After a whirlwind of activity, another San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone, a little more than a week ago. This was the sixth time I have gone to SDCC, and each time has been a different and fun experience travelling into the belly of this pop culture behemoth. In years past, I have tried to recount all that went down there, but this year a lot of that was accomplished on our Twitter and Instagram accounts ( @insidethekraken ), so instead I am just going to offer up some highlights of things that deserve praise versus things that don’t so that I can… look, I am doing a winners and losers list, just like everyone else (with some awards thrown in in a shallow attempt to spice things up). What can I say, it gets the job done. The only real difference is that I going to term my winners as SDCC Boons and my losers as SDCC Busts. So let’s get to it.
Steven Universe Panel
- This panel was simply amazing. It was roughly an hour and a half long, and is the exactly the kind of unique thing panels should be aiming for. Sure, there was the general Q&A that provided many of the same answers and promos you get in most panels (albeit with a more personal spin, as creator Rebecca Sugar pours her heart into everything she does, even Q&A ), but that was the second half of the panel. The first half was a live musical performance of the recent musical episode, ‘Mr. Greg,’ plus other famous songs from Steven Universe. It was the type of thing that really benefited from being seen live, and I’m glad my group and I got up extremely early to get in line for a great seat. Estelle singing “Stronger Than You” was probably the highlight, but all of it was amazing. This is the kind of panel that more shows should try to have–something unique that isn’t simply new footage or the same stock answers to the inevitably similar questions. Of course, not all panels can do what Steven Universe does, but television shows especially should at least try and innovate. Promisingly, this was not the only unique panel this year. Preacher did a live read of its penultimate episode, and Animaniacs brought its own musical panel, so hopefully this year proves to be the precursor to panels really starting to make things an experience, just as the major Hall H movie panels have been doing for years.
All Things Conan
- Conan O’Brian has done wonders by bringing his show to SDCC. It not only brings to the con a fun, invigorating energy, but also a slight air of professionalism that is much appreciated. Admittedly, actually trying to get tickets is still a little iffy, as the quota system is not really meant to handle the deluge of Comic-Con fans trying to get tickets, but it mostly went as it was supposed to (other than Comic-Con International spreading the wrong information, which is CCI’s fault, not Conan’s). Everything after that, though, is straightforward. Sure, the standby line began earlier than last year, and will continue to do so every year Conan comes back, but at least it is clear where it is, and what the parameters are for getting in. This makes this one of the few things that if you plan properly you will get into, which considering the chaos of Comic-Con is nice to know. Then there were the Funko Pops (and this will be about the only thing positive I will say involving Funko and SDCC this year). After last year, in which extras of the special show Pops were just given away to random people, this year CCI, Conan, and Funko decided to have a lottery so that everyone had a chance at getting the Conan Pops. These lines were well run and moved quickly. There was a large number of Pops to give out, and the chances of winning were quite high, so if you had the time it was a good gamble. Even as the lines grew more popular, it was still handled quite professionally and didn’t make you feel like you wasted your time even if you didn’t win. Conan’s presence has been a real plus these past two years, and I am happy that he is coming back for a third.
- I am going to give a quick special shout out to UCC Distributing for having a well run booth that offered a wide variety of exclusives, and which also figured out this whole lottery thing. Yeah, that lottery was for a special Shopkin (and the fact that I know what a Shopkin is kind of crushes my soul), but I have mad respect for the way they ran the line. It was simple: there was a bucket with black and red balls in it. Draw a red ball and you win. The odds were always the same. The line ran very quickly and you could do it as many times as you wanted. The lottery ran frequently throughout the day. Most importantly, whenever the line was capped, they were very clear about what to do, and let people line up early instead of uselessly wandering around for five minutes. These factors meant that things never got out of hand, and no one felt slighted if they didn’t win, because it was all fairly done and you could just try again. Marvel deserves some praise for also figuring out how to cap lines, and telling people when to come back so that you didn’t just have to hope you were by the booth when the line opened, but it loses points for not having all of its stock until noon on Thursday and for not having printed sheets of its merchandise until Friday.
- So my one failing over the years at SDCC is that I haven’t done enough offsites, which I just want to try one year. Some years this is because the offsites aren’t very good, but not this year, as they were everywhere: Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot, Nerd HQ, Comic Con HQ, Conival, Petco, Con-X, Adult Swim, Funko, and so much more. There were offsites everywhere, and really showed that at this point you could show up to SDCC without a badge, and have almost as much fun just doing all of the offsites. These really add to the con’s atmosphere by providing a chance for different experiences from the usual mix of panels and exhibit hall. One of these years maybe I’ll even do some of them….
- Let’s give credit where credit is due, because while almost every other studio is starting to scale back involvement with CCI, Warner Brothers is going in the opposite direction. It went all out for its Hall H presentations, it brought basically every show it could, it made Suicide Squad an offsite (which had some space issues apparently, but at least it existed), and its booth was as flashy as ever. Warner Brothers seems intent on staking its claim here no matter what the rest of the movie industry does. This goes far deeper than SDCC, as WB has also been a major sponsor of Wondercon, and in general is more devoted than ever to bringing whatever it can to these events. Whether this will pay off for WB remains to be seen, but I for one am glad that the studio is as committed as ever to being there at SDCC in the biggest way possible.
Comic Con Busts
Line Security Everywhere But in the Exhibit Hall
- So what the hell happened this year? This con has been around for decades, but this year SDCC handled its line security like no one had ever done anything like this before. Security never seemed to know what was going on, and worse, didn’t even care. This led to a lot of angst and frustration from attendees. Nothing personified these line problems more than Thursday morning, with the “everything but Hall H” line. Things were already moving slow because of the new RFID badges (which is understandable, because those are new for this year), but then they got worse, as the line staff simply didn’t seem to care what the hell was happening. They started moving people in too early. They didn’t have ways to separate the Hall H line from the “everything else” line, so people could just jump between the two and cut to their hearts content. There was no proper communication with the rest of the convention so they could account for things being so slow. The exhibit hall opened before almost anyone was even inside, so that exhibitors had free reign to buy whatever they wanted, including many of the most wanted exclusives, before attendees even had a chance to get on the floor (I weep for anyone who wanted those signed Deadpool Blu-Rays). Meanwhile, everyone noticed that somehow the autograph and exclusives drawing lines were somehow full of people, even though almost no one had been let in, because security kept allowing other lines to exist, and just let people go in and cut those that had been waiting before them. It was chaos, and honestly made me simply avoid that line for the rest of the convention, because it simply wasn’t worth dealing with. Add in the many horror stories of security just being rude and not caring about what was happening, and this was not a good year for SDCC security. It was frankly unacceptable, and hopefully will be addressed next year.
- Look, they did better than last year, when they simply changed the rules of their booth without telling anyone, but man, things were still a mess. Admittedly, not all of it was their fault. Those giving out Funko line tickets had no way of knowing how bad line security would be, so they wouldn’t know about the massive amounts of cutting (though Funko’s consistent passing of the buck whenever things went wrong during the weekend grew old fast). Still, the speed at which tickets ran out every morning just seemed odd, and made it questionable how much of a real lottery was actually happening. Which by the way, can be fine–Funko doesn’t have to have a lottery. But they do need to be clear, because it certainly seemed like almost no one was failing to draw a winning bracelet (and quite frankly, if it is set up in a way that only like 20-30 people actually lost, that is even worse than just making it first come first serve–a system where a small number of people lose simply so you can say it is a lottery just doesn’t work for a line that starts the evening before the drawing even happens). Add in that I have heard many rumblings about how Funko Fundays wasn’t nearly as fun as it has been in years past, and the fact that its pop-up shop was rather difficult to get into, and it seems that Funko once again did a poor job this year. What makes this truly frustrating is that Funko will never be punished for this. Its supporters are simply too loyal. If something goes wrong, the company will blame someone else, and its supporters will redirect their ire. So really, maybe I should just be thankful they run things as well as they do, because Lord knows they could put in far less effort and still come out looking golden. Of course, one solution may just be that Funko should stop even bothering with the pretense that what they are selling at its booth at SDCC is exclusive. Most of the stuff is already available from a variety of different sources anyhow, so why not go all the way and save the actual exclusives for special things like Conan or for specific booths like Fugitive Toys? It’s not the best solution, but it is probably better than what they are doing now, which causes people to wait in line at 10 PM the night before and not even get to draw for a line bracelet, while other people are simply let in the next day because they were walking by the booth at the right time. At this point I have just accepted that Funko and I will just be mortal enemies at SDCC for the rest of time.
Hall H Programming
- Sure, there was WB and Marvel, plus the normal dose of TV shows like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, but man, otherwise things were dire this year. Thursday in Hall H was a ghost town (Sunday would have been as well by the end, if not for Pokemon Go being added), and CCI really needs to start figuring out how to handle the fact that Hollywood is pulling out of SDCC on the movie side. This may just be an off year, but CCI simply didn’t seemed prepared for so many studios to pull out, even though the writing has been on the wall for a while. SDCC has been far more about TV than movies for quite some time, and this may finally be the year that CCI embraces that fact. Saturday will always be fine, because WB isn’t going anywhere, and Marvel can at least be counted on for every other year, so that day can always be filled with things that will draw people in. It’s every other day that needs to be looked at. Thursday has been struggling for years, now that Twilight is gone and other YA films have been hesitant to show up as much. Sunday has at least figured out that it should be dedicated to TV, but it is always structured in a way that people only stay for the first or second panel (with the exception of last year,which figured out how to spread a variety of shows that easily kept the place filled). Even Friday could use a boost, because Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead won’t be around forever (okay, maybe The Walking Dead will, if Kirkman has any say in it). Though Friday will likely have Star Wars whenever it decides to show up again, so it will likely be fine. To CCI’s credit, they did experiment some this year. Dan Harmon did his podcast on Thursday, Preacher gave a live read on Friday, and on Sunday, Pokemon Go became the first video game to ever have a panel in Hall H, so hopefully that means they are going to really start thinking outside of the box. Maybe look into a small concert, or finally give certain TV shows a chance in Hall H–or even just bring back the DC TV block, but put it on Thursday. This isn’t exactly easy, as studios do have a say in what room they are in and at what time, but CCI needs to up its game, because no one wants to see the ghost town that was Hall H on Thursday ever again.
And now for the awards…
Favorite Panel: Steven Universe
- Runner Up: Mr. Robot
Most Unexpectedly Fun Panel: Screen Junkies
- Runner Up: Colony
Best Panel Moment (beside every part of Steven Universe panel): Cast of Arrow sings Hamilton
- Runner Up: Grant Gustin and Jesse L Martin tap dance on stage
- Runner Runner Up: Christian Slater reveals he is the only member of the Mr. Robot cast who plays Pokemon Go
Panel I Am Saddest I Missed: Luke Cage
- Runner Up: WB (look, I wanted one of those wands)
- Runner Runner Up: The Magicians (because I hate myself)
Best New Thing I Own: Up Canvas Art
- Runner Up: Scottie Young Moon Knight Pin
Best Free Swag: So many books, as publisher row continues to be the best
Best Booth: UCC
- Runner Up: Blizzard
Biggest Trend: Collectible Pins
And with that, my 2016 SDCC coverage comes to an end. Its been fun, and I look forward to doing this again next year. Until then, I need to go practice my linefu, because one can never be too careful. Here’s a cosplay photo for the road.