LineQuest, err Comic-Con Report

Having now been to my first Comic-con International conference in San Diego, I have come up with a new official T-shirt for the event.  It will say on the front, "What is this line for?"

That was the question on everyone's lips.  No matter where you went, either in the exhibit hall or in the meeting room area or outside, there were lines everywhere.  There were lines for giveaways.  There were lines to get in rooms.  There were lines for autographs.  There were even lines to get tickets to have a preferential place in a line later.   One line, for the largest theater that had the hottest programming, was over a mile and a quarter long, with people lined up overnight to get in.  There were so many lines it was often unclear what lines were for.  Five people could likely start a line randomly by simply standing in line at some random spot and people would start getting in behind them.

I have decided that the origin of the word Comic-Con is not actually from Comic-Convention but in fact is actually a corruption of COMECON.  It is an organization that has embraced the old Soviet economy with both arms.  It has bent over backwards to absolutely ensure that no allocation of scarce resources will be based on price -- thus the incredibly complicated process for even obtaining a ticket to the event in the first place.  So all goods are free (or in the case of a 4-day ticket, very inexpensive) and allocation of scarce resources is entirely by queue.

A one-day pass to see the exhibit hall and people-watch the Cosplay is well worth the price, both in money and more importantly in time.  My son and I had a great time.  But any attempt to enjoy any of the programming content will require at least 1 hour of line-standing for every 1 hour of program time.  And if the program has any recognizable person's name in it, or if the title includes the words "Star Wars, Star Trek, or Firefly", then you can count on at least 3 hours of waiting for every one hour of programming.

As an example, my son and I showed up 1-1/2 hours early for an afternoon program called something like "Star Wars vs. Firefly."   We were about 50th in a line that eventually ran to about 600 people.  We thought we were in good shape.  Foolish mortals.  It turns out people showed up at 7 and 8 in the morning for the first program of the day in that room, and then never left, solely to get to the 1:30 Star Wars/Firefly program.  None of us in line outside the door at 1:30 got in.

I am not going to argue resource allocation methodologies here -- this is a private event and they are welcome to do it any way they wish.  And since their target audience tends to be young and perhaps under-employed, then I can see how an allocation methodology based on investing one's time rather than money would be appealing to that audience.  Again, a day at the trade show and people watching the Cosplay is worth it.  As for the rest, if you are someone who will wait in line an hour to save 10 cents on gas, you will probably love it.  If you are someone who thought the FastPass system was the greatest thing ever implemented by Disney, they you should likely give the programming a miss.

A few other notes:

  • One of the shorter lines was for autographs from Stan Lee, which goes to show how far Comic-Con has evolved from its roots
  • Building on the previous observation, I saw only one or two booths on the entire (huge) exhibit floor actually selling vintage comic books
  • The Cosplay is everywhere but the best place to see it is just outside the hall where the photographers are taking pictures of folks coming in.  This is one area Comic-Con is really missing an opportunity.  If I were them I would create a red carpet ala the Oscars for Cosplayers to come in and everyone else to watch.   Put in some grandstands and big screens, maybe even with live commentary or voting
  • The masquerade is very miss-able.  A costume competition but it is run in a tedious manner and the Cosplay on the exhibit floor is better.
  • Fortunately I have a lot of nerds in my clan so I came away with good gifts.  My son got an autographed Summer Glau photo, my daughter an autographed Benedict Cumberbatch photo, and my niece an autograph of the most current Doctor Who (sorry, my first Doctor was Tom Baker and I can't keep track of the new ones).  My son also scored a Disney Princess calendar drawn in that, ahem, fantasy style made famous in publications like Heavy Metal.  It is sure to horrify my wife and daughter, which I assume was half the point.


  1. Matt Landry:

    "It turns out people showed up at 7 and 8 in the morning for the first program of the day in that room, and then never left, solely to get to the 1:30 Star Wars/Firefly program."

    Handy tip, for those among geekdom who trying to apply Wheaton's Law to themselves and their lives, but are in doubt as to the boundaries of "being a dick":

    If you do this, you are being a dick. If any part of your mind counsels you to do this or anything like this, then that part of your mind is telling you to be a dick, and if you want to live Wheaton's Law, you should acquire the habit of completely ignoring that part of your mind from now on.

    If you have limited funds and unlimited time, it is perfectly acceptable to line up way early for things. Indeed, it's become a key part of geek culture. But a function space is not a line, and monopolizing a function space for the bulk of an entire day, just to get in early to one event, is definitely being a dick. Don't be a dick.

  2. marque2:

    Like in regular movie theaters, it is up to the Comic con convention folks to clear the room between events, if they don't do that, than coming early and sitting it out isn't being a dick, it is fair game, and unfortunately if I knew that is what I had to do to get in - and I wanted to get in, I would do the same.

    Seems Commie Con needs some better flow control management.

  3. perlhaqr:

    OH. I get it now.

    It turns out people showed up at 7 and 8 in the morning for the first program of the day in that room, and then never left [the room], solely to get to the 1:30 Star Wars/Firefly program.

    I thought Warren meant they showed up and got in line for the 1330 event at 0700 - 0800 and I was wondering why this was a problem. But he meant that in a room with a possible seating capacity of 600, fewer than 50 people left between the previous presentation and the one he was 50th in line for. That makes more sense.

    DefCon and ShmooCon used to have this problem, then they started flushing the rooms between presentations.

    Of course, at ComicCon, they might have a different problem, if people started trying to generate parallel queues for different events at different times, they might run out of aisle space to queue in.

  4. Jeff:

    They need a bigger space and overflow rooms for the main programming. Dragoncon (about 1/2-3/4 the size of comic-con) has these line problems as well, but only for about a quarter of the programming. And since it is held in a set of adjoined hotels, they also feed the main programming track to hotel room TVs, and include some overflow rooms where they project the camera feed to big screens.

    I was disappointed, though, that I couldn't get a ticket for comic-con this year. People-watching and making new geek friends is the main purpose of a convention anyway.

  5. Gordon:

    Tom Baker was my first Doctor as well. But Matt Smith has become my favorite. He not only has the humor and eccentricity of Baker's incarnation, he's able to bring a great deal of emotional weight to serious moments as well. In all the past incarnations, there was a bit of a trade off between the humorous and serious aspects of the Doctor's personality.

  6. ErikTheRed:

    It's too bad that you didn't get here sooner... even two or three years ago hitting the highlight presentations at Comic-Con was "difficult, but doable" for somebody who's not willing to devote unreasonable chunks of their life to securing a seat. Now it's just insane - I don't even bother anymore.

  7. epobirs:

    I haven't been to ComiCon in almost fifteen years. The first time I went, Wendy Pini was best known for Red Sonja costume rather than ElfQuest. Yes, that long ago. Sometimes I get a bit nostalgic but when I see what it is today I know I'm better off staying well away. It's really my youth and the time spent with friends I'm missing. The kind of crowd control exercise the event is now would not be a place I could feel comfortable, no matter how many women aspiring to be the next Jessica Nigri were on display.

  8. John VI:

    Jelli Babies and a scarf... FTW