Sunday, July 7, 2013

25 Tips for the 2013 Comic-Con

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.  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 8th 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.

My friend Mocha cosplaying as ME!


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.

Me and Felicia Day!


4. Tweet the Pros
If you are a fan of any particular artists or writers, tweet them to ask about their SDCC signing schedule. Also note @Evico's creator database, a tremendous resource for writer/artist signings:
Creator Signing Database

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!

A corrollary 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.

5. 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:
The Nerdy Girlie
When Nerds Attack
Comic Con

Hashtags to use:

Sites to help:
San Diego Comic Con Unofficial Blog 
The Confluence Covers 
The Nerdy Girlie 
When Nerds Attack 
Crazy 4 Comic-Con 
Toucan: The Official Blog of San Diego Comic-Con 
SDCC Artist Alley List by Evico

6. Bring Some Cards To Give Out
Maybe they are your business cards, or personal "con cards" or in my case, Bunny Cards (I have cards! Ask for one!) but have something so you can exchange information with people, whether you are networking professionally or just making a friend.
Also, a good place to hold those cards: your plastic badge-holder on your SDCC lanyard.  It's always with you (hopefully), always handy, and you don't have to dig through your backpack/pockets/wallet.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Downsize Your Wallet  
You don't need your library card and Costco membership.  Just the basics: cash, credit cards, ID, Hotel Rewards Card (if you have one, and if you don't, get one), 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.

10. 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.  

11. 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.

Maybe I'll get to interview Hero Bear


12. 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.  

13. Take A Photo Of Your Exterior Hotel Door 
Yes, your room number is usually written on the card key sleeve, but if you have more than one person in the room, or just don't want to carry the sleeve, take a photo of your room door with the number so you'll remember which one it is hours (and perhaps several drinks) later.

14. 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.

15. 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.

Me and Pink Vader


16. Remember This: The Only Currency You Have Is Time
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. 

17. 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.  

18. ...But Don't Count on It
Have a backup plan.  When Hall H fills up, (and it will, perhaps without you in it) have a Plan B.  There's plenty to do at the con, so investigate some alternatives and have them at the ready.
Also, special events get announced on the fly, so be prepared to call an audible if a truly original opportunity comes up that strikes your fancy.

19. 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 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. Last 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's two schools of thought on starting your SDCC adventure: hit the ground running or ease into it.  If you're not one of those trying to get collectibles or who likes 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.

20. Be Open-Minded While You Panel-Squat
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 text 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.

21. 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.

22. 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 for 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 - don't just sign on to anything called "free wifi" outside of the convention center.  We did that once and while no harm befell us (the ramblings of a tweeting stuffed rabbit are not the stuff criminals' dreams are made of), we should have been more careful anyway.

On a related note, we find it pretty much impossible to get connect to the wi-fi on the Convention floor anyway, but if you head upstairs to where the panel rooms are, signal improves dramatically.  This could just be us, though.

23. 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 do - 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.

24. 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 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.

25.  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:
The Weather
Wherever you are coming from, the weather at least is bound to be an improvement: it will be gorgeous sunny, mid-70s temperatures Wednesday-Sunday.  

Protip: Watch out for Hungry Cosplayers.

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!

1 comment:

  1. What a grand adventure at Comic Con! That pink darth vadar was really interesting.