San Diego's Comic-Con is an Un-Conventional State of Mind

SpeakEasy: The San Diego Sun's premium newsletter for July 13, 2022

I used to throw shade and hurl snarky comments at Comic-Con during its July visits.

Don’t cancel me, but it was a case of mocking something I didn’t fully comprehend.

This year, the annual convention happens July 21-24 at the San Diego Convention Center. The spectacle was COVID cancelled the past two summers (though a scaled-down Special Edition was held in November 2021).

In bygone years, I viewed the yearly influx of freak-and-geekdom as a monumental annoyance.

To my mind, the annual Comic-Con International convention was a dark and saucy cosplay stew heaped with half-baked nerds and reeking of durian-fruit aromas.

The annual mass of humanity causes traffic snarls. It grinds pedestrian access to the bayfront convention center to a halt. Restaurant reservations become impossible and prices of everything edible soar.

For my first decade as a downtown denizen (beginning in 1995), my advice to the curious was this: Keep your distance. Thankfully, it’ll all be over in four days.

Over time, however, my feelings about Comic-Con crossed over the thin line between love and hate.

How? My transformation was sparked by a work assignment. And a random call-back forever linked to the legendary Ron Burgundy.

Will Ferrell as “Anchorman” character Ron Burgundy. (Getty Images)

In 2010, I had a short-lived job as editor of a web-based publication called That site still exists, but no longer in the news-based format it was at the time.

Our publisher had done some research. He determined Comic-Con-focused web content ranked high for viewership.

It was true then and is still true today.

To my initial chagrin, our plan was to do blanket coverage of the convention. We did previews leading up to the show. For four days we wrote news stories about trends and show-related happenings.

And we had correspondents camped out in all the convention center’s breakout spaces–wherever celebrities might show up or where superhero lore could being parsed or analyzed.

One of our interns was stationed in a room hosting the day’s Sony breakout panels. One of Sony’s movies that year was The Other Guys, a cop/buddy film starring Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg and Eva Mendes.

I was holed up in’s downtown office. My task was to wait for our stringers to send in stories, edit them and post them quickly.

Squinting at my computer screen, I read an email from one of our interns: “Hey, Will Ferrell just came out and said it’s great to be back in the whale’s vagina. Not sure what that means. Story?”

If you don’t know the reference please don’t be offended.

Ferrell starred as iconic news anchor Ron Burgundy in 2004’s San Diego-set movie Anchorman.

In the film, a dim-but-loveable Burgundy explains to co-anchor Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate): “Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means a whale’s vagina.”

Yes, we ran a story on about Ferrell’s joke. It tickled my funny bone, made my week and caused me to stop and take a closer look at what was going on here.

Yes, the goofy whale’s vagina story got a lot of traffic. And it flipped my switch.

I no longer distance myself from Comic-Con and an affinity still exists today.

Comic-Con Seecial Edition 2021.

San Diego Comic-Con International is a world-renowned, multi-genre entertainment event. It’s annual economic impact on the city is estimated at more than $150 million.

Its humble origin story dates back to 1970 when it was founded as the Golden State Comic Book Convention. The first show was held in downtown San Diego at the U.S. Grant Hotel and attracted 75 attendees.

Within a decade, the 5,000-person event needed more breathing room and jumped to the convention center.

When I moved to downtown in the mid-1990s, The Con was pulling in 35,000 people. The numbers and popularity just kept growing. It surpassed 100,000 attendees in 2005.

With space maxed out, by 2010 there were 130,000 people showing up in San Diego each year. Most are willing to stand in massive lines and sleep out overnight to get a chance to be in a breakout session with actors and directors from their favorite Marvel or DC adventures.

For better or worse, Comic-Con has become a Hollywood-style preview event for new movies and TV shows–sci-fi genre and beyond.

The exhibition hall inside the convention center fills with a thousand vendors. They hawk comic-book art, posters, t-shirts, wearables and tchotchkes related to everything from obscure Japanese anime to the latest Star Wars action figure (now likely with its own streaming series).

Comic-Con Special Edition 2021.

The Tinsel Town vibe draws the huge crowds–but the celebs that are the magnets are not what makes Comic-Con magical.

The collective heart of the gathering’s fan base is what endears the spectacle to me.

Masked and cheek-to-jowl, attendees pile inside the convention center. Better yet–since there’s no room left inside, you can watch cosplayers outside, parading up and down Fifth Avenue.

Many will be in Hollywood caliber (often handmade) outfits, usually carrying scarily-real-looking accessories of mass destruction.

Street selfies are omnipresent.

It’s perfectly fine to call out, “Hey, can I get a picture?” to every Spiderman, Deadpool or Wonder Woman passing by. Nearly every character will stop to pose.

Narcissistic? Sure. But symbiotic, too. These photographic interactions are unique examples of shared community. It’s a carnival. It’s a side show. Yet, it’s also a melting pot here, with a peaceful vibe worthy of reenactment worldwide.

Everybody’s inner nerd ought to be able to enter a portal that can transform them into a superhero for a day.

My current advice: Even if you don’t have a ticket, come on downtown and walk around outside the convention center during this otherworldly event. Unfortunately, after four days, it’ll be gone.

In Other Attributed News…

Bursting With Pride

The annual Pride Parade fills the streets of Hillcrest. (Facebook)

June is Pride Month but San Diego’s Pride Festival kicks into high gear mid-July. The July 16 Pride Parade in Hillcrest is likely to attract a quarter of a million colorfully clad supporters of the LGBTQ community. The two-day Pride Festival (July 16-17) is lining up 100 entertainers to perform on four stages in Balboa Park. The list of affiliated activities is long, and includes a 5K Walk/Run, a Motorcycle Contingent, Military Contingent, Youth Zone and a Leather Realm. More info: SD Pride.

Parklet Fees About to Get Real

The temporary permits that allowed restaurants to operate outdoor dining areas during the pandemic expire July 13. That’s when businesses have to apply and pay for new outdoor operating permits under the city’s Spaces as Places program. David Rodger, corporate marketing officer at Filippi’s Pizza Grotto, says the outdoor dining area in Little Italy helped overcome pandemic restrictions. The new program requires restaurants to pay between $20 to $60 per square foot for a two-year permit. Rodger says for Filippi’s that’s more than $24,000. (10News)

Electric Pedicabs Zoom Back

Ballpark Pedicabs.

Electric pedicabs had been banned, but after new state legislation (which classifies pedicabs as electric bicycles) they’re making a comeback in the city. There are roughly 150 e-pedicabs in operation in downtown San Diego. They can travel at speeds of 20 miles per hour, or more. E-peds are police-regulated, required to obtain a police permit and must abide by the city code. Drivers can be stopped by a police officer if they’re in violation of the law. (Fox5)

Cash for Trash

An experimental project in East Village and Barrio Logan saw homeless residents pick up nearly 45 tons of trash in a triangle-shaped area bounded by National Avenue and 16th and Commercial streets. People were offered $2 for each heavy-duty bag of trash they put into dumpsters. The pilot program was backed by about $20,000 from the Lucky Duck Foundation. The Foundation is now seeking a group to continue the program, which has drawn interest from out of state. For now, the Triangle Project is on hiatus. (Voice of SD)

A Tropical Breeze Wafts Into Little Italy

Coco Maya has breezed into Little Italy, filling the former Prepkitchen space above India Street. There’s now a rooftop dining deck and a sizeable skylight arching over the space’s central cocktail bar. Executive chef Richard Heredia serves up salt fish fritters, conch with caviar, and his take on cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted suckling pig, served in a clay pot that gets cracked tableside, and served with pickled red onion, black bean puree, and handmade tortillas. (SD Eater)

Let the Good Times Roller Skate

Getty Images.

Hosted by the Sunset Roller Club, the Gaslamp Skate Series features weekly themed skate sessions and DJ sets every Sunday from July 31 through August 28, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Gaslamp Quarter (5th Avenue and Island). The themes rotate among decades past. The theme for July 31 is the 2000s. (10News)

No Russian War Overtures at Rady Shell

San Diego Symphony fans who plan to attend an August 26 concert at the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park will not hear any overtures celebrating Russian war victories. A Symphony statement reads: “With the ongoing Russian war that threatens the people of Ukraine…we feel it is important to amend this program. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture was commissioned and written to celebrate a Russian military victory and includes the sounds of battle and violet artillery.” (SD Union-Tribune)

Deals & Contests

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