The Epic Tale of the San Diego Comic Con International
NOTE: I do not work for Wizards of the Coast. I am a volunteer. Anything that I say is my opinion and not the opinion of Wizards of the Coast, Hasbro or any other person, being, thing, snake, dolphin or the common cold virus. Mine. Got it? Cool.
NOTE 2: This is a very long post, and details a large amount of things. I hope you have a bit of time to sit down and read, because youíre going to need it. Unless you are one of those freaky speed-readers; you guys freak me out. J
The Epic Tale of the San Diego Comic Con International,
Or: A View from the Booth
I just flew in from San Diego, and boy are my arms tired. <rimshot>
As I discussed over in this thread I had the chance to go to the San Diego Comic-Con International and work for Wizards of the Coast (WotC) at their booth. WotC is most known for the collectable card game Magic: the Gathering, but have also created games based on Neopets, Star Wars, and of course Dungeons and Dragons. I am a member of WotC's retail product support team, called Delegates, and was invited to go to help out at the con doing demos and talking to people about the games. Needless to say I was excited.
The whole thing started off pretty rough, as I did not get my itinerary until two days before I was supposed to leave, but that turned out not to be a big deal. I was scheduled to leave on Tuesday (7/20) morning, and thankfully got to the airport on time. I did not have to many problems getting through security at all, other than a short line at George Bush Intercontinental Airport (named for daddy, not son). My flight to San Diego would be interrupted by a stopover, which I hate, in Phoenix. I was in coach, but had a window seat, which makes the trip go by much more easily. I finished off a John Grisham novel on the way to Phoenix and had about a 30-minute layover there.
I was absolutely amazed at the heat of the place. I never even left the terminal, but I could feel the heat coming through the windows near where I was sitting. Lord, I thought South East Texas was bad. We took off on time, and I was able to sit next to a couple of guys who were going to the con, so the 1.5-hour flight to San Diego was quick!
Finally! In San Diego! Yea! I get my luggage and grab a cab to get to the Omni San Diego, which is a stones throw away from the convention center. The cabbie had his windows down as we followed the bay down to the hotel. I commented to the cabbie "Hell, I've been here 10 minutes and I already love the weather." He laughed and said he got that all the time. We pulled up to the hotel, and I asked if he took credit. Of course he didn't, so he ate up the last of my cash (that and airport snacks. Bring some food with you if you fly. Much cheaper!)
The hotel was an incredible place to stay, if not the best managed place in the world. Upon arriving I gave them a debit card to cover 'incidentals' (WotC paid for the hotel, flight and per diem, but not incidentals). They proceeded to hit my card for 1500 bucks, which was over my limit, SIX TIMES! My card company wouldn't do anything about it, and the hotel said this was so people wouldn't leave without paying for incidentals. Needless to say I was pissed, but no one would listen to me at all. Now I had no cash, and no credit (only one card) and it was to be three more days before I would get my per diem check. Thankfully there was a little money in my Paypal account that I was able to access to eat on that night, but it would not last for a week, thatís for sure.
With all my money tied up, I ate cheaply and went back to the hotel where I watch S.W.A.T. (yuck) and went to sleep. About 1am, my roommate Chris came in from his flight. We sleepily introduced ourselves and crashed again.
Con Day 1: The Setup and a Preview
Both Chris and I woke up early as we were both ahead due to our respective time zones, and went to get breakfast. We found a little cafe, and learned that we were both pretty much alike in the way we grew up. We also had some similar experiences, so we quickly became friends. We had a volunteer meeting at Noon, so we goofed off for a while and sauntered over to the convention center about an hour and a half early. We checked in with our Con manager, and walked the hall watching everyone setup.
I just could not believe the size of this place. If I had to wager a guess, the San Diego Convention Center is a half-mile long and a thousand yards wide. This place was HUGE, and filled with all things GEEK! Giant posters, HUGE action figues and a life size replica of an X-Wing. *swoon* The comic shops at the front of the hall (the 100-1200 aisle) were just setting up, but you could tell that these guys and gals were ready for a long weekend.
Our meeting was short, and to the point. We got our instructions, the booth captain was chosen and off we went to setup. It only took a short time for all this, so we were out to do what we wanted until 4:30pm, when we would have to return for preview night. During preview night, people who bought four day passes to the con got to come in and get first grab at all the free crap, and trust me, there was a cubic butt-load of free crap going around, from books, to figures, and stickers. It was insane! The WotC booth was giving out two player starter sets for all our games, along with pins, promo cards, lanyards, cups, and many, many more. A number of people said we had the best free crap. Good feelings!
I spent Preview night doing Magic: the Gathering demos, and by the end I had done over forty demos! Thatís a lot of new people learning the game! We were all tired after preview night was over, but we had a good time and were looking forward to the next day. We were told to be at the booth by 9:15am, and were released.
Chris and I found an Irish bar/restaurant called The Field and stuffed myself on Potato Leak chowder and Fish and Chips. Had a couple of Guinness' while I was there as well, so it was a good time. Since I was low on cash, Chris picked up the tab with my promise of getting him back later in the weekend.
I really want to thank Chris for his help during those first couple of days. I was kind of worried about being hungry since I was so low on cash, and he really stepped up to help a guy out. Not too many people would do that for someone they just met, Chris is a great guy.
Con Day 2: The First Day
Chris and I got up early and sauntered over to the Cine Cafe to grab an egg and cheese bagel and the morning fuel of all Geeks, Dr. Pepper. My wife's check had also hit the bank that morning, so I finally had some money! Whew!
We were running a little behind, but the morning meeting hadn't started yet, so we wolfed down the sammich and went to get set up for the day.
I started the day doing more Magic: the Gathering demos, but was shifted over to the Risk: Godstorm table and ran that the rest of the day. The big difference between doing the two is that for board games like Risk, there is a LOT of talking. Almost constantly really, so that by lunch I had to get some tea to sooth my poor vocal cords.
Before I left the con, I was talking to a friend of mine who had been to San Diego before. He said everything was expensive, and boy howdy it was. I grabbed a burger; some fries a soda and a bottle of water on site and paid $15.00!!! Holy crap! On top of that, the burger tasted like something you get in high school. Very industrial! Bleck!
I didn't get to walk around too much, as we were really busy, but I did get to go see Donoto Giancola , who is one of my favorite artists in Magic. I met him originally during Pro Tour: Houston in November of 2002 (Magic: the Gathering has 5 $200K purse tournaments each year), and we quickly became friends. As soon as I get the money together I plan on getting a tattoo of his version of the Shivan Dragon on my back. We talked about this, and he promised to get the line drawing to me soon.
I was also able to get to see Scott Kurtz, who draws the online webcomic pVp . I was actually turned on to pVp by this board, although I don't recall who it was that linked to it. Maybe Fenris? Anyway, Scott was very gracious and was happy to sign his first Image book for me, and I promised to swing by later when I had more time to pick up some of his stuff.
The second half of Thursday was a big blur. Lots of Godstorm, lots of Magic. I did a couple of errands for my booth mates (running to get water, or more product when needed) and generally tried to make myself as useful as possible.
By the end of the day we were exhausted, but in a good way! Everyone in the booth was happy with the way things went and at our end of day meeting; our convention manager invited us all out to dinner at The Spaghetti Factory! Excellent!
Chris and I went back to the hotel, showered (not together, you perv) got dressed and headed down to the restaurant which was about two blocks from the hotel. There were 20 people around a big table and we had some excellent food and drink. I was a bit upset at their lack of beer selection. I asked the waiter what sort of dark brews he had. When he replied that they had none, I asked about micro brews. He offered one, and brought out the thinnest, clearest beer I have ever seen. During the few days before I had told some people about my dislike for beers that I can see through and got a bit of ribbing for my 'choice' of beer. The food was really great though.
After dinner we sat around the table and told jokes, and learned a bit more about each other. A couple of the guys thought it would be a good idea to get some cigars and walk around the Gaslamp Quarter, which is the historical heart of San Diego. Basically means that all the chain restaurants are there. It really was nice, but very crowded.
We broke from dinner, and found that it was myself, my roommate Chris and another guy from Colorado, Ken. During dinner Ken was the center of attention with his humor and good jokes, so I was happy to be spending time with him. We parted company from the rest of the group and started down 5th street until we came to a Cuban rolled cigar shop. Neither of the other two guys smoked cigars (although Ken smoked cigarettes) so they turned to me for suggestions. I suggested something light and small, and they choose a Maduro. It wasn't the smallest, but I think that it was a good choice for those who hadn't smoked before. I had a Torpedo Maduro. Ken picked up the tab for the smokes, and we started walking down the Gaslamp looking for a drinking spot.
I was really surprised at the amount of cigar shops in the area. We must have passed three of them on the way to our final destination of the night, which was a small bar that had an outside porch. I wish I could remember the name of the place, as it was really cheap and had a good selection of beer. I jumped in and bought the first round for everyone. Ken and I had a nice Amber and Chris got a Miller Lite
As I walked out on the porch, I passed three, tough looking guys drinking and smoking. I said hello, and set the drinks down for my new friends. We drank pretty quickly, as the cigars were a bit dry unfortunately. Ken went in to get the second round, and when we came back I heard one of the tough guys talking in a deep, south Texas accent. I walked over and introduced myself to them the near-drunken hopes that they wouldn't kill me. They didn't, so I asked the Texan where he was from and he replied "Katy, Texas brotha, wahre ewe from?" I laughed and told him I was from Houston (the cities are connected). Turns out the three guys were Merchant Marines, and were there on leave. We cracked a few jokes with them, and then they had to split.
The three of us sat around for the next couple of hours and forged our relationship. At some point between the second and sixth beers of the night we were talking about the most famous redneck of all, Jeff Foxworthy. He has a line about how single people have the best sex stories. "So there I was, tied to a bed. When she walked in she had some jumper cables and some 40 weight!" Ken is a single guy, and we all got a huge kick out of the line that we used it all weekend.
After six or seven Ambers I was about ready to pop. I was drunk, but if I had gotten just one more I would have been plastered. Thankfully, Chris felt about the same way so we sauntered back in the direction of the hotel where we ran into a famous Magic: the Gathering artist that will remain nameless (but when he reads this he is going to know who he is ). He did the art for a card that is really cool, but the card is not very powerful in the game. For some reason (beer) I was able to tell him just how much I enjoyed the art, and why I liked it so much. Its tough to have an artist soul and have absolutely zero artistic talent.
When we got back to our room, I jumped in bed and crashed.
I forgot to call Jenn. Oops.
Con Day 3: The Pain
Our wake up call drags us out of bed at the ungodly hour of "Oh shit! We gotta get up dude!" We ran over to Cafe Cine again and grabbed Dr. Pepper, and some chips. I was about to find out that I needed to get some Advil too.
As we were walking back toward the convention center, I noticed clouds were rolling in from the Pacific. At the time I didn't give it much thought. We got into the booth, and used up our Get Out of Being in Trouble card on our lateness. The day started with me running Godstorm at the front of our booth. As I said before, Godstorm had a lot of new rules that needed to be explained to every person that sat down and played the game. About an hour into the day I felt a small sinus drip start in the back of my throat. It just was a tickle at first, but by 11:30 it had formed into a scratch that went all the way down my throat.
I took my lunch at Starbucks and drank 2 cups of tea. Since the line was SOOOOO long (it took 40 minutes to go through the line, and we only had an hour for lunch) I wasn't able to get anything for the pain. Our Booth Captain had mints, which helped, but there would be no way I could do any major amount of talking for the rest of the day. Thankfully I was able to help her do the work running the booth. I was ok talking to someone close by, but I could not run a game at all.
As the day wore on, my throat got better and better. So much so that by the end of the day I was feeling much better, and I vowed that I would not drink for the rest of the weekend, which I kept too. I am so proud.
During the day, one of Chris' friends came by the booth and volunteered to help run demos during the lunch break portion of the show (and by the way, if you are ever interested in walking up to a WotC booth and volunteering, the are always willing to help! And they will give you some free crap, so come on down!). So after the show was over, he joined Ken, Chris and I up in our room to figure out just what the hell we were going to do that night.
After some serious, long-winded, spirited conversation (read: near riot) we decided to get some pizza and see a movie. More long-winded, spirited conversation (read: kicking and screaming) we decided to go see The Bourne Supremacy and a restaurant that Chris friend recommended. We took our time getting there, but once we got to the street that it was supposed to be and it wasn't there. Urk. More conversation ensued and we decided to go to The Hard Rock Cafe. Thankfully a 50 minute wait time forced us across the street to a pizza joint that had a bit shorter wait time.
Chris and his friend went off to chat alone, and Ken and I were left to our own devices. As most of you smokers know, when given a choice smokers will choose to stand and smoke than to walk anywhere. So we stood around in front of the restaurant giving the people sitting on the porch area of the pizza joint a show with our comments on a variety of subjects including, but not limited to the female members of the community walking by (Bullshit to English translation: we ogled chicks).
After about 40 minutes of waiting, the four of us finally got a table. The pizza was excellent, and we had an interesting conversation about the past history of Magic: the Gathering.
After dinner we slid down a few blocks and went to see the movie at the Pacific 15. The Bourne Supremacy was an interesting movie, and I liked the plot and characters quite a bit. The only real issue I had was the camera work. During every action filled scene, they shook the camera around so much that it was hard to make out what was going on. There are literally minutes of footage that I had no idea what was going on. Even something as simple as running down a street caused the camera to jerk and shake. Near the end of the movie during the car chase (tm), a man in front of me got up and moved to the side of the theater and was rocking back and forth like he was woozy. Very disconcerting. I have noticed that more and more movies doing this lately.
The four of us walked back to the hotel, where Chris' friend had to leave to head home. After some good-natured ribbing, he left and Chris and I hit the sack after a bit of Celebrity Poker.
So Epic it took two posts...
Con Day 4: The Crush
I woke up on Saturday morning feeling MUCH better than the two days before. Due to the show opening early, we had to get up an hour earlier to get there on time. Saturday at the Con was going to be crazy, or so they told us. Little did we expect what we were about to get.
Chris and I grabbed breakfast, and quickly got to the convention center. The morning meeting started, and we were given our assignments for the day. Because of my throat I did not want to get to up close and personal to our customers if it could be avoided, so I helped out our booth Captain, Tracy, throughout the day. We were also given our per diem checks that morning too, so I made a mental note to get to the bank and cash it during my lunch break.
The day started off well, as we had plenty of staff and the demos were going well. Everyone in the booth was working REALLY hard at making Tracy and I look good. They all got back from breaks and lunches early or on time, and there were no major problems throughout the day.
On Saturday night at the Con, there is a big show called The Masquerade. Basically itís a bunch of folks in costumes doing a variety of things. As the story will tell, I did not decide to go. The first costume I see for the day is Invisible Clothing Man. I kid you not folks, there was an 18-year-old Asian dude, wearing nothing but his BVDís and sandals. Not the thing you want to see first thing in the morning.
There were a TON of costumes throughout the day.
About 11am I decided to take my lunch break, so I could go get my check cashed. I grabbed a bicycle rickshaw, blasted to the bank and decided to walk back to the convention center and enjoy the great SoCal weather. On my way back I was strolling past a park, when a homeless guy jumped out from behind some newspaper vending machines yelling, "I know you have money! Give me some!" Holy crap! He grabbed my arms and got right in my face, "I need some food man! Gimme your money!"
I was really scared as I had $200 in cash on me right then, so I kneed the guy in the gut and ran towards the convention center. There were lots of traffic cops taking care of the streets (and let me give a big shout out to the SDPD, who did a great job in keeping the crowds moving), so I went up to one and told her about what had happened to me. I described the guy to her, and what he (and I) had done. She smiled a bit when I told her I kneed the guy in the gut, but said not to worry that she wouldn't write it up. I don't know what happened to the guy, but it seems like he would know better than to do that to people.
I was visibly shaken, so I went in the front of the convention center and spent my time walking up the aisle back to the booth. There was a TON of people in the hall, but not so much that it was terrible. I was able to stop by Scott Kurtz's booth again and pick up a Skull Plush and an Obey the Cat T-shirt. I especially like the Skull Plush. I have been a fan for a while, and to see an actual toy from one of my favorite comics was great. Scott and his wife Angela were very, very cool and it was a pleasure to meet them. That plush helped me sleep that night too.
As I left his booth and started walking back towards the Wizards booth, I noticed a large crowd around the Star Wars pavilion. Turns out they had just released the T-shirts for the final installment of George Lucas' epic (snicker) trilogy now titled Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi. The crowd around this booth (one of the largest at the con) was giagantor! I thought I was smart by going around what I thought was the back of booth, but I ended up right in the dang center of it! I ended up having to back track around the life size model of an X-Wing (GLEE!) and got back to my booth just in time!
Just in time to run an errand! WotC was running a Con Championship for their Risk 2210 and Acquire games. Because the booth was so small, they held them up in the meeting rooms, which were about 300 yards and some stairs away. I had to go up there to get some food for the guy running the games. So off I go on another adventure!
The trip to the meeting room was ok, but on the way back I decided to stop by the Top Cow booth and pick up Witchblade #1 Con Exclusive, and for some reason everyone in the world decided to stand in front of me on the way back to the booth. I didn't have a bag and board with me so I was walking around with a potentially EXPENSIVE book in my hand with no comic condom! Alas, what is a hero supposed to do? I got pissed off. After all the stress (and trust me, I am leaving out a bunch of the negative stuff in the hopes of having a positive post) this GIAGANTOR crowd has now pissed me off to the Nth degree!
It took me 35 minutes to get from the Top Cow booth to the WotC booth. Jeeze I was irked. Thankfully there wasn't much going on at the booth, but there had been an announcement made.
Carrie Fisher was going to be signing at the booth at 6pm!!! Carrie Fisher! Princess Leia!
Before Lucas fucked up the franchise, the original trilogy (and not the one with the CG Jabba) was the high and mighty of all movies to me. Sure they had their faults, but come on... This is the Bible of geekdom. So just the fact that I was going to be within ten feet of the woman was a positive thing. Sadly the rest of the afternoon kind of dragged on as we had run out of free product and no one was sitting down to try the games.
About 5pm, people started getting in line for Carrie Fisher's autograph, and the booth started to tidy up. Just before 6pm, the line went around the booth, across an aisle and halfway down the Hasbro booth (which is the parent company of WotC)! Right on time Carrie Fisher walked right by me as she moved towards the Giant Armoroid (a big robot from the WotC game DuelMasters).
*happy dance* *swoon* *happy dance* *swoon*
She was wearing an earth tone print blouse and a knee-high skirt, with some nice shoes. I could smell her perfume as she walked by me. She sat in a chair under the Armoroid and started signing picture postcards of her in the Slave Girl outfit.
Sadly the guys/girls in the booth didn't get anything signed whilst she was there, and we were promised autographs through the mail. I was kind of bummed when I found out we weren't gonna get anything signed, but one of my booth mates (and I will refuse to name names if anyone asks) pointed something out to me during the end of Ms. Fisher's autograph session. You see, the chair that she was sitting on was very tall, and the table she was signing at was a little to short, which means she had to bend over just slightly to sign the pictures.
Because of this her shirt had ridden up just a bit, and her skirt had gone down a bit to reveal Carrie Fisher's panties.
I'll say it again, because it bears repeating. I saw Carrie Fisher's panties.
ZOWIE! So like the self-respecting geek I am, I called a friend of mine James (who is the biggest Star Wars buff, err... ever) and told him the entire story. It was the highlight of the weekend.
Soon after she was done signing the Con closed for the day, and I was exhausted. Between my throat being sore the day before, and 8+ hours on my feet I was so tired. We all headed back to our rooms and decided to order some pizza from Domino's and have it by the pool of the hotel. The pie was ordered and a large group of us met by the pool to have some beers (there was a bar attached) and eat the pie. It was a great night of jokes, stories, and friendship. Very cool.
Chris and Ken were going to go dancing, but my dogs were barking something fierce. I decided to stay in, and watch Comic Book: The Movie which stars Mark Hamil was filmed at the 2002 Comic Con. It was kind of neat seeing some of the things that I had seen on film.
I called Jenn, and went to sleep. Chris came in a little after 4am, I barely remember looking at the clock.
Con Day 5: This is The End, My Beautiful Friend, The End.
I woke up before the alarm clock so that I could stretch before I got moving for the day. I spent about 30 minutes trying to get my legs to work properly. Boy I stood up a lot. Itís funny too, because no one told me to stand up all the time. There were times when I sat to do demos, or to rest my feet, but I was quickly up on my feet again working and talking to people. Our convention manager seemed pleased with our work, and I was gonna work just as hard today as I had the previous four.
I got Chris up, and he got in the shower. Turns out he and Ken had picked up a couple of chicks and spent all night chatting them up by the pool. Heh, Player's... Chris' wife told him to do it too. I was there!
We had our last breakfast together, and got to the con about 10 minutes early. The Con Manager gathered us around for our morning roll call and instructions for the day. Turns out at the end of Sunday they had some stuff for us. We set up and waited for a slow day.
And it was pretty slow around the con, but we finally had free stuff to give away! So boosters were flying out of the booth at a furious rate. At one point we had 10 people waiting to play a Magic demo. Thankfully we had a large group of walk on volunteers, so that gave us a lot of time to spend during the con.
I took a hour and a half break around noontime, and just walked around the con. Got to go by another of my favorite web comics The Real Life booth and meet its artist, Greg Dean. He has a great book of his first year of the Real Life. Its quite good and I highly recommend it for the geek in your family.
I also spent a lot of time getting Magic cards signed. One of my favorite Magic landscape artists, Rob Alexander was there and signed a number of my cards. Jeremy Jarvis did a great sketch for me on a comic board.
I also got to meet another of my favorite artists, the Italian Alex Horley. This guy looks just like Slash from Guns and Roses. Its eeire. He did a card in the Onslaught Magic set called Break Open. The card is terrible, and is most likely in the top 10 of the worst cards in Magic because it does nothing. Anyway, I have like 600 of these cards because I am obsessed with having them all. I want to blight the earth of this card. So while I was talking to him, I was flipping through his original Magic art... and there it was, staring at me. The original art for Break Open. I inquired as to the price, and he said in a thick, Italian accent, "$600 Dollooors, baut that is negotiable." I took his card, and moved on after buying a print and an artistís proof of Break Open. He was a really cool guy, and I am glad to have met him.
I got back to the booth with a few minutes to spare. The last hour was spent doing last minute demos, and giving away all the rest of our free stuff. It got so bad that after the show was officially over (which got a huge round of applause when it was announced) we were begging people to take the promos and posters away. We helped tear down the booth, and were given our swag.
I got a great D&D briefcase and a box of the Magic set Fifth Dawn. Wow! I was totally not expecting a free booster box after they flew me out there and put me up in the hotel. It was very, very cool of WotC to do that for us.
Chris and I left a bit early, as he had a 9pm flight back home. I helped him pack, and wished him well. I am glad I made such a good friend when I was there. I know that he and I will be friends for a long time.
After Chris split, I spent my time packing and getting ready for my flight home. I watched Kill Bill Vol. 1 and had a long conversation with Jenn on the phone before hitting the sack.
One More Time: The Trip Home
I awoke early, and got dressed quickly. Got some caffeine and brushed my teeth. I had no bill at the front desk, so I handed them my key and hailed a cab to the airport. The cabbies window was messing with him the whole trip. This guy was cursing in languages that I have never even heard before!
I get to the airport, and snag my e-tickets. The line through security was long, but it seemed to be moving pretty rapidly. The free USA Today from the hotel keeps me occupied while I trudge through the line, and short sit at the gate. We get on the plane and are off to home. A quick stopover in Phoenix (again! Urk!), and 4 hours later I am home. My mom picked me up from the airport, and dropped me off at home.
So here I am, home safe, tired and ready to go next year! I had a great time, and I enjoyed meeting the couple of dopers (jellyblue and another guy on Saturday who I can't remember his name. If you respond, tell me and I will slap myself) coming by and saying hello. Its always nice to meet you guys.
It took me a couple of days to write and edit The Epic San Diego Comic Con International report, but I just found out that I will be going to Gen*Con in Indianapolis this year! So all you gamers going to Gen*Con lets hook up and do a booster draft!
We were so swamped on Saturday that I couldn't see straight. It was a pleasure to meet you (even if I am TERRIBLE with names).
It was great to meet you, too, and am glad you had a good time even with a few unfortunate adventures (usually if you just start barking at the homeless guys, they go away). Do you think they'll send you again next year?
Boobs and panties, eh? You boys are just so easy to please .
Good to hear you got home safe & sound.