While most of the attention at San Diego Comic-Con is, rightly, on the celebrities that attend the convention every year, as well as the thousands of fans that flock to see them, lost in the shuffle is the press corps, those indefatigable journalists and bloggers who cover the massive event every year.
The press has a much different story to tell than those celebrities and fans. There are no publicists; there is little free time, and always, you are scurrying from one can't-miss event to another while making sure you have enough battery power to get you through the rest of your interviews for the day. At night, while Comic-Con visitors are often living it up at parties and in bars, journalists covering the event are busy transcribing, uploading, editing and writing away - or out getting more soundbites and content. It's not uncommon for a writer to run on 3-4 hours of sleep every single day during the event, depending upon his or her schedule and deadlines.
Dr. Janina Scarlet, a psychologist who specializes in the psyche of pop culture characters, was covering the event for the first time as a freelancer for Collider. She was quickly introduced to the grueling schedule. "I was up until 3am last night getting news stories written as fast as I could because I had a deadline," she said, stifling a yawn at the next day's press event for Supernatural. "I'm...not actually sure how much sleep I got."
Veteran con-goers Matt Elfring and Tony Guerrero of Comic Vine could sympathize.
"Most people are here to party afterward," said Elfring, at a far too early press breakfast for DC's Robin series, "but for us, it's go back to your hotel room, stay up until at least one, two in the morning if not later, get up at seven. It's a very weird routine you get into."
"Yeah. It's fun, but you're there to work and to get as much content for your site as possible. Your feet start to hurt," added Guerrero.
Elfring laughed in sympathy. "Your back starts to hurt, too, from carrying a heavy backpack and camera equipment. And you don't eat all the time."
"Oh, eating!" exclaimed Guerrero. "Yeah, that's something that just doesn't happen for you when you're working. You run on adrenaline. You get in the habit of carrying a water bottle or protein bar on you, always."
If you were there this year, you probably walked past a nondescript door on the second floor of the convention center and assumed it was a panel room that wasn't being used, or perhaps one that had simply lost its schedule of events sign. But if you opened the doors to Room 27AB, you would have been greeted by this industrial sight: A bare room with nothing but rows of folding tables and the chairs to match, people with laptops and earbuds dotting the room as they silently, furiously typed away.
Welcome to the SDCC press lounge, the hidden home away from home for the hundreds of journalists invited to cover the event. This year, the air conditioning in the room made it feel like it existed somewhere on the planet Hoth, and the WiFi - the other lifeblood for a journalist aside from coffee - was unreliable. Such is the often unglamorous life of an entertainment journalist. In between getting to schmooze with celebrities and meet very cool people, those are the moments that fans don't get to see: The blogger whose face fills with dismay as he realizes the audio on his best interview is corrupted, the journalist who throws her hands up in the universal sign for "Why won't you just WORK?!" as the WiFi goes spotty again 5 minutes before a deadline. Or, when you arrive at the press lounge at 7:09pm on a Saturday night, as I did, only to find it was already locked.
"Oh yeah," said Polygon writer Michael from his spot on the floor, "they close the room at 7:00. No idea why, honestly. One guy absolutely flipped out on the poor PR person who came to tell us they were closing." He laughed. "You just missed it."
He had taken command of an electrical outlet - that coveted, precious resource - and continued writing right in the hallway outside the room. When you're press, you take your work space where you can find it, even if that's in a spot that means people regularly have to step over you as you work.
Still, these frustrations create camaraderie between fellow writers, a "We're all in this together" sense of fellowship. It's this sense of perverse humor that keeps sane all who cover the frenzy - and, often, complete clusterfuck - that is SDCC every year.
"You would think," mused Brian Heater one day, as we sat in the press lounge, "that they would at least provide coffee. Or at least a reliable internet network." The Managing Editor for Tech Times pulled a wry face, then relented a moment later. "But you know, I've been covering this for years, and it's still cool. I'm in a good spot now."
Because if there's one thing that the press does not forget in the five day, sleepless whirlwind - at least, that the best of us does not forget - is just how lucky we are to be there. We get paid to do for a living what most fans could only dream of experiencing. It's a fact that helps keep things in perspective once a journalist loses track of time, battery charger, and often, sanity.
"I don't even know what day it is right now. Is it Saturday?," wondered Elfring. "I think it's Saturday."
It was Friday, but I thought that I'd let him have it. After all, I was already busy running out the door to my next appointment.