Heart of Dorkness

How I Finally Learned to Use Comic-Con to my Professional Advantage

Over many years of attending San Diego Comic-Con, I’ve learned that it’s a multi-tentacled beast. A multi-tentacled beast that also happens to be filled itself with tentacled beasts, but still. It’s a major media event, a great orgy of fan servicing, a collectors’ and retailers’ hive, and somehow also 150,000 people’s birthday party, too.

And, accordingly, I’ve gone to SDCC for many different purposes: One year I was promoting my comedy album in a “Revolutionary War/Cyborg” costume (ladies…) Another year I sold my comic book in a booth shared with a Dr. Who/Steampunk-wardrobe-retailer. This made it way easier to direct our sales pitches to the “non-monocle” crowd.

But this time, I had a different product to sell: myself. After more than a decade writing for late-night shows, I’ve decided to pursue my true love, animation. And though I’ve had a little initial success, I need to meet way more people in this field. Then a senior animation guy that I met urged me, like Ben-Kenobi holding a canapé aloft with his mind, “Come to Comic-Con… for the networking….”

He pointed out that, outside the crowds and lines, Comic-Con was also a nonstop series of social events with people I’d want to meet. I took him on as my Spirit Guide, got myself lodging with through San Diego college professor friends (it was free as long as I agreed to feed their pet chicken), and agreed to give “Comic-Con: Shmoozing Edition” a whirl.

Freaky Friday

Comic-Con starts Wednesday night and goes through Sunday afternoon, but my OSG said that a Friday night stayover would net me the bulk of the social happenings. Having never in my life demonstrated any knowledge of “social happenings,” I was in his hands.

So I arrived Friday midday, picked up my badge, and headed right for a luncheon event into which my Spirit Guide had gotten me. And it was a beyond-zonkers immediate grand slam. A simple party with a classy spread put on by a management company, this fete was the epicenter of the people on my list to meet. Executives, producers, and editors were, shockingly, willing to talk to me, merely because I was at this party. I was my own Edith Wharton heroine, talking my way into a society of which I was not yet a member (albeit in a less “whalebone”-centric outfit).

Then I made it to the San Diego Hilton Bayfront, one of the two Death Star-like hotel giants that anchor most of Comic-Con’s social happenings. This was a party to which I’d been invited. But now I wanted to share those invites with a friend, to thank for being very helpful professionally.

That’s but one example of the secret underground economy of Comic-Con. As was my badge. Another friend, whom I’d helped in the past, now routinely just uses his position to grab me a four-day pass. Which this year I didn’t use in full, so I ended up selling off to another friend. This has been the most boring episode of “Vice” ever.

But at this point, I did use that badge for my first andonly foray onto “the Floor”– to attend a panel on which three friends were speaking – unspeakably precious in Comic-Con terms, because it meant they literally could not flake.

This was not a marquee, “Cast of Game of Thrones–Dead Characters Only–REUNITED”-type panel, but rather one of the hundreds of practical, craft- and business-oriented ones that happen at SDCC. It was about getting and navigating jobs in TV animation, and it featured an impressive row of talent.

Then I headed back to the Bayfront, for a bar I’d heard was a gathering place for many pros. And indeed it was. Deep into the night we regaled one another with heartbreaking tales of lost gigs and network notes.

Sexy Saturday
The author operates a virtual forklift at Comic-Con.

The next day took some even stranger turns. I wandered around the many “installations” for TV shows and movies, most of them with lines too intimidatingly long for me to contemplate. But eventually, I hit upon the one exhibit with zero line: The Virtual Reality “Forklift Experience.” Let’s just say I have a new nickname: “The Terror of the Aisles.”

Eventually, I ran into Spirit Guide, who was rounding up folks for a ride on his boat. He doesn’t own a boat, he just rents one to live on during Comic-Con. This genius hack gets around the Con’s infamous lack of habitation. The boat ride was a shmoozy, boozy mixer with a few co-pros, a harbor tour, and a stirring reminder of San Diego’s Naval base and ready access to nukes.

Come sail away with us.

By now it was evening, and the Marriott Marquis–the other Death Star bookending SDCC’s giant Convention Center belly–hosted not one but three parties within. The Writers Guild threw one. I hadn’t RSVPed for it but wangled an invite inside. There, a run-in with an old TV colleague led me into the adjacent party for DC. I was simultaneously texting with a friend at the also-Marquis-based children’s literature party. I’d begged him to introduce me to an author beloved by my daughter, and this was my best chance of “catching her in the wild.”

But then, someone in our “group” said there was a “cooler” party at the other Hotel monstrosity, so I ditched the daughter-fan-fave-meetup to make the great trudge one last time.

And it was a decent party, too. But at this point, I was going on two-nights-of-Comic-Con fatigue. More to the point, Comic-Con was going on night four-of-four. People were feeling that faint, invisible tug that indicated that the Con had tipped, that tomorrow we’d all trudge back home, our sweaty faded character T-shirts and glittery headwear packed away, back to “reality.”

Til next year, San Diego Comic-Con. You continue to be a Rubik’s Cube: multi-faceted, full of beautiful secret patterns, and hopelessly, hopelessly sweaty.

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Rob Kutner

Rob Kutner has written for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Conan, and is also the author of Apocalypse How: Turn the End Times into the Best of Times, and the graphic novel Shrinkage.

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