As someone who has been obsessed with pop culture since a young age, I’ve always wanted to go to San Diego Comic-Con. Whether because of the absurd amount of entertainment experiences that are exclusive to these few days, or the apparent omnipresence of Kevin Smith that makes the high school-aged version of myself still excited, Comic-Con seemed like a cultural pilgrimage that I’ve always needed to take. After years of watching panels, hearing announcements, and feeling like I was missing out on one of entertainment’s biggest moments each year, I finally got to go to San Diego Comic-Con this year—an overwhelming, exciting, and absolutely draining experience that I absolutely loved.
Despite my wanting to go for decades, I am not what you would consider a “comic book convention guy.” Most fantasy stuff bores me to tears, sci-fi often seems silly to me, I own maybe three comics, and I don’t think I’ve ever made it through a single episode of any anime. When another attendee asked what my “fandoms” were, I responded, “uhhhh, Better Call Saul?” I have nerdy interests—as we all do in some form or another—but being that this was only my second comic book convention, I wasn’t entirely sure what my takeaways from this experience would be.
My first day at SDCC felt like a great microcosm of all the possibilities that this event contained. Over the course of the day, I got to see Chris Pine sit in front of the giant Hall H screen like a child for the world premiere of the Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves trailer and Hugh Grant talk about how much he enjoyed S&M. I got to see the passion and love fans had for a fandom that I knew nothing about at the Teen Wolf: The Movie panel. I walked the convention center floor, where I saw everything from a four-ton Bowser made of LEGO to a giant Squid Game Funko Pop display. I was able to watch Mike Judge talk to Paul Scheer about the influence of Peanuts cartoons on Beavis and Butt-Head, hear Patton Oswalt geek out about Reddit theories at the Severance panel, and later that night, go to our early screening of Prey.
But on that first day, I was able to see just how much one convention could contain, and just how many possibilities and fandoms could be intertwined into one massive event. If I worried that my interests wouldn’t be represented, that never entered my mind after the first day. It didn’t matter what movies/television/video games/whatever I enjoyed, there was truly something for everyone. If anything, there might’ve been too much to be enjoyed.
The best way to describe my first convention—the first SDCC held in three years—would be overwhelming. Not only is the convention center massive, with tons of rooms with their own panels and events, but the surrounding area is overrun with incredible things to do. The event covers several hotels, various themed installations all over the place, screenings, signings, and just an absurd amount of possibilities. No matter where I was at any given time, I felt like there were at least five other opportunities I was missing. On Friday, as I sat at the Rings of Power Hall H panel hosted by Stephen Colbert, I heard that one of my favorite comedians, Paul F. Tompkins, was hosting a Marvel animation panel on the second floor above me. And even though I loved seeing plenty of panels with celebrities I’ve loved for years, sitting still for an hour at a time always felt like I was missing incredible things outside the walls of whatever panel I was at.
If anything, I felt like a shark that always had to keep moving. Stopping for any reason meant the absolute exhaustion of this experience would hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt like I consisted of nothing but adrenaline, hastily eaten snacks while walking to the next event, and fueled by my passion for said pieces of entertainment. Yet even though I felt like I never stopped over the course of SDCC, I can’t help in hindsight to think of the things I missed out on—as experiencing everything the convention has to offer, or even everything you’d want to do is impossible. I never got to go to several pop-up activations for things like What We Do in the Shadows, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, or Smith’s Mooby’s restaurant. I never got to go to Stern Pinball’s exhibit, and I never felt like I had enough time to explore the show floor to the extent that I would’ve liked. Despite there being an Bob’s Burgers exhibit and a House of the Dragon exhibit right outside my hotel room, I never had enough time to accomplish everything I wanted.
Yet, I don’t mean this to be a complaint about my time at SDCC, but rather, there’s so many remarkable thing to see, it’s insane just how much you can do and still miss so many brilliant things. SDCC also showed me just how diligent and passionate these fans are, and how much they love these entertainments deep to their core. People slept outside the convention center for days, just for the chance to see Marvel’s Hall H panel. I don’t know that I have the patience or dedication to any piece of entertainment in order to undergo sleeping on concrete for several days. And I say that as someone who has gone to days-long music festivals, and camped out overnight at a Black Friday on Black Friday in order to get $5 seasons of Boy Meets World. I can’t imagine experiencing this convention without the benefit of having tickets to these sought-after events, but in a way, it made me appreciate that devotion to loving entertainment—in whatever form—with so much fervor.
On Saturday—my last full day at the convention—I spend the majority of the day at the iconic Hall H. While I had been there every day for a variety of events, nothing could prepare me for the experience that was all day at Hall H. From the very beginning of the day, almost every seat in the hall was packed, with even more people outside waiting for their opportunity to get in. I never dared go to the bathroom, and my only sustenance was trail mix I accidentally spilled at the bottom of my backpack that was packed with swag. But again, it was fascinating to see these fandoms that I never had any interest in overwhelmed by seeing the people they’ve loved and admired for years. I’ve never watched a single episode of a Star Trek series, but seeing their panel made me want to give that universe a chance. I’ve never read the work of Neil Gaiman, but The Sandman panel made me want to pick up his work. The entire experience made me want to explore these worlds that I had never opened myself up to in any real way.
But the entire week felt like it was building to Marvel’s Hall H panel. Throughout the week, I heard rumors and theories about who would be showing up, or what the studio would present from their upcoming movies and television shows. Little did I—or the rest of the crowd—expect for Marvel to announce their plans for the next several years, through the end of Phase Six. The entire crowd felt like they were on the edge of their seats throughout, as they showed us trailers for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Secret Invasion, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 that were only for us. Watching Marvel announce so many things at once seemed like I was seeing the type of panel that Marvel fans would talk about for years, and I could say I was there for it all.
This presentation also felt like a celebration, not just of the future of Marvel, but for the bonds that had been made in the MCU. James Gunn and the cast of Guardians tearfully watched the trailer for what is supposedly the final Guardians adventure, but even more powerful was the presentation of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever that ended the presentation. As the cast and director Ryan Coogler took the stage, showing off the trailer for the first time was like this group celebrating the life of Chadwick Boseman and the power that he brought to the role of Black Panther. As Coogler presented the trailer, it was hard not to tear up. Not only were the characters in this world mourning the loss of T’Challa, but the audience in Hall H were continuing to mourn the loss of Boseman. But even though I’m sure everyone in that hall wished Boseman was there to watch along, the moment felt like an appreciation for Boseman, and for what the Black Panther series means to so many people.
Later on that night, with no events to go to, and no panels to watch, I decided to finally walk around the convention center without any rhyme or reason, without anywhere to go. I thought about the absolutely incredible time I had, and started to think about what my expectations had been versus what the reality was, and what I had most appreciated about the event on a larger level.
For me, Comic-Con was a place that taught me I should experience what I can while I can. I’ve spent most of the last month in the hospital, as my mother had to have a major operation, and it made me appreciate the time I have, and that I shouldn’t take it for granted. Sure, there are too many things to do all at once, but having that many opportunities all in one place is a wonderful problem to have.
But Comic-Con also showed me that everyone should be proud of what they love and what entertainment moves them. If you love something, there’s someone else in this world who has the same passions and interests as you do. And on that note, it’s wonderful that there’s a place where these entertainments come to life, where you can see the stars of your favorite show or movie, interact with other people that love what you love, and absorb all the love and excitement that yourself and others have for that entertainment. I felt that joy in everything from panels for a seemingly unending wave of Marvel properties to just sitting around watching people taking photos with cosplayers. The entertainment becomes real, but so do those other people who share the same passion.
And to that point, the most important thing I’ve taken away from Comic-Con is the community that sprouts up around this massive experience. Even though that experience can be overwhelming, spending several days with the same people experiencing the same things almost feels like a small town that sprouts up for a few days every year. I talked to complete strangers about how my con was going, discussed entertainment with people in lines, and felt a sense of community with my fellow audience members as we sat through hours of panels at Hall H on Saturday. I got to meet some of my coworkers that I’ve only known through Slack for the first time and had a wonderful time with them, and I can imagine there are plenty of fans similarly meeting people they’ve only known via the internet at this convention as well. Even on my plane home, I met two people in my row and talked to them for hours, having the best flight of my life. We’ve exchanged numbers and have been talking ever since. While the crowds might be insane, the lines are ridiculous, and the experience can be overwhelming, by the end of the trip, I understood that this sense of community is what keeps people coming back to San Diego year after year.
And several days after getting home from my first Comic-Con, yeah, I’m still exhausted, but I already can’t wait to do it all over again next year. I can’t wait to return to this relatively small community of fans who just want to experience the entertainment they love alongside other fans who also love what they love.
Find out more about what happened during Marvel Studio’s Hall H panel: