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Nerd Vegas: A Guide to Visiting Comic-Con International in San Diego, 2009 (Placeholder Edition)!
posted September 1, 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. It is a show of great importance to hundreds of pros in related publishing, merchandising and film businesses.

In 2009, the show is scheduled for July 23-26, with a preview night on July 22.

What follows is a short list of observations related to early-in-the-year issues that will hopefully prepare you in a timely fashion for your San Diego con-going experience next summer. This post will be at the top of this section for the remainder of the Fall and Winter and then replaced by a brand new, full guide on Memorial Day 2009.

For more information, and a lot of bad jokes, go to last year's full guide.

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Why Should I Attend Comic-Con International?

1. Shopping!
Anchoring the show is 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 slide-shows, themed-issue discussions, big-budget 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. 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. 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 downtown San Diego, 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.

6. Scene-Making!
In 2008, Comic-Con became recognized as the major North American pop culture symposium, with a metric ton of coverage ranging from television to a dedicated issue of Entertainment Weekly. That also means it became uncool for many forward-thinkers. For now, however, the attention and the coverage make San Diego in late July the pop culture Mecca of the western world.

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Why Should I Maybe Skip Comic-Con International?

1. Money!
It can be expensive to go to Comic-Con. With air travel expected to reach all-time highs by next summer, hotel rooms that can go anywhere from $100-$600 a night (and average about $200), dining, bribes for the line security (sadly, this doesn't work) and incidentals (i.e., bail money), you can easily go over $1000 a person before anyone buys a single thing on the exhibit hall floor.

2. Priorities!
Related to the outright expense is the notion that beyond the con exclusives and certain experiences and the occasional rare show-specific bargain you can get a lot of what people used to go to cons to buy through an on-line source or using your local options. If you're going to CCI to buy a specific run of a 1970s superhero comic, for example, you might be better off diverting those funds into a spending spree at your local comics shop.

3. Focus!
Comic-Con is North America's biggest show of its type, and the variety of comics people and numbers of different entertainment and hobby industries on hand is staggering. That said, if you're a specialist, you just might be better served going to a convention that caters directly to your single interest.

4. Work!
Comic-Con lasts for four full days and a preview night. Throw in travel, preparation time and a day or two for recovery, and you're talking a week or more away from the job -- even if you don't catch a cold on the plane. You don't have to go to all of it, and a surprising number of people take work with them, but this is something everybody should consider. If nothing else, your boss may be there: it kind of stinks when you're late on a project and the person you're supposed to have sent it to last Friday is walking right up the aisle with a curious grin on their face.

5. Sanity!
While some may find the massive exhibition hall and all those panels and all those dinners and all those parties and all the rest of it are the basic ingredients of the best weekend of the year, for others it's simply not their bag at all. If you see a photo set and go "Whoa!" instead of "Wow!" you might want to think about it a bit more deeply.

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What Questions Should I Ask Myself Before I Commit Either Way?

1. "Do I Really, Really Want to Go?"
Again: If it feels like it will be a chore in any way, don't go. It's not a requirement. If you're connected in any way to people that are going, you may feel a twinge of regret caused by being left out, but that feeling goes away really quickly.

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 a convention than to cut the time spent there.

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 room anywhere in town will be easier to find than a room right next to the convention center. A series of rooms for a bunch of your family members is going to be more difficult to track down than one room for yourself.

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 would play the Nancy Walker role. And she's dead. Go for the experience you're likely to have, not the experience you think you deserve.

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What Do I Need to Do Right Now?

1. Bookmark the convention's web site.
Here. It's still the best place for announcements and the like. If nothing else, keep an eye out for 1) their announcement of the day hotel rooms will start being made available through their travel partner (known among longtime con-goers as The Day Of Massive, Soul-Destroying Frustration), 2) registration information by type of admittance sought, and 3) their growing guest list. You really don't have to follow #3, but it's fun. Mike Grell's picture on the 2008 guest list actually shot three people with arrows.

2. Make sure you can afford it.
As mentioned, it costs a decent amount to go to Comic-Con International. Don't get caught short. I have a friend that actually stashes away money orders to "pay" for the trip as early as possible. My friend is kind of loopy, mind you, but his thinking is that if he pre-pays for the trip, he'll be happier about going and he'll avoid the stress that might spoil his weekend.

3. Start thinking about a room as early as you can stand it.
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 into once a month or so. The convention will provide the opportunity to reserve discount rooms through their site starting on a day probably in January. Getting one on that day or on one of the days immediately after is extremely competitive, to the point of throwing your laptop into the wall and screaming "I Hate Comics" for three and a half hours. If you can find a room 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 the New Year, make getting a room a major priority.
Many of the rooms are snatched up before the con makes their rooms available, and many of the con rooms are snatched up in the first hour or so upon going on sale. After the con's rooms have their initial sell out early in 2009, you should get the best rooms you can as soon as you can.

5. Don't panic.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: It's not impossible to get a room later in the Spring. In 2007, I booked three days at a downtown hotel for myself in May and four days (!) for a friend of mine in June. In 2008 I switched my rooms from the Westgate to the Ivy and then to the Bristol when my schedule shortened twice. So while it's difficult, and will likely be more difficult than ever in 2009, it's not yet impossible.

6. Keep this in mind: closer to the show = generally better choice for rooms.
The general rule for rooms? Closer is better. That's not always the case. Sometimes a nicer hotel further away is the better choice. But it's true more often than it's not and all other things being equal you want the closest hotel you can find. This is doubly true if you have things you have to carry back and forth with you each day. Hotels past Broadway going North or hotels going east more than five or six blocks require a mental adjustment, as you will not be able to easily pop back to the room. Hotels further away than the highways require a major mental adjustment and, realistically, a car.

7. Pay attention to 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. As fuel prices fluctuate and airlines cut flights, it will almost certainly be more expensive to fly in this year.

8. Register!
If you're going as a con attendee -- as opposed to a professional or press person -- you can sometimes get discounts for registering for the show before certain dates. But more to the point: if you don't register early, you may not get to at all. Last year's show sold out of four-day passes and then individual passes long before the show began. The dates for registration in the other categories comes up in the Spring more quickly than you might think, too. Professional/press registration on site was not guaranteed. Don't get caught short!

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What Are Some Of The Different Ways I Can Arrange A Comic-Con Vacation?

1. The Classic! (Wednesday PM to Sunday PM/Monday AM)
Fly into San Diego on mid-afternoon Wednesday. Stay all four days. Leave late Sunday night or early Monday morning. Gorge on comics and pop culture between your first airplane landing and your last airplane leaving. Compare notes with other full convention attendees about what a rigorous enterprise this is.

2. The Hard-Core Industry Touch and Go! (Wednesday PM to Saturday AM)
I like to go in Wednesday and leave Saturday morning before the weekend crowds and slight shift in emphasis (although sell-outs and con programming changes have rendered moot an avoiding crowds strategy). In 2008 I went for two days and one night (Friday). There's no better way to cut costs than to go on a limited schedule and there's no better way to avoid burnout than to go for one or two days rather than four.

3. The Prime Time! (Friday AM to Sunday Noon)
It's not true that the really big panels are only on Friday and Saturday, not anymore, but you can pretend that's the case and show up for the weekend and act like you're dismissing the preliminaries (Wednesday-Thursday) and the Wind-Down (Sunday afternoon). If you do this one, you're required to tell people that all you did on Sunday is have breakfast and leave. "I didn't even go to the show on Sunday."

4. The Clowes! (Saturday AM to Saturday PM)
Show up, set up, sell art, shake hands, sell more art, sign autographs, leave.

5. The Extended! (Monday AM to Monday PM or Tuesday AM)
A lot of my comics industry friends are making a full week out of CCI, heading out on Tuesday before the show and heading home Monday afterward. I think Marc Mason of Comics Waiting Room is the person that introduced me to this option. Going for an extra day allows you the time to more easily enjoy different aspects of the city, enables you to fly in and out on potentially less crowded aircraft, and makes it so that you can relax into the show and decompress after it's done.

This isn't just an option for the rich. I know some very economically-challenged comics publishing employees that have snuck a vacation on the end of the show by having their company shift the date of their return flight and booking a couple of extra days of hotel rooms at non-convention price levels.

6. The SoCal! (Wednesday and Sunday or more in Los Angeles; Thursday/Friday/Saturday in San Diego)
For those of you that have friends, family or business in Los Angeles, LAX can be a bit cheaper to fly into and may have better times available. The commuter flights and AMTRAK options to get to San Diego are plentiful and, all things considered, modestly priced.

I've done this about five times. The way I do it is to fly into LAX on a roundtrip ticket, spend a couple of days doing business, fly one-way to San Diego, and then either fly one-way back from San Diego or take the train to catch the second half of my ticket back home. By doing this, I get some stuff done I can only do in LA, and I get in and out to my small-city hometown airport according to the better schedule that LAX affords over the San Diego airlines' times.

7. The Vegas! (Monday-Tuesday before or after CCI in Las Vegas; Thursday-Sunday in San Diego)
I used to extend my CCI visits by going to Las Vegas, which I think is a perfect place to decompress and relax after a long weekend of walking around and looking at funnybooks.

Okay, I'm kidding: I just sort of like going to Las Vegas.

The two big advantages here are 1) the cheapest days of the Vegas hotel week tend to be the early-week weekdays that fall on either side of the con, and 2) as is the case with LAX it may be easier to find cheap airfare in and out Las of Vegas -- at much better times -- than what's available from your home airport.

Follow me through an example: say you have to be in San Diego on Wednesday at 3:00 PM, but the only flight from your city puts you in San Diego at 6 PM. You can go to San Diego a day early and pay $275 for a hotel and sit around waiting for everyone else to show, or you can go to Las Vegas a day early and stay in a hotel for $89 and gamble and see Donny Osmond and eat lobster and then fly out Wednesday morning to San Diego well in advance of your 3:00 PM appointment. Plus you can tell people you had to go to Vegas to save money, which is funny.

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That's it for now. Feel free if you have specific questions. See you on Memorial Day 2009 for the full travel guide!

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