By Jason Delgado
San Diego in the summertime is a thing of beauty unto itself, even before you throw Comic Con into the mix. The cool summer breeze, the beautiful bayside, the pristine parks, and the delightful downtown experience all make for a little slice of heaven on Earth. When the Con comes around, you can feel the excitement in the air. There’s a special buzz, akin to the same joyous feeling that the kids who won the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory would have felt.
When it was announced that there would be no in-person San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) in 2020 (although there will be a virtual version), it was “as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror…” Okay, maybe it’s not quite as bad as Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan being destroyed, but for pop culture fans, it’s close. The reasons behind SDCC being canceled due to COVID-19 concerns are completely logical, because, you know, science. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be like John Cusack in Say Anything, holding the boombox above our heads, wishing that there was a way to get Comic Con back.
We all have our own reasons for loving the Con. For some, it’s admiring the cosplay, or going to the masquerade on Saturday night, and hearing the imaginative geek chants that add on another layer after each amazingly detailed, (choreographed to music or narration to tell a story) entry in the contest. For others, it’s our favorite nerdy late night host, Conan O’Brien, doing his arguably best shows of the year and passing out free themed Conan Funko Pops to those lucky enough to score tickets at Spreckels Theater. We’ll miss the celebrities, the panels featuring the people behind the making of our favorite shows and films, the roar of the crowd in massive rooms like Hall H, that brings a Super-Bow-like excitement to seeing film footage or surprise guests (such as when Tom Cruise and Conan popped out unexpectedly last year to show a trailer for Top Gun 2). We love the movie premieres (especially the memorable Star Trek one, accompanied by an amazing fireworks show!), the parties with free food and drinks, the swag, the collectibles, the video games, and the concerts (RIP Chester Bennington). We’ll miss the elaborate off-site recreations, like Flynn’s arcade, the Viking ship set ablaze in the bay, or the Taco Bell from Demolition Man.
For all of the blissful madness of SDCC, there’s something quite odd that I’ll miss much more than I thought I would: the massive lines of people. This is often the thing that many con goers look forward to the least, because they’re longer than the lines at Disneyland. I know what you’re probably thinking: this is the social isolation talking. That could be part of it, but allow me to explain.
I’m usually an introverted person by nature. I’d venture to say that many people who attend Comic Con are. Many of us are the nerds that got picked on in school, the comic book readers, the science geeks, the video game enthusiasts, and the TV and film lovers. Social interaction generally isn’t our forte.
This all gets flipped upside down when we’re at San Diego Comic Con. We’re with “our people”: the ones who speak our language, like Klingon or Dothraki. Where else can you talk to a stranger about every different Robin from DC comics, without feeling like a weirdo? Or learn about microbiology from a scientist from Toronto, just by standing in line? Or sit in the Hall H line with one of your favorite film critics growing up (Chris Gore in my case)? Or bump into Kevin Smith at your hotel, and then hop on a train the next morning, listening to Hollywood stories from Casper Van Dien? The geeks have inherited the Earth with the explosion of comic book movies, and Comic Con is our opportunity to revel in the ultimate underdog victory that didn’t seem possible during our childhoods.
I’ve made friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime, because of the lines. I’ve bonded more with my brother, whom I started taking to the Con with a free child badge, and now he’s a grown man of twenty-seven years. I’ve caught up with old friends in a way that’s difficult to do during the usually fast-paced (pre-COVID-19), daily grind of life. My sister and her husband come down every year solely for the offsites, where we do things like get free DNA heritage tests and find out whether or not we’re mutants. Albeit, not every experience in line has been a magical one (like the time my brother and I spent an entire day in the Hall H line, getting to the front of it eventually, only to be denied, during the famous Loki appearance no less), but it can be if you and the others around you let go, and let the Con Force flow through you.
To truly enjoy the line experience, it’s helpful if you first understand that the journey can be even more satisfying than the destination, in a reverse National Lampoon’s Vacation kind of way. One year at SDCC, my brother, sister and I all participated in a scavenger hunt in downtown San Diego to try to win passes to the world premiere of Cowboys and Aliens. Receiving the clues via text and then sprinting around the city, with a person passing out cardboard gold bricks to the fastest people, and then breathlessly checking to see if we had the winning lottery tickets inside, was so much fun that we’ll always cherish that unique experience together as a family. The actual film itself, not so much.
After securing our tickets luckily at the last possible moment, we were ushered to wait in a room for what seemed like an eternity before the star-studded movie premiere (and every hour counts at Comic Con because there’s so much to do!), which serendipitously led us to having a delightful conversation about movies and comics with a chap who’s a regular fixture at the Con, Leonard Sultana aka “An Englishman in San Diego” (there’s a small chance it could’ve been another charming fellow from across the pond, but I’d prefer to think it was my Twitter amigo). Talking to pass the time with a fellow knowledgeable pop geek turned out to be the highlight of the premiere for me, as novel as it was to eat fancy appetizers at the after party.
Comic Con imitates life in that it’s all about the people, and not the things you collect (being isolated over the past months due to COVID-19 makes one comprehend much more that we’re social creatures by nature, introverted or not). There was another occasion when my brother and I waited an entire day in the Hall H line, and we met a fun group of kind people from around the country, talking for hours almost non-stop about pop culture and life in general. My brother and I barely made it into the final panel of the day for the hugely popular Marvel films presentation, but part of our new group of friends didn’t make it in, because the 6,500 seat room was capped to capacity after us. It was like a scene from a movie, where the rubble falls and the group gets separated, with the protagonist calling out “Noooo,” the way Captain Kirk screamed out “Khaaan!” The next year we all met up again, getting in line a day in advance so that a travesty like that would never befall us again. Those people are my Con friends from now on, much like my FoCC family.
I’m here writing for FoCC because I met fellow writer Michael Pea from our Forum, to get in line together for the Star Trek premiere lottery. He introduced me to the amazing sci-fi show The Expanse (have a look at one of his articles on the series here!), and we started meeting up year after year for breakfast on the final day of the Con to catch up, and discuss all of the awesomeness that we had just experienced. I made another lasting, valued friendship, which later led me to pursuing my dream of writing about the nerdy stuff I love. Lines are what you make of them.
Until we meet again, San Diego Comic Con. I’d attempt to profess my undying love for you, but you had me at hello.