While you wait in line during San Diego Comic Con’s Open Registration, I won’t be there with you

Relatively speaking, I’m a newcomer to comic cons. I grew up in the South and didn’t have access to the comic book-y cons. My comic book adolescence was so anti-social anyway that it never occurred to me to join other fans at a convention. Comic books were something I did alone. I had a few friends who collected as well but it was a rare thing to do comics together. When I got back into comics in my early 30s, I was soon to be moving to Southern California and I zeroed in on San Diego’s Mothership.

I landed in Orange County in 2008 and casually bought my 4-Day pass (with Preview Night) in March (or possibly later). There was no “open registration” day of mayhem in which I particpated. I simply opened up comic-con.org and bought tickets like I would to any kind of convention. When I checked into Comic Con that July and received my badge, I went immediately to another table and bought my badge for 2009. There was no 9 month wait. There was no online registration. I simply walked across the aisle and purchased it. A 4-Day. With Preview Night.

I call attention to this fact because I’m not reminiscing about “the good ole 80s” or even 90s. In 2008, I purchased a Comic Con badge online a couple months ahead of the con. And then purchased my 2009 badge with no hassle as soon as I checked in. It hasn’t been the same since.

Pre-Reg, Open Reg, and the Waiting Room

If you’re new to San Diego Comic Con, here’s how their ticket buying system now works. First, you create an account on comic-con.org in order to have an ID. Then you wait for the magical day in February (or March or whenever) called “Open Registration.” On that day, you check in online between 8am and 9am Pacific Time. At 9am, they begin randomly processing people through the checkout. You simply wait with your browser window open, watching the random news like “Preview Night now sold out” and “Only Thursday badges remain” as you hope to see the screen blink and a badge checkout appear before you.

If you’ve attended Comic Con before, you will be allowed into Pre-Registration some months before Open Registration. It works the same way then. During Pre-Registration, they obviously don’t just sell until they run out of badges because they do still have thousands available for Open Registration later. Why this is, I don’t know. I can’t say if your chances are better or worse during Pre-Reg or Open Reg because ever since they switched to this system, I haven’t had good luck.

At some point in my history with San Diego Comic Con, buying badges for the next year changed from purchasing them at a table at check-in to going to a designated room one morning during con and waiting there. I vividly remember waiting with my friend Martin for 4 hours in a room beneath one of the hotels with no cell phone reception. We traded off requesting bathroom passes to run out and re-up our parking meter because we’d stupidly thought that we would be in and out with our badges.

Then came the online registration with its new quirks every year. At first, it would be knocked offline entirely by the demand. Then the new queuing system was introduced and it became waiting room hell. In 2013, as I had 4 single day badges in my cart, the cart went down. When it recovered, Friday and Saturday had sold out. Comic Con later acknowledged the error and sold me the other two badges. But that wasn’t until after I’d spent another Saturday morning in Open Registration to come away with neither those two day badges nor any badges for my girlfriend.

I’m not over it. I’m just over it today.

I’m not saying I’m done with Comic Con. I’m just not going to spend this Saturday in the Waiting Room. It’s anxiety-producing and, frankly, boring. If you’re lucky, you gang up with friends to buy badges for each other should one of you get in. If you’re alone in your quest, you’re probably taking your laptop in the bathroom for pee breaks so that you don’t miss your shot.

My girlfriend is absolutely done with Comic Con. She watched me during the crash of Pre-Registration in 2013, the failure of Open Registration in 2014, and the failure of Pre-Registration later that fall. She doesn’t want to feel the peripheral anxiety of watching me sit in a waiting room and curse as the time ticks by, me screaming randomly, “Saturday’s out!”

I sincerely believe the point of Open Registration is to encourage new participants, to keep Comic Con from becoming an exclusive club. But the velvet rope stock photo on the Waiting Room screen is as apt a symbol for SDCC as could be. Though 100s of thousands of people participate, it does feel like an exclusive club. People’s desire to go is fed purely by their desire to go. Comic Con is fun. It’s addictive. But I’d wager that the newcomers want to go simply for the reason I first did: it’s the Mothership.

Or maybe I’m just worn out

I have a great time at San Diego Comic Con every year. But mostly that is because of my friends. Each year, I have a somewhat different experience, staying at a different friend’s house, traveling down by car or trolley. The con itself doesn’t entice me as much. As I’m writing this, I recall lunches and dinners and even waiting in lines with my friends. Panels are intangibles. My friends are not. I went alone to Comic Con in 2008 and I like to think I kick-started my new California friends’ interest in Con.

As we went to Comic Con each year, things shifted. It’s hard to say how the Con got bigger. It certainly did but I remember hellish lines in 2008. (Though I did simply walk into Hall H in 2008 to see panels. Now, people camp out from 5pm the preceding day.) Maybe it’s our age or our interest in a good night’s sleep that has led to a decline in our energy surrounding Con. Maybe, it’s that Con isn’t offering what we want anymore. Or maybe, it’s that after the hell of registration, the price of parking passes, the anxiety caused by the crowds, and the walking (Christ, the walking) we just don’t have a lot of energy left over to enjoy the Con.

The good news is that San Diego Comic Con got me into comic cons and I’m not over them

Over the last 7 years, I’ve made a bunch of friends at comic cons. And though it’s hard to let go of the idea of going to San Diego Comic Con, I know it will be easier to see my friends at other cons. When I really consider it, I actually make new friends at other cons. I just see them later in San Diego.

Since it moved to Anaheim, WonderCon has felt like my home town convention. Run by the Comic Con International organization, it has the same feel of San Diego’s Comic Con on only a slightly smaller scale. The food trucks are amazing and even when during a torrential downpour one year, it was pretty great.

Comikaze in LA has been great fun every year even though the emphasis is further away from comics and more on the pop culture and costumes.

Just down the road, Long Beach Comic Con is a solid and totally enjoyable comic con at a size you can handle.

Dragon*Con is an hilarious nerd bacchanal that I do want to see again. (Though it’s reached San Diego-like exclusivity with its battle for hotel rooms.)

And honestly, the most enjoyable con I’ve been to is Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. I went alone, met only a few people, but thoroughly enjoyed its hospitality and good vibes.

So if you spend your morning in the Open Registration Waiting Room and never get ushered in past the velvet rope, don’t despair. There is a another completely amazing comic book and pop culture convention nearer to you.