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7 things I learned at my first Comic-Con

After years of watching from afar, I finally immersed myself in the biggest center of geekdom on Earth: San Diego Comic-Con.

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Comic-Con attracts all kinds. 

Tania Gonzalez/CNET

Somewhere between the Lego replica of Jodie Whittaker from Doctor Who and Darth Vader casually riding the down escalator past me, it finally sunk in: I made it to San Diego Comic-Con.

Comic-Con is a gathering of everything geeky. The folks who attend are fans, with a capital F, of a wide swath of pop culture ranging from superheroes to exclusive collectible merchandise to, well, comic books. They show up for autographs, celebrity sightings, trailers and panels that offer them a way to get that much closer to the things they love.

Thanks to a college roommate who first told me about it our freshman year, I've followed it from a distance, figuring that if I ever did wind up in San Diego in July, it would be quite the experience. It sounded fun, and pretty intense.

It was.

Here are 7 things I learned at my first Comic-Con: 

The lines really are bananas

We've all heard the tales of the lines at Comic-Con. They're endless. People even camp out overnight just so they can get into a panel they want to see. While I was spared sleeping anywhere but my hotel bed, I did get a solid taste of waiting around. In the span of about 24 hours, I waited for the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend panel, I waited for a wristband to get into the main programming room called Hall H, I waited for a shuttle to go back to the hotel and I waited to actually get into Hall H the following morning. The crazy part of it all? Multiple people told me the lines weren't all that bad this year since neither Marvel nor HBO were involved. Guess I'll have to wait until next year to see the difference.  

Some of the best panels don't have lines

While roaming around on Saturday afternoon, I walked past a room where a panel for the NBC show Midnight, Texas was about to start. There was no line, so I ducked in. I like Midnight, Texas -- it's a show with a supernatural bent and middling CGI that's filled the hole in my heart Grimm left behind when it went off the air in 2017.

The cast was was hilarious, and unlike higher-profile shows, generous with teases and tidbits about the its upcoming second season. Getting in and out of the room was so easy, I left the panel feeling relieved.

Comic-Con is so much bigger than the convention center

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Me trying to solve an escape room puzzle at the DC Experience. 

Tania González/CNET

Comic-Con spills out far beyond the panel rooms and expo floor of the San Diego Convention Center. Studios and networks bring what they call "activations" (a jargony way of referring to some type of interactive experience) and take over nearby hotels, bars, restaurants or even just available free space. 

NBC built a giant structure for an experience involving The Good Place. DC set up shop at a local Hilton. One building morphed into Purge City, a Party City parody to promote the movie The First Purge. Various buildings got plastered with massive ads for movies and TV shows. Comic-Con filled every bit of my field of view. Literally.

The cosplay is impressive

For a split second on Friday, I got startled. I'd been staring into my phone, but I saw something blue out of the corner of my eye, someone standing at my elbow. It was Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy, complete with fin.

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Chewie's got a new look. 

Erin Carson/CNET

Comic-Con might be the only place where it's OK to stare at people. A good chunk of attendees cosplay and some of the costumes are stunning -- and occasionally unexpected, like the giant neon pink Chewbacca I snapped a picture of on the expo floor. There were countless Spider-Men and Peter Quills, a whole range of Harley Quinns. Half of Hogwarts turned up. A shirtless Kylo Ren. Even a Gamora, pushing around a baby Groot in a stroller.

One of the most fascinating parts was seeing how self-aware folks are to find cosplay that actually sort of looks like them. Tall and thin with plenty of dark hair? There's the tenth Doctor. Blonde, muscular and square-jawed? Thor.

One of my biggest double takes, though? The spot-on Ace Ventura Pet Detective, gelled hair, boots, tutu and all.

You can cut your way out of a wristband with a dinner knife

Just FYI.

I owe Clif Bars a great debt of gratitude

Thursday night, while standing in line for my Hall H wristband, I couldn't stop thinking about how great it would be to get some type of sandwich via aerial delivery.

It wouldn't be the last time that thought would enter my brain.

Granted, I brought plenty of snacks to get me through the uncertainty of meal availability at Comic-Con. I could sit in the press room gnawing on jerky and fruit gummy snacks, but nothing quite held me over like the white chocolate macadamia nut bars I stashed in my backpack.

So, thank you, Clif Bars, for keeping me from chewing off my left hand in hunger.

These folks are committed

At some point, taking in the sheer numbers of attendees willing to camp out overnight to see a panel, or willing to sweat it out in the San Diego sun to pull off some intricate cosplay, I had the obvious-but-striking realization that these folks really love their fandoms. Like really love them.

And you know what? It's great. As a kid, I definitely had some intense, consuming interests -- Grease, M*A*S*H, Lord of the Rings, The Beatles. All of those things drove me to watch or listen over and and over again, to learn every ounce of trivia I could, and to talk about them (primarily to my poor, patient parents) ad nauseum. I can relate.

During the three days I was at Comic-Con, I saw folks desperately rushing stages after panels to get autographs, and hauling around big boxes and heavy-duty poster tubes. Every side conversation I could overhear was on topic. And after a Freddy Krueger cosplayer posed for a photo with a little boy, he told him, "See you in your dreams!"

Fandom is fascinating. Hey, maybe I'll be the one in the pink Chewbacca suit next year. 

Comic-Con 2018: Stay up-to-date on everything we see in San Diego at the ultimate geek conference.

Comic-Con cosplay emergency? These unsung superheroes will rescue you. And they'll do it for free.