I spent the last weekend torturing myself as San Diego Comic Con 2015 took place. I kept getting Twitter updates about the status of Hall H, all of the incredible outside experiences (Take the Leap of Faith in Assassin’s Creed Parkour Obstacle Course! Experience Game of Thrones! Join us at the Cat Cafe!), and when it was no longer worth it to stay in the Hasbro line.
I was feeling pretty good about our decision not to attend until two events happened at Comic Con. The first was the surprise concert with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra that took place behind the convention center following the Star Wars panel. Each attendee received a lanyard and light saber, as well as being treated to fireworks following beautiful renditions of music from the Star Wars movies.
The second event that made things clear to me was the Supernatural panel on Sunday morning. Despite being Supernatural fanatics, we usually don’t go to this as we attend the Supernatural conventions.
But I couldn’t help but tear up after reading what happened during that panel in Hall H. Jared Padalecki, who plays Sam Winchester on the show, has been forthcoming in the past year about his struggle with depression through a campaign he started called Always Keep Fighting. Benefitting To Write Love on Her Arms, the campaign encourages openness about mental illness and encourages learning about suicide prevention strategies.
During the panel, all 7000 attendees received a small tea light with a card that read: ” Everyone is given a candle that burns just for them … And when your candle burns bright, you can ignite the hearts of others and hope will spread like wildfire … Always Keep Fighting, and you’ll never fight alone.” Organized by fans, the attendees lit their candles for Jared at the end of the panel in a show of solidarity. Jared was completely taken aback and touched, along with his co-stars Jensen Ackles, Mark Sheppard, and Misha Collins.
And it was this event that helped me realize why Comic Con last year was so unpleasant for us. The intimacy of previous years was gone. Before last year, we attended panels such as the Buffy musical (Once More…with Feeling!), Harry Potter fan panels, and met some of my daughter’s favorite authors and illustrators. We cosplayed from shows and found other characters that we could take pictures with. In 2014, we watched people relish in the fact that they beat others to the Funko booth and then tried to flip Pop figures for hundreds of dollars. We saw security hand pick people who they liked who wanted to buy things from Mattel and Hasbro to join the line. My daughter got shoved in the stomach by a small child pushing past her to get the bags they provide to attendees. The closest we got to intimacy last year was the celebration of 45 years of Sesame Street panel that was moderated by Chris Hardwick (who is quite possibly one of the nicest people I have ever met, celebrity or not). Attendees to the panel sang along to Sesame Street songs, admired each other’s cosplay, and howled with laughter when Cookie Monster’s puppeteer spilled a glass of water on the panel table and tried to blame Telly because his fellow Muppet was out too late the night before now that they were off Sesame Street for this convention.
And it was this level of intimacy that was missing for us. Because despite the fact that there are 135,000 people who attend over the course of 4 days, there is a level of shared joy among fans and guests and vendors. And I know that when we go next year, if that shared experience is as great as it was this year’s group of attendees, we will have the best time. At least until we can make even greater memories in 2017.