Comic-Con International is back and so is one of the things that makes it unique: the excitement over Hall H.
Once upon a time, a geeky fan could walk up to Comic-Con on opening day and buy a ticket to enter the gates of the pop culture kingdom. But then "Twilight" fell upon the land.
OK, it’s not entirely the fault of "Twilight" moms, but that sparkling vampire film did bring an influx of obsessive fans just as Marvel was launching Phase One of its Cinematic Universe. So around 2009, things began to change for Comic-Con and those attendees who were determined to get into Hall H.
"The lines are crazy, right? And people are sleeping out, and you're getting tired because you're like, yes, I did 12 hours by myself in line," said Brooklyn, who agreed to share an insider perspective as long as I didn’t use her full name. "Why are we doing that?"
Because being a geek is all about passionate commitment.
Brooklyn runs one of multiple Hall H line groups where people work together so they can take shifts to go sleep, eat and use the bathroom since they may be in line for more than 24 hours.
"I read on Reddit that their group is 100 people this year for Hall H Saturday," Brooklyn said. "So it kind of intensified where you had to be more organized because everybody around you was also being more organized."
She has a Google spreadsheet to organize shifts for people waiting in line for Hall H and EE — that's how insiders refer to the lines for "Everything Else."
The 6,000-plus panel room is one of the things that has come to define Comic-Con. To some attendees, it represents that Comic-Con has sold out to Hollywood and grown too big. To outsiders, it’s that annual insanity of people lining up and camping out overnight at the San Diego Convention Center. And to the people waiting in line, well, even they have a hard time explaining why they do it.
"You stare at the sidewalk, you're staring at the gravel for so long, you go into, like, sensory deprivation," James Rolfe told me while waiting in a 2015 Hall H line. "Then if you get lucky, you get into something, and then you see something awesome, and then it's like sensory overload. And then you're just, like it feels awesome that you're part of something. I'm here for the spectacle."
Attending Comic-Con now requires tactical skill if you want to get an exclusive toy or autograph or attend Hall H when Marvel has a panel. But it’s worth it.
"We're all going to the same thing and we're all hyper," Brooklyn said. "And then when you get in that room and you've worked that hard, and you're with all your friends when Tom Hiddleston walks out dressed as Loki."
That panel was in 2013.
"When everybody's camped out and then sat in that room all day long for that Marvel panel and the feel of the crowd is just something that you won't get anywhere else," Brooklyn said.
But not everyone gets that.
"My husband thinks I'm crazy," Penny Goodman told me in 2009 while spending the night on the concrete outside Hall H waiting for the "Twilight: New Moon" panel. "He still doesn't understand why I want to do this. He's at home with our daughter, and they just all shake their heads and look at me and my mother, too."
But in some ways, camping overnight is a geek badge of honor, proving how much you love something. I never quite understood why Twilight moms were not embraced by a lot of the other fandoms at Comic-Con. Those Twilight moms were fans just like all those other geeky attendees who attended Comic-Con before them, but they just happened to be older women and teenage girls, a demographic that had not been seen in such large numbers before.
But Comic-Con attendance overall has been growing and that has contributed to a number of issues. Brooklyn remembers joining a crowd as it surged forward to enter the tents for the Hall H line.
"So there was one time I was sitting on the planters and people were waiting for them to open the Hall H line, and then they opened it, everybody rushed to go into the tent," Brooklyn said. "In hindsight, I should not have joined everybody, but my feet were off the ground and the crowd was just carrying me. I was like, 'I might just get trampled at this point, right?' But luckily, I was being carried and then everybody afterwards tries to find their group because everybody just rushed in."
Brooklyn never intended to start running a line group for 60 people. She was drawn to Comic-Con in 2011 because she was tired of just reading about and watching YouTube videos. She wanted to be more immersed in pop culture.
"I love the Godzilla movies," Brooklyn said. "So getting to go into a warehouse that had completely been gutted out and then retransformed to be like going through a Godzilla movie was amazing. But you hear about those things at Comic-Con, and you're like, 'Well, that sounds so cool. I want to go.' And then you hear about the panels and you're like, 'I wish I had been at the Doctor Who panel with David Tenant. That would be amazing.' And that was my original draw, was the panels and the activations and different things like that. But now, with it being a monumental task, I would say that I go back for my friends and everything else is a bonus."
And that's important to remember because if all you want to do is get into Hall H, you either have to dedicate yourself entirely to making that happen — which means camping overnight, finding line groups, making friends in line— or be prepared not to get in.
"Figure out what you're into. What are you comfortable with? If you're not comfortable sleeping out, that's fine," she said.
Because if you just want to experience Hall H, there can be "walk-in" days. So consider just heading over to Hall H when there's a panel you want to attend and see if there's no line. But don’t expect that on a Saturday when Warner Brothers and Marvel are bringing their superheroes.
But the most important thing to remember is that Comic-Con can be whatever you make it. You can do panels or shop or game or cosplay or just hang out with friends and kindred souls.
"You bond on a level that you won't bond with other people on a daily basis," Brooklyn said. "It's a place where I don't get a lot of judgment, and that's always nice."
In other words, Chewie, we’re home.