Nostalgia fuels Comic-Con. Creativity, as well. That goes without saying. But everything you enjoyed as a kid – from Pokemon to Superman, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to My Little Pony – can be found on the floor and in the various panel rooms of the San Diego Convention Center, home of the annual Comic-Con convention.
I went to Comic-Con for the first time this year. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I thought of my boys while walking around, because something that they love was on display. I’m confident I drove my wife crazy texting photos of a life-sized LEGO Hulk, the new Iron Man 3 armor or someone cosplaying as He-Man so that she could share the images with our sons. I promised myself I’d try my best to bring them there someday.
But not yet. Comic-Con is a cluster-you-know-what of passionate fans clamoring for pictures, autographs, and insight about their favorite movies, television shows and comic books. It’s hundreds of thousands of people crammed into a relatively small corner of San Diego. In short, it’s chaos, and possibly not worth the extreme effort it would take to get your kids there. So, let’s figure out when you can take your kids to Comic-Con.
Green Lights: Like a Kid in a Candy Store
When Can I Watch readers regularly tell me how excited they are to introduce the cultural touchstones of our adolescence with their kids. And because Hollywood’s currently mining our memories for the benefit of their bank vaults, Comic-Con is a clearinghouse of that pop-culture minutiae. Every vendor on the Comic-Con floor peddles something animated, something frivolous. It’s the proverbial “candy store” for kids … of all ages.
If your kids love any or all of the following things – books, toys, video games, movies – they’d love Comic-Con. Walking the convention floor for an hour, I was able to watch an Iron Man costume contest for participating kids at the Marvel booth; peruse X-Men books I collected as a kid; see 3D Hobbit posters and the suit Henry Cavill wears in Zack Snyder’s Superman movie, Man of Steel; sample Sony Playstation’s 3D visors, which were screening exclusive footage from Resident Evil: Retribution; and play demo scenes for The Amazing Spider-Man’s companion video game. In one hour!
If your kids watch a lot of TV – either new programs or classic shows – they’d enjoy sitting in on the assorted panels going on throughout the day. I sat in on a wildly amusing Power Rangers 20th Anniversary Panel that my eight-year-old son would have loved because of the cast members who showed (and vamped for fans). Cartoon Network, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, Marvel, Fox … they all bring content to Comic-Con, and if you can access it, it’s glorious.
However, “access” is the crucial word at Comic-Con, because without it, you’ll be outside the convention center staring in. You’ll have plenty of costumed Con participants to stare at, as eye candy is abundant in San Diego. But do you want to take a long journey to Comic-Con only to be stonewalled outside of the panels or events you and your kids are dying to see? Let’s try and break down some of the problems potentially caused by Comic-Con.
Red Flags: Crowds, Crowds and Even More Crowds
The scariest thing I saw at Comic-Con this year? Hands down, it was an out-of-shape superfan cosplaying as Sean Connery’s Zed from Zardoz.
The second scariest thing, however, was a father frantically approaching police officers who were patrolling foot traffic at the impossibly overcrowded intersection leading across the San Diego train tracks toward the convention center. He’d lost his son. The look on his face was one of pure terror. My stomach dropped. The officers started to help him, but I couldn’t see what happened next. The throngs of people forced me to shuffle ever forward.
It was at the moment I realized I couldn’t take my kids – who are 8 and 4– to Comic-Con until they were older and able to essentially manage themselves. It’s far too crowded. Trying to stay together in a concentrated group is difficult.
Movies.com Managing Editor Erik Davis understands. He has kids, and he’s a Comic-Con veteran. “I would advise any parent whose child is still in a stroller to be mindful that the convention is ridiculously crowded and can easily be a little too overwhelming for a child that size,” he told me. “If any parent wants to bring a child under, say, 7 to the convention, my advice would be to be there right as the doors open, when the convention floor is the least crowded.”
Attempting to move from one end of the convention center to the other takes an eternity when you are moving by yourself. You’ve no doubt tried to maneuver your kid through a mall or department store, where they stop constantly and never want to move as quickly as you’d like. Imagine trying to do it when everything in their eyesight is a toy, book or video game they want to play?
Want to buy something for your kid at Comic-Con? Better bring a checkbook. The cost of books and collectibles runs high on the convention floor. Rabid fans likely won’t bat an eye about dropping $150 on an exclusive Mal statue from Firefly. Being on a budget, I chose to grab whatever free books vendors put out on tables, just to have something to bring back to my boys. (On a side note, it was maddening to see Amazing Spider-Man comics I’d collected as a kid, and since sold, retailing for more than $100. Wherefore art thou, retirement fund?)
Most of the costumes at Comic-Con are harmless. Pop-culture enthusiasts (myself included) aren’t known for their magazine-cover-worthy physique. But every once in a while, I’d find myself walking behind a pants-less Supergirl or a cleavage-busting Lara Croft, and I’d be pretty happy my sons weren’t around.
And then there are the times when you aren’t walking, at all. No matter what you want to do at Comic-Con, you’ll have to wait in line to do it. Dying for Starbucks? Get in line. Have to use the bathroom? The line forms to the left. Hoping to get into Hall H for the Marvel panel? You should have gotten in line at 4:30 a.m. Seriously, the Hall H line usually is comically long. I heard too many horror stories of people who misjudged the line and missed something they were dying to see. Attending Comic-Con means waiting in line. That requires extreme patience. When was the last time you used “patient” to describe your kid?
If you’re super passionate about movies, television, comics and pop culture, waiting in line isn’t an issue. If you are the child of someone who’s super passionate about all of this stuff (but not really THAT into it yourself), waiting in lines could be a massive deal-breaker.
Which is why, unless you’re raising the next Brian Michael Bendis, you might want to wait until your kid is around 11 or 12 before taking them to Comic-Con.
“Your child should be of the age where they can stand in line for at least an hour or two and sit attentively in their seat for the same amount of time,” Davis summarized. “You're looking at a child who can handle five-to-six hours of lines and presentations.”
Now, this is a little different if you live in Southern California, and can breeze into (and out of) the Con at a moment’s notice. But if you are booking a trip, and traveling from a greater distance, you want to wait until you and your kids can get the most out of the Comic-Con experience. It can be amazing if you hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and avoid dressing like Zed. Connery couldn’t pull it off. Neither can you.
**above image via The Mary Sue
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.