San Diego Comic-Con Convention - Best International Popular Arts Convention
Each year, for nearly half a century (founded 1970), San Diego hosts San Diego Comic-Con International. I worked for ten years as a staff volunteer and still receive committee notices each month. Of course, I'm also still connected through the many friends who continue to work for 'the con,' including my daughter who has been with them now for fourteen years. Some quick highlights...
- Generally takes place in the 3rd week of July.
- Runs from Wednesday evening through to Sunday Night
- Takes up the full 1.7 million square feet of the San Diego Convention Centre
- Takes up virtually all the convention rooms at the Marriot next door to it.
- Hollywood and other entrepreneurs in the entertainment business 'rent' business space in the surrounding blocks and this means about three blocks of the Gaslamp in San Diego have comic-con events.
- Freebies are fabulous! Tee-shirts, books, movie memorabilia, and more get handed out.
- Hollywood's finest actors, directors, and producers are guest speakers to run panels and seminars.
- World famous authors come to speak to fans, give talks, and sign freebie books.
- Comics from the Golden Age through to the current time are up for sale, and freebie manga shorts are given out.
- The gaming hall is enormous. You're a gamer? Comic-con is where it's at!
- In 2005 , 165,000 conners attended and the fire department shut the con down so now there's a limit of 130,000.
- Con-goers come from across the globe, reserving accommodation for the following year as they say their farewells on Sunday evening.
- It is volunteer run and is non-profit.
That's just for a start.
I got to have my picture taken!
History of San Diego Comic-Con International
The convention had its beginnings in 1970 with an attendance of 300 people at an entry cost of $3.00. Today, attendees and traders come from every part of the globe. They include leading comic publishers, manufacturers of movie and comic book memorabilia, games manufacturers, sci fi and fantasy book publishers, manga, anime, Hollywood studios, wannabe comic writers and artists, and fans of comics, costume, and everything fantastical. The entry fee for 2009 was $75.00 for the four day convention, now it is approaching $298 for the full four days, plus preview night on Wednesday evening.
What Is There to See at San Diego Comic Con?
More than 1000 dealers have their stalls on the ground floor of the San Diego Convention Center.
Comics dating back to the golden, silver and bronze years of the comic industry have fabulous price tags attached to them, and avid collectors come ready to purchase rare finds. In addition, newly established comic artists display their wares and sign up potential readers. Dealers come from as far afield as Australia to sell their wares every year.
Hollywood sets up exhbitions and stalls for movies about to launch, and con-goers are priviledged to see the movies before they are released to the general public. TV studios have their exhibits. Art dealers, fake weaponry, collectors' pieces, sci fi book stores - the pictures tell the story - mean that it really does take a full day to meander through the ground floor.
If you don't have a ticket, it's carnival outside. Make your way to the Gaslamp.
Cosplay at the Masquerade. Saturday Night
I worked for Masquerade on Saturday nights and Disabled Services.
Masquerade is an enormous event. Con-goers start lining up by mid-day Saturday in order to have a seat. Ballroom 20 seats about 6000 people. And if you don't get in early, you won't get a seat!
Generally the masquerade starts at about 8 and ends at midnight. I do recall one time it ended at 3.30 am or thereabouts, and I had to be at work the following morning at 7. Yup, staff volunteers work hard!
I used to sit up front with the presenters and hand them the lists of partakers. The costumes are amazing and the rules for entry are strict. No professionals allowed.
On stage, entrants show off their costumes, copies of Marvel and DC comic heroes, Hollywood block busters, and gaming creations.Some have been months in the making and cost far more than any prize money could compensate for.
Friday nights brings the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award ceremony. There are 31 different categories, and nominations are voted on by comic book professionals. The jury normally includes one comics retailer, one librarian. and one academic researcher.
A full list of the categories can be seen on wiki.
Panels, autograph booths, seminars, and job seekers
Panels with actors, writers, directors, and producers take place throughout the four days of SDCC. They normally run for about an hour each, filling each of the approximate 35 'panel' rooms on the second floor of the convention centre.
Lines begin to form early for some of the more popular speakers. It’s not unusual to see lines begin to form at mid-day for a panel some four or five hours later. Entry is on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s also not unusual when one has been attending comic-con for some years to walk past world famous icons and not bat a lash. Still, there are the autograph hunters, so, suitably, there are stalls where TV stars sell photographs of themselves for $10 or $50 each and then validate it with a signature. For some years now, Star Trek actors have had their own stall but no photos are permitted by fans passing by.
How-to Panels Are Well Attended
There are many different ‘how-to’ seminars. To mention just a few that have taken place over the last few years, there’s how to make a podcast, how to write a comic, how to make a movie, or how to design a prize winning costume for the Saturday night masquerade.
Each year there is a four day course on how to make a movie.
These seminars are held in smaller rooms, not quite as well attended as panels given by the famous stars of TV shows and movies, but, nevertheless, well attended by those intending to get themselves into the particular industry. While the organizers of the convention do not have any figures, each year brings comic job seekers. Portfolios are shown to future employers and advice is sought on how to break into the industry.
The Harrison Ford Indiana Jones Story
So my boss was walking with Harrison Ford through the con, and Harrison Ford was dressed as Indiana Jones. Countless people came up to him and said "Cool costume. You got it perfect!" Nobody realized he was the real thing...
Annual Star Wars Pavilion
Lucas Arts has had a Star Wars pavilion since 1976. Close to four decades after the movie, Jedi and storm troopers still descend in full costume and play at being heroes in the space provided at the pavilion. It shows no promise of abating. Everybody loves Star Wars. It still remains one of the most popular venues of the show.
Comics and Comic Writers - What it's all about.
Famous Comic-Con Icons
Each year, famous icons like Sci Fi writer, Ray Bradbury (sadly passed in 2012), come to talk at one of the many panels. Bradbury is held in high esteem and it is no accident that some 6000 people converged on the large hall where he was speaking.
Stargate actors like Christopher Judge, Amanda Tapping, and Ben Browder have strutted their stuff on the podium while fans gazed in rapt admiration, and previewed the next season well ahead of the pack. Previews happen often at comic-con. The list of celebrities that have had panels, given previews of their shows, etc. is extensive. They include Marvel Comic’s Stan Lee, Best selling sci fi author, Robert Heinlein, film star Larry Niven, Douglas Adams, famous for Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Neil Gaiman, author/producer of Stardust, Jean-Claude van Damme, Joss Wheden (head writer for Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), Ben Affleck, Will Eisner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paris Hilton, Hugh Jackman, Elijah Wood, Jude Law, Nicholas Cage, Mark Wahlberg - in short, far too many to mention. During the filming of the Indiana Jones movie, Steven Spielberg spoke to convention goers via satellite.
Sights at San Diego Comic Con
Geeks at San Diego Comic-Con International
Geeks are different. Their passion is not popularity and success so much but excellence, creativity, and inspiration. They generally have a high level of integrity and will give of their best to anything that demands that kind of commitment. If they draw or write comics, then their soul goes into it. If they’re writing a screenplay, then that has the power to absorb them. If they’re into World of Warcraft or dressing in Harry Potter robes, it doesn’t really matter. The common element that draws all geekdom together is powerful passion and a bit of eccentricity. And volunteer comic-con staff can mostly be said to be comprised of geeks celebrating geekdom!
Some years back, someone approached me for a survey from one of the Hollywood film companies. They wanted to know my opinion on several things. I asked them why on earth my opinion mattered. "Geeks are ahead of the crowd," she said, "so we pay attention."
Definitely a good video of 'the con.'
SDCC Freebies and the Excitement of 'The Con.'
Cosplayers and Costume
Costume is a big thing. Somewhere around ten or fifteen percent of comic-con attendees arrive in costume. Photo opportunities abound. Spiderman will be walking next to the Joker. Superman will be chatting to two Jedi. Alien monsters and manga princesses will animately compliment each other on their respective costumes.
Freebies are also a big thing at comic-con. This writer has more t-shirts than can be counted, including an Indiana Jones Marshall College t-shirt. Free books, junky gizmos, badges, posters, and the real biggie of comic-con: enormous carry bags truly designed to fit the kitchen sink - and all the other freebies available. Gamers find card clues for their games, new software for their computers, and space to challenge each other for the glory of winning.
World Famous Guest Speakers
2009 guest speakers included Brian Herbert, co-author of the Dune series, and son of the late Frank Herbert, as well as Charles Vess, the illustrator for Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and past artist for DC Comics. In addition, the 2009 convention celebrated 75 years of the great adventure comic strips. Mandrake the Magician was published in 1934, as was Flash Gordon. Green Lantern celebrated its half century and Teenage Mutant Turtles notched up its first 25 years.
Comic-con celebrated its 40th convention. In 2010, I was busy talking to someone and suddenly discovered I was talking to Brian Herbert, Dune author Frank Herbert's son. Hang on, it might have been Dirk Cussler, Clive Cussler's son. Actually, that might have been Wonder-con.
In 2019 (SDCC's 49th year) brings Greg Bear, David Brin (he signed a menu for me once), Willie Ito, Larry Niven, J. MichaelStraczynski, and more.
Preview Night, Tickets, Hotels, and Transport
Preview night is one of the busiest nights of the convention with fans beginning to line up at mid-day to collect their ‘badges’ Each badge has the name of the convention goer and is color coded according to days attended. In prior years, there used to be four-day passes.
Now it's necessary to buy the days individually. Still, the system remains the same. Each day, the badge has a different colour - Thursday pass might be green, Friday yellow, and Saturday might be pink.
There is an enormous rush not only to grab the first freebies but to get the free program and bag of gogies that comes with the entrance fee.
The San Diego Convention Center has about twenty different entrances, and there is enormous security at all times. It is impossible to get in without a badge.
Leave your car at home. Parking will be a nightmare. Buses run every few minutes in all directions to the convention centre. And they start early and leave late. I always took the bus, and I advise everyone else to do that. The buses are specially laid on for 'the con.'
Hotels are fully booked six to nine months in advance.
Early Reservation is Essential
Comic-con attendees need to reserve their place early.
You need to register on site. If you're interested in going next year, register now! I kid you not. At some point - six or nine months in advance - you will receive an invitation to buy a ticket. Don't hesitate for a moment. Don't breathe. Get on to that site and buy your ticket. I cannot tell you the number of stories from people who tried to buy tickets and the site was so busy that a 100,000 tickets were sold out within a few hours.
It’s not guaranteed that tickets will be available at the door.
In 2008, four day tickets were sold out two weeks before the start date. In 2009, four day tickets were sold out by March 2010. The 2010 convention four day tickets were sold out in October 2009, and all tickets were sold out by March 2010. Four day tickets with preview were sold out for 2011 at the 2010 con in July 2010 - one year ahead of time. In 2013 only previous con goers are accepted for the first two weeks.
And after that, it just became a thing. SDCC tickets have black market value.
For the past few years, convention tickets are sold out within hours of opening.
The con has changed. Each year, it becomes more and more difficult to get your pass. So it's now essential to register on the SDCC site, and, as emails can be sent in the middle of the night (yes, staff work 24/7) informing you when tickets will be ready for sale, make sure that you put all comic-con emails on priority. While they've improved the server capacity these last few years, it can still be incredibly difficult as twenty thousand people all try to buy passes at once.
Tickets are now offered to those who have attended previous years first and then after that to first timers.
San Diego Comic Con Volunteers
There were were 26,000 volunteers signed up for 2009. In 2010,when San Diego Comic-Con International sold out by March 2010, there was a run for volunteer positions.
As from 2012, only those who have previously volunteered for Comic-Con are accepted as volunteers.
By 2014, I know that my department wasn't accepting anymore volunteers as most of us had been working there for a decade or more. Volunteers return every year.
So what's your best option?
Register on site. Email early to see if there is a volunteer position.
No guarantees - it's going to be hard work and virtually impossible. But for a chance to see San Diego Comic-con?
Every bit of effort is worth it.
Have you ever been to San Diego Comic-Con International
See You at 'The Con' SDCC 2020!
I hope you've enjoyed your journey through the most epic volunteer run comic convention in the world. The 2019 event begins on Thursday, 18th July and runs through to Sunday night, 21st July.
In the words of all those who attend every year, "Have a good con!"
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Tessa Schlesinger