At the panel for Bryan Fuller, the man behind “Pushing Daisies”, “Dead Like Me” and the new “The Munsters” reboot “Mockingbird Lane”, I received a ticket for a t-shirt promoting his new NBC project “Hannibal”. It’s based on the early interactions between Thomas Harris’ Det. Graham and Hannibal Lecter, the “Cannibal” made famous in “The Silence of The Lambs”.
I had never gotten a ticket for anything at previous Cons, so after asking what to do with it, I was told to head over to the Mariott next door to claim my prize at “The Fullfillment Room”. Hell, who doesn’t want a bit of fulfillment, especially when it comes with a free t-shirt?
Sunday morning, I took my place in line with a few dozen people also seeking fulfillment. As it did for most of the Convention, standing in line led to a discussion about how to avoid standing in line and how and why Con has, in part, become a monster that’s eating itself.
Behind me, George from Santee, a suburb of San Diego is decked out in a Steampunk outfit, his jaunty top hat adorned with clocks and gears. His eyes are tired but twinkle when he recalls how Con brought him closer to his family. Though his children had been coming for years, it wasn’t until a few years ago that he’d been willing to join them. He took a special interest in the trappings of the Steampunk culture and soon he was joining his kids on trips to Steampunk conventions beyond Con.
He also speaks from a local’s perspective about the crowds, the snarls of human and vehicular traffic and the sheer number of fans and spectators that threaten to get out of control.
Joining in the dialogue is a man from Australia, Joseph, who is freelancing stories for a number of sources. His shirt is embroidered with dozens of ants with green abdomens. He and I chat a bit about the foreign perspective on Comic Con and he explains that his part of the world thirsts for just about any tidbit they can get about the Hollywood stars that provide the bulk of the spectacle.
A cute young lady, Jane, asks him about the ants on his shirt and he explains they are Queensland Sugar Ants. Cultivated properly, he says, their abdomens can be harvested as a sweet treat. He has dreams of distilling the sweet nectar into a liquor someday.
Small, blonde, her face scarred by acne, Jane joins in our conversation about the social aspect of ComicCon with a story about how she met her current partner at last year’s Con. Coincidentally, her partner returns to line. Short with mousy brown hair and plain expression, her partner Shelly offers no verbal contribution to Jane’s story about how they met. Jane was a San Diego local before moving to Denver earlier in the year. Last year, the pair met in line for a panel and became fast friends and eventually romantic partners, communicating mostly by Internet before their rendezvous at this year’s Con.
For George, Jane and Shelly, Comic Con is a treasured yearly tradition. A place to meet and share time with loved ones, surrounded by people who will neither scorn nor judge them.
I offer my thoughts on how Con is a place for people who can’t share their passion for Star Wars or Trek with the people with whom they normally associate. Each of them agrees that Con is a haven for alternative cultures extending beyond comics and movies. So many disenfranchised cultures make their own personal Hajj to the Mecca of the San Diego convention center where they walk endless miles, consume little food and water and find themselves exhausted, their bodies near their physical limits.
As people are trampled to death in Islam’s biggest congregation, so ComicCon has had its death this year in the form of a middle-aged Twilight fan who was struck and killed by an elderly driver a couple of days before the event started. A few years ago, one Harry Potter fan stabbed another in the eye with a pen over seating arrangements.
All of this happens yearly in the name of a nameless concept. What is it? Call it Geek, Nerd, Dork or something else. Whatever it is, the power of its vortex sucks in fans from all over the world. Eager to leave their homes, sometimes their families, in pursuit of a common ground on which to explore, discuss and share their innermost passions with other fringe-dwellers.
Though I think the Hajj analogy pushes my line-mates a little over the line, they feel the same way as I do. No matter the length of line, price of collectible or fatigue of feet, they are ready to do it all again next year.
The line shifts and we move on toward fulfillment. As we break apart, probably never to see one another again, I am reminded of ants like the ones on Joseph’s shirt. They travel in an endless stream, occasionally clump together to share sustenance and information and then move on. Do those ants ever see each other again? Can I ever understand what inexplicable force drew them together for the moment I saw them? Does our little nerd-bundle look any more significant to anyone casually observing?
I don’t know if I found fulfillment in that room at the end of the line but I did walk away with a shirt that screams “EAT THE RUDE” and a little more perspective on the whys and wherefores of this Geek Hajj. Sometimes swag and enlightenment make the day worthwhile.