A REAL Guide to San Diego Comic Con Part One

I found a lot of like minds on this whole kerfuffle over the L.A. Times “article” (or slideshow or whatever they want to call it).  I do not proclaim to be an expert about conventions or Comic Con, but I think I’ve learned a few things that the first timer should really know (stuff they don’t always put in the Comic Con magazine).

So, with that, I present to you my Guide to Comic Con (all genders welcome)!

So, here we are about a month out from the Con.  You may be thinking that there’s nothing to do until you arrive in San Diego, but you would be wrong.  Yes, panels are entertaining and there are lots of awesome things to see and buy (and lots of free stuff too!)…but the best part about Comic Con is bonding with others who share your interest or passion in all things comics/geeky/cool.

If this is your first time going to Comic Con, I encourage you to start finding others who will be going, through facebook, twitter, websites, etc.  I always find that having a few new folks to meet up with at the Con from all over the country makes the experience a lot more fun.  AND you’ll have people to plan out your Con activities with — share ideas of what to do, where to go, who to see.  Some Con veterans will be able to direct you to the best restaurants and ‘secret’ Con activities (ooh, secret activities? Okay, maybe less publicized events, some affiliated, some not affiliated with the Con).

What to Take With You to the Con Every Day

Unless you are dying to carry around 25 pounds on your back, try to pack light.  I’m one of the unfortunates who is there as press and must lug my laptop around to blog/tweet/write all day, so take pity on me when you see me.  The rest of you should use your backpacks to carry around some of the following:

Food.  You may THINK that you’ll grab a bite at the convention center, but unless you are addicted to Mrs. Fields cookies and Starbucks coffee (and don’t mind waiting in long lines for it), bring some snacks to sustain you throughout the day.  You may find yourself in Hall H (the biggest room) all day for the various film panels, and trust me, once you are in one of those rooms, you may be stuck there (more on that in a minute).  So, pack some snacks…if you are flying in from out of town, check the area around your hotel to see if there is a drugstore or supermarket close by.  I’d also advise that you try to stick to healthy stuff — fruit, carrot sticks, granola bars — just for your overall health (you’ll be eating poorly enough probably anyway), but that’s just me trying to look out for you.  Take what you like that will keep you going for a few hours.  If that means candy bars and energy drinks, so be it.

Pen and paper.  Yes, I know — you have a smartphone, you can jot down notes or phone numbers or what have you on that…ah, but what if you run into Stan Lee in the hallway?  I’m not a huge autograph hound, but you don’t want to lose out on an opportunity.  Also, smartphones die or lose power.  You might want to have paper to write phone numbers, information on panels, etc as a backup.  Yes, I know this sounds silly, but don’t come crying to me when you are in the middle of the vast Exhibitor Hall, trying to remember where you saw the awesome T-shirt you wanted to buy.  If you had written down the booth number or given yourself some direction back to said awesome T-shirt, you wouldn’t be crying when you can’t find it again.  Trust me.  I’ve been there.

Business cards.  If you are an aspiring artist/writer/actor/rocket scientist, bring business cards.  You’ll meet a lot of people, and passing them out is the easiest way to network (and yes, Comic Con is a fantastic networking opportunity).  Don’t have business cards?  There are many inexpensive options to get some made and you still have time to get them ordered and delivered!  What to put on the card: Your name.  Your email.  Your phone number.  Perhaps something that describes who you are/want to be…I try to write on the back of cards i receive something about the person so I remember who the heck they are later when I’m sorting through cards.  Now that there are personal addresses available on Facebook, that could also be a good addition to the card.  If you want to keep in contact with new folks you meet, try to add them on Facebook as soon as possible so you don’t forget who they are!

Comic Con Program.  They’ll give you a bag o’ stuff when you register and get your badge.  The most important thing you’ll get when you check in is the Comic Con Program.  It is large, but is your bible to the whole shindig.  I usually take a highlighter to it as soon as I receive it so I can mark panels I am interested in seeing and their locations.  Learn the map, love the map.

Daily Comic Con ‘Newsletter’.  Every day the Con puts out a newsletter of schedule changes (and there are ALWAYS changes).  You’ll find them on your way into the exhibit hall or in a few other locations throughout the convention center.  It also has the daily ‘grid’ schedule of the events happening that day, but if you need the details, check the program (that’s why you are carrying it around).

Personal hygiene products.  Okay, I know that seems either a) rude or b) insane, but trust me on this…and I mean this for EVERYBODY.  You are going to be spending many hours hiking around inside and outside a convention center, perhaps even on the sidewalks of the Gaslamp quarter.  It will be HOT.  So, bring a small bottle of sunblock for when you are wrapped around in the line outside the building trying to get into Hall H.  Bring wet naps for when you are munching on your snacks between events.  Bring your deodorant to refresh yourself (wet naps are good for wiping down too).  Last year a friend of mine invested in mini-bottles of Axe body spray.  Anytime someone with a…smell issue…came into our general proximity, he sprayed it toward them.  It was a lifesaver.  So, if you can’t keep others smelling decent, at least keep yourself that way!

Camera, batteries, etc.  The closest place you can buy batteries that won’t cost you a small business loan is a pharmacy several blocks away.  So, make sure you have spare stuff with you, if possible.  Trust me, I’ve made that walk.  If it weren’t for the Sci-Fi ‘Eureka’ ice cream truck I encountered on my hike back to the con in the middle of the day, I might not be here today.

General Dos and Don’ts

Do talk to people around you.  If that isn’t normally your thing, make it your thing!  You never know who you might meet.  There are lots of opportunities to strike up conversations.  You’ll be standing in lines for just about everything.

Don’t panic.  Yes, the Con is HUGE.  Yes it is sold out and there are tens of thousands of people there.  You may not get into the panel you want.  Actually, you are very likely not to get into a panel  you want unless you are willing to wait in long lines for it.  This leads to the next item:

Do be selective, but keep your options open!  Once you have the schedule in hand, you will want to pour through it, marking every panel, session or activity of interest.  Here’s the thing: there are many ways to enjoy the Con.  I know people who don’t set foot in a room for a panel/seminar/session etc.  I know those (and have been one) who wait in a line to get into a room early in the day and stay in that same room ALL DAY.  You may wish to wander around in costume all day.  That’s fine too!  But don’t try to do everything.  You’ll only end up frustrated and disappointed.  Also don’t try to go from one large panel room (like Hall H or Ballroom 20 or any of the upstairs rooms in the hallway of DOOM) immediately to another.  See, here’s what happens:

It’s 9 AM.  The doors open, people flood into the convention center and start filtering toward rooms.  Each room has a line designated.  Very often (as in, ALWAYS) those lines get long.  I don’t care what it’s for.  Yes, you expect a huge long wait to get in to hear about Iron Man 2, but there’s a long wait to get in to hear about Supernatural too.  Last year I got in line an hour before a panel was set to begin and never made it into the room for that panel.  People are let into the room as seats become available, which means the rooms DO NOT EMPTY between sessions!  The good news: You get into a room early, you can get a good seat and keep it.  The bad news: If you leave, you may not get back in (exception is for the bathroom passes that get handed out between panels.  This allows you to dart out for a couple of minutes and back into the room again without losing your seat).  For very very popular panels, expect to wait in line at least 2-3 hours before the panel even starts.  This will not even guarantee you get in, though.  So, in that case…

Do have a backup plan!  Okay, so you couldn’t get into the Iron Man 2 panel.  There are lots of smaller events going on at the same time, and often those smaller rooms don’t fill up.  Last year I went to a really cool session about the Science of Watchmen.  A scientist did a presentation about the scientific plausibility of Dr. Manhattan, the Owlship, and other fun stuff.  Very entertaining.

Don’t forget the exhibit hall!  You’ll probably be in and out of that place a lot.  Many booths have giveaways, autograph sessions and demonstrations throughout the con, so if you can, check out the hall early on your first day to get a schedule of events for some of these booths.

Don’t throw away any tickets you get!  So, you are walking into a room for a panel.  Someone hands you a little ticket — don’t lose it!  It is probably so you can get some free stuff for being in that panel (last year I got a ticket at the True Blood panel that I was able to cash in for a bag o’ goodies, including a t-shirt, a copy of the first Sookie Stackhouse novel and other fun stuff).  There is now a room designated to pick up your free stuff, but the room closes about an hour before the end of each day.  So, avoid going RIGHT after a panel is over (everybody else will be running to get their stuff) but try to get in there before the end of the day, so you can still claim your stuff.

Q & A  Okay.  I want you to hear me now and believe me later.  Perhaps one of the most PAINFUL thing about these panels is when they open up questions to the audience.  If you want people to like you, try to keep your questions short and sweet.  We don’t need to hear your life story, how you got to the Con, your career aspirations, your costume details, etc.  Yes we KNOW you love their work/their show/their writing, etc.  Don’t waste time with the accolades.  It gets annoying.  Oh, and could you please make sure it is a QUESTION and not some general comment you just must make known to the other thousand(s) of people sitting in the room?  Please, be interesting.  Ask a good question.  This is your one chance to ask your favorite comic writer/artist/actor/director/important person on a panel a burning question.  Do you really want to be known as the guy/gal who asked them something stupid?  And if you aren’t sure if your question is stupid…well, it probably is.  Part of the reason people disparage fanboys is because of the Q & A.  Seen the William Shatner SNL sketch?  Yeah, learn it and love it.  Try to be a good fanboy/girl.  Okay, off my soapbox about that now.

When in a panel, try to be considerate of those around you.  That means, no standing in front of your seat to take pictures or video, talking on the phone, spreading out all your crap in the aisle or taking up multiple chairs.  We all want to see/hear/enjoy the panel.  I’ll never understand why some people choose to remain so ignorant of how their actions affect those around them.  Try not to be one of those people.  Yes, it’s hot, it’s stuffy and you are tired.  We all are.  The Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) has never been so important.

The Exhibit Hall  That place can be a jungle.  Mobs of people moving through the booths, some trying to pick up every bit of free stuff, others trying to take pictures…the worst thing you can do, seriously, is block a walkway.  If you must stop and adjust your bag or costume, try to step out of the flow of traffic.  Stopping abruptly to ogle the ginormous props or posters isn’t always avoidable, but do try to get out of the way as you do it.  If you are chatting with someone at a meet and greet or autograph session, don’t take all day.  You are not the only person in that line, and I’m sorry, you are not the most important person in that line.  Yes, it’s kind of an assembly line.  Say your piece (I like your work, etc), get the autograph and MOVE ON.  HAVE YOUR CAMERA READY.  You will be hated if you get up to take a picture and your camera is not on/ready/etc.  Remember that there are a lot of kids at the Con.  As a grown up, you have a responsibility not to step on children.

It’s hard sometimes…you’ll be having a great time at the Con and then something happens, and your mood does a 180.  Last year I was in the worst mood most of the time — I didn’t get into panels I wanted to see, or I got battered like a pinball in the exhibit hall, and so on.  Take a few moments for yourself — find a quiet corner, remind yourself why you are there.  If you aren’t having fun, stop what you are doing and take a step back.  No it isn’t going to be fun every second of every day, but if you aren’t enjoying yourself at all, perhaps you are trying to do too much.

Spend time in Artist’s Row and the Small Press Tables.  Not only will you see really great independent art and comics, but you’ll meet some great people (yup, I’m big on meeting people).  I’m always sad to see these areas neglected because they aren’t giving out some free piece of crap that you will probably throw out anyway.

Want to feel good about yourself?  Donate Blood.  Every year the Con holds a blood drive, and they even give you some cool free thing for your trouble (and blood).  Sign up early though, because the blood drive does tend to fill up quickly, which, in my mind, is a very Good Thing.

What to do when the Con ends each day.  You’ll hear about film screenings, parties, and other events throughout your day.  Check to see if you need to RSVP for an event before you show up there.  I always have a few friends I like to meet up with for dinner one night of the Con, just to trade freebies, catch up on events, dish the dirt.  If your hotel is close enough, you may want to grab a nap before going back out at night.  Comic Con can be an endurance test, but don’t feel like you need to keep up with everyone.  Go at your own pace.  If you are not usually very active, you might want to take the next few weeks to do a little walking.  I know it seems silly, but a little ‘training’ doesn’t hurt!  You could be walking up to 10 miles a day at the con.  If you aren’t used to that, it can be extremely exhausting.

Okay, that’s the end of Part One (yes, there’s more to come!)  Have questions?  Please leave them in the comments and I’ll address them in Part Two, which will take me a few days to put together, but I promise to make it worth your while!

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna on June 19, 2009

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28 Comments so far

  1. Cynthia Adkins June 19, 2009 2:48 pm

    Spot on advice for surviving the Con. Nicely done. Looking forward to part two.

  2. Oscar A. Torres June 19, 2009 3:21 pm

    You and your partner in crime are becoming my go-to people for all things cool. I will memorize the before entering San Diego.

  3. The One True b!X June 19, 2009 3:33 pm

    Excellent, excellent guide.

  4. Robert A Patton June 19, 2009 3:33 pm

    Great advice!

  5. Louise June 19, 2009 3:42 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this, and am going to pass it on to my first-timer friends. It’s the first ‘Guide To San Diego’ I’ve read that contains detailed, useful information from an actual congoer. 🙂

    Can’t wait for Part Two!

  6. Bentoboxx June 19, 2009 4:09 pm

    hand sanitiser is also great to have. I dunno how many peeps got “Con Crud”. So many people there…someone is gonna show up sick! protect yourself before ya wreck yourself! Word!

  7. mm June 19, 2009 4:21 pm

    brava! spot on advice. i would add to carry a water bottle at all times & you can fill them in big halls. any advice on how to learn more about the super secret events, esp movie screenings?

  8. Dan June 19, 2009 4:23 pm

    Excellent guide! I’ve been attending Comic Con for the past 7 years and you’ve touched on nearly everything. I’m eager to read what you have going for Part Two. I’m also passing this on to some newbies that will be attending this year. Oh, and I’m so glad that you included personal hygiene in your review. It never fails every year that some people walk around giving off the worst stench ever. Please be considerate of others!

  9. @wetodded June 19, 2009 4:32 pm

    GREAT guide!! This’ll be my 7th straight Comic Con and your guide is perfect. Well done! Looking fwd to part 2. Another good tip: buy your SDCC 2010 pass at the con.

  10. Coraline June 19, 2009 5:15 pm

    Would really love to see some suggestions about avoiding Con waste! Every attendee should try to keep their con print as small as possible. Take only the flyers and swag that you know you’ll use. Pack out what you bring in. Don’t just grab items because they are free and shiny. ComicCon and DragonCon have huge environmental footprints, and it would be great to see the geeks lead the way in “greening” the Cons. Thanks, bix!

  11. Rae June 19, 2009 5:21 pm

    Excellent advice. I second, third, and fourth the snacks portion. And maybe the nap portion though that one is a little more tricky. But eating quickly goes by the wayside once you’re standing in line and trying to get to panels, etc. You can easily go a whole day without eating if you didn’t think ahead to bring snacks or money for snacks. And a little sustenance goes a long way to giving you the energy to deal with the crowds.

    Plus, there’s lots of people everywhere meaning food is not going to be QUICK to come by pretty much anywhere the whole weekend. When you have to wait 2 hours for a table for dinner, you’ll be grateful you had snacks during the day.

  12. Nicole June 19, 2009 6:46 pm

    Ok, I think I’m going to go have a panic attack in the corner of my room.

    This trip is now stressing me out, cause this guide is just reassuring me I’m screwed.

    But great advice for the food.

  13. tezero June 19, 2009 7:39 pm

    Holy Crap! I am now officially terrified! lol I am bringing my 17 yr old son to the con. It will be the first time for both of us. He has been begging for 3 years to go and I totally blame you and bentoboxx! We are signed up as volunteers as well. Anyone have any advice for THAT?

  14. RobinInSeoul June 19, 2009 8:27 pm


    Thanks for some great common sense advice.

    This will be my first con ever and I’m coming all the way from Korea for it! I can’t wait!

    Any Whedon people, feel free to follow me on Twitter (RobinInSeoul). Mention something Whedon-y in your bio and I’ll follow you back.

    Let’s meet up at CC! 😀

  15. Shaene Siders June 19, 2009 10:50 pm

    Great job! Can’t wait to read more!

  16. Jon Reeves June 19, 2009 11:25 pm

    Excellent advice. Tenth Con for me this year.

    I’ll add two things:
    – Charge your batteries every night, even if they aren’t dead yet. Laptop, camera, cell phone, etc. Then again, you probably won’t be taking 1000 photos a day, so this may not be as important as it was for me…
    – If you need some quiet down time (and you don’t have a Pro or Press badge), two words: Con suite. Admittedly, SDCC’s con suite is a big disappointment to people who are familiar with SF conventions, and it’s inconveniently located, but that just means it’s really quiet and laid back. And still stocked with free sodas and light munchies.

  17. Noelle June 20, 2009 1:42 am

    You rock – this is a great guide! I specifically love the part about the hygiene products. I think they should give deodorant away in the gift bags, personally. Just a little hint to the people who forget about that sort of thing!

    Have a great Con! I’ll probably pass right by you and never know it!

  18. Krys June 20, 2009 2:23 am

    First off, thank you for the AMAZING advice! I’m a newbie, so yes, I am terrified but still excited about going to CC this year. This guide, however, is great and definitely gives me an idea of how to prepare and what to expect.

    Under your ‘General Dos and Don’ts’, you said that the convention hall doors open at 9AM. I’m particularly paranoid about going to one panel (my initial and biggest reason for buying a pass this year), so I’m planning on waking up extra, extra early. My question (and I’m sorry if this sounds incredibly dense – good thing I’m not planning on trying to ask a question at any Q&A sessions!) is: if you get there early, is there just a mob of people waiting outside the convention hall doors? Or is there some semblance of organization and lines are formed? I’d hate to get there early, only to get stampeded on my way (once the doors open) to whatever room is holding the panel I’m interested in. Thank you so much if you can answer this! I really appreciate it!

  19. Steve June 20, 2009 10:58 am

    Speaking as a Con veteran of the past 15+ years, great guide. I second Bentoboxx’s suggestion about hand sanitizer. Last year I got a really, really bad case of the “Nerd Flu” after the Con. The place is packed with people and swimming with germs. In the age of Swine Flu, I’d be extra careful about cleanliness!

  20. Jackie Estrada June 20, 2009 11:32 am

    Yes, there is line control. Comic-Con has a whole department devoted to handling lines at all the various programming venues.

  21. Bonnie Green June 20, 2009 1:25 pm

    Very important question: Are there plenty and available restrooms, or are there lines for that, too?

    Great tips for a first-timer!

  22. Jedimom June 20, 2009 3:38 pm

    Well done! This will be my first SDCC, but I ama regular at Dragon*Con. Hygiene is VERY important! Think of those around you!

  23. Gillian June 20, 2009 4:20 pm

    Overall good tips. As a female that has attended for over 12 years, I wanted to add that as a grown up you should not only try to avoid stepping on children, but short people as well. As a 5’2” female I spend most of my time on the convention floor being mowed over by tall guys. By Friday I’m ready to hit back. By Sunday they may find bodies stuffed under unused booth tables during teardown.

    IF YOU HAVE A BACKPACK, please try to mentally add it to your perception of the space you take up. You are now a cloth turtle, please don’t go around whacking everyone with your shell when you move. Hardback books HURT. After 4 days of this people start looking at my boyfriend like he beats me.

    Bathe, every day, more if needed. It used to be Saturday or Sunday before people started smelling like an open sewer. In the past few years the strong scent of convention hygiene has been overpowering during preview night.

    Take a few extra minutes each day for common courtesy. Letting someone cross an isle that intersects yours when they’ve been trying to for 5 minutes, answering a question you overhear when you know the answer, giving someone directions, leaving the front seats open on the shuttle for someone less mobile, not shoving your way past people, etc. 99% of the time you won’t be missing out of a vital part of the convention experience and one act of decency per attendee would make this a whole diferent ballgame. The Convention Center is packed to capacity and hell really can be other people.

  24. Gillian June 20, 2009 4:23 pm

    RobinInSeoul – Be safe. I’ve had the South Koreans in my thoughts this week.

  25. arbitrary June 21, 2009 8:57 pm

    Thanks for the advice, coming over from the UK for my first comic con also, and starting to get excited and scared.

  26. Torsten Adair June 23, 2009 10:07 am

    There is a large grocery store just a few blocks north of the convention center. I recommend buying a box of breakfast bars (without chocolate) for about $4. Toss the box, the bars are individually wrapped. Nutritious, tidy (I eat them while wandering the aisles), and tasty!

    I also suggest eating a large breakfast (especially if your hotel serves a continental breakfast), which should keep you going until 1 or 2 PM, which will help you avoid the “lunch rush”. If meeting a group of friends from the Internet, suggest you all meet two hours BEFORE the Con opens for the day at one of the hotel restaurants. Hotels will usually offer a breakfast buffet on the menu, which allows you to “carb up” for the day. Reservations recommended.

    Bring your recharging adapter with you to the Con. While you relax in a corner for a few minutes, you can recharge batteries. Also, set your phone to vibrate. If you have a calendar of events on your smartphone, then get in the habit of checking your phone every five minutes or so. Text instead of calling, unless things get confusing, then excuse yourself from booths and aisles before placing the call.

    If you can, fly in and out on non-Con days. With time to spare, you can relax, reducing stress. Chances are, there will be some pros staying over as well, and a group meal is possible. Also, you can enjoy some of the other attractions nearby (such as Legoland California).

  27. MPNeeb June 24, 2009 2:02 am

    Good stuff.
    Especially about the AXE Body spray.
    I’ve never considered it useful, but your suggestion was brilliant.

    And you’re not kidding about the walking…

  28. Dan K June 29, 2009 4:29 pm

    Thanks for your very detailed lay out of Comic-Con. this will be my first year so i am looking forward to the Chaos that Follows. i could ask 20 questions but like you said short and sweet and to the point. my main question you comment about lines for panels starting very early. now if something is scheduled for a room at say 3pm and you really want to be in that room for that panel are you saying go there first thing in the morning and just sit through the other panels waiting for the one you want. or do they start lines for every panel? it sounds like you can get a seat and just stay in a room all day if you wanted to be in one thing real bad.

    Thanks for any Info you have given so much already i hope you have a great Con this year.



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