California Dreamin’ (A Tale of Going West): Trip Planning
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class SIN-SFO / SFO-SIN
Parc 55 San Francisco – A Hilton Hotel
Big Trees Lodge, Yosemite National Park
The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Yosemite National Park
Hampton Inn & Suites Merced, also any other U.S. Hampton
Hilton San Diego Airport Harbor Island Hotel
The Comic-Con Experience
Virgin Airlines A319 First Class SAN-SFO
I’d mentioned before that planning to get to Comic-Con was a bit of a nightmare, especially as a first-timer. Not only are there many processes you’ll need to get familiar with (such as signing up for a Member ID and the waiting room system for purchasing of badges), you would have missed out on the Returning Registration phase that is available for attendees from the previous year.
This site estimates the odds of scoring a badge at 6.11%. If you’re going with other people (or have others helping you with purchasing badges), this is likely an under-estimate since each person is allowed to buy badges for up to three people. Still, it’s very possible to end up with nothing for your efforts.
This post won’t deal with how to register for Comic-Con – the specific details are likely to change with time, so I’d suggest just sticking with the official Comic-Con badge FAQ page and probably registering for a Member ID (free!) so you’ll be notified when the next round of registrations are starting. This post will instead explore what you can get out of this experience.
(An additional note – this time round, Open Registration for Comic-Con 2018 happened at the end of November 2017, about four months earlier than it used to. On the plus side, it makes trip planning somewhat easier in the future. On the other hand, if you’re interested in doing Comic-Con, you’ll probably be looking at 2019 at the earliest…)
The official Comic-Con programme has events scheduled over the span of five days – preview night (Wed), and full-day programmes on Thu-Sun. Preview night starts at about 6pm and mainly allows early access to the Exhibitor’s Hall, with some smaller programmes thrown in as well. The Sunday programme ends earlier as well (5pm) and the ‘best stuff’ is usually scheduled for the middle two days (Friday and Saturday).
As it turns out, we didn’t manage to get badges for those two days.
Much of the hype for Comic-Con comes from being present at early/exclusive announcements/previews by major studios for big franchises such as The Avengers. These high-profile events typically happen at Hall H, which has a separate queue of its own and often involves waiting for hours (even overnight) to secure a pass to be used for entry.
One example of this exclusive content would be the Marvel presentation, where an exclusive trailer for Avengers: Infinity War was screened. While the Comic-Con trailer ended up being leaked online anyway, the experience of watching it live instead of on a crappy cam capture probably made it a massive treat for fans, given that the (massively reworked/different) official trailer was only released four months down the road…
If waiting in massive lines isn’t quite your thing, other opportunities to wait in (shorter) lines exist within the convention centre.
At 460,000 square feet (occupying Halls A-G of the convention centre), or about seven football/soccer fields, the Exhibit Hall is a prominent centrepiece of Comic-Con. As suggested by the name, the hall is filled with exhibits and booths by companies and individuals alike.
The big players are well-represented, and you can see signs of their branding pretty much everywhere you go.
The larger companies typically give out freebies, show trailers, offer interactive experiences, and (of course) sell merchandise.
There are also smaller areas dedicated to individuals to show their wares.
Offering various novelties such as superheroes / movie characters illustrated as cats…
Comic characters in the style of Dr Seuss…
And monster heads from the Dungeons & Dragons universe. A trophy for your living room, anyone?
Other than the massive events and programmes occurring at the larger venues such as Hall H, a wide range of programmes (often meet and greets, autograph signings, previews or panels featuring the creative team or cast of shows) are scheduled over the four main days of Comic-Con. If you’re attending, you’d probably want to browse the programme and identify the events you’d like to go to, though this is usually only released just a week before the actual event (which is when I’d made good use of a Hampton business centre somewhere making printouts).
They’re not all publicity events for upcoming shows – as an convention catering to a community of fans, there are plenty of events tied to older properties as well, such as this panel comprising the creative team and cast for Batman: The Animated Series (in line with its 25th anniversary).
There’s plenty of stuff to be done outside the convention centre (i.e. without the need for Comic-Con badges), which is great news if you didn’t manage to get badges every day of the programme. The specifics change every year, but here’s a sample of what I experienced.
Just across the railway tracks there’s Petco Park, which had booths serving free food sponsored by various companies, such as free ice cream from the Lich King’s Ice Cream Citadel (promoting Blizzard’s Warcraft – more specifically, the digital card game Hearthstone).
We also checked out The Netflix Experience, which had some exhibits tied to The Defenders, Stranger Things 2, and an upcoming movie called Bright. I’ve no idea if it’ll be any good, but the world premise (modern setting with stock fantasy races like elves and orcs living alongside humans) sounds interesting.
Westworld: The Experience was probably the hottest event of 2017, but since that involved queues of six hours or longer (reportedly even overnight) I never did get to try it.
Blade Runner 2049 Experience
The one experience that I enjoyed most was the the Blade Runner 2049 Experience. I’m not really a big fan of the original movie, so I wasn’t expecting much of this, but was impressed by how well done it was. We’d opted for the VR experience, which included an extra 5min VR segment where you took part in a futuristic (flying) car chase before the VR headgear was removed, the doors opened and suddenly you found yourself in the movie’s dystopian futuristic version of Los Angeles.
When entering the experience area, some of us were immediately asked by a policeman (one of the actors) to get ourselves scanned to check if we were replicants (the android antagonists of the movie). I was one of those singled out (racial profiling, I tell you).
I thought that the experience made rather clever use of RFID – at registration we keyed in our details that was loaded to an RFID wristband that was given to us. To get scanned, you just tap the wristband on the sensor at the right and wait for the scanning sequence to complete.
As it turned out, I was a replicant and was promptly ordered to do a number of jumping jacks (I suppose that killing or arresting said replicants, while making more sense in the movie universe, would probably make for a less pleasant fan experience).
Another way the RFID wristband was used was to redeem a free T-shirt (yay free swag)! The T-shirt size was one of the details keyed in at registration, and after scanning your wristband at a designated vending machine, your name flashes on the screens and a T-shirt is dispensed.
The actors did their part to build a rather believable atmosphere, with details such as this friendly lady beckoning tourists while leaning on a taxi cab.
Sometimes actors would interact directly with guests, but other times they would just interact among themselves, essentially putting on a show for observers to watch, like this bunch of customers making conversation with a bartender.
Wait a minute, is that the same policeman (who’d made me get scanned) chatting up the friendly lady?
When you feel that you’ve had enough of the main experience, you could proceed to the bar, proudly sponsored by Johnnie Walker.
The final use of the RFID wristband – scan for a sampler of three whisky shots (served in test tubes) and some ramen (not that great). I assume that if you’d admitted to being under 18 at registration, you won’t get access to the alcohol.
I’ve never been a fan of cosplay, but I felt like it seemed like something that had to be done while at Comic-Con. Purchasing a $10 horse mask off Amazon, I proceeded to slap on some of my existing clothing, make creative use of a black marker, and transform myself into Bojack Horseman.
I lasted all of 5 minutes walking through the convention centre before giving up and tearing the mask off. As it turns out, visibility out of the horse mask is remarkably poor (the nostrils acted as eye-holes), and having a latex layer covering most of your face is actually remarkably uncomfortable.
I now have a greater level of respect for people who go all out with their costumes, like this Megatron I’d spotted in the convention centre.
Kids got into the action too – I spotted a fair number of miniature superheroes and Star Wars costumes.
Star Wars was definitely one of the more common themes, with some creative use of pets as co-pilots, or modifications to create a rapping stormtrooper.
Cosplayers tend to be rather friendly (I imagine they’re only happy to be photographed) – as I was walking past this guy playing Chef (from South Park), he suddenly exclaimed something to the tune of “Oh my God it’s Jessica Rabbit! I had such a crush on you when I was a kid…” and proceeded to get a picture with the other cosplayer (playing Jessica from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?).
My favourite costume was probably this rendition of Lobster-Lovin’ Batman (from The LEGO Batman Movie), who I’d randomly encountered while exploring the city.
(Just a quick note – I’ve since been chastised for not always abiding to the universal etiquette of cosplay photography, which is to ask for pictures before taking them. I was a little impatient and sometimes just impatiently snapped pictures while people were posing for others – don’t be like me! As mentioned earlier, they’re usually happy to oblige to photo requests.)
I’m glad to have done Comic-Con, though it’s probably not something I’m likely to repeat. While I did get to have plenty of unique experiences that I wouldn’t usually get a chance to, the crowds were often really unpleasant to deal with, as were the multi-hour lines. Comic-Con has been growing in scale more recently with the rise in popularity of the fantasy, science fiction and superhero genres, and I suspect the situation with the crowds and lines will only get worse.
Everyone’s experience there differs, though – mine is from the perspective of someone who really enjoys watching TV and movies, but at the same time is rather unexcited about finding out too much about what goes on behind the scenes. Knowing all this, if the idea of going to Comic-Con still intrigues you, perhaps it’s time to start making plans for Comic-Con 2019!