**Please be aware this will be a lengthy post! I don't think this post will be a tips/tricks situation... I'm just going to share my experience and what worked for me this time!**
After a long 3-year wait, thousands of eager fans, myself included, flocked to San Diego to return to one of our favorite fandom-centric gatherings: San Diego Comic Con (SDCC).
Contrary to what is portrayed in so much of mainstream media, SDCC is not solely about celebrities, huge movie/TV show announcements or just collectibles. There is an unspoken camaraderie at SDCC built from shared experiences, niche interests, and being with "our people." In general, SDCC is comprised of the exhibit floor, panels, signings, special guests, parties, and even 'offsites' that take place outside of the San Diego Convention Center and generally do not require a badge. The panel schedule drops mere weeks before the Con, starting the chaos well before any guests can arrive in San Diego.
My goal for this year's SDCC was simply to make the best of what was available, grab every opportunity with the greatest enthusiasm, and immediately let go of anything I "missed out on" or couldn't do, even if it was on my list. Once the programming schedule was released, I made my list and crossed my fingers that I'd be able to attend most of what I'd planned.
While I am nowhere near an SDCC expert, I feel like this was one of my most successful Cons. I'd like to take this opportunity to shoutout the SDCC Unofficial Blog - without their amazing reporting and labor, I would not have had most of the amazing experiences I did.
Cosplay: None; Star Wars themed outfit instead
I arrived in San Diego on Thursday, and managed to make it to my first panel - Motherland: Fort Salem. Walking into the convention center after so long was surreal, but I quickly fell back into the groove of things.
This panel took place in a smaller room, and the cast was not in attendance. However, I really enjoyed it! The creator of the show was terribly interesting and I absolutely loved hearing the stories about how the series came to be. Small panels like this are often overlooked but provide some of the most intimate moments with the creations we love.
Afterwards, I headed out of the convention center and visited a couple offsites with my friend Christine.
My first stop was the Multiverse of Madness offsite. In my opinion, it was sad. For such a huge studio like Marvel, the expectation is something along the lines of the House of the Dragon offsite. Instead, we got a fairly obscure reference to the film, with a weak photo opp and cheesy carnival game. I'm glad I did this offsite when I did, since there were only 5 of us in line. I ended up winning a free movie download, so not all was lost!
We also made a stop at the Petco Interactive Zone, where we gorged on free licorice (I fully plan on buying a whole bag) and visited the Black Adam offsite, which presented Zoa energy drinks and a silly video opp. The whole area was noticeably smaller than usual, but I think if I were a fan of Ghosts, that section of the Interactive Zone would have been a highlight.
The real highlight for us on Thursday though, was the Fandom party. Notoriously difficult to attend, the Fandom party pretty consistently promises a swanky soiree to kick off the weekend. Perched on the Hard Rock Hotel rooftop lounge Float, fans have the opportunity to rub shoulders with industry people while enjoying entertainment, an open bar and hors d'oeuvres.
I was lucky enough to be one of the first one hundred fans to get tickets, so I got to bring Christine with me. My trigger finger must be one of the fastest in the west, because that's how I got tickets - I turned on my Twitter notifications and very quickly clicked the link for tickets.
While we were in line for the party, I happened to see an actor from a show I love. This is the magic of SDCC, the unexpected encounters in the most unexpected places. He was kind enough to take a photo with me and I did chuckle to myself later when I realized he was also attending the party.
We finally checked in, got our lanyards and pins, and made our way up the brightly skinned staircase to begin our SDCC kickoff celebration. I'm not the biggest party person, but I liked the energy at this particular party, especially before it really started to fill up. It truly felt like an industry party, which is a really great experience as a fan.
I was not keen on the planned performer, but Christine and I enjoyed the view from the party, the drinks and people watching. Not sure if it's just me, but SDCC has a way of making exclusive events feel extra special for no particular reason besides bragging rights.
After the party, SDCC became very real as we made our way down to the marina to get our Hall H wristbands for the next day. For those of you who don't know, if you want a better shot at getting into the Hall H panels, you can get a wristband the night before and plan to line up before 7:30AM the day-of. We really wanted to attend the The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power panel, so at around 9:15PM we got our wristbands.
I will include this "tip" here: Don't always listen to the first person you talk to, just because they are in a line already. As we were trying to find the blinky (the term of endearment for the staff with blinking lights on their vests), a man who was already in line (I think he was in line for SATURDAY already), told us with 100% certainty, "You will not be getting wristbands at this point." He was obviously wrong... and quite wrong, I might add. Hall H gives out up to "D" and we got "B" wristbands.
Cosplay: Number Five from Umbrella Academy
Early mornings at SDCC are never easy, but there is a particular kind of adrenaline that gets you out of bed. We were up before 6AM to go secure our spots in line.
Despite its tumultuous reputation, I've had some really amazing experiences in Hall H and have not had super traumatic ones (except for the time I left for a signing, then got lost coming back so I was late and was not let back in... I was legitimately sobbing, took my spot in the back of the line and a volunteer had mercy on me and let me in because technically I already had a spot inside).
I'd also like to add that many of us waiting in the Hall H line frequent the Starbucks at the Hilton Bayfront. This particular morning was no exception, and I'd forgotten how much I love their theming each year. This year, they chose Shrek as their theme, special menu items included!
The Rings of Power panel opened with an orchestra. AN ORCHESTRA! Not only was it a wonderful introduction to the series and its creators, it was an exceptional welcome back to Hall H for us. The panel was an hour and a half, featuring its creators, the composer (who also conducted the orchestra/choir at the beginning of the panel), and pretty much the entire cast, all moderated by Stephen Colbert, number one LOTR fanboy. He was literally speaking Elvish with the creators on stage. It was truly the embodiment of the SDCC spirit.
As a whole, the panel was so. much. FUN. I am seriously looking forward to watching this series, and I'm grateful that this panel was my first one back in Hall H.
My Number Five cosplay was my favorite of the weekend. It truly felt full circle - my first ever actual SDCC cosplay in 2012 was the White Violin from the Umbrella Academy comics.
I spent some time on the exhibit floor shortly after our little photo shoot, went to an Emily Hampshire signing, and in the blink of an eye our day was quickly passing.
To be honest, I had forgotten just how overwhelmed I get on the exhibit floor. Even though this particular Con was considerably emptier than years prior, I went into full sensory overload. When I do the floor, I try to do it in small chunks, rather than spend prolonged periods of time there.
I also caught a small panel that I was very interested in - Figure Drawing for Popular Media. This particular panel was listed as an interactive panel, so I made sure to bring my drawing supplies.
The panel was nowhere near full, but it was very enjoyable. Smaller panels really do get overlooked, especially if they are not affiliated with a popular show or do not feature any famous names. Still, I was excited to be there. Artist Emilio Soltero led us through some gestural drawings based on some live models, drew examples for us, and taught us some clever ways to view drawing figures. I really did learn a lot, and I'm glad I went.
Random, but I met up with Christine in Hall H. By the afternoon it was a walk-in and I got to see Keanu Reeves!
We also took advantage of the Syfy/USA offsite, which was just photo opps. It wasn't as fun as the usual Syfy offisites, but since I just watched the Chucky series, I wanted to take a photo with the backdrop!
For dinner, we had limited time but stumbled upon Havana 1920 in the Gaslamp Quarter. It was near our next event, wasn't very crowded, and most of all it was adorable. Time for sit-down meals at SDCC isn't always available, so I was grateful we got off our feet for a little while. Havana 1920 is authentically Cuban, from its menu to its decor - our table was literally a dominoes table! In addition, since the space is semi-shared by another restaurant, there is also a full Mexican menu. Whether you are attending SDCC or not, I highly recommend this restaurant!
We had a 7PM reservation for the Dungeons and Dragons Tavern, one of the best offsites this year, to promote the new movie. The line was well organized and not too long considering there was a functioning reservation system. Large groups could all go in at once, making for a fast-moving line at any given time.
I may not be a DnD enthusiast, but it will always be a well-respected franchise among geeks. This tavern was pretty much my first exposure to it (besides seeing it in Stranger Things), and it was quite fun! The offsite included a dragon brew (alcoholic or non-alcoholic), DnD creatures, interactive actors, fun tavern drinking songs and even, you guessed it, a dragon!
Our wonderful Friday night ended with more yummy treats - drinks and desserts down the street from the DnD Tavern with our friend Jenna. We discussed our adventures from the day and Jenna sold me on watching Ghosts.
Cosplay: Thor from Love and Thunder
Saturday: The day I had been dreading since the schedule was released. Warner Brothers theatrical, Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon, and Marvel were all scheduled to have panels in Hall H. If you caught what I mentioned earlier in this post, attendees were already lined up on Thursday, for the Saturday panels. To be honest, I was not willing to spend my entire day in Hall H for Marvel; I did not want to sit through so many panels that I wasn't interested in.
This is a big part of attending SDCC: making decisions about what to spend time on and what to forsake. So many times, you have to weigh what has value to you and choose something over something else.
I chose not to get in the Hall H line in the morning and we had not gotten wristbands the night before anyway. Instead, I went right to the exhibit floor once I got to the convention center. I went straight for the Marvel booth because I wanted to take a picture in front of the Thor photo opp, and my plan paid off more than I had anticipated.
Literally about 2 minutes after I arrived, one of the staff members handed out a promotional flyer. Normally. I would not take one, but I heard her say "our scavenger hunt starts at 10!" I had this scavenger hunt on my list but had not heard anything about it. It was pure luck that I was in the right place at the right time.
A few minutes later, I was taking selfies at different booths, posting hashtags and getting myself in a Marvel frenzy. After I completed the scavenger hunt and got my redemption code, I decided to stay around the Marvel booth and ended up making it into the line for the temporary tattoo freebie sponsored by Inkbox. This doesn't sound like much of an accomplishment to a Marvel booth rookie, but for those of us who have witnessed the chaos at Marvel booth every year, getting in line was a win.
Shortly after I got in line, it was capped, meaning no one else could join. We spent almost two hours waiting, but again, I gave into the call of "this is an exclusive experience." There was a large wheel with design options, and the idea behind the freebie was "let karma choose your tattoo." Someone else had to spin the wheel for you, and you would get the Avengers-themed tattoo that the wheel landed on.
I made a friend in line and she spun the wheel for me - I won an Inkbox pen! And of course they let me choose my tattoo - I chose Mjolnir to go with my Thor cosplay.
Shortly after, my return time crept up and I was back at the Marvel booth once again. Chaos ensued, as per usual, but eventually we were collected into a single file line, mixed in with guests in line for the Bruce Campbell signing.
I passed the time in line by reading with my new Kindle (Pro tip: bring something to do in line!), and another couple hours later, we rounded the corner and saw the commotion. Those of us who did the scavenger hunt were also being given the privilege of meeting Bruce Campbell! Again, just another example of SDCC magic.
Bruce was very personable, chatty and pleasant! It was such a cool bonus to be able to meet him, in addition to getting my awesome Multiverse of Madness prize box.
Once I had my box, I took a deep breath and decided to try to get into Hall H for the Marvel panel. I knew it was a longshot, but I wanted to at least give it a try!
Long story short: I walked over the Hall H line, was told we had a 1% chance, and ended up sitting in the grass under the shade for a couple hours. I made friends with the people around me and did a lot more reading. Ultimately I didn't get in, but I wasn't disappointed. I knew I had taken a huge risk, I ended up getting an actual break, and I had just come from a Marvel whirlwind.
I thought I deserved an iced coffee so I went back into the Shrek-themed Starbucks once again. I joined in a Marvel-centric conversation with two guys behind me, laughed, then moved up in line. The girl directly behind me started chatting with me and eventually said something like, "You don't know who you were talking to, do you?" I was SO confused! She explained herself and basically I had just discussed MCU movies with Aldis Hodge. Amazing.
Night was descending, and I had one more panel that evening: The Art of Studio Ghibli Returns. I anticipated a small panel, and while the room was fairly small, I'm glad I arrived at the right time. A line quickly formed behind me when I arrived at Room 29CD.
This panel was a dream for Ghibli fans. Hirokatsu Kihara, a production coordinator at Studio Ghibli before it was even Studio Ghibli. He brought original sketches, some that had even been thrown away! We got to see the very beginning stages of the characters we love, from Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service. I loved hearing all of the stories, and loved how the panel ended - Kihara brought some handmade origami Totoros, but only four of them. In order to choose the winners, he had the entire room play rock paper scissors!
I hung around after the panel catching up with a friend, and to my surprise, Kihara had walked up and was chatting and taking photos with fans. He and his translator were both very patient and grateful to the fans. I waited my turn and was able to show him some Totoro cookies I'd made last year. It was surreal! We took a photo, he signed the back of my badge, and I was on my way to end my night with a nice dinner.
Our SDCC tradition is having dinner at Meze, a wonderful Greek fusion restaurant in the Gaslamp Quarter. I guess I didn't take any photos of what I ate (that's how tired I was), but Meze is definitely Grogu-approved!
Cosplay: David Rose from Schitt's Creek
The last day of SDCC - truly a bittersweet feeling. On one hand I was sad to see such a magical weekend end, but let me tell you, my body was ecstatic that I'd be going home soon.
Christine had an early panel, and I wanted to try to visit the Netflix booth first thing to try at Stranger Things freebies. While that didn't work out for me, I was able to get the coveted specialty chocolate bars that are made each year. Because I was so tired, I was legitimately on my last leg of energy both mentally and physically. I gave up on the exhibit floor, but I also felt satisfied with everything I'd done already.
Uncharacteristically of myself, I chose to leave the Con (gasp) and visit HOB Coffee, specifically the East Village location. The Unofficial SDCC Blog had posted that HOB Coffee had a special SDCC menu, and I wanted to check it out.
I was hungry too, so I decided to leave the Con behind for a little while and find respite in this cute coffee shop. I ordered Vecna's Upside Down Latte and the prosciutto burrata toast.
Both were wonderful! The latte was like a vanilla latte with raspberry foam. It was probably closer to a cappuccino in texture, due to the special foam. The black charcoal was a great visual, in addition to its health benefits. The toast was absolutely heavenly. I took a seat to rest my feet and indulge my tastebuds.
I am so used to being the "go go go" person that taking breaks like this isn't normally even on my radar. I'm really glad I decided to leave the craziness of the Con for just a little while, eat something hearty, and reset before my last hours of the Con.
Once Christine was out of her panel, we decided to meet up and do Hall H. I was originally torn between going to the Spiderman Exhibit at the Comic-Con Museum (I had 2PM tickets), or attending the Funko Live panel at Hall H. Despite having paid for museum tickets, I ultimately decided on going into Hall H for the first panel of the day, and staying in until the last one.
Yet again SDCC pleasantly surprised me.
I was so impressed with the Mayans panel, both with the cast and the main writer. They were so genuine, earnest, and emotional. I had no idea that so many of them had come from real-life versions of what is portrayed in the show. I was moved, entertained, and impressed.
Christine then left the panel and left SDCC while I stayed in Hall H for the next panel: What We Do in the Shadows. I was able to move up a few rows, and was excited to laugh!
The cast was hysterical, and the panel validated my desire to really delve into the show. I love the movie, but I wasn't sure if the show would carry the same spirit - spoiler alert: it does. I also particularly loved how the matter of representation came about during this discussion. So much of the vampire media we consume depicts only one kind: pale, fair, light eyes. Harvey Guillén's character Guillermo brings a new kind of representation that is not prevalent in the vampire world, and I loved hearing all about it.
Oh, and by this point I had already received 3 freebie tickets (I accidentally ended up with 2 Mayans tickets) - some panels gift attendees with swag, ranging from T-shirts to movie tickets. After the panels, you take your tickets and redeem them at the Hyatt on the other end of the Convention Center. These tickets were definitely a bonus!
At 2PM, the time finally came for my final panel of SDCC. I do not collect Funko pops, but I am a big fan of Simu Liu, so I was very excited about seeing this particular panel. It was also exciting to move up closer - this was the closest I'd ever been at a Hall H panel.
Gabriel Iglesias, known by his stage name Fluffy, was the MC. I'd never heard his comedy but he had me laughing out loud.
I can't say I was particularly enthralled by the product news, but I really did adore the three guests/panelists: William Zabka (from Karate Kid and Cobra Kai), Rosario Dawson (most notably our new Ahsoka Tano), and Simu Liu (from Shang Chi and Kim's Convenience). The founders of Funko had each guest on separately, asking them the same interesting questions.
I liked that this panel was not focused on promoting anything, but focused on letting the fans get to know some of their favorite stars. Two moments really tugged at my hearstrings - the first was hearing Rosario Dawson speak about adoption and how she adopted an older child. This is something very much on my heart and I loved how open she was about her experience.
The next moment was hearing Simu talk about representation. He and I are the same age, so we grew up with Asian representation being few and far between. It's wonderful hearing him speak openly about the need of representation, especially since he himself is now the representation for so many, myself included.
Once the panel was over, I collected my last precious ticket on my way out of Hall H and headed down to the Hyatt with the crowd. It's quite a long walk, and it can feel longer in the hot sun. I still got there fairly quickly and was very excited to see my swag.
Afterwards, I finally exhaled the weekend. I admired my shirts and opened my box from the Funko panel. The swag was handed out randomly; there were at least 5 different combinations of boxes (we found this out by asking around and realizing the boxes said 'box 5,' 'box 4,' etc.), so no one knew what they'd get ahead of time. To my absolute delight, I got the SDCC Freddy Funko pop and a Shang Chi pop!
Just as I was texting my friends about my pops, I literally ran into Simu Liu himself. I almost had to pinch myself to believe this was reality. He had a hoodie and a mask on, so he was being low key even though he was surrounded by people. To put my excitement in perspective: I had tickets to his LA signing in May, but when it got rescheduled I could no longer go. Then I got tickets to his LA book reading, but I got Covid and could not go. This was my chance!
I mustered up every ounce of courage I had left and approached him quietly. I got to say everything I'd wanted to say, to thank him, to let him know how much I appreciate what he is doing for the Asian community, but also to let him know that whether he has realized it or not, he is providing the representation many of us have craved for years. My future children will be able to watch Shang Chi and see someone that shares their heritage.
I got emotional, he got emotional, it was awesome. I could not have asked for a more perfect ending to our first SDCC back!
Have you ever been to SDCC?
Until next time,
Happy wandering, and happy geeking out!