San Diego Comic-Con (also known as “SDCC”) is widely regarded among fans as a “geek mecca,” and when you arrive at the convention, it’s not hard to see why. Boasting over 160,000 attendees in recent years, it’s been called the largest comic convention in the United States. It can be exhilarating for a newbie and also bit overwhelming at times. For me, being Latina, queer, and from the Midwest, the diversity that the Comic-Con experience offered was mind-blowing.
My first impression was “HOLY SHIT! There are so many other Latinxs here!” It was incredible not to feel like an anomaly for a change. It was so massively diverse, with attendees from all sorts of backgrounds. One of the coolest experiences I had was witnessing the creator of Steven Universe, Rebecca Sugar, come out as bisexual during a sing-along panel about the show. It was both moving and powerful to hear a creator speak about how important it was to them that they feel represented by media, to create a show that makes her feel like she exists and to provide that for others too. Hearing this kind of incredibly moving, powerful, and political statement from the creator of a children’s show was so beautifully subversive. This was not the only subversive moment I witnessed at SDCC, however.
SDCC takes “crowded” to a whole other level, and getting food and finding a place to eat it without leaving the convention center can be a challenge, to say the least. I searched for a bite to eat on Sunday, settled on a pretzel, and I sat to enjoy it behind what I believe was a maintenance closet. I people-watched through the large glass windows of the convention center as I munched on my pretzel, and I did a double take when I saw two topless women standing in front of the window with pasties on and signs in their hands. I learned that these women, Annie Ma and Adlie T., decided to come to Comic-Con to protest in favor of the Free the Nipple campaign. In reality, their “protest” was more like an interactive performance and conversation. They allowed people to draw on their backs and bodies, to speak with them about the campaign, and they did an incredible job educating about sexism, particularly in the geek community. When I asked what inspired them to do this at SDCC, Annie said it was “because costumes are not consent, and there are still people who don’t understand that.” As they continued their demonstration and education with the crowd of Comic-Con goers and passersby, they were joined by Zach Whitcomb, a man who was inspired by their conversation. When asked about his knowledge of the campaign and interests in it, Zach stated that it wasn’t really about him, and he just wanted to show support against sexism (be still, my heart; that’s an ally if ever there was one). Zach followed Annie and Adlie’s example in removing his shirt and covering his nipples with tape, and the three continued engaging others in conversation, as the crowd grew larger and interest climbed.
Demonstrations and social messages like Free the Nipple can thrive in a space like SDCC because of the sheer number of people, and the engaging, friendly energy of Comic-Con. Though it may be overwhelming at times, there is always a sense of community through geekdom, and a jovial energy in the air.
After all of this excitement, I realized that some of my fellow Minneosta geeks were vendors at Comic-Con. Chandra Reyer is a self-published comic creator who has also created a dinosaur coloring book (much of her work centers on her love of dinosaurs). Her work can be found on her personal website and on Amazon. Chandra was selling her art in SDCC’s Artist Alley with Gillian, her 10-year-old daughter. Gillian enjoys making and selling wands, as well as drawing, sculpture, and puppet making. This was Chandra’s fourth year attending SDCC as an artist. Local Twin Cities author J. M. Lee was also promoting his work at SDCC. He is the author of Shadows of the Dark Crystal, a fantasy novel that is the first in a series of four prequels to The Dark Crystal, the Jim Henson cult classic from 1982. Shadows of the Dark Crystal is available wherever books are sold, and we’ve profiled both the book and the author right here on the site.
I decided to touch base with them shortly after Comic-Con to see what their experiences had been. I asked Chandra what SDCC was like for her and her daughter as artists, and she said that the exposure SDCC offers could not be beat. “SDCC is a great place to be seen and to network with other artists, because ‘all the big names are here,'” said Reyer. Lee spoke about the SDCC experience from the perspective of an author promoting his writing there for the first time and said, “It was great. I attended as a professional/guest, so I can only speak for my experience, but registration, programming, and finding things was a breeze. I think the main key for success was to admit early on that I was going to miss 90 percent of everything . . . but that’s just an excuse to keep going back.” He also stated that there were “many families having a great time at SDCC, even though I think most of the main events are geared toward older geeks. I think keeping the environment safe goes a long way toward encouraging young adults to enjoy the convention, and encouraging parents and guardians to encourage their teens to wander freely and explore.” Reyer also spoke about Gillian’s enjoyment of SDCC, stating that her daughter is very into cosplay and that SDCC was a great place her to enjoy cosplay. “She was a very specific Link one day this year and it pleased her that people knew exactly which one that was,” she said.
Lee and Reyer both offered some wise advice to any artists, writers, and vendors thinking of venturing out to SDCC. Lee suggests that it is best to go with a plan, and pace yourself so that you don’t run out of energy too quickly. He also said that it’s a good idea to set up giveaways before your signings to attract more visitors. Reyer related that it helped her to attend SDCC as an attendee first, and as a vendor later. Going as an attendee first gave her an idea of what to expect as an artist at SDCC. She said that artists new to SDCC should also try a portfolio review, and try to attend any panels about intellectual property law or about other professional artists.
Ultimately, while SDCC can certainly be costly and taxing, it is absolutely an experience to be had. The diversity of both the attendees and the topics and fandoms covered creates an atmosphere of inclusion within this most geeky of spaces. First-time goers should book their hotels well in advance (as in, right away once your tickets are purchased), and pace themselves at the convention; this place is huge and you will not be able to see everything in your first go. Above all else, remember basic self care: water, fruits and veggies, three square meals, and hygiene. It’s far too easy to fall into a habit of living off of coffee and junky snack foods, which will only drain your energy and make you crash. See you next year, SDCC 2017!