Nick should be sleeping but the thought of missing the train plagues him. He checks the clock again. 5:30 a.m. He wrestles with the sheets before finally flinging them off. How will today go? Nick asks himself. What am I in for?
A cold breakfast and his normal cup of coffee do little to energize him. It’s still too early to be awake; he questions the decision to go to San Diego at all. It will be his first time attending the international Comic-Con convention and while excited, he’s hesitant. He’s already promised his friends he’d go, shoveled out the money for the ticket, and agreed to review it for his co-workers. It wouldn’t be right to back out now.
The train station is quiet. Nick’s an hour early. The train won’t arrive until 7:15 a.m., but he gets there early because there’s bound to be some trouble printing out the ticket. He punches a few buttons on the automated machine. The ticket prints out in seconds. Well, so much for any trouble with the ticket. He was prepared (even hoped) for at least a little drama for the sake of the early day. But without an ounce, Nick stands at the train station completely ready to go ninety-seven minutes before the train arrives.
After reading, sorting pictures on his phone, even sketching a bit on his iPad, Nick hears a familiar voice call out his name. “Nick! Good morning!” Ray says as he walks up with the rest of their group who also look as tired as Nick feels. “Are you ready for the next fifteen hours of non-stop adventure?” Everyone chuckles. Ray is bright and cheery. His positivity is contagious and immediately the day shifts. Isn’t it funny how one person can affect the mood? Nick asks himself. One comment and the day gets better—brighter somehow. I wonder… Have I brightened or affected someone’s day lately? I hope so.
The train ride is fun. Everyone chats and the expectation for the day is set. Panels with legends like Stan Lee will be at Comic-Con. The idea of seeing someone like that is inspiring. Especially for artists, which make up this group. They arrive in San Diego, and a few feet from the train station the city bursts alive with pedestrians. The sidewalks are full and everyone is going in one direction: toward the convention center. The closer Nick’s group gets the more crowded it becomes. The streets aren’t streets anymore. They are masses of people moving like a swarm of bees to the hive. There are lines everywhere. Lines to get badges, lines to get inside, lines to get around other lines, and lines to back doors… and a thought suddenly strikes Nick. Claustrophobia cannot be an issue or I won’t make it through the day.
Every inch inside the convention center swells with bodies. Every panel line bleeds out people in rivers. Nick walks with the group trying to find the end of line H. They are flushed down hallways following volunteers who are waiving people by like air traffic control. Down another hall… then another… the lines snake in every direction. Just when Nick is sure the end of the line will be around the corner, another volunteer points to exit doors. “Keep going. Line for Hall H is outside behind the building.” So they keep going. And going. As soon as Nick peers around the edge of the convention center his jaw drops. Masses of people fill the sidewalk, stretch down the street past several adjacent buildings, past hotels and street lights, even past restaurants and trolley stops. Clearly the group has some decisions to make: Stand in this line (probably for the entire day) to see something in Hall H, try another line for another panel, explore the exhibit hall, or seek adjacent hotels with smaller Comic-Con attractions. The group decides on all the above.
Nick finds the back of the line for a panel set to begin four hours from now, while Ray asks a volunteer about the chances of getting in. The volunteer tells Ray this panel (even four hours out) is already booked. They’ve given out tickets to those who’ve been standing in line since 2:00 a.m. Ray laughs as he tells Nick the news. “Who would stand in line all night and day for any of these panels? I wish I could say me, but there is nothing I want to see THAT badly.” Nick can’t help but agree with him. A girl from the group chimes in. “Comic-Con should repeat panels throughout each day, multiple times a day. There should be an 8:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. of the same panel to give the hundred thousand attendants more opportunities to see their favorite things.” Nick and the others agree whole-heartedly. One time slot in one small hall seems silly for this many people who all want to see the same thing. The group tries again, but line after line is full. The frustration builds. So many have paid so much to get here. Disappointment permeates the air.
Nick and the group hope for a better experience at the exhibit hall. As they walk the floor the commotion builds. The room swells with people, booths, banners, tv screens, artwork, books, statues and collectibles. Every corner is stuffed with vendors and attendants. Voices ricochet off the walls. It sounds like a live auction, or an outdoor market where buyers and sellers haggle over wares. The group’s morale picks up—the energy is electrifying. Everything is for sale. Even their own opinions are vulnerable to be swayed, bargained, or manipulated by the next vivid showcase. After a few hours and lots of pictures, the group agrees they’ve seen pretty much everything the exhibit floor has to offer.
Just before the group decides to leave, a banner catches Nick’s attention: Mike Mignola! What a find! Right here, standing in front of Nick is an artist he looks up to and respects! Nick walks up to the booth and introduces himself. Mike and Nick talk and go over artwork like old friends. Nick fills with excitement, and thanks Mike many times before saying goodbye. Just as Nick is sure nothing can top this highlight of the day, he sees another artist name he recognizes: Robh Ruppel! Shocked, Nick moves toward Robh’s booth. For half an hour Nick and Robh converse about artwork and inspirations. Nick thanks Robh and walks away with pictures, artwork, and memories from not just one, but two of his role model artists. The day is made. The group walks out sharing in Nick’s joy as he explains what these artists have meant to him. One of the group members pulls Nick aside and says, “I’m so glad you were here today. Seeing you meet those artists and how much it meant to you… It was moving. You brightened my whole day.” The statement surrounds Nick like a blanket. Without even realizing it, he affected someone else—brightened this person’s experience. He made an impact just as his favorite artists made an impression on him, and just as Ray had made on the group this morning. Throughout all the chaos, all the lines, all the exhaustion, this one small statement reveals more to Nick than he could have imagined.
On the train ride home, Ray asks about everyone’s first day at Comic-Con. The responses are similar: Comic-Con was filled with good and bad twists. Some twists so disappointing they could have spoiled everything. And although the organizers of Comic-Con have a lot of improvements to make, there was something salvaged in the chaos… An ounce of magic? A sprightly dream? Connections bloomed—connections that will last beyond today and beyond tomorrow. The group agrees: The final favorite thing was seeing Nick’s genuine excitement. The soothing rumble of train tracks entices everyone to sit back and escape the tumultuous day. Nick glows as he sinks against his seat. How funny… I arrived this morning asking, ‘What am I in for?’ And am leaving tonight asking, ‘How can I become more?’
Comic-Con: The place where comic books, movies, TV shows, video games, novels, and artwork receive an annual magnificent showcase. Writers, artists, directors, producers, actors, and fans come together and create an inspiring and overwhelming environment.