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Nerd Vegas: A Guide to Visiting Comic-Con International in San Diego, 2010 (Placeholder Edition)!
posted September 7, 2009
 

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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 2010, the show is scheduled for July 22-25, with a preview night on July 21.

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 2010.

For more information, a fuller idea of what you may be getting yourself into, and a lot of bad jokes, go to last year's full guide.

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Why Should I Attend Comic-Con International?
Comic-Con International has become the nexus of North American pop culture entertainment. It offers a massive main floor shopping experience; sophisticated programming ranging from premiere movie trailers with stars in tow to comics how-to sessions; an exuberant social experience in the cradle of San Diego's high-end downtown hotel, bar and restaurant district; and the potential for quality face time and professional networking opportunities in comics and a dozen related entertainment industries. It is the biggest event in the North American comics industry calendar year by a wide margin, and an increasingly important weekend for film, television, toy-making and prose publishing. For an idea of the range of experiences available to con-goers, start here.

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Why Should I Not Attend Comic-Con International?
Comic-Con International can be an expensive show. It can also be difficult. The flush of new attendees over the last half-dozen years has made it harder than ever to secure a hotel room and, once there, to see all of the events on the convention floor that one might conceivably wish to see. While the convention continues to offer unique shopping opportunities, the ability for someone to find the bulk of what they need to enjoy their hobby outside of conventions has increased in exponential fashion. If you have a specific interest, say a single property or individual creator or sub-set of artistic expression, there are frequently smaller conventions that might be tailored to your focused agenda. If you just want to look at a few comics and meet some cartoonists, you may be able to do that at one of the great regional conventions that have popped up around the country. It's always worth mentioning that the convention experience -- both generally and at CCI -- simply isn't for everyone. For every person that greets a crush of people in costumes and folks trying to sell them things and lines to get into rooms to hear people talk like it's heaven on earth, there is another person for whom this may be hell.

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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 wacky supporting character role. Go for the experience you're likely to have, not the experience you think you deserve.

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What Was 2009 Like That Should Indicate Some Of What Might Be In Store For 2010?

Despite a weak economy and worries of same for months to come, Comic-Con International 2009 still sold out well in advance and quickly turned around any returned attendee tickets. The sheer numbers of people on hand continued to be an issue in terms of comfort and ease and finding a place to stay, but it seemed like there was a change in attitude and impressions on the floor, an adjustment to this being the way things are. While many con-goers committed themselves more fully to standing in line and all the pleasures and frustrations that came with attendance in the highly desirable exhibit halls and other programming rooms, other found their ways into more packed than usual show business, how-to and even various comics panels.

Comics in general became in 2009 more of a proud island unto itself, with some severely great panels such as the one where Pat Oliphant drew in charcoal on an overhead and the Masters series hosted by the CBLDF. Sales volumes were all over the place, with some dealers complaining but others claiming to do well with a variety of offerings. The Eisners spent their first evening in the new Hilton. Lazy writers and a few sign-wielding, message-posting dorks all but made up a feud between a strong Twilight faction and the rest of the show, although I personally never saw those people and from most reports they seemed to have a good time doing their thing -- a lot of screaming, apparently. With District 9 turning immediate word of mouth buzz into an unlikely #1 finish at the movie box office a few weeks after show, the movie people are certainly not going away. But the comics people seemed for the most part committed to the show as well. A fun 40th and a template for the con for the next half-dozen years.

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Your Possible Response One: "That Sounds Like A Bit Much. I Think I'm Going To Skip It The Year. That Okay?"

Oh, sure. I think unless you're really focused on going it's probably too big an event at this point, even for a day pass. We'll miss you, and hope to see you in a future year when you're geared up to go. Can I maybe interest you in an SPX, WonderCon or APE in the meantime?

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Your Possible Response Two: "Okay, That All Sounds Awesome. I'm In. So What Do I Need to Do Right Now?"

1. First, make certain you can afford what you're getting into.
As mentioned, it costs a decent amount to go to Comic-Con International. Air travel, hotels, meals, convention expenses, anything you're planning to buy, incidental costs like cab rides... 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 additional stress that might spoil his weekend. It's difficult to fault his logic.

2. Once you've made the decision to go, register as early as possible.
If you're going as a con attendee -- as opposed to an industry professional or as press -- you can sometimes get discounts for registering for the show before certain dates. 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 months before the show began.

If you're an industry professional or a press person, the convention will offer limited windows for registration in the spring. They come up more quickly than you think, and they are not guaranteed.

3. Bookmark the convention's web site as early on as possible.
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.

4. Start thinking about a room.
Because hotel rooms are so expensive, and because so many people want them, a lot of potential attendees make securing a room at Comic-Con 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. 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!

5. 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 see their initial sell out at some date early in 2010, take the best rooms you can find as soon as you can find them.

6. Most of all, don't panic on the room thing.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: It's not impossible to get a room later in the Spring. Not yet. 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. In 2009 I was initially shut out of reservations, but ended up with rooms at two excellent hotels within a toss of Thor's hammer from the convention center. So while it's difficult, and will likely be more difficult than ever in 2010, it's not yet impossible.

7. As far as rooms go, keep in mind this general rule.
Closer is better. Certainly that's not always the case. Sometimes a nicer hotel further away is the better choice. All other things being equal, however, 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.

8. Start paying 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 prices. As fuel prices fluctuate and airlines cut flights, it can be expensive to fly unless you seek out this kind of bargain.

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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. Go to Preview Night. Attend the con Thursday to Sunday. 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 while everyone is still reasonably fresh and ready to go and before the weekend's slight shift in emphasis in the direction of blockbusters and big mainstream hits. 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." Having fresh eyes and healthy feet when everyone else is starting to flag can be an advantage as well.

4. The Clowes! (Saturday AM to Saturday PM)
Show up, set up, sell art, shake hands, sell more art, sign autographs, leave. I kid, but day trips are a way to cut out a lot of the hassle and still get a chunk of what's fun about the show.

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. 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 may offer a cheaper flight destination, 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. My brother is in LA, and this is what I did in 2009. The thing that's nice about this is if you initially miss out on getting a hotel room you can still commit to your time in Southern California knowing that you can always stay an extra day up in LA if you have to.

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 Las Vegas hotel week tend to be the Mondays through Wednesdays that fall on either side of Comic-Con, and 2) as is the case with LAX it may be easier to find cheap airfare in and out of Las Vegas -- at much better times -- than what's available from your home airport.

Say you have to be in San Diego on Wednesday at 3:00 PM to meet with a publisher. You find out the only flight from Indianapolis on Wednesday puts you in San Diego at 6 PM. You could go to San Diego Tuesday and pay $275 for a hotel and sit around waiting for everyone else to show up. Or you could go to Las Vegas on Tuesday and stay at the Orleans or the Flamingo 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 2010 for the full travel guide!

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