If you’re going to the SDCC for the first time this year (or any year), the experience can be equal parts intimidating and exciting. Here are the tips to know before going in order to make the trip as rewarding and fun as possible.
Don’t Fall for the “Line Ride”
There’s an old Simpson’s episode where Bart insists they wait in a huge line at Duff Gardens, explaining, “if a line is this long, it’s got to be good” -then the camera pulls up to reveal they’re in line for the complaints department. Unfortunately, some people at Comic Con seem to live by that mentality and just jump in any line they see.
There are a ton of lines at Comic Con (just about every signing, giveaway, photo opp and Convention exclusive draws its own massive line). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked someone what they are waiting in line for only to be told they don’t know -half the time the people just assume they’ll get an autograph or toy they can resell later.
While I shouldn’t have to explain how stupid it is to waste your own time waiting in line for something when you don’t even know what it is, it’s also worth noting that doing so is also incredibly selfish because just about every line at the convention is limited to a certain number of people, so by standing in line for something you don’t care about, you’re also likely to be taking a space from someone who legitimately cares about what’s in the front of that line.
If you’re thinking “what if I want to get stuff to resell?” let me be the first to let you know that most of the autographs at the convention would never sell for good money. As for the toys, they usually go for a lot right after the convention, but most of them lose their value about a month later -so just let someone who actually wants to own the collectibles buy them rather than hoping you can make some money on it later.
Know When to Buy What
For most people, half of the point of Comic Con is to buy collectibles, artwork and toys from the massive exhibit Hall. But there’s an art to the timing of buying goodies at the convention.
Overall, if you want a limited edition item, a Comic Con exclusive or something that the vendor only has a handful of, buy it as soon as you can. These items will sell out quickly and I can’t tell you how many people I know waited to buy one of these rarities only to come back (sometimes in as little as 15 minutes) and find the stock was completely sold out. Some Comic Con exclusives require you to participate in a lottery system and then come back at a certain time of the day and obviously those types of rules are what you have to abide by if you’re getting something of that nature.
Buy posters and artworks late in the day so you can get them out of the convention with minimal risk. The exception, of course, is if the artist (or actor/band member/writer, etc. of the work depicted) is signing things that day. In this case, you’ll want to buy the poster in advance so it can be signed, but try to find out in advance if the person doing the signing will only be signing a specific item or you could be wasting your time and/or money.
If you have a badge that’s good for Sunday, you might want to wait until just before closing to make that big purchase you’ve been planning (assuming it’s probably not going to sell out in which case you should absolutely buy it as soon as possible). Most vendors are happy to minimize the amount of stuff they have to pack up and bring back with them, so they’re often happy to offer deals on the last day of the convention. Don’t wait too long to start your negotiations though or you might get thrown out by security before you seal the deal.
On a final note, there are often exclusives that are practically impossible to get a hold of. Vendors throughout the convention might end up getting a few and reselling them for a small markup, which is often worth paying. If you can’t get a hold of an item during the convention though, be assured it will almost certainly end up on eBay. If you absolutely must have and will pay any cost to get your exclusive, buy it on eBay right away while there are still some available.
If you don’t mind taking a small gamble though, most exclusives drop drastically in value a month after the convention is over. Wait a few months and assuming people are still listing it on eBay and that exclusive will often end up going for the same price it did at the convention -and sometimes for even less.
Take Public Transportation
San Diego is a car-oriented city with a mediocre public transportation system. That being said, the one place with good public transportation is the downtown area and with a Comic Con badge, getting around is even easier since the convention offers free 24 hour shuttle service going all over downtown and to a few other areas that have a lot of hotels. There are also pedicabs and Ubers everywhere if you want to get somewhere a little faster.
Parking in downtown is notoriously bad when there’s nothing going on there. During the biggest annual event in the city, you’re lucky if you can find parking within an hour of arriving downtown. Most spaces are subject to a two hour maximum and you can bet your butt that the city is on top of those time limits.
If you’re willing to pay for a lot, most far away lots charge at least $20 (and you’re still going to have to walk an extra mile or two to get to the convention) and the closer you get, the greater the chance the lots will be completely sold out. In fact, ACE Parking and a few other companies sell spaces online prior to the event and those spaces were sold out over a month before the convention even started.
If you’re a local, drive to a trolley station with a lot of parking and then take the trolley the rest of the way. If you’re a tourist, you probably should just forgo renting a car at all, but if you insist on having something to drive, leave it at the hotel unless you’re going somewhere besides the downtown area.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
Even if you do take the trolley right from where you dropped off your car or from your hotel and got off right across the street from the Convention Center and even if you don’t plan on doing anything outside the Convention Center, chances are you’re still going to be walking a lot.
The Comic Con exhibitors hall is over three miles long and that’s if you start at one end and walk in an organized fashion to get through all the booths. More realistically, you’ll end up walking five miles to cover the whole thing because you’ll double back, have to walk to the restrooms, trek to a specific booth to get someone’s autograph at a certain time.
And, let’s be honest, most people don’t just come and walk the floor and go home. You’ll probably also leave the convention to get some decent food rather than a poor-quality $15 burger with a $4 soda. You’ll want to check out all the crazy things movie and tv studios set up outside the Convention Center. You’ll probably want to do something in the evening too since all of downtown basically becomes one giant geek party.
I actually used Google Maps to estimate how much my boyfriend and I walk on a typical day at Comic Con and the answer was between 15-20 miles. Granted, we have press badges and we geek out trying to cover every single thing we possibly can, but I think most people who actually eat outside the Convention Center and do stuff in the evening tend to walk at least 10 miles a day.
And yet, I can’t tell you how many women I’ve seen try to do as many convention-related activities as is humanly possible all in stiletto heels. Do your feet a favor, wear your most comfortable set of shoes and if you don’t have any, buy some now and break them in before the convention.
You Don’t Have to Cosplay
Whenever I tell someone who has never been to Comic Con that I’m going to go, the first question is always “are you going to dress up?” And with a few rare exceptions, the answer is always “no.” Pop culture, particularly shows like The Big Bang Theory, has made the general populace assume that anyone attending a convention will always cosplay as their favorite character, but that’s just not true.
If you have cosplay skills and have been working on a costume, by all means, wear it! Comic Con is a great place to show off good cosplay and find people that are truly appreciative of your talents.
That being said, if you were just going to wear a costume you bought off the rack and wore for Halloween a few years back, skip it. You’ll get far more compliments and love for a geeky tee shirt than you will for a crappy polyester and plastic Superman costume.
Wearing normal clothes is also going to keep you a lot more comfortable, which matters a lot at Comic Con. Just because everyone envisions San Diego as a magical land where the weather is always a comfortable 80 degrees doesn’t make that a reality. There have been years where it has been 95 degrees. There have been years where it’s been 85 degrees but with so much humidity that it felt like 95 degrees. There have been years where it has been 70 degrees and rainy. Wearing crappy, store-bought cosplay costumes isn’t just going to make you look like a half-assed fan, it’s also going to leave you uncomfortable. Check the weather reports before you go and then wear something you’ll feel comfortable in.
Get Ready to Party
Comic Con is easily the biggest event in downtown San Diego and with so many bars and restaurants all trying to compete to bring in the most geeks, the whole area turns into one giant nerd party. A lot of big-name movies even rent whole lots to host exclusive parties and while you might not be able to get in, you can sometimes catch major bands like Weezer if you’re willing to stand across the street from a huge Hollywood party.
Over the last few years, MTV took over the Padres’ baseball stadium across the street from the convention to host a huge party with food, rides and live bands -and that’s open and free to everyone!
While few people leave the downtown area during the day, many attendees are willing to take a journey after the exhibitors hall closes and now there are nerd events all over the county trying to attract Comic Con attendees with live music, burlesque and art shows. If you’re looking to do more with your evenings than go to bed and wake up early for another long day at the convention, it pays to do a little research into events going on outside the convention.
I personally recommend fans of geeky rap to check out MC Chris, who has been featured on multiple Adult Swim shows, most notably Aqua Teen Hunger Force, at The Music Box on Thursday, July 20 or Mega-Ran, who takes inspiration from the classic Mega Man video game series, at The Merrow on Friday, July 21.
Skip Hall H
For those who know nothing about Comic Con, the phrase “Hall H” is meaningless, but those who have attended or keep up on the news from every convention know that Hall H is where all the biggest movie and TV show panels are held. Fans will wait in line not only for hours, but some for days, camping out just so they can get in to see their favorite actors in person. If you really want to get a feel for just how miserable waiting for Hall H can be, don’t miss this article on The Verge.
Hall H is the biggest waste of time and one of the most awful experiences in all of Comic Con. As I mentioned, you have to wait FOREVER to get into the panel, then even if you make it before the cutoff, you’ll still likely be in the back of the room where you’ll just be watching everything on a giant TV screen anyway because the hall is so big you can’t even see the people in front of the room from the back.
Some people will still justify it by pointing out that they got to learn all the amazing stuff about their favorite show or movie before anyone else, but the difference is literally the length of the panel itself because as soon as the panel is over, everything that just happened will be put up on the internet -so you just gave up AT LEAST half of your day at Comic Con just so you could see stuff on a screen happen an hour before the general public.
On occasion, the panels might give away some piece of exclusive swag you can’t buy anywhere else (Cartoon Network does this a lot), but even then, not everyone in the panel will want theirs, so if you’re that concerned, you can still go on eBay and spend $15 to get one from someone else who waited in line for hours. If the swag is really your only reason for going, then consider what your time is worth -getting the item on eBay is almost certainly going to be cheaper than 4+ hours of your day.
Don’t Try to Do Everything
I’m not just talking about skipping Hall H, I mean everything as in EVERYTHING. There’s so much to do at Comic Con that a person literally couldn’t do it all -and if they did, they’d be moving around too fast to actually enjoy any one thing they did do. Decide what autographs and panels you have to do, what booths you have to visit, what giant outdoor attractions you have to see, what after party or concert you must attend -then try to fill in any leftover time as it arises. Chances are you still won’t be able to do every single thing you want to do, especially when you sit down for dinner and realize all you want to do is take a bath and go to sleep, but if you prioritize everything ahead of time you can hopefully catch the things that matter to you the most.
Expect the Unexpected
While we’re on the subject of planning only to do the things you really desperately want/need to get done, remember to leave yourself time for unexpected surprises. Comic Con is a weird and wonderful place. You could easily end up going to a bar and find yourself sitting next to your favorite actor who actually wants to talk to you for a while. You could find yourself in the middle of a zombie walk you had no idea was happening. You could go to a musical about Jurassic Park because the idea is just so stupid and then find that the experience was the best thing you did all weekend. You could get free ice cream from a girl dressed as a victim of a serial killer. You may stop by a party just to say “hi” to a friend and realize that it is the only place you want to be that night. You could end up playing an officially licensed game of Double Dare Live hosted by Nickelodeon. You could stumble upon a concert where one of your favorite bands is playing a secret show before a woman dressed like a storm trooper does a striptease.
These are all things that have really happened at Comic Con and will all very likely happen again. If you can’t embrace the randomness and weirdness, you’re going to miss out on a lot of fun.
Discuss Your Dining Options Early
As I mentioned earlier, you almost certainly do not want to eat inside the convention center where you’ll be getting terrible food that is marked up 4-5 times its value. That being said, restaurants nearby will be slammed with customers -especially if you go to eat right after the hall closes. Decide ahead of time with your group if you want to wait an hour or longer for a table or if you’d rather walk or take a pedicab (they’re often the fastest option when the streets are slammed with people and cars) to eat somewhere a little further that won’t have a line.
If you want to try a particular restaurant, check ahead of time to see if they have a special Comic Con menu and if that menu is any good. Most restaurants within a few blocks of the Convention Center will have a special menu. Some places offer that menu in addition to their regular offerings to show that they are celebrating the convention, but others try to deal with the massive surge of customers by offering only a slimmed down version of their regular menu (which often features higher-than-usual prices as well). If you have an allergy, be particularly wary of places that only offer those slimmed down menus because many of them have pre-made the food and cannot properly cater to allergies although over-bubbly waitresses may tell you they can (I speak from personal experience here). Also, don’t set your heart on trying one particular restaurant because it’s entirely possible that they will have way too long of a wait all weekend long.
Overall, most restaurants downtown are expensive because the rent is expensive and it’s where San Diegans go for a fancy night out on the town. That being said, there are some cheaper options but expect either a long wait or a long walk because when it comes to food near Comic Con, you can get things fast, cheap or close, but not all three.
Celebrate the Crowds
Comic Con is actually getting less crowded these days both because the mainstreaming of geek culture has finally slowed down and because the convention introduced RIFD technology into the badges which makes it impossible for people to just scan their badges and resell them to others. If you went between 2010 and 2015, you’ll probably notice how much less crowded the exhibit hall feels when you walk around these days.
That being said, the convention is still crowded as all heck and you’re just going to have to deal with all the people. The best thing you can do is embrace the crowds as much as possible. It’s not always easy when you’re stuck in an aisle and can’t move anywhere else and someone farts, or when you’re waiting half an hour just to use the bathroom, but if you’re just feeling claustrophobic or mildly annoyed with the number of people around you, try to look on the bright side of having so many people. First, remind yourself of exactly that -it’s not as bad as it used to be.
Second, remember that all of these people are also geeks and that many of them are all into the same stuff as you, so it’s not like being surrounded by thousands of random strangers, many of these people could end up becoming your friend if you actually had the time or patience to sit down and talk to them. For many geeks who are used to being surrounded by people who have no idea what Battlestar Galactica is or who have never played D&D, this can be a refreshing feeling worth celebrating.