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Nerd Vegas: A Guide to Visiting and Enjoying CCI in San Diego, 2008! (Final Version)
posted May 27, 2008
 

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Comic-Con International, also known as CCI, Comic-Con and San Diego Con, is the largest gathering of comics industry professionals and fans in North America. Held at the convention center in beautiful downtown San Diego, CCI is a show of great importance to anyone in the world of comics as well as to hundreds of pros in related publishing, merchandising and film businesses.

In 2008, the show is scheduled for July 24-27, with a preview night on July 23.

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Seven Basic Reasons to Attend Comic-Con International

1. Shopping!
The show is anchored by a massive, main floor marketplace featuring exhibitors including but not limited to publishers, individual artists, comic book back issues dealers, movie studios, toy companies and individual artists, many of which have wonderful things for sale.

2. Programming!
In rooms of varying size at other places in the building, the convention offers programming including but not limited to previews of big-company titles, small-publisher spotlights, single-artist slideshows, themed-issue discussions, film presentations (celebrities), and sneak peeks at forthcoming TV shows (more celebrities).

3. Socializing!
At day there's hand-shaking and how-you-doing aplenty. At night there are entertainment activities both formal and informal, including Friday evening's Eisner Awards ceremony and Saturday's famous costume Masquerade.

4. Socializing's Better-Dressed And Occasionally Sleazier Cousin: Schmoozing!
All around San Diego at all hours of day and night comics industry employees, writers, artists, fans, retailers, Hollywood types, and press people are taking morning meetings, breaking bread over long lunches and sharing late-night drinks, fraternizing and seeing to informal business matters on a massive scale.

5. Working!
Meet your fans. Sign their books. Sell your art. Move your publisher's books. Update a signing chalkboard. Fetch Matt Fraction's bottled water. While Comic-Con International can be a fine vacation, it's also not a bad way to punch the clock for a few workdays. If you don't already work for yourself or for an exhibitor, several companies sometimes hire people for the show in return for passes. The con also offers volunteer opportunities on much the same basis.

6. Staring!
Between the costumes, the displays, the toys, the statuary, the comics luminaries, the Hollywood elite, the Hollywood not-so-elite, and the various entertainment options, CCI makes your average Cirque Du Soleil show look like a Depression-era photo of people digging holes in the mud. It's the people-watching and the things that look vaguely like people-watching national headquarters.

7. Vacationing!
Unlike comics conventions that are restricted to a single hotel or are held in airport-convenient towns lacking in culture of the non-upscale chain variety, Comic-Con International is held in beautiful downtown San Diego, right on the water, next to that city's restaurant- and bar-stuffed Gaslamp District, with easy access to dozens of quality activities off site. If it's possible to have a vacation that's not attending a convention at the same time you're attending a convention, it's possible in San Diego. Many folks at the con share a room and maybe a bed with someone that attends only a light smattering of con activities, spending the rest of their time shopping and sight-seeing everywhere but Comic-Con. San Diego makes that possible.

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Seven Things That Distinguish CCI From Other Shows

1. It's Huge
Between exhibitors and attendees, twice as many people attend Comic-Con International as live in my hometown. It's therefore a tremendous opportunity to interface with any number of comics constituencies: creators, customers, editors, fans -- you name it.

2. Its Proximity To The LA Film Business
I know this is likely to get comics' purists worked up into a pro-funnybook lather, but let's be honest: making a connection with some sort of film or television interest is a significant and growing concern for many comics professionals and comics fans. The marriage of film and comics at CCI -- sometimes winning, sometimes uneasy -- has led to the development of an entire wing of programming. Other pop culture industries have followed film's lead by increasing their presence: toy makers, animation studios, television shows and book publishers, just to name a few. I'm a comics guy; I tend to forget the movie and TV people are even there. Still, I'd be lying if I told you that San Diego's proximity to the film industry hasn't been a major and unique driving force in the con's development, or if I downplayed that it's a hugely appealing factor for tons of people who go.

3. Left Coast Roll Call
There is no other sizable West Coast comics industry show during the summer season, which makes CCI an even bigger attraction for the major comics professional communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, as well as in the medium-sized ones like Las Vegas and San Diego itself. It's a national show, for sure, actually an international one, but the percentage of comics folk west of Denver who make it down to San Diego's convention center is extraordinary.

4. A Well-Oiled Machine
Years of experience on staff not only helps the show function well, there is enough institutional memory for staffers to be sensitive to -- and invested in -- a lot of different con-going experiences.

5. Meeting And Greeting
Practical business really does get done there. There is a ton of looking at talent, a lot of talking about future plans, a great many people having introductory meetings, and so on. Just touching base with people in person can yield enormous benefits later on.

6. A World Of Guests
Although there are other major comics shows in places like Angouleme, France and New York City, Comic-Con remains big enough it can bring in special guests from nearly every corner of the world of cartooning. This year, for instance, fans will get a chance to meet folks such as Lynda Barry, Kim Deitch, Al Jaffee, Jim Starlin, Mike Grell, Ralph Bakshi, Eddie Campbell, Signe Wilkinson, Rutu Modan and Gipi. That is a tiny, tiny sampling.

7. A Year Without San Diego Is A Year Without Sunshine
CCI is one of the few recurring, reliable experiences on the calendar by which comics people can mark the passage of time as they waste their once-promising lives.

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Seven Reasons Not To Bother With CCI At All

1. It Can Make You Hate Comics
Some cartoonists express particular discouragement at the excesses of the show's omnivorous, pop-culture focus. Life is tough enough as a cartoonist without inviting a soul-destroying, four-day migraine.

2. Major Spondulicks
It costs a lot to exhibit and it can cost a lot to attend. With higher gas prices and pretty much higher everything as a result, this is going to be a major concern this year.

3. Who Needs It?
You might feel, and you might be right, that you can get much of what a big convention offers elsewhere for less expense and trouble. If you're only going in order to buy comics, for example, you might be better off spending your San Diego hotel and food budget at an on-line comics store or at your local shop.

4. Too Big A Tent
Some might feel more comfortable at a show that better matches a specific interest, like Wizard Entertainment's Chicago show (mainstream American superheroes) or the MoCCA Festival (small press and handmade comics) or Austin's Ikkicon (anime and manga).

5. You've Simply Got Things To Do
It could be you just can't find time in your schedule for that many days away from home. If you're a salaried employee somewhere, the majority of the show takes place on non-weekend days, which means vacation time. If you're a freelancer and going to CCI a work trip, you may need an additional day or two once you get back home to decompress and for follow-up, so you have to figure that in, too. It can mean a full week away from the drawing table and/or writing desk.

6. What? Leave home?
Your distaste for crowds and travel far outweighs any benefit you might see from attending. Everyone feels this one a bit the older they get.

7. Not July Again
Even though you've liked it in the past, and you might like to go in the future, you'd just rather not go this year.

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Even If You Love CCI, Six Ways To Tell You Might Need To Take A Year Off

1. You realize you know the sushi chef at Ralphs by name.

2. You start to refer to individual years at the show by stupid things that were on the floor that weekend: "I haven't seen Brian since 'half-naked woman under glass' year."

3. Random hotel employees clap you on the shoulder, call you by name and say, "Good to have you back again."

4. During a long meal you point out at the sidewalk across the street and inform your dinner companions you saw two bums have a knife fight over there a decade ago.

5. You're already worried about making it to the airport on time.

6. You lie awake late at night wondering what happened to all the Klingons. Seriously, there used to be way more Klingons.

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Even If You Don't Care For CCI, Six Ways To Tell You Really Need To Go To This Year's Con

1. You're reading this post when you have better things to do. Far better things.

2. All of your jokes about going to Comic-Con feature a) Hart Fisher, b) Troma Studios, c) the Spawnmobile.

3. Your accountant texts you to let you know that you have to spend a lot of money on hotels, food and several piles of cross-media ephemera this summer or the books simply won't balance.

4. The last time you wore a costume, it was from Chronicles of Riddick.

5. You play the "Last Meal" game at a cocktail party and no one understands your answer of "lobster bisque from the US Grant, three fish tacos and a six pack of Red Trolley ale."

6. Much to the horror of wife Teri Garr, you've begun to subconsciously shape your mashed potatoes into the Hyatt.

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Four Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Commit to Attending

1. "Do I Really Want to Go?"
If it feels like it will be a chore in any way, don't go. It's not a requirement. You may feel a twinge of regret right before the show, when everyone else is giddy with excitement, but that feeling goes away really quickly. Not going can even be a relief. At some point during CCI weekend, the writer Warren Ellis will realize he's not in San Diego and will spend the next 20 minutes dancing joyfully like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof.

2. "Do I Need to Be There the Whole Weekend?"
I never go the full length of the show. Greatest benefit? There's no better way to reduce the costs of CCI than to cut the time spent there. Second greatest benefit? It's better to leave wanting more than to wander around Saturday afternoon with a stomachache wondering if you can get an earlier flight. Don't let a comics show put you in a financial bind or a bad mood.

3. "Do I Need a Room or Just a Bed?"
Figure out exactly what you need and what you're willing to accept. A bed may be easier to find than a room. A day trip may be easier than both. Plenty of people attend the show but never stay the night. Knowing what you want and need will greatly help you leap the con-goer's biggest hurdle: lodging.

4. "Do I Want to Go for Realistic Reasons?"
A comic book convention is not a young-woman-with-her-first-job-in-the-big-city movie. If it were, you'd be the plucky but unhappy comic relief. Go for the experience you're likely to have, not the experience you think you deserve.

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So I Want To Go: What Seven Things Do I Do Now?

1. Bookmark The Convention's Web Site
Here. It's still the best place for announcements and the like.

2. Make Certain You Can Afford It
Comic-Con ain't cheap. Air travel is more expensive than it's ever been, particularly from smaller airports. Driving into San Diego means paying those gas prices and finding a place to store your car at upwards of $25-$30 a day. San Diego is both a convention and a resort town, which means that hotel rooms can cost a lot. Factor in meals and incidental expenses (cabs from the airport, cabs from the Hyatt at 2 AM, bail money), and you're talking a decent investment before you start buying those much-desired copies of Dunc and Loo.

I stay by myself, so I accrue additional costs there that some may not have, but I also don't tend to buy stuff on the floor. To prorate it out to five days and four nights of attendance, the last few years going to Comic-Con has become at least a $1400 trip for me. That's a not-insignificant amount of money.

3. As Early As You Can Stand, Start Thinking About a Room
Because hotel rooms are so expensive, and because so many people want them, a lot of people make securing a room a minor hobby on the level of cleaning out the car or shampooing the dogs -- something you look after once a month or so. The convention provides the opportunity to reserve discount rooms through their site early in the year. Getting one on that day (or the days immediately after) proves very competitive. If you can find one you can live with at any time between the moment you decide to go and the moment you get on the plane, snatch it up!

4. After January 1, Make Getting a Room a Major Priority
After the con's room have their initial sellout, you should get the best rooms you can as soon as you can. It is totally possible to get a room later in the Spring. In 2007, I booked three days at downtown hotels for myself and four days for a friend -- in June. I also directed people to better hotels that became available through the convention and on hotel sites all through last Spring.

5. Try For A Room As Close As You Can To The Convention Center
General rule for what to look for in a room? Proximity. Closer is better, particularly if you have things you have to carry back and forth with you each day, like an art portfolio or a laser crossbow. Hotels more than five or six blocks away require a mental adjustment in that you're not able to easily pop back to the room. Hotels further away than the highways require an even bigger mental adjustment and, depending how you're oriented and feel about public transport, a car.

6. Don't Dally On The Air Travel
Once you're committed, and if you're flying, it sometimes pays to start paying attention to air travel through your favorite on-line ticket site in order to secure the best ticket prices.

7. Register
If you're going as a con attendee -- as opposed to going as an industry professional or as a press person -- you can sometimes get discounts for registering for the show before certain dates. You need to register on-time no matter who you are. The dates for registration in the other categories comes up in the Spring more quickly than you might think, too. Plus there's always a chance that you might not get in. All of that is to say: if you haven't yet, and no matter who you are, register now.

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GETTING A PLACE TO STAY

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Lodging Choices Ranked By Status

1. One of the hotels extremely close to the convention center (Omni, Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt)
2. A friend's place you use for free
3. House rental
4. One of the hotels sprinkled throughout the Gaslamp (Solamar, Ivy)
5. One of the hotels on Broadway (Westin Horton Plaza, US Grant)
6. Apartment rental
7. One of the hotels north of Broadway, south of the highway (Doubletree, Best Western, W)
8. Bed and Breakfast
9. One of the hotels across the bay where a water taxi is available for the morning jaunt but you have to take a regular cab to get home
10. A hotel on Hotel Circle (Comfort Inn and Suites, Handlery)
11. Local hostel
12. A hotel in Tijuana
13. Way up the coast at a sleepy beach hotel
14. The backseat of your car
15. Steps of the Convention Center
16. Staying up all night, sleeping in someone's room during the day
17. Commuting back and forth from Los Angeles
18. On the beach
19. With whomever takes you home from the Hyatt
20. In the convention center, underneath the Mile High Comics table, in a series of complicated tunnels you've created from old copies of U.S. 1
21. The backseat of a stranger's car you happen to find unlocked
22. State-run lodging
23. Inside the belly of a strange snow-creature that's been sliced open by your swashbuckling, space pirate friend

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Eighteen Random Observations About San Diego Hotels

1. The trend downtown is towards 1) boutique hotels that cost an arm and a leg with features to match, and 2) big-name luxury hotels that can ramp up their room prices to those levels. Soon, no one without a major film development deal will be able to afford a downtown hotel, and all the comics people will stay in a tent city north of the zoo, burning old copies of Star Comics to keep warm at night and staging gladiator-style fights between inkers vs. colorists for entertainment.

2. I've been at the Westin Horton Plaza for at least one night nine different years, and I haven't seen a comics person in the weight room since I ran into Kevin Eastman there in like '96. In general, use of hotel facilities like pools, hot tubs and exercise rooms seems to be really light during the convention weekend. Taking a couple of extra hours in the morning to pamper yourself or get in a workout can be fun and a great stress reliever.

3. The security people at the Hyatt will follow you into a bar in order to yell at you for not obeying their orders, but you pretty much have to take a swing at one to get thrown out. Don't test this on my say-so. Rough-'em-up security is pretty light at the established hotels, but a few of those on the CCI hotel list have staffers the size of industrial freezers. Be nice to security; whatever just happened is probably not their fault.

4. My favorite hotel out on the Hotel Circle is the old Red Lion Hanalei, now the Crowne Plaza Hotel San Diego. I stayed there one night last year, in fact. If you're staying in a non-downtown hotel, and you just might have to, look for a nice one that has the things you want in a hotel -- a pool, an exercise room, a restaurant, whatever -- because they tend to vary more widely in terms of services offered than the downtown hotels.

5. If you don't want to drive but you're staying in an outlying hotel, check your hotel's proximity to a train; some are close enough to walk to a station while others are not. There are a few hotels that can get you near the convention hall via water taxi, which is a cool way to start your day but may be sort of impractical depending on your schedule. While you can likely get to the convention center via a water taxi, they might stop running before you want to go home.

6. Coming in early? Staying until Monday or Tuesday? Think about doing your extra days at a different, less expensive hotel. Two times I've stayed for an early Monday flight; each time I switched to a cheaper hotel out by the airport. I used the extra money to buy commissioned art featuring my superhero alter-ego, Captain Crippling Self-Awareness.

image7. The Holiday Inn on Harborview is the place I keep seeing comics people I thought could afford a fancier hotel. It's also a world unto itself, with a beer-focused bar, a seafood restaurant across the street, a Denny's a block or two away for late nights, and its own feel and atmosphere. An underrated convention headquarters, although not exactly swimming in the swank. It's what most of the convention hotels were like 15 years ago.

8. The hotel I've heard people complain about the most is -- by far -- the Westin San Diego Emerald Plaza. In summary: 1) isolated 2) tiny rooms 3) thin walls. I don't even think Grand Central Cafe is open any longer, which ruins the hotel's one bonus feature: close proximity to a decent, no-wait breakfast. I couldn't tell you if it's significantly improved under Westin management or not: my friends tend to shun the place. The runner-up in terms of bad vibes is the Hyatt, getting specific low marks for grumpy staff and mangy carpets. The second runner-up is the W, which is a bit further away than some of the other hotels and has a reputation among people to whom I've spoken for not being the value it thinks it is, at least not next to some of the newer boutique places. Last year I asked a young, stuffed-with-cash artist why they switched their room away from the W and they said, "It's not 2001 and I'm not Tara Reid."

9. A nice place to meet and chat that's close to the show and very quiet is the bar in the Horton Grand. The Horton has some nice things going for it. It's close to the convention center, it's reasonably quiet away from the street and the rooms are sort of old-fashioned and nice. Its most bizarre quirk is a guestbook in every room into which about 50 percent of the guests scrawl Manson Family-like obscenities.

10. The Westgate has very large, nice rooms in which one can actually entertain some friends, but don't try to stuff extra people in there on a sleepover basis -- of all the San Diego downtown hotels, the Westgate has the fiercest reputation for keeping the number of crashers down. To that end, they don't offer roll-away beds the way, for example, the Westin Horton Plaza does, and they're not above charging you for an extra person if they think you had a non-reported person in your room for the entirety of your stay.

11. When I win the lottery, I'm staying at the Hotel Solamar and throwing a fancy party. I'm told the killer rooftop bar, though, is Eden.

12. Every hotel has its personality and quirks. The Bristol, for example, seems to feature an alarmingly high percentage of pros that take a night off to draw in their rooms to meet a deadline, the Embassy Suites seems to host a lot of long-time convention-goers who get very excited about a free breakfast, while the Hilton seems the choice of people who think it's awesome they get to stay at the Hilton so they can point this out to those staying further away until you want to hit them with a pie. Treat wherever you stay like a con headquarters, not just a place to sleep, and you'll have more fun.

13. It only looks like the Ivy offers rooms where you can watch people go to the bathroom. It's not the visual at the Ivy you might want to take into account but the aural: their nightclub stays open on weekend nights until mid-morning.

14. Travel Planners keeps a representative over at the convention center to work through any problems you may have with their service, checking in or whatever. I didn't know this before this year, but then again, I've never had a problem at a hotel that couldn't be solved by beginning to take my clothes off in the middle of a lobby.

15. Seriously, don't take your clothes off in the middle of a hotel lobby.

16. I'm way too old and have way too delicate a disposition for a hostel, plus I tend to wake up three or four times a night shrieking which some people are rude enough to consider bad form. Also, I always want to punch people in the face when they lecture me about how hostels are superior for people that truly want to get out of their rooms and enjoy the city or don't want to waste money on hotels or whatever backhanded compliment they pay themselves. Still, you may like them. This site looks like a place to start.

17. I'm not sure if every hotel is smoking-free at this point, but if it's important to you, you should check.

18. There's fun to be had at every hotel in San Diego, from the deadliest dive to the swankiest suite. Enjoy your stay no matter where it might be. If it's great, enjoy that. Not so great, enjoy the possibility for horror stories later on.

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Six Things To Remember About Reserving a Hotel Room Through the Con

1. It's great to get the hotel discount offered through Comic-Con, but it's not the only way to get a discount and there are desirable hotels not on that list. Also, in a few cases it's worthwhile to have the ability to cancel at the last minute. Given the crush of people who want to use it, you should see the con's room brokering service as one option, not the only option.

2. You're halfway screwed if you've just now looked into the Comic-Con hotels, and at this point you have some work ahead of you, no matter how you're going to track down a room. The most desirable hotels for the most people, meaning those close to the convention center, are snapped up within ten minutes on the first day they are offered. That's just the way it is. By the time you're reading this, that was months ago. In fact, with more companies being pushed by their attending employees to buy hotel rooms in advance, many of these hotels are booked the old-fashioned way long before their discounted rooms come up. I'm told a few boutique hotels were totally booked one week after last year's show.

3. It's probably worth noting that with almost every room guaranteed to sell out, there's very little incentive for hotels to make a lot of rooms available at discount. It's really not going to get any better in the near future, and with so many on-line media sources now, more than enough people are going to be aware of the exact moment the rooms become available to make getting a room a pain in the butt. Accept the pain for what it is; you'll be happier for it.

4. Two tips for using the Comic-Con site if you weren't on it getting a room on that first day. 1) Check back often, even now; the most desirable hotels won't have rooms open up, but several of the mid- and lower-rung hotels will -- perhaps more than ever this year as people adjust their travel plans in light of economic fears. I saw open rooms on there in late April. 2) You may have more luck stringing reservations together on a day by day basis as they open up rather than waiting for a four-day window to become open. Remember this will leave you responsible for multiple days' worth of advance deposits. Friday is the toughest single evening to secure.

5. Once you secure a room, bookmark your hotel's web site to check on any specific hassles. The convention won't tell you if there's construction in the parking lot, say, or if the pool is down, but your hotel's web site almost certainly will.

6. If you got your room from the con, or even if you didn't, you may want to confirm that reservation before you go to San Diego. It can be a very long time between reservation and stay, in which a lot of stuff can happen. Usually the names are in your hotel's system ten days or so before the show.

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What Eight Things Should I Do As It Gets Closer to the Con and I Still Need A Room?

1. Again, check aggregate sites like Sidestep.com, Kayak and Travelaxe.com. Do it today!

2. Wait until deposits begin to come due for rooms reserved through the convention, in June or early July. This is when rooms are dropped from people deciding not to go, people moving to another hotel, and by people that were hedging their bets. Travel Planners has been a lot more aggressive about getting people to drop extra rooms this year, so that might make a difference as well. Plus, again, some people may change their travel plans according to their perception of the economy.

3. Reach out to your friends and see if any of them can help. There may be people who are looking to drop a room, or others looking for a roommate or two. Be creative. Some hotels do a roll-away for an extra $20 or so. You might look into that kind of thing if you can find willing roomies. All of the major comics message boards where people gather will usually accommodate people posting about needing a room or roommate.

4. Consider Bed and Breakfasts. I did this once, and had a great time.

5. Google "San Diego Vacation Rentals." Think about renting a house or an apartment. This could be cheaper than a hotel in many cases. I suspect people will be doing this a lot more frequently over the next few years.

6. If you're an AAA member, some hotels may keep a few extra rooms and nearly all the hotels give a discount for those customers.

7. Stay calm. You're probably going to have to stay slightly further away than right next door, or stay someplace you'll need to use cabs or a car, but where there's a will, there's almost always a way.

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Six Ways To Maximize Your Hotel Experience

1. Sign Up for the Points Program
If your hotel has them, sign up for the frequent stay program or point program or guest program: whatever they call it. You may be able to check in and check out more quickly, you may get a bonus upgrade or similar reward for joining, if something happens during this very busy weekend you can be more easily compensated, and if you go to multiple conventions over the years you can earn free rooms -- even when you sign up through the con.

2. Put Everyone's Name on the Room
Hotels won't give an unlisted person a key, even if that person swears that they're staying with someone that told them they would leave an extra key at the front desk. I guess you don't have to follow this piece of advice if you're just trying to be mean to someone.

3. Register at Your Hotel as Close as You Can to When Check-in Times Begin
Hotels can and will bump you; I've heard many stories about being shoved out to the boonies without compensation. Secure your room as close as you can to the check-in time. Make it a priority.

4. Consider Using Everything Your Hotel Offers
Sit down for five minutes when you get there and familiarize yourself with your hotel's amenities, from pools to room service to spas to free regional shuttles to golf outings, in order to add value and variety to your trip.

5. Make Friends With the Concierge
This is the person you can find in the lobby of the nicer hotels who is paid to help you that's not a prostitute.

6. Start a Tradition
Bagels and the morning Internet in the Westin's cafe, a nightcap standing on the balcony looking out over the Holiday Inn pool, counting drug addicts on the street from the lower-level rooms at any of the Broadway hotels, watching the rats scurry around in the bushes caddy corner from the Westgate: it's fun to connect a hotel with a certain thing you enjoy doing, no matter what that thing may be.

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IN THE WEEKS LEADING UP TO THE SHOW

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Four Travel Sites to Bookmark

1. Sidestep.com
A good starting point for cheap flights. In the past I've used Orbitz, Mobissimo.com and Kayak.com as well. I don't travel frequently enough nor do I pay enough attention to the travel industry to know which sites are the best, but those are ones I've used. I do travel just enough to know that you should check every result from sites like those above against the airline in question's web site, to see if the latter is a better deal. It's why God invented browser tabs. It also seems that me that one-way flights are a lot easier now than they used to be, if that helps any. It also seems like the airlines are jacking up their ticket prices because of gas premiums, which probably doesn't help at all.

2. Amtrak.com
I've taken Amtrak to San Diego from LA and would recommend it for the laid-back traveler. It's a good way to facilitate an LA portion of your trip without renting a car. I'm doing Amtrak this year, in fact. The traffic on Interstate 5 on arrival and getaway days can be brutal (although that doesn't mean it will be; in 2006, for example, it was very nice) and the trip on the train is fairly easy (there's a short line and you can sit anywhere you want). Plus you can sleep during the trip, which is really hard to do when you're driving. Amtrak may allow some leeway on which train to take on your travel days, so if you have a ticket on Sunday and suddenly want to sleep in or do a late lunch with a friend you didn't even know was there until 10 PM Saturday night, you can probably go on a train later that day -- don't take my word on that without confirmation, though.

Anything over six hours on Amtrak can be shaky in terms of comfort and is almost guaranteed to be a bust in terms of timeliness, so I would not recommend the trip from the Bay Area, Portland, Seattle, or any point due East. The Bay Area trip might work if you're on a super loose schedule, but even then you're likely to step off the train back home cranky, exhausted and in desperate need of a shower. And you just spent most of the weekend like that.

3. Tripadvisor
I don't always trust the reviews here -- some people will complain about the lack of a butler and high tea at a $35/night motel -- but it does provide an overview as to what's out there and what they're like that a site just selling you reservations might not. When you're digging deep for a hotel far away from the convention center at the last minute, or trying to make a decision between two possibilities and want to see some photos, this site is a godsend.

4. San Diego Transit
If you're driving into town, this is a good place to map out the transit stations where you can leave your wheels and train the rest of the way. (I used to use the one to the east of Petco Park.) It's also the place to find out how to use public transit to get to Tijuana (as I recall, the trolley to Tijuana is $3 or $4 for the round trip).

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Six Things to Prepare Well In Advance

1. Business cards
I never give out more than 15 or 20, but there's a certain class of folks that are pretty adamant about preparing for future contacts through a card exchange. Trading business cards makes me feel like my dad, although his business cards didn't have cartoon versions of himself on them. Remember to put all relevant information on your card.

2. Art to Give Away
If I'm taking a mini-comic to give away or trade, I try to prepare it well in advance so it doesn't feel like yet another con expense. This is frequently impossible, I know. I would suggest that even if you wait, get it done before you get on the plane. Time to hit a copy shop to finish something like this is at a premium during the weekend.

3. Art by Which to Get Jobs or Published
If you're taking a proposal to show publishers or to pitch to publishers or to give to reviewers, the one thing my friends seem to regret most is not bringing enough copies of the proposal or ashcan or whatever form it's in. Plus be prepared to re-send it when you get home, because people lose things.

4. Cash, On Your Person and in Your Bank
Make sure you have enough money in the right accounts and/or enough credit to cover your trip and emergencies. One year (1995) I went down to San Diego with a single debit card tied to an account that had been closed without my knowing it. That was so not a good weekend, and even less of a good weekend for the intern I made get out of bed at 7 AM to wire me money. Again, CCI takes some money no matter how frugal you are: there's a couple of $15 cab rides in there, there's food, there's hotel rooms... all before you shop. Make sure you budget for the show far in advance. You don't want to have the stress of stretching a dollar down there, if you can help it.

5. Things to Sell
Again, the only time I hear regrets is when people don't bring enough to sell and are out of stuff by Friday morning or whatever. If you're exhibiting, use Preview Night and the first half of Thursday to gauge demand and have a back-up plan in place -- someone waiting to hear from you, pre-packed boxes, say -- to have more stuff Fed-Exed to you for Saturday and Sunday if it's necessary.

6. Things to Sell, Too
If you're counting on a publisher to bring your books in order to facilitate your signing or selling them, double-check with them to make sure this is being done. Don't just assume they know you're coming and you want to sign a specific work. Your publisher is busy getting ready for the show, too. Double-check again Wednesday night, if possible, to see that it was done.

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Six Things To Remember Packing

1. Drugs
Aspirin or similar pain relief can be a blessing. Striking yourself in the head with a hotel ashtray never seems to work.

2. Germ Protection
Hand lotion or wipes to keep your germ exposure down are nice to have if that's a concern for you, and in this day and age you can use them without people thinking you're total creep. A few people have told me they use immunity boosters like Airborne in the days leading up to San Diego and right on through the week. This seems to me a great idea.

3. Watch/Phone
I know this makes me sound like Jeremiah Johnson, but I don't carry a phone anymore nor do I wear a watch, so I borrow them both for the convention. You'll want to know what time it is and have a way to stay in contact with your friends old and new. Consider relying on text messaging rather than phone calls because of the number of people that will be in panels or temporarily engaged. Meet me at x-time at y-place still works, too.

4. Postage Supplies
Don't want to carry a suitcase loaded down with books? Mail stuff back. Buy a cardboard tube; stuff it with tape, a sharpie and a couple of big envelopes; stick it in your luggage. There is a post office convenient to the Broadway-area hotels right next to the Westin Horton Plaza lobby; it's open on Saturday. There are also some mailing services at the convention itself, although I can't personally vouch for them. I've mailed back everything before.

5. Light Jacket
It can get a little chilly at night in San Diego -- not to mention there's sometimes powerful AC in the convention center -- and some of the most commonly utilized nighttime social spaces at CCI are beaches, courtyards and decks. Don't get caught being that cold person for whom everyone feels pity and contempt. A sturdy long-sleeve shirt will do the trick for most people.

6. Your Giant Monster Robot Armor, Complete With Loincloth
You probably don't have monster robot armor, but if you do, you're going to feel really stupid if you leave it at home.

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Five Other Web Sites to Bookmark For Use In the Weeks Leading Up to the Show

1. Comic-Con.org
A well-maintained resource for checking out when things start and end and checking out the programming before you arrive.

2. Newsfromme.com
Mark Evanier hypes his own panels at the show, which are generally excellent, old-school panels of the intimate, talk among friends variety. Mark also provides a lot of plain-speak advice about general con issues.

3. Virtual Guidebook to San Diego
See the sights before your visit.

4. The Beat
Heidi MacDonald is a longtime CCI attendee and will likely post about any big news story that might have an effect on the show.

5. One of the business-finding resources, like the one on Yahoo.
Plug in your hotel's address. Note the nearest grocery store and convenience store. Check to see if there's a restaurant or coffee shop where you can pick something up if you don't have the time otherwise. Use the related map function to double-check a few walks -- people forget the east-west part of the trip can make a huge difference in wanting to walk somewhere in the immediate vicinity. Although if you use maps, note that there are a lot of one-way streets in San Diego which could make a driving map not the best one for a walking outcome.

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Five Tips For Flying Into San Diego

1. Depending on your airline, you will likely be asked to pay for your second piece of checked luggage and perhaps your first. You may have to pay even more if those items are heavy. If you're a professional and you're taking books to sell or art or whatever, you need to consider this hidden cost when deciding whether to mail stuff ahead or drag it along yourself.

2. Double-check your flight times a day or two before you go. Once upon a time, having a flight time changed meant 10 minutes one way or the other. These days, it could be mean they canceled that entire flight from now until eternity.

3. Flying out in costume is no longer treated with amusement as much as a potential terror threat -- although doing so is so hardcore it's nerdcore.

4. The approach to San Diego International is right over downtown in many cases and slightly terrifying if flying close to a cityscape bothers you in a recent cultural memory sort of way. Maybe look towards the center aisle. The flight down the west coast can be really beautiful, though.

5. You'll have some walking to do if you're getting a cab -- the cab line is up and over from the main terminal. From the commuter terminal (which you'll likely use if you're coming down from LAX and/or your flight has four numbers instead of three) it's shorter but you may have some walking with a bag to get into the terminal in the first place. The cab stand at the commuter terminal offers fewer cabs, so if you can figure out the general area where your hotel resides you may want to share with someone ahead of you in line if they're amenable and going to the same part of town.

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Five Things to Tell People On the Airplane

1. "I'm hoping to meet my father, Ed Brubaker."
2. "It's kind of like a block party where they insist on having a garage sale in the middle of it. Not the healthiest neighborhood, either."
3. "I'm going to cash in on three suitcases full of pogs and retire to the Mediterranean."
4. "If she didn't want me in the audience for the BSG panel, Katee Sackhoff wouldn't send me secret messages through the TV set."
5. "I'm kind of the Jerome to Paul Pope's Morris Day."

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GETTING AROUND TOWN

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Seven Quick Notes About San Diego's Transit Options

1. Hope you like walking. If your hotel is downtown, from Broadway to Harborview, you'll be doing a lot of walking, even before you get to the show.

2. No one ever smiles on the trains pictured above, and most cartoonists and industry folk I know avoid them like the plague. I've never had a problem on one and always found them a convenient way to go from parking garage to convention center, or even to strange neighborhoods where they don't wear costumes or badges. They don't exactly run on a tight schedule, true, and if you're dying to get somewhere, there may be more dying than getting somewhere. Then again, I never run on a tight schedule San Diego weekend, either.

3. Like many mid-sized cities, San Diego boasts a small downtown perfect for jumping in and out of taxis. Consider doing so at those moments when a walk seems daunting or problematic. The late nights aren't scary in downtown San Diego, but it's still a city and that means you can get in trouble stumbling around at 2 AM, singing the Sub-Mariner TV show theme song. Muggers tend not to leave you Ralphs money even if you ask really nicely. I don't think I've ever spent more than $6 on a cab ride not to the airport. To go outside of downtown, you're talking more the $15-25 range. Think $15-ish from the downtown hotels to the airport.

4. The convention has buses that run all day and into the night on various circuits from hotels to convention center and back again. It's kind of like the city bus I used to take to the magic shop downtown when I was kid, but with more people in costume -- well, costumes other than "streetwalker" and "scary guy in a Ralph Macchio hat," anyway. Most folks I know take the con buses a) if they're tipsy at night and it's early enough the buses still running, b) if they leave the convention center tired and sore and don't want to walk back to their hotel, and even c) to the convention if they're at a hotel across Broadway serviced by the bus circuit. Check out this link to get to the bus schedule PDF, but it won't be up until closer to the show. You can also ask your hotel's staff, who should be able to direct you to a posted sign near every stop.

5. There are various places around town where cabs will simply not come and get you. I used to go to this skeevy but fantastic Mexican place in a horrible neighborhood and learned the hard way that it would be a bus trip back into downtown proper. I've heard other, similar horror stories. Try not to depend 100 percent on cabs.

6. If you have a car and put it in a garage, most of the city garages stay open late into the night for con-goers. Please double-check how late. I was locked into a parking garage once, and it took all my nice-guy powers to convince the local security to let my car out.

7. San Diego has pedicabs -- bicycles that can hold a driver and two passengers where otherwise an ice cream freezer might go -- but the only time I took one was in 1999 when a guy gave me a pity ride rather than see me pummeled to death by CBLDF-hired security. Some people really like pedicabs when they're exhausted, which also helps in that you're too tired to care how potentially goofy you look. Get a price beforehand -- that's important -- and also be sure to tip if you liked the service.

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Twelve Places You Should Know Ahead of Time To Have a Basic Lay of the Land

1. The Convention Center
Where the convention takes place. There are entry points from 5th and 1st Avenue. Yes, sometimes people have to wait for a train that blocks those streets.
2. The Marriott
Traditional nearest hotel to the convention and a place for a lot of informal gatherings.
3. The Hyatt
The nighttime comics industry bar scene social hub.
4. Seaport Village
A set of restaurants and shops that people tend to forget about, just up the road a bit.
5. Rail stop for Little Italy
Gaslamp too crowded? Hit a restaurant up here.
6. Horton Plaza
Downtown shopping mall with tons of restaurants and shops.
7. Ralphs Supermarket
The San Diego business MVP of every show; get your late night snacks, your cheap lunches and your mixers all in one place. Worth getting a Ralphs card for this one weekend a year.
8. Gaslamp Quarter
Restaurants! Movie Theaters! Hotels! People without badges!
9. Petco Park
Who isn't a Greg Maddux fan? He's the best athlete ever that vaguely resembles Tom Hulce.
10. Fed Ex/Kinkos (actually a block north, on C street)
Get on-line; ship stuff home; make copies!
11. US Post Offices
You probably know what a post office is. Media rate is your friend.
12. Omni Hotel
One of the many newer hotels right up next to the convention center.

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GOING TO THE SHOW

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Six Tried and True Pieces of Con Advice That Bear Repeating

1. "Wear Comfortable Shoes"
The convention floor is huge. It's sit down and make you cry big. It's warehouse holding the Ark of the Covenant big. It's make strange excuses not to walk the whole thing more than once big. Wear nothing that will harm you, weigh you down, or make you sweat more than anyone near you would like. But most of all, do no more harm than is necessary to your feet.

2. "The Convention Center Food is Expensive and Bad"
This has been true of every convention at every convention center everywhere in the world since Roman times, when conventions featured dealers selling stone tablets wrapped in mylar and programming consisted of sneak panel previews of Plato's next dialog. It remains true today at CCI. No need to apologize if you like the food, but don't act surprised if you don't.

3. "Get in Shape for The Con"
Yes if it's to drop five pounds in anticipation of squeezing into your Lucy from Elfen Lied costume. No if you need to get in better shape simply to survive a few days of walking around tracking down back issues of Rampaging Hulk. I know how you feel. I'm a lumbering super-mammal myself, but if you honestly need to get in shape just to pursue some attentive loitering for four days and five nights, please consider staying at home and spending your con money on a YMCA membership and personal trainer. We want you at all the cons yet to come, not just this year's show.

image4. "Don't Let Stevie Weissman Get Wet, And Don't Ever Feed Him After Midnight"
Because no one wants to be staying at the hotel overrun by 247 miniature S. Clay Wilsons.

5. "Please Don't Smell Bad"
Be considerate. Work at being presentable, even when it's difficult to be at your freshest. Don't worry too much about not being post-shower, ready-for-cotillion, inviting random strangers to sniff your armpits fresh. It's summer, and everyone knows there's a lot of walking. It's really only the people that don't seem to care a lick, that seem to have rubbed themselves with dead fish, that have visible stink lines coming from their bodies and that cause children to throw themselves down to the floor and cry -- those are the ones that make others mad. Don't be one of those people.

6. "It's Not Your Basement"
Be friendly and courteous and open to new experiences and you will probably see some amazing sights, meet lots of nice people, chat with a few art heroes and even get in a good dose of informal networking. People are there to meet and be met. As is the case with summer camp and jury duty, people make convention insta-buddies all the time, and sometimes they develop into enduring friendships. On the other hand, snort loudly, muscle into conversations and fire off abrasive commentary in the faces of people you don't know, and you will probably be hired by Virgin. Ha ha, I'm just kidding. You will soon have your own company to develop comics properties for the movie industry.

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Six Things to Take to the Show Each Day

1. Lunch
Consider packing a lunch or large snack in case you end up wanting to do things in the Convention Center that make it hard to leave for a sit-down meal. You can get a lunch ahead of time at places like Ralphs, Redfield's at the Hyatt, or at the Westgate Hotel. There's also a deli or two in the Gaslamp, including one I believe right across from the Hilton.

2. Cash Money
Don't get caught cash-short and have to stand in The Line of Compulsive Nostalgia Indulgence in the convention center lobby. The nearby hotel ATMs can be a better bet speed-wise, but unreliable, particularly on the weekends. I generally take two credit cards, approximately $150 in cash and a couple of checks to the convention center each day, although everyone's needs are different. I also carry about $200 in $3 bills with Irv Novick's face on them, but only Chris Pitzer takes those.

A convenient way to meet your cash needs is to get cash back on a purchase at the grocery store -- say bottled water -- on the way over to the show. Or hit your own hotel's ATM as you head out the door. Credit Cards are pretty widely accepted, but don't count on every exhibitor being able to take them.

Also, please don't mug me.

3. A Backpack or Carry Bag
Over-sized giveaway bags have been popular promotional items the last two years, although you can't always count on that kind of thing being made available and may want to take your own. Over the shoulder bags and backpacks are also fun for knocking over other people's children "by accident." Additionally, don't leave your bag in a panel room while you go pee, because it may be stolen. Trust me on this. If your bag is stolen, check nearby trash cans because 90 percent of what's in your bag probably doesn't interest too many people. And, naturally, keep the truly valuable stuff on your person.

4. Water
It's easy to refill your bottle at the con's water fountains.

5. Business Cards and/or Handouts
If you brought things to distribute, don't forget them to take them to the convention center!

6. Pen and something to write on
This is a magic spell deal where if you don't have them you will want them, but if you do have them on you you will never use them. It's your choice which is more frustrating.

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Five Con Registration Tips

1. If you can get an exhibitor to register you, you probably won't have to wait in line.

2. If you qualify as both a professional and a media person, I'll be honest with you: the media line is shorter than the professional line. Plus there's a press room handy if you want to interview someone or if you want to simply stare at a roomful of bizarre celebrities. Remember that you can't register a guest as a media person.

3. Although things improved greatly last year, the professional line is still more bearable on off-hours and days. I've registered on late Friday mornings without any line whatsoever.

4. I don't even know what to say about that generally monstrous attendee line. Good luck with that. I'd suggest coming at an off time but that might be risky, too, as some days have been selling out. It's amazing how quickly they process the crowds, but holy crap that line is long. Here's a thought, though: if you go two hours before it opens, logic dictates you're going to have at least a two-hour wait.

5. Badge Skills! If you don't want people to keep staring at your chest or mumble "Yeah, yeah" when you ask them questions because they have no idea you're their buddy Larry from the Bendis Board, don't give them the excuse of a lanyard that flips around. Display that badge and display it proudly, that's what I say. After eight hours in the visual-overload nightmare that is the CCI convention floor, I wouldn't recognize Carrot Top without seeing his name to be sure. Keep those badges forward!

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Eleven More Notes on Parking a Car at the Show

1. Parking is a bear. A big bear with sharp teeth and a bad attitude. A bear that's spent all night watching local political TV attack ads and is ready to punish something. Mark Evanier jokes that if you want to find a parking space, then leave right now. That's a lie: Mark isn't joking. Do whatever you can to avoid the worst aspects of having a car. There are stories of people who drive down from LA, can't find a space, and drive back to LA. These are apparently very stupid people, but the general principle applies.

2. If you're going to leave your car at a hotel, count on spending at least $20 a day for the privilege, maybe more.

3. Double-check to make sure you have the right to take your car out and bring it back without an extra charge.

4. Many people I know decide that having a car simply means sucking it up and going in earlier than they might have gone were they not with car, in order to find a parking space in close proximity to the convention center. Others park at garages or lots near transit stations, or downtown, and then walk/train/cab over.

5. I honestly had no problem last year parking a car at 8:45 Saturday morning within seven or eight blocks of the Convention Center. Granted, it was 8:45, and there was a charge, I think about $15. But it wasn't difficult.

6. When I used to drive a car to the show, the parking garage at the 12th and Imperial station (east on Broadway to 12th, turn right) was my friend for a lot of reasons. One, it was one stop away on the trolley line. Two, at the time nobody used it . Three, despite the parking garages being open really late, when this one was full it was in a neighborhood where at least on the weekend you could find parking nearby on the street. I have absolutely no idea if these things are still true. I kind of doubt it.

7. You might go in even earlier the first day to at least scope things out.

8. There is a frequent scam in the parking garages where someone in a sort-of official shirt and/or hat will take money from you at your car or place a sign on the machines and ask for your cash there. So be careful.

9. Also, be absolutely certain to double-check your parking lot to see if all-day parking is actually all-day or just an "all day" length of time, like six or eight hours.

10. Don't be shy about parking far enough away there's a short walk, convention bus trip or trolley hop involved.

11. If it makes you feel better while suffering the hassle of having wheels, your carless friends aren't able to pop out to Hodad's for a burger. If you have a car at the show, make use of it by extending the dining and social options enjoyed by you and your friends.

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NOW THAT YOU'RE AT THE SHOW

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David Glanzer of Comic-Con International on Six Things That Define The Scope and Size of The Show

1. The structure of Comic-Con is multi-layered. In addition to a 13 member Board of Directors, we have several committee heads that oversee about 80 members of various committees. The office staff during the year is comprised of about 12 to 15 full timers, but that gets augmented a bit as the show gets closer with temp staff.

2. The volunteers needed during the week of Comic-Con numbers around 3000, sometimes a bit more. So it really is a small army that pulls this whole thing together.

3. I started out as a volunteer in 1984. Granted I was an infant, but still, I was working at the show, and I came as an attendee some years before that. There are others on staff who have been with the show longer. So any historical questions are answered quickly and easily either from our own memory, or just ringing someone on the committee who was most likely present at that time.

4. While the show officially begins Wednesday night and ends late Sunday, we take possession of the convention center on Monday before the event and are typically out the Monday following the event.

5. Staff hours during the show vary depending upon which department as well as being dependent upon one's responsibilities. For my staff and myself, we typically get to the center around 3:30 AM to 4:00 AM. We are present for the many live broadcasts that occur at the show, and since Morning Shows are so common these days, we need to be there at the crack of dawn. If we have a live East Coast feed, then we would need to be at the center much earlier. My staff and I typically are back at our hotels by about 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM. However, if a late night news crew plans to do any reporting, then someone will need to be there later.

6. I would love to say once the show ends we can sit back in our shorts and enjoy the sun, but the truth is ramping down a show can be very time consuming following up on all things that need attention. If there was a more relaxing time of the year, it might be December.

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Five Things to Make Time For at the Show

1. The Eisner Awards (Friday Night)
Comics' Oscars, with a much less stringent dress code and about a billion fewer people watching. Plus no dance numbers, although every year I cross my fingers and hope. You know that speech by Wallace Shawn in Heaven Help Us? The Eisners is like that, but three hours long. I kid because I love; I liked the Eisners last year and I always go. There's nothing more comics than a night at the Eisners, except maybe reading comics during your night at the Eisners. See you there.

2. The Masquerade (Saturday Night)
Showtime at the Geekpollo. This is another amazing thing to watch, if only once, although you may get depressed when you realize the participants are probably having way more fun in those few moments than you had the entire weekend. This is packed, and there's a line, so count on investing the evening.

3. Go to a Panel
A good rule of thumb (and who doesn't look to the thumb for advice?) is that if you can't find something in the programming that specifically interests you, go to anything featuring Sergio Aragones.

4. Shop the Convention Floor
What's easily available at Comic-Con seems to ebb and flow. This decade CCI has become a great place to buy original art, cheaper 1970s comics, and, as of 2004, boutique toys. Keep an eye out for convention-only mini-comics or similar, con-only offerings. I believe in shopping early and gawking late -- there are a few vendors that cut prices on Sunday to lighten the return load home, but not as many as you'd think.

image5. Walk Artists' Alley
This is the part of the convention consisting of rows of tables set up with artist after artist behind them, drawing sketches and shaking hands and selling your books. Somewhere in the scores of people is someone you love that you didn't know was still alive and someone whose work you've just started enjoying. I guarantee it. In many ways, this is the secret heart of CCI.

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Four Types of Comics Panels to Consider Attending

1. Panels With That Year's Featured Non-North American Cartoonist(s)
You'll probably get to see a slide show of pretty art, and the person/people likely won't be back. I've seen artists like Lorenzo Mattotti, David B., Dupuy and Berberian and Ryoichi Ikegami speak at the show and loved each and every panel. Combined attendance at those panels? Fewer than 100 people. Sad for comics; awesome for you! I'll be at the Gipi panel this year if I can, you betcha.

2. Panels With Funny People on Them
If the cartoonist makes you laugh on the page, they will likely make you laugh on the stage. Hopefully, they won't try rhyming at you.

3. The National Cartoonists Society Panel
Strip cartoonists don't do lots of shows. Plus you can sneak in some booze and play a drinking game I like to call "Recognize My Genius." You take one sip of hooch every time someone in the crowd asks how to get their own work syndicated instead of anything about the comics of the cartoonists on stage. Downside: you may die from alcohol poisoning before the panel is half over.

image4. One-Time-Only Guests
I'd include making a priority of older cartoonists in whom you have an interest, because no one knows how the health of such guests will hold up year to year in terms of travel. There are also cartoonists that for whatever reason don't go to a lot of shows. They're usually good guests because they're not burnt out on the experience and want to be as professional as possible. Art Spiegelman was one such who attended in 1999; Gary Panter was another; he was there in 2005. This year there are several guests that fall into this category, like Jim Woodring, Lynda Barry and Kim Deitch! That's at least four hours' worth of focused programming to attend.

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Six Suggestions For Enjoying Panels

1. Speak up, America!
Ask questions. You deserve to.

2. Form of a Question
Please don't make statements. I'm sure you're a wonderful person and very fascinating, but this is someone else's panel. If you talk about yourself, no one is going to listen to you. Everyone will be too busy thinking, "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" at you instead. This includes you, librarians.

3. Up and Out
If you know you have to leave before the panel ends, maybe sit near the door so as to be less depressing to the panelists who have to watch you bail and wonder what they did wrong.

4. The Thought Of You Lingers
If you want to meet a panelist after the panel, try to do so outside the room that's now filling up for the next panel. They may not have all the time in the world to talk to you, and if they're actually famous you may be put in an arm bar by their security, but most people will try to talk to you if they have the time, you're not scary, and there aren't a lot of you. Also, make sure you note where the person is signing or appearing next if you want to see more of them.

5. Why Are You Terrible?
Although I think it may be more difficult to squat than it used to be, if you happen to be in one panel before the panel you really want to see in order to get a seat, don't ask rude, mocking questions of what's in front of you like, "Who are you people?" We think your panel is stupid, too.

6. Mic Skills
If there's a microphone in the middle aisle for you to ask questions, go to it; people can't hear you if you just ask out loud (at least not in most cases), so the moderator will have to repeat your question.

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Three Things About Approaching Famous People; Yes, You Will See Famous People, Especially If You Have a Generous Definition of Famous

1. Walk up, offer firm handshake and smile. "Hi, [honorific] [last name]. My name is [your actual name, or, if you can't remember it, "Jason Miles"]. I'm a great fan of your work in [comic, show or movie]. Can I help you [or, if the person is with someone, "you folks"] find something?"

2. If someone is approachable, nine times out of ten it's because they're lost or confused by the assault of product. And if they're not approachable, leave 'em alone, you creep.

3. Please don't follow famous people around, stopping as they do, blocking everyone else's foot traffic. Because I may harm you.

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Five Costumes You Don't See As Frequently As You Used To

1. One of Leonard Nimoy's Primortals
2. Mike Diana Video Outtake, With Crucifix
3. Pre-Frank Miller crazy-ass, re-imagined version of The Spirit.
4. Coley!
5. Dress Code-Appropriate CrossGen Staffer

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Five Friendly Pros I Enjoy Seeking Out When They're There

1. Batton Lash
2. Jim Ottaviani
3. Paul Karasik
4. Scott McCloud
5. Roger Langridge

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Seven Tips For Networking

1. Pre-Network
Before the show tell all your friends and acquaintances what your goals are and ask them if they can help. Make this a common request and you'll be surprised how many times a friend knows the one person you're dying to meet, or how frequently friends will look out for you.

2. Network Laterally
Access the people you do know to meet the people you don't. For instance, if you're a reporter that wants to meet cartoonists, ask the other reporters you bump into if they can introduce you to any cartoonists they know.

3. Quantity
Get to know as many people as you can. In just a few short years, that person in line with you may be more important to your career than the person you're both lining up to see.

4. Pace Yourself
Be reasonable about what you can accomplish in a weekend. You're probably not going to be the subject of a bidding war between booths across the aisle from each other, but you might meet people to whom you can send stuff to when you get home. Someone once described networking to me as "Setting Up For The Follow Up" and that makes a lot of sense.

5. Wait To Be Introduced; Do The Introduction Yourself
Once you're in the conversation, make your own introductions rather than let someone do that for you. People are so blasted they might say something weird instead of giving you the introduction you deserve, they may be afraid to say your name out loud because they've only read it and don't know how it's pronounced, or they may simply not remember your name at that moment. Give 'em a break!

6. Card Skills
My friend Gil says: "Here's a bit of wisdom I developed from years of pharma-conferences. It may not be so pertinent for the Con, but it does keep stuff in order: outgoing business cards in the right pocket, incoming business cards in the left. Because there's nothing as embarrassing as meeting someone important, handing him your business card, and realizing that it's actually someone else's card." On the other hand, this seems a fine way to get rid of unwanted cards.

7. Cut Folks Some Slack
Everybody not me is really, really busy at Comic-Con, so err on the side of forgiving them if they don't provide you exactly with whatever it is you feel you need to be provided. Never pin your professional hopes on one show, even a big one like CCI. Comics is stuffed with publishers, all of whom want new talent. Taken as a group, comics publishers have a thorough system for finding and exploiting talent. If you have a talent that's suitable to someone, and you're not actively hiding, they will eventually find you. Hang in there.

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Four Things Overheard at CCI

1. 1996:
Me, Watching A Drunk Cartoonist Stomp Around A Block Ahead Of Us At 2:30 AM: Man, that guy hates flowers.
British Comics Journal Intern: He's a murderer of rhododendrons.

2. 2003:
Me: You look tired. Are you ready to go back to the hotel?
My Brother: I'm fine.
Nearby Girl To Friend: [squealing] I heard James Vanderbeek was here!
My Brother: Okay, I'm done.

3. 2006
Me: Is this a good weekend for you guys?
Cab Driver: No, the comic book people, they never tip.
Me: [pause] You know, that puts a lot of pressure on me.
Cab Driver: I'm sure you'll do the right thing.

4. 2007
Guy wearing CCI badge standing near McDonald's throwing change on the ground: "I told you, I'm not homeless!"

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Six Pieces of Advice Parents Have Shared With Me About Having Kids Around at the Con

1. Limit Their Exposure
For younger kids, one day at the show may be enough. Families that do a lot of cons and are there for a longer time tell me they try to mix up days at the con with other activities like the beach or the zoo. Although I don't see it on their site yet, there is traditionally a kids' day with more programming aimed at kids; it's on Sundays.

2. Put The Kids On Point
Let their desires, energy and moods help dictate your schedule. Comic-Con can be really tiring, but it's less so for kids when you're seeing things the kids like and letting them decide when to leave panels or go to the next booth.

3. Make Doubly Sure You Eat
You can't tell a kid to suck it up the way you can an adult (although the kid probably won't hit you in the head with a shopping bag). It's important to take a snack or two and to maybe even get to the Seaport Village or up into the Gaslamp District for a meal at a regular hour.

4. Drawing is Magic
I've had a couple of parents mention that a great thing about being at the con is being around so many artists whose basic technical skills can be mind-boggling for a kid to see. Think about maybe getting a few sketches for a kid of their favorite character; many artists in Artists' Alley are there to do modestly priced sketches. A few artists may do something for a kid for free, but don't count on it.

5. If You Have To Dump 'Em...
Try to arrange a sitter before the show: a friend, say, or a kid of a friend who wouldn't mind making the money and can do it in your hotel room. The Con does offer childcare, but the only person who told me they've used it is a single parent who had a meeting sprung on him last-minute. I'm not even sure the Con will accept kids last-minute, although this guy can be very convincing.

6. Have Fun
Enjoy the con through their eyes.

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Five Random Tips On Going To The Show

1. If you need cash, and you're really well known to an exhibitor, they may let you write a check for cash at their booth. Some people may even prefer to have less cash to carry around. No harm asking, but don't count on this.

2. Don't be shy about asking people who are dressed up in costumes to pose for pictures; such attention is frequently why they're there. Plus you may get the honor of addressing a grown man as "Lord Vader."

3. If you're friends with an exhibitor, they may let you temporarily stash your backpack or stuff you bought at their booth, probably with the caveat that they're not responsible for it. This can still be a life saver. If this happens, do something for the exhibitor in return like bringing them a coffee or manning the booth while they take a bathroom break.

4. If a celebrity is selling photos, they probably don't want you to take a photo. I'm not going to suggest that this makes it more fun to take photos of them anyway as they yell at you, because that would be wrong.

5. If you get bored, do a good deed. Give blood, register to vote, or go buy something from the CBLDF or Hero Initiative booths. Heck, buy a sketch or comic from someone in Artists' Alley that looks lonely. Take Keith Knight a sandwich. Compliment someone's costume even if you don't know who they're supposed to be and their fleshy parts scare you. Be a con hero, not a con zero.

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Four Common Con Activities With Which I'm Largely Unfamiliar

1. "Breaking Into Comics" Panels
Be talented and professional; be prepared to start small and work your way up. There, now you don't have to go.

2. Portfolio Reviews
I would suppose the key here is to show work as close to the work you want to be hired to do as possible, follow their rules, enjoy your time in line as best you can and take the advice provided. Most people break into comics by doing them, anymore, so my advice is to start doing comics. Here's a piece on how to survive the experience.

3. Autograph Seeking
There are lots of people signing stuff: set up by the con, at their publishers, at their tables. The con produces a list of known signings every day. Getting autographs isn't my thing, but I certainly have friends who seek out signatures for books, especially for gifts. The only advice they give me is to check out charity-related booths like the CBLDF, or any smaller publisher that carries the creator's work. Those places might allow you to get an autograph without having to stand in a hugely long line. If that's impossible, enjoy your line experience with like-minded fans, because it's probably unavoidable. Don't cut. Matt Groening stands in lines; you can, too.

4. Gaming and Other Related Nerdly Arts
There is a lot of general fan activity at San Diego Con, everything from gaming rooms to Klingon Rites of Ascension to these panels I love where disgruntled people come to grouse about the con itself. The con schedule in the program as modified on bulletin boards throughout the convention center should tell you everything you need to know to find what you're looking for. As much as it triggers a gag reflex for me to say it, it's possible to attend Comic-Con and never see a comic book.

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Seven Random Thoughts On Being On the Floor

1. Above is my favorite floor photo from a recent San Diego Con: Dr. Doom ponders his pimp cup. I bet the Marvel world's Norman Rockwell did a cover just like that at some point.

2. The temperature of the convention center can vary greatly year to year. Maybe take a long sleeve shirt to wear over your t-shirt or something along those lines on the first day just to be sure you won't freeze to death.

3. I'm one of those old-timers that sees manga as less its own thing and simply as "more comics" from another of the world's great comics traditions, so I'm probably not the first person you go to for special tips on how to enjoy manga and anime at Comic-Con. Still, manga and anime fans are certainly out in force. The majority of the young people you see dressed up are wearing some sort of manga- or anime-related costume. The publishers, editors and creators have a significant presence as well; if nothing else, the occasional book give-away certainly gets them the notice of the other booths.

You can experience the show from a manga-centric point of view the same way you experience any other area (superheros, art comics, movies) that interests you -- visiting the related booths on the exhibition floor, enjoying the costumes, meeting fellow fans and going to the panels and previews that feature this kind of material. This year's announcement of a visit by Tite Kubo of Bleach should generate some must-see programming.

4. Sometimes the best way to get from one end of the show to the other is to leave the hall and walk in one of the outside hallways.

5. If you can stand it, and you have some time, wander a bit and check out the general craziness of the floor even if you're not interested in the vast majority of what's on display. I don't like toys, but I love looking at the toys in San Diego. I also like looking at some of the weird booths that no one is visiting. And, of course, I adore all the comics merchants.

6. If you want some additional privacy when you go to the bathroom, think about the more obscure hallways and the further out points as opposed to one of the restrooms on a main drag or off the floor. Or, if the thought of losing your place in a line is traumatizing, maybe start thinking diapers.

7. Jeff Parker has good advice about the more intimate meet-and-greets available to you in Artists' Alley. That's not as creepy as it may sound.

*****

Six Things About Computers and CCI

1. Most hotels allow patrons to either check a laptop in for safekeeping or provide a room- or front desk safe, so you don't have to worry about it being stolen while you're at the convention.

2. Although many hotels offer free Internet access, others do not (for instance, I know the Westgate is free but I think the Starwood hotels may still charge a fee). If it's important to you, you might want to call and check.

3. The only convention hotel that I'm aware of having a legitimate business center is the Hilton, although there must be others. Again, I'd call ahead.

4. I asked CCI's David Glanzer about WiFi at the convention center, and this was his response: "As for WiFi, we will again have WiFi capability in the Press Conference room upstairs, but will not be able to have full access WiFi in the center. however, WiFi is available for purchase through their service provider and the daily rate is, I believe $12.95." Okay, I asked him this in 2007, but I bet it still holds for this year.

5. I think this displays San Diego hotspots of various types, if that's any help. Or maybe not. As is the case with any technology I have yet to personally embrace, the whole thing makes my head hurt.

6. What I do is leave my computer at home, prepare my most of my entries ahead of time, and then spend 20 minutes a morning drinking coffee and typing numbered observations into an already existing post. If I were covering Peace Talks at Malta or the Nathan's Hot-Dog Eating Contest or something more moment-to-moment, I would probably come better prepared to provide a lot of detail throughout the day as news broke. But until then, once a day it is!

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SHOPPING

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Seven Shopping Tips

1. Buyer beware. Always, but even more so when you're talking temporary store set-ups (you can't go back to the same place Monday and get a refund because the convention center will be empty) and a greater than usual chance a receipt might be lost.

2. If you really like a certain booth, get contact information or pick up a business card so you can buy from them at other times of the year, particularly if they sell out of an item before you get back to buy it. Most vendors attending the show are big enough to do mail order; many of the individual artists offer mail order, too. I've purchased a lot of Christmas presents through vendors I met at CCI.

3. Don't wait too long to buy something you'll really regret not having. There are 100,000 other people here.

4. Hit dealers early that seem to have an exclusive on their portion of the market. Stuart Ng Books is a dealer that frequently exhibits that I like to hit early for their older cartooning books. In contrast, I can probably find some Badgers with Riley Thorpe just as easily on Sunday as I can on Wednesday night.

image4. Comic Relief, a convention mainstay helmed until earlier this year by the late, great Rory Root (pictured), does a great job of bringing a ton of material, including out-of-print or hard-to-find oddities. CR has a real knack for anticipating demand on some mid-list books that might become popular at the show, like something that's up for multiple Eisners. They're usually set up as their own row between the small press publishers and the back-issue retailers, and hopefully will be again this year.

6. Between Comic Relief, the similarly loaded Bud Plant area, and, although some might not admit it, the mainstream-heavy, blanket-discounted, trade-focused Mile High Comics booth, you can find most every major comic-related book and comics trade that's in print. Use these three shopping areas as the backbone of your new comics buying, and return to them frequently.

7. My one friend who buys a lot of comics at CCI makes a list before she goes. This includes the price at which she's willing to buy a book, so that she won't buy something she could have bought for cheaper at home or on-line and so she won't waste time comparing prices to save an extra 50 cents. Buying something that hits your price point sounds way easier to me than comparison shopping between 65 tables with 100,000 other people in the room.

*****

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Six Things I'll Always Consider Buying

1. Any special drawings that Johnny Ryan (that's his Judge Dredd, above) prepares for the show.

2. Random 1970s comics from the spinner rack in front of the Lee's Comics booth. I buy something there every day. He tends to be set up towards the front entrance side of the exhibit hall. Worth tracking down.

3. Any Jaime Hernandez pen and ink drawings. No one makes better stand-alone drawings on a regular basis.

4. Roger Langridge's original art pages. They're beautiful and affordable.

5. Anything sketchbook-ish that artists might have at the show.

6. Something from the Twomorrows table, where all the magazines are piled on top of each other, like a four-color pile of to-be-rolled hard candy.

*****

Zack Smith's 10 Rules For Getting Con Sketches

1. A spiral-bound sketchbook is easier for artists to work with than a bound sketchbook -- it lets the book lie flat on the table, rather than their having to hold it open with one hand. Some sketchbooks have higher-quality paper than others, so it helps to shop around.

2. Most artists are enthusiastic about drawing something other than Batman or Spider-Man, but it you have a more esoteric idea, try printing out some reference photos. Let's say you want a Veronica Mars sketch -- do a Google search, then cut-paste some photos into a file, then print the photos out on good glossy photo paper. In some cases, if you do a little research -- look at interviews with artists, read their personal web sites -- you can find out more about what they like to draw, and get some great ideas. I've had a lot of fun getting such pieces as an Arrested Development sketchbook or a Sid and Marty Krofft-themed book with entries from guys like Jeff Parker. Incidentially, remembering to get a piece from Parker or Steve Lieber should be a rule in itself.

3. Try to have at least $100 saved for a really good commission piece or two -- but remember, most higher-profile artists will do a free doodle if you ask nicely.

4. Everyone wants an Adam Hughes sketch. He works very hard at drawing them. People dash across the con floor the minute a con opens to get on his list. There's a two-year waiting list last time I checked. Don't put all your hopes on getting an Adam Hughes piece, and please don't give him crap about this. He's a good guy.

5. The more elaborate your description of what you want in a sketch or commission, the less likely that an artist will draw it. Consider a sketch like jazz -- allow some room to improvise.

6. Theme books are a lot of fun, but don't make your theme too esoteric (like, say, Arrested Development) unless you have a very specific idea of what artists you want in there. If you get a really good theme going, it can inspire each new artist to top the previous one.

7. Have at least two sketchbooks handy at any given time -- one for larger pieces, and one for smaller head-shots. This way, you don't have to get your sketchbook back from one artist before you can get a sketch from another.

8. Under no circumstances leave your book with an artist to be mailed back to you unless you're willing to wait a long, long time.

9. If you get a sketch or commission outside of a sketchbook, try bringing an accordion folder or some sort of hard plastic sheath that you can store it in order to prevent damage. An accordion folder is also a good way to store reference photos, business cards, handouts, lists, etc...

10. Finally -- and this is pretty basic -- higher-profile artists are more in demand for sketches, and usually don't have time for more than a quickie doodle. However, check out the guest list and Artists Alley in particular. Some of the best people to get sketches from are up-and-comers -- people who have great skills and plenty of time on their hands. And there are plenty of older pros who aren't as hot as they once were, but still have tons of talent. Look at Gene Colan, who recently retired, but was doing amazing commissions up to the age of 80! Know your pros -- and treat them with respect. That's the key to any good sketchbook.

(check out some of Zack's favorite pieces at http://www.comicsketchgallery.com/pages/Zack)

*****

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Five More Ways to Have a Great Buying Experience

1. As hinted at above, know in general what the things you like cost, whether you do a crib sheet or not. It's not worth it to have traveled hundreds of miles to get something you could have obtained by driving across town.

2. Get things personalized through cartoonist signings and sketches (if they're doing them), check out original art and other one-of-a-kind items, and keep an eye out for convention-only ashcans and the like. Those are the kinds of things you can only get at Comic-Con.

3. Comic-Con seems to do a pretty good job of keeping vendors with illegal items out of the show, like bootleg DVDs, and booth space tends to be too important of an investment for a scam artist, but it never hurts to be too careful.

4. Some companies and shops will be happy to bring stuff pre-packaged for you to pick up when you get there. For those of us without a full-service comics shop near our homes, this can be a godsend in terms of scoring a few less-popular items in a way that doesn't cost a lot in shipping. Check with your favorite publishers a few weeks ahead of the show.

5. Like I wrote earlier, Sunday close-out deals aren't what they used to be, but there are a few. This makes it a good day to shop without a specific must-have object in mind. Another thing to look for on Sunday that's fun in an odd way is to watch some of the publishers sell leftover stock directly to retailers. You rarely get a chance to see someone power shop for funnybooks.

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SAN DIEGO NIGHTS (AND DAYS, IF, LIKE ME, YOU PLAY HOOKY)

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Nine Things to Do Outside the Show

1. Eat Out
Despite the barely-controlled rage of some fans at being asked to spend more than $7 on a meal, San Diego offers up a number of decent-to-fine restaurants of which to avail yourself in the nearby Gaslamp, downtown, and Little Italy neighborhoods. And because comics fans are by legend ruthlessly cheap, it's easier than you'd think to find a table. Call ahead anyway if you can, particularly for Friday and Saturday.

2. Visit the Zoo
San Diego offers one of the great North American zoos. It's a fun way to decompress on a Sunday or a Monday, or to give you and/or your friends a half-day away from the convention hall on a Thursday or Friday. Be careful, though. Last year Paul Dini wrote a long letter to this site begging people to consider all the extra walking you have to do at the zoo, and he's right! It is a lot of extra walking, and something you might not want to do in conjunction with a day at the convention center. Also, I think MC Escher had a hand in the zoo's design because I swear it's a circular path that somehow manages to be entirely uphill. Still, I've said it before and I've said it again: there's no vacation that can't be made better by spending quality time with the pygmy marmoset.

3. Visit Tijuana
This is a great thing to do with a bunch of people, friends new and/or old, and easy to build around a dinner in a way an impromptu meal doesn't work in San Diego. Please note this and other slightly grander plans might be easier to with people not exhibiting at the show, who won't be able to leave until 7 pm. This is also a fun Sunday night activity if none of you are exhausted from breaking down a booth. As border regulations tighten up, at some point this is going to require a passport. I'm not sure that time is here yet, but you should double-check.

4. Go to a Party
It seems to a lot of my friends that there were more large parties 10-12 years ago. What may have happened is that the downtown's gentrification has rid the neighborhoods around the convention center of cheap space to rent for big blowouts. It's taken some time, and they're not yet the multi-storied illegality bonanzas of yesteryear, but I'd say actual parties are back in vogue, particularly with the addition of non-comics sponsors of all shapes and sizes. Go to every party to which you're invited, and one or two to which you're not.

5. Go to a Party, Too
If you're not the kind of person that gets invited to parties -- if you're like me, in other words -- but you want to go to one anyway, keep an eye out for charity functions or other fund-raisers that are less worried about exclusivity than raising money through a modest entrance fee. Comics people take their charities very seriously, so they're usually well-attended. I go to one or two every year. The CBLDF at the very least tends to have one.

6. Booze and Schmooze
San Diego's Gaslamp contains within itself a lot of bars, and nearly every major hotel has one. People in comics like informal gatherings where they can put their high SAT verbals to work. As a result, most of the bars, starting from the Hyatt and working its way across town, tend to be stuffed with informal meet-ups and greet-ups. A lot of these establishments are as not-busy during the day as they are busy at night, so if your schedules can swing it and you want some private time with friends over a few cold ones, sometimes an afternoon outing can work out better than a night-time one. The bigger the group, the more difficult it can be to get together.

7. Be a Tourist
I used to seek outside entertainment on early Saturday nights just to break up my weekend; San Diego's a big town, and has the full array of shows and live performances by which one can pursue such aims. One daytime activity that always gets recommended to me is a tour on one of the active aircraft carriers -- I believe that would be the USS John Stennis or the USS Ronald Reagan -- if either is in port.

image8. Baseball
Going to a Padres game can be fun. Plus, it's the Padres, so you're likely to see two or three players you could have sworn retired in '98. Unfortunately, they're away at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh this year before returning the day after the con; let me put the thought into your brain for future cons.

9. Use the Water
San Diego's beaches are nice; all of them said to be worth visiting are worth visiting. One thing I enjoyed once was throwing in with some friends to rent a powerboat. The sailing is pretty good, too.

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Eight Random Tips on Doing Stuff Outside the Show

1. For some reason, every year 2000-2003 I stumbled across a men's shoe sale somewhere in the Horton Plaza. Other than that, I've never come across such great shopping that made me want to stop what I'm doing and spend money that way. Your mileage may vary. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of nearby shopping -- certainly downtown doesn't have any of the big, old-fashioned department stores that a city like Seattle does. If you want to take a half-day and do some shopping, head to the Hillcrest neighborhood.

image2. If you need some alone time, and you might, it may sound crazy but you can always go to a movie. The Pacific Theaters Gaslamp (pictured) and the UA 14 Movies are the nearby movie theaters. Comic-Con is one of the few places you can go where a giant special effects movie is actually relaxing to the eye in contrast.

3. If you're comics-oriented, don't count on automatically having a place to go on Saturday night. If you haven't heard of anything, there may not be anything in your wider circle other than a final round of bar-hopping with the weekend-only faces in tow. Everyone older than 30 is exhausted by Saturday night, anyway. That being said, anyone shelling out money to host a party on Saturday night is probably throwing a really good party.

4. Car rentals are sometimes cheaper on Saturdays, and parking overnight in a downtown is usually easier on Saturday and Sunday. Just saying. Most full-service hotels can help you rent a car if you get to San Diego and suddenly feel the impulse after not having reserved one.

5. Remember, only a few rental car companies still rent to a debit card -- if you're like me, sometimes you don't travel with a credit card unless you plan it in advance. Those that do accept debit cards may require proof of travel in the form of a ticket that says you're flying out on a certain day so that you don't leave their car on fire in the desert or whatever.

6. A lot of folks caution to take off your badge when you leave the convention center, as if it's some sort of invitation to be mugged. I don't know if that's true or not, my guess is that it's more of an invitation for people to think you forgot to take off your badge. Still, I guess there's no harm in repeating it.

7. There used to be occasional Friday night art openings in the Gaslamp district taking advantage of artists appearing at the show. This can be a fine Eisner Awards alternative or Eisner Awards appetizer. You can ask around the appropriate art-comics booths. There may also be a movie premiere or two in town although these may require picking up passes and/or standing in a line.

8. The younger alt-comics cartoonists used to have parties on the beach and maybe they will again someday. What started out as a cheap way to have an afterparty turned into a really cheap way to do a Saturday night party turned into a party that everyone of a certain age began to feel really old attending. If you get a chance to go to a party like this, go. It's lovely being outside on a warm summer night after a day stuck inside a convention center. Plus it's dark enough that even the bright, pasty flesh of half-naked cartoonists won't cause you permanent eye damage.

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Five Places I've Eaten in San Diego (Quite Cheaply)

1. In-N-Out Burger
The only burger chain in the area worth a pilgrimage. Okay, maybe not. It is the only one I know of that people drag me to, and I've always enjoyed it. A lot of CR readers swear by Fatburger. Me, I'm on a diet now.

2. Neighborhood
Not really all that cheap, but I found this boutique beers and fancy burgers place to be something of a bargain considering the quality of the food and the general, positive buzz around the place.

3. Sun Cafe
Scary but OK diner that gets points for serving grease and starch which may be what you require to throw on top of all the booze still in your stomach from the night before. It's overcrowded on weekend for breakfasts, but usually fine crowd-wise on Thursday and Friday. To be honest, there was plenty of seating in here on Saturday morning in 2007, which shocked me. I bought artery-hardening breakfasts for five people for less than $40 including tip.

4. Pokez Mexican Restaurant
Solid. An institution.

5. Dick's Last Resort
I like it fine for a late lunch, or a liquid lunch, not so much for dinner. I would have liked it when I was in college. Admittedly, I liked hats with beer symbols on them and The Cult when I was in college, too.

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Five Places I've Eaten in San Diego (Somewhat Less Cheaply)

1. Mister Tiki Mai Tai Lounge
I've never been super-impressed by my entrees, but this kind of food and liquor can be perfect for a small to medium group of friends. Slightly more expensive than you'd think, especially if like me you're used to getting your island food in hole-in-the-wall joints in places like Philly and Chicago.

2. Sadaf Persian Cuisine
Bandar, which is a street over, seems to be the preferred Persian restaurant of many readers of this site, and the portions there are certainly generous, but Sadaf's Chicken Fesenjan competes, it has an airy, laid-back feel and it's less busy early in the evening. Persian is the only food that I think is done better in Southern California than anyplace else in the U.S., so I always try to have some when I'm out there.

3. Turf Supper Club
I think this is still open. Anyway: San Diego hipster mainstay, and a very short cab ride. It's cook your own meat in a old-time racing bar, which is a fine way to a) mix meals and socializing, b) send the control freak in your group away from the the table with all of your steaks. A great place to escape the show.

4. Oceanaire
It's a chain, sure, but it's an upscale chain with which I've always had success sending people. My friends over 60 seem to be particularly fond of these restaurants. It's a great place to be bought dinner, both because of the price and because it's seafood as opposed to something heavy that makes you want to go to bed. The fact that there are several of them in different cities somehow seems to put expense account holders at ease.

5. Rei Do Gado
This is a Brazilian Grill, meaning you pay something like $50 and they bring various cuts of meat to you until you're full, pass out, or your stomach explodes. This place reduces even the closest friends with lots of catching up to do and/or business to discuss to grunting, monomaniacal chow-pigs. But it's solid, particularly if you missed a meal earlier in the day, or if dinner is the last thing you plan to do that evening. It's even better if you hate animals and want to kill as many of them as possible with your teeth.

*****

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Five Places I've Eaten Breakfast In San Diego

1. Kono's Cafe
There's always a line, and it's out of the immediate area by a good stretch, but it's a traditionally good place and a fine escape.

2. Cafe 222
In the neighborhood. And good.

3. St. Tropez Bistro
Very convenient to those staying along Broadway.

4. Cafe Chloe
I ate here twice last year, once at breakfast and once at night, and enjoyed it a lot. It's a little east of the Gaslamp, so it's kind of its own thing. Paul Karasik also told me his breakfast was nice. The culinary discovery of 2007's trip.

5. Quarter Kitchen
This is the place where you make people with expense accounts take you rather than buying something there yourself, and the reviews are hit and miss, but I really liked the Miso that I had. That's not something House of Pancakes tends to offer. On the weekends, they serve a rooftop breakfast.

Bonus: there's a Richard Walker's Pancake House in San Diego now. I ate at one of those in Schaumburg and liked it. And if you have a car, and are very hungry, there's this place's giant portions.

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Five Things About Eating Vegetarian/Vegan During the Con

1. Three restaurants that non-meat eaters visiting CCI have told me about are Pokez and Rancho's. Kung Food is now closed.

2. A wider guide with several reviews can be found here.

3. In general, Thai and Indian restaurants can easily accommodate vegetarians and with some questions and directives -- like "No dairy, please" -- can usually serve vegans with little problem. It's southern California; servers should be accustomed to questions about the food.

4. Come to think of it, it being southern California I bet most restaurants can accommodate most diners, period, if only with a dish or two. I might stay away from the steakhouses, though. It never hurts to check ahead.

5. It may be a bit of extra work to make sure you get to certain restaurants or pick up certain things for lunch, but going with your friends to enjoy food on a diet you share can be a real camaraderie-builder. Besides, you get all those health benefits, even at the show. I've never seen someone sweat their way through a panel because their tofu has come back to haunt them.

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Twelve Additional Tips About Eating in San Diego

1. I'm not sure about the quality of the reviews, but this site can help you get oriented.

2. Many of the hotel bars either have food service or allow food to be ordered into the bar from the hotel's restaurant. This makes them good compromise locations at odd hours when, say, one person wants to get a drink but another person hasn't had anything to eat since 8 AM.

3. Work with your concierge, if your hotel has one, particularly if your eating group has special requests. Here's a tip: keep track of who's working at the concierge desk and direct appropriate questions to them according to their age. A younger concierge will be impressed if you want to go to a hip place you've read about on-line and will probably work harder to make it happen; an older concierge may not have heard of the hip restaurant, but may be able to recommend the best high-end Italian and probably knows the owner.

4. Beware the lazy concierge. Most of them are great, but a few try to skate by. A few warning signs: going to a card catalog or the computer on a basic question, recommendations that seem slightly divorced from what you requested without really needing to be (like asking for a seafood restaurant and being sent to a steakhouse that has a few great whitefish dishes, or asking for Thai and being talked into Chinese), or advice that leads you back to the hotel's restaurant.

5. Starting in 2004 there's been a restaurant reservations booth in the convention center lobby, complete with menus. If you see it, use it. I found it very handy. It's good to head someplace with reservations rather than without, particularly on Friday and Saturday.

6. Like most of southern California, San Diego seems super-casual in terms of what one wears. I've been to expensive (well, to me) restaurants where patrons were wearing flip-flops. That doesn't mean they don't want you to look nice, only that there's a slightly different, laid-back standard involved. I think they'd rather you look put together more than they'd rather see you in a tie, if that makes sense.

7. Never, ever go out to "just find something" to eat with a group of more than three other people. Really. Don't do it. I'm not kidding. Don't. You'll be sorry. Grover in The Monster at the End of the Book is not as earnest in his pleas as I am to you on this matter. More comics industry friendships and business relationships have ended with the words, "Screw you people! I'm going back to the room and ordering a pizza!" than have collapsed over royalties and creator credit combined.

8. It's fine if you don't believe me, but please at least bookmark this list of pizza joints.

9. Here's a list of late-night diners in San Diego. Incidentally, the most popular restaurant for con-goers after 1 AM is "junk food from Ralphs consumed in one's hotel room."

10. If you're super into this, San Diego offers about a half-dozen frequently updated Foodie Blogs.

11. This brunch site is one of the few places linked to from this post that's more chatty than I am.

12. My mom was totally impressed by the gospel brunch at the House of Blues. That might be a good outing for someone out there.

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Sixteen Things to Remember About Drinking at the Con

1. If you're worried about the cost of per-drink booze, you can always throw a "pre-party" in your hotel room and consume cheap, store-bought hooch with your closest -- or imaginary -- friends before moving to a bar or party. If you can still walk.

2. Mental exhaustion from exhibiting is like three beers right there.

3. Lots of people in comics and at the show don't drink; there's no stigma for or against consumption. (Except for the book publishing people, who all drink like Jackson Pollock and make "revenue stream" jokes when they urinate in public.)

4. The only odd thing about comics culture and alcohol is that many people in comics drink as if they discovered the world of booze three weeks ago, so sometimes late nights at conventions can feel like tear night during fraternity rush. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

5. Since it's summer, men can order drinks that have colors in them or that are fizzy and have limes at the bottom without fear of scorn and/or reprisal, except maybe from Beau Smith.

6. Since you may be on your feet, moving from group to group, stick to a glass with a low, fat bottom. The Cape Codder, Mojito, and Sea Breeze all have the advantage of being served in glasses that do not look dumbassed being lugged around on a deck, lawn or porch. Here are more.

7. If you don't know what to order, order a gin and tonic. For one thing, no one will mess with you. Nothing hints at sudden, deranged, violent reprisal like a gin and tonic in a crowded bar. It's like ordering a glass of milk in a Wild West saloon. They are also usually strong enough you can sip from your glass as the ice melts and it's almost like having another drink.

image8. If you drink enough gin and tonics, the next day in the convention center might be a rough one. The bad part is you'll physically suffer; the good part is that some of the statuary may begin talking to you.

9. Remember this bit of drinking-on-a-budget doggerel: "all drinks after the second drink might as well be well drinks."

10. If you didn't know, a well drink is a drink made from whatever alcohol the bar uses as the default type of that kind of liquor, generally cheaper stuff. And really, if you didn't know that, maybe stick to soda.

11. Beer for beer, dive bars are far less expensive than hotel bars.

12. You are, however, much less likely to get your ass kicked in a hotel bar.

13. Good luck finding a dive bar in new San Diego, anyway. I'd tell you where a couple are, but my friends almost killed me the last time I did that.

14. If you walk into a party to which you weren't invited, look confident, be prepared, and avoid hitting the bar a lot because it looks like you're pounding it down before you get tossed. "I'm the guy writing the Cloak and Dagger script" might work if you're busted.

15. You can offer to buy your favorite creator or prospective editor a drink if you want to, but it's not necessary and it's not a guaranteed in. In fact, it's kind of hard to do this without looking like a dork -- except when buying drinks for me, when you always look awesome.

16. There used to be things to consume other than booze for those people who enjoy breaking the law and making all four heads on Mt. Rushmore cry. But thanks to increased airport security, the entertainment option that used to be open to all willing to stuff something into the toe of a boot is today pretty much locals-only. The moral to this story? BEFRIEND THE LOCALS.

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Eight Tips For A Night At The Eisners

1. Some people wear nice clothes to the traditional Friday evening comics industry awards ceremony; some don't. You won't look out of place in your suit or new dress, or in your jeans and t-shirt. It depends on who you are, really. If you're an indy comics creator or a hot new mainstream comics writer and wear stuff with holes in it, no one will think ill of you. If you're a corporate executive making six figures and you wear a golf shirt and khakis, again, no one will think ill of you, but you're still a douchebag. As usual, I'll be wearing Gaultier.

2. Eat beforehand if you possibly can. No one should have to listen to someone's kid mumbling a Hall of Fame acceptance speech while bottoming out from blood-sugar problems. It's a good night for those in your group not tied into the convention floor to make dinner reservations in the Gaslamp and allow the latecomers to meet them there so as to expedite everyone making it back to the big hall. Seriously. One couple I know orders room service from the hotel restaurant and eats while they get ready. Another person I know makes it Wendy's night. It's worth making sure it gets done. I think they may serve some food at the Eisners to the nominees and dignitaries up front, or at least they used to. I always found it easier to blow that off and get something of my own. I also always felt a little better about leaving that food to some of the older cartoonists who might not be able to hustle out for a full meal elsewhere. So I couldn't tell you what's up there or if it still is or how much of it there is or if it's any good. But, yeah: eat.

3. Start a betting pool at your table. That's right: gamble. Not only does a pile of singles in the middle of the table and a bunch of bold circles on your program make the evening go a little more quickly, it's fun to see how your perception of the comics industry matches the reality. By "fun," I mean "deeply depressing." Betting tip: if there's a book that a lot of people worked on, like one of those giant DC anthologies with 50 creators, pick that. Also, if you get stuck in a wormhole and get sucked back to the mid-1990s, vote for everything Kurt Busiek is working on.

4. Booze it up. Drink 'em if you got 'em, or if you're so inclined. In fact, I'd say this might be a good place for a flask, but that's probably against the rules. There is a cash bar, and my memory is that it's okay -- moderately sized drinks, reasonably potent, not much in the way of a line.

5. Be aware there is a seating hierarchy now. Tables up front; auditorium seating in back. In 1996 I was able to wander in drunk and shirtless mid-ceremony and sit at an up-front table with Rich Johnston, Karl Pilkington and a guy from Marvel who kept offering me $110 million for my trading card company. In 2007 there was a person with a checklist at the front door, and I saw famous, well-dressed comics people get turned away and sent to the general seating faster than you can say, "arbitrary perk." In other words, you pretty much need to be a guest of the awards or a nominee or a date of either to sit up front now.

6. That being said, sitting in the audience is great. The view is better, the people around you are having more fun than the people up front, and you can yell rude things at big-company executives without the risk of never working again.

7. Enjoy the show. It's long, and sometimes boring, and as long as the judges keep adding categories like each one increases the sexual potency of the judges that let it in, well, that's not going to change any time soon. Still, last year's ceremony was the best ever by a long shot, concluding with a killer presenter stint by Jonathan Ross. If you can't enjoy the Eisners for its surface qualities, enjoy it for its sociological revelations. Failing that, find a Statler to your Waldorf and start quietly heckling.

8. After the show there's a cash bar (last year I seem to recall live music, although I may have been hallucinating) in the lobby outside that's a nice place to catch up with a lot of your industry pals that you'd otherwise miss. A lot of people do still rip out of there like a bat out of hell, though.

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WINDING THINGS UP

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Seven Small Joys to be Had Late in the Weekend

1. Seeing a professional attendee shutting down and becoming acid-tongued and bitter. Not as much fun if professional was acid-tongued and bitter to begin with.

image2. Enjoying the yearly scientist vs. robot caveman ceasefire.

3. Seeing people sitting outside the convention proper, lined up along the walls of the lobby, like kids at a middle-school dance waiting for a ride home.

4. Watching young couples in related costumes holding hands.

5. Knowing that somewhere on the floor is a company that's lost an intern over the weekend. Just lost them somewhere.

6. Listening to the exhausted security people openly making disparaging comments about attendees. Upstairs is a better show than the main hall.

7. Attending the weird, lightly populated Sunday morning panels where everyone involved is too tired to whitewash the truth. Sunday 10-12 should be re-named the Howard Beale slot. I've seen publishers come right out and crack on their own books on Sunday morning, and creators on opposite ends of the stage admit outright contempt for one another. It's kind of fun.

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Eleven Ways to Say Goodbye to CCI

1. Watch the final few holes of the British Open from bed on Sunday; I swear it's on TV like every third year. Not this year, though.

2. Say goodbye Saturday night and skip Sunday altogether, avoiding any potential disillusionment from late-weekend encounters with desiccated, grumpy cartooning idols.

3. If after the weekend's activities you're feeling guilty or unclean, the Christian Cartoonists Panel on Sunday is sort of like church. They pray and everything.

4. Go back to the beach on your way to the airport and try to retrieve your a) eyeglasses b) wallet c) underwear d) dignity. You won't find the dignity. (Here's a tip: if you do lose something at the beach and have to go back the next day, look around where the fires were. That's where I'm told surfers or other people will leave something if they trip over it in the sand.)

5. Put your costume on and eat the champagne brunch at the Horton Grand in character.

6. Go back and forth between two factions of costumes from completely different properties trying to get them to come to blows. I would die happy if sometime between now and my passing I could see a full-scale brawl between the Browncoats and the Hogwarts students.

7. Give your badge to some angry-looking local youth as you leave the show for the last time.

8. Stay an extra day and hang out with the other people who do the same, soaking in that "last day of summer/we are the c.i.t.'s" vibe. Sometimes there are Sunday night thank-you or "dead dog" parties to crash (there's a famous one that's invite-only). Going to a nice dinner and then to bed early works, too.

9. (Semi-advanced travelers only) Take your car out of the expensive hotel parking on Saturday night and try to park near your hotel on the street, which may be slightly easier to do on Saturday night and Sunday daytime than the other days. You save $25 on parking, and the next morning you can stuff your bags in your car rather than check them in at the sure-to-be-obscenely-crowded bellhop counter.

10. (Super-advanced travelers only) Save a night's hotel by scheduling your Sunday flight at 7 AM and going straight from the bar or beach late Saturday night to the airport. Or to breakfast at Dennys and then the airport. Must have light luggage load, a friend willing to store stuff, a car rental, and folks willing to put up with you being frazzled and kind of loopy that first day you're home.

11. (My plan this year) Stay until Sunday and then go straight to Vegas and start two days' rest-up time at one of those hotels only the locals like, one with a movie theater and a large but non-fancy pool. Bet Eisner winnings on America's Cup sailboat races. Eat a Reuben at 3:30 in the morning. Make bartender call you "Reuben" at 5:30 in the morning. Seriously, though, building some Las Vegas time into your trip works a lot better than you might think. Sometimes the two one-way tickets are cheaper than going directly to or from San Diego, a hotel stay Sunday to Tuesday before or after the show can be had for a song, and you may have a better choice of timely flight homes from McCarron. Just a thought.

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Eight Things To Do When You Get Home

1. Sleep.

2. Get all of your business and networking follow-ups out the door by Friday. There's no reason you should have the same discussions about the same things next year that you had this year, although you'd be surprised how often that happens. Or maybe the people I know are really boring, I'm not sure.

3. Share your Ernie Hudson anecdotes with confused and slightly worried co-workers.

4. Write about the show, whether as magnificently as a classic Steve Lieber/Jeff Parker effort, or as modestly as a message board post. It's genuinely fascinating -- well, at least to me -- to read about other people's experiences, to find out what that group you walked by at the Omni was talking about, for instance, or what happened at the panel you couldn't visit.

5. Get back to work, you bum.

6. Unpack all of your stuff. If something has gone missing, it's better to know sooner than later. If this happens, call the hotel; you'll talk to either housekeeping or security. I had stuff Fed Exed to me one year when I decided I need to leave half of my stuff in a Westin closet. It happens.

7. Make your hotel reservations for 2009. Hope you're not too late.

8. I'm only kidding about #7. You're too late.

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And that's it. Have fun. Smile. Say hi if you see me; I'd like to meet you. I'll be the fat, bald guy.

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Photos by Whit Spurgeon, 2003; Gil Roth, 2005; Tom Spurgeon, 2007. Comic-Con International is an advertiser here, so you just spent all that time reading compromised, biased nonsense. I apologize for the dearth of pop culture references from after 1985.

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BONUS SECTIONS: READER RESPONSE, ADD-ONS AND OUTSIDE SOURCES

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Eight Other Guides And Resources

1. Evil Geniuses
2. Scott Tipton's 2003 Guide
3. About.com
4. TV Guide's 2006 Entry
5. Well-written summary report of an enjoyable time at the Con by a more casual fan.
6. Elton Pruitt's Everything I Always Wanted to Know About San Diego Comic-Con...
7. Last Year's Nerd Vegas Guide
8. Collective Memory From 2007

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Reader Suggestions and Commentary

1. Wanted to share an anecdote with you about my bloodletting experience at SDCC.

In 2000, my only trip to the Con, I thought it would be a good thing to do, and some friends of mine were also thinking that very thing. So we lined up, and stood in line to give blood. One by one, they all got weeded out (tattoos, mostly), until it was just me, all by my lonesome, in the basement of the convention center. I had never given blood before, and was mid-panic attack anyway, so when the last of my cohorts split, I felt like a street urchin in a Dickens novel.

After it was all over, I kind of stumbled around the convention floor aimlessly, dizzy and light-headed. I don't recall much of that afternoon -- I hadn't had breakfast that day (stupid alex), was running on fumes sleep-wise, and the heat was particularly oppressive for some reason.

I finally made it back to my friend's apartment, and promptly passed out. The next day, he sat down, and said (as if he were leading a drug intervention), "Maybe you shouldn't go to the Con today."

We got brunch and went to the beach and it was great. In retrospect, I wonder what he must have thought was going on at the Con, for me to come home so pale and sickly, and fainting on his couch.

Lesson learned about the giving blood/not eating right/exhaustion combo!

(Not that I would discourage giving blood, mind you- I would just remind people to get a good night's sleep and eat a couple of hot dogs beforehand...) -- Alex Cox

2. If you snore, consider not sharing a room with someone. Your non-snoring roommate will not get any sleep. Your roomie will then spend the night rousing you out of your REM sleep to stop your snoring so they can get some sleep. By Sunday you will both be sleep deprived and will be looking to kill each other. -- Ray Bottorff, Jr.

3. The last few times I went to the Con, I skipped the Eisners and went to Tijuana to see some Lucha Libre live in person. I know a bunch of creators who have wanted to go for years, but they either are usually Eisner nominees or presenters or have to cover the awards as press.

However, this is really now an abstract suggestion, as I don't know if it's good to recommend going to TJ right now. Here's an excerpt of an email a friend of mine sent me, someone who lives in San Diego and is a Lucha expert:
"I can't even go to Tiijuana lucha libre any more, as it's just too unsafe to go at nights as a gringo in TJ. I miss out on all kinds of good stuff that way."
I guess I'm saying if it's safe, this is something I would recommend, probably if you go with someone who has been there before and/or speaks Spanish. One year, we had some Italians with us and they somehow managed to use the similarities in the languages to talk to some people across the border. -- Mark Coale



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