An Englishman’s Opinion: Hall H ‘A State Of The Union’

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FIRST PUBLISHED on AN ENGLISHMAN IN SAN DIEGO, 24th August 2017

Back in August 2017, I was approached by dailysuperhero.com‘s Nick Whitney to look back to my experiences at San Diego Comic-Con and contribute to a post about Hall H, the content on display and the programming by the studios that presented there, and where a venue like Hall H currently stands in the priorities of an attendee of SDCC.

As an archive presentation, here’s what was my full take on Hall H at that time – some things stand, some things certainly need revisiting in the wake of San Diego Comic-Con 2018, but my general thoughts on the topic remain…

Nick Whitney: Since your first visit to San Diego Comic Con in 2010, have you noted a difference in the focus of the show? In the last decade SDCC seems to have become a Mecca for geekdom thanks to the mega comic book movie franchises, moving away from the comic show it once was; Has that been reflected to you as an attendee?

AEISD: I will always argue that San Diego Comic-Con is a strong proponent for the comics industry, in both terms of presented content and also the support it gives to artists, writers and creators – it’s just the mainstream (an not-so-mainstream) media will always focus more on the flashier, sexier elements of the show, such as the Hollywood celebrities that make their appearances on stage. This has always been the case, even from before the perceived ‘nerd culture’ explosion of the last decade, it just so happens that today, the delivery system is so much more faster, widespread and, rather importantly, mobile.

image - SDCC 2016 (Aliens 30th Anniversary Panel, Bill Paxton) 11

It says a lot that I heard on numerous occasions this year that comics creatives and retailers were feeling more of a feedback from the success of the big screen adaptations: the audience is becoming more receptive to the printed origins of the characters they’ve seen at the cinema. There are plenty of people still reading comics and they will always have a home a Comic-Con… The content for comics is there if you look for it.

Interestingly enough, though, this year the majority of mainstream media panels were reflecting our current boom in small screen fare: 2017 was the year of ‘Television At San Diego’, more so than most. If you equate the number of panels that have been held in the big three rooms (Hall H, Ballroom 20, Indigo Ballroom) in recent years, cinema isn’t the grand invader of SDCC that everyone reports that it is – it’s telly.

NW: With the tragic death of a fan five years ago outside the convention centre (after camping out two nights for a panel) and, before that, the infamous ‘Hall H stabbing’ [in 2010], do you feel the growth of SDCC has been poorly managed by the event’s organisers?

AEISD: I wouldn’t say so – Comic-Con has always been an event that has had to deal, year in year out, with the rapid influx of attention heaped upon it. It says a lot that you point out two events that have happened over the past eight years (one that occurred when a tired foreign attendee, on a morning specifically outside of the jurisdiction of CCI, neglected to check the flow of traffic from the correct direction; the other that took place inside the pressure cooker that is Hall H) – that’s quite the low percentage of incidents for the mammoth population that descends on San Diego each July.

From regularly attending the Talkback Panel that closes out the convention each Sunday, I see that the organising committee does respond to the will of its attendees – perhaps not as fast as some quarters may like, and not always successfully, but under the circumstances, I’m frankly stunned the thing goes as smoothly as it does.

NW: From your own experiences at SDCC and D23, where I followed you online on Twitter and Periscope, would you say the waiting periods for these mega-movie panels have grown longer and harder over time? Does sharing them on social media make them more a community experience and does that help?

AEISD: The timing of D23 and SDCC this year was both a boon and a hindrance – and, I have to admit, it was perfectly played out by Disney and Marvel Studios. The anticipation for the footage for STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (which ultimately didn’t arrive, only a short Behind The Scene sizzle reel at D23) and the first look at AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR meant that people were pumped to see them and attended these events just to get that first look and, in the case of D23, brought Comic-Con-level hysteria to this fan event (it says a lot that on numerous occasions, I heard the phrase ‘you Comic-Con people’ around the Anaheim Convention Center. But this is what happens when Disney buys two pop culture behemoths, I guess.)

When social media exploded from those in the room that did see the INFINITY WAR reel, that only stoked the fire for Hall H the following weekend – of course that meant that Saturday in that room was going to be the hot ticket! And that’s when the lines begins to form earlier and and earlier…

The conversation about whether sites like mine, and those that post about the frenzied lines of Comic-Con and whether we’re ultimately helping or being a hindrance, is one that I’ve been trying to get going for some time. Personally, I think we’re providing a service about what an attendee can expect if they are thinking to join such a line but I also see how sharing such information can only just feed the monster.

It’s all about information and, when the only live information is coming from third-party sites like my own, that’s never going to really help. The only solution will be how Comic-Con International handles line management moving forward: there are many possible outcomes – some of them very drastic – but we can only see how CCI responds next July.

NW: Ultimately, are they worth it? As someone who has attended conventions I can understand the energy in the room and the “show” that gets put on, but how does it weigh against the wait?

AEISD: I will say, as somebody who has been in Hall H on a Saturday almost every year since 2010 (we had to skip 2015, due to t’Missus sustaining an injury), the experience of sharing that much passion and excitement with 6,499 other rabid fans is quite the adrenaline rush. Disney and Marvel in particular know how to put on the Big Show, with cast members coming out in costume and, in 2016, putting on quite the son et lumiere for DOCTOR STRANGESPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2. (Warner Bros and DC also make quite the effort whilst not necessarily fully sticking the landing, when it comes to presentation).

This year, perhaps, it didn’t feel quite the payoff for the enormous amount of time invested for waiting in line but that also may be because the experience was tempered by the news of fraudulent wristbands being distributed and the excessive line-team tactics at the head of the line. 2017 may be the year that the Hall H bubble gave signs of popping… But let’s look at next years potential line-up! The first proper panel for INFINITY WAR! CAPTAIN MARVEL! AQUAMAN! FANTASTIC BEASTS 2! That snaking line down the Bayfront behind the Convention Center isn’t going anywhere any time soon!

NW: Can you talk a little about this year’s Marvel SDCC (and D23) panels/presentations (don’t worry, no need for spoilers or footage descriptions, just the vibe) and how it compares to back when you first attended SDCC? What with the Ravagers last year (and the free hats!), has the Marvel panel felt like it’s grown to you into something worth that wait?

AEISD: My first year in Hall H, in 2010, was when the balloon went up – Joss Whedon bringing out the ENTIRE Avengers cast, and Robert Downey Jr. whipping up the crowd the only way he knows how –  was just the start of a run of incredible panels that have grown and grown over time, interrupted only by Fox and Lucasfilm’s big presentations. From that year, the fever to get into the room has only grown and grown. (Let’s not dismiss WB/DC entirely, they also contribute massively to the frenzy! SUPERMAN VS BATMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, for heavens sake! Who’s not going to be pumped for that??)

For Comic-Con in 2016, the Marvel Panel was something truly spectacular with massive cast appearances almost filling the Hall H dais to absolute capacity, an amazing light show ahead of Benedict Cumberbatch’s on-stage starstruck appearance and, of course, the swag (thanks for the hats, Kevin!); for 2017, with anticipation for BLACK PANTHERTHOR RAGNAROK and INFINITY WAR footage at its absolute peak, all they really had to do this year was show up! They didn’t do the massive screen display this year as they have in previous years (they let WB/DC have that little trick all to themselves this time), they didn’t rock out a massive cast line-up for INFINITY WAR as they did at D23 – bit of a let-down that one, but you kind of understand that they’re not going to let them all have TWO weekends off, for heaven sake! – and the majority of the content for the 2017 panel was video presentation-based.

Admittedly, the wider world isn’t going to see that footage for some time, legitimately at least, and it was prepared just for the Hall H crowd but that meant it did feel a little ‘knocked up in an edit suite’ than ‘live, in the moment’ which is the big draw for me.

I will also say that it felt that more effort was put into the package at D23 Expo but even there, once you boil it down, the Lucasfilmand Marvel Studios sections of the Live Action Panel simply consisted of a (yes, bloody huge) cast appearance and a couple of video presentations – I’m curious if the studio now feels that time spent on Final Cut Pro is really all that’s needed to grab the media news cycle and everyone’s attention today. It certainly feels that way.

Still, give him a microphone and [Marvel Studios President] Kevin Feige still knows how to a crowd’s blood up! Anyone who can hold their own against Chris Hardwick on stage is truly a force to be reckoned with…!


ADDENDUM: Look, we’ve been here before. The arguments and backbiting and to-and-fro from attendees about the decisions that CCI make about line management and programming have been made time and time again, over and over – the thing is, I guarantee whatever ideas and suggestions we come with, CCI have deliberated over themselves, more so than us. They don’t just throw this shit together on a napkin over a Domino’s, the Friday before the con starts, for heavens sake.

What happens outside of the Convention Center is a mess and I wouldn’t want to be the one who came up with any solutions for it. I will agree with CCI President John Rogers who said at this years Talkback Panel that “…I cannot understand the behaviour of normal people sometimes”, and I do feel that the organisation do everything in their power to make the event as smooth and efficient as possible – it doesn’t help that, when they’ve paid out the best laid plans of mice and men, us attendees come along and bugger it all up for them.

(That being said, I will say that for 2017, the quality of Line Staff Management – if not necessarily the quantity – took a severe ramp up this year, with several notable individuals who I didn’t catch the names of working their arses off throughout the night, steering everyone right. It’s just a shame that those four or five living superheros can’t be cloned in advance of next years show…)

I hope that CCI one day can come up with a solution for the line swelling at the front of the queues (it says a lot that that all happens at the very front three hundred, with those that have micro-organised their line teams to a strategic level, gaming the official rules that CCI have put in place for maximum results).

I hope that CCI can work out how to better police the lines, how they can utilise the technology to hand to come up with a fair and responsible method for getting people in the rooms, and that they find out a way to get the focus off the Saturday.

I hope that the city can finally pull its head out of its arse and eventually get a Convention Center expansion in place that will allow for lines to be more organised and marshalled. I do hope that studios will one day will remember that if you have something to show to a dedicated crowd like Comic-Con, you do just that and put on a SHOW, not just a Powerpoint presentation.

And I hope, I wish, I PRAY, dear sweet Merciful Zeus, that one day somebody at the CCI Talkback panel won’t stand there and suggest that panels should be held at the Petco Stadium.

A boy can dream.

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