Grinning and bearing it. Photo by Janine Kahn.
Grinning and bearing it. Photo by Janine Kahn.

Confessions of a Comic-Con Virgin

"It's the most wonderful time of the year," OC Weekly reporter and pop-culture guru Luke Y. Thompson tells me as I hover over his desk, which is cluttered with press releases and studded with action figures from his wall-to-wall home collection. He's talking about the San Diego Comic-Con, where we're headed to in the last week of July.

LYT's the excited, geeky con veteran; I'm the nervous, non-geek con virgin assigned to tail him and take photos galore for the Weeklywebsite. I've gotten nothing but smirks and sympathy from friends who've done the S.D. con; even art director Joey Santos tells me it usedto be fun. Over the years, he says, it has morphed into an endless junket madhouse.

That doesn't faze my fanboy colleague, who grins as he takes a sip from his Borg mug. Neck-deep into hotel reservations and panel-covering plans, I figure resistance is futile.

All too soon, July 25 rolls around, marked by LYT's arrival at the office dressed in a rain jacket, droplets from his freshly dyed and still-wet rainbow hair trailing down his neck and forehead. He's his own character, really, with those colorful streaks and those tight black shirts with the LYT emblem stretched across the chest. He drives down to the con for a press preview that evening, while I plan to meet up with him the next day.

Thursday morning is a disaster. My camera charger disappears, the drive to San Diego is a clusterfuck, and the folks at the Hilton tell me the free Comic-Con shuttle doesn't stop at the hotel. (Later, I find it stops one hotel down, but by then, I'm several $20 cab rides poorer.)

Bad luck follows me to the con, where my camera's memory card declares itself corrupted. With the nearest Office Depot more than a mile away and my meeting with LYT looming, I hop aboard a pedicab driven by a college boy from Russia. He pedals his furry white legs off, and I almost feel guilty for the burger I wolfed down for breakfast. And that's another $30 to my ever-climbing tab.

Back at the con, Luke's hair is a lifeline in a sea of costumed attendees. We stand in a seemingly endless queue for a Paramount panel at Hall H, but the room fills up just before we can step foot into it. Christ, I thought. Does this confounded convention thing get better?!

Fortunately for my splintering sanity, it does.

LYT and I are bombarded with eye candy in the expansive exhibit hall. A massive sculpture of Lord Voldemort towers over a crowd replete with Imperial Stormtroopers and half-naked 300 soldiers. Booths selling exclusive con merch beckon; Luke purchases figures from various fandoms (Star Trek, He-Man, Transformers), while I pick up a pink R2-D2. Artists sit behind tables, selling signed versions of their work, while others peddle everything from Pokémon dolls to suits of armor.

Later in the evening, I meet up with Weekly clubs editor Erin DeWitt, who almost drove to Mexico in her quest to find downtown San Diego. We sit down to champagne and pasta at a cute little joint overlooking the bay and plot to make Friday a stress-free con day.

We succeed for the most part, getting our photos taken before a green screen at the Golden Compass booth, sitting in a panel with the entire cast of American Dad and picking up swag. I lug my company-issue laptop around, and we take turns blogging and uploading photos. The day ends with beer and boxty at the Field, an Irish pub in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter.

I crawl back to my Huntington Beach hole Saturday night, sick of lines and burning cash. But logging on to the Los Angeles Times website, I realize my first Comic-Con experience was a breeze compared to that of Times reporter Geoff Boucher; he ran into some thugs outside the con and spent Saturday evening getting staples in his scalp. Yeowch. 

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