Op/Ed: SDCC Aftermath: Time To Bring Change To HALL H

SDCC 2010: Thursday HALL H Rep

Enough is enough.

It's now clearer than ever that the organizers of Comic-Con International: San Diego have to wake up and move into the 21st century. Whatever actually happened during the now-infamous stabbing incident on that Saturday, Day 3 of the Con -- and reports varied widely, to say the least -- it should be viewed as a necessary wake-up call to overhaul procedures for the Con's main stage, Hall H.

What will it take for the convention's brain trust to realize hoarding 6,000 people into a cavernous, windowless barnhouse of a place with no assigned seating and trusting they will all just get along, is a really bad idea? Some bloggers are blaming news outlets like The New York Times for jumping all over the story and fueling those crazy rumors that circulated the day of the incident.

What, someone gets stabbed in the face with a pen at the same convention where Angelina Jolie appeared onstage 48 hours earlier, an hour before James Bond and Indiana Jones were due to appear, and you don't think that's news? Get real, people. The newsgathering aspects may have been suspect, but if Comic-Con's happy happy, studio-fed publicity stunts are newsworthy, so are incidents of Fanboy rage.

Hall H has been a tragedy waiting to happen for quite a few years now. It's frankly astounding to me that something worse than two idiot friends turning on each other and one getting poked in the face with a pen, hasn't happened before. It's like a rock concert, only without the same security measures.

The 'security' force at the San Diego Convention Center looks like a mix of crossing guards and teenage summer camp counselors. I don't mean to disparage the large group of volunteers that work the Con, because by and large they are a competent, hard-working group. It's not easy dealing with 125,000 geeks, and they do a fine job. My point is, the event has morphed into something that calls for more secure procedures.

If you've never been to SDCC, know that getting into Hall H is the fanboy equivalent of gaining access to the velvet-rope section of the most exclusive club in town. It's tough, and not just for fans. The amount of pleading, cajoling and name-dropping done by members of the press and various VIPs to gain access to certain panels would shock you. Last year, I stood next to Marvel E-i-C Joe Quesada and Bob Layton as they tried to get into the "Iron Man 2" panel. They did, but not without considerable difficulty.

A more experienced security force is needed to police Hall H. Fanboy desperation can get ugly, especially if you've been waiting in a line 10,000 people deep on a hot Saturday morning to get in to see the first footage of "Green Lantern."

Metal detectors should also be considered. Why not? There is one point of entry into Hall H. It would be faster than patting down each guest. Is it any more of an inconvenience than forcing people to wait all day in the sun? C'mon, we're talking about an event where fans dress up as their favorite comic book characters. I don't know about you, but I'd feel a wee bit safer knowing that chubby Punisher or amateur Cobra Commander isn't carrying a real weapon.

The biggest change should involve the actual process for getting into Hall H.

Once fans get inside, many don't leave, preferring to commit all or most of a day to the programming inside Hall H. Can you blame them? It's next to impossible to get back in. This year, Saturday was the main event of the Con. Hall H programming started with "Green Lantern," continued with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," morphed into Universal's presentation with "Paul" and "Cowboys & Aliens," and culminated with Marvel's panel. There's a lot of fan overlap there. If you wanted to see GL and Marvel, you had to camp out overnight, and then plant yourself in a seat until after 9pm. Insanity.

This won't change, unless Comic-Con gives them no choice.

No matter how much lip service is given to the event remaining 'true to its roots,' movies, not comics, are now the marquee programming of Comic-Con International: San Diego. And like moths to the flame, fans are drawn to the mega-star wattage inside Hall H, which this year included Angelina Jolie, Will Ferrell, Bruce Willis, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Craig, Eva Mendes, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlet Johannson, and for the first time ever, Harrison Ford.

That's why the convention needs to implement a ticketing process for specific Hall H panels. Free of course, perhaps distributed online or the morning of or the day before a panel. Then those people with tickets are allowed access into those panels. That would mean clearing out the crowds from the previous panel.

Would panel junkies miss out on seeing every panel? Sure. And that's a shame, but not a crime. There are multiple great events happening all over the convention at the same time that fans could enjoy instead of being trapped inside Hall H all day.

Not only would it ensure a wider group of fans the opportunity to experience one of those 'only in Hall H' moments, it would give them the chance to do so without sacrificing an entire day to waiting in line. Call me crazy, but there is NOTHING at Comic-Con worth camping out for overnight. Not a Hall H panel, not a Jim Lee autograph signing (no offense, Jim), not a Hasbro convention exclusive toy giveaway. I'm not sure when fandom started believing that waiting in excruciatingly long lines was some sort of badge of honor; it's not. It's a waste of valuable convention time.

Something else that should happen, and it's something I've suggested for several years, is that Comic-Con set up closed-circuit rooms for the press to watch Hall H panels. Set it up in a few of the rooms above the Hall that go unused. Or even better, at the Hilton Bayfront next door. That's where most of the movie studios held their press conferences and interview sessions. Doing so would alleviate much of the logistical challenges media members face, and clear room for more fans inside Hall H, at the same time.

While it's nice and rather quaint to try and maintain the illusion that this is still an old-school comic book convention, the truth is, it's not. It's the most important not just on the pop culture calendar, but in San Diego, period. It has an annual economic impact of $193 million on the area. It's time to run it and police it accordingly.

I made the rock concert analogy earlier. Back in 1979, 11 people died in a stampede at a Who concert in Cincinnati. It was a perfect storm of tragedy, inadequate security, festival seating and rabid fans. It led to major changes to the way arena rock shows were organized, including the virtual extinction of first-come, first-serve general admission for indoor concerts.

Comic-Con has been fortunate to dodge the bullet for its first 40 years. The victim will live, his wounds will heal. But to resist change in its policies is to continue to tempt fate, and invite a potential tragedy that would be a lot worse than a fight between two morons.

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