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For the past three years, I've attended Comic-Con International, one of the largest sci-fi and fantasy conventions on the planet. For one frenzied weekend in July, this candy-colored Babylon of 130,000 descends upon San Diego like an overconfident Bedouin caravan who bartered their camels and waterskins for talking Darth Vader helmets.

PopCultureGeek.com/Wikimedia Commons
"Yeah, we were going to dress up as Mortal Kombat characters, but Steve here broke theme and decided to go as a water bottle."

This week, the San Diego Convention Center takes a break from its usual slate of urology conferences and quilt shows to host everyone from geek Brahmin like Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon to at least a dozen devoted strangers who -- without any prior coordination among themselves -- all decided to cosplay as Superman from a couple months in 1998 when his skin turned blue (because he used the Internet or something).


(Frame of reference for sports fans: Dressing up like this version of Superman is tantamount to going to an Atlanta Braves game dressed as Deion Sanders circa his "Prime Time" persona, when he was making music videos with Jean-Claude Van Damme.)

The whole affair is an orgy of the senses, sort of like the 1979 movie Caligula, but with more Skeletor costumes and less Helen Mirren taking her top off. The majority of Comic-Con attendees are agreeable, sane individuals, and Comic-Con has afforded me some of my fondest memories of my person-who-writes-swear-words-on-the-Internet career. But jumping Jehoshaphat, am I glad to stay home this year. Why's that? You see ...

Getting into Comic-Con Is a Clusterfuck

Say you want to go to Comic-Con this week. (You know, to steal a pint of Stan Lee's blood to reverse engineer the immortality serum pumping through his veins.) With 130,000 attendees, there's certainly a spot for you and maybe one or two of your pals, right? (You're going as the three seashells from Demolition Man.)

Bernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons
Above: You, doing all those things you love to do in public!

Well, you better hope that the Ford Windstar you're living in is a time machine (because if your house was a time machine, the plumbing would get all fucked up every time you went to the Cretaceous). Most tickets sold out after a mere 93 minutes back in February, and you could only buy them on Comic-Con's buggy and crash-happy website.

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
"According to the website, the only people who registered this year were those two guys and that dude in the Kingpin costume."
"That's the Internet for you. No action, all hot gas."

Sure, a smattering of passes went on sale in June, and you could've picked up 2013 tickets at the convention last year (but let's not forget that 2012's tickets sold out in 90 minutes). The point is, you'd have a better chance of getting in by stripping entirely naked and bolting past security, bellowing, "I'M THE INVISIBLE WOMAN FROM THE FANTASTIC FOUR" or "I'M THE INVISIBLE WOMAN FROM A PARALLEL UNIVERSE WHERE THE SELFSAME COSMIC RADIATION THAT GAVE ME AND MY COLLEAGUES A QUARTET OF FANTASTIC POWERS ALSO CAUSED ME TO SPROUT A FANTASTIC DONG."

Seriously, Marvel, you know this issue would've sold 1,000 times better as "What if the Fantastic Four all had really great cocks?"

Let's suppose you beat the odds and nab the premium $175 full-weekend pass. Unless you live in San Diego or have a couch to crash on for four nights, this means booking a hotel room nearby -- which is just as impossible as scoring passes and way more expensive. You could also sidestep the entire mess of sleeping over by driving. Just remember to reserve your parking spot several months in advance!

Finally, if you're desperate and delight in poor life choices, know that Craigslist tends to run a totally dubious tickets-for-skin trade. When else in human history will you be able to rent out your genitals for a chance to attend a retrospective celebrating 40 years of Funky Winkerbean?

The only person to respond to this will be a 7-foot-3-inch German man in a Sailor Moon costume.

I've only attended Comic-Con on a press pass. Compared to the above, signing up for that is a minor bureaucratic headache, but it's an experience not typical of most folks who want to attend. And press pass or not, everybody's in it together once you hit the convention floor, because ...

Getting Around Comic-Con Is a Clusterfuck

Successfully navigating the gauntlet of Comic-Con registration tends to excite the humors. Upon touching down in San Diego, you immediately want to bark "HODOR HODOR HODOR" Arsenio style at the Game of Thrones panel and interrupt The Walking Dead panel to read your 95 theses delineating why the Season 3 finale was total ass. You're giddy enough to bang Worf without a condom. Well, guess what? So are 130,000 other eager souls. (In Klingon culture, they call this "a silver anniversary.")

You're now trapped in Comic-Con's second gauntlet: the human gauntlet.

PopCultureGeek.com/Wikimedia Commons
It's like The Human Centipede, but less family-friendly.

If you're a fast walker, Comic-Con is a goddamn nightmare, particularly on the convention floor. Some folks don't walk so much as amble, dumbfounded before the spandex sirocco swirling around them. They'll pause mid-footfall to gawp at a fiberglass Predator statue or to soberly appraise a Dark Phoenix cosplayer whose infinite cosmic powers fizzled out when she tried to conjure nipple tape.

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
Exception to the rule: Should you encounter it, you are always allowed to luxuriate before Sergio Aragones' legendary mustache for hours.

Of course, this behavior isn't typical of everyone, but the aisles can and will be clogged. All it takes is, like, 1 out of every 20 attendees to idle to cause a traffic jam of 100. A few people pause to photograph a group of steampunk A-Team cosplayers -- "Look, Mr. T's mohawk is a gear!" -- and, boom, you're spending an interminable two minutes homesteading in the armpit of some fellow dressed as the Crow who last took a bath a week ago in a Saladworks dumpster.

BadAss Digest
"My body is brimming with secret, gothic croutons."

But at least there's an ebb and flow to these crowds -- the same can't be said of the panel queues. The most popular presentations -- like those in the 6,000-person Hall H, which this year will furnish first looks at the Thor, Amazing Spider-Man, and Captain America sequels, among many things -- attract lines hours (and occasionally a mile) long. Even panels on the smaller stages, which tend to host more niche offerings like Adventure Time and The Venture Bros., can see burly waits.

And Comic-Con doesn't clear rooms between panels. Convention organizers gradually learned to move any Twilight panels to the morning of the convention's first day to discourage the phalanx of seat-hoarding tweens boasting puffy-painted sweaters of Eddie Murphy in Vampire in Brooklyn. (That was the prequel to Twilight, no? I never read the books.) Tempers unsurprisingly flare, so much so that, back in 2010, a seating dispute prompted one Hall H attendee wearing a Harry Potter shirt to try to jam a pen into another guy's eye. (Hogwarts was an ophthalmology school, right? I skipped a page every time Ron said something.)

"C'mon, officer, I was just re-enacting the scene where Voldemort skull-fucks Uncle Dursley with a wand."
"You know, the scene from my Xanga."

Unless you're one of those total maniacs who goes to Comic-Con solely for comic book panels, expect to spend a good chunk of your hard-earned otaku pilgrimage queuing up. It's an experience not unlike going to the Super Bowl, locking yourself in a porta-john for the first three quarters, emerging to watch a single field goal, and then returning to your bilious vigil until somebody goes to Disneyland. So don't expect to see Saturday's panel on the new Godzilla movie, as it's directly before the panel for The Hunger Games 2: Hungry Like the Wolf. And you know those snazzy toys you can only buy at Comic-Con? Yup, you'll probably have to wait in line for them, too.

One reason I do regret not going: Somebody's selling an action figure depicting purple Jason from the total-piece-of-shit 1989 Friday the 13th Nintendo game.

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Asshat Cosplayers

Let me make it clear that I'm not indicting the lion's share of good-natured mummers who attend Comic-Con. Indeed, many of San Diego's cosplayers are fine folks who demonstrate a level of commitment and craftsmanship that leaves me jealous, as I am the shittiest cosplayer in all the land. My costuming skills are limited to "can use hot glue gun" and "tolerates glue burns" (although I probably owe the latter superpower to "inadequate ventilation + rubber cement fumes").

See: October 2012, when my Shredder costume turned out less "ninja master" and more "deliciously flamboyant amyl nitrate salesman." (Note the unfortunate shoulder pads.)

BUT there's a small category of select dildos who treat Comic-Con not as an opportunity to showcase their sartorial prowess, but as a chance to take a day off from grinding on woozy drunks at the Greyhound terminal. If you plan on doing any of the following, don't go to Comic-Con (just hang out in your basement and listen to some Q Lazzarus in the dark):

- Don't use cosplay as a pretense to bandy about your junk in public. I've seen this a few times. Sure, some characters' outfits amount to glorified unmentionables (see: Namor the Sub-Mariner, Red Sonja, Doctor Manhattan), but if your character is "My Civilian Alter Ego, Wearing Alf Underoos," get your shit together. Either buy a pack of Marlboros and go as "Sexy Cigarette-Smoking Man from The X-Files" or start your own Nudist-Con.

Vintage Sleaze
Above: your great-aunt Dorcas, enjoying Nudist-Con '65.

- What about store-bought costumes? Eh, they're OK, I suppose. After all, some of us have neither the patience nor the wherewithal to carve a dozen Batarangs out of balsa wood, whereas others would simply like to break out the Hagar the Horrible mask on days other than our wedding anniversaries.

"It is a day to renew our vows, and a night for Hagar the Horrible to totally plow Ziggy."

That said, don't be that guy who jumps in other people's cosplay photographs like you did anything other than visit Party Fair with $40 in your pocket. That guy over there? His Bane costume is actually sewn from vintage Kazakh military surplus, and his mask is getting him high on real analgesic gas. And yours? Your mask only goes around your forehead, because you went for the discount and bought a children's size "Husky Deluxe."

- The only acceptable fur suit is Falkor the Luck Dragon, and even then, he needs a working jaw so he can sing Limahl and shit. Chewbacca does not count as a fur suit. In fact, there can never be enough Chewbacca costumes in any one place at any one time.

Costume Craze
Well, except this one. Don't wear this.

Nobody Knows What the Hell It Is Anymore

The main appeal of Comic-Con is that it corrals hundreds of geek movers and shakers into a convention hall (redolent of pretzel-dog farts). Within these precious acres, fans can fleetingly commune with the brain trust behind whatever their pop cultural obsession happens to be. And despite the 130,000 other attendees, it can feel pretty fuzzy and -- dare I say it? -- special.

Sure, you can hazard three hours along the concrete hellscape that is the Hall H queue. But while you were doing that, you could've seen, for example, Bloom County cartoonist Berkeley Breathed reveal that he and his pal Bill Watterson (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) used to hold R-rated cartoon wars through the mail.

Yes, that's Blondie getting double-teamed by Bill the Cat (drawn by Watterson)
and Hobbes (later added by Breathed as an up-yours to Watterson).

Mind you, I witnessed the above scene completely by accident. I was sitting in the back of the room, waiting to report on the goddamn Cape panel. This interspecies threesome is my favorite memory from Comic-Con. It represents a purity of spirit notably absent in today's Comic-Con, a Comic-Con where every two-bit PR flimflammer considers "nerd culture" a groaning golem cobbled together out of sticky back issues of Vampirella. Comic-Con stopped being about comics years ago. Nowadays, it's more of a "Things That Aren't Sports And Are Too Confusing for CBS Viewers-Con." Or perhaps, "Shit That Exists in Empirical Reality That We Need to Market to Someone-Con."

"Here at Comic-Con, we are testing The Playboy Club with a fringe demographic we call 'heterosexual men'."

There's fun to be had at Comic-Con, certainly, but you must go in knowing that it's too big for its own good. And those magical moments where you and 200+ strangers gaze upon the funny-pages avatar of childhood wonderment nose-deep in Dagwood Bumstead's wife's vagina? You gotta search for that.

You can find Cyriaque Lamar on Twitter.

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