was one thrown by Fandango, at a tapas restaurant. The food here was definitely an upgrade and so was the sangria, although the bar seemed to run out of margarita ingredients, so every time I requested one, the bartender had to run downstairs for more. The Fandango party was a media event, lacking in celebrities forced to come to Comic-Con and smile as they’re promoting their latest action flick that probably doesn’t have anything to do with comic books in the first place. (The “comic” part of Comic-Con is very loose.) But Hollywood’s Scoop King, El Mayimbe, was on hand to give me advice about attending Comic-Con: It’s all about the parties. El Mayimbe vanished before I could ask how to get into the so-called elusive Entertainment Weekly party (which I guess is Comic-Con’s version of Vanity Fair’s Oscar party). But I did remember the “it’s all about the parties” advice. Which, of course, if people hand you breaking Star Wars or Marvel news like Beyoncé fans go to bat for their queen on the internet — if you're El Mayimbe — then you don’t have much use for trying to scam your way into the elusive Hall H where most of the major studios are having events. If you already know what Warner Bros. and Marvel are going to announce, then you don’t have to keep emailing their publicists in the hope that they’ll throw you a bone and let you attend.
If I want to attend those events, I’ll be like the people who already started camping outside the convention center Wednesday afternoon for Thursday morning. This brought up an interesting question about attending Comic-Con as a fan: Do you actually get a hotel room? Say you want to attend Hall H every day. You’ll need to camp out every night, which means that there’s little chance of ever getting to sleep in a hotel room. This might have been torturous hell in previous years, but everyone camped out this year was playing Pokémon Go; they kept dropping lures to catch rare Pokémon while they waited for hours to attend even rarer panels.
Pokémon Go has completely taken over Comic-Con. A businesswoman next to me was playing as she checked into her hotel room. Kids and adults were hanging outside the hotel, which is on the water, hoping to catch some elusive water Pokémon. If I can get real for a moment, all I’ve really been wanting is a fucking Lapras and I’ve still yet to find one. But SDCC is swimming with flopping, half-dead Magikarps with little to no combat power. Even Conan O’Brien, as he introduced the cast and crew of Star Trek Beyond at its world premiere, made jokes about finding a Squirtle.
The Star Trek premiere was touted as the “first outdoor IMAX screening,” which is all well and good, but that included sitting in uncomfortable white folding chairs and none of the comforts of an actual IMAX theater. On the plus side, there was a killer light show as well as a performance from composer Michael Giacchino and the San Diego Symphony. On the downside, the meal served at the premiere was a soggy Subway sandwich with an abundance of lettuce on it — and anyone who has ever eaten at Subway knows that you eat the spinach, not the lettuce, if you value the sanctity of your insides.
The evening took on a somber tone with memorials to Anton Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy. J.J. Abrams spoke wonderfully about Anton and asked the audience for a moment of silence, which even elicited tears from a few of the ushers. Zachary Quinto spoke about Leonard and how meeting him at his first Comic-Con in 2007 changed his life. Most everyone’s been swept up in Star Wars fever for the past couple of years, but seeing people wearing Star Trek shirts, Vulcan ears, and throwing up the Vulcan salute during the memorials was enough to remind me of why I fell in love with the original series while watching reruns as a kid. Plus, the added spectacle of watching the film while a live orchestra scored it is pretty unforgettable. And maybe that’s the magic of Comic-Con: the excitement of seeing stars you love, honoring franchises you’ve loved for decades, and realizing that we’re all in San Diego because we can finally enjoy the heyday of being a geek and a nerd when those traits made us outsiders as kids.
These are the things I probably should’ve articulated to Christian Slater, but I never did grab him and confess how J.D. from Heathers is the reason I fall in love with bad boys who could potentially fake a bunch of suicides and blow up their high school. If only I had the moxie of Adam Savage. You know, Adam Savage from Mythbusters. He flagged me down to tell me how much he loved my Buffy the Vampire Slayer shirt and asked where he could get it, because he raised his kids on Buffy. He took a picture of my shirt to show his wife, and for a second — with Christian standing nearby, and overhearing Idris Elba talking to Chris Pine while a Macklemore song played (not the one Idris rapped on, which, missed opportunity, DJ) — I felt like a celebrity too. Not enough of one to get into the Entertainment Weekly party, though.