The last Comic-Con I attended was way back in 2007, when I still had a comic book writing gig, a fairly big one, actually, and when I went to the bars and parties after hours I could say, “Hi, I’m Ricky and I write _____,” and people actually knew what I was talking about. I admit I felt like a big man. It was a fun time.
I mean, it was fun going to the bars and parties after Comic-Con had closed. Comic-Con itself had become the opposite of fun.
I’d hit every Comic-Con since 1999, and it got worse every year. The crowds swelled to what seemed to me an unsustainable number. Too many people on the floor meant it was almost impossible to see all the booths in one day, and still have time to hit a couple of panels. By 2004, if you went on a Saturday, you were in a crush of people, and if one or two people became distracted, the entire flow of pedestrian traffic was disrupted, leading to groin-rubs and name-calling.
It was hot and smelly.
Even with a professional pass, it would sometimes take half an hour to get in (I was lucky enough to always attend as a “professional”; I’m not sure I would have gone back after 2000 if I hadn’t). If you were just a regular attendee, it could take you hours just to get your ticket. Then, after having waited that time in line, you still had to deal with all the people on the floor.
As the attendance increased, and as the big Hollywood movie studios started bringing more and more of their products to shill, the volunteers who helped direct foot traffic and monitored the various halls where the presentations took place became bigger and bigger assholes. The last year I attended I exited one exhibit hall, and was walking down a corridor when I realized I had walked past the door to another exhibit hall in which was a panel I wanted to see. So I turned around to walk the ten feet or so back to that door — when one of the volunteers stopped me and said I would have to walk all the way down to the end of the hall, turn the corner, and loop back around which would have taken me about ten minutes out of my way and the panel had already started so I was late and the entrances to some of those halls aren’t clearly labeled especially for the smaller ones but in this particular hallway, people were supposed to only walk in one direction, no exceptions. Not even for ten feet. Not even when there was hardly anyone around. Not even for “Ricky, writer of ____.”
That’s just one example of the petty, dictatorial attitudes of the volunteers. I saw more than a few others, but it just makes me mad and when I get mad I get a little “stream-of-consciousness” and I don’t feel like being mad right now. Some people just let that “volunteer” label go to their heads.
Of course, the attendees themselves can be a little crazy. These are the hardest of the hard-core devoted “fanboys,” many of whom have attitudes of superiority they cultivated as solace for all the teasing they suffered through because they were “nerds” or “geeks.” I know, because I had (please note past tense) that myself. Comic-Con is more than just a message board where they can leave nasty comments about someone who doesn’t like the latest comics-based film; it’s an actual event that is tailor made for them.
Comic-Con is the fanboys’ “world cup.” For many attendees, it’s the one time of the year that they get to feel like big shots. They’re part of something that’s really important. It’s a massive pop culture event. Major news organizations cover it now (and they cover it with “respect” and not just with the condescending “You-won’t-believe-what-those-nerds-are-wearing” attitude they used to use). The result is a sense of entitlement mingled with intense pressure to get an autograph from the most exciting “new” creator (he’ll only be there for two hours!), or to get a seat at the panel that everyone’s going to be talking about (there’s a rumor the whole entire cast is going to be there!). There’s a lot of line-cutting and yelling and pushing.
Attending Comic-Con is work. Especially now.
Even movies about lesser, stupider “super” heroes such as the intergalactic policeman imperialist “Green Lantern” are generating “buzz.” Even if there is some fanboy debate about his costume.
The Exhibit Halls where the panels are held have limited seating. People sometimes sit and wait for hours to ensure they’ll get a seat. Hall H has thousands of seats, but most of the others have only a few hundred, at most. And when those people are waiting in line for their seats, they are dealing with the volunteers, who have let those special badges go to their heads.
Put another way, imagine if M.O.D.O.K.(*) were running Arkham Asylum. (And, yes, I did just suggest a Marvel character running a mental institution in the DC Universe. If you were bugged even just a little by that sentence, I hope you made it to Comic-Con this year.)
So when I read that there was a “stabbing” at Comic-Con this year my first thought was, “What took so long?” which is a terrible thing to think, but for crying out loud everyone at Comic-Con is a little bit crazy.
Police are investigating an alleged assault inside San Diego Comic-Con’s 6,000-person Hall H that occurred today around 5 p.m. PST. According to San Diego police, one man stabbed another in the face near the eye in a dispute over seating near the rear of the hall. Police say attendees subdued the attacker, who was arrested without further incident, and led out of the hall by police in handcuffs to boos from the crowd, according to an EW reporter on the scene. The victim was taken to the hospital, and the person’s status remains unknown.
It’s heartening that the crowd booed. Then again, it turns out that initial report might have been overstated:
Violence erupted at Comic-Con in San Diego’s Convention Center Saturday, July 24.
One fan in a Harry Potter shirt allegedly stabbed another guy just under the eye when one of them refused to switch seats in Hall H. [UPDATE: More reports are trickling in saying that the attack was not in fact a stabbing, but a severe scratch.]
The problems with the crowds and the volunteers aren’t necessarily problems with Comic-Con itself. It’s good to see it expanding the way it has. But the event has outgrown the venue. There is talk of moving it to Los Angeles, or Anaheim (then again, maybe not). Or just keeping it in San Diego and holding some events outside the convention center.
Then again, all bubbles burst. The dot-com bubble, the housing bubble, the comic book speculator’s bubble. It seems likely that the geek culture bubble is going to burst some time. (Maybe it already is — “Watchmen,” which was a Valentine to hard-core fanboys, didn’t even earn back its production costs, and “Kick-Ass” didn’t even make $50 million, attendance for “Iron Man 2” was off from the first one, Warner Bros is turning one of DC’s worst characters, the intergalactic imperialist policeman “Green Lantern” into a “tentpole” movie, and how many copies of Olivia Munn’s book have sold?)
Maybe when it does, I’ll be able to make it back down to Comic-Con again.
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