Welcome to another edition of Con Flashback, your regular trip down San Diego Comic-Con memory lane with the Ublog. This week, in light of yesterday’s Nerd HQ news, we discuss our memories from Nerd HQ. If you want to suggest a topic, make sure to send us a tweet using #ConFlashback
There’s never been anything quite like Nerd HQ at San Diego Comic-Con — and I’m honestly not sure that there will be again.
I’ve been attending since all the way back in 2011, and seen Nerd HQ through every iteration (Jolt N Joe’s! Block 16! Petco Park! The New Children’s Museum!) – and it’s been such a pleasure to watch this once-tiny, practically well-kept secret blossom into what it became by the end. Zachary Levi and David Coleman cultivated a space that was something pretty incredible, and it was all done through love. Didn’t have a badge? You could still come hang out – for FREE. There was exclusive merch. And there were sofas (WHY more offsites don’t have sofas is a question I continue to ask every single year). But the main thing that Nerd HQ in San Diego will probably always be remembered for is its Conversations for a Cause.
It was such a simple idea, and yet an amazing one. Celebrities would come and spend an hour giving a panel, and tickets were only $20. All proceeds would go to Operation Smile, meaning the panelists got to give back to a great cause, and the fans got an often unpredictable, intimate experience that can’t be replicated across the street at the convention center. Don’t get me wrong – I adore panels inside the convention center, but in probably at least 80% of those panels, someone is selling you something. A studio is trying to get you to watch their TV show or movie, a publisher is trying to get you to buy their comic or novel, or maybe even someone is trying to sell you on their industry. But at Nerd HQ, it was exactly as described — just a conversation, between fans and the panelists, in a small, intimate setting. That’s magic that can’t be replicated so easily.
I remember seeing Dominic Monaghan give a panel back in 2011 in a room with maybe 14 people, one of which was Elijah Wood sitting directly behind us with that unmistakable laugh through the whole thing. I remember sitting in my hotel room trying frantically to score tickets to Tom Hiddleston’s first panel — and I remember him being game for trying anything that was asked of him in it, whether it was giving an impression of a velociraptor or signing some fanart. I remember the sheer surprise and delight in Richard Madden’s Conversation when Jenna Coleman and Matt Smith burst in, a moment which was completely unscripted. I remember a year earlier, when Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, and Matt Smith suddenly burst into a pretty decent rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. That first Orphan Black panel, complete with the strange noises coming from the stadium that started to become a running joke. A later Orphan Black panel, when to Zachary Levi’s horror, Kristian Bruun started stripping. The casts of Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on stage together during the Great Dubsmash War of 2015. Zachary’s pantomiming because he couldn’t speak very much during his run of First Date. Chadwick Boseman. Nathan Fillion. Alan Tudyk. Joss Whedon. Stephen Amell. So many great mystery panels. Psych, which is what introduced me to Nerd HQ in 2011 in the first place. Zachary Levi, hanging around so many times to give high-fives or chat with fans, even when I know his schedule was insane.
Mostly, though, I remember feeling like was something truly unique and wonderful — in a lot of years, Nerd HQ was my favorite thing at the convention. And I don’t think I was alone in that sentiment.
We’ll miss you, Nerd HQ. And your sofas.
At SDCC 2011, I ran into a co-worker randomly in line one morning and when I go back to work that year, we talked about our experiences during the con. He told me that he was walking the streets of San Diego and someone offered him tickets to this place where he could hang out with the “dude from Chuck” and so he went and had a blast. I immediately looked into his claims to see if he was making the whole thing up and sure enough, something called Nerd HQ existed that year. I used to be anti-offsites in the early years of attending San Diego Comic-Con as I wanted to make sure I spent all my time within the walls of the convention center. It wasn’t until 2014 that I finally experienced Nerd HQ and by that time, they were using Petco Park as their venue.
I had helped a friend get tickets to a few Conversations for a Cause that weekend but I went with just to check out the venue. My time there was pretty cool as it gave me a chance to relax as there was plenty of seating, I saw both Nathan Fillion and Seth Green doing photo ops with fans, and everyone attending looked like they were having a great time. The next year in 2015, Nerd HQ had moved to The New Children’s Museum which was a pretty different venue compared to Petco Park but still offered plenty of space for fans to roam around, play some video games, and relax. My favorite memory that year at Nerd HQ was it was also the year Zach had his Geeks Who Drink game show on SyFy, and the venue was offering a special cocktail in honor of the show. Well, I ordered it at 10:30 in the morning (without having a bite to eat yet) and by 10:45 you could say it had worked its magic on me. It was also the year they had the Coke’o Cola vending machines that you could get a custom Coke can with your name on it.
Finally, in 2016 (unbeknownst to many of us that it was probably the last year), I attended my first Conversations for a Cause panel with Stephen Amell. I was blown away by the experience. Here I was, with maybe 50 people, sitting in a small room with Stephen listening to him tell stories and take questions from the audience. It was such a cool experience and it totally validated why so many people loved Nerd HQ as those panels are such a unique experience. Seeing the news yesterday about Nerd HQ probably not returning to SDCC anytime soon was such a bummer, it has been a great addition to the con weekend for several years.
My favorite Nerd HQ moment didn’t happen at Nerd HQ at all. At least for me. It was one of the Petco Park years, so 2013/14. It was around midnight and I was camped out under the tents of Hall H. We could hear the music from the Nerd HQ dance party that was in full swing. And somehow, over Twitter, those of us camped out managed to start making requests for the music to be played at the party. It’s just another one of those magical moments that springs up and makes you smile. I’ve had so many good times over the years at Nerd HQ Conversations, but this one sticks with me as representative of what Nerd HQ means to those of us who were lucky enough to attend.
It’s hard to find words that capture Nerd HQ. It’s very first year, 2011 at Jolt n’ Joes, we stumbled across one of their evening parties and had a marvelous time. What I didn’t know then is that this would become an annual tradition for the next six years. From that first year, Nerd HQ continued to become bigger and better, with amazing panels and moving to larger venues, like Petco Park (stadium seating… in an actual stadium!) and on to the New Children’s Museum with it’s multiple levels to explore. My Twitter icon still remains a Nerd HQ nighttime party at Petco Park with the incredible setup, lighting up the stadium as I’ve never seen it, and I’m a Padres fan. While we no longer have Nerd HQ as we knew it, I am thankful the panels can still be streamed online and we hold out hope that it will find a new incarnation.
Tell us your favorite Nerd HQ memory in the comments.