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As every geek on the planet knows, last week was the San Diego Comic-Con, the biggest hootinerdy in pop culture and geekdom of the year. I’ve been going every year for more than a decade now, and this was their 40th anniversary. As always, it was exhausting, it was frustrating, and it was a blast.

If you head over to my site, you can find my complete photo coverage of the show, including the displays of Hasbro, Sideshow, Mattel and many others. Today I’ll briefly cover my Top Ten Best and Worst of the Con starting with my ‘bests’, but in no particular order:

1 - okay, I lied. This is my number one, no doubt about it. Regular readers know I’m a huge Batman fan, and Toynami was showing off their large scale Batwing and Batmobile. They looked about 1/8th or 1/9th scale, and they were gorgeous. They are only making 500 though, and I’m betting you could buy a 1:1 scale used car for what they’ll cost. But one can always dream!

2 - Let’s stick with Toynami for a moment, and their newly showcased Cinemaquette of Superman, as played by Christopher Reeves. Is it expensive? Oh, yes my dear, very expensive. We’re talking better than a grand, but less than two. Once the sticker shock wears off though, you can begin to appreciate the beauty of this quarter scale marvel. While the one at the con had a pretty plain base, Toynami tells me that they’ll be adding some ‘ice crystals’ jutting upward, ala the Fortress of Solitude.

3 - Jumping over to Sideshow, they had on display their new 1:1 scale Darth Vader. Damn, he looked good. Oh, I thought the helmet looked a little off, but the realism in the alternate scarred head was just outstanding.

4 - I’m going to stick with Sideshow for another one - the Premium Format Abomination. Here’s a character I don’t care about personally, but the size, mass and beauty of this PF will take anyone’s breath away. “Whoa” is always going to be the first thing out of someone’s mouth when they see this bad boy, and your kids will have nightmares about him coming to life in the middle of the night. What more could you ask for?

5 - The movie Trick R Treat, by Michael Dougherty, has been almost in theaters or on DVD for over three years now. For those of us that love great horror, it’s been a painful wait, all the more so because we’ve been teased with not one but TWO action figures based on the main character, Sam! Well, it finally comes to DVD in October (let’s keep our fingers crossed) and there was a special screening at Comic-Con. Yes, it’s a very funny, gory, original horror flick that I really enjoyed, enough so that I’ll pick up the DVD to add it to the collection. And Anna Paquin, pre True Blood, gets chased by a vampire. How prophetic is that?

6 - I didn’t make it to many panels this year, and I’ll be bitching about that a bit more in the Ten Worsts, but one panel I did make was for Lost. I’ve hit their panel every year since before the show first aired, and they’ve always done a terrific job of giving the fans a funny, enjoyable hour or so. Yea, they never give away too much, but they make up for it with some nifty presentations and funny back and forth dialog. This year was their last panel, so it was a bit sad, but I’m sure this creative team will bring us more great shows in the future. Until then, I’m going to be glued to the final season of Lost!

7 - One of my favorite Con exclusives is the Weta guns, based on the designs of Greg Broadmore. I could never afford one of the full size guns, which run in price from several hundred to several thousand, so the smaller and less expensive con exclusives were my only alternative. Ah, but Greg has heard our cries of pain! Weta will be producing full sized plastic version of their guns that will retail for less than $100 each, and they had one on display at the show. It was quite impressive, and I expect great things from this line. Finally, I’ll be able to own a Grordbort’s Raygun and not end up in divorce court because of it!

8 - While many other companies held back and were working from limited budgets, Kotobukiya really stepped up their presence. With a larger booth, more product, and a number of interactive activities (including an on site live sculpting demonstration), Kotobukiya went from a quiet, subdued exhibitor to noisy, active participant in one swoop.

9 - Before Comic-con started, I ran a poll as to what company people were most looking forward to hearing new stuff from. The clear winner, with 38% of the vote, was Sideshow (and Hot Toys, since Hot Toys displays at Sideshow’s booth). The second place company was Mattel, way back at 18%.

Before the con started, I closed the poll. Once it was complete, I started a new poll to see what most folks were NOW looking forward to. Sideshow has managed to remain in first place…so far. But Mattel has made a commanding rush toward first, now just a few percent behind the front runner. How did they do it? With an extremely good showing at the con. They had a ton of DC product on all fronts, they showed some terrific MOTUC figures, their Ghostbusters line is looking good, and they have the new much talked about Avatar license. They went from a distinct second to the potential of first by showing off great new product - simple as that. Being a big DC fan, I was extremely happy to see all the support for the license across multiple sizes and styles of figures.

10 - Another company that re-emerged for me was DC Direct. I haven’t picked up much product from them in the last couple years outside of Batman Black and White statues, but they had an excellent showing of product, including their 13″ deluxe figures. They also showed off a large Batman vs Killer Croc statue that is going to be a must have for me.

So that’s what I loved this year. Ah, but there was some suckitude as well, and here’s my ten worsts, again in no particular order:

1 - the fine folks from Elite Security continue to work their hardest to redefine the meaning of the word. Just about everyone who goes to the Con comes back with a bad, annoying or just plain ridiculous story about the security folks at the show. While some of it has to do with the individuals involved, I think most of it is simply a mis-managed company that provides little to no training, guidance or procedure to its employees. There has to be an alternative in San Diego, and the con promoters need to find it.

2 - Usually, I hit several panels every day of the con. Not this year - the lines were simply insane. As much as I wanted to attend the panel for Big Bang Theory, Avatar or True Blood (and believe me, I really, really wanted to be there), I wasn’t going to spend two or more hours waiting to get in, only to be turned away. This is the ONE thing that will kill SDCC - attendees not being able to see the panels once they’ve made the trip.

By next year, they need to get this under control, or the sheer size of the show will cause it to collapse. Friends and I discussed this all weekend, and I’m sure it was a topic with just about every other attendee. I see two possible alternatives:

I - set up the opportunity to sign up for panels when you register. This is a process employed by other large conventions, like Oracle Open World. Your badge is coded with the panels you’ve signed up for, and there’s a card reader at the door. This one will cost them money and time, but give you the opportunity to have a guaranteed seat if you sign up early enough.

II - broadcast the key panels into other rooms, much like how they do the Masquerade on Saturday night. They could even explore broadcasting it into larger rooms in the nearby Hilton and Marriot, where they have started holding sessions already.

I know some folks would like to see them clear the rooms between each panel, but I don’t think it’s logistically possible. They used to do that when the show was half this size, and the amount of time it required was already delaying their daily schedule. I know there are more (and probably better) options than the two I came up with, but the Con folks must get on this problem for 2010 and get on it now, as it’s easily the largest risk they face.

3 - Many of the things I’ll be mentioning in the worsts all roll up to the overall effect the economy is having on the industry. It was apparent everywhere, from limited budgets to do show marketing, to some missing major players (remember Sci-Fi aka SyFy’s big booth from years past? Nope, not this year…) to rehashed product, the overall effects of the economic downturn was one of the big downers.

4 - Several companies that are normally always there were missing this year, and the one I thought was the most telling was McFarlane Toys. Todd was still there, and he did a signing or two, but the company had no real presence. Just another sad sign that the company that once set the bar in action figures that all others tried to meet is quickly becoming a non-issue.

5 - Another outcome of the bad economy was the ton of recycled or slightly less than new announcements. Products like the quarter scale Harry Potter and Voldemort from Gentle Giant have been seeing the cons for a couple years now, so while it was nice to see Voldemort join them, it didn’t mean a whole lot. Let’s see you actually get the first two out before we worry about the next one, ‘kay? It wasn’t just Gentle Giant, as lots of companies were showing the same product as last year that still hasn’t been released.

6 - As I mentioned with the panels, there were plenty of crowds all around. Wednesday night was easily the worst, with everyone packed on the floor for Preview Night, and not much in the way of panels to draw them off. The lines for exclusives were, at times, nuts, and I have another of my handy dandy suggestions.

The companies know how many exhibitors there will be, and they should be able to produce about the right number of exclusives (given a limit) for that group. Instead of putting off the exhibitors, welcome them early, selling the exclusives to them BEFORE the show opens. Don’t let them buy DURING. Set a limit, keep them to that limit, and let them make their purchases separate from the rest of us. That will shorten the lines for the regular patrons, and yet take nothing away from them, since the companies should still be able to accurately gauge (perhaps even better) how many they need to produce. As it is now, exhibitors flock to the lines right at opening, clogging up the system for the rest of the day for everyone else.

7 - Another company disappointment was Enterbay. They had a few of their current figures displayed through one of their distributors, but there was only things we’ve already seen, like Bruce Lee, Kato and Godfather. There were zero new announcements, and I think they really missed the ball on this one. I know that there’s a huge toy show over in Tokyo during this same period and that takes away a lot of the Asian company concentration, but considering the size of the American market (and potential market), I think Enterbay needs to show it a bit more attention.

8 - For me, the con exclusives were far less appealing than in past years. Of course, this is a disappointment that varies from individual to individual, but for me there was clearly less that interested me. And considering how much there is out there that does interest me (it’s not like I only collect one type of toy or figure), that probably says a lot about the overall situation.

There were still a few companies that managed to snag my dollars, like Sideshow and Mattel, but in past years I would ship home four large boxes of ‘must haves’ back home. This year, there were only two. While this made my wallet and wife happy, it made my heart sad.

9 - the missing voice actors from Futurama. They normally are there each year, and part of the funniest panel…instead, because of the dispute over their contracts for the new Futurama episodes, they were a no show. The studio has put out casting calls to replace them, but I’m hoping this is merely a negotiation ploy to try to scare them. I mean, they couldn’t possibly be stupid enough to think they could recast the voices of the main characters, and the show wouldn’t fail? Right? Right? RIGHT?

10 - the con prices. I don’t mean the price of the Con itself, but the prices of everything around it, driven by the high attendance. Three dollars for a bottle of water? Seriously? Two dollars for a cookie? Really? And don’t even get me started on the inflation rate on all the hotel rooms for this one week of the year. I already mentioned that the top issue that could kill the con was being able to get into the panels, but pricing out the average person is a damn close second.

So that’s my top 10 bests and worsts for this year - what’s yours?

If you’re looking for coverage of the goodies shown this year, be sure to head over to my site and check it out!


19 Responses to “Toy Box: Top 10 Best - and Worst - from SDCC 2009”

  1. Aaron Says:

    I had been going to the Con the past ten years, but decided to stop before this show for much of the reasons you mentioned. I think you make good suggestions for the Con general. I think having overflow rooms for major panels would be huge, though even those could overflow.

    Your comments about Elite Security are spot on. I actually worked in the event security industry in San Diego, and for the S.D. Convention Center itself (the guys in green), though never during the Con because I was attending. There really is no other security company that can handle the Con. There used to be, and I worked for them, but Elite sued them and every other company eventually putting them all out of business. That’s not to say that those companies were any better. The industry basically consists of under-trained regular people, some with handcuffs, and with shows the size of the Con, they call in a large amount of temps. You will literally have people who were working in an office filing one day, and the next day security at the Con. Also, a lot of military guys from the nearby bases are hired, who are, let’s say, a little too hard wired.

    But the option that I want to see taken for the Con, is a move to Las Vegas. They’ve been talking about it for years. Believe me, I love San Diego. I grew up there. My family lives there. But the Con has outgrown the venue and they can’t expand it in this climate. Vegas has the space and the hotels, though I admit I’ve never attended any show there. But give me another reason to go to Vegas and I’m there!

  2. Jin Saotome Says:

    The panel lines, that pissed me off the most. People were ’squatting’, sitting through the first panel they had no interest in and staying there till the new one started. Or standing in line and yelling out, “Twenty bucks gets you my place in line!” and nonsense. Of course just the sheer amount of people not able to get in the door amazed me. A 5 hour wait for the True Blood panel?? Good lord.

    There was a lot of talk about why SDCC isn’t in Vegas by now. Hotels, plenty of parking, cheap food everywhere, and the nightlife/casinos after the con would draw so many more people. Maybe they’re worried those other attractions would take away from people blowing their money at the con? But the disappointing news was that it was being said the SDCC is contracted to be in San Diego for the next 10 years. If that’s true then it will destroy itself far before that.

    The elite security team is indeed a joke and after reading about the terrible decisions/management of the company, I do believe they need to be shut down. Not sure how to do it because the SDCC pretty much fuels them right now.

  3. Michael Crawford Says:

    The only downside to the Las Vegas move is this - for decades, it’s been the San Diego Comic Con. There may be some identity issues with a move. Other than that, I’m all for it.

  4. Aaron Says:

    I’m not so sure about the identity issues. There are other comic cons around the country throughout the year, but I think most people know this one as “The Comic Con.” San Diego isn’t necessarily the first thing they think of. I love San Diego and what the Con leaving would do to the economy there worries me a lot. There’s no show that could replace it, but it still needs to happen.

    As far as I’m aware from when I was there, the SDCC had signed thru 2012. I guess that’s fine since the world’s gonna end after that… :-P

  5. Ryan Says:

    2008 had most of the same issues. The transformation from Comic-Con to Mega fest of pop culture has created too much of a good thing. I had to miss out this year and was particularly disheartened with the way the Green Lantern exclusives were handled. All the reports from friends and news sites made it sound like a soul crushing experience just to get one let alone a set. I over-paid on Ebay as did many. I absolutely agree with Michael in regards to pre-show limits for exhibitors and retailers. What is the point of creating these exclusives for fans at the convention if they allow the retailers to monopolize the majority of the product? Increase the production run and make them widely available as a one time product or set firm limits.

  6. Matt Says:

    You guys are insane. Vegas? In July… yeah, that should be SO much fun. And in a few years whichever massive venue they pick will just be sold out too so it doesn’t really solve anything. I’d much rather be in San Diego in the summer than that horrible town.

    I do, however, agree with Jin. The “squatting” made me more mad than anything. I understand it will take time, and there will be less panels throughout the convention, but they desperately need to clear the rooms between each panel. People will stay in a particular room all day after waiting in line just once and it’s not fair. I wanted to go see the “Mythbusters” panel but couldn’t get in because the room was full of people waiting for the “Watchmen” panel up next. So basically, the rooms are getting filled with people who don’t really want to see the panel being presented, and people who do really want to see the panel are being left out. I’d much rather have less panels throughout the convention, but be able to get into the ones i want, than to have tons of panels but not see any of them. I waited almost 2 hours for the District 9 panel and barely made it inside in time, and even then I had to sit in the very back of the room, which holds like 6,000 people.

  7. Tom P. Says:

    Vegas in July…why not, Matt? I’m a resident of this fine city and, until a person has taken the time to remove themselves from “the Strip”, you just don’t really know what vegas is all about. Yes, there are some seedy places in my fine city (mostly, downtown and southeast of the strip) but, I challenge anyone to show me a Gotham sized city anywhere on the globe that doesn’t have that!
    I’m sure the folks over at the tourism dept. have tried romancing Comic-Con away from SD on many occasions to no avail, but with the current hotel prices on the strip (I put up a good friend at the Riviera for $30.00 / night!)and the plentitude of those hotels, you could be sure to keep a lot more cash for all the goodies waiting at the convention! And, for the adventurous, you could take a short drive away from the strip on hwy 215 and visit some newer, more local-friendly casino / hotels. My personal favorite is Red Rock Hotel Casino. Very family friendly with a 16 screen cineplex and 72 lanes of bowling! And there is Red Rock Canyon National Park. Take the tour and you won’t believe your in Vegas! Yes…it’s within the city limits! I could go on and on but, Please, don’t call my city “horrible” until you have experienced more than a few pulls on some slots at Caesar’s Palace or the Luxor!
    And this is coming from a guy who used to have the same preconceived notions of this town before became a “Las Vegan”! Peace!

  8. Stan Darsh Says:

    Yet another essay by Michael where he has to use the signature “Oh” to start a few sentences.

  9. izdawiz Says:

    Hi Michael!.

    I think Vegas is a horrible idea. San Diego is much more kid and family friendly. Would your experience have been as fun with no Disneyland nearby? Universal Studios and Knotts Berry farm don’t suck either. What about Sea World, The San Diego Zoo and the absolutely perfect weather? Can you party in Tijuana if you want to? How are the beaches in Vegas?

    People come to the Con year after year and many bring their kids. There is enough to do in So-Cal to keep people coming back. Plus I guarantee you the quality of the hotties at the Con will diminish if it goes to Vegas.

    Prostitution is legal in Vegas, but other than that, I say San Diego wins hands down.

  10. Tom P. Says:

    @ izdawiz - Prostitution is NOT legal in Las Vegas. The city is within Clark County jurisdiction, and prostitution is illegal in Clark County. Yes, some other counties in Nevada do legalize and regulate prostitution like, for instance, Nye county in northern Nevada. So, unless you want to take a chance on being busted by LVPD vice, you had better keep it in your pants while visiting LV!

    Michael…see what you’ve done. From the mere mention of Vegas You got me ranting on about my city! :-)
    I do agree with you on the identity issue with the Con and San Diego. Comic-Con HAS become synonymous with SD, but considering the size of SD and all other revenue sources from tourism, I’m not convinced that absence of this once yearly convention would have the kind of negative economic impact that some fear. Things change, and Comic-Con has grown, and will probably continue to grow to the point that the organizers will have no other choice but to move the convention to a venue that can accomodate many more people than SD.

  11. Matt Says:

    Vegas = 110+ degree heat, one of the worst crime rates in the country, and a complete sense of artificiality. If you’re into fake architecture like tacky versions of Venice or the Eiffel Tower, or if you’re from a small town and have never experienced an Ambercrombie store or a decent restaurant I guess I can maybe understand the allure of Vegas. But if you don’t like clubbing or gambling I don’t really see the appeal at all. Seriously, the idea of being in a microclimate casino with air conditioning because it’s too hot to go outside is preferable to being right next to the Pacific Ocean? Please.

  12. Michael Crawford Says:

    To be honest, I haven’t spent much time thinking about the Vegas alternative, since I think the identity switch is the road block right out of the gate. I think that many of the issues around Vegas are actually part of that same issue - people see SDCC a certain way, and switching it to Vega (or any other city) is going to create a very different impression. Vegas is the only city I know of that can handle a convention of this size logistically, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the move would be a good one.

    As to clearing the rooms - they used to do that. It would mean that you’d be sure to see the panel you wanted if you got in line soon enough, but it wouldn’t do much else. You couldn’t see two panels in a row in the same room, since the line for the next panel would always be filled while you were in there. In fact, you couldn’t see two panels in a row in any room, because the lines would fill for all the rooms while you were sitting in a panel - there are more people at the con than the rooms can hold. That’s why I suggested some sort of panel registration system, since that way you could at least decide in advance what you wanted to see AND you wouldn’t waste half your con experience on line standing.

  13. Julie Says:

    Well, squatting for panels is really the only thing one can do if they want to see any of the large panels now. I went to one on Marvel Digital Comics because it was right before Rifftrax, and as soon as it was over maybe 1/4 of the room cleared up cause we were all there for Rifftrax. The lines are a pain in the ass and I just think it’s ridiculous how much con-time is wasted waiting in line to get into panel so you can have a seat for the NEXT one…

  14. Newton Says:

    Moving it to Vegas won’t work because someone else will hold a Comic-Con in San Diego and get nearly as many people to show up. You can’t just up and move something that’s been in the same place for decades.

    The show might move, but the people won’t. They’ll just host a auxilary one in San Diego.

    I think a Panel Registration would be great, but they should do all kinds of registrations at the SDCC that they don’t.

  15. Michael Crawford Says:

    Let’s also not forget that Hollywood will be putting on a LOT of pressure as to where it should be located. I know they want it in LA (even if that’s not the best logistica choice for attendees) because it would make it so much easier for the Hollywood talent to show up for the panels.

  16. Tom P. Says:

    That’s a good point, Michael. I didn’t even consider that as an issue. I still think that Las Vegas has a lot to offer both the attendees and talent! After all, it’s less than 5 hours from LA to Vegas by highway. Hotels would bend over backwards to have celebs stay at their properties! I’m sure places like the MGM, Luxor and Palms(the place for the young “party” people) would make offers these people could not refuse. In some cases, allowing them to stay for free! It’s done all the time. Hotel casinos have actually paid celebs to celebrate their birthday parties on their properties! Now, I realize a lot of readers here(and, I’m one of them) could care less about whose staying at what hotel, but there are plenty of Con attendees that DO care and would pack those hotels just to be “close” to their Idol. The great thing is, Vegas has thousands of hotel rooms around town and, even a little further away from the valley, that would be a lot more affordable and/or reasonable. On the other hand, the Kona Kai in San Diego, for example, was charging almost $250.00 per night during the Con! Even Hotels several minutes away from the Convention were price gouging! That was the biggest factor in my decision to not go this year. Not in this economy. This time of year in Vegas, a person could stay at an older, NICELY renovated hotel on the strip like the Riviera - flat screen TVs and very nice furnishings, for about 45.00/night, unless you gamble and then it could be as little as 35.00 or, compted for free! I know because a family member works there. Plus, you have tons of sights and sounds and activities other than gambling to satiate the senses! Great places to eat, drink and make merry!

    It just makes sense to host a show of this calibur in a city that makes it’s living putting on really BIG shows! Comic Con is a celebration of the bigger-than-life characters that we all love and enjoy, and what better place to be for that than a city whose image is truly bigger-than-life!

    P.S……and let’s not forget - “What happens in Vegas…. ;-)”

  17. DaveS Says:

    The lines and not getting into panels is the most significant drawback to the con. Just 6 years ago it was easy to breeze into just about any panel you wanted to see (except Smallville). However clearing the rooms is insane. They can’t even get 6000 people who have been waiting in line for 8 hours into Hall H in the morning when the Hall is empty, much less trying to get all those people out. You’d need an hour at least between panels. I like Michael’s idea of being able to register for a panel, it’s a much greater administration issue, but I’m definitely for it.

    I may be in the minority, but I’d go for a VIP pass too - pay $1000 for a badge that lets you cut to the front of every line.

  18. Tom P. Says:

    I like the VIP pass idea. That way, the people who REALLY want to attend those panels will have their credentials and will have paid for the privledge to be there. I know a lot of people will “Boo” that idea though, saying that the panels should be accessible to more than those who have the deep pockets! The only other fair way I can think of, is to ask each attendee to register online for all of the panels they want to attend while at the Con - rating their interest in each panel on any given day from 1 through 5 and limit each attendee to no more than three panels each day. The rooms will be filled first come, first served ONLINE according to the attendee’s interest rating. When the number 1 choice fills, that person move ahead to the next availabe slot for their next choice and so on. I think there should definately be a restriction on seeing two or more panels consecutively in the same room. I’ve even heard some people talking awhile back about auctioning off panel attendence in a dutch style auction, and each person who holds the same high bid will be admitted and then the next highest bids, etc, until the room limit has been filled. That way, you weed out those “squatters” who are just biding their time until their panel of choice comes up.

  19. Alex Says:

    Of course you can move something that’s been in the same place for decades. Ask the former Seattle Supersonics who are now in Oklahoma City. It’s doable. Or what fans think of the newer mets, yankees or cowboys stadiums.

    LVCC doesn’t quite have the same ring as SDCC does, but it does make for a real Roman numeral. But there are other cities with convention/exhibition centers that could handle a crowd like the one at SDCC.

    Part of the challenge though is making sure that people in LA/Hollywood would still want to attend it, which is where I think Vegas might have the best shot over places like Dallas or Atlanta simply due to the proximity.

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