Get Your Geek On

I love mixing work and play. In fact, part of why I enjoy my job so much is because I see so much gray area between the two, and I find myself looking for ways to incorporate one with the other.

Comic-Con was low-hanging fruit. Now that I live in the L.A. area, I couldn’t think of a reason not to make the two-hour drive to San Diego for the biggest celebration of nerds in the world.

And being a writer, it only made sense that I would join the festivities by writing about them. (I admit, getting reimbursed for gas under the label “reporting trip” added to the appeal.) And so I partnered up with the Monitor’s resident culture queen, Molly Driscoll, and set off to talk to the some of the world’s most dedicated geeks.

I did my first interviews standing in line to enter the San Diego Convention Center on Day One. Not surprisingly, it was a long line, one that wound around the venue, across the street, down the sidewalk, and almost past the harbor. It was 8:30 in the morning and already the sun sizzled. But I was way too psyched to care, and quickly got a conversation going with the older man behind me.

Stephen Barnes was 57, silver-haired, and wearing a dope Spiderman t-shirt. He was also clearly a con veteran – he had a lightweight foldable stool in hand that he would pop open and plop down on whenever the line stopped moving. Later that weekend, my feet aching, I would think to his little chair with longing.

Anyway, Barnes and I got to talking about the evolution of Comic-Con in the six years since he first started making the trip with his son from their home in Fresno.

“It’s gotten so big because of all the hoopla going on about all of the ‘Avenger’ movies and everything else,” he said.

For the most part that’s a good thing, he added, “but at my age, I’d rather have it smaller. It’s just taking so long, and people that my generation want to see aren’t coming quite as much anymore because it’s gotten so big and so hectic.”

I saw where he was coming from. The size of the crowd that had flocked to San Diego – and not just the convention center, but the entire downtown, it seemed – would surprise me over and over in the days to come. It was a literal sea of people, many of whom were wearing more leather and makeup than I’d seen even during my brief, misguided stint in musical theater. (More on that NEVER.)

But far from dulling my enthusiasm, the chaos only added to the experience. There’s nothing quite like hopping on a packed shuttle and asking the guy in a green-and-white onesie (was he supposed to be a pokemon? I will never know) if the seat next to him was taken. Or watching a Ghostbuster purchase comic books. Or trying to walk past a slow-moving Chewbacca along a crowded aisle. Or looking up and seeing Gandalf glide by.

“There’s a lot of stuff going on here,” said Richard Andalfinger, 62, who was dressed with his wife in what was probably my favorite cosplay pair of the weekend: Han Solo and Leia circa “The Force Awakens.”

“You know there’s anime, movies, television, special series, comic books, graphic novels, it’s all mixed in together here and it’s kind of huge,” he said. “It’s a lot to take in.”

No kidding.

I found the “Game of Thrones” guys standing in front of a giant air blower on the second floor, outside where the ballrooms for panels were situated. People were coming up to them, taking pictures, while Steven Bustamante – donning the fur cape and leather vest of a G.O.T. northman – tried his very hardest not to sweat.

He was failing spectacularly, but it didn’t matter. He and his buddy Hayden Donze, who was dressed as a maester, were there for the love of it: They grew up on a diet of fantasy and science fiction.

Sure, everything was bigger, more crowded, hotter today than it was when they first started going to the con, Bustamante said. But being able to share what they love with more people, and having others give them props for their unadulterated passion for all things geek were definitely major improvements, they agreed.

“Probably 10, 15 years ago, you would never see a kid in a Captain America t-shirt,” Bustamante, 25, said. “Now you’re seeing it more mainstream, happening almost every day.”

“House Targaryen stickers on people’s cars,” Donze, also 25, added. “‘My other car is a TARDIS.'”

And it all explodes into life at Comic-Con.

“Really it’s the atmosphere here,” Bustamante said. “It’s what keeps bringing us back.”

***

I filed my story after the first day of the convention, and you can find it here.

But Comic-Con kept going, and the rest of my time there is a blur of beer, hot sun, and colorful characters in way too too much or way too little clothing.

I saw a trio of velociraptors traipsing down 5th Avenue in 90-degree weather. I toasted beers with Kylo Ren as he sat down to a late lunch at a local bar. I spotted Hades from Disney’s “Hercules” giving an on-camera interview. I even bumped into the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers – the whole crew in their original ’90s garb, minus the Green Ranger. (That’s OK, nobody missed him.)

And I saw more Harley Quinn’s (from the upcoming DC film, “Suicide Squad”) and Rey’s (from “The Force Awakens,” of course) than anyone has any right to see, ever.

Highlight of the trip, though, had to be the “Supernatural” panel I went to in the illustrious Hall H. I swear to God, my heart stopped for a full 10 seconds as Jensen Ackles – who plays the true love of my life, Dean Winchester – walked out of the backstage and took his seat with the rest of the cast. Didn’t matter that from where I sat they looked like well-lit ants: I was in full fan mode, and couldn’t have been happier.

And that was Comic-Con. I don’t think I’ve ever geeked out so hard in my life, and it was amazing. Next year, I’m applying for a press pass.

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