How I Conquered San Diego Comic Con

In the summer of 2013, I was sent to cover San Diego Comic Con for bleedingcool.com.  I was still in my first year of learning photography and thought that it would be a great experience going forward.  Since I bought my ticket at the last minute, my seat was in the very back of the plane, sitting next to man originally from Nepal.  We conversed the entire flight, talking about our lives, goals, upbringings, etc.  Upon exiting the plane, he looked at me and said “Good luck to you Jason, I feel that a lot of good things will happen for you on your journey.”  Little did I know that his prediction was about to come to fruition.

Surprisingly I had never attended a comic book convention until this trip, and had no idea what to expect. Once I parked, I needed to figure what I should take with me equipment wise.  I pretty much took everything, which included two camera bodies, three lenses, and a flash.  That was a lot of equipment to take, and I felt it the entire seven-block walk to the convention center.  I didn’t know exactly where I was going, so I just followed various cosplayers, figuring that they were going in the same direction that I was.  When I finally arrived, there was massive three-block line just to get my pass, taking an hour just to get through the front door.  

Once inside, we waited yet another hour just to get onto the convention floor since it wasn’t even open to the public yet.  While standing there amongst the crowd, I had an overwhelming sense of normalcy.  For the first time in my life, I was amongst people that had the same interests as me. I could freely talk about all things geek without people thinking that I was weird.  So I started striking up conversations with everyone around me, feeling a constant smile on my face as we talked.  Then it happened…the convention doors opened, and the crowd flooded in.  As I followed the eager people, I immediately became overwhelmed and didn’t know which way to go.  Everywhere I looked, there were people in costume, displays, and merchandise.   This was my geek Mecca!

As I walked around trying to find my bearings, I started to make my way to “Artist Alley”.  For those that do not know, artist alley is where comic book artists sit around and draw at tables, sell drawings, sign autographs, and talk to fans.  The best part of this for me was that I was able to talk to the people that inspired me to get into art in the first place.  That was when I decided that it was time to start working and pulled out my camera.  I pretty much spent that whole day just talking to all of these artists and took pictures of them for the site.

J. Scott Campell

J. Scott Campell

Jim Lee

Jim Lee

Deadpool Creator Rob Liefeld.

Deadpool Creator Rob Liefeld.

Lloyd Kaufman, creator of TROMA.

Lloyd Kaufman, creator of TROMA.

The next day, which was the first official day that the convention was open to the public, I decided to leave a good portion of my equipment at home, and only worked with one camera body and one lens.  I photographed more cosplayers and attended some panels, but overall, it was more of the same.  I knew the bigger panels were not happening until the evening, so I killed time until the South Park panel.  Trey Parker and Matt Stone were promoting their video game, and it did not disappoint.  Their panel was easily one of the funniest damn things that I have ever witnessed in my life, and was one of the best hours to ever sit through.  After the panel, I walked out of the side door running into Trey Parker, and told him that I just flew in from Colorado.   Once I was done with the convention, I explored downtown San Diego and the bars. 

South Park co-creator Matt Stone.

South Park co-creator Matt Stone.

South Park co-creator Trey Parker and myself.

South Park co-creator Trey Parker and myself.

The next morning while looking at the panel schedules, I saw that the “World’s End” panel was going on in Hall H.  For the uninitiated, Hall H is the main part of Comic Con.  It’s where the biggest panels with the biggest celebrities are at, and unless you have the big time media pass, you’re not getting into Hall H without waiting in line all night, which is around eight hours.  Once I realized that the panel was going on, I smoothed talked a security guard into letting me in.  He asked if I could be trusted to run in and out, and I said yes.  I went in fully intending to get my pictures and leave, but another security guard saw me walking out and said that there was no way I was getting back in if I left, and that I should probably stay.  He then escorted me to the media pit on the side of the stage that I didn’t even know existed.  The next thing I know, I’m standing five feet away from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright as they pose for pictures for us.  

Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, and Chris Hardwick with the photo bomb.

Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, and Chris Hardwick with the photo bomb.

Because of that, I ended up shooting the casts from Game of Thrones, Riddick, Robocop, Walking Dead, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.  I even got to talk with Norman Reedus from the Walking Dead for a minute.

The cast of Kick-Ass 2.

The cast of Kick-Ass 2.

The cast of Veronica Mars.

The cast of Veronica Mars.

Vin Diesel.

Vin Diesel.

Norman Reedus.

Norman Reedus.

The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead.

George R.R. Martin and the cast of A Game of Thrones.  

George R.R. Martin and the cast of A Game of Thrones.  

Terry Crewes.

Terry Crewes.

The cast of Robocop.

The cast of Robocop.

Andrew Garfield.

Andrew Garfield.

Jaimie Foxx.

Jaimie Foxx.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 cast.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 cast.

Throughout the day I struck up a conversation with one of the photographers named Pam, who came all the way from Australia.   We quickly hit it off and became fast friends.  As the Hall H panels wrapped, she and I decided to run as fast as we could to get into the Joss Whedon Panel.   Joss is the creator of Buffy the “Vampire Slayer”, “Angel”, “Firefly”, and also the writer and director of the “Avengers” movies.  So in the eyes of geeks everywhere, he is pretty much“Geek God”, and is probably one of the biggest celebrities as far as the convention is concerned.  By the time we got there, it was already packed and full, with hundreds of people waiting in line, hoping that they could get in.  So once again I smooth talked the security guards who then let us in.  As we went in, he was already on stage.  Pam and I took some pictures and then sat there even though we were supposed to leave as soon we were done.  Pam sat there like a fan-girl and stared longingly at Joss as he spoke on stage.  She said, “I love Joss so much, I wish we could meet him.”  I looked at her and said, “You want to meet him? Done.” She looked at me like I was crazy and said “Really?’  I told her to follow my lead and run for the side of the stage where he was exiting.  We ran for the door and past a security guard who had no clue what was going on, and into the hallway.  Now this was not just any hallway, it was an area we were not supposed to be in. It was the secret inner workings of the convention center, complete with doorways and elevators.  This was supposed to be off limits.  As soon as a security guard attempted to stop me, I showed him my press badge, which should not have worked at all since it was a standard one.  I saw Joss, who was surrounded by handlers and security personal, and got his attention. I yelled that I was press and wanted to talk to him.   His security guards looked at me all crazy like, but he said it was okay.  As we walked over to him, I kept trying to think of an intelligent question to ask him, but kept coming up blank.  I’m not a journalist, so I have no integrity, and the next thing that ran through my mind was that nobody was going to believe that I met him, so I said screw it and asked if I could just get a picture with him.  He laughed and graciously said yes as I gave Pam my camera.  She was a nervous wreck in front of him and underexposed the hell of out the picture.  Then it was her turn to take a picture with him.  

Joss Whedon.

Joss Whedon.

Shaking hands with the Geek God.

Shaking hands with the Geek God.

Pamela swooning with Joss.. 

Pamela swooning with Joss.. 

After we shook hands goodbye, we walked for the exits.  Pam was so happy that she yelled “Oh my god! I can’t believe we just met Joss Whedon!” I looked behind us and saw that Joss and his entourage were walking right behind us as he laughed about Pam.  I had to look at her and whisper “Play it cool.”   As soon as we were out and in front of hundreds of people, I said, “Now you can let it out!” She then screamed it out again with everyone looking at us enviously.  

The next morning Pam and I decide to meet up at the “How I Met Your Mother” panel, but it’s completely full.  I try to talk my way in, and as soon as a security guard opens the door for me, the head of security walks over and stops me, noting that I have a low level pass.  So I decide to wait for the Pam who is already inside.  While standing around, I notice people with really expensive video cameras walking up and down the stairs.  Out of curiosity, I decided to follow them to the top of the stairs where I’m greeted by two more guards, telling them that I am with the camera crew that just went by.  As I walk around, I notice that there is a hallway with four or five rooms on each side.  In the rooms are tables with various celebrities sitting at tables talking to multiple reporters.  Naturally I pull out my camera and start taking pictures.  As soon as I start doing that, a lady takes a look at my press badge and kicks me out.  Then I walk into the next room.  I have no clue what is going on in there, but I start to notice that the reporters and camera crews are from Entertainment Weekly, E!, Extra, etc.  I turn around and start conversing with a guy in a suit and ask him how the day has been going.    We small talk for a minute, then he says that it was nice to meet me and jumps into the press line with a group of people to get their picture taken.  It turns out that this random guy was Josh Dallas from “Once Upon a Time” and “Thor”.  

Nestor Carbonell.

Nestor Carbonell.

Lana Parrilla.

Lana Parrilla.

Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas.

Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas.

Emilie De Ravin.

Emilie De Ravin.

True Blood cast.

True Blood cast.

After the junkets I meet up with Pam for a while and then we go our separate ways.   I start to get extremely bored and resolve to roam the halls and photograph more cosplayers.  One of them asks whom I am photographing for and I say that I’m shooting for “Bleeding Cool”.  Another photographer over hears me and says, “I’m shooting for them too.” and tells me that his name is Corey.  We talk, exchange numbers, and plan to meet up in few hours.  An hour later I get a call from him saying there might be a secret screening of “The Wolverine”, and to meet him at a nearby theatre.  I walk there as quickly as possible, and wait in line for hours.  As we are finally let in, we are forced to check our photography gear at the door, and sign a confidentiality agreement.  While waiting for the movie to start, I tell Corey that Hugh Jackman is probably there since all of the comic book and movie websites just reported that he was in Hall H.  Corey is not so sure, but I confirm it with a guy from collider.com, who is hosting the movie screening.  I tell him that I need to get a photo for the site, and he says that he will see what he can do, but the people with 20th Century Fox then come up to me and tell me to go to my seat.  As I walk up the first stair, Hugh walks in, and I’m the only audience member that can see him.  We make eye contact and I point at him and smile, not wanting to spoil it for everyone, and then he smiles and points at me, extending his hand and shaking mine.  I get back to my seat and tell Corey that I just saw Hugh.  Collider guy then introduces him and director of “The Wolverine”, James Mangold.  Hugh and James give their speech and introduce the movie as the audience screams with excitement.  As they leave I run out to get my gear, but Hugh has already left, and James is still there.  I ask James for a picture and he obliges, but sees how nervous I am and starts to coach me.  He says, “Take your time, calm down”.  Then he tells me not to shoot with a bunch of people in the background and makes me change my shot.  I shoot a couple, not wanting to waste his time, thank him, and review my pictures.  I look at my screen and realized that I screwed the pictures up.  I was so worried about screwing up in front of this big Hollywood director and forgot basic skills.  Oh well. Lesson learned.  

Meagan Marie and Lisa Lou Who.

Meagan Marie and Lisa Lou Who.

James Mangold.

James Mangold.

By the time the final day rolled around, I was exhausted.  I had been walking around twelve hours a day, and editing photos all night with barely any sleep.  I figured that my last day should be relaxing, and almost didn’t go back to Comic Con, but I kept getting this nagging feeling that I was going to be missing something if I skipped it.  So once again I wandered the halls looking for more cosplayers and ended up in an area that I’m not supposed to be in.   While looking around, I see a guy with a distinctive hair cut walk by, and then realize who it is.  It’s Neil Gaiman, writer of “Sandman”, “Coraline”, “Stardust”, and “American Gods”.  This man is a giant in the literary world.  As he passes with his assistants, I ask him for a picture, to which he says to “Make it quick.” Neil then turns around towards me and lets me fire off a couple of shots, and goes on his way.  I attend Neil’s panel, which is packed to capacity, and then decide to go home and edit.  

Neil Gaiman.

Neil Gaiman.

On the flight home, I started working on an article for the website, along with editing photos.  After a few days of working on it with little sleep, I was finally done.  I sent in the article, but it was never published.  Maybe I was a few days too late for it to be relevant, but I got this kick-ass blog post out of it.  I have not been back to San Diego Comic-Con since, basically because I probably had the most epic first time ever, and there is no way that I could live up to that a second time.  But that experience did teach me a lot that I apply to my photography today.