It wasn’t exactly clear what happened. There was supposed to be a line behind a green flag. Instead, three lines jutted out in three different directions. And security personnel had one idea about it. Line staff had another. There was yelling. Lots of it. And then some shoving.
All of this, by the way, happened behind the San Diego Convention Center, and behind the dark towers of the Marriott Marquis and Marina on Friday night — the night before the biggest day of San Diego Comic-Con. The people involved were among the most dedicated and obsessed fans at the pop culture convention, which is back for the first time since 2019, thanks to cancelled shows due to the pandemic.
These were the people that had diligently planned to be the first — or close to it — in line in order to ensure a seat at Saturday’s panels in fabled Hall H, the cavernous hall where only the biggest, splashiest and most star-studded presentations occur. It’s the hall where geek history is made with first-ever looks and reveals. It’s where stars charm the crowd of about 6,500 lucky people. On Saturday, DC Films, House of the Dragon, Star Trek and Marvel Studios are on the docket.
The pilgrimage to Hall H was an annual ritual before the pandemic. And now it was back. Also back after three years was Marvel, the studio whose presentations have induced Beatlemania levels of hysteria in past years.
How coveted is a spot? Enough that a story circulated Friday night that a father and a child were discovered camping behind a curtain within Hall H just to have a seat Saturday.
Nayeli Clarke from Arizona was there when security and line staffs gave different directions, when there were three diverging lines. And when it was finally decided, in the not so dead of Thursday night, to combine all the lines into one behind a flag.
“There was lots of shoving, lots of yelling, people tripping over each other, almost falling into the marina,” Clarke recalled. “I survived.”
Lowery Burton from New Jersey was part of the group that scored the very front — the very front! — of the Hall H line.
“There was a little bit of chaos over what was official and what was unofficial,” Burton said, summing up of what happened Thursday night.
Still, as Friday evening was setting in, he was settling in for his overnight stay. Burton had done the Hall H line before, several times.
“You need to plan for the weather. Bring an umbrella, sunscreen,” said Burton. “You need a lot of water, you need to pre-hydrate, you got to manage your food intake, or else you’re going to go to the bathroom all the time. At nighttime, I would suggest an inflatable bed and a thermal blanket. It gets pretty chilly.”
This year, more than others, it was about organization. And learning the art of shift work. Comic-Con rules state one person can stand in for up to five people. So groups of 50 or more have been using social media to connect from around the country and combine resources, plan out who takes what shifts and when, who stays overnight, who covers bathroom breaks, who brings resources. Some even had little banners made for their groups (Awesome Hall H Line Group was one party, Hall H-Con Queuemania, in Marvel font, read another sign for a troupe.)
“Having a group helps a lot,” says Mark Manolo of San Francisco, part of a group of 27. His tips to thrive in line: “Organization and patience.”
Despite the competitive nature of getting a space, there is a strong sense of camaraderie and bonds forged. One lady, who waited with a life-size Baby Yoda under an umbrella to shield her from the sinking sun, described being alone in line three years ago. A group next to her befriended her and this year, when they were planning their trip to Comic-Con, asked her to join them.
“Get to know your neighbors,” said Clarke. “Sometimes there could be one person holding the line by themselves, or for a spouse or friend, So you got to help them out.
Says Manolo: “Be friendly. We’re all here for one thing: Comic-Con and we should be nice to each other.”
Patrolling the Hall H line isn’t a cakewalk for security, either. One security person, who declined to give their name, said the job was one among the least desired at Comic-Con. “I’ve been baking in the sun since starting my shift,” the person said. “And the over-nighters have it worse.”
Unscientifically and anecdotally surveyed, the panel on top of the list for most in line is Marvel’s. Sure, Warner Bros.’ DC panel and HBO’s House of Dragons got a few nods, but for most, it was Marvel that was fueling their campout.
“I think they are going to go heavy into Phase 4,” predicted Burton. “They have to talk to about Fantastic Four, they have to talk about X-Men, which may be The Mutants. Black Panther, and hopefully they have a new Captain America movie coming with Sam Wilson. That would be cool.”
Clarke thinks She-Hulk and Wakanda Forever will be on the agenda. “Our group is hoping Marvel brings back the Defenders.”
And forget name checking any stars. The person on many lips was Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel who has attained a status unlike any other in the history of producing, becoming more of a preacher tending to and leading his flock than a simple Hollywood executive.
“Kevin Feige said it was going to be a big show,” said Burton. ‘I can’t wait.”
For some, one year of waiting in line is enough. Alex Soulk sat down on a bench after a long day cosplaying as one of three Spider-Men along with a brother and a friend. They watched the sunset after a day spent reenacting a famous Spidey finger pointing meme.
Said Soulk: “I would not do the line again. The one time I did was a great experience. And I think every fan should do it, but one time was enough. It was exhausting.”