Long ago, San Diego Comic-Con was a place for fandom; a place to celebrate pop culture, meet your favorite stars and spend lots of money on merchandise, swag and art. Now the convention is so big that studios and networks have come to dominate and capitalize on the opportunity, making Comic-Con more Hollywood than nerd fest. One outcome of this is a plethora of exclusive parties, which are mostly by-invitation-only and not open to the public. The party scene is where the who’s who of Comic-Con go to be seen, drink and mingle. Getting into these shindigs can be hard but at some point, these fabulous bashes blend into one another, with certain people and things popping up over and over again. Comic-Con 2018 is over but if you get a chance to enjoy con chaos next year, here are the top 10 things you'll see:
It wouldn’t be Comic-Con without lines everywhere, and it’s no different for the parties. For most, the general admission line wraps endlessly around the block. Some parties have separate VIP lines, but even those can take 20 minutes or more before you get to check in. Others, like the Warner Bros. TV cocktail media mixer, had just one line for everyone except talent. For a party that just lasts a few hours, you may spend a lot of that time waiting to get in.
2. Brand promotion
There’s a reason that networks and studios pour so much money into throwing these soirees, and that’s mainly to get some brand promotion. The BuzzFeed/CW Spells & Spirits party, celebrating the new Charmed series, gave away shirts that said “Cheers Witches” as well as cups, stickers, ouija board pins, matches and temporary tattoos that all said “BuzzFeed Presents Spells & Spirits, Conjured by CW Charmed.” At the IMDboat party, sponsored by Atom Tickets, guests received an IMDb pin that had the website's logo atop a lifesaver, as well a captain’s hat that said IMDb. National Geographic’s Nerd Night, celebrating season two of Mars, featured astronauts on stilts walking around the party.
And, of course, photo booths are great ways for guests to take photos or GIFs full of branding that will then be plastered across social media: National Geographic’s GIFs featured an astronaut with a flag that said “Mars National Geographic,” IMDb's made a comic book cover that said “The Adventures of the #IMDboat at Comic-Con” and Spells & Spirits created a kaleidoscope image with its #CheersWitches hashtag as well as the CW, Charmed and Buzzfeed logos. Finally, the NBC party, which took place in its Good Place activation, was riddled with references to the Ted Danson comedy (shrimp to eat and a shrimp merry-go-round, nodding to co-star Kristin Bell's favorite food on the show), a photo booth with The Good Place signs and even buildings and props replicated from the show. The NBC peacock logo was prominently featured in multiple spots, including on every hedge surrounding the party. Peacocking means dressing for attention, so it made sense.
3. The VIP section
Very important people always need their own section, and almost every Comic-Con party had one. VIP guests usually are distinguished by the type of wristband they’re wearing, which gives them access to additional areas monitored by a bouncer. This is also usually the area where any celebrities in attendance can be found. The Fandom party, sponsored by Fox’s The Gifted, had a section called the Elite Lounge, with its own food (the same food as the rest of the party’s but easier to access) as well as waitress service. The IGN party, sponsored by Amazon Studios’ new show Jack Ryan, reserved the entire section by the pool for VIPs. The section had its own bar, which included higher-caliber liquor than the other bars as well as servers passing food.
4. The people trying to get into the VIP section
Although it’s a feat just to get into these parties, and the food and drinks are free throughout, some guests aren’t satisfied unless they’re in with the VIPs. You’ll often hear a bouncer yelling at those trying to sneak into the VIP area. At the Fandom party, a not-so-sober party guest repeatedly got past the bouncer and subsequently was kicked out of the Elite Lounge once she was discovered. After this happened a few times, the bouncer threatened to kick her out of the entire party if she did it one more time. The elitism of these parties isn’t really in the spirit of Comic-Con, but if you get in at all, just enjoy it, even if you’re not VIP.
5. Free-flowing cocktails
It wouldn’t be a Comic-Con party without an open bar. Most parties offer a full bar, although some, like National Geographic's, offer only wine and beer. Most of the parties have a drink menu on theme with whatever brand is being promoted. For example, the Fandom party featured the Fantini margarita, a rum/ginger beer cocktail called In the Shadows, and the X-Gene Gimlet. The Spells & Spirits party offered the Witches Be Crazy mojito and the Resting Witch Face rosé margarita. The IGN party, promoting Jack Ryan, was pouring the Prime Video Cup, a take on the classic Pimm’s Cup cocktail, as well as the Jack Ryan Special, a Kentucky mule. Finally, the NBC party was on brand with Good Place inspired cocktails: the Miserita margarita, the Bitter End old-fashioned and the Eternal Cramnation vodka with cranberry juice.
While the casts of Thor and Wonder Woman may be a little too big for most Comic-Con parties (except perhaps for Entertainment Weekly’s annual closing-night celebration), you’ll definitely see someone you recognize at a Comic-Con party. The Fandom party featured Harry Potter’s Tom Felton and The Vampire Diaries’ Paul Wesley hanging out in the Elite Lounge. Cloak & Dagger’s Olivia Holt and Game of Thrones’ Natalia Tena were even taking photos with fans at the party. And the DJ? None other than famed producer Mark Ronson. The Spells & Spirits party was obviously full of CW stars, including many from the casts of Riverdale, Black Lightning, Arrow and, of course, the new Charmed. The IMDboat party was hosted by Kevin Smith, who was at the entrance doing interviews with other famous guests like Thomas Ian Nicholas from American Pie. And it was no surprise that the NBC party featured cast members from The Good Place, including D’Arcy Carden, who was spotted taking selfies and jumping into the photo booth with fans.
7. Fancy food
While it may not be very Hollywood to be seen stuffing your face at a party, the food offered is delicious, high-quality cuisine that should definitely be enjoyed. The Fandom party featured three different kinds of mac and cheese: herb-crusted old-fashioned with aged Cheddar; white truffle oil and shaved Parmesan; and braised short rib with horseradish gremolata. Chicken and waffle on a stick seemed to be a theme as well, appearing at both the Spells & Spirit and IMDboat parties. The IMDb party also had a wall of gigantic doughnuts to choose from, plus a buffet of street tacos. And don’t forget dessert! The IGN party had great cookies and cupcakes and the NBC party had a frozen yogurt station to tie in with The Good Place.
8. Overzealous security
Common at con-parties as at Hollywood parties: the overzealous security guard yelling at someone breaking the rules (or someone they think is about to break the rules). You can often hear them shouting at guests to “go around” if they’re about to walk through an intended exit, or shining flashlights at wristbands to make sure the people in the VIP sections are actual VIPs. At some parties, they insisted on seeing the wristbands “at all times,” even when someone was on their way to or from the bathroom. Others wouldn’t even let people near the check-in booths until they showed the invitation on their phone. It’s understandable that security guys are just doing their jobs, but perhaps taking it down a notch or two would make everyone a little more comfortable. After all, it’s just a party!
9. Industry people
The Comic-Con parties are packed with people from “the industry” — executives, producers, publicists, marketing people, even entertainment journalists like us. This means that despite fancy DJs spinning, a lot of the parties see more wheeling and dealing than dancing. The NBC party, where DJ Kanoya was playing a lot of throwback music, was a rare exception. These parties can be a great place for networking and letting loose with co-workers (for those in the industry) but, once again, it gives these fetes a very Hollywood feel and doesn’t leave a lot of room for fans. Which brings us to our last thing you see at a San Diego Comic-Con party…
It may have been difficult for them to get in, and they probably had to wait in line for a very long time, but there definitely were some fervent fans and creative cosplayers at this year's parties. Sticking out at the Fandom party, for example, was someone in a giant pink Chewbacca costume. There also were capes and masks, here, there and everywhere. The most fan-centric parties were the SyFy fan parties, which took place both Friday and Saturday nights and were open to the public. The second night’s theme was Harry Potter, and fans definitely showed up decked out in Wizarding World costumes. Fans add to a party's magic and event hosts should recognize that.
As with everything at Comic-Con, there was a lot to take in. It’s almost impossible to attend every party, try every drink and pose in every photo booth, but we tried this year, and one thing is clear: There is definitely more fun to be had after dark and beyond the convention floor.