1. SDCC is Fucking Ridiculous
Sure, this one is obvious. Consider the event in and of itself. What is it but a bloated, staggering, monolithic tribute to the entertainment industry in all its forms — from its billion dollar flexing to its slightest, made in China, plastic gewgaw? It is a celebration of the lengths we’ll go to in order to distract ourselves from our grinding day-to-day, glorifying the ephemeral, a monument to diversion. It brings nothing to the world other than a reminder there is a fuck-ton of money to be made helping people temporarily forget that they hate their daily lives.
At one point, wandering the convention floor, I saw a sign that read, “On-Site Laser Engraving Available” and, for some reason, that summed up the entire thing for me.
In its essence, it is product — a loud, crushing explosion of bunkum and twaddle dressed up in painted furs and gleam, screaming, “LookAtMeLookAtMeLookAtMe!” It’s exhausting in both its scope and conception as our tiny minds try to find patterns in the chaos or just try to cross from one side of the hall to the other.
It’s a car wreck and we shamble through it craning our necks to see if there is any blood on the carpet. Nothing it offers is anything we need, it is all about what we convince ourselves that we want. It feeds our idea of who we want to be, the one we express through the trappings we clothe ourselves in hoping to impress our friends by possessing that trinket they don’t have or by having the selfie sensibility grown large now to swagger into the one-upmanship of social media.
It addresses none of society’s ills. It adds nothing to our own journey to self-actualization. It is a celebration of consumerism and attention and its eats its own with abandon then staggers into the drunken night vomiting on its own shoes.
2. We Are All Star Fuckers
Let’s face it. So much of SDCC is about celebrity. Massive throngs of haggard souls push against each other’s flesh and stomp on each other’s toes just to be near that incandescent flame of fame. So many SDCC stories begin with, “I met…” or “I saw…” as if that is the focus, that is the point, to have that explosive moment of interaction with those who entertain us. It happens at every level at SDCC, from the effusively sweating fan who gathers the self-assuredness to ask a question in Hall H, to the starry-eyed soul who finally shakes the hand of that person who put that thing on Tumblr who got all those reblogs.
It’s as if we gain that much more value in the universe by being among its stars.
3. Humans Have An Infinite Capacity to Wait
Lines are ubiquitous at SDCC. Attendees queue up for everything from taking a piss to getting food to attending a panel to buying toys to crossing the street. So much of your experience at SDCC are those liminal moments between showing up and consuming. It is communal event.
At one point I turned to my friend Justin and said, “Wow. I think another thing that separates us from the animals is our infinite capacity to wait.” I thought it was slightly profound when I said it. Now, I realize how enormously sad that statement is.
4. The Importance Of A Wingman
As a First-Timer to SDCC, I could easily see how someone could just get chewed up by this behemoth. There’s just one way to make it through the four days (five if you include Preview Night) and maintain both your sanity and a modicum of dignity, and that way is to have a Wingman, a buddy, someone who can show you the ropes.
For SDCC 2015, my wingman was writer and critic Justin Giampaoli, who has been attending this thing for the better part of a decade. Justin understands enough of this beast in order to navigate it in a manner that does the least amount of psychic damage to the soul. It’s about pacing, it’s about being in the right place, it’s about common sense (something it seemed was, at times, seriously lacking among so many there). But, most importantly, it’s about getting out, leaving the convention from time to time to go someplace quieter to decompress, re-energize, and sip gently from either a copper cistern full of something called “Mother’s Ruin” or drink longingly a beautiful Cucumber Gimlet.
Without my Wingman, I would have ended up curled fetally in the middle of the convention hall, blubbering incoherently about pop culture while being trampled by Deadpool cosplayers.
If and when you go to SDCC, make sure you have a Wingman. I cannot stress this enough.
5. Unexpected Bro Factor
SDCC is often cast as a gathering of nerds, which evokes images of overweight neckbeards wearing cargo shorts and sandals sweating in their massive red “Bazinga” shirts while pawing through stacks of Hentai and Silver Age Comics.
But there were young, fit, well-groomed, classically attractive people all over the place. As the day turned into night, and I found myself at publisher parties in the wee hours, there was this sudden explosion of Bros — huddled around the bar flexing and casting their eyes about to see if anyone was looking at them. I assume this this can be attributed to the “Hollywood factor” that everyone complains about nowadays at SDCC. It was a bit disconcerting, given my expectations, and a bit unsettling as Bro-Cool seemed to expand into the room, pushing against us regular nerds, and, in a way, shoving us out the door.
SDCC is becoming gentrified in the loosest use of the term. Co-opted by Bros, much like in Brooklyn or San Francisco, much like in Dive Bars or Burning Man, much like how all cultural outlier phenomena eventually does as it seeps into the gestalt of being “cool”. As SDCC fills up with more Bros, there’s bound to be further geek backlash, which will be interesting to watch.
6. Movie Stars Are Incredibly Clean
Justin and I were hanging out at Ryan Claytor’s booth in the small press area when there was a sudden commotion, a reshuffling of bodies, and complete gridlock on the floor. Security had pushed aside and reshuffled everyone in order to make a throughway for the stars of the new Batmand/Superman movie. Through the crowd I caught brief glimpses of Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, and, I think, Gal Godot, and my only thought was, “Wow, those people look incredibly clean.” This may be a product of how shabby the rest of us looked, or the thousands of dollars spent on the best stylists, or a trick of the lights, but …. damn … I wish I could look that clean.
7. Comics Scholarship is Thriving
I only attended a few panels during SDCC 2015, but the one that stood out the most to me was “The Scientific Study of the Visual Language of Comics” hosted by Neil Cohn, a visual linguist from the Department of Cognitive Science at UC San Diego. Basically, the panel tried to explore how we comprehend comics and talked about them as having both a linguistic structure and grammatical system. Cohn and some of his graduate students delivered a data-driven academic presentation that was grand in its scope and intrinsically interesting to someone who is immersed in comics on any of the creative, critical, or educational axes.
Not only do presentations such as this further the role of comics in terms of scholarly credibility, but they also should, I hope, provide those of us who play a role in comics criticism with new language with which to talk about the medium. Right now, it seems to me, that there is still a wide gap between what is considered comics scholarship and what is seen as comics criticism (and I’m talking real criticism, not plot recaps and 11/10 designations). The two groups would serve each other well by finding points of intersection, expanding both for the better, and bringing comics a greater legitimacy in both the university and cultural environments.
8. People Over Product
Given all that I’ve written above, it would be easy to assume that I was miserable during SDCC 2015.
But you would be wrong.
My take-away from SDCC 2015 is certainly all of the above, but my memory of SDCC 2015 will always be about the people I got to meet and talk with. From creators to fellow critics to random folk who just showed up, all the people I spent time with in San Diego were amazing.
Among all the crap and the hype and the crowds and the smells and stupid, fucking shit you have to slog through in San Diego, it is a gathering of people who share a passion for some of the same things as you. You connect with these people in ways that you don’t with all the other people in your life, and, with that, you can make lasting and profound friendships.
I’ve seen so many people posting about how this is the only opportunity they have to meet up with people in real life that they interact with on social media and how powerful that connection is to them. It totally agree with this. I shook the hands of many people whom I up until then had only known through their Twitter icon or Facebook post, and it was like hanging out with old friends. I met creators whose work I have long admired and got to know them slightly better as human beings. I spent time with fellow critics whom I have written with, but never drank with. I saw some old friends and made many, many new ones.
So when people ask me if I enjoyed SDCC 2015, I get to say yes.
Because it is always about people in the end, and there are so many amazing people in comics.