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Jolene goes to San Diego Comic Con 2019

At the end of my first San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) in 2011, my best friend and I walked through the Convention Center doors one last time, into the late afternoon heat of the Gaslamp District. I turned to her and said, “I feel so sad… this is like leaving Narnia.” It was then that I knew I’d be returning to get my geek fix year after year.

Fast forward to now, mid-2019 and I have another Con under my belt, another exhausting weekend equal parts exhilarating and stressful. SDCC may not be a vacation, but it provides a special kind of solace to anyone who has felt out of place for being dubbed a “fan” of something. The mainstream, negative connotation of “fan” simply does not exist at San Diego Comic Con, and for many of us, that is a welcome relief that we relish for the long weekend.

On Thursday, July 18, I made the trek down to San Diego and met up with my friends at our hotel. I was lucky enough to score a reservation in late 2018, at a hotel that was less than 20 minutes from the Convention Center. Our plan was to use Uber rather than pay crazy parking fees.

After some initial unwinding and unpacking, we started to strategize for the weekend. One important thing that my friends and I do is have a tentative plan. Yes, we all know I’m a massive planner, but it’s always good to communicate your intentions for the weekend, especially at SDCC. My friends and I try our best to see where we can do things together, vs. where will be splitting up. This makes for the least amount of problems, respecting each others’ interests, and overall ensures that we do the things we want to, without feeling obligated to someone else.

FRIDAY, 7/19/19

Friday morning began the chaos – Christine had left for the Con before Caitlin and I even woke up! We took our time getting ready and having breakfast while Christine was already in her first line of the weekend.

My first outfit of the weekend: Woody from Toy Story!

One thing to note about SDCC: You will wait in line at some point in the weekend. It’s good to expect waiting and be surprised if there is no line, instead of having it the other way around.

Caitlin and I started SDCC with a big gamble: Hall H. While many had literally slept overnight to make in for panels, Caitlin and I moseyed on over to the end of the line. Caitlin was a little more skeptical than I was, and she had a right to be – Hall H is notorious for overnight campers, huge studio panels and very exciting surprises. We took a risk by arriving, sans wristband, after 7AM.

The good news? We were able to get in! Once we were walking down the grass underneath the tents, SDCC suddenly became very real. I could see the sparkle in Caitlin’s eyes – the adrenaline had hit, and we were in full Comic Con mode.

In Hall H, we sat under the big screens in disbelief that we’d made it in without camping overnight. The first panel of the day was Writing Avengers: Endgame, and was a very informative discussion about, well, writing Avengers: Endgame. The writers discussed how they approached certain occurrences in the movie, which I will not mention here in case anyone still hasn’t seen it. The next panel was A Conversation with the Russo Brothers. While I’m still familiarizing myself with them and their work, I still very much appreciated this panel, as it was a glimpse not only into their personalities, but into some of their work processes and future projects.

One of my favorite parts of the panel was surely at the beginning, when the lights dimmed and clips from their most notable works were shown on the screens. The entire Hall of 6700+ people cheered and ooooh’d during their favorite scenes from Avengers films, as well as belly-laughed during scenes from Arrested Development and Community. Being amongst the fans at SDCC is one of the most special parts to me, year after year.

The rest of our day took us to the exhibit floor, full of artists, studio booths, signings and a sea of people, clamoring for the next big toy or simply a glimpse of their favorite actor. The exhibit floor can be so overwhelming!

Another thing about wandering the convention center: you witness all kinds of fun, amazing things. For instance:

I’d like to interject here and say I really did not take as many photos as I normally do. When I realized this, I felt like I’d missed out until a friend said, “Maybe you didn’t take many pictures because you were really in the moment.” I hope that’s true! But unfortunately, I don’t have many pictures of the exhibit floor to insert here.

We moved onto lunch at The Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes, a café themed to fit the ever popular The Good Place. After a hearty lunch, Christine and I decided to check out an off-site activation while Caitlin and our new friend Megan went to a panel. On the way to our next adventure, we encountered a SYFY marching band in full swing, lead by Orlando Jones.

An off-site activation refers to something that is not officially part of SDCC, meaning a badge is not required to visit it. Many studios, networks, series and movies have taken advantage of this off-site idea to present their offerings to a wider audience. The area surrounding the Convention Center is full of off-sites just waiting to be explored, no badge necessary!

A couple blocks over was the activation for Pennyworth, and upcoming DC-universe series. Guarded by intimidating men in fancy suits, the Pennyworth activation brought the 1960’s spy culture to life, giving guests a taste of a secret underground club, as well as some less pleasantly-themed surprises AKA a very Saw-esque photo opp that we politely declined.

Soon we were back to the Convention Center, hopping in line for the Carnival Row panel, featuring one of Amazon Prime Video’s upcoming series. Similarly to the morning, we’d gotten in line quite last-minute and were not sure if we’d get into Ballroom 20. After about an hour, we did! I thoroughly enjoyed the Carnival Row panel, and not just because Orlando Bloom is indeed a handsome man. The actors were all clearly very passionate about the series, and the main writer really poured his heart into the story. It was very special to see some sneak peeks and hear about what went into the making of the series.

We went back to the exhibit floor to finally get some good photos of our group costume. Luckily, we found several Toy Story-themed photo opps that made for adorable photos!

Not long after, we had dinner and realized our first day at the Con was done. It was a whirlwind full of excitement, and it got us ready for the craziness that is Saturday.

SATURDAY 7/20/19

Saturday morning was much more stressful for me – I was planning on wearing heels all day (bad move) and attempting to get myself onto the IMDB Boat for a Marvel fan + Russo Brothers event… More on that later.

But first, Carnival Row!

Our first order of business was the Carnival Row offsite activation, put on by Amazon Prime Video. Since I attended the Chasing Happiness premiere, I knew I had to visit the Amazon activation, because they put on such amazing events.

The Amazon activation presented us with wristbands, a brochure, and a cute little bag of coins that we could trade for snacks like mini churros with caramel sauce, fruit, and pretzels. Free water bottles were in abundance, as were shaded areas and seats. I also very much appreciated the “Cosplay Corner,” an area that was set up with a professional photographer and perfect lighting. The photos I got there ended up being the only ones I got of my outfit that day!

We made our way to the Carnival Row portion, the only one out of the three we were interested in visiting. We got our fairy wings and were ready for a unique, immersive experience.

The premise of this upcoming Amazon Prime Video series is, in a nutshell, the story of a murder in Carnival Row, a dilapidated part of an industrial city reminiscent of Victorian Era London, where fairies, fawns and other mythological creatures have been forced to flee, due to Imperialism and war. Orlando Bloom plays the lead detective, uncovering the mysterious crime.

To help us dive into the world of Carnival Row, we were assigned roles, either Human or Fairy, and those roles dictated how we were treated by the actors inside the activation. Being a creature meant being an outsider, a poorly treated immigrant, judged by appearance and xenophobia. It was intimidating but very cleverly executed and timely in today's social climate. There was also a secret lounge run by the creatures, which acted as a safe haven where they could be accepted. It was incredibly done, and made me even more excited for the series.

After that, I split from Christine and Caitlin and had the single most awful experience I've ever had at any SDCC I've attended. Prior to the Con, there was a post on social media calling for "Marvel cosplayers" and fans "dressed in Marvel-themed outfits, for a photo op with the Russo Brothers on the IMDB Boat." They also mentioned that there would be "special gusts from the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Sounds incredible, right? Well, I power walked from MLK & 1st St. all the way to the Marina, behind the Convention Center, IN HEELS. The sun was blazing, my lashes were blowing in the wind, and my feet were throbbing. There was a line of fans, most were not dressed up - this was the first red flag.

Despite the instructions, many showed up with no themed outfits or costumes, but they were given wristbands anyway - another red flag. After literally 4+ hours of standing in the sun, we were given no instructions, and nothing was communicated to us, until they decided to number us. We were told that 300 people fit on the boat, so they were capping at capacity. I was #233 in line, so I was in! Or so I thought.

After they wrote numbers on our hands, they asked everyone in a Marvel outfit to step outside of the line and pose for a photo. It didn't make sense, and by the time I walked up to the group, I was somewhere in the back. Literally two minutes later, we were told to get back in line.

Another couple hours passed, and the line started to move. We'd seen the Russo Brothers on the boat - Kevin Smith has a monopoly on the IMDB Boat and interviews celebrities on the boat throughout the weekend. I suddenly had hope that I would get in and the event would still go on as promised.

Well, it was pretty much the opposite. By the time I got on the boat, I was sunburned, starving, and exhausted. They were letting us on in groups, again with no communication or information. I finally stepped foot on the boat, only to be met with a bunch of industry people, leaving me feeling totally out of place and wondering what was going on. I was hardly directed and started wandering around, eventually realizing the one gift we were getting was a sundae from Ben & Jerry's, themed after the Hulk.

That was it. Ice cream. I waited 5 hours in the hot sun for ice cream.

A friend who was ahead of me in line also received a Marvel pin, so I asked the woman in charge about it. She seemed confused and mentioned she was pretty sure they ran out - shortly after, I saw her scrambling to ask her assistants to bring something "so they had something to give the fans." It was sincerely the worst experience I've ever had, not because of the wait or because I didn't get anything. It felt horrible to feel so insignificant, to feel like a burden - it was the opposite of how Amazon treated their guests.

That being said, I had a pretty miserable rest of the day - it was past 4PM by this point, and most SDCC things close around 5-6PM. I wandered around the Gaslamp, desperately trying to find something to do that was still open. I eventually gave up and decided to try to catch a panel I thought I wouldn't be able to. Thankfully, it was wonderful, and there was no line to get in. I even saw the tail end of the panel before, which exposed me to a new show (which I happen to be watching as I write this blog!).

After my panels, I was out of options, so I reluctantly dragged myself into the Next Day Line (NDL), and yes, you read that correctly. It is a line for things that are the next day. Remember how on Friday morning Caitlin and I managed to get into Hall H without wristbands? Well, this time, we were getting our wristbands the night before.

Wristband distribution began at 9:30PM but by the time it got to us, it was LATE. We were happy to be in the B group but were even happier to return to our hotel room.

SUNDAY, 7/21/19

After less than 4 hours of sleep, we were up, putting on our best hunter garb, and ready to head back into the battlefield of Hall H. The first panel, Supernatural, was important to us not only because we love the show, but because it is entering its last season, and this panel would be their last.

We hopped in line and waited to see where we would be in Hall H. The line was full of Supernatural fans, some donning angel wings, many donning plaid, but few wearing hand-painted outerwear with their best friends!

Eventually we made it into Hall H and were the closest I've ever been! It was a highly emotional panel - even the actors were unable to hold the tears back. The atmosphere was electric, although many of us gave into our emotions very early on in the panel. Although I am a newer Supernatural fan, Sunday morning was a very special time for me, and I'm glad I was a part of it.

While it was difficult to say goodbye to Supernatural, I'm glad that the goodbye was supported by a real sense of camaraderie with the 6700+ other people in the room with me; we were bonded together by the people on the stage.

The Supernatural panel was followed by another that I was excited about - Riverdale. This is another thing I love about SDCC, there are so many opportunities to be your best fan self, no matter how different your interests may be.

I thoroughly enjoyed the Riverdale panel, but nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced next.

Christine and I headed back to the exhibit floor for one last time, and long story short, I was surprised with a wristband for the Riverdale signing! My heart almost leapt right out of my chest as I circled around the booth, trying to make sense of what an epic day I was already having.

I got in line and the signing began. Luckily, I kept myself calm, but I had no idea what I was going to say to the cast! Miraculously, I was able to muster up some actual conversation with each one. Roberto, the creator of the show, was first and most fans weren't really talking to him (such a shame!!!). I tried to eliminate some of the silence and told him the story about where my mom got her name, from the Archie comics. He loved that story and it felt great to put a smile on his face.

Next, I was able to tell Camila Mendes how happy I am that she is repping latinx people everywhere, and how amazing it is to see this kind of normalized representation. She told me that meant a lot to her, which of course meant a lot to me. Although no photos or phones were allowed, my bestie came through with some snaps while I was talking to KJ. It looks like a serious conversation, but we were talking about New Zealand! He's a really intense guy, and talking to him gave me much more of an understand of why he was casted as Archie.

Lili was next, and man, she is gorgeous! She was very easy to talk to, and I was reminded yet again that our perception of people in the media is off most of the time. After Lili was the person I'd wanted to meet the most - Cole. He is honestly one of the most warm, friendly people I have ever met in my entire life. He is magnetic and totally not how I would've expected him to be. I didn't get any sense of the hipster artist I perceive him to be, but I mean that in the best way possible.

It was so incredibly surreal, and to make things even more insane, I pulled myself together and got to meet one of my favorite authors, Lev Grossman, at another booth. It was almost like Sunday made up for the grief I experienced the previous day.

I'd just finished the first of The Magicians trilogy, and that book could not have come at a better time. I got to tell Lev how much the story meant to me, and despite being a fantasy story, there were so many things that spoke to me personally. Lev got pretty emotional and he reflected on his younger years as I told him where I'm at in my adult life. It was amazing! And on top of that, he loved the art that I'd created that morning while waiting in the Hall H line.

And that, my friends, is exactly what SDCC is all about, at least for me. SDCC is about narrowing the gap between fan and artist, it is about being yourself, it is about being unashamed to be passionate about something. SDCC is also very much about the company - being in line for hours can be mundane, but it can also be incredibly fun when you are spending quality time with people you love being around, and people who let you be yourself. Freebies, exclusives and celebrities are special and exciting, but the memories that stay with me are not necessarily the most exciting ones.

There were many moments from SDCC 2019 that were special to me, and I'm not sure words will ever convey their significance in my experience. Even though no Con is perfect on the outside, I'm glad this one was perfect in its own way.

Until next time,

Happy wandering!


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