'H' is For 'Hell': Comic-Con's Hall H Problem

When 6,000 rabid fans are camping out, how long can the center hold?

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Fans who waited in the Hall H line at San Diego Comic-Con for however many times now this past weekend should be like Howard Beale in Network: Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. For their own sake, Comic-Con needs to address its dangerously swollen lines before it strangles the event.

Hall H is a now-legendary test of attrition for fan devotion. The line-waiting phenomenon that echoes Black Friday, concert tickets pre-Internet, or an Apple-thingy launch can be seen during a single July weekend in San Diego, and it can wrap around the entire bayfront.

I’ve never been one to wait in line for Hall H. I’ve attended San Diego Comic-Con twice and have refused to camp out. I love Marvel and Game of Thrones, but my devotion isn’t enough to waste booking a hotel only to sleep on the bug-infested bayfront on a chilly night.

Other fans, I don’t mind saying, are more hardcore. Last year was the water seeping through the cracks of the Comic-Con dam; this year, things were only getting worse. When I attended last summer, I saw people lining up for Hall H a whole day early in a makeshift line far, far away from the actual convention. It was by the Hilton, near the outdoor zipline promoting Gotham, quite the hike from the convention center.

It wasn’t even the line pouring out. It was an unofficial, makeshift line made of determined folks hoping to see the extended Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer. They were waiting in a line to get in a line. You can watch this right here:

This year, I ran a geek-centric 5K with San Diego’s November Project, and the route went alongside the Hall H campers. It was awhile before I stopped seeing sleeping bags. These were grown-ass people spending hours and hours on the hard ground to see … what, they didn’t know. Some fun stuff, most of which would be on the Internet by the end of the day.

There’s a decent argument to be made about participating in that energy of Comic-Con. The community there — not the trailers, or the celebs off in the distance — makes Comic-Con great. It’s high-fiving the person next to you because how awesome was that Deadpool teaser? You don’t get that watching on your computer at home.

Still, Hall H is approaching critical levels. It’s becoming its own thing; attendees can try to line up for Hall H, or they can see Comic-Con. They can’t do both. And soon enough, studios will learn that they can’t keep “exclusivity” to the 6,000 strong.

As a layman, I’m offering Comic-Con some solutions toward making the convention the kick-ass geeky experience it wants to be without leaving thousands sleeping in the dirt.

1. Spin off Hall H into its own thing.

Thousands attend San Diego Comic-Con purely for Hall H. So what if Hall H became its own thing?

This is a logistical nightmare, but could the demand to see Hall H possibly warrant functioning as its own entity? This would mean a separate ticket purchase for Hall H and Comic-Con. Those who want both can pay for both.

Hall H could still take place during Comic-Con weekend, or earlier in the week, like preview night. Since it would be its own event, the Comic-Con faithful, who are usually already in town by Wednesday, can get their Hall H fix early. Scheduling talent for appearances will muddy up this solution, but, as inconveniences go, that would be modest compared with a sleeping-bag city.

2. Ticket for individual panels.

Some attendees sit through Hall H just for one panel later in the day. This could be why the lines can stretch across the bay. Do away with this absurdity and ticket individual panels. This ensures people can see only what they want to see, allowing them to enjoy the rest of the convention.

3. Stop encouraging it.

Not necessarily a solution and not by San Diego Comic-Con, but instead of restructuring the system, companies have opted to “join in” or cater to its whims.

We shouldn’t normalize this camping thing. Waiting in line is a normal thing. We do it at grocery stores, at the DMV, at Disney World. But no one should do it for 20 hours, and not for what you get in Hall H.

Besides, what does Comic-Con get out of it besides a bad image? It’s no longer Comic-Con: Meet All Your Heroes. It’s Comic-Con: Sacrifice Your Entire Weekend Sleeping on Sidewalks. An event predicated on the power of imagination needs some better ideas.