Saturday, June 22, 2024

Comic Con Returns to San Diego: Volunteering at the World’s Biggest Pop Culture Convention

Comic Con San Diego is the biggest and most popular convention of its kind. While there are two main Comic Con events, San Diego and New York, there are also several regional ones held every year. The first convention was held in 1970 with about 300 attendees. In 2022, there were 135,000. Every year it seems to get bigger and bigger. However, this year with the writers and actors strike in Hollywood, it’s unclear if the 2022 numbers will be surpassed. Major studios such as Marvel, Sony, Lucasfilm, Universal Pictures, Netflix, and HBO, dropped out weeks before this year’s Comic Con opening. This year’s event ran from July 20-23.

My teenage daughter is a huge fan of Comic Con, so we signed up to volunteer at the convention through the Navy Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program in partnership with the Coronado Community Center. We’ve gone a couple of times with regular tickets and thought by volunteering we would have better chance of hobnobbing with major Hollywood stars like Keanu Reeves, Paul Rudd, Chris Pratt, the Rock, and Lupita Nyong’o. But it wasn’t in the cards for 2023 with the current situation in Los Angeles.

Nonetheless, my daughter and I were still optimistic. We checked in to get our volunteer badges early on Wednesday, which took a couple hours waiting at the Marriott Marina ballroom. Afterwards we walked around to see what we could do; however, most exhibits were still being built. I think most attendees were still arriving and getting settled because we didn’t spot anyone in Cosplay costumes yet. The Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego was still a ghost town. Was it the calm before the storm?

Official Comic Con Volunteers

For our return on Friday, we missed the 9:40 am ferry by a couple minutes but caught the 10:10 am from Coronado and it still had plenty of room. Our volunteer assignment was e-mailed to us in advance – Autograph area from 11 am to 2 pm. The walk to the Marriott wasn’t bad as we zigzagged around people since we were running a little late. The volunteer hall was not as crowded as Wednesday. We found our lead volunteer, and thought we were good to go until we had to scan our badges – they kept flashing red. Our group left without us while we waited to get our badges fixed. A supervisor sent us to the ‘special group’ desk where they printed us new badges and directed us to the dispatch desk where another volunteer took us to a supervisor and then to someone else in an orange vest who would lead us to the Autograph area inside the convention center. Phew!

The walk from the Marriott was an adventure itself. “Walk fast, pay attention, and don’t lose me,” is what our guide admonished us. Thank goodness he carried a sign that said ‘Volunteer Department. We are volunteers on the move.’ It made it easy to keep an eye on him while dodging the growing mass of humanity flooding the convention center. It took us about ten minutes to get to our assigned area dodging attendees and scanning our badges a couple times to get inside. Once we got to the Autograph area, our MWR volunteer leader greeted us with a smile and a sigh of relief as we waited at another line to check in and get our volunteer vests. ‘Glad you made it!’ He was new to the process too.

My daughter and I were corralled in yet another line in the middle of the hall where we waited for our assignment. We were to be gatekeepers for the day and received our training on the spot. The other volunteers we replaced told us where to stand. No one was allowed to use the doors behind us to access the outdoors, which was reserved for staff, and keep people from using the bathroom next to Sgt Slaughter’s Panel for the next three hours.

There were also paid security guards and police officers, so we didn’t have to worry about any unruly patrons. Everyone was cordial, jovial, and not the least bit annoyed when we didn’t have the correct answers to their questions. Some stopped to chit-chat, and we took photos with some of them. You will find that those in costume LOVE getting their pictures taken; all you need to do is ask.

Getting autographs after four hours of waiting in line

When our shift ended and two new volunteers replaced us, we were free to roam. My daughter decided she wanted to check out The Owl House, which happened to be the most popular booth and had the longest line. It took us four hours to get photos and autographs. Thankfully, we could take turns getting out of line to use the bathroom, buy food, and take photos of attendees walking by in ornate costumes. After talking to The Owl House cast, my daughter told me, “That was the best part of Comic Con for me, mom.” A close second was seeing a raucous group dressed as the characters from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was hilarious.

Lexie with the Monty Python crew

If you’ve never been to Comic Con San Diego, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s like stepping onto the streets of Manhattan where you instantly feel the fast-paced energy of a city of people trying to make it. Many Comic Con attendees are fanatics, and are super excited about being there. Seeing people dressed to the nines is wildly entertaining. Even if you don’t have tickets, it’s worth just taking the ferry from Coronado to the San Diego Convention Center and walking around. I honestly think that’s the best part of the event – people watching. There are always off-site events taking place where you can go without Comic Con tickets. Costs vary from free to $50+ per person.

If you’ve tried getting regular tickets and weren’t successful with the lottery system, try volunteering. While it is also based on a lottery system, it’s much easier to get picked and you end up saving money. Plus, you get to experience the convention from a different perspective. As first-time volunteers, it was a bit overwhelming at first. I learned to pay attention to the e-mails and fill out the necessary paperwork before showing up in person to collect badges. Not everyone knows what’s going on, but if you just ask questions, you’ll eventually get the answer you need. I have more appreciation for those people who organize and manage this behemoth – there are so many cogs in the wheel needed to make it work like a well-oiled machine.

If you do volunteer, be sure to bring lots of water, snacks, a book to read, and a portable chair. You’ll be glad you did when stuck in line for hours. There is no dress code and no advance training involved. Show up, check in, and follow directions. Visit the Comic Con website for more information on volunteering. Signups for the following year should occur in the fall. You could be lucky enough to be one of the 4000-5000 general volunteers for 2024.

Elsie Hammond
Elsie Hammond
Elsie is a stay-at-home mom with an MBA, managing two kids, a husband, and a mini-Aussie. She moved to Coronado Cays in 2012 with her family by way of US Navy. She has lived in the Philippines, Japan, and Hong Kong and several states in the good old USA. Elsie enjoys traveling, hiking, golfing, skiing, Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP), and playing tennis. She also likes taking pictures with her iPhone and posting about them on her personal social media pages. She was a monthly contributor to Cays Living Magazine and has had several of her photos and stories published in various magazines and newspapers. Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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