San Diego Comic Con Report from the Exhibit Hall! The Best and Worst Booths! Marvel! Starz’s Outlander! Stay Away From ABC!!

Another San Diego Comic Con is in the record books and my feet look forward to some rest! I may have lost my voice (again!), but at least I didn’t come home with the con cold this year. This year’s Comic Con was more difficult with many companies cutting back and more attendees than ever. Not a good mix, right? Here’s a look at which booth got things right and which ones, well, couldn’t care less!

Belle of the Ball

Continuing to reign at the top of the charts, Marvel amazed fans with a terrific booth and a full programming slate! With a huge, airy booth, Marvel had exclusive merchandise, giveaways, costume contests, photo booth, game demonstrations, props and signings! Whew!

Ship from Guardians of the Galaxy

Ship from Guardians of the Galaxy

As usual, there was pretty much a continuous stream of swag including one of the most coveted items of the con: A complete set of 8 individual concept posters for Avengers: Age of Ultron featuring Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Iron Man and the latest additions: Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Very pretty and highly coveted since they were distributed pretty randomly.

Avengers Age of Ultron

Marvel also hosted several high profile signings including Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD complete with all 6 cast members…

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD cast signing

… well 7 if you count Lola!

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There was also a reveal of the new Ant-Man helmet…

Ant-Man hero helmet

… alongside both younger and older Ant-Mans Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas! They were joined by director Payton Reed and co-star Corey Stoll for a fun signing.

Ant-Man cast signing: Peyton Reed (Director), Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Corey Stoll

Ant-Man cast signing: Peyton Reed (Director), Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Corey Stoll

Marvel had the main event of the con with arguably the biggest signing in Comic Con history – Avengers: Age of Ultron! Yes, Marvel brought the stars from the Avengers to the exhibit hall! Although Robert Downey Jr and Scarlet Johansson did not participate (she’s rather pregnant right now!), Marvel brought Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany (Vision) and James Spader (Ultron)! Yeah, fans got just a little excited for this one!

Avengers: Age of Ultron cast signing: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Paul Bettany, Mark Ruffalo, James Spader, Chris Evans, Elizabeth Olsen

Avengers: Age of Ultron cast signing: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, Paul Bettany, Mark Ruffalo, James Spader, Chris Evans, Elizabeth Olsen

It’s a good thing there’s a huge stage since Chris Hemsworth is in full Thor mode and they were squeezed for space whenever he flexed his biceps. Good thing he’s such an amiable guy!

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Rising Star

Alright! Starz went all out this year and jumped to a new level to promote their new show Outlander. As you may have guessed The Novel Strumpet and I were thrilled that they chose to dial things up with Outlander!

In previous years, Starz had a nice booth representing a key set from the show (the ludus from Spartacus and the Walrus ship from Black Sails). That was nice to see, but there wasn’t a lot of interaction with the booth unless they were doing a bag or t-shirt/pin giveaway. This year they went full throttle with a more interactive experience and verra generous prizes!

Starz recreated a small bit of Outlander with the journey from the 1940’s (a lovely picnic interrupted with the mysterious Claire poster)…

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…a path through the standing stones (which would shake and hum occasionally!) to Castle Leoch. Yes, we had a chance to visit Castle Leoch!

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Inside the castle, Starz brought actually props from the set to replicate Claire’s surgery! To add to the feel, they had several highlanders milling about as well.

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Starz was also EXTREMELY generous with a basketful of goodies – literally! After drawing a card out of the picnic basket visitors received one of the Outlander goodies including t-shirts, tartan bandanas, shot glasses, tote bags and more! And guess what? Thanks to Starz, we’ll be sharing some of these goodies with folks who couldn’t make the journey! Stay tuned for more details on this!

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The folks running the booth were great at keeping people moving and to chat with the fans. Certainly one of the friendliest and easiest booths to visit this year! The strapping lads running the booth were also a part of a street team which spread a little joy outside of the con, on the streets of San Diego. These guys had a lot of infections energy and I’ll talk more about them when The Novel Strumpet and I report on the awesome premiere.

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But wait! There’s more! Starz also hosted their first signing! For Outlander! Oh Thank God! While Starz had previously brought the casts from their shows to visit the booth, it was mainly for a photo op so fans didn’t get a chance to interact with the talent. (The exception being last year with Black Sails cast members Zach McGowan, Mark Ryan and Jessica Parker Kennedy who surprised the booth with an unscheduled visit to chat with fans.)

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For Outlander, Starz hosted a quick and efficient signing with Ron Moore (showrunner), Diana Gabaldon (author), Caitriona Balfe (Claire), Sam Heughan (Jamie), Tobias Menzies (Frank/Jack), Lotte Verbeek (Geillis) and Graham McTavish (Dougal). YEAH!

Outlander cast signing: Graham McTavish, Lotte Verbeek, Tonbias Menzies, Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Diana Gabaldon, Ron Moore

Outlander cast signing: Graham McTavish, Lotte Verbeek, Tonbias Menzies, Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Diana Gabaldon, Ron Moore

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So thank you Starz for fully supporting Outlander!

Virtual virtuosos

As the years go by, certain themes emerge. Large logo bags and t-shirts have been the big trend for the past three years, but a few new themes were popular this year including the Oculus Rift. What’s an Oculus Rift? It’s this cool, interactive, immersive technology that uses special glasses to simulate images in a different world. The breakthrough is that the glasses sense where you are looking and it shifts the image so if you walk into a room and turn your head, the image shifts like you are really there looking around– sort of like a holo deck, but through goggles and headphones.

Fox had a really fun X-Men experience where you got to use Cerebro on a mission to help Professor X find Mystique. I got to sit in Professor X’s chair (more comfortable than you might imagine — until it starts to shake!) and then I had to sort through all the different mutants in the world (some fun cameo appearances there!) to find her. And I didn’t need to shave my head!

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Want to experience it for yourself? It’s kind of hard without all the tech, but there will be a boxed X-Men blu ray set that comes with Professor X’s Cerebro helmet!

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Elsewhere, Legendary used the technology for fans to become Jaeger pilots from Pacific Rim (Charlie Hunnam not included) and the WB booth used it to go Into the Storm (Richard Armitage not included), the upcoming tornado movie.

Offsite, Game of Thrones took you up The Wall while the Headless Horsemen chased fans around Sleepy Hollow.

Yes, there were quite a few Rift experiences which are cool, but move very slowly moving since only a handful of people can experience them at a time. (I heard the wait on Sleepy Hollow was ridiculously long since the simulation was pretty long).

You Outta Be in Pictures

Another big booth theme — photo experiences! Now I’m not fond of pictures of myself, but some of these were a bit too fun to resist!

At the BBC America booth, Orphan Black morphed your face into the many clones…I don’t think any of them look like me! (You should see Mike’s! Alas, he won’t share it!)

Clone Club

Fans could also get criminal with the Guardians of the Galaxy. (Yes, I am not that much taller than Rocket Raccoon! Sigh…)

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Or you could get really homicidal at the Bates Motel!

Bates Motel photo

Other photo ops included a promo poster for Vikings, TNT’s Falling Skies (in the alien cocoon which would have more meaning if that episode had aired before Comic Con!), the poster for the upcoming Equalizer movie from Sony and a Teen Wolf poster.

Well-Oiled machines

Fox continued to please fans with a large list of signings, posters giveaways and poster tubes for all.

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The great thing about Fox is that they will try to accommodate more fans into signings if timing allows. Schedules get really tight so it doesn’t always happen, but there’s a glimmer of hope for fans who didn’t luck out at the tough lottery draws.

The Strain cast signing

The Strain cast signing

A few years, before mandatory wristbands, another booth would arbitrarily pick people for each signing. For one highly coveted show, the cast finished signing a half hour early and, instead of putting more people into the signing. They declared it finished and walked off, leaving a good 20 or so crying fans behind. Really? If a show is that far ahead of schedule, couldn’t they accommodate a few more crying fans who want to meet their favorite doppelgänger vampires?!?! Nope, the staff just wanted to move on to the next agenda item. Grrr……

AMC’s The Walking Dead booth continued their tradition of a booth that represents a key scene from the past season. This year, fans got to walk inside the train tunnel and visit Terminus.

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Weta also came back, but this time with Smaug the Magnificent from the Hobbit will be keeping an eye on things…

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Face Lifts

Traumatized by the Orphan Black signing last year, BBC America decided to bring a Doctor Who store and not much else. Sure, they have the aforementioned clone photo op, but BBC America was really here to sell this year.

Other than handing out too many tickets for a limited signing, I didn’t think the Orphan Black signing was particularly bad last year. If the cast of the Avengers can sign in the exhibit hall, I think Orphan Black can as well. Don’t get me wrong! I love the show, but, well, they aren’t the Avengers

We got our first integrated Lionsgate and Summit booth this year! Since the studios merged a few years ago, nothing changed at Comic Con with independent panels, booths and giveaways. This year, they were fully united — and united in cutting back. No panels for Mockingjay nor for Insurgent. No custom t-shirt bar. Interesting. Lionsgate may have cut because they are pretty much preaching to the choir when it comes to promoting these films to the Comic Con audience. Personally, I think Insurgent still needs a bit of nurturing and probably needed a little more love.

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Keep Out!

The booth best designed to keep out fans….continues to be DC! With its labyrinthine walls and dim lighting, the booth screams “stay away!” If visitors stumbled upon a path in, they could meander towards a Batman movies prop display in celebration of the 75th anniversary of Batman.

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Fear not! Sad Batman was here to represent the new movie…

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Keep Out! – Runner up

The WB is extremely generous with the number of signings they host, but if you don’t have one of the extremely rare signing wristbands, there isn’t a reason to visit the booth.

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The booth is designed for the bazillion signings they hold during the con and they pretty much don’t want people around if there isn’t a signing. There are ropes everywhere baring entry even when the booth is inactive.

That means fans really can’t see the handful of props on display or Lego Smaug since those are placed where only people lining up for signings can see them.

Deathstroke's mask from Arrow

Deathstroke’s mask from Arrow

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Time Vampire (All Vampires Must Die!)

For the second year in a row, ABC wins the “I want to suck your time – bwah ha ha!” award. Some signings were hard to get, others painful, and for ABC, it borders on spiteful!

To get into any of ABC’s three signings, fans had to collect 5 different pins to redeem them for a wristband. Booth visitors collect a pin by visiting the castle and sitting through a trailer. That doesn’t sound too painful, right?

Let’s break it down — a visitor collects one pin on each trip which means at least 5 trips. But one pin is extremely limited in quantity (you didn’t think this was going ot be easy, right?) and that means more than 5 trips. With a TWO HOUR wait for each trip through, that means a fan has to spend a minimum of 10 hours to collect the pins IF they don’t get duplicates. That’s a whole day right there.

And, guess what? That rare pin is extremely rare!

I have one friend who is a huge Once Upon A Time fan (despite its descent into blahness), and collected over 14 pins in her quest for the OUAT signing and still didn’t collect a full set. Yep, she circled that booth for 3 days straight and couldn’t pick out that last pin.

She wasn’t alone on this. I saw a mother and her 7 year old boy head up and down the hall asking if anyone had the coveted final pin to trade. They pulled out handfuls of extra pins they would exchange for the one pin they needed.

I’m sorry ABC, but that’s just plain mean. And rude. I understand that you want to make sure real fans get this limited opportunity and there are lots of Disney pin collectors. You also want people to spend time at your booth, but this was punishing. It makes fans angry. In the heat of her frustration, my friend started to hope OUAT would get cancelled so she wouldn’t have to deal with this next year. Ouch!

Time Vampire – Runner up

While not as awful as last year’s reportedly rigged Lego mini-figure lotteries, I need to also mention the extreme pain of the Bandai booth on preview night. I’m not one for exclusives (thankfully!), but I tried to help out a friend on preview night. Tried.

I waited with my sister for over 2 hours and someone decided that the head of the line got formed in between us. That’s right, in BETWEEN us! She was at the start and I got kicked out to the end. Huh? Since when does the start of the line begin in the MIDDLE of a group? One guy recognized that this was stupid, but he got overruled by his supervisor. Nice job folks. Make sure you split up families next time!

These were my highlights and lowlights of the floor this year! What did you guys think? Good year? Bad year? Any favorites or booths you never want to see again?

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