What Comic-Con Is Like: Preview Night

By  · Published on July 21st, 2011

You get off a plane that’s hopefully been screaming-baby-free and emerge into sunshine and sea air. After a brief cab ride toward the water’s edge, you feel the shadow of the San Diego Convention Center blanket you in its strangely warm glow. The giant banners for movies have already taken over entire buildings, and people are already lined up to get badges (and to get into the Twilight panel the next day).

This is Comic-Con.

There are friends to meet up/catch up with and food to grab (since the screaming baby on your plane drooled all over your bagel), but nothing really starts going until the evening when the doors are opened for Preview Night. Now, it was pretty clear last year, but this year sealed it. “Preview Night” should just be called “Day One.” When you have 20,000 people crammed into a building, the event you’re gearing up for has already started.

For those who have never gazed upon its splendor, the Comic-Con floor is a sight to behold. The event gets a lazy stereotype of being filled with wall-to-wall weirdos and people that perennially forget to buy deodorant, but the truth of the floor is far more vibrant. It’s a forest of different people and personalities, all draw together by whichever of the specific interests that the Con has set up in its store window. We are all moths to a flame who get close enough to realize that the light we saw was actually hundreds of little, multi-colored fires, and we can visit as many as we want.

Every person imaginable is stomping these grounds. A father with children in tow, an elderly black man checking out pin ups, teenagers trying not to get their braces caught on a portly gentleman’s Wario costume. If census takers were here, they’d call it the damned United Nations of pop culture passion.

And because of that, the floor has a sense of wonderment to it. The FSR crew here – Robert Fure, Jack Giroux, and I – passed by booths selling plush dolls of the Knights Who Say Nee only to end up in front of a dealer with limited edition 25th anniversary Rocketeer posters that looks inspired by the look of Metropolis. Huge inflatable Adventure Time characters stared out toward Manga characters and a couple selling old Star Trek action figures. I bumped shoulders with a middle-aged, bearded man wearing a Minnesota Vikings jersey, and when I apologized, he said, “S’okay. It’ll only happen about 500 more times over the next four days.” Yup. Definitely Day One.

With Preview Night officially renamed, we wandered to scope out some alien-encrusted motorcycles done for Men In Black III and one that apparently Ghostrider deemed worthy. The Hasbro line was wrapping around several other booths because they sell exclusive figures to the lucky first who manage to get into the place.

Speaking of which, and backtracking just a bit, there’s a need to go with the flow here. When we first got to the convention center we saw a line of people stretching at least a thousand bodies back, but we headed straight for the doors where another group of people was filing in. That’s how it goes here. There are always lines, but it’s never clear what they’re for. We weren’t even sure where the people being sucked into the double doors were going, but we followed them in, up an epic escalator, all the way back across the convention’s second floor, and down the escalator’s partner on the other side. Sometimes you have to go up to get down.

Once inside, we ended up accidentally standing in line for exclusive figures when we thought the traffic had just stalled. It’s easy to get sidetracked here.

As for movies, there isn’t a lot represented here. Television and video games truly rule the roost, but films weren’t totally absent; they were just uninteresting. Aside from the bikes sitting around without much context, there was a booth where you could get a lab ID made for The Amazing Spider-Man. There was also a massive structure made for The Avengers, but it was never clear what they were doing there besides having actors in gray costumes walk around.

Frankly, it was all mostly forgettable. Hopefully that’s not an omen for things to come.

For me, and for a lot of people who come to Comic-Con, flying all the way out to San Diego is about meeting up with friends whom you only get to see once a year. That definitely happened, against the odds, on the convention floor, but The Night Formerly Known As Preview Night is about parties too. Whether it’s a meet-up at a hotel bar or a private party on top of a building, enveloped by the salty skyline, there’s a lot of catching up to do for those who work and play primarily on the internet. So that was our night. After struggling to find a diner downtown that I swear existed last year, Robert, Jack and I wound up eating hotdogs and then trying to wash them down with whiskey (except Jack, local authorities). We talked inside baseball with other writers and site runners (which we’ll do more of at the Masters of the Web panel today), we talked about whether or not Prometheus would be the only future film to hit Comic-Con hard, and we talked about the need for Dolph Lundgren to start directing big budget feature films.

We might have been a little hazy by that point.

So that was it. We also, I swear, planned what kind of coverage we’d be bringing you over the next few days, but I almost always think it’s important to give a viewpoint from the ground on what all this chaos is really like. The confusion and despair hasn’t started yet (although the Twilight panel is apparently going swimmingly), but maybe that’s the real reason why last night was called Preview Night. It was on the edge of madness, but it wasn’t anything compared to what the next few days will bring.

Now, as I sit at a crappy desk at a too-expensive hotel listening to Robert Fure snore as if he’s trying to attract a female wildebeest, I can only hope that whatever those days bring, we’ll be able to deliver them to you. Time to put shoes on and head once more into the brink.

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.