For nearly a decade, a phenomenon has grown upon the expanse of bright green grass that surrounds the San Diego Convention Center's popular Hall H. No, it's not a garden -- this phenomenon has become known as the Hall H Line, where eager fans often camp out overnight in order to get the best seats in the house for the following day's panel. So big has Hall H's mythical status reached that it now has its own Twitter account. Still, it's the experience-within-the-experience for many fans. Sleeping bags line the outside areas of the con center, and sleepless fans often kick off card games, watch movies on their tablets, or catch up with their favorite books as the sun goes down.
While the nightlife of the Gaslamp District launched into a full-fledged frenzy on Saturday, another batch of attendees began to settle down for the night, their tents overlooking the expanse of the bay.
Cooper Peletti, a first-time Comic-Con attendee, explained that he and his group of Tarantino-loving friends decided to camp out on Saturday morning for the sake of convenience. "[Today was] the best one available at this time, so that's why we chose it - but I'm excited for the DC events that are going on tonight. I'm really looking forward to that."
His friend, Montrell Garrett, said he'd been waiting to attend the convention since he was five years old, though they'd only been waiting in line for a little while.
For many, waiting in line has its perks. Sharing the experience of camping out with other attendees can lead to budding friendships, board games on the sidewalk, and even networking opportunities.
"I've pitched movies in line... nothing crazy, just little projects," said Steven Johnson, an aspiring filmmaker. "So it's gotten to a point where I've found other fans who want to do the things I do, and if we get to talking in line, we can create some amazing work together. I've met sound engineers and motion graphic artists... actually, I met my girlfriend in line two years ago. We were waiting for the Doctor Who panel and just started talking. I guess you could say that these lines have been pretty good to me."
The Hall H Line is said to have truly kicked off with the popularity of the Twilight franchise, bringing in a new crop of fans so passionate that they decided to camp out overnight for the chance to see Edward and Bella in the flesh. From there, popular panels often called for early line-ups due to a fan-created demand, and anyone hoping to get into those panels was forced to compete.
"It was definitely the start of a new era," said Jennifer Stronghold, a long-time Comic-Con veteran who mentioned that this year would be her twentieth anniversary as an attendee. "And there's always good with the bad. The lines can be too much, but everything we get to see, and all of the special moments we have, make everything worth it."
So it was, especially for countless Star Wars fans who, after waiting for more than 20 hours in line on Friday, were treated to an exceptionally rare convention appearance by Harrison Ford and a private evening concert with the San Diego Symphony. For someone who has been a fan of Star Wars for most of his or her life, a 20 hour wait is a fair price to pay for the chance to be in the same room with the iconic characters that have been idolized for years.
Stronghold and her husband have a total of fifty years between them at Comic-Con, which brings together fans of all ages for its yearly celebration -- but it's not just the fans that have dedicated their years to the convention. A good deal of the celebrities in attendance now, with their backgrounds in geek culture and their own brand of passionate fandom, have been long-time Comic-Con attendees. Comedy Bang! Bang! host and comedian Scott Aukerman has been attending the show since the 70s.
I think the only year I've missed so far was last year, and I really regretted it. But I love this convention, and getting to attend as a guest has been a major highlight of my time here.
From can't-miss panels, all the way down to registration, waiting in line is a fate that you'll have to accept when you attend San Diego Comic-Con International. Fans still willingly camp out to get into the Hall, or even into the convention center itself, even for the final day on Sunday.
"Sunday is my bargain day!" Janelle Sanchez, who described herself as a "Super Mom" of six budding young comic book fans, bought a Sunday pass specifically for catching sales on the last day of the convention. "I shop for a bunch of little nerds...so finding good deals on exclusives, or getting to haggle down the prices, that means I can buy more stuff early for Christmas."
These days, Comic-Con's line procedure has become an orderly, fairly pleasant experience. The lines are all generally well-managed, and waiting together as a group can often result in incredible new friendships through a shared anticipation for the big panel. Ultimately, looking at lines in a positive light makes them more bearable, and the experience -- no matter how long it takes, or how uncomfortable a sleeping bag on the dirt might be -- is always worth it.