With slumping shoulders, we sadly glance up at the blue sign above us as we slowly approach and with heavy hearts we read the white writing:
“See you next year!”
And with that…it’s over. Again. And a serious case of the “post-convention blues” begins to settle into my soul.
It’s over. Again.
It’s impossible for me to write about Comic-Con without turning this into a very personal tribute to my favorite Geek Event of the year, because in my mind, that’s exactly what it is. Okay, sure…the sheer volume of people and size of the crowds would lead one to believe that it’s exactly the opposite of “personal”. But, I can’t bring myself to believe that.
Comic-Con, like much of life, is what you make of it: you determine the sort of experience you’re going to have, how much you’re going to enjoy yourself, and how you eventually come to feel about your adventure: “loved it”, “tolerated it”, or “hated it”. All right, fine. I realize that may be simplifying things just a TAD. But, that’s really how you have to approach the event if you want to have a “good time”.
See, my wife and I have reached a sort of “Zen” state when it comes to the event: we KNOW there will be crowds, lines, sore feet, cynical con-goers, and greedy exhibitors. We realize that each of these things will threaten to sour our experience and diminish the amount of sheer joy we could feel. But we refuse to let these things ruin our fun, take the wind out of our sails, or “(insert corny cliché here)”. No, not us: we accept the realities of the Convention, make our plans, set our goals, and proceed to have the absolute best time we possibly can.
Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a purely rose-tinted, romantic look back at the events of last week. Because of the size of the event, the crowds, and the number of simultaneously occurring events, you’re essentially forced into choosing one spectacular activity rather than another. Of course, this is definitely a “first world problem”, so I can’t complain too much about that. The lack of organization despite the fact that the convention’s fundamentals remain the same year to year is just mind boggling. Comic-Con is ludicrously-crowded: every year it seems the amount of passes given out and sold to people almost triples in number. It’s been hyped to such ridiculous levels that anyone and everyone who even SLIGHTLY enjoys something “Geek” feels like they simply HAVE to attend. It’s become more “mainstream” and much less “exclusive”. We can thank the best geek websites and cable stations such as FX for enchanting the masses and adding to the hyperbole.
But…IS it exaggeration?
(cue sweeping music, imagine me tilting my head to the side as a melancholy smile plays upon my face)
Comic-Con is “Nerd-vana”. And not just because of the amazing panels and guests (the X-Men: Days of Future Past panel ALONE would’ve been worth any wait), events (day-long genre/geek film festivals that come with admission?!), displays (the Sideshow Collectibles booth NEVER ceases to amaze me year after year), and merchandise (no matter WHAT your main geek interest, everywhere you look there is SOMETHING that will call to you, make you turn your head as you say, “Why yes…please take my money, because that item simply MUST go home with me.”)
No…it’s Nerd-vana because it’s like the Mothership calling me home. It’s my home away from home. More specifically, it’s a haven. It is a place where you can feel free to be your most unabashed inner geek and not have to worry about people judging you (for the most part, anyway). It’s a place where the guy and gal beside you glance at you in your Spidey hoddie, turn, raise their Iron-Man and Batgirl hoodie-clothed arms, and high five you. It’s a place where you can turn to the person in line next to you and strike up an in-depth conversation about your favorite comic, genre film or character or TV show, video game, or collectible and talk passionately for hours without seeming to ever take a breath. You can run around in cosplay and instead of people looking at you like a freak, they smile, take pictures, pose beside you for snapshots, inquire about your costume, give you “thumbs up”, give impressed nods, and prop you up rather than diminish you. That sort of unspoken, understood camaraderie and sense of kinship is very important to someone like me.
I grew up as the outsider: the smaller nerd who was always picked on by the bullies. The little guy who was the victim of nearly daily ass-kickings and incessant teasing. The short, skinny kid who was a geek back when geek wasn’t “cool”. Granted, this geek/nerd has done fairly well for himself: I’ve worked with some of the biggest names in horror on some amazing projects in Hollywood. I continue to make a name for myself as I reach for my lifelong dreams. Not to mention…I married the Prom Queen: a beautiful, intelligent, funny, warm, compassionate, and sexy woman who understands, accepts, and loves me without question.
BUT…some of the sting from memories of youth still remain. So to be at Comic-Con and to feel that sense of “welcome” everywhere I go for four and a half straight days? It’s nearly indescribable to a geek like me.
Hell, even the local businesses go “all out” for Comic-Con. Granted, I understand this is mainly a commercially motivated decision. But I can’t help but smile like an idiot when I walk into the local pubs and eateries and see the wait staff and management dressed in cosplay or wearing their favorite “geek”/genre shirt.
I guess it affects me the way it does because I’ve never really grown up…or maybe because I’m not a cynic. I see “those types” all the time at Comic-Con: grumpy, jaded, “cool” industry folks who go to Comic-Con not because they WANT to…but because they HAVE to (and perhaps because they can “free-drink” themselves into a stupor at the über-cool parties). Yes, these sarcastic and contemptuous “types” at Comic-Con probably ARE judging their fellow geek in some way, sadly. Whether they’re staring in disdain at the cosplayers, thinking, “Man…what a nerd. Glad I’m too cool for that.” (even though they’re at Comic-Con…so in a way, they’re just as big a geek) or simply polluting the environment by COMPLETELY missing the point: they’re there. And they fall into the category of threats I previously mentioned: the negative detractors that will try to seep into my consciousness and cloud my outlook while in attendance.
But I don’t let the skies darken. Instead, on the short drive between LA and San Diego, I look to my wife and think about the reality of the moment. Of how lucky I am to be where I am, doing what I’m doing, and WHO I am.
Due to industry credits, every year my wife and I get to attend Comic-Con as Professionals. My wife gets just as excited about the event as I do, sitting down with me beforehand to help plan a strategy for the nearly five-day event. Once there, she happily and willingly cosplays as the Gwen Stacy, Marion Ravenwood, or Harley Quinn to my Peter Parker, Indiana Jones, and Joker: and I know I’m biased, but damnit…the woman is one of the most knockout-gorgeous gals at the show (she was Prom Queen for a very specific reason, folks).
We enter Preview Night or line up at 5am on Friday with our shopping list in-hand, tackling the Exhibitor Hall with a strategy so that we can acquire a meager few Exclusives for ourselves while also doing the bulk of our holiday shopping. We wait hours in the Hasbro or Mattel line so that we can grab gifts that we know will delight friends and family members back home who can’t attend but are just as geeky as we are.
We spend early morning hours sipping coffee, sitting patiently in an impromptu makeup chair in our hotel room as my friend, David Woodruff (an amazing makeup artist who I’m sure will one day hit heights that his well-known and acclaimed Father has) applies the incredible Joker/Harley scars he created for us.
We pay the closest of attention to the smallest details of our cosplay: perfecting the makeup application, adorning our suits with the intricate minutia that give life to and tell the story of our characters. We pose on the steps of the Convention Center for “Harleypalooza” (our favorite event: a gathering of DC Cosplayers- specifically Harley and Joker cosplayers). We do it all with a real or prosthetically-enhanced smile on our faces because even though we technically did some work promoting my latest film endeavor (my friend, Todd Nuñes’ film, Scary Larry) while in San Diego…the trip was like a vacation for us: a very crowded, sensory-overloaded vacation, but a vacation nonetheless.
To quote Ben Folds: “I am…the luckiest”.
And if you’re a fellow geek…you can be too. Sure, maybe you have to pay more money than I do. Maybe the Trek (see what I did there?) will be longer. Maybe you’ll fly Solo (see what I did THERE?!) rather than with a buddy or mate.
But the point is: you can be a part of the beautiful madness. You can visit Artist’s Alley and discover amazing independent artists and their incredible works. You can get caught up in the madness to own the latest, greatest Hasbro Exclusive Star Wars figure. You can make your way through line after line, hoping to savor those few brief moments in the Walking Dead booth. You can stop by the tables of established artists like Adam Hughes and discuss the “Joy of Indiana Jones” with him as he sketches a profile of the great archaeologist in your copy of his book, “Cover Run”.
You can leisurely walk the awesome streets of San Diego’s Gaslamp District at night and nonchalantly run into celebrities like Max (Bates Motel, My Soul to Take) Thieriot, a guy so nice that he posed for pics with every single person who asked him, even though he was clearly headed to someplace in a hurry. You can sneak into exclusive after-hour parties where you can then rub elbows with the stars of The Walking Dead, Dexter, or Game of Thrones (I’m not going to say if we actually did this or not).
You can nearly get run down by the security entourage escorting Tom (The Avengers, Thor) Hiddleston to his next destination…only to quickly regain your senses and reach out for a quick high-five from the young star before he disappears behind a security door (it’s a good thing that he wasn’t Harrison Ford or Scarlett Johansson; if it had been, I might’ve fainted).
You can look all around you and see your greatest heroes and most dastardly villains come to life in the form of the most amazing cosplay you will EVER lay gaze upon. You’ll drool at the sight of the hottest males and females to ever dress as Batman, PowerGirl, Harley Quinn, Superman, Black Cat, Lara Croft, or WHATEVER character “floats your boat” and you’ll try desperately to avoid tripping on your own tongue as you fumble for your camera and chase after the person to grab just a quick pic…as your wife struggles to keep up, shaking her head in dismay, thinking, “Seriously, how many shots of my husband and ANOTHER sexy cosplayer do I have to take today?”
Oops. I digress.
Bottom line: like us, you too can lose yourself for four-and-a-half days in the escape from reality…find a refuge from the glaring eyes of the general public…or simply bask in the awe-inspiring extent of magnified geekdom that is Comic-Con.
If you do…remember to make it your own very personal experience. Plan your attack, choose wisely, do what YOU want to do. And enjoy every thrilling minute of those four days.
“See you next year!”
I wouldn’t miss it.
BONUS COSPLAY GALLERY
Lito is an LA-based aspiring actor, writer, producer, and musician who studied at both Juilliard and the Indiana University School of Music. Lito had a featured role in David Mamet's film RED BELT, and also served as one of the producers of critically-acclaimed and award-winning documentaries such as NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY, MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD, and SCREAM: THE INSIDE STORY, which have been featured on A&E networks and in Entertainment Weekly. He lives in the Los Angeles area with his beautiful wife and is just trying to live the dream…all the while staying one step ahead of the supposed impending zombie apocalypse.