After years of hearing about the costumes, the crowds, the over-the-top pop-culture craziness known as Comic-Con, I finally broke down and joined the madness this weekend. At 8, my comics-loving son was finally old enough to appreciate this annual mecca of geekdom, and I was just curious enough to indulge him.
What could possibly be so alluring to prompt 130,000 people to pay $175 just to get in, I wondered. Why would so many people come from so far to brave bumper-to-bumper parking lots and hotels costing $200+ per night and to do so wearing uncomfortable costumes and face paint?
I found out Thursday, when my son and I got our badges and industrial-size Comic-Con backpacks and walked into the San Diego Convention Center. To my son, it was as if he’d just entered the world’s most giant toy store. There were acres of comic books and action figures. A football field of video game consoles and video screens dangling from the ceiling. Rows upon rows of vinyl art toys and artists live drawing for the crowd.
We’d just stepped foot inside the hallowed halls of Comic-Con, and I already feared for my financial solvency. Comic-Con is not a destination for the commercially averse.
Everything, from the sides of hotels to the roving pedicabs to Slurpee cups, is sponsored. Just getting inside the exhibit hall required running a gauntlet of giveaways, from temporary tattoos for new video games to parties with free drinks.
At 1 p.m. on opening day, the crowd was already teeming, making it difficult to even move. Wearing a backpack the size of a life raft didn’t help. After an hour of “excuse me, pardon me” I gave up any pretense of politeness and just battering-rammed my way through.
It was sheer luck that my son and I happened to first of all find the Jeff Smith booth, and that we found it at a time Smith was there and doing a signing for his “Bone” and “RASL” books. Smith was our main motivation for even going to Comic-Con, and my boy was anxious to show him some of his “Bone” fan art. That took a while, because the line was 30 people long.
My impatient son lasted in line all of five minutes before wanting to run off and fill up on eye candy. I counseled him to take a good look at his surroundings to get his bearings, and, lickety-split, he was gone.
I wasn’t sure I’d see him again. I realized only later that his child badge included my name and phone number and the words “in case of emergency contact” in bold. Clearly, children from prior Comic-Cons really have gone missing. I myself lost track of my kid at least 20 times that day as he dashed and darted through the crowd.
Twenty dollars, one Halo toy and one “Bone Handbook” later, we finally met Smith, who graciously signed our new book and smiled as my boy identified every single character on the title page, as if Smith hadn’t created the characters himself.
And then we were off again, perusing aisles of comics, snapping pictures of hulking, oversized action figures and staring at all the adults behaving as if it were Halloween. “The girls dress much stranger than the boys,” my son said, after walking past a gender-bending, midriff-baring Mario character donning a mustache. Mario was a girl.
For the most part, the costumes were inventive rather than distasteful, though many of the women were dressed in hooker heels and showing too much cleavage — which, for better or for worse, is how most women are depicted in comics and their video game and movie spin-offs.
There were a lot more kids at Comic-Con than I was expecting, and a lot more kids who dressed up. Wonder Girl, Wolverine and Spiderman seemed to be the favorites of the elementary-school set. My son routinely ran into these characters as he played endless rounds of Lego Ninjago in a play area that reminded me of my living room. It was littered with thousands of Lego bricks. Across the aisle was my son’s second-favorite destination at the Con: a new Star Wars video game he played in the company of decked-out Jedi and Storm Troopers.
Our second day was pretty much a repeat of the first until 4 p.m., when my son felt we’d seen everything. We hadn’t by a long shot, but my boy’s a little too young to enjoy the many sit-down panel sessions, and he wasn’t interested in seeing any of the film screenings.
So we went to several off-site Comic-Con events, including a preview of the Marvel Monstergeddon Super Hero Smash Up — a superhero-themed monster truck race that will make its debut at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium during next year’s Comic-Con. We knew of the preview only because on our walk into the convention center we’d seen an enormous inflatable Spider-Man monster truck dangling off the side of a building. We arrived at the preview just as comic-book icon Stan Lee was walking in to sign autographs.
My son couldn’t have cared less about Lee because he doesn’t know who he is. Nor did he care when we walked past Mark Hamill signing autographs or when we quite literally bumped into Andrew W.K., host of his favorite Cartoon Network show, “Destroy Build Destroy.” It’s kind of mind-boggling how many Names are at Comic-Con, just milling around. I guess I should be happy my son isn’t a sycophant — at least he isn’t yet.
He was far more interested in the enormous inflatable Smurf that drew him to a street fair, where Wal-Mart was hosting a gaming tent with the new Kinect video game, Gunslinger, and Norton was pimping its anti-virus software through a clever Captain America display.
Finally, exhausted and overstimulated, we limped back to our car to drive home, our legs cramped and minds swimming with visions of aliens and superheroes. At least on the way, we scored a free drink from 7-Eleven. Thank you, “Cowboys and Aliens.”
– Susan Carpenter
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