No matter how many times you go to Comic-Con, you haven’t actually “done Comic-Con” until you go through the effort to buy an exclusive offering. There are many exclusives offered every year, ranging from t-shirts to figurines wearing SDCC t-shirts to limited edition toys that are pretty much like any other toy except for a little sticker on it that says “SDCC Exclusive.”
Some are harder to get than others. There may be fewer or there just may be a greater demand. The King of all exclusive dealers is without a doubt Hasbro, the license holders for Marvel, Transformers, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Star Wars, and a slew of others. Mattel is often a prized dealer as well, and players like NECA can draw crowds too, but nothing quite like Hasbro.
Every so often I’ll get bit by the exclusive bug and head to the Hasbro booth to get a limited edition Transformer or G.I. Joe. These ones don’t often sell out, so I rarely make a big deal about getting them and if I don’t, oh well. It’s not the end of the world. This year, however, I decided to do a favor for a friend and to partake in an experiment. I was going to try and go the whole nine yards and get one of the most sought after exclusives year after year: an SDCC My Little Pony.
Yeah, you read that right. This may come as a surprise to some, but My Little Pony has had one of the biggest and strangest resurgences in recent memory. The one time children’s show has been reborn on Cartoon Network Hub as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and a huge portion of the audience is adult males, a subculture who call themselves “Bronies.” See, it’s a combination of “Bro” and “Ponies.” It may seem weird to some, but hey, we’re at a convention where people are dressing up in tights and taking pictures of each other, who are we to judge?
The fervor around MLP is never higher than at Comic-Con when Hasbro releases a limited edition exclusive pony, limit 2 per person per transaction. When sold out, the resale price on the internet skyrockets from the MSRP of around $50 to easily over $100. People really want these things. A friend of mine wanted one and since there was a cool G.I. Joe item, I agreed to try my hand at getting the sacred horse. I did not know what I was in for.
The procedure for getting to the point where you can buy anything from Hasbro has several steps. Step one: acquire a ticket. You need a ticket to get into line. To get said ticket, you must stand in line. So you’re standing in line to get a ticket to stand in line. The increased craziness around these collectibles sometimes adds another line in there somehow. A line for the line for the line. On Thursday afternoon, without surprise, the tickets were all gone. I was told tickets were given out at 8am every morning, but to get there early. I was confused, since the convention floor doesn’t even open until 9:30am.
I set my alarm for 6:05am, the plan being to show up, stand in line for a ticket and read a magazine. I overslept however, and rolled right at 9:30am and the tickets were all gone. I was told the line “might open up” around 5pm, meaning people without tickets could shop. As I found out later, it was actually somewhat of a blessing I over-slept as a guy I talked to who was trying to buy a pony for his daughter got in line around 4am and still didn’t manage to get a ticket. So I at least got to sleep in. (Luckily said guy managed to get a pony later on.)
Around 4:00pm I swung back around to the Hasbro line. Now they told me the line might open up at 5:30pm, so I walked around and took some more pictures. Circled back at 5:00pm and the rumor is some people had already been let in, so I decide to hang out – and here is where the mental trauma and emotional defilement begins, ushering in one of my most hated Comic-Con moments of all time.
You see, the Hasbro line can only accommodate so many people because of the fire code. The area around the roped off section must remain clear, again, because of the fire code. This makes “hanging out” and waiting to get in quite difficult as the security guys keep yelling at you to keep moving, so basically people just shuffle around without going anywhere, not wanting to be too far away when the line opens up and 4–6 people are ushered in at a time. As word spread the line was opening, more and more people started gathering, much to the annoyance of the line security guard.
To “keep everyone moving” he instituted a train policy – basically a crowd of 40 people all started walking in a self-contained circle right alongside the line, so that they were moving, but still close. This of course attracted more people, so the line that wasn’t a line kept growing. Since this wasn’t an official line, there was no beginning or end, so if your luck failed, you’d be far away when the line opened, and some guy who just randomly jumped in line would get in after 3 minutes while you’re on lap 6 and minute 20 of waiting. Don’t plead your case to the security guard, he doesn’t care.
So that, on one hand, is bothersome. You’ve been waiting a long time, you’re shuffling along, playing by the rules, only to watch some random guy show up and be ushered in. But to put a bit of a Guantanamo spin on things, the security guard mastermind keeps taunting the line “Keep the train moving! Choo-Choo! Let me here you!” Literally. He made people in line make “Choo-Choo” noises as they Bataan marched around and around.
People with children were often pulled out of line and let in – cool. Kids deserve toys. Then pretty girls were the next to make it in. Obviously. One father asked what was going on, then laughed at everyone in line participating in the lunacy that had stretched at least 30 minutes by this point. He laughed, then joined the train and within minutes was ushered into the queue.
After about 45 minutes of “choo chooing” had expired, me and the guy next to me finally got ushered into the line. This is not a victory though, since you still have another 20 minutes of waiting and people buying up exclusives. The guy in front of me literally got the last Star Wars Angry Birds set. Good for him, that’s not what I wanted.
Backing up a minute again, to the choo choo line, I couldn’t help but feel a bit demoralized and demeaned. It was entertaining to the security guy to watch all these grown men walk in circles and try to impress him with their “Choo Choos!” hoping their enthusiasm would inspire his kindness and get them to the prize sooner. It was like trying to befriend the guard at a prison so you’d get a little extra bread or to keep the electrodes off your nipples just a little longer. I’m sure if I was stuck in line any longer I’d have had a dog collar around my neck and been forced to bark for my supper. All of this for a toy? For the record, I refused to make “choo choo” noises.
Back to the line. I stepped up. I, a grown man, nearly 30 years old, handed over my credit card. In exchange, I was given an awesomely huge G.I. Joe/Transformers set and a “DJ Pon-3” Comic Con Exclusive My Little Pony in a collectible Light Up Display with “Swarovski Crystal Elements.” I stepped out of line and onto the Comic-Con floor. My adventure, my experience, was over, and I hated it.
This experience is not the fault of Comic Con, or Hasbro, or anything like that. This is part of the craziness we have surrounded ourselves with at SDCC. The drive to own these collectibles. The greedy desire of resellers who spend all 4 days camping out with their kids and friends to buy the maximum amount of exclusives solely for the purpose of selling them on the internet. I have seen entire families walk out of the toy lines with dad, mom, little Billy and little Sally each hefting the maximum number of exclusives. Hasbro, at least, has stopped selling to Children’s Badges, meaning that if you bring your kid for the purpose of getting extras, it doesn’t work – unless that kid has a full privilege badge, then go for it.
No, the thing that really got me was the whole “choo-choo” train issue and the complete lack of care from line management. Clearly people would just cut into the train and then it was just random luck for them to get in. It didn’t matter if you had been waiting for an hour, you could be screwed. That unfairness was bothersome. The treatment was bothersome.
The purpose of this article isn’t to complain or demand change or hunt for an apology or anything like that. It’s simply to illustrate the insanity around trying to get exclusives at Comic-Con. Now, a bunch of hours removed, I chuckle a little bit at just what lengths a bunch of us full grown men went through for a pony, whether it was for a friend, a child, ourselves, or resale, we all did the dance of the insane.
It’s worth noting that many other booths operate a lot more smoothly (again, this can be due to a lack of demand or a lack of knowledge about the exclusive, etc). I was about to walk up to the NECA booth around 10am and pick up a sweet Friday the 13th Exclusive, no problem. (This item would later sell out by Saturday morning, sans a “choo choo” train system)
There are few things I learned here. One, I am not entirely interested in ever getting in line for an exclusive again. Two, my friend owes me big time. Three, you can never be in line early enough if that’s your thing. It’s not mine. And fourth, finally – I can truly say “I’ve done Comic-Con.”
Click here for more Comic-Con 2013 coverage. For more weirdness about My Little Pony, watch a tour of the Hasbro Comic-Con 2013 booth below, courtesy of Gamespot: