San Diego Comic-Con, the focal point of the year for most of the pop culture I care about, is right around the corner. As most of you probably know SDCC is really the grand daddy of all cons—spanning five days, drawing over 150,000 attendees, and packing the San Diego Convention Center to the gills. Every year is somebody’s first year, so I figured I’d extend some advice I wish I had gotten before my first go ’round.
- Follow the 6-2-1 rule: If there’s only one rule on this list you’re going to follow it should be this one. 6-2-1 has been a mainstay of conventioneers whose origins have been lost to the annals of history. Everyday you should be getting at least six hours of sleep, two decent meals, and one shower. This will keep you refreshed, alert, alive, and clean. You’ll feel your best, and everyone around you will thank you.
- Get your breakfast and coffee outside of the con: I know we all need a little get up and go in the mornings; however, coffee carts are usually pretty crappy. Do yourself a favor, and take care of all your morning foodage before you even arrive. Around the convention center you will only find one Starbucks, and you can expect to stand in a line almost as long as Stan Lee’s; which brings me to my next point.
- Expect to stand in lines: With 150,000 people present, there are bound to be a couple that like the same things you do. Expect to stand in lines. For panels, for booths, for photo ops, autographs, demos, giveaways, for food, for bathrooms; expect to stand in lines. Bring an iPod or tablet or something to occupy the down-time as there can be a fair amount if you don’t plan right. Better yet, this is a comic con; read a comic book! For smaller panels expect an hour line, for somebody big, at least two-three.
- Plan your days: There is so much to do and see and experience here that it is really important to have a plan of attack. The schedule, except for last minute emergency adjustments, is planned out weeks in advance. Figure out who or what you want to see and when. Remember that they don’t clear the presentation rooms out between guests, so it’s a great idea to find a room that has a lineup you’d find interesting and camp out for the day. You can step out for a bathroom or snack break in the middle of a panel and get back in but not in between. If you do want to venture from the panels to the con floor, they have an index directing to your favorite artists, vendors, etc. to keep you as efficient as possible. Before you ask, if you’re looking for a handy pocket programming guide; yes, there is an app for that!
- Bring a bag: Anything you think you might need, you probably will. Bring a bag, and load it up! Markers for autographs, sunscreen, bags & boards for comics, phone/computer chargers, a poster tube for giveaways and artwork. Better to have it and not need it than the other way around. I nearly ruined signed The Guild artwork by not being prepared. A lot of this stuff you can not find on site, so be prepared!
- Bring your own food and drink: While you’re packing up that bag, throw in some soft pretzels, a half gallon of iced tea, or whatever else tickles your gastronomic imagination. Con food is expensive, simultaneously under and over cooked, expensive, stomach cramp inducing, and expensive. Know what you’re eating by bringing it yourself. If you’re following the aforementioned 6-2-1 rule make those meals before and after your day at the con. This enables you to never miss something you’ve been looking forward to all year thanks to a growling stomach and save some green at the same time! Downtown San Diego is an awesome town, with great architecture and some really neat local haunts that are worth taking the time to check out if you’re not cramming a cold $10 pizza down your gullet at mach two, because you don’t want to miss your panel on how to draw bigger boobs in comics.
- Stay hydrated: The convention center is a big place that can have you walking several more miles a day than you’re used to. Many lines are outside in little-to-no shade. It is really easy to get dehydrated and not know it. My first year I had a beer at the end of an exceptionally long day which practically left me in cramps and pain on the floor; don’t be me, enjoy your day and beer to its fullest potential.
- Travel in groups: Having a buddy or two with you can be a great asset at SDCC. Line time feels less tedious, you have somebody to share cool stuff with as soon as it happens, and it allows you to be in more than one place at a time. It’s hard to stand in line for the Kevin Smith panel and grab an autograph from Jim Lee at the same time. After dark, you have somebody to split a cab fare with. While San Diego is a rather safe town (especially at Con time) there’s always better safety in numbers. That being said, never travel in groups much larger than three. Somebody will inevitably get distracted and wander off; you’ll spend more time trying to herd and wrangle your crew across the con than you will actually enjoying it. If you have a large group of friends going, split off into smaller like-minded sections. Let the artists go get their portfolios reviewed, the toy hounds to scavenge the floor for freebies for everyone, and the panel addicts to be your seat savers. Make sure you all have a common meetup time after the con is closed up for the day and that everyone has a charged cell phone.
- Set a budget: Just because your hotel and registration are already payed for, don’t forget there are about a million other places to spend your hard earned money. Most autographs don’t come free (or even cheap), nor do post con or off con activities, food, transportation, etc. There is so much cool stuff on display that it’s very easy too lose track of all the cool variant covers, exclusive toys, or that bootleg dvd of the Star Wars Christmas Special that’s starting to pile up in that backpack I told you to bring!
- Enjoy the con outside of The Con: In addition to all the goings on inside the convention grounds lives a secondary con atmosphere. A lot of the restaurants will have specials or unique decoration for attendees. There’s outside gatherings of artists and personalities that have been hosting a con outside of the official con to give artists and fans a little extra facetime than the big panels allow. Don’t forget the nightlife either! Long after the convention center closes its doors for the day you can still find stormtroopers partying in the streets late into the night. Dozens of underground and not so underground parties are hosted around downtown San Diego. There is a film festival free with your attendee badge that is sponsored directly by the con, and roughly 98% of the con goers have no idea it exists. Kind of rough when you go there to support a film and no-one shows up! Two years back I went down to the House of Blues and took in two Kevin Smith podcast recordings, ran into and got some pics with Joel McHale and Jason Mewes, and stuck my head into Donald Glovers Childish Gambino show, and that was just Friday night!
Now you’re all set to have a great time in San Diego! Granted, most of these tips can be applied or modified to any con you attend, but they’re still good guidelines regardless of the city you find yourself geeking out in!
*Bonus SDCC Specific Tip- Take the train: If you’re coming down from Los Angeles, there is no better mode of transportation than taking the Pacific Surfliner to and from the con. On the way down you will blow by so much traffic that it’s roughly the same cost and time you would’ve spent on gas anyway. On the way home you will be so crashed out that driving is the last thing you’ll want to do; gives you a nice chance to relax and decompress after a full week of awesomeness! For only about $15 more you can upgrade to business class which has larger seats, a very well stocked snack pack, and a bottle of wine. Either way you travel you’ll be treated to free wifi, charging outlets and, to quote Big Bang Theory, 2 hours of pristine beach views inaccessible to any other form of transportation!
Stay Nerdy My Friends!
Thom Obarski is an editor with writing problems. Also, a podcaster, nerdy comic gamer guy & opinionated consumer with a penchant for geeky fitness involved in a dark and twisted love/hate relationship with pop-culture and run on sentences. Check him out weekly on Geek Girls, Nerd Boys on Fanboys Inc. When not inside hiding from the sun, you can find him running from zombies, slinging arrows with Hawkeye, sparing with the Cavalier, or target shooting with Deadshot.