21 Fun Activities Outside the San Diego Comic Con

As someone who lives in San Diego, I constantly hear how much it stinks to live in the city hosting Comic Con without actually getting to attend it. While I am sympathetic to the problem, I also know that most people are ignorant of how much Comic Con fun they can have without ever once stepping foot inside the convention.

1. Psych: The Musical Screening

Image courtesy of Flickr user Lisa Brettschneider

There's never much going on at Comic Con during preview night—most attendees are trying to save their energy for the long weekend ahead. But this year, Psych held a free screening of their musical episode (set to premiere in December). Fans had to RSVP online in advance and wait in line to get in on a first-come-first-served basis, but hey, it's pretty awesome to get to see a screening of a great show early and for free.

2. Gam3rCon

Image courtesy of Flickr user Heather Paul

Tired of competing to get into Comic Con when you're only interested in gaming anyway? Then skip SDCC and head to the nearby Gam3rCon, which lasted Thursday through Saturday and offered video game and board game demos along with live bands and more. From the pictures I could find, it looks like the event was pretty darn tiny, but hey, some people prefer their conventions that way.

3. Schick Hydro Shaves

Throughout the convention, Schick Hydro was offering anyone a free Schick Hydro razor if they boarded the Assassin's Creed pirate ship behind the convention center and got a shave from a pirate.

4. Regular Show Regular Zone

For the second year in a row, Cartoon Network partnered up with the San Diego Children's Museum to present a cool interactive experience with one of their shows. Last year focused on Adventure Time and this year, it was Regular Show. I heard great things about both, but there is constantly a wait of about two hours to get in, so I didn't get a chance to  go inside to check it out.

5. The Adult Swim Fun House

Similarly, Adult Swim had an attraction outside the convention as well. You had to line up to get tickets at four and then come back with your tickets at the designated hour to enter the Fun House. There was still a bit of a wait, but it was totally worth it.

The inflatable Fun House had all the weirdness you'd expect from Adult Swim, including a grown man in a diaper drinking a bottle, flashing blacklight responsive colors everywhere, and Robot Chicken's famous robot. And those are just the things we saw—since it was a maze, everyone had a different experience. 

There were a number of exits, including a slide and a jail that you could only leave after singing karaoke. No matter what exit you went through, you got a free t-shirt to take home.

If you think this sounds like fun, keep an eye out for listings in your area, because it is traveling throughout the U.S. right now and might just be stopping in a town near you soon.

6. Fox's Animation Domination Station

To promote their new Sunday night cartoon lineup, Fox put up a miniature golf course, a painting area where guests were given tiny figures from the shows to paint, a food truck offering free pizza, and photo opps with Axe Cops.

7. The Vikings Experience

Sure, you might not be a real viking, but at Comic Con, you could still test your rowing skills against competitors in miniature viking ships. The Vikings Experience also featured lovely shield maidens standing guard and a photo area so you could remember your short time as a viking.

8. Comixology's Tr!ckst3r

To help publicize their online software that has made self-publishing comic books easier than ever, Comixology organized an event called Tr!ckster, where they invited artists to come by every night of the convention to have a drink, listen to music and draw live models posing in a variety of comic-styled outfits and poses. It might not have been the most lively event (artists tend to be pretty quiet while they work), but it might have been one of the most appropriately comic-inspired evening events out there.

9. Elder Scrolls Food Truck

While there are plenty of food trucks, trailers with mini movie theaters for trailer premieres, and even a mobile Hello Kitty shop in the Petco Park parking lot by the convention center, none of these attractions were entertaining enough to keep you distracted for more than a few minutes. On the other hand, on Thursday afternoon, a food truck arrived to help promote the Elder Scrolls online and handed out free lunch (Pressed Eidarmelt sandwiches with your choice of Fire Petal Dip, Emperor's Garden Sauce or Tomato-Mammoth Sauce) and free ice cream (frozen sweet cream with Khajiiti sweetbites) to anyone willing to wait in line.

10. Comedy Central Comedy-Con

Ever wanted to party with Comedy Central stars like Key and Peele, the guys from Workaholics? Well, this Thursday afternoon party was your chance, as it was totally open to the public. I wish I could have reported on this one in person, but we couldn't even get to the convention and find parking before it started.

11. 30 Minute Musicals Jurassic Park

This Thursday evening event was one of my favorite activities outside the convention, although it received very little promotion and had a very small audience. This LA theater troupe headed down to San Diego to perform their 30-minute-long musical extravaganza based on the events of Jurassic Park. If that sounds stupid, well, that's kind of the point.

The musical was utterly hilarious, recasting the T. rex as a misunderstood, slightly psychotic diva who desperately wants to make friends. In the end, she's the tragic hero who is left alone on the island after finally getting to show the humans that she only wanted their friendship.

If you're interested, 30 Minute Musicals is constantly performing new shows in Los Angeles, so if you happen to be in the area at some point, look them up and stop by for a show. Hey, even if you hate it, you only wasted 30 minutes of your time, right?

12. The Aquabats

Image (not from this Comic Con show) courtesy of Flickr user Aaron Silvers.

Always showing the world a nerdy good time, the Aquabats were out celebrating the second season of their TV show with a live performance at the House of Blues on Thursday.

13. The World's End Party

To be fair, this event wasn't technically open to the public. That being said, it was possible for fans to win tickets to the event by attending the World's End Pub Crawl that took place earlier in the day. Since I wasn't able to get a plus one to cover this party, I immediately sat down at the table with the friendliest-looking people and as it turns out, they were all the winners of the pub crawl who became super close friends through the span of the afternoon while trying to win tickets to the event. I didn't stay at the party long, but I couldn't be happier to get to meet the winners of that contest.

14. The Chuck Jones Gallery

Image courtesy of Flickr user Bonnie Dean

After leaving The World's End Party, I headed over to the Chuck Jones gallery. While the event always features works by Looney Tunes creator Chuck Jones and Dr. Suess, during Comic Con they always feature comic-inspired art as well. As if that weren't enough, while I stopped by, they were also hosting a trivia night with free shots of tequila.

There are plenty of other art galleries in Downtown San Diego and many of them have special comic-themed art during the convention—it's just that the Chuck Jones Gallery is one of the most famous and most central to the convention.

15. The Walking Dead Escape

Image courtesy of Flickr user Edward Headington

Curious if you could survive a zombie apocalypse, or just want to attack people while pretending to be a zombie? Then be sure to check out the yearly Walking Dead Escape that allows survivors and zombies the chance to pair off against one another. If you're ready to take on the challenge, be ready to shell out some dough first—being a survivor costs $90, being a Walker will run you up to $149, and just sitting on the sidelines to watch the mayhem will take $15.

16. The Zombie Walk

If paying money to pretend to be a zombie just seems silly to you, there's a free zombie walk outside the convention every year. Just dress up in your favorite zombie gear, meet outside the convention and start shuffling down the street with the rest of the reanimated masses. This group wasn't technically part of the zombie walk, but I have a hard time resisting zombies coming from a luau with Jell-o brains.

17. Petco's Star Wars Yappy Hour

To celebrate the launch of their new Star Wars line of pet products, Petco hosted a "Yappy Hour" cocktail party. Dogs and their owners were invited to take photos with R2D2, get caricatures of themselves by Princess Leia and hang out with costumed characters from Star Wars. In fact, that's my friend's French bulldog with Darth Vader.

Humans were invited to enjoy cocktails, while pooches were provided with water, tennis balls, and dog treats. Those without a pooch to call their own were encouraged to adopt one of the pups on site courtesy of the Humane Society.

While the event was open to all animals, only one cat was actually brave enough to drop in with his owner. Somehow I feel like his sweet Batman shirt helped him cope.

18. Nerd-A-Thon

If you dig hot girls and cool tunes, the Nerd-A-Thon was the ultimate destination for music-loving geeks this year. On Friday night, fans could enjoy the girls of the Devil's Playground Burlesque performing in comic-inspired ensembles beside nerdy rock groups like Nerf Herder, Kirby Krackle, and H2Awesome. While we didn't make it to the Friday show, here's one of the Devil's Burlesque girls performing at a similar event back in December.

On Saturday night, the girls were in Star Wars clothing and the music acts were Nerdcore hip hop artists (think M.C. Front A Lot). While the L.A.-based burlesque troupe only had two performers at the show, they were both fantastic.

Plus, I couldn't be happier with the music acts, El Gun Legro, Wordburglar, Dual Core, MegaRan, and Danimal Cannon (although the last performer wasn't nerdcore, but a metal guitarist who played over sweet Gameboy tracks, he was still amazing).

19. Pretty Poison's Nerdy & Nice

The Nerd-A-Thon wasn't the only place where you could find music and burlesque on Saturday night. Pretty Poison Burlesque also had a show that night, and theirs featured the musical stylings of Ghost of the Robot, a band that features James Marsters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

20. Heroes Brew Festival

Is Comic Con lacking too much in the hops department, in your opinion? Then you would have enjoyed the comic-themed craft brew festival that occurred right next door and featured live bands and all the beer you could handle.

21. Adult Swim Party Featuring Eric Andre

Image courtesy of Flickr user Mandee Johnson

Also on Saturday night, Adult Swim threw a party at the House of Blues featuring comedian Eric Andre and musical guest Yacht. This one sounded a lot of fun—but the burlesque show lasted all night and the party had a line forming when we left to go get dinner at 5. Considering the doors didn't even open for a few hours, I can't imagine the line to get in.

While the events change every year, these are a good sampling of the kinds of fun things that are available each year, even for non-attendees. So, if you live in the area, or if you're already planning on traveling to San Diego that time of year, but aren't sure you'll get a Comic Con pass, be sure to hit the Downtown area during the convention for all kinds of fun events.

It's worth noting that I originally intended to go to as many outside-the-convention events as possible, but that soon proved to be utterly impossible. In fact, I only made it to about half of the events that I planned to attend because there is just so much stuff going on. As long as this article is, I didn't even include every single event outside the convention that people could attend, and, of course, if you attended the convention and found other fun stuff to do outside the convention, please tell us about them in the comments.

On a final note, if you're one of the many people who absolutely loves to see all the great cosplay from the convention, don't miss my gallery featuring over 200 costumes.

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
5 Fascinating Facts About Koko the Gorilla
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy
ZUMA Press, Inc., Alamy

After 46 years of learning, making new friends, and challenging ideas about language, Koko the gorilla died in her sleep at her home at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California on June 21, 2018. Koko first gained recognition in the late 1970s for her ability to use sign language, but it was her friendly personality that made her a beloved icon. Here are five facts you should know about the history-making ape.

1. SHE KNEW OVER 1000 SIGNS.

Francine "Penny" Patterson, then a graduate student at Stanford University, was looking for an animal subject for her inter-species animal communication experiment in the early 1970s when she found a baby gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo. Originally named Hanabiko (Japanese for "fireworks child," a reference to her Fourth of July birthdate), Koko took to signing quickly. Some of the first words Koko learned in "Gorilla Sign Language," Patterson's modified version of American Sign Language, were "food," "drink," and "more." She followed a similar trajectory as a human toddler, learning the bulk of her words between ages 2.5 and 4.5. Eventually Koko would come to know over 1000 signs and understand about 2000 words spoken to her in English. Though she never got a grasp on grammar or syntax, she was able to express complex ideas, like sadness when watching a sad movie and her desire to have a baby.

2. SHE CHANGED WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT LANGUAGE.

Not only did Koko use language to communicate—she also used it in a way that was once only thought possible in humans. Her caretakers have reported her signing about objects that weren't in the room, recalling memories, and even commenting on language itself. Her vocabulary was on par with that of a 3-year-old child.

3. SHE WASN'T THE ONLY APE WHO SIGNED.

Koko was the most famous great ape who knew sign language, but she wasn't alone. Michael, a male gorilla who lived with Koko at the Gorilla Foundation from 1976 until his death in 2000, learned over 500 signs with help from Koko and Patterson. He was even able to express the memory of his mother being killed by poachers when he was a baby. Other non-human primates have also shown they're capable of learning sign language, like Washoe the chimpanzee and Chantek the orangutan.

4. SHE HAD FAMOUS FRIENDS.

Koko received many visitors during her lifetime, including some celebrities. When Robin Williams came to her home in Woodside, California in 2001, the two bonded right away, with Williams tickling the gorilla and Koko trying on his glasses. But perhaps her most famous celebrity encounter came when Mr. Rogers paid her a visit in 1999. She immediately recognized him as the star of one of her favorite shows, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and greeted him by helping him take off his shoes like he did at the start of every episode.

5. SHE WAS A LOVING CAT MOM.

Koko was never able to have offspring of her own, but she did adopt several cats. After asking for a kitten, she was allowed to pick one from a litter for her birthday in 1985. She named the gray-and-white cat "All Ball" and handled it gently as if it were her real baby, even trying to nurse it. She had recently received two new kittens for her 44th birthday named Ms. Gray and Ms. Black.

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