Friday, July 19, 2013
The experience of Comic-Con starts when you’re still blocks away from the San Diego Convention Center.
San Diegans are used to seeing superheroes and vampires take over downtown every summer for Comic-Con, which draws 130,000 attendees. But for those, who've never been, here's an introduction.
“Welcome to Comic-Con, welcome to San Diego everybody,” yells Max, a sign spinner from Ocean Beach. You know those guys - they're the ones standing on street corners spinning those big arrow signs. As he spins, flips, and "freezes" his sign, he hopes to lure passersby to a pop up shop set up by the TV station TBS. It’s a cereal bar, with 37 flavors of breakfast cereal.
This is just one of the temporary shops that dot the landscape as one makes their way through the Gaslamp.
The walk up to Comic-Con is a bit like walking the streets of Las Vegas. People try to hand you promotional cards, or passes to some movie-themed party.
Crossing the street to the convention center can be scary. You cross in mobs, since there are only a couple of crossways. This is the first taste of the kind of crowd submersion you'll experience in Comic-Con's exhibit hall. But you're still on the street, surrounded by fans and collectors. On your right is a Harry Potter, on your left a wolverine. Some costumes are quite.... small. There’s a lot of skin, latex and fishnets at Comic-Con.
Once I'm safely across the street about to enter, it’s hard not to notice a man on stilts, putting on a wookiee costume.
“I’m just combing my wookie hair, trying to get my wookie stilts on.”Chris is with the San Diego Star Wars Society. He’ll spend his day inside a 7ft 3inch wookie costume as Chewbacca, Han Solo’s hairy sidekick. I remind him how hot it is outside. "I actually have ice packs in different parts of the costume, they have little inside pockets," he explains.
Once inside, Chris will stop every two or three feet for someone to take his photo. He also gets "Star Wars" lines yelled at him. "Yeah, they yell things like 'Move over walking carpet' or 'Laugh it up fuzzball.'"
We part ways. I say goodbye, Chris says "May the force be with you" and gives me a wookie yell.
Once inside, I see a line of people in costumes, all holding weapons.
"Guns, knives, swords, grenades. Some of them are homemade, some are replicas," explains Jim who works for a private security firm hired by Comic-Con to inspect all weapons at the door.
An attendee walks up and hands Jim a revolver. "It doesn't open. See how it has an orange plug in the top? That tell us it's a replica. And there are no rounds in the cylinder," Jim shows me. "So once we’ve determined that it’s harmless, we’ll go ahead and put a tag on it." Tagged weapons tell other security folks the weapons been inspected and are safe.
Lee from Hawaii went through inspection. He has a tin can that looks like a grenade on his costume. "Today I’m dressed as a character from the video game 'Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2,'" says Lee. He's in the Navy in real life. He’s wearing full camos and combat gear. "Literally these are the pants I wore in Afghanistan. I came back in October," says Lee. He had to mail fake explosives for his costume to a friend in San Diego because he couldn’t carry them on the plane. Lee's here with his brothers and sister-in-law. "We’re all normal people. One of them is an emergency room doctor, a federal officer and a couple of people who work for the government," says Lee, pointing to his family standing close by.
Time to go in the exhibit hall. It’s a quarter mile long, filled with booths set up by movie studios, TV stations, video game companies and comics. It feels like being in a casino crossed with a theme park.
There’s a long line of people waiting at the booth for "The Hunger Games" movies. Word is they’re giving out mockingjay pins like the ones worn in the movie. A woman named Jessica from LA says she and her friends will wait for an hour if they have to. "It’s worth it. This is one of the hot freebie items they give away," says Jessica.
There are so many people in the exhibit hall, it takes me 20 minutes to move just a few booths away. I come upon a pink and purple land with sparkly fringe. It’s the "My Little Pony" booth. I asked young Makala what happened when she saw the booth. “I freaked out,” she exclaims.
All the boys seemed to be next door in Hasbro's other booth featuring Lego-like dioramas. A little boy named Gabe describes his favorite Lego display, which is miniature zombie invasion. "There’s a little zombie robbing a bank for thousands and thousands of dollars," Gabe laughs. Gabe's wearing a little fedora; very nattily dressed for Comic-Con.
"And this woman here with this zombie is smiling for some freaking reason," says Gabe, pointing to a corner of the invasion diorama. "The zombie even has claws."
Of course, there are more zombies at AMC's "The Walking Dead" booth. Just like on the show, they wander a small prison yard, pulling on the chain link. One breaks character and calls me over, which is a little surprising. His name is DJ and he’s an actor from LA. "I’m not supposed to be talking, but I just wanted to let you all know that this is a great thing for actors to be involved with as they go after their dream," says Gabe.
And that’s what a lot of fans are doing this weekend at Comic-Con: living the dream.