Q. So What is Comic-Con, Anyways?
A. San Diego Comic-Con (also known as SDCC) is the biggest comic, entertainment, gaming and pop-culture festival in America. It lasts 4.5 days and is an incredibly busy, exhausting and exhilarating event with upwards of 130,000+ present.
It takes up the entire San Diego Convention Center. Like most conventions it has a series of panels and a gigantic exhibition floor. You can easily spend an entire day just wandering the exhibition hall floor.
Don't forget about offsite events too.
There are an enormous amount of panels. In 2013, we counted 198 official scheduled panel events on Thursday ALONE. So planning ahead is essential.
Hall H is the biggest single venue, where all the Hollywood studios present their TV and upcoming movie panels. It holds 6,500.
Ballroom 20 is the next largest room, and it holds 4,000+. The other panel rooms, and there are many, hold varying amounts and attendance can fluctuate wildly throughout the day.
OUR CREDENTIALS: This is our 11th year attending; we have been going since 2003.
There are many, many ways to experience Comic-Con, and everyone does it differently. Here are some tips to help make it a better experience overall, although not every tip will be applicable to everyone.
|Pink Bunny of House Rabbit on the Iron Throne|
1. Shoes: Make sure they're comfy and close-toed. You'll be spending a lot of time together.
2. Food: Make sure you eat it, particularly breakfast. Pack some snacks in your bag too.
3. Tech: Make sure you have backup batteries or bring your charger and be prepared to scour the convention center for an outlet.
4. Brace Yourself: This is one of the largest conventions in the world. The massive crush of humanity at every turn (and all the resulting ramifications) is overwhelming. If your question starts with "Do I REALLY have to" (get up that early/wait in that line/sign up within the first minute), the answer is YES. Get used to the fact that you will almost certainly never be the first person in line for anything.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
5. Tweet the Pros
If you are a fan of any particular artists or writers, tweet them to ask about their SDCC signing schedule.
This is important because many signings - hundreds, maybe thousands - on the exhibition floor are not on the official Comic-Con schedule. Pros can show up at their own behalf or as the guest of a publisher or other vendor/exhibitor, so it can be confusing tracking them down. And there's nothing worse than finding out your favorite comic book writer was at booth #2229 all weekend long and you never realized it. So make your own autograph schedule and don't forget to bring materials for them to sign!
This year, the fabulous SDCC Unofficial Blog has made an incredibly helpful database of floor signings. Check it out!!
>>>A corollary to this tip is that if you're into original art commissions, you also may want to arrange them ahead of time with the artist. Their schedules will fill up at Comic-Con, and that's assuming that they had time for commissions to begin with. So contact them in advance and they may be able to bring your commission with them.
6. Create Lists on Twitter and Save Hashtags
This will make it easy to have all the tipsters, comic guests, etc. at a glance. Because you don't need to follow the San Diego Convention center the other 11 months of the year, and you really do need to know how long the lines are for Hall H - whether you are going there or not. There's a handy list below of people/hashtags to follow.
People to follow:
SDCC Unofficial Blog
The Nerdy Girlie
When Nerds Attack
Comic Con Tips
The Futon Alliance
Comic Con Geek
An Englishman at SDCC
Crazy 4 Comic Con
Hashtags to use:
Sites to help:
SDCC Unofficial Blog
The Confluence Covers
The Nerdy Girlie
When Nerds Attack
Crazy 4 Comic-Con
Toucan: The Official Blog of San Diego Comic-Con
7. Bring Some Cards To Give Out
Whether they are your business cards, or personal "con cards," have something so you can exchange information with people, whether you are networking professionally or just making a friend.
8. Call Your Credit Cards
Let your credit card companies know you're going on vacay before you leave if you're coming from out of state. Looking for odd charges that are not in your place of residence is the Anti-Fraud Department's job, so if they notice something like that, they'll shut down your card straightaway. They may or may not give you the courtesy of a phone call that you've now become a strictly cash-only transactor. Give them a ring first and tell them you'll be in San Diego spending copious amounts of money if you don't want your funds cut unexpectedly short.
9. Get Your Hotel Confirmation Number
Think you have a hotel? GREAT! Call the hotel directly to make double-triple sure and also to get your confirmation number. I have personally been present in the Hyatt Lobby when someone who (thought they) had a reservation found out that they did NOT in fact, have a reservation. It was quite the scene, let me tell you - but please make sure to call the hotel beforehand and confirm. You can do something about this problem even a week before the con. On Preview Night, not so much.
10. Join the Hotel Rewards Program
Whatever SDCC hotel you're at, sign up online for their rewards/membership/benefits program. It's almost always free, and it can net you anything from a cheaper room rate (we've known people who've booked their SDCC hotels with points) or free internet, reduced parking rates or other perks. Definitely worth it at SDCC.
11. Downsize Your Wallet
You don't need your library card and Costco membership. Just the basics: cash, credit cards, ID, Hotel Rewards Card (see above), ATM card, health insurance card (we have needed to make a detour to the ER during SDCC. Hope you never do, but if so, you'll be glad you have it). Maybe your Disneyland AP if you plan to stop by on your way there or back. That's it. Every little bit helps, particularly if you're carrying it on your back for days.
12. Be CAREFUL About Overpromising and Underdelivering
Once your friends hear you are going to SDCC, you may get a lot of "hey can you grab this?" or "would you pick up that?" Keep in mind that negotiating the floor at SDCC is supremely taxing. Obtaining any collectibles or swag can take an enormous amount of planning, waiting or luck. Managing to do all the things that are your own top priorities will take most of your time and energy; everything else will slip pretty far down the list once you are there. Beware of making promises to others that you won't (be able to) keep.
13. Don't Forget Reference/Signing Materials
Bring reference material for artists if you're planning to get commissions (although be mindful that their schedule may fill up quickly) and go through your most favorite comics and cross check the publishers to see who's going to be there; they may have writers/artists at their booths for signings.
14. See You Friday
If there's someone you really, really, REALLY want to meet up with, maybe make arrangements before you leave. Even something as simple as "dinner Friday night." Saving the details to be worked out later is one thing, but hoping to arrange something on the fly once you're there can be difficult. And don't necessarily count on running into someone, although it's amazing how many people we DO run into.
|Me and Felicia Day|
WE HAVE ARRIVED
15. Ask For A Room With A View
If the Convention Center is within view of your hotel, ask for a convention center view. Sure, the bay and the Gaslamp are nice and all, but being able to look out your window and see if the line is down to Seaport Village or not will go a long way towards telling you if you have time to grab a bagel or if you need to leave your room like RIGHT NOW.
16. Take More Photos
Take photos of your exterior hotel room door, snap a pic of signing times at the show, photograph that booth that you want to make sure to come back to when you're not running off to a panel/signing/bathroom break. The pace of the con moves pretty fast, and you can't always count on either your memory or wifi/data to look things up.
17. DO NOT Hang Your Badge From The Pin
This lesson learned was a near crisis averted for us: hung the badge by the pin, and when the pin popped open, lost the badge in the street. On Preview Night. Now, fortunately, we noticed right away, but there's a hole in the plastic badge holder for a reason. Use it or quite literally, lose it.
Considering the fact that if you lose your badge you must purchase a new one, it may not be a bad idea to reinforce it with packing tape and/or string. You probably can't be too paranoid about this.
18. Make Your Own Coffee (and Other Caffeine Advice)
Waiting to get coffee is just a total waste of time in the morning, and one less line at Comic-Con is a good thing. If your room has an in-room coffee maker, use it; if not, pick up some instant coffee packets and make the best of it. You can go back to being a Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee snob when you get home.
Also, if you're getting in one of the longer lines early and you don't have anyone to hold your place while you make a pit stop, consider taking an Excedrin for your coffee fix. It's got the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee without all that, y'know - liquid.
In addition to being a lovely part of town with charming shops and restaurants, that is literally across the street from the convention center, The Gaslamp hosts a multitude of offsite events, meals, gatherings, etc. You should pop over there at least once to grab a bite or check out the goings-on. One morning we saw everything from a parade of bagpipers for Outlander, to a flash mob for Childhood's End, to a Sanrio street team distributing My Melody bunny ear hats to sweepstakes signups and product giveaways (the amount of corporate freebies in The Gaslamp is not to be underestimated). Since the only place for SDCC to grow is out, the nerdy offsite presence in The Gaslamp expands every year.
20. Do You Need a Badge With That?
Check to see if you need your badge for any offsites you want to do. Some require badges, some don't, but before you get in the 3 hour line for the HBO GAME OF THRONES EXPERIENCE, you should know and bring it (or not) accordingly.
21. You're Not In the Convention Center Anymore
It sound obvious, but on the offsites, remember that you don't have the protective cocoon of the convention center anymore. So apply your sunscreen and time your bathroom breaks accordingly. Also remember that offsites are just like the SDCC events - quieter in the AM, and on Thursday/Friday than Sat/Sun. And yes, people also do camp out in the Gaslamp (although not to the extent of Hall H), especially for movie premieres or popular exhibits like the HBO Game of Thrones Experience.
At some cons there is a certain level of stratification. The level of access directly corresponds to the amount of greenbacks you will have exchanged previously with the aforementioned con. That's not unusual (D23 Expo) and we don't judge (New York Comic Con), but Comic-Con doesn't play that. It really tries to be as equitable as possible, and that means taking "First Come, First Served" to the extreme. If you want to be in the panel for THE WALKING DEAD in Hall H, you need to think about how much time (and for that one think in terms of hours - plural) it is worth to you, because that will be your method of payment.
Take into account that there are other plenty of other people at the con who want to attend the same things as you, and this is even more so with the high profile panels. Better to overestimate how long to wait than underestimate. No one at SDCC ever got mad because they got in line too EARLY.
But at some point you're going to need to accept that pretty much anything you want to do, from eating, to panels, to signings, to using the potty, is going to have a line, and you are almost never going to be the first person in it.
23. Check Panels Before and After
Find out what panels are both before and after any panels you want to attend. There could be a super-popular panel AFTER the one you're interested in, so more folks will be panel-squatting; alternatively, huge crowds could LEAVE just before your panel if a favorite panel is ending. Knowing the room schedule for the entire day will tell you more about how you should prepare.
24. It's Quite Possible The Line Isn't As Long As You Think...
If you're getting in a line very early in the morning, before the show floor opens, the line is going to look longer than it really is because people are camping and spread out. Additionally, both Hall H and Ballroom 20 hold a truly staggering amount of people; you'd be amazed how far back you can be in the line and still get in.
Quick story: we got in a long line once before 5AM; we walked and walked and walked all the way to Seaport Village to reach the end of said line, positive that there were at least 1200 people in front of us. When the friend of the guy right behind us showed up about an hour later, he said there were only 400 people.
--How do you know, we asked.
--I counted, he answered.
And the guy had it pretty much on the nose because when we got into the the room it turned out we were something like #435.
We're not suggesting you count every person in line (although it's not the worst idea, and you do have time on your hands) but be mindful that early morning lines take up more space than you would think, so don't be too disheartened when you try to find the end of it.
25. ...But Don't Count on It
Many people in line are holding spaces for others, so, in an ironic twist, while the line compresses, it also swells. Have a backup plan. When Hall H fills up, (and it will, perhaps without you in it) have a Plan B, a Plan C...go all the way up to Plan M if you have to. There's plenty to do at the con, so investigate some alternatives and have them at the ready.
26. Be Flexible
It does seem like there are less con events that are revealed DURING the con these days, but special events often get announced on the fly, so be prepared to call an audible if a truly unique opportunity comes up that strikes your fancy.
27. Try To See The Opportunity
Try to find the silver lining for any SDCC events you don't get into. It's hard to be upbeat when you miss something you planned on, but there are SO many things to do at SDCC, getting shut out can actually open up all kinds of interesting possibilities. Opportunity cost? No. Opportunity GAIN.
28. Have Patience with SDCC Staff
Comic-Con is staffed almost entirely with volunteers. Please have patience and treat them with the kindness you'd like to be afforded if you were working on limited sleep with cranky con-goers and changing intel, perhaps in the hot sun, for hours at a time. It's not at all unusual to get incorrect, outdated or conflicting information from volunteers - SDCC is a confusing environment and it's challenging for the con to distribute updated instructions to their crew. Just remember that no one is deliberately trying to ruin your day. Also, don't be afraid to double-check information you get with more than one staff member if something seems odd or incorrect.
29. Let's Talk About the Temperature
If you're planning on camping out in the Hall H line in the wee morning hours, be aware that it can be freezing. It's probably brisk in the show floor line and the Ballroom 20 line too, but the Hall H queue abuts up against the marina and heads along the waterfront into Seaport Village, so it's particularly chilly. Bring a hoodie. You can find cool themed ones at Etsy, RedBubble and Threadless.
Layers are the order of the day inside as well. It's summer, of course, but if you run chilly, it might not be a bad idea to bring a long-sleeved shirt or light sweater in case you hit a cold A/C spot in a panel room.
30. Use The Bathroom Pass (For More Than The Bathroom)
In the panel rooms, the volunteers (hall monitors?) will give you a bathroom pass for the current panel so you can bypass the line to get back in. You may want to use yours to get a snack, head to a quick signing or grab something from the floor. Just keep an eye on the clock, because you'll need to return before your panel is over.
31. Pay Attention to Your Surroundings
This includes your costume, your backpack, your phone - everyone is in very close proximity and you may not be aware that you're swatting people around you with your oversized wings/backpack, etc. [I'm sure you didn't mean to hit us directly in the chest. Yes, you.] Along the same note, if you need to adjust something, pay attention to your phone or tie your shoes, try to find a spot to pull over out of the out of the movement of traffic to do so.
32. Go Easy On Preview Night
Even though it's named "Preview" it's a defacto extra half day at the con and it can be pretty intense. All the prep, scheduling, tips, training, traveling, waiting, hoping, getting up at an ungodly hour over the past year to get tickets/hotels/parking/collectibles - and suddenly: It's Showtime, and this is NOT a drill. Everyone has committed murder and mayhem just to GET there, emotions are running kinda high and lines to pick up badges and get on the floor are lengthy. You may want to hang back for a bit before you head to the convention center. Stroll through the Gaslamp before it gets too crazy; learn the layout of the area and your hotel; grab some ice cream. One year we stopped at a bar across the street from the convention center so we could monitor the badge pickup line. This bar was called either Firefly or Serenity (which we thought was a clever geek re-theme for SDCC, but turned out to be the actual name of the bar 365 days a year), had a cocktail and waited about half an hour or so before going to pick up our badges and join the scrum.
There are two schools of thought on starting your SDCC adventure: hit the ground running or ease into it. If you're not trying to get collectibles and don't need to be in the hall from open to close for the entire show, don't rush on Preview Night. It might be your last spot of peace and quiet for 5 days.
33. Be Open-Minded While You Panel-Squat
They don't clear the rooms in between panels, so make sure to check the panels both before and after the ones you want in order to spot programming that pops as particularly popular. This can both work for you (popular panel prior = room empties out afterwards) or against you (popular panel afterwards = get to your panel several panels earlier). Personally, we always plan to arrive at least 1 and sometimes 2 panels ahead (depending on the factors above) as a general rule of thumb (this is a strategy for non Ballroom 20/Hall H panels).
Having said that, some of the best and most memorable times we have ever had at Comic-Con were when we sat through panels that we had literally zero interest in so we could get to the panel we actually cared about. Why? Because we were exposed to something new that we subsequently became a fan of. It's fine to sit at the back and read or tweet, but you may discover something really cool that you didn't know about before if you pay a little bit of attention.
In 2009, we and sat through panels with Gerard Way talking about his UMBRELLA ACADEMY series and the now-legendary raucous BOONDOCK SAINTS panel (with a pre-WALKING DEAD Norm Reedus in rare form) in order to get to the FABLES panel. Takeaway? We bought the Umbrella Academy TPB and rented Boondock Saints and liked them both.
34. If You Lose Something, Make Sure It's Something You Can Afford To Lose
There's a lot to keep track of at SDCC. In addition to all the usual stuff you have with you, there may be extra bags, comics, posters, freebies, things you paid for. Make sure you keep double track of the essentials: wallet, cell, keys - the things that would be most expensive and difficult to replace. Yes, it's a shame if your WB bag gets waylaid - but it's better than having to replace your driver's license and call your credit card companies while on vacay.
Of course, if you feel the opposite, by all means, prioritize that way.
35. Look For Swag In Unusual Places
First of all, there's the cornucopia that is The Gaslamp (see "OFFSITES" above), but there are swag drops and other offsite events with merch that aren't in The Gaslamp as well. Many panels have swag as well, and sometimes that fact is mentioned in the official panel description on the Comic-Con site. Another trend we're loving is freebies from cosplayers. This is still fairly unusual (don't go up to cosplayers and demand swag), but it's been a lovely treat the couple times it has happened to us. One time, some lovely ladies in Fallout dresses gave us a NukaCola bottle cap. It was by far our favorite swag at SDCC that year. We still have it.
|Thank you, Fallout Ladies|
36. Signal For Help
if your signal is bad on the floor, go upstairs to where the panels are. This is a truism for all conventions. You can also go outside, but then you have to get back in. Upstairs usually is quieter and sometimes you can find a seat or an outlet. Maybe even together.
>>>Also, if you need to post (especially if you are covering something in the panel rooms) bring every device you've got. For reasons beyond me, the San Diego convention center wi-fi worked great on our iPad, but not our iPhone. Go figure. Good thing we brought both to Hall H.
37. Be Wary Of (Some) Free Wi-Fi
If memory serves, some company usually picks up the tab for convention-wide free wi-fi every day at the show as part of their promotional branding. Nothing like selecting "The Doritos Free WiFi" on your mobile device to make an impression, I guess. But try to find out through social media (maybe before you leave your room, or use cell service) which one is legit - be careful and don't just sign on to anything called "free wifi" outside of the convention center.
38. A Gentle Word About The Other Kind of Hotspot (and blisters too)
I know we covered "shoes" up above, but, let's talk about footcare DURING the show.
A good thing to have handy in your pack is moleskin.
If you feel yourself getting a "hotspot" (a soreness from rubbing in a particular spot), pull over and bandage the afflicted area on your foot ASAP. Do NOT be a hero about this. The goal is to reduce the friction. A band-aid will work - we've even heard duct tape will do the trick.
Some people say to bring more than one pair of shoes so you aren't wearing just the same pair for 5 days straight. I have no idea if that's good advice or not, but it doesn't sound like crazy bad advice, either. Know your feet, your shoes, and the limitations of both.
39. Time Your Departure
This is a mistake we make every year, and every year we promise ourselves we will finally learn: if at all possible, do not leave the convention center when the floor closes. There are MASSIVE crowds of people crossing into the Gaslamp, and you could easily wait 10 minutes just to cross the street. And that's assuming there's no train. In fact if you do get stuck at closing and you're not utterly exhausted, you may want to use the footbridge. It's a bit out of the way, and in no way devoid of conventiongoers, but it might be better than waiting several traffic light cycles just to cross Harbor Drive.
40. Everything Will Take Longer Than You Think
The floor is bigger than you think; the lines are lengthier, the time and effort to move through crowds greater. There are days when just doing the floor and maybe a panel will be all you can schedule, what with one thing or another. And then you head out for dinner and get caught behind the train running right next to the convention center that lasts for approximately 16 years...you get my meaning. Even having done maybe "only" three things, you will be exhausted by the end of the day. Also, if you're meeting up with anyone, cut them some slack on time too.
41. Brevity Is The Soul Of Wit
If you find yourself at the microphone or face to face with a writer, artist, actor or some other creative talent and you're not sure what to say, you can always just go with "I can't tell you what X has meant to me." Because you can't. And maybe you shouldn't. It's easy to get starstruck and tongue-tied, but what's important is that someone created a piece of art that spoke to you, and in the grand scheme of the bizarre thing that is the Human Condition, that's something pretty special.
Bonus: And One Thing You Won't Have To Worry About at SDCC:
Wherever you are coming from, the weather at least is bound to be an improvement: it will be gorgeous sunny, low-to-mid 70s temperatures Wednesday-Sunday.
Everyone's Comic-Con experience is different. Once we all stand in the line to pick up our badges, we scatter to the four winds to have our own unique show. As Tom Spurgeon said:
"A thing I enjoy about San Diego is that it takes place in this bewildering array of Things I Could Never Enjoy. I don't understand the costume impulse. Lines give me the hives. I don't want to take endless photos of people dressed up as superheroes. I would never willingly spend an hour watching trailers and then listening to people stumble through worshipful questions of celebrities because I figure there will be plenty of that in Hell. There's relatively little in San Diego I would take home with me were it free. And yet I don't have any more right to decide what that show is all about than the first-time visitor from Staunton, Virginia that wants to buy some steampunk art and maybe be in the same room as Jensen Ackles. It's good to remember that."
That's a sentiment that bears repeating.
Have a Happy Comic-Con!