The long and sometimes turbulent marriage between Comic-Con and San Diego seems to be thriving.
Against all odds.
The 47th annual pop culture hootenanny kicked off Wednesday with its traditional “Preview Night” and customary hassles. Some waited all day Wednesday to enter the exhibition hall, which didn’t open until 6 p.m., while folks eager for today’s 10 a.m. star-studded sessions in Hall H began lining up 27 hours earlier.
Prices were gasp-inducing, whether in parking lots or at toy company booths, where one-quarter-scale Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures were going for a cool $100 - cash only.
The show will continue through Sunday, and each day is part entertainment extravaganza, part endurance course. Today, for instance, could begin in Hall H for an early Dreamworks Animation session, then continue at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel for a Nerdist panel with Chris Hardwick, then involve a trek to the Horton Grand Theatre for the “Grimm’s Fairy Tales Live,” and later a stagger to the Spreckels Theatre where Conan O’Brien is broadcasting his TV show. (Tonight’s guest: Jennifer Lawrence.)
All this glamour and excitement comes at a high price in energy and patience. After all these years, is this show still worth it?
“I was kind of starting to wonder,” said Megan Fox, 29, an actress from L.A. (another actress named Megan Fox). “But there’s something about standing in line for something that interests you and finding other people with that shared interest.”
“As I get older, it does get tougher,” said Mike Minjares, 50, who has attended every Con since 1977. “But the joy is still there. There are artists, movie stars, TV stars, someone writing a comic book that you are reading - these are all experiences you don’t get anywhere else.”
For a select few, those experiences included Wednesday’s night’s premiere of “Star Trek Beyond” at the Embarcadero Marina Park South, with the cast on hand and the San Diego Symphony Orchestra delivering a live performance of the score. In the afternoon, fans waited up to two hours for the chance to score a ticket.
“To get into Comic-Con itself is a lottery,” said Kyle Warlick of Rancho Peñasquitos, noting that tickets to this year’s Con sold out in less than an hour. “To win the lotto twice?”
But he did, and was thrilled: “It’s a good start to my Comic-Con this week.”
Unlike some years, the 2016 edition doesn’t have any single panel or premiere infecting attendees with FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). At least, not yet.
“To be honest,” said David Glanzer, the Con’s chief communications and strategy officer, “we won’t know what the big thing was until Monday.”
For San Diego’s Allie Bjorklund, the big thing was Friday’s Hall H lineup, which includes the casts of “Fear the Walking Dead,” “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones.” That’s why she and her two daughters - Bibi, 14, and Victoria, 2 - camped on the grassy verge outside the convention center Wednesday night and will do so again tonight.
“I brought a sleeping bag and chairs, blankets to sit on, water, lots of water,” she said. “And sandwiches.”
For toy collectors like Honda Ngo, a 42-year-old financial officer with an L.A. law firm, the big things are the one-of-a-kind collectibles. Last year, his then-girlfriend won a lottery that allowed her to buy a Con-exclusive LEGO set for about $40.
Walking away from the LEGO booth, she was offered $200 for her new purchase.
“She takes another three steps,” Ngo said, “and someone else says, ‘I’ll give you $300.’”
She resisted, but many don’t. Reselling Comic-Con toys - usually online, and always with a hefty markup - is so widespread that the show attracts “mules” who fan out across the exhibition hall, fulfilling orders for dealers.
While some movie studios have scaled back their Comic-Con presence, it remains a vibrant marketplace for publishers, game manufacturers, even dealers in fine art.
The Profiles in History booth displayed Frank Frazetta’s “Sea Witch” in anticipation of this canvas’ July 30 auction in Calabasas. The pre-sale estimate: $1 million to $1.5 million, making this the most expensive piece of art ever displayed at Comic-Con.
More Con-goers, though, are apt to shop for comic books - you can still find used issues for as little as $1 - videos, toys, costumes. This is just the place to find your next silicon mask of the terrifying Ice King from “Game of Thrones” ($669) or a lifesized Darth Vader (“The ballpark figure is somewhere between $6,000 and $8,000,” said Steve Zimmermann of Sideshow.)’
You come here for manga and anime, for reprints of 1940s noir comics, for the chance to see Ben Affleck (promoting the upcoming “Justice League” flick) or Gal Gadot (star of 2017’s “Wonder Woman” movie).
The Ankleys - Carol, 76, Donald, 79, and their 51-year-old daughter, Karen - came for the weather.
“It’s nice to get out of the heat in Arizona,” said Carol, noting that they live in Mesa.
Rookies last year, they are veterans now, and they know what to look for. “A great number of unusual people all congregated in one space,” Carol said.
That great number seems to grow annually, and this year’s estimate of 135,000 doesn’t include the tens of thousands of non-badgeholders who flood into the Gaslamp for movie screenings, zombie walks, Ferris wheels (there’s one over by Petco) and the atmosphere that’s part carnival midway and part Hieronymous Bosch freak show.
A lot to take in. But too much?
“No,” said Jay Brown, a Pasadena resident at his third Con. “You psych yourself up for this all year long.”
Works for him. Brown, after all, had invested 10 hours just to get inside the exhibition hall.