Fan-tastic time at geek heaven Comic Con
"THIS line is crazy!" I nodded in agreement with Wonder Woman, or at least her real-world, cosplaying counterpart, who was a few spots ahead of me in the queue.
I have been to too many fan conventions to count and a few film premieres.
But nothing prepared me for the legendary lines at one of the world's biggest pop-culture conventions, the San Diego Comic Con.
From about 100 attendees in its first one-day edition at the US Grant Hotel in 1970, the crowds have swelled to a capped number of 130,000 annually.
The now 41/2-day event, which kicked off on July 20, is estimated to pump US$135 million (S$181 million) into the local economy, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
This year's edition boasted hundreds of panels, events and booths for fans to choose and browse from.
It was 9am on Friday and already the queue to enter the 240,000 sq m San Diego Convention Centre stretched through Plaza Park - adjacent to the mythical hall H, which has its own line - across the street and along the marina.
I had walked over a kilometre past hot-dog sellers, trishaw pullers and five Deadpools to reach the end of the line and had been standing in it for four hours.
I had arranged to meet Kellie Robinson, an online friend, artist and fellow Disney aficionado. Ratatouille is her favourite Pixar film of all time.
I told her I caught the Moana panel the day before, where the producers showed scenes from the animated film and invited the eponymous character's voice actress, Auli'i Cravalho, on stage.
"Did you know Patton Oswalt (the voice of Remy from Ratatouille) will star in the next My Little Pony episode?
"They're having a panel today," Ms Robinson said.
I checked the programme guide. It was the panel right before Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles', which was to be moderated by my namesake, Black Nerd Comedy host Andre Meadows.
I could camp there and see some magical equines before mutant reptiles.
"Plagiarism is not magic," declared Tara Strong, to raucous applause.
The voice actress of Harley Quinn from the Batman video games and Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls was alluding to My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic's catchphrase and subtitle, and the herd of fans in the filled Hall 6A caught the reference.
It was a rare case of real-world politics entering the fantasy universe of colourful, talking horses.
Earlier that week, a quote from Strong's pony character, Twilight Sparkle, was cited by a Republican National Committee spokesman in defence of Melania Trump. She was accused of plagiarising Michelle Obama's 2008 Democratic National Convention speech.
All the voice actresses of the series' six main characters and dragon sidekick were there, along with a few of the show's producers. The audience were a mix of all ages and both sexes, and were champing at the bit to get a sneak peek of the next episode and upcoming film adaptation next year.
In front of me, a man was typing notes on his laptop for Equestria Daily, an online fan news portal. I overheard someone saying that pony comic artist Agnes Garbowska was in the Artist's Alley in the Exhibit Hall and I made a mental note to see her later, as I had commissioned her last year at the Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention but didn't get to meet her in person then.
The cast performed a table read of a scene which was later revealed to be from the movie, and singer Sia was announced to be joining the film's cast as a pop star who is the "Queen of the Hippos".
"What was that shadow in the middle of the sky at the end of the Season 6 premiere episode?" someone asked during the Q&A.
"Melania Trump's speech writer," deadpanned Strong. The audience whinnied with laughter.
"Keep moving, no playing Pokemon Go in the aisles! If I see you running, I will take a photo and post it on social media!" a security guard warned a fursuiter.
It was impossible to so much as jog anyway; the cavernous Exhibit Hall was packed to the gills with lavishly decorated pavilions, artist booths and a swarm of collectors eager to get their hands on an exclusive to flip on eBay.
Navigating the sea of humanity there was more of a languid shuffle, with the occasional mutter of an "excuse me" or "sorry".
The Exhibit Hall is made up of seven smaller halls from A to G on the ground floor. Here, film studios and comic companies flog their blockbuster releases and accompanying merchandise next to smaller, independent artists.
I'm not really into the merchandise hunting; I prefer to meet artists and content creators whose works I admire and get autographs and commissions from them.
Some - like Lilo & Stitch's Chris Sanders, Bone's Jeff Smith, Mouse Guard's David Petersen and pin-up artist Dean Yeagle - were friendly and graciously did impromptu doodles in the books I brought them to sign. Others - like well-known superhero artists Frank Cho and Bruce Timm - were less convivial but still cordial.
This was also the place to get a sense of the pop-cultural zeitgeist, thanks to the legions of cosplayers roaming the aisles.
Here was a Tracer from Blizzard's video-game juggernaut Overwatch; there was a gang of Red Guys from the Web short-film series Don't Hug Me I'm Scared.
I found Ms Garbowska's booth next to fellow pony artist Katie Cook's. She was wearing a floppy hat and a big smile.
"This is my sixth Comic Con. I love it, it's amazing and everyone is super awesome," she gushed as she drew me a kopi kia pony named after a friend.
"I love Singapore; it's clean and everyone is so nice. I had some great dumplings and teh peng there."
She put the finishing touches on the baby-blue pegasus, threw in a few art prints for free and posed for a wefie. "I hope we meet again," she said, beaming.
GOTTA BUY 'EM ALL
I made small talk with Customs and Border Protection intelligence agent D'on (pronounced dee-on) Noakes in the queue to ship items home on the last day.
I had no space in my luggage for the cigarette carton-sized Magic: The Gathering deck I had bought for a pal and no food in my stomach for the past 12 hours.
Mr Noakes was a bear of a man, dressed in black tactical gear.
"I'm from the 501st Legion," he said, showing me his shoulder patch.
"Ah, so you're into Star Wars?" I asked.
"Yeah, I got the Kylo Ren and Obi-Wan Kenobi figures from the Hasbro booth. They're sold out. I queued for two days with no sleep and when I reached my bed yesterday..." He lifted an arm and dropped it like a falling tree.
The 30-something-year-old told me that he was divorced and that his former mother-in-law complained he was obsessed with toy collecting.
"But I paid for the house, I paid for the car, I paid the bills.
"I can do whatever the hell I want," he said indignantly.
And I had to agree. Some may see buying action figures, reading comic books and dressing up as cartoon characters as juvenile. But as Ms Robinson, Ms Garbowska and Mr Noakes proved, most of these "grown-up kids" had jobs and the means to indulge in their fandoms, whatever they may be.
The word "fan" is short for "fanatic", which in turn is derived from the Latin word "fanaticus", meaning "insane but divinely inspired".
And if these passionate, sleep-deprived and famished geeks were mad, then Comic Con would be the ultimate asylum.