San Diego Comic-Con 2016: A First-Timer’s Experience

Everyone remembers their first time. Funny thing is, it’s true. My first time is something I will not soon forget. I have watched San Diego Comic Con from afar for years. Going to the usual sites many times a day for tidbits and updates, reveals and announcements, panels and exclusives. All of these things, I have read for years. Seen the pictures, read accounts of screened footage. But I couldn’t possibly have imagined being there. Until I was. 

I arrived in San Diego a day early. Wanted to familiarize myself with the area, do a little bit of recon, study the floor plan, and do some prep work for what was about to come. I lived in San Diego for a bit as a kid, but the city has changed a lot since then, and I frankly don’t remember much of it. So I walked around the convention center. Found Hall H. Found the Press Registration area, which also served as a quick in for press. 

So Wednesday comes, and so do the masses. Hall H lines were beginning to form. Cosplayers already outside the convention center posing for pictures with eager fans.  The buzz was palpable. The energy, unbelievable. Time was drawing near for preview night. I thought it was going to be a nice opportunity to run through the floor really quick, get the lay of the land, finalize a strategy, a plan of attack.

Well as Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”

And punched in the mouth I was. Just entering the floor for the first time, I was astounded. The sheer size of it all. I had two hours of the preview night (Wednesday) and four days to see all the things. My plan, out the window. Gone in an instant. I tried to hit up some of the bigger booths to grab a schedule of events. Yep, further ruined my plans because of all the events and appearances I wanted to get to. 

Then it was time to head over to the DC booth to meet up with “boss”, the reason I was there, the guy that brought me on board here at Heroic Hollywood, our Editor-in-Chief, Umberto Gonzalez. We had chatted online about everything from movies, to politics and world events, to site related stuff for about 10 months. Even developed our own conversational shorthand naturally. But we had never actually met. So, BOOM, first night, and I am meeting my boss. For those of you that haven’t had the chance to meet him yet, he is just as cool in person as he seems. Couldn’t be a nicer guy. He knew everyone and everyone knew him, but went out of his way to make it a point to say, “oh hey, this is one of my guys,” with everyone that came up to talk to him. Immediately made me feel like I belonged there for the purpose I was there. I didn’t tell him this, but it knocked off the initial jitters, and made me feel at ease. 

Now, I was ready to Con.

I made sure I got a good night’s sleep on Wednesday, because Thursday I had a little bit of time to hit the floor again in the morning. But I got a VIP invite to the Wired Cafe event at the Omni Hotel, and from all past accounts, that is an event not to miss if you are on the guest list. So I hung out there with Umberto, and another Heroic colleague, Shawn Madden. Another guy I had spoken to online for months, but finally we were able to get to know each other, another great guy! Oh and I got to meet Grant Imahara from Mythbusters!

After hanging out at the Wired Cafe for a bit, I hit the floor again – still having no idea where to start or what to do. But I figured I might as well start somewhere, so I focused my attention on the center section of the convention floor, where all of the biggest booths are. Snapping pictures with my phone of everything I saw. I was particularly impressed with the Star Wars booth, and their Rogue One displays. If you aren’t already beyond pumped for that movie, just get ready.

The DC booth had a lot of cool props and costumes displayed. The most prominent of which were that for Suicide Squad! All the costumes were on display and they were fantastic! As were those for Wonder Woman. Short on time for Thursday, I head back to the room to get ready for a party at the OMNIA night club, “After-Con”. All I can say is wow! The club was insane! The party was great! Guys . . . seriously . . . Hodor was on the 1’s and 2’s!

After sleeping off Thursday night, I knew I had to buckle down and hit the floor to make sure I got to what I wanted to. I took a direct path to the Marvel booth and decided to post up there all day (full disclosure – I am biased toward Marvel, so I wanted to soak in as much of the experience there as I could). Met some AMAZING people working the booth for Marvel. Really nice folks. I didn’t even want to talk Marvel with them so much as I just wanted to get to know them, that’s how nice and welcoming they were. The display for the Captain America 75th Anniversary was particularly awesome!

I spoke with one of their booth coordinators, Mike, for a bit, and things quieted down. Then, the Punisher logo appeared on the massive screen, and it was almost time for Jeph Loeb and Jon Bernthal to take the stage for a signing! It’s important to note that as a noob to the Con, I didn’t realize that the signings were ticketed events that were given a way via raffle every morning. But regardless, I was still going to see Jon Bernthal in the flesh, the man who brought us the best Punisher we have seen yet (bias acknowledged)! Mike, came over to where I was standing and grabbed six of us randomly, and asked if we wanted in on the signing. My response was a bit more profanity laden than I care to put here, so I’ll censor myself a bit, “Hell Yeah I want to meet him!” These signings are assembly lines. 

At these signings, they try to get as many fans through as possible, so you can’t really take a picture or talk much. I shook Jeph Loeb’s hand and thanked him, then moved on to Jon Bernthal. As he was signing, I told him I was a veteran, and I thanked him for all he does for veterans, graciously as could be, he said, “no man, thank you for your service.” I showed him my phone case that has an American Flag with the Punisher logo overlaid on it, and told him how much he meant to us. He motioned to me to wait of stage for him and I did. We weren’t allowed pictures on stage, but he wanted to grab one with me when they were done. So I waited. He ran upstairs at the booth to do an interview with Marvel’s “hostess with the mostest” Lorraine Cink, and told me to wait for him at the bottom of the stairs. He came down, shook my hand and we grabbed a picture. If this was the only thing I got out of the Con, I would have been a happy man!

Icing on the cake was I also was able to grab a pic with the wonderful and sweet as can be Lorraine Cink!

Oh and I got to see the one, and only Stan Lee in the flesh!

So, I stuck around the Marvel booth, behind the scenes a bit as to not draw attention, just to soak it all up. Ended up chatting with the fine folks from Phillips Norelco who were there to do a cross promotion for their new One Blade razor and Doctor Strange. They were nice enough to offer to send me one, and from all accounts, its a great product!

I then stuck around for the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D cast signing. No way I was going to make it online for that, but I still wanted to be there for the event and grab some pictures. Oh and this also happened to be when they were revealing Robbie Reyes’ bad ass car for Ghost Rider on S.H.I.E.L.D. So I decided to position myself so I could grab a couple of pictures.

After this, it was seriously time to rest, because Saturday was going to be insane. Hall H. I need not say more. I am not going to bore you all with a run down of the panels or footage shot because that is all over the place by now, and this is about my impressions. DC/Warner Bros. kicked us off and I was seriously impressed by their presentation. Brought out all the directors, and Ben Affleck, in particular, seemed really very excited about everything. Personally I love how he has totally embraced the mantle he was given, and has a sincere desire to, in his own words, “get it right.”

Then the Justice League panel. Wow. Just wow. Blown away. They screened the rough trailer they have so far on what they’ve shot to date. I am sure you have seen stories of the meeting between Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen. Completely floored the crowed. Hysterical! Then they bring out the cast of the Justice League . . . with one very noticeable absence. That is until Henry Cavill walked on stage as the crowd roared!

Warner Bros. had big plans for Hall H. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was next with Eddie Redmayne, ecstatic as could be to be there, with a surprise for everyone, they were handing out wands to the entire crowd to cue the trailer! Very well done presentation!

Next was Kong: Skull Island. I didn’t know what to expect from this, but the trailer was awesome, and the cast is incredible! I mean Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson! Come on! At this point, I leaned over to Shawn and said, “how much you wanna bet Brie Larson has to stick around for a while today . . .”, Shawn just looked at me with a grin. We both knew what was coming. 

There were more panels, all of which very well done. But the highlight was the Women Who Kick Ass panel. I was very impressed with their presentation that included Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Ming-na Wen, Supergirl’s Melissa Benoist, the incomparable Lucy Lawless, among others. It was an awesome, honest, and emotional discussion about a woman’s place in the “ass-kicking” world and how far it’s come. I was seriously floored by their honesty, their openness and their emotion. 

Then it was the time I had been waiting all day for – the Marvel Studios panel. Again, I am not going to give a run down of the footage or the panel itself, because that’s all over the place by now. But let me just say they killed it. They started off with the new Marvel Studios sizzle real that is played before the films with a new score. It was fire. It also served to debut the new logo, which Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, pointed out on his new hat (more on that later). They immediately launched into their first presentation and the room went black. Our own Shawn Madden, who has been covering Hall H since 2009, leaned over to me as they began the Doctor Strange laser show taking you through the multiverse as the room filled with smoke and said, “this is some next level ish . . . nothing has been done like this before.”  It was that impressive. The clip, amazing. The new trailer, well, you’ve seen it. Biggest take away was Benedict Cumberbatch’s utter enthusiasm for the role, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and being a part of all of it. 

Next up was the Spider-Man: Homecoming panel. Tom Holland managed to pull off being more excited about everything than Benedict Cumberbatch, and trust me, that’s saying a lot. The footage they showed left me with one impression – think “what if John Hughes made a Spider-Man movie?” It was hilarious, it was incredibly well paced, and only a glimpse, brief as it may be, of whats to come. It is going to be awesome. We are finally getting the Spider-Man we deserve.

We were then treated to a brief glimpse of Thor: Ragnarok. Not much to show because they had only been shooting a few days at this point, but the concept art, the makeshift trailer, and most of all, the short film of what Thor has been up to since we’ve seen him last, or more accurately where he was during Captain America: Civil War was nothing short of brilliant. So funny. Seriously, look up a description, it was amazing, and I really hope it finds it’s way onto bonus features on a Blu Ray or digital release. Then the Guardians of the Galaxy panel. It was absurd, because you would expect nothing less from James Gunn. The footage was amazing, and hilarious. The special exclusive trailer was insanely good. This movie is going to be really, truly special. 

After all of this, Kevin Feige invited everyone back on stage for a Marvel family picture, and just as they were about to take the picture, and as I had predicted last December when she was nominated for an Oscar for Room, and hours earlier during the Kong panel, Feige says, “you know what, let’s make sure the whole family is here and introduce for the first time Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson!” The crowd went wild. Literally wild. Then he announced that the entire crowd at Hall H was getting a hat with the brand new Marvel Studios logo! 

After a day like that I was physically and mentally drained. Overwhelmed by it all. From DC through Marvel, it was all awesome, and a day I will never forget. Sunday was kind of a free day. The last day of the Con, so I knew I had to go pick up some of the items I had my eye on. The Think Geek, and EFX booths got more of my money than I had planned, but no regrets. The merchandise was awesome! I then spent the rest of the last day walking around the floor and just trying to see as much as possible. Take as many pictures as possible, and also get a picture, thanks to Hasbro and their Marvel Legends 75th Anniversary Captain America replica shield . . . because it’s awesome.

So key takeaways: go in with a plan, accept that the plan will be ruined, adapt and overcome. Don’t get too overwhelmed, but keep moving. Over the course of the 4-day event, I walked 40 miles. Bring comfortable shoes. I also learned that I need to invest in a legitimate camera, because while my iPhone camera was convenient and served it’s purpose, it fails miserably at zooming in. So next time, I will have both. One for the quick selfies, and one for the distance shots that need a better lens. 

It was hard to say goodbye. San Diego is a wonderful and charming city, and Comic Con is an out of this world spectacle of an event. I can’t thank Umberto and everyone at Heroic Hollywood enough for making this happen. Keep an eye on my Instagram as I will continue walking you through Comic Con, as I saw it, in the coming days. I have done some pretty cool stuff in my life, but San Diego Comic Con is by far the most fun, and best experience of my life! Needless to say, I am already preparing for #SDCC2017!

Heroic Staff

Heroic Staff

Heroic Special Activities Division Agent Trainee Program