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A Dressing Down for...Comic-Con International

Cutting a wide swarth of condemnation through a large event, massively planned and attended by so many, is an exceedingly difficult task. That’s why I’m not gonna do it. Only a fool, or an exceptionally bitter person, would find the need to lambast the San Diego Comic-Con on the whole. After all, no matter what goes wrong with it, it’s still an amazing convention, combining so many people and businesses from various sides of entertainment – written, drawn, and filmed – that one would have to be an idiot to not be primarily grateful. I could write two full articles detailing all the fun and all the enjoyable craziness of Comic-Con 2007 that I experienced, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. That said, only a liar would pretend that there was nothing to complain about from Comic-Con 2007. And since so many mouths are already flapping on the topic of this Con, perhaps now is the best time to bring one man’s perspective on it.

I bring this up because there’s already been plenty of grumblings about SDCC. That it’s too big. That it’s too Hollywood. That it may have to be moved. That it may have to shut its doors like E3. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, as you can see, I’m hardly the first to start the complaints. And yet, I don’t necessarily know if my complaints match up with other folks’ complaints. After all, if anything got more ink than anything else about Con this year, it has to be the attendance. Without a doubt, most of the grumblings wouldn’t be happening if they hadn’t sold out of four-day passes or Friday, Saturday, and Sunday one-day passes. So, with that in mind, and keeping in mind that my targets may shift from point to point (I’ll try to keep it clear who I’m talking to), I present to you a laundry list of complaints/suggestions regarding this year’s Con and any further ones.

1. It’s not THAT full – so stop acting like it is!

There are several targets for this one. First off, the convention attendees themselves are already whining about it being far too packed this year at Con. I certainly acknowledge that this Con was more loaded up than ever before, but rarely did I ever encounter any real problems with doing what I wanted to do just because of there being too many people. Maybe I’m wrong and everything was overstuffed in other places….but then, there’s the point. There are a zillion, gajillion things to do at Comic-Con, and if you get shut out of one thing or some line is too long, then go do something else. Nobody ever, EVER, has any excuse to be bored at Comic-Con, and missing one event isn’t excuse enough to piss and moan that your Con is ruined. If it was that important to you, then plan around it, moron! When has that ever been new at SDCC? Any time I’ve been to Con, intelligent planning and scheduling has always been important. So if you want to make sure you see that one Futurama panel, or get to see Kevin Smith, then get there early! Is that so hard? You can’t do everything at Con, so choose your big definites and hit them hard and early. If you get in and have to sit in a row that isn’t the front row, then tough titties; you’re still in.

Of course, the conventioneers aren’t the only ones acting out the fantasy of an overattended Con. The volunteers this year…well, some of them had a somewhat bad attitude. Not all of them, so relax. I’m not a needless rabble-rouser. In fact, my kudos to the trafficking of the panels; for the most part, they were pretty durned good about getting people out but not rushing them, and putting the exits on the opposite sides of the entrances made the process very clean. But sometimes there was a scorched-earth nastiness to some of the Elite volunteers, adopted (methinks) because they prematurely decided that the massive amounts of people that would be attending this year would somehow metamorphose into an unruly mob if they didn’t beat that crowd down right now. I’ll have some notes on corralling in a moment, but in general, some of these volunteers didn’t look happy to be there, happy to see anyone, or just plain welcoming or helpful at all. This ranged from subtle things like pointed snootiness in the staff that handled the question-askers in the panels to more obvious things like full-out scowls that accompanied these volunteers as they lined people up and bounced people away from professionals. I’m not looking for Disneyland-level fake cheer, but don’t treat us like the enemy, for chrissakes.

Last note: CCI, if it looks like maybe you’re not going to have enough room for everybody, have you thought about maybe selling less tickets? How much money do you guys need? Seems to me like that’d be an easy fix for this no-space problem. Attendees, just get your tickets early. First come, first served; last come, probably screwed.

2. Open up ON TIME!

Okay, so you’ve sold a boatload of tickets, CCI. Congratulations, I look forward to seeing the completion of construction for your Duckburg vault. America rewards the capitalistic successes, which is great, fine, and wonderful. So…how’s about opening the doors when you said you were going to?

Honestly, the only time this year that I really, REALLY felt like Con was overattended was on Friday morning when I got shuffled along with many, many others into the upstairs area like a massive sardine can. Everybody was allowed into the building, but not the main floor, and so we found ourselves with no space, no breathing room of any kind, waiting to go down below. And I wasn’t even trying to go to the main floor, but rather to one of the upstairs panels – I could barely get through the dense population of attendees! Nobody bunches together that way on purpose; this was the doing of SDCC itself, failing to find an appropriate area for people to wait in while they spent twenty minutes longer than they were supposed to use in opening up the main floor. Nothing will piss off your audience more than being forced to wait longer than they need to. When you have so much more attendance than before, it’s even more important that you open up on time, so to avoid the kind of personal bubble destruction that I was forced to endure. I don’t care what it is you guys were waiting for. Late exhibitors, maybe? One more last final ultimate security check? Some big booth hasn’t turned on their lights yet? I. Do. Not. Care. If you intend to cater to this kind of crowd size, then now’s the time to put more stringent requirements on your exhibitors and security to pull their crap together in time.

3. Get some control of your damn files.

This is a less-universal complaint, but I’ll use it anyway. The ineptitude of the press relations people at Comic-Con International this year cost me an extra $65 because they screwed things up with my Press Pass. I sent my credentials to them nice and early, and then when I checked in with them to see why I hadn’t received a pass after the deadline had passed, they claimed they’d never received the creds. (This was after talking to them pre-deadline and them telling me that they wouldn’t be able to give me any concrete answers about the press pass until after the deadline.) My options were to either buy a regular 4-day ticket or gamble on on-site registration; I chose the former, just a few days before they sold out of 4-days. I would have chalked this up to simple individual bad luck, but then I spoke to a few other press folks at Con who’d also been told that their creds hadn’t been “received” and either did what I did or did the on-site registration.

While there might be some debate about the earlier two complaints, this is just bad management. SDCC is a major press event, and these guys want us there so we can bring attention to the things that happen here, even if only as advertisement so more people will want to attend. To you non-press folks, imagine how messed up they might get with your tickets if they can’t handle some Press Passes. (If you question my right to complain about paying when you all needed to, ask yourselves whether you would, in my position, take advantage of a press position for a free ticket or not.) Somebody figure out where the mailman has been dumping your packages, CCI, because I don’t think you guys are in a position to be pissing off the press.

4. Spread out your big-event panels.

So, some have complained that SDCC is getting too Hollywood. I have my own mixed feelings on it, although I’d agree that Lion’s Gate really screwed us over this year by making a big nonsense deal about its frat-boy rom-com Good Luck Chuck – are Con nerds really the audience for that? But I don’t think we need to jettison everything non-comic-book, or non-printed-press. One of the charms of SDCC is that it extends to almost all geek-related activity, so that includes sci-fi and fantasy films and TV and so forth.

But the problem is the scheduling, overloading the big draw events on Saturday and sometimes on Friday. Obviously those are the big ticket days, but can’t these be spread out over the course of the whole four-day event? Part of that whole trafficking problem is coming because more people want to attend on specific, big-ticket panels and most of those events show up all on one day. I know Sunday is Children’s Day, but not every event has to be Children’s Day (in fact, they weren’t – The 4400 got a Sunday slot), and so they’re not taking advantage of the whole span of their schedule. Greater intelligence in granting more breathing room to these big studio panels, or anything else that would go into Hall H, would release some of the tension around SDCC these days.

So, anyway, these are just a few things that occurred to me after experiencing Comic-Con this year. It’s so much fun that it’s worth it to fix, and so I wouldn’t complain if I didn’t care. I’d love to see some of these problems get fixed by next year.

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