Emily S. Whitten: San Diego Comic-Con Party Round Up 2018
It’s been universally accepted that San Diego Comic-Con is the place to be when it comes to elaborate comic-con parties, including a slew of more exclusive events. For no other genre convention do multiple news outlets make long, detailed lists of where to go for a (potentially) good time each evening.
And while the party scene may be shrinking due to companies focusing more on the activations, there were still plenty of parties to fill out your SDCC weekend.
I’ve been covering the SDCC party scene for years now. And while I haven’t been to every party (because to do so I’d have to propagate more clones of myself than Spider-Man ever had), I’ve been to enough fab parties and flops that I both think it’s worth it to make the rounds if you can, and know the downsides that go along with trying to do so.
Before I get into this year’s parties, let me share a few things I’ve learned about the SDCC party scene:
- Unless you are a Legit Famous Person, getting into invite-only parties can be a crapshoot. Even with my consistent press coverage at SDCC and other cons, as well as writing about genre entertainment throughout the year, I’ve had years where the people who immediately put me on the list the previous year didn’t even respond to an event inquiry, and years where the opposite happened or I receive an invite to an exclusive party I didn’t even know about. There are some companies that are more (what I see as) loyal, and consistently invite you to their SDCC parties and treat you well, and some companies that are weirdly flaky. And then, there are events that only happen in that particular way one year; or where you manage to squeeze onto the list for one year, but a spot can’t be spared another despite your knowledge that it’s not personal; or where the rules change so that one year only people who directly work with the company are invited. Sometimes, invites seem random; and sometimes, you truly do have to know someone. But also, even if you are on the list, SDCC is so chaotic that if the person at the door can’t find your name, you might still be screwed (depends on how understanding the check-in staff is, really). Or you’re definitely on the list, they’ve got your name right there, but it turns out the party is already “at capacity” thirty minutes in. Like I said – crapshoot.
- It is often impossible to predict how good a party will be. I’ve been to amazing parties that were not that “exclusive,” and really-hard-to-access parties, with famous people right nearby, that turned out to be kinda lame. (And yes, I’ve even crashed some parties. That’s not a predictor either, although it is occasionally a good time.) What’s fun about this spectrum of events is even a lame party is still a party (possibly with free drinks!) and you can always leave if you’re bored (oh, except for that one nightmare time I got stuck in the literal cordoned off press pen they set up at The Last Ship party a few years ago, where we weren’t allowed to go to the actual party if we’d said we’d take red carpet pics first; there was no food or water or seating; and we were told we couldn’t go to the restroom or we wouldn’t be let back in. It was awful and I’m still bitter and PR people take note: press never forget being treated like second class citizens. Anyway. Moving on!)
Another fun thing is the coolest party you go to might be a nice surprise because it’s a thing you didn’t expect. (The downside, of course, is if you roll the dice on two simultaneous parties and it turns out the one you didn’t pick was The Best Thing Ever and all your friends ended up there and had a blast. Oh, FOMO, how I wish you didn’t exist.) This is because a cool venue and big-name company, property, or guests are no guarantee of a hit. What really matters is if there’s stuff to do (this could be literal stuff, like gadgets to play with, photo booths, a game to watch or play, artists to watch as they draw, etc., or interesting people to talk to, including creators and celebrities who actually enjoy mingling instead of being cordoned off at their private tables the whole night, or friends who have been permitted to attend as your plus-one), thoughtful theming in both decor and good food and drink, and people treating each other well and like we’re all people even if we’re not all famous. This is why even the open parties can be a blast if done right (the Nerd HQ parties, which I mourn the loss of, being one example).
- Some parties really are just The Best Thing Ever. Events that stand out over the years include the Nickelodeon Double Dare party (put that one in the Hall of Fame, it was perfect!), the American Gods rooftop party, the Scholastic parties, the Dent the Future cocktail parties, the Fashionably Nerdy cocktail hour, the NVE + Nylon Mag parties, the Nerd HQ parties, Michael Davis’s shindigs, and, of course, that time I went to a club to see Elijah Wood DJ on a whim and it turned out he was really good.
So given that, what parties did I hit up this year? And which ones were the most fun? Well:
Wednesday night is usually low-key, since preview night runs until 9 and can be exhausting. This year we stuck with what’s become a tradition and headed over to Basic Bar/Pizza with a small group of friends. Basic does a really good pizza, and is also the location for Gabe Eltaeb’s Annual Comic-Con Kickoff Party, now in its 5th year. I’ve been to every one of these, and although I confess when I walk in the door the biggest thing on my mind after preview night is “food!” the event is also really neat. They have quality artists doing live sketches which they raffle off along with other prizes to raise money for the Hero Initiative, which helps comics creators in need due to medical or financial crises. This year, the live sketches were done by Gabe Eltaeb (Harley Quinn), Todd Nauck (Deadpool), Jim Calafiore (Exiles), Chad Cavanaugh (The Map), and Jeff Martinez (Skull Thumper); and other prizes came from companies like Blizzard, Funko, and Dark Horse Comics. It’s a cool, laid back event to try on the first night, you can usually walk in without too much trouble, and it’s done for a good cause. And even while rapidly consuming large quantities of pizza, I appreciated both the atmosphere and the party music coming from the event side of the bar.
This year, it seemed like almost every single party I wanted to hit up was on Thursday night. I made it to four of the five I’d decided I might be able to get to based on start times (I really wanted to make the Dent the Future Reception, too, but I confess I took a nap instead). Here are the ones I got to:
Tor Books / Den of Geek Happy Hour – this was at the Horton Grand Hotel Courtyard, and was an invite-only party for industry insiders. The setting was nice (an airy open atrium area with a connecting indoor room) and they had open bars in both rooms with themed cocktails (The Superhero and The Supervillain – I got the Superhero, which had blue curacao and vodka, pineapple, triple sec, lime juice, and soda, and it was mighty tasty), hors d’oeuvres, and a full dessert table. They also had a variety of swag, ranging from funky branded sunglasses and Den of Geek’s SDCC magazine to a gift bag with a bunch of Tor books. I always like it when parties have something fun to do, and this one had a photobooth with great props that I hopped into with NPR’s Petra Mayer, YA author Alexa Donne, and other friends. I also had fun chats with the delightful author and co-editor of Boing Boing Cory Doctorow, YA author Scott Westerfeld, and other industry greats. This party was excellent, and I only left because I didn’t want to miss…
The Scholastic Graphix Party – this was on the pool deck of the Hotel Palomar, which is a great outdoor venue, and was an invite-only party. I always make sure I stop by the Scholastic shindig, which has good food, themed desserts, and open bar; nice (if heavy!) swag bags of books; usually at least an activity or two going on; and fun guests – plus, at this event not only are there friends around, but also I somehow always end up running into at least a couple of industry friends I otherwise might not have seen all con (this year it was author and editor Joe McCabe). This year’s party featured guests such as Raina Telgemeier (Smile), Ian Boothby (Sparks!), Jarrett Krosoczka (Hey, Kiddo), Molly Knox Ostertag (The Hidden Witch), Aron Nels Steinke (Mr. Wolf’s Class), and Gale Galligan (The Baby-Sitters Club), as well as Jim Kay, Daniel Jose Older, Victoria Schwab, Maggie Stiefvater, and Scott Westerfeld (again!). I couldn’t stay at Scholastic forever, though, because I didn’t want to miss…
The Lion Forge Talent Reception – this one was an invite-only gig at The Bootlegger (and I’m a sucker for anything with a speakeasy feel, so I loved the venue choice). To be honest, that’s about all of the setting I noticed at this party, because my entire time there was spent catching up with the wall-to-wall awesome comics creators and industry folks I was surrounded by – including Gail Simone, Dean Haspiel, Ben McCool, Reilly Brown, Ben Fisher, and Jim Calafiore. (I also got to attend the Lion Forge Fall Preview panel on Sunday, where they talked about a slew of great comics coming soon from names like Michael Uslan, Andrew Pepoy, and David F. Walker, and announced that Gail Simone will be the “Chief Architect” of the Catalyst Prime line of comics. More about that in another piece). How did I end up at this party? Well, let’s just say Ben Fisher and I are working on an exciting new project! As much fun as we were having, though, I still had one party on my list, and I couldn’t miss out on saying hey to the crew at…
The Line Webtoon Green Room Party – this one was an invite-only event at the Altitude Sky Lounge, and it was over-the-top excellent, as are all Line Webtoon parties I’ve attended. (P.S. If you haven’t checked out their comics, you really should. They have a great variety of cool stories you can read for free on their super easy-to-use app.) The view was amazing; they had a crazy setup with green lights everywhere; and we all got casino chips with which to “gamble” before using them to try to win a big ticket raffle item. There, Ben and I met up with Thom Zahler, Luke Daab, The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald, Tony Fleecs, and so many more. It was a great end to a pretty crazy night, and the swag bags had several cool items, including a classy set of branded coasters. Everything Line Webtoon does has style, and this party was no exception.
Okay, so Thursday was pretty wild, and we paid for it on Friday. I ended up skipping a couple of planned parties (Sorry to miss you, Nerds of Color/Women in Comics mixer!) but did make it to:
The NatGeo and Nerd Nite Mars Party – this party is consistently quality, and this year was great from the get-go – from the reasonably-sized VIP line to the cool red glowstick wristbands. Set on the pool terrace at the Hotel Solamar, this party had a ton of good food, free drinks, and the coolest entertainment I saw at any party – performers inside giant LED-lit hula hoops, whirling and twisting between the crowds and the pool. Advertising the NatGeo series MARS, which begins again November 12, the party had a projection of Mars on the side of a building, a glowing red décor, MARS pillows, miniature MARS cornhole games, and “astronauts” on stilts handing out Mars Bars. And on top of all of that, it featured a number of talks about real science, featuring Alejandro T. Rojas from Den of Geek, Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Emily Manor-Chapman, Bobak Ferdowski, Systems Engineer with Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA, and Leland Melvin, former NASA astronaut. This party is a combination of awesome fun and real nerd substance, and it was an absolute blast.
One thing I love about SDCC is that sometimes, randomly, an awesome event pops up for the first time; and if you’re lucky enough to hear about it, you can end up being one of a select crowd of folks enjoying something that may eventually become another crowded, sought-after evening event; or may be that magical unicorn that only occurs once and that you got to experience. Either may happen with the fun event I went to on Saturday night:
The Bootsy Collins House Party, hosted by DJ Lance Rock and featuring Tom Kenny & the Hi-Seas Rocknsoul Revue. I don’t know how the other attendees got the word on this party, but I lucked into it when I texted Tom (best known as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants and other great cartoon voices) a couple of weeks beforehand to see if I’d be seeing him at the con. At that time, the event was just coming together, and even Tom wasn’t sure quite what to expect. It was held in the courtyard of the San Diego Central Library, and had the charm of being lively, funky, and a bit unpredictable. I arrived as the band was setting up, only to immediately run into the delightful Fred Tatasciore (best known as the voice of The Hulk). We caught up as Tom warmed up the crowd with an amazing “mic check” song, and then all hung out with DJ Lance Rock until the Hi-Seas, dressed in New Orleans-themed sequins, were ready to go. They are super talented, and Tom, along with being such a versatile voice actor, is a fantastic singer. He’s also a super energetic performer, and totally into it, which makes it more fun for the crowd to let loose.
One of the fun things he did was take down the barriers that had been set up between crowd and performers and invite little kids, and anyone else who wanted to, to come up and dance. A bunch of kids went up, along with a variety of adults including at least one couple who were dressed in classic clothes and could have easily won a couples dance contest. It was great to watch everyone dancing, as well as to see Tom roaming out into the crowd to interact with attendees. The band also sang Happy Birthday to a few folks; and eventually, performed some SpongeBob songs. Around that time I was dying for some food – but happily, the Central Library snack bar had stayed open, so I chilled in the back with Fred and ate a sandwich while the music went on. And then came Bootsy Collins. How do you describe Bootsy Collins? I mean…over the top? The sparkliest man I’ve ever seen? Extremely warm and giving to his fans? (The first thing he did was dance out into the crowd, take a million selfies with anyone who indicated they wanted one, and sign some autograph books, all while grooving to the beat). He was great to watch, and along with performing, hosted a dance competition with Tom (I couldn’t see everyone who won, but congrats to the Death cosplayer who was dancing up a storm and won the first round). The whole thing was crazy fun, and I’m so glad I got to go.
And that was the end of the party scene for me this year – although I also want to mention the fun I have just chilling with friends in the evenings between the other excitement. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you need at SDCC to balance things out and recharge – so shout-out to all my friends who invited me to come relax the rest of the night away at bars and hotel room parties. Cheers to you, fellow nerds. You’re what makes life precious. See you next time!