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SDCC 2015: Highlights and Lowlights of the Con

SDCC 2015: Highlights and Lowlights of the Con

SDCC 2015

Each year, pop culture fans from around the world make their way to San Diego Comic-Con to bask in the glow of the largest convention of its kind, a singular experience that brings well over 100,000 people together to celebrate comics, film, TV, gaming, and much more. Most attendees differ in their primary interests, but one doesn’t make the trek to SDCC without being a fan of something, and that shared enthusiasm is a big part of what brings people back again and again. This year, SoS’s Elizabeth Rico and Whitney McIntosh joined TV Editor Kate Kulzick at the Con.

Kate Kulzick: Another SDCC has come and gone and finally, a week after it ended, I’ve recovered. It was an exhausting experience for me this year, and this was my fourth year attending—how was it for you guys? This was your first times, right?

Elizabeth Rico: Oh good, I wasn’t the only one walking around like the undead. This year will mark my third time attending SDCC, but my first time as press. The first time I went to SDCC was back in 2007. I bought tickets for the convention one month before the Con took place, so needless to say, SDCC has changed a lot since then. I could also walk through the convention floor without having to fight my way through hoards of people. This year I barely survived a few minutes before I started looking for the exit. Overall I had a fantastic experience. I got to see lots of amazing things and hear tons of incredible people talk about topics they are passionate about. I even managed to get into Hall H on Saturday!

Whitney McIntosh: This is by far the sickest I’ve been in a long time. By the Saturday of Comic Con, myself and the group I spent most of my time with were so delirious we could barely speak. At one point I was leaving out verbs in my sentences and mixed up Matt Lauria and Zach Gilford (the true sign that a TV fan has been pushed too far). On Monday I couldn’t hear out of one ear and found a half dozen mystery bruises that are assuredly from camping out for Hall H and battling my way through the exhibit floor. Yet, even with all the havoc SDCC wreaked on my being, I had a blast. This was my first time attending (so also first as press) and it lived up to all expectations. The crowds didn’t bother me until just as I was about to wrap things up for the weekend, which is also when the smell of concession pretzels started to weirdly stress me out, so take that with a grain of salt. I loved my time there and was sad to leave. I’ll take more of the crowds, lines, and frustrating panels if it means getting to interact with awesome fans and experience great presentations.

SDCC 2015

One of the LEGO displays from the SDCC 2015 exhibit floor

KK: You’re not alone in your instinct to flee the floor, Elizabeth—the mana bar of my exhibit floor tolerance always depletes quickly, but this year, on Preview Night, it plummeted even faster than usual. But like you both, I’m happy to take the stresses of SDCC to reap the rewards. What were the highlights for you guys? Was it Hall H and the mega panels, or did you have smaller moments that stood out more?

ER: I’m not going to lie, my eyes welled up when the WB began their presentation. Much like everyone else in the hall, I grew up with all of those heroes. To see them come to life on the big screen was a dream come true. I adore Matt Smith and when he came out to talk about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Patient Zero, I was in full Doctor Who mode. Those were just the first two panels! I was an emotional wreck when I left. Sitting in Hall H, I couldn’t help but feel the long hours in line were worth it. But thinking back, it’s the little moments that made SDCC memorable: The in-depth conversation about Ewoks while watching “Return of the Jedi” at Starbucks, the video game character death match at the Nerdist Gaming panel (Pikachu and Darth Vader won), listening to my drunk line mate talk about Margo Robbie, tweeting about the Hall H line from The Island, being part of a marriage proposal… Those were spontaneous moments that occurred when a group of people with a common interest got together. No schedule. No time keepers. Just people going out on a limb, wondering what will happen next.

WM: My highlights also varied from the large to the minute. I camped out the first night, which was a great way to kick off the experience, and after being there for five days I realized the first day is also the only day to do that, unless you wish to not be able to make it through another step with a working set of neurons. My time in line was wonderful, what with the friends we made while waiting out the night and the faux “line rivals” we made just because they held slightly different opinions about Doctor Who. I had no idea what to expect being in Hall H but the Hunger Games and Who panels far exceeded anything I could’ve imagined. Footage you see online cannot possible do justice to the feeling of being in a room of 6,500 screaming fans. Sure, I had damaged my vocal cords after only 24 hours in San Diego, but the lack of voice only served to remind me of the vibrating room and the crazed fans that surrounded me and my friends.

The smaller moments also stand out. From getting coffee at 5am at Starbucks and having the Imperial March come blasting out of the speakers right by my head to the inimitable Jordan Gavaris stopping his train of thought mid-question at the Orphan Black panel to point out an adorable puppy in the audience. The former served to keep my adrenaline up for the following few hours while we waited to enter Hall H while the latter maintained my faith in celebrity and the ability to keep things authentic at a convention as large and corporate as SDCC. Thinking back, it is most certainly the big moments that drew me to covering Comic Con in the first place but the small moments that will keep me coming back in the future.

SDCC 2015 Hannibal panel

Bryan Fuller crowns his fellow panelists at the SDCC 2015 Hannibal Pannibal

KK: When you talk about the feel of the room, I may not have braved Hall H, but it’s hard to top the Fannibals: the Hannibal Pannibal was a highlight last year and it was just as memorable this year. The fan questions were great, the trailer for the rest of the season was fantastic, and the panelists were engaging and receptive, particularly Bryan Fuller. When fans tossed flower crowns, a staple of Fannibals, up to Fuller for the panel to wear, actors Richard Armitage and Hugh Dancy questioned why they were wearing them. Fuller explained, “Flower crowns represent the passion and floral beauty of the fandom and our appreciation for their support.” That’s a creator who understands SDCC, understands the fans, and respects both. Anyone can watch that panel on YouTube, but being there in person and waving around the “Fannibals Forever” signs fans were passing through the first few rows, particularly with the knowledge that this may be the final such panel for the series (which has been canceled and has yet to find a new home), was a special experience.

A big part of my Con this time was my experience cosplaying. This was my first time dressing up in costume in any meaningful way and I wasn’t prepared for how much it shaped the week. I did simple looks, but between getting ready myself and helping my sister who also cosplayed, it took at least two hours to get ready each day. Most of the interactions I had with fellow attendees were great—my sister’s Adventure Time cosplay led to many an adorable child staring in wonderment or asking for a photo—but there were definitely some negative ones as well. A running theme was gender: almost every rude, pushy, or inappropriate exchange either myself or my sister experienced was with a middle aged white man (we each had one questionable exchange with a younger white woman). Every one of these frustrating interactions started with the other person assuming control and ownership over us simply because we were cosplaying: we were just another display at the Con for them to consume. Gender bias was also a running theme in the panels I found troublesome. Did you experience any of this?

ER:  Ah. See, that’s a big part of why I don’t cosplay. I already have to deal with thousands of people pushing me around to get to their panels. I don’t have the patience to deal with people who see me as part of the show. I was at one panel and a young woman was dressed as Space Ghost. A panelist said “I love your costume,” and followed up with, “Nice orbs,” while pointing to her chest. She handled it like a champ, but I could tell she was a little uncomfortable with his comment.

Another reason I tend to stay away from cosplaying is I’m a short, curvy, Mexican gal with short curly hair. There are very few heroes who look like me. People are very protective of their heroes. If you don’t look like the character on screen or match their Comic book counterpart, prepare to have a bad time. I just wear my geeky t-shirts and hope that no one asks me some obscure question about geek culture as a means of testing me.

KK: I was in that panel too, and let’s not leave that anonymous. Seth Green complimented the cosplayer on her costume, as I recall, and Bryan Cranston made the “orbs” comment. Nothing brings down my appreciation of a property, or a creative/actor, as quickly as comments like that.

SDCC 2015

Bryan Cranston, at the SDCC 2015 Super Mansion panel

WM: I was also in that Super Mansion panel, and similarly disgusted by the way Cranston treated the female fan. She never even got to ask her question as I recall and instead had to suffer through him ogling her while the majority of the room sided with him and laughed. One other problematic panel I attended was the Seth MacFarlane two-hour comedy block promoting Family Guy, American Dad, and his new show Bordertown. We were only attending this panel to be in the room for programming later in the day and it was almost not worth it to suffer through. For a panel filled with such interesting and truly talented comedians (Seth Green, Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, etc.) the material never rose above the same style and level of jokes that populate the MacFarlane empire of shows.

For a brief moment the moderator steered the conversation to MacFarlane’s upcoming tour with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra which is an actual interesting thing to talk about in the context of his career. Yet almost immediately the content reverted back to fart jokes. At one point the entire panel repeatedly made the ASL interpreter translate “dick pic” over and over again. She played along well enough but it was obvious she felt uncomfortable with their amusement on her behalf. The entire thing was problematic in that it assumed the audience wouldn’t be interested in anything more stimulating than the same jokes and content they get from MacFarlane’s most popular projects. That might not be an untrue statement, yet it would’ve been far better to see the talent push boundaries of interest and fail to get laughs than it was to sit through the same six jokes about balls for half a morning.

KK: Based on my experiences, the demographics of SDCC do not match the tone that pervades the discussion in and around it and a recognition of that by more of the panelists and moderators would be greatly appreciated. How about the many events surrounding the Con? Did you have a chance to check out any of the exhibits on the floor or off-site attractions?

ER: The one exhibit that I made sure to visit was the CW’s display of Arrow and The Flash. For the most part though, I stuck pretty close to the Convention Center this year. I did venture out to the Conival at Petco Park for a bit and grabbed a pair of cardboard virtual reality glasses from Legendary. It was crazy busy over there. When I arrived they were starting the try outs for Frieza’s Army. There were kids playing with robots, a people battling each other atop pillars, and of course laser tag. Of course tons of people were stopping in front of the LEGO raptors to mimic Chris Pratt’s raptor training. I also went to the Webtoons Party directly across from the Convention Center where I enjoyed a free drink while doodling and browsing through a few webcomics. Unfortunately I missed Nerd Nite because I was determined to get into Hall H, but at least I was able to listen to the Star Wars Concert and watch the fireworks from my position in line.

KK: The San Diego Symphony’s Star Wars concert sounded amazing—that’s one I would’ve loved to have seen (though not enough to camp out all night to get into Hall H to be there for Star Wars to be able to go to the surprise concert). However I did get to see them perform the score for Star Trek Into Darkness live, accompanying a screening of the film, and that was definitely a highlight of the Con for me.

I mostly stayed in and around the convention center as well, but my sister and I also made time to check out San Diego’s Cat Café, where with the purchase of a beverage (coffee, tea, juice, etc.) or by paying a $5 fee, one is admitted to the Cat Room. There are nine or ten cats, some cat toys and structures for them to climb on, and tables and chairs for people to sit and drink their coffee. The cats can also disappear off to the back when they’ve had enough, so they don’t get over-handled or stressed. It’s a very relaxing atmosphere, since everyone needs to keep their voices low and soothing for the cats, and a welcome contrast to the bustle of SDCC. Some of the cats are more forward and will plop down in your lap to be petted and others more standoffish, preferring to play or just hang out on one of the shelves and watch the humans. San Diegans can also set up appointments if they’re interested in adopting one of the cats, which are provided to them by the San Diego Humane Society: so far this year, they’ve had 54 adoptions! It’s a nice retreat, plus my latte was delicious.

Do you have any final thoughts on your experience or interactions you’d like to share? I got to meet some listeners to the Televerse, which was great, as well as hang out with friends from across the country who I only get to see at SDCC, and I’ll give a special shout-out to Tony from Epic Cosplay, who came to my sister’s and my rescue when one of our suitcases died en-route to our hotel.

SDCC 2015

Adult Swim carnival at SDCC 2015

ER: Overall I’d say my experience at SDCC was one for the books. The last two times I attended, it was only for a day and I typically went home before any of the evening events began. So I definitely made the most of my press pass. I went to as many panels as I could squeeze into a day. Next year I’ll probably take it slower and really narrow down my panel choices so I can explore the activities surrounding the Con. Camping in Hall H was definitely the highlight of the Con for me because I started off alone, but by the next morning I was part of a small community that looked out for one another. We went on food runs, directed each other to the safest, cleanest restrooms, we told stories in order to preserve our phone batteries for the morning, and, most importantly, made sure no one cut in line. I know I said never again, but…next year you will probably find me in line Friday night once more. After all, island rules dictate that once you’ve been to The Island, you can never truly escape.

WM: As far as exhibits away from the Convention Center, I didn’t get the chance to see much. With so much to pack into my visit and the long lines for things like Game Of Thrones: Experience the Realm it was tough to take the requisite time to enjoy them. I walked around the FX area and indulged my marketing-nerd side by seeing what the network was using to generate interest in its shows this year but otherwise I mostly kept to the Convention Center and panels. Those types of extras are definitely something I would make a commitment to go see if I were flying out on a Monday one year instead of a Sunday.

Besides not seeing those sponsored events my overall experience was a good one. I felt like I saw a lot of great panels and the less than great ones still taught me something. As long as I remembered not to get upset about conflicting scheduling preventing me from seeing absolutely everything I desired, things went smoothly. All in all, a pretty great first trip to SDCC.

KK: I’m glad you both had such positive experiences! With the growing popularity and scope of SDCC, it’s easy for it to be overwhelming, but as you both have said, there’s plenty of fun to be had, if one has the energy to get there in the first place. Which is why it’s a good thing we have a full year to recuperate and build up our reserves for next year. Until 2016…