San Diego Comic Con

“Comic-Con has become more of a pop cultural festival, and to not be included feels like you’re missing the biggest celebration of the year.” Felicia Day

San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) can be described in so many ways but I think the best word is JOY. For four magical days there exists an abundance of joy, overflowing from people who are unashamedly passionate about the things they love. People from all walks of life, from diverse backgrounds and from all around the world, come together with acceptance and love. It is overwhelming, in the best possible way, and I immediately felt like I belonged.

My SDCC journey began over a year ago, when a few friends attended the 2015 event. I heard their crazy stories, immediately, as is the nature of social media, and I began to wish I was there with them. So, then it was on my radar. And no matter what happened in the following months – including my overbearing-bully-of-a-boss denying my leave application – I just couldn’t shake my desire to go to SDCC in 2016.

Getting a ticket was another hurdle. Honestly, I liken it to finding a Willy Wonka’s ‘golden ticket’, except you enter a virtual room online and wait to be selected in the lottery. Then you can proceed into the ‘buying room’. Within 30 minutes all the tickets are gone. I heard about people who’d been trying to get tickets for years, and they had missed out again. But, somehow, miraculously, I got them. And I took this as a sign; that quitting my job to follow this dream was not a foolish idea.

Fast-forward to July 2016 and I was in San Diego having the time of my life.

SDCC is the biggest pop culture event in the world, with 130,000 attendees over the four days. I think of it as geek heaven, as it showcases film, television, comic books, animation, anime, card games, video games, fantasy novels and more. For film and television –what I’m most interested in – there are trailers, sneak peeks, new releases and cast/crew panels. In the Exhibit Hall, traders sell everything from pop vinyl collectibles to books and comics; while at the television network booths – such as Warner Bros and AMC – there are celebrities signing autographs periodically over the weekend.

The huge crowds are not restricted to the convention centre; they spill out onto the streets and into the adjacent historic Gaslamp Quarter. The restaurants and bars are buzzing, full to the brim with music, laughter and mayhem. It is, as I said, joyous!

Highlights for me included hanging out with my geeky friends, going to panels for TV shows that I love, and all the people watching. SDCC attracts some exceptional cosplayers; they dress up as super heroes, zombies, princesses, warriors, storm troopers, anime characters and any other fictional character that fuels their imagination. It’s fascinating to see and, one day, I’d really like to spend an entire weekend photographing the fans. They are the definition of awesome!

For the first three days of SDCC, I just soaked up the atmosphere and went to as many panels as I could manage. It was crowded and the queues were crazy long, but I listened to advice from friends and didn’t try to do too much. Sometimes I needed to go to a venue early and sit through other panels before seeing the one I was keen on. But this just meant I discovered new shows, such as American Gods which preceded the Orphan Black panel. American Gods is based on the book by Neil Gaiman (which I now have) and I’m really looking forward to watching it.

During the Orphan Black panel, series star Tatiana Maslany did an impromptu performance of four of the clones she portrays on the show. It was brilliant … and I’m so pleased she has since won an Emmy for her incredible work.

Other panels I attended were Once Upon a Time and The Vampire Diaries on Saturday, and Sherlock and Supernatural on Sunday.

Of course, Supernatural is the panel that I had my heart set on (which would be no surprise to anyone who reads my blog), so Sunday, for me, was the highlight of my weekend.

For several years now, Supernatural has been scheduled in Hall H, which at 6500 capacity is the biggest venue at SDCC. It’s reserved for the most popular TV shows and movies – such as Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and the Marvel films – and many people camp out overnight in the queue to ensure they get in.

For Supernatural fans the Hall H sleep-out has become something of a rite of passage, especially as stars of the show occasionally stop by the queue to say hello. Last year, Misha Collins (who plays the angel Castiel on the show) arrived by bicycle to deliver pizza to a lucky few. It was typically Misha, and gleefully chaotic. The previous year he’d enlisted help from Random Acts (his wonderful charity organisation) to deliver coffee to fans as they woke from their sleep-out. Jared Padalecki (who plays Sam Winchester on the show) has also stopped by on one occasion. He said it was an amazing experience, especially watching the fans freak out when they realised he was there at about 2 am.

This year, we had Misha Collins drop by in the morning to say hello. Staff from Random Acts also handed out badges and muesli bars. It was a fun lead-up to our morning in Hall H.

NB: While sleeping out might seem like a hardship to some people, it wasn’t for me. For one, I love camping. And, secondly, it was sweltering hot in San Diego and the air conditioner in our apartment didn’t work. It was a relief to be out under the stars, getting a good night’s sleep, and I’d have no hesitation in doing it again.

The atmosphere and energy inside Hall H is electric; when the cast arrives on stage, when new clips or sneak peeks are shown, and when something unexpected happens. This year, we had a marriage proposal; two people who’d met and fallen in love because of Supernatural, and that was amazing. But last year, such a magical moment happened that I doubt it will ever be topped.

One of my friends, Anne Kirn, with support from Random Acts, had made 1200 tea-light candles to hand out to Supernatural fans in the Hall H queue. At a specific moment during the panel, the candles were held up in a show of support for Jared Padalecki and the work he’d done with the ‘Always Keep Fighting’ campaign. The actor, who’d also opened up about his own battles with depression, started this particular campaign to raise awareness and funds for charities that support the fight against depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide.

Anne’s candles had the ‘Always Keep Fighting’ message on them, as well as a printed note that said:

Everyone is given a candle that burns just for them.
When your flame flickers and you fear it will go out, know not even the strongest wind lasts for ever, and there are other lights to guide you even in the Darkness…
And when your candle burns bright, you can ignite the hearts of others and hope will spread like wildfire…
Always Keep Fighting, & you’ll never fight alone.

I’ve watched this moment on YouTube several times. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. The cast were clearly moved, particularly Jared, who later said, “It took everything in my power not to cry.” And we know how much it meant to him because, this year, at the end of the Supernatural panel, he took the candle out of his pocket and held it up for all of us to see. I was so happy for Anne, who was back at SDCC this year, sharing the Hall H experience with me, and to see Jared hold up that candle was a pretty special moment.

As always, the Supernatural panel was riotous fun. It was moderated by Supernatural alumni Richard Speight Jr and Rob Benedict, who, along with the four lead actors – Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Misha Collins and Mark Sheppard – tease each other mercilessly. We also had the two show runners, Andrew Dabb and Robert Singer, and two guest stars, Ruth Connell and Samantha Smith. It was fantastic. These actors adore their fans – having dubbed us collectively the ‘SPNFamily’ – and we adore them back.

I experienced all of the above and so much more over one crazy weekend. In addition, there was a Supernatural-themed cocktail party organised by my friend Jules; Nerd HQ panels (outside of SDCC proper, which I wrote about in my previous blog), and lots of dinners and drinks with my amazing friends. San Diego Comic Con is big and brash and colourful. It is, quite possibly, the experience of a lifetime; although I hope one day I can go back.

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