At Comic-Con, toys don’t wait for humans to leave before coming alive
By Donald H. Harrison
SAN DIEGO – In the Toy Story series of movies, toys wait for people to leave the room before they transform themselves into living, talking beings. But at the Comic-Con convention at the San Diego Convention Center, all such formalities are dispensed with. Toys become alive whether humans are present or not, and then they mingle with the crowd – or so it seems. And that’s one of the reasons the convention has reached a level of popularity prompting organizers to predict that 125,000 people will attend the convention this year over the four days ending Sunday, July 25. No doubt more people would come, but for reasons of safety and good sense, the jam-packed event was declared “sold out.”
Costumed characters everywhere – James T. Kirk and the rest of the crew of Star Trek here, Superman over there, Spiderman pushing a baby carriage filled, one assumes, with little arachnids; the Joker from Batman buying toys for his own collection over there – these are the sights that have kept kids and the kids-inside-adults coming back to Comic-Con year after year for more than four decades. Further excitement is generated by movie and televisions stars like Angelina Jolie, Sylvester Stalone , Will Ferrell and Tina Fey giving press conferences about upcoming movies which, if successful, will prompt at next year’s Comic-Con new costumes for attendees.
The Metropolitan Transit District, which operates light rail trains throughout the City of San Diego, helps to build the crowd by running special cars between the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium and the Convention Center. This enables Comic Con patrons to easily find a parking spot and then ride to nearly the front door of the Convention Center 13 stops away. Enhancing the fun, trolley signs have been posted in Klingon – one of the languages spoken by denizens of the sometimes enemies and sometimes allies of the United Federation of Planets in the Star Trek series.
While riding to the Convention Center on Thursday with my nine-year old grandson, Shor, we spotted “Wonder Woman” sitting in a back seat of our trolley car. When she disembarked, she received only a few appreciative glances – there were so many other sights competing for visitors’ attention. A giant Transformer character –Octimus Prime–stood on the grounds of a hotel neighboring the convention center. Hawkers handed out flyers, inviting visitors to come to their booths for prizes, food items and other swag, and nearly everyone had slung over their shoulders large Comic-Con bags, for taking home the goodies.
Although there were red-shirted security personnel in evidence everywhere—just in case—the mood was celebratory. I asked Shor to hold onto my hand, not because I feared for his safety, but because the crowd was so large we could easily become separated otherwise. As a precaution, we both had each other’s cell phone numbers set on speed dial.
The main exhibition hall was filled with booths selling every type of collector’s item imaginable – comic books, of course, as these noble literary productions were responsible for starting Comic-Con in the first place; plastic action figures of all kinds; T-shirts; posters; costumes; masks, wigs – one could come into the convention looking like a businessman, make a few quick purchases, duck into a bathroom stall, and return to the exhibition floor as Darth Vader, or Spiderman, Princess Leah, Buzz Lightyear, Harry Potter, Hermione, or Captain Kathryn Janeway. I’m sure some of the costumed people did just that.
Shor and I wandered around the exhibition floor, snapping photos of fantasies come alive. Seemingly in each booth, and there were hundreds of them, Shor examined different items for possible purchase, using his calculator to determine what this or that set would cost if he purchased them all. He didn’t have that kind of money to spend, of course, but this was a hall of fantasy after all. After observing other people make purchases, Shor realized that the price on the box is not necessarily the price one has to pay.
Finally deciding on a “Leo Prime” Transformer that converts from a lion to a metal robot, Shor asked the price and a woman at the cash register responded “$20.” “Will you take $10?” Shor piped up. “Let me check,” she said, calling out the question to her boss. “No, $15,” the boss said. That’s what Shor paid. When Shor got home, his grandma the shopper was so proud!
Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World