Step one is recognizing there is no problem.
Welcome to Comic-Con Returns, our column celebrating San Diego’s mightiest comic convention and its revival after three long desolate years. In this entry, we contemplate the many hours spent waiting in line to witness one of Comic-Con’s most emotional outpourings: the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever presentation.
Whether you’ve gone to the San Diego Comic–Con International or not, you probably know about its most famous hall, H. It’s the six-thousand seater—a room that requires not hours of waiting to enter but days. The panels hosted within receive the most attention from outsiders and stir the most conversation online.
This past Saturday, the morning began with Dwayne Johnson in full Black Adam regalia sending shockwaves through the crowd, literally lighting up their lanyards. It concluded with Marvel Studios unveiling their MCU plans for Phase Five and Phase Six, climaxing with two Avengers movies, The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars. While the world outside watched new trailers for She–Hulk and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the lucky inside were also treated to snippets from Ant–Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Secret Invasion, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Generally, when all is said and done, people walk away high on the surprises and the sneak peeks, but some in the crowd always wonder if their long wait was worth the pain of sleeping on sidewalks and cold grass. It’s a valid question, but one I can answer with confidence. Absolutely.
Comic-Con’s Hall H Line Problem
This was my tenth time hunkered down in a Saturday Hall H and my sixth year sleeping outside to assure a spot alongside my friends. Like most, we do the line in shifts. Our pals, Chris and Peter, first entered the queue on Thursday (yes, Thursday) morning at 4:00 AM. There were already thousands of folks in front of them. Throughout the next few days, our group of thirteen traded in and out, always keeping at least half in line.
I did some time in the line on Thursday, but my main shift was the Friday 7:oo PM block, meaning I “slept” under the stars with my buddies Jake, Cael, Peter, Chris, and my wife, Lisa. Hall H wristbands designating groups were distributed around 9:15 PM. Once you got them, you could elect to leave your spot, guaranteed readmittance with your block letter. However, most don’t depart. They want to be as close to the front of their block as possible and keep their position.
Comic-Con Line Terror
As the wristbands slowly, slowly, slowly made their way toward us, a panic settled. What letter will we get? There are thousands in line ahead of us. Are there six thousand ahead of us? Will we make it in? The people who’ve been inside before are the most stressed. They know what they’ll lose if they’re denied entrance. People can get pretty snippy as they catastrophize.
We received our wristbands well after midnight, B block. Those heading back to their hotels fled quickly, the line shrunk, and we got cozy on the bayfront sidewalk near the IMDb boat. Sleeping bags and pillows came out. Heads hit the floor. Then, they condensed the line again. We moved forward. Got back down on the ground. Then, they condensed the line again. We moved forward. Got back down on the ground. Then, they condensed the line again. We moved forward. Got back down on the ground. It was 3:00 AM.
Comic-Con Line Solutions
The moving really didn’t bother me so much. At one point, it appeared we were going to get plopped next to the porta-potties. So, it was worth spending a few hours slowly pushing down the line away from them. We ultimately settled on the sidewalks directly behind the convention center, on the curve across from Hall H.
I slept for maybe an hour until my body propelled me to my feet. I had to shit. Real bad. Those porta-potties were not going to do it. I raced for the Hilton. The doors were locked – hotel guests only. Thankfully, someone was coming out as I was going in. I slipped through and raced to the third floor, where I hoped they would have plenty of toilet paper. They did, and everything was alright.
Relieved, I returned to my spot. A few of my friends were rousing as well. We spent the next several hours talking, just as we had spent the many hours before. We debated movies, comics, games, books, and how to fix the Hall H line.
Cael and Jake would love Hall H transported to the baseball stadium, Petco Park. Several suggested a lottery similar to the portal Comic-Con uses to administer exclusives. A few would prefer a price tier system, those with the money could buy their way in.
The Hall H Party Begins in the Line
These debates have occurred every year I’ve attended. I get it. It’s not a smooth operation. Every year there are tweaks, and those tweaks cause confusion and frustration. Sleeping outside is not traditionally fun, and if you don’t operate on the buddy system, probably not possible. You’re certainly missing out on countless other events worth your attention because you’ve prioritized Marvel Studios over everything else.
However, Hall H should remain a purely democratic event. With lotteries and portals, anyone with a flight of fancy will click their way in, clogging out the maniacs who sacrifice time, sleep, and everything else. Those who currently marinate in the Hall H line are the ones who love Marvel Studios (or The Rock or Neil Gaiman’s Sandman) above everything else. They put the work and the passion into it.
Selling seats is gross, prioritizing wealth over enthusiasm. Granted, many of these Hall H attendees would probably adapt, rolling the nickles and dimes all year long to assure entrance, but that’s not the Comic-Con way. If you want to be in that room and are willing to detonate all other events in its favor, you should be in that room. You want it the most.
The Hall H Comic-Con Secret
Here’s the real secret about Hall H. What happens inside is not as fun or as important as what happens outside. These friends I’ve mentioned in this article – Peter, Chris, Cael, Jake, not to forget Scott, Aren, Amber, Hanna, Ayesha, Fatima, and Mariam – I never knew before Comic-Con. We all met in the Hall H line years back, and today, we’re lifelong friends.
The trick to enjoying Comic-Con is enjoying the line. The most joy occurs on the sidewalks while your back is aching and you’re delirious from a lack of sleep. You get goofy under San Diego’s cool night sky. You’re open to philosophizing, digging into profound debates about fan culture, and radical empathy with your mates. It’s not just, “Who was the best Batman?” or “Which superhero would launch the best Kickstarter?” It’s that too, but it’s frequently where I have the most unguarded conversations about real stuff. What gets said at Comic-Con stays at Comic-Con.
Except that’s not true. As the years progress, these friendships have solidified into something beyond mere Comic-Con friendships. They know me better than most of my friends back home. They see a side of me that only rears itself after I’ve nearly crapped myself in a sea of thousands.
Why Being in the Room Cannot Be Replicated on a Screen
When you’re in such an emotionally raw and open state, when you finally do make your way inside Hall H, you’re receptive in a way you are nowhere else. All defenses are down. The Comic-Con spirit penetrates easily. By the time Marvel Studios took the stage at 5:00 PM, I was trembling to stay awake, but the muscles would not allow failure. My lids remained open.
Context is everything. Those at home watching the She–Hulk: Attorney at Law trailer and the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever trailer probably have a lot of opinions about them. They like this; they hate that. Whatever.
In Hall H, the trailers bring cheers, but they’re secondary applause. What’s hard to capture on YouTube or Twitter is the response that roared through the crowd when Baaba Maal and Massamba Diop entered. As they moved their way through the audience, slowly inching to the stage where dancers and more percussionists would meet them, Hall H came alive in a way no other room can.
Phones reached into the sky. Everyone wanted to capture this moment. My friend Bryan, a friend I made not at Comic-Con, but someone I’ve been chatting comics and movies with for twenty years, held resiliently to his phone, desperately trying not to shake the frame as tears streamed down his face. When I saw his tears, tears suddenly fell from my eyes. I looked around; everyone in my row was crying. Crying and dancing. Ten years of Comic-Con, I’ve never seen anything like it.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Celebrates Chadwick Boseman
Turns out, neither had Black Panther: Wakanda Forever‘s cast. When asked about the franchise’s impact on the populace, Danai Gurira said, “Watching these amazing artists[Maal and Diop] just now…I was raised in southern Africa, where my parents are from in Zimbabwe. I was always looking up to America and how it did things and how it made superheroes on the big screen. To see that merging happening amongst this astounding Hall H crowd, to see all your cameras up and you’re taking in that culture, and you’re celebrating it. That to me is everything, and that’s what I got to be a part of.”
Chadwick Boseman‘s absence was simultaneously felt and not felt. He’s gone, but he was everywhere. He was in the music. He was in the cast on stage. He was in the people below. His love and our love for him flowed through Hall H. During our time inside, we were connected in ways similar to the connections experienced in religious structures. Boseman brought us together. The hope is we can hold onto that feeling now that we’re no longer there.
Appreciating Fandom in the Hall H Humanity
Online, we give too much space and energy to the negative voices. In person, at places like Comic-Con, we witness the true beauty of fandom and the collective passion for art. We must take the time to disconnect from our screens and hang out with humanity, making friends and discussing what we love face to face. The geek community is love, and we need more excuses to marinate in it.
Maybe someday, Comic-Con will move Hall H into a lottery or pay system. I hope they don’t. I also hope that the people who frantically worried while they waited for their wristbands recognize the gift they had while they did so. The thousands before me and the thousands after me got in. One fellow joined our group well after the day started, making it into Hall H before the Marvel Studios panel, having never slept outside. He had a great time but didn’t have as great a time as the people who made a multi-day party of the long wait.