I've heard tales of a time when Preview Night at San Diego Comic-Con was little more than an industry party, a chance for professionals and exhibitors to take a collective deep breath before the madness of the convention really set in. But nowadays, that way of things is nothing but a distant memory, a bedtime story for young impressionable nerds. While it is still true that the three hours of Preview Night are less crowded than the madness to come, it's still a madhouse. (And unlike 'preview nights' in the theater, the show can't stop if there's a problem – this is it, the big stage, everyone's watching, and the reviewers are out and ready to strike if they see anything amiss.)
A Nintendo display for Pikmin 3
I went in right after doors opened on Wednesday evening, and I will say that the show floor was surprisingly easy to navigate – oh sure, there were a few traffic jams (mostly when the aisles were crowded with signing lines, or attendees stopped to gawk at a particularly spectacular booth), but for the most part, I was able to move and breathe with relative ease. It was merely as crowded as your average large-sized convention, as opposed to the crushing mass of humanity that will populate the San Diego Convention Center for the rest of the weekend.
One of the many show-exclusive items onsale at Preview Night
I spent most of the evening getting my bearings, casing the entire main floor, figuring out where things were and which routes to take to get from place to place in the massive convention center. I caught up with a few friends, spoke to some publishers about new work, bought a couple books, discovered some exciting new artists, and made a plan of attack for the weekend.
'Bloom County' creator Berkeley Breathed with his new book at the IDW booth
Lines moved slowly, but they never quite stopped dead; artists were cheerfully signing and sketching; the lucky fans who gained early entrance gasped in wonder at the huge booths and exhibits. The people manning tables and booths were working like crazy, unboxing books, restocking shelves, cheerfully peddling their wares to everyone walking by.
Random House YA staff working at their booth
And there was spectacle to behold: the floor is pitched somewhere between a showroom and a theme park, with massive displays everywhere you look, monuments to video games and cartoons and TV shows and superheroes and anything else that might inspire fannish devotion.
The Adventure Time Ice King prison, in the middle of the show floor
In fact, aside from the smaller crowds, there were really only two major differences I could see between last night and the full-scale convention that starts today:
The first was that I saw very few attendees in costume. All the razzle-dazzle and glitter and theatrics came from the exhibitors, and a bunch of normally-dressed people were wandering around, taking it all in. I love the excitement and enthusiasm that cosplayers bring, and appreciate the effort it takes to design and wear a well-executed costume – but there will be plenty of that over the next four days. Last night, I just took a moment to enjoy the novelty of wandering a comic convention without being jostled by samurai swords or trampled by stormtroopers.
The Walking Dead barracks on the show floor, where fans and zombies meet and greet
And the second difference was how happy everyone seemed. While Preview Night is a long way from the calm before the storm that it once was, I still got the sensation that everyone was breathing a collective sigh of relief. We made it, we're here, we're doing this thing, we're all in this together.
Now, on with the show!