At San Diego Comic-Con, where for hours to get into a panel can be a badge of honor, Haley Plotkin is waiting in a much less celebrated queue. She's toting around a Hot Toys Iron Man action figure she just bought for $380, and wants to make sure it gets home safe before she continues exploring.
"I can't walk around the Con with this thing all day," said Plotkin, a 27-year-old travel blogger from Austin, Texas. So she makes the necessary pit stop that scores of attendees make every year: the FedEx at the San Diego Convention Center (Hall D, to be exact), the only shipping facility on site.
Roaming around the area are all the familiar characters you'd expect at Comic-Con. A Spider-Man casually leans against a wall. Two women dressed as Captain America and Captain Marvel, but with their costumes altered to look like suffragettes, pose for a picture. The scene suggests something that seems obvious when you consider that Comic-Con, with its 135,000 attendees, is the biggest celebration of geekdom on the planet: This is the nerdiest FedEx in the world.
At noon on Thursday, the first official day of the conference, the line isn't too long. There are about 10 people there, and Plotkin's been waiting about 15 minutes. But the shipping center will lure a steady stream of attendees throughout the rest of the conference. Most are shipping toys and books; some are buying poster tubes.
Scrolling through Reddit a week before Comic-Con, the forum is filled with post after post from excited newbies heading to San Diego for their first visit to the conference. Some people inquire for extra party invites. Others ask veteran con-goers whether it's worth it to queue up at the iconic Hall H, where the conference's most popular panels are held.
But many others have a far simpler question: Where's the post office? Longtime conference attendees all direct them to the FedEx. It's particularly important for con-goers as they scour the exhibition floor for toys, books, cards and exclusives only sold at Comic-Con, which can cost up to thousands of dollars. For many attendees, it's a pilgrimage to the collectibles capital of the world, and they want to make sure their wares get home in mint condition.
"This is our Super Bowl," said Jerry Lynn, a FedEx event solutions consultant who runs the location at the San Diego Convention Center. "We assemble a huge team."
FedEx declined to disclose how many shipments it makes at Comic-Con, or how much revenue the company generates from the event. The FedEx exists at the location year round, but for Comic-Con, the company makes the space three times bigger with added pop-up kiosks, Lynn said. The company also adds extra workers from FedEx locations around town, but Lynn declines to share exact numbers.
The company orders 30 times the materials it usually does, including boxes, Sharpies, tape and poster tubes, Lynn said. Every year, the staff tries to predict what item will be the hot seller of the conference, so they can order more of that specific-sized box, but they don't always get it right.
Lynn said all the rage last year was Funko figurines, those 3.75-inch vinyl toys with big heads. Before the conference got started this year, Lynn predicted they'd be popular again. (Indeed, multiple people I talked to in line were shipping the tiny collectables.)
But the shipping can also be pricey. On Thursday, Patrick Ferrell and Maureen Gilligan, from New York City, said they shipped about $400 worth of stuff in two boxes, including a My Hero Academia Funko figure and a Venom Vs. Carnage comic book. When I followed up with Ferrell on Friday, he said the price tag for shipping the two boxes was $120, which he called "a little excessive."
He also says he doesn't trust it all to shipping. He's hand-carrying his most expensive haul, an Alex Ross lithograph for about $100. He said he was burned last time he shipped a $1,000 book from another conference and it came back damaged.
Lynn says he's seen it all while working during Comic-Con. The most memorable thing he remembers packing from the conference was a tattered pink Care Bear a man shipped out two years ago. He didn't ask for the story behind it, but he could tell it was special.
"I understand the sentimental value," he said. "These people are absolutely passionate."