The Joy of Watching San Diego from the Sidelines

San Diego Comic ConI can always tell when the Greatest Spectacle in Entertainment News is revving its engines and approaching the starting line — the Facebook statuses for all my West Coast online cohorts begin chiming their location and awe in unison, letting those of us off in the distance know It Has Begun.

The unwieldy official name is Comic-Con International: San Diego. It’s been called the San Diego Comic Con since I was a kid, probably even longer than that. For as long as I’ve known comic book conventions were a thing, I’ve been aware that San Diego is America’s biggest and boldest, a four-day Shangri-La of heroes, creators, fans, dealers, publishers, cosplay, community, news, announcements, panels, and more. A four-day smorgasbord of four-color sensory overload unlike any other experience in the entirety of the hobby. And that was before Hollywood co-opted it years ago and raised the media’s attention level to new heights.

I’ve never attended, but my wife is well aware it ranks high on my short, modest bucket list, which I should probably finish brainstorming someday. Alas, our barriers are considerable. We’re fans of neither air travel in general nor airfare in particular. Unless there’s a Make-a-Wish Foundation for fortysomething guys who aren’t dying, this means we’d have to do it as one of our annual road trips. From Indianapolis to San Diego is a 2100-mile, 31-hour drive if we foolishly assume perfect weather nationwide, a shocking moratorium on all road construction in every state, the most fluid rush-hour traffic in history, and the ultimate rental car with no factory defects. (I can dream.)

As each element in that list spins out of control, the estimate only worsens. Figuring at least three days of moderated driving each direction, plus the four-day weekend itself, and we’re talking a lot of vacation days we’d have to take to cover the spread. If we want to do any other sightseeing while we’re in that strange new land of California, or in the two other states we’d pass along the way that we’ve never visited before, that’s even more time off needed. (Maybe if we wait till we retire?)

Budgeting for such a mighty endeavor would probably require years of saving on our part. Beyond the mounting costs of the rental car and today’s wallet-stomping gas prices, you’re talking a couple hundred apiece for each four-day pass. (Let’s face it: who travels cross-country just to attend a single day?) Add a few hundred per night for the San Diego hotel stay alone. (For fun I did some checking and found a Best Western ten miles from the con asking only $206/night with AAA discount. I’m afraid to read the reviews.) No doubt there’d also be parking fees to store our car. And then there’re our hotel needs for the other 6-8 days of our trip. With California’s high cost of living, we’d need either to bring our own food, to agree to fast, or to save up a million dollars for meals alone. Also, there’s a slight chance that we might want to buy stuff at the con. Probably all the stuff.

All of this pipe dream rests on the foundational assumption that we could even score tickets in the first place. From what I’ve read, the ticket-sale feeding frenzies are held months in advance and pose one of the most challenging virtual obstacle courses known to sedentary mankind. All of this is why San Diego is on my bucket list, not my five-year plan.

I find my own silver linings in the weekend, though. I get a kick out of hearing reports back from friends who successfully run the gauntlet, attend San Diego, and have a stream of bedazzled new memories and photos to share. San Diego may dwarf all our local cons, but I work hard to stifle any impulse to grumble in jealousy about it.

Besides, patience will be rewarded even for those of us playing along at home. San Diego is usually one of the densest and most interesting weekends of the year for movie news and comics announcements. All the biggest comics publishers and most well-known genre filmmakers convene on the scene to ply their wares, launch their new projects, boast about their forthcoming releases, and ensure maximum coverage for everyone listening from the upper-class front-row to us way back here in the Peanut Gallery.

I’m not sure if any of the weekend activity will inspire much writing on my part, but reading and following along should be a blast in itself. Even now, the earliest announcements have already begun leaking out, including but not limited to a new Amazing Spider-Man 2 teaser. I expect more goodies like that in the hours and days ahead.

Here’s hoping this year’s San Diego Comic Con is another unbelievable experience for one and all. Meanwhile, I plan to get comfy, stock up on pop and snacks, and maybe set aside a few extra dollars for the future, just in case.

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