The Return of the Native: Back at Comic-Con

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by Michelle "Ms. Geek" Klein-Hass

The last time I went to San Diego Comic-Con International was in 2007. Lots of changes going on around me of a very personal nature, the Cartoon Geeks podcast was on its way out, and me and my Cartoon Geeks compadre Tom Reed were staying in a cheesy motel-stretching-for-hotel in Mission Valley, the only place we could find anywhere near Con. We were spending way too much on taxis as the Green Line Trolley service got flaky late. It suddenly became clear that Comic-Con had ceased to be fun for me, and apparently Tom agreed. Neither one of us came back. I swore I'd never return unless I was there for business.

Guess what? This year I was there for business...TOKYOPOP business. And overall, I'm glad I got a chance to come back and see Comic-Con with fresh eyes.

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Was it still horribly crowded? Yes, indeed. Were panels scheduled to where it was impossible to attend everything you wanted to see? Yup. But the same criticisms can now be leveled at Anime Expo, which is gaining on Comic–Con in unique attendees. Comic-Con seems to be capped at 130,000 badges from the data I've seen. AX was just shy of 100,000 unique attendees according to estimates. Will AX have to cap attendance and jack up the cost of buying badges like Comic-Con has? Certainly.

 Jerry Beck, with the Ink Pot Award.

Jerry Beck, with the Ink Pot Award.

However, 8 years since my last Comic-Con, returning feels like I'm coming back home. There's plenty of Asian Pop Culture at Comic-Con, and it must be remembered that manga and anime were part of the focus of Comic-Con since AX was a glimmer in someone's eye. But it's good also to hear about the latest exploits of American indie animator Bill Plympton, and see all-around animation expert (and partner in old-school anime distributor Streamline Entertainment) Jerry Beck get honored for his massive contributions to Comic-Con over the decades. It's good to hear about movies, the renaissance of TV shows, American-style comic books, graphic novels, Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature, and experience the gathering of the tribes of fandom.

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One thing very different this time than last time is the fact that Comic-Con has slipped the surly bonds of the San Diego Convention Center. Petco Park is now a geeky fairgrounds, partially thanks to our old partners The Nerdist. They put together a "Conival" that incorporated elements of participatory games along with live versions of their podcasts.

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Funimation also had a boot camp for aspiring members of Frieza's dark horde, with Dragon Ball-themed games and determination of your power rating. Fox Studios set up a "tower drop" carnival ride advertising their new Scream Queens TV series in the Petco parking lot, along with others who had pitched huge tents and mounted mini-events.

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Fear The Walking Dead, a prequel spinoff of the blockbuster Walking Dead basic cable series, created an "experience" set in a space in the Gaslamp District, an area of Downtown San Diego directly across from Comic-Con. The Gaslamp District was basically transformed into a street fair, with blocked off streets and street theatre, mostly set up to promote TV shows and movies.

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There were other "experiences" set up in other parts of the district: an Assassin's Creed: Syndicate obstacle course, a Call Of Duty Black Ops: Zombies video game experience, a Heroes Reborn TV show experience. Comedy Central had a mini golf course. HBO had a Game Of Thrones experience that was almost impossible to get into unless you waited in a huge line. However, if you were willing to wait, I'm sure it was fun.

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While waiting in line you could watch a parade of Uncle Sams on stilts and booth babes in shark dresses advertise Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! If your feet are tired and you need a lift, there were sponsored pedicabs that would get you here and there.

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This sort of democratized the largely elite crowd at Comic-Con. Didn't luck out with a badge? Couldn't afford one? Theoretically there were enough events and enough SWAG being passed out in the street fair surrounding Comic-Con to where you could get a good day of geeky fun in just by visiting the events outside the Con. And of course, you don't have to have a badge to cosplay. Lots of street cosplay going on, as well as cosplay at Con. It seemed a larger percentage of people attending Comic-Con were actually cosplaying, or at least casually geeked out, than back in 2007.

However, for those of us who actually did have a badge, Comic-Con was a treat. Here's how I earned my badge this year...

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Looking forward to next year!