San Francisco Comic-Con 2016

I've been going to comic book conventions for decades, back when they used to be almost exclusively about comics and less about games, movies, and cosplay. Back then, admission was $3 or maybe even up to $7 or $10 depending on what artists were there signing. There wouldn't be tons of artists there, maybe two or three. I remember one convention I went to with a huge line for Todd McFarlane. David Mazzucchelli sat at a small table with no line. I was a fan and went over to get Mazzucchelli to sign something (Batman: Year One or Daredevil: Born Again—I forget which). There weren't artist alleys. There wasn't much visible cosplay. I think there was maybe one panel. No movie tie-ins (before that, we had Batman, Dick Tracy, and Rocketeer, and not a whole lot else).

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I'm in San Francisco attending Wonder-Con at the giant Moscone Center in SOMA. I remember seeing a completely packed large ballroom for a preview of Joss Whedon's Serenity, and as they emptied out, seeing the cast of Fantastic Four, randomly Christian Bale (for Dark Knight, I guess), and then Kevin Smith.

Comic conventions were huge, and this wasn't even San Diego Comic-Con.

But then Wonder-Con ditched San Francisco for Anaheim.

This year, another company decided to take on launching up a San Francisco Comic-Con, and it was bit rocky, but a promising start.

The logistics were a bit of a mess.

The line-up of celebrity guests kept changing. People kept cancelling, even last minute. A week before the convention, my spouse and I checked the panel schedule and mapped out time-wise what we'd like to see. The weekend of the convention, all the panel times had completely switched around.

The check-in process was also extremely confusing. For some reason, the Marriott had put two little metal gates in front of the main entrance of the hotel so that everyone (both conventioneers and regular hotel guests) had to squeeze into a narrow four-foot opening.

Then, we saw a lot of colorful signs up the escalator from the lobby, so we went up there, but the people up there said the check-in was downstairs. We followed the crowds of people downstairs... and then down more stairs, and then down even more stairs. There was no cell reception in the depths of the check-in area, so convention staff had to keep yelling that people with e-tickets should get the tickets up on their phones before heading downstairs.

When we got downstairs downstairs downstairs, we had a security check line with a Disneyland-like snaking line (about Toy Story Mania–length, for those of you familiar with California Adventure). They scanned our tickets and gave us bracelets.

We asked a Comic-Con volunteer where Golden Gate B was, and she had no idea, and told us to ask a staff member. What's a volunteer for exactly? Or why aren't they getting proper training?

The Comic-Con app was also a big fail. It wasn't mobile-friendly at all, and it didn't have everything offline. Some of the text you had to side-scroll to read. Every time you clicked into the panel information, you had to reselect the day (how often is the day going to change?).

Ultimately, it didn't seem the Marriott was equipped to handle a comic book convention. There was a major bottleneck right in the main lobby where guests check in. I felt bad for the hotel guests who wanted nothing to do with comic books.

Still a Good Time!

Logistics aside, we still had a good time. The first panel we went to was with Jenna Coleman: I thought she was the height of professionalism. You could tell she was tired of answering the same questions over and over again, but she kept trying to be respectful of her fans and make up new ways of giving the same answers. She didn't pretend she'd been a huge Doctor Who fan before being on the show. She didn't pretend to know who Death from Sandman is. And she connected really well with the little kids, who were totally adorable when asking their questions.

The convention didn't provide much in the way of food. There was a small concession area near the check-in area with mediocre food for okay prices (which is still better than mediocre food for exorbitant prices). That's fine, though. There are plenty of places to eat around the Marriott. We opted for Mel's Drive-In, which was crowded but didn't have too long a wait.

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The artists' alley had a lot of artists (not all unfortunately listed on the San Francisco comic-con website). We got to meet and speak with Gerhard, the mastermind behind Cerebus's beautiful backgrounds. (I'd recommend reading this extensive interview with Gerhard from 2011.) Chatting with Gerhard alone made the convention worth it.

Weirdly, a ton of people were lined up for these mystery boxes—giant boxes that look like power-ups from Super Mario or Tardises from Doctor Who. They sold out mid-day.

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The afternoon panel we went to was Women Write Comics with Trina Robbins, Dani Colman, and Anne Toole, and it was excellent. So much great stuff about writing, collaboration, sexism, differences in media (movies, TV, comics), authenticity... just too much stuff to list.

I've got to say, having gone to comic book conventions for several decades, I loved seeing a gender balance in attendees (lots of girls dressed as Rey from Star Wars, lots of women dressed as Ghostbusters) and lots of racial diversity as well (not all the stereotypical white neckbeards of yesteryear). Yes, this first San Francisco Comic-Con was a logistical flub-up (not exactly a disaster, but there's lots of room for improvement!), but people still looked as if they were having fun. I certainly had a lot of fun, and I hope next year the planners learn from their mistakes and make the process a bit smoother for everyone involved.

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