SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Hours before the San Diego Convention Center was scheduled to host thousands of pop culture fans, the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) had its first-and hopefully only-casualty of 2012. According to Entertainment Tonight, Gisella G., a 53-year-old “Twilight” fan, was fatally injured while trying to rejoin a queue of fans outside the convention center.
The excitement of Comic-Con always is palpable, causing some fans to sacrifice their better judgment. Online reports indicate that Gisella G. was crossing against the light, stumbling and falling into a moving vehicle as she tried to rejoin the queue. She was later pronounced dead at an area hospital.
This tragic situation points to a long overdue problem, namely that it is high time for the San Diego Comic-Con to re-examine its crowd control policies and procedures.
Explosive growth at the San Diego Comic-Con
For over 40 years, the San Diego Comic-Con has been attracting fans to sunny California. Since 2007, though, the annual convention has experienced unprecedented and explosive growth. That year was the first time that SDCC sold all their 4-day badges before the weekend. In subsequent years, all passes sold out months before the start of the convention.
The dynamics of the convention have changed as well. In 2007, it was still possible to arrive about 30 minutes before a panel discussion and get a seat. In contrast, seven thousand fans lined up hours before a “Chuck” farewell panel in 2011 (the venue held approximately 6,500 people). Anyone arriving late was not going to get a seat and hundreds who had been queuing for hours were left standing outside.
Lines stretching into infinity and beyond are the norm at SDCC, not the exception. Fans who really want to see a panel or screening need to be in line hours, even days, before seating begins. Attendees can build an entire day out of waiting for a panel. It’s like waiting for hours to ride Space Mountain at Disneyland and then being told you won’t get your turn.
“Twilight” causes controversy at SDCC
Traditionally, the cavernous Hall H at the San Diego Convention Center is the place where all the hot panels take place. In 2009, the cast of “Twilight” made an appearance in Hall H, leading to what can only be called a bloodsucking backlash. SDCC’s policy is not to clear halls and rooms between panels, meaning a fan and their friends can hold court as long as they want.
As they did this year, “Twilight” fans camped out for days before the 2009 panel. The sidewalk leading to the doors of the convention center looked like a tent city. Unfortunately, other movie panels were scheduled before “Twilight,” so the self-proclaimed Twi-Hards took over Hall H hours before the panel that they really were there to see.
The increased queuing and shut-outs prompted a mini-protest inside the building. Attendees carried signs accusing “Twilight” of ruining Comic-Con. A subsequent “Twilight” panel in 2011 was scheduled differently, but Twi-Hards and die-hard Comic-Con attendees still don’t mix very well.
Bringing the San Diego Comic-Con into the 21st Century
Comic-Con pre-registration and hotel reservations are all handled online. To prevent the super-charged emotions that arguably contributed to the death of Gisella G, can’t line passes be issued electronically? Camping out for concerts is a time-honored tradition, but Comic-Con is a different animal entirely.
Even with new venues such as the Bayfront Hilton, the crowds in Downtown San Diego exceed capacity. From Preview Night on Wednesday until the final hours on Sunday, the blocks around the San Diego Convention Center are a sea of humanity. It can safely be called an organized riot, especially around Hall H.
The death of Gisella G. is a tragedy. Let it also serve as a wakeup call to the SDCC organizers to rethink crowd control. Comic-Con has grown, and so has the need for less camping out and more value to the attendees.