The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Big Ross’s Comic Con Survival Guide

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

As it comes every year, it is once again the week of San Diego Comic Con. [waits 10 minutes] Now that your panic attack has subsided, here Big Ross offers rules for the Con to newcomers that will preserve your wallet as well as your sanity.

San Diego Comic Con International (SDCC) 2011 has just ended, and I am still recuperating from the experience. I popped my Comic Con cherry this past weekend, and the Con was no gentle lover. Though I was given some excellent advice from fellow CC2Ker (and SDCC veteran) Tony Lazlo, I was still ill prepared. In the spirit of it’s never too early to starting planning for the next Con, here are my SDCC rules, especially valuable for the SDCC virgins out there. Think of them as a survival guide for getting in and out of the Con alive, and just maybe having a positive experience while doing it.


Rule #1 – Employ the Buddy System

Sure, we all learned it in elementary school and then promptly forgot it as soon as we became teenagers. But the Con is a great time and place to bring back the Buddy System. I went to the Con alone, and while it was fine and enjoyable, there is definitely safety in numbers. I admit I was surprised, Comic Con attendees were much nicer than I expected (though maybe I should have expected more; we geeks are good people). On several occasions perfect strangers were nice enough to hold my spot in line or my seat or even watch my bag while I went to the restroom, but it would have been nicer to have a friend with me. Someone I knew and trusted who had a little more invested in me than the random person standing behind me in line of thousands.

Also, attending events at the Con in packs/pairs allows you much more freedom. While one of you holds  down the fort, another can make a run for coffee or food or to make a flyby of Ballroom 20 to see just how many seats are open to judge your chances of actually getting in. If you’re thinking of bailing on one room, it helps to have a friend who can go and make sure your other option is a viable one. Besides, most of the experiences at the Con are even more enjoyable when you have someone to share them with.

Rule #2 – Stay Close

There are plenty of hotels near the convention center in downtown San Diego. Granted, it can be difficult to book a room, and it can be expensive, but if you have the means I *highly* recommend it. I live in San Diego and commuted to the Con everyday that I went. Parking downtown is a nightmare, so I avoided it entirely and parked at Qualcomm Stadium (currently home of the San Diego Chargers) located several miles east of downtown. $15 got me a 4-day pass on the San Diego Trolley and rode that to and from the Con. The biggest problem with the Trolley is that you are beholden to its schedule. The first special event train going all the way to the convention center didn’t leave Qualcomm until after 7 AM, one day npt until 7:30 AM. So if you think you’re going to be taking the Trolley and getting in that Hall H line at the crack of dawn, think again. Plus, it’s nice to have a quiet place nearby where you can go to drop off merchandise or unwanted backpacks or just chill out or take a nap to recharge the batteries. If you’re coming in from out of town you might follow this rule anyway, but even if you live in or around San Diego, if you’re seriously going to get you Con on, you might look into getting a room with those buddies you’ll be following Rule #1 with.

Rule #3 – Do NOT Try to See Everything

The surest recipe for disaster if not disappointment is to look at a day’s schedule of events and think, “let’s hit up this panel in Hall H at 1PM and then speed over to Room 6ABC for that panel at 4 PM. If we hurry we might make it.” No, you won’t. There are thousands upon thousands of people attend Comic Con. There are very likely to be thousands interested in attending the same panels that you are. There are going to be lines. There are going to be long lines. So even if you think you can make it across the convention center in time, and that’s doubtful as there will be those thousands and thousands of people in your way, chances are very good you will be at the end of a very long line with no shot of getting into the room in time.

Save yourself the time and the effort and the disappointment. Plan your day out well. Decide ahead of time what one event/panel is most important to you, what you absolutely do not want to miss. Plan to attend that one thing. If it’s later in the day and you get into the room early, especially if it’s in Hall H or Ballroom 20 (the two biggest rooms at the Con), don’t leave. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the panels before the one you want. Even if they are for shows or movies you’re not interested in, chances are good they will at least be entertaining. I’ve never watched Covert Affairs, Psych, Eureka, or Warehouse 13, but I sat through all of their panels waiting for Game of Thrones and DC Animation’s Batman: Year One, and I had a blast. Same goes for the Exhibit Hall.

Rule #4 – Be Patient

Remember in Rule #3 when I mentioned lines? Yeah, there are lines EVERYWHERE. There are lines for booths in the Exhibit Hall. There are lines for meeting rooms. There are lines to get into the convention center and get registered. There are lines for the concession stands, for restrooms, for promotional give-aways. All the lines, lines, lines! It’s like a sick Dr. Seuss book. And I know what you’re thinking, “I’ve been in lines before, man. At football or baseball stadium. At a big concert. At an amusement park.” Ha! The Con laughs at your line experience.

On Friday I had hopes of getting into Ballroom 20 for The Walking Dead panel at 11 AM, The Big Bang Theory panel at 12:15 PM, and I was going to stay for the True Blood panel at 5:30 PM and the world premiere of DC Animation’s Batman: Year One at 8 PM. Problem was, 7-8 thousand other people had *the exact same idea*. Because I didn’t follow Rule #2, I got to the Con later than I wanted, and went to get in line at ~8:30 AM. I thought there would be enough time. There wasn’t. I walked, and walked, and walked. Everytime I turned a corner, thinking “Surely the end of the line has to be close,” the line just kept going. By the time I found the end, I’m fairly certain I was half a mile from the frakkin’ convention center. I managed to make it into Ballroom 20 at 2:30 PM. That’s right, I stood (and alternatively squatted, sat, and shuffled along) in line for 6 hours. I met two very nice girls who had stood in line the day before for 4 hours hoping to get into the Game of Thrones panel, only to give up when they realized they weren’t going to make it. Then they went and stood in line for 3 hours to play a preview demo of Mass Effect 3. There were people in line for I don’t know how long for free promotional shit for Cowboys & Aliens. You WILL wait in line. Summon some Hal Jordanesque willpower and *try* to be patient.

Rule #5 – Be Patient

See Rule #4.

Rule #6 – Be Patient

See Rule #5.

Rule #7 – Bring Snacks/Things to Pass the Time

So it’s 6 AM and you’re in line for an afternoon panel in Hall H. The first panel starts at 10 AM, so you’ve got at least 4 hours until you *might* get into the room. It may be more, likely it will be. While you’re trying so hard to be patient, it helps to have things to pass the time. Bring a book or a Kindle and get some quality reading in. Bring a deck of playing cards (regular, Magic, Pokemon, etc.) and pass the time with a friend or two. Keep yourself busy, your thoughts occupied, and your mind off of the fact that OH MY GOD WE’VE BEEN IN LINE FOR 6 HOURS I’M ABOUT TO STRANGLE SOMEONE. Nobody wants that.

Also, all that Conning you’re going to be doing takes some serious energy. You’re going to need to eat and stay hydrated, and the convention center is counting on you NOT planning ahead and buying food/water at concession stands, where they will happily charge you outlandish prices for bland food and bottled water. Here’s the thing: you can bring your own food and drink into the convention center. *Take advantage of this*. Pack your own water or Gatorade, bust out the granola bars and the PB & J and make some sandwiches. The money you’ll save by avoiding the concession stands can be spent on some sweet merchandise. Bonus tip: if you do want to eat out, you would still be well-advised to get out of the convention center. Head over to the nearby Gaslamp District and eat at one of the many fine restaurants or bars that offer deals and discounts to Comic Con attendees.

Rule #8 – If it’s Free, it’s Probably Not Worth it

Look, I know the free promotional items they’re giving away are tempting. I know they seem cool and they’re a big part of the Con experience. But, particularly if you only have a 1-day pass, do you really want to spend time waiting in line for some free crap? If you’re really into that sort of thing, knock yourself out. But there is so much to see and do at the Con, and so little time, that I can’t help but see it as a waste. Mostly here I’m talking about the stuff they’re handing out in the Exhibit Hall and on the streets around the convention center. The exception to this rule are the t-shirts they give away at some of the bigger panels in Hall H and Ballroom 20. *Some* of those can be cool (I love the Game of Thrones shirt I got). There was a Psych t-shirt that was pretty cool, but some are pretty boring. It’s hit and miss, though they if you’re lucky they’ll show you the design of the shirts they’re giving away. Choose wisely.

Rule #9 – Do NOT Be an Impulse Shopper

In addition to all the freebies, there is a TON of merchandise available for purchase. Sometimes you can see what’s available before you actually hit the Exhibit Hall floor. Sometimes you can’t.If you can, decide ahead of time what you’re going to buy, or at least set yourself a spending limit for everyday (or for the whole Con). It’s easy to get overly excited and go on a shopping spree. It’s easy to hit your limit, and then see that super-deluxe-limited-edition Sentinel action figure that you JUST HAVE TO HAVE, and whip out the credit card or make yet another trip to the ATM. This is folly. Summon that Hal Jordan-type willpower, set limits for your spending, and adhere to them. The last thing you want is to be stuck with a case of buyer’s remorse, or to have to resort to selling plasma AND sperm in order to make next month’s rent. Again. Be a responsible geek!

Rule #10 – Feel Free to Take a Time-Out

It’s easy to get caught up in the Con. Easy to get overwhelmed. Easy to become frantic with a sense of needing to see everything in the limited amount of time you have. This can quickly lead to burn-out, exhaustion, and all-around grumpiness. None of those things equals a fun Con experience. So feel free to take a time-out. Get out of the convention center. Head to your hotel room and chill, or walk a few blocks to find a bar and have a nice, cold beer. Relax and find a little peace of mind with the fact that you won’t see everything, you simply can’t, and that’s OK. Don’t stress yourself out. It’s Comic Con, enjoy yourself and have fun.

On a final note, I’m not saying that these rules are absolutely essential; they are not written in stone. But ignore them at your own peril. You may be reduced to Shatneresque fits of rage: