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Comic-Con By The Numbers: 135+ Tips For Attending San Diego's CCI 2010!
posted June 19, 2010
-- 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 also a show of great importance to hundreds of pros in and fans of related publishing, merchandising and film businesses.
Comic-Con International features on its main floor a massive marketplace of vendors, creators and direct suppliers. You can buy old comics, new comics, original art, movies, t-shirts, toys, and licensed items from every walk of geek life at Comic-Con. The upstairs rooms offer aggressive programming tracks in comics, film, television and a cornucopia of related activities. There are opportunities all over the show to see and meet creators from any number of entertainment fields: actors, cartoonists, academics, voice-over talent, models and writers. There are opportunities in the convention center and all over San Diego on Comic-Con weekend to meet like-minded fans, to celebrate your favorite, oddball things, and to network on a massive scale.
It's Geek Vegas, Nerd Prom, Fan Cannes, Fandom Branson, the Grand Ol' Cosplay Opry, Four-Color Ground Zero... and it's also an extraordinarily complex vacation event. That's where this guide comes in. What follows is a list of observations, tips and insights that may help prepare you for your San Diego con-going experience. Everyone's San Diego is different, but there are a few commonalities and shared experiences that we hope makes talking about some of them worthwhile.
In 2010, the show is scheduled for July 22-25, with a preview night
on July 21. I hope to see you there!
FIRST, LET'S TALK ABOUT BADGES
It used to be you could essentially not plan for Comic-Con and just go if the mood struck you. This was true just a few years ago. Those days are gone.
Tip #1. At This Point, You Better Already Have Your Badges
The convention is sold out. Non-attendee registration is completed. If you don't have tickets for the show, or aren't registered in another way, you're pretty screwed. For whatever reason, good or evil, the demand to attend the show as currently constituted outstrips the number of tickets for the show. In addition, the rise of demand has come with such sudden force as to discombobulate other avenues for securing tickets. You have to pre
-register as press now. Abuse of the system by several parties and a general desire to allow for as many attendee badges as possible means you can't easily pick up an extra badge or two through an exhibitor pal.
If you don't have tickets yet, honestly? I'd suggest calling it a day. I can't imagine anything sadder than someone showing up at the convention center expecting to score tickets like it's 1996. I'd suggest focusing on 2011, or on one of the many fine conventions all over the world where demand hasn't yet exceeded capacity. There are so many great shows now in cities like New York
, San Francisco
; chances are you won't be disappointed.
Tip #2. I Don't Recommend it, But There Are Some Grey Areas To Work
Still here? Okay, let's talk. Three ways of potentially securing tickets come to mind.
First, the convention has in recent years auctioned off a few tickets that come back to them via returns. So pay attention to their site.
Second, if you are a pro or near-pro whose presence would be so awesome as to kick a big exhibitor or convention player or participating agency into surreptitious action on your behalf, that may work as well.
Third, there are people that put up on Ebay certain badges or groups of badges. I would not send my Mom to that corner of the Internet for that purpose, I would not go myself, and I cannot recommend it to you other than to note I've heard it exists. I have no idea if badges are even transferable that way. Seriously, if that were my only option, I think I would seriously consider going to San Diego and sitting in bars hoping some drunk person from the cast of Supernatural
would leave their badge on the bar when they went to bathroom so I could steal it. That's hardly a plan. And even then I'd be too chicken to use it.
I saw exactly one person last year who faked a pass into the show -- a famous alt-cartoonist -- and it was more like we felt bad for this person rather than we were impressed by his ingenuity. Eventually, this person scored a proper ticket. I don't know how. Don't be this person.
Tip #3. If You Can't Attend, Don't Stress Not Going
So the way things are set up right now, some people are going to be left out of the Comic-Con experience. Despite what the insistent hype may suggest, this isn't a big deal. It's totally okay not to go. This was always the case, of course, but it's even more of a truth now.
There was a time when I could argue that Comic-Con was a necessity for a certain kind of fan and pro and press person. If you wanted to get everything you could out of comics, if you wanted to enter into the industry, if you wanted to be noticed, if you wanted to stay connected to what was going on, CCI was the primary facilitator of these things.
I can't say that with the same certainty these days. There are so many opportunities for daily connectivity and interaction out there, with multiple worlds of fandom. These things replace, I think, much of what used to get crammed into a single July weekend.
The great thing about that is this: if you go to Comic-Con these days, you can go because you want to
, not because you feel you have
to. This makes a huge difference. I think it's focused the show and has started to make it more about the joy of the comics- or fill-in-your-blank experience. San Diego no longer needs to act as a substitute for a lack of connection within the industry and the art form. So many used to go just to meet people. Now folks go to meet people but also to see the people they know and love and work with all year.
Tip #4. On The Other Hand, Don't Stress Attending, Either!
I think there's a trap in attending Comic-Con right now. The fact that it can be slightly more difficult to attend Comic-Con than other conventions or, let's admit it, other vacation destinations, this can put pressure on the Comic-Con weekend to give back on a scale that makes you forget the fussier parts of attending. That probably won't happen. It helps to remember that the hassle of going to Comic-Con is an accident of cultural history -- All those spectacle movies! All those fantasy franchise books! All those graphic novels! The rise of manga and anime! -- rather than something the convention itself enjoys or endorses or requires. I don't have any more fun going now than I did in '96 or, say, '01, when it was much easier to attend. But I still have fun, and it's still worth it for me on a lot of levels.
I can't stress that enough. I still have fun at this show.
For as much as some aspects have become a pain, for as much as some things I set out to do just don't happen, for as much as I find myself having to think about the show months
before I want to, I still find Comic-Con extremely pleasurable as a comics fan to attend, and it's wonderfully useful as as a press person covering the comics industry. For one thing, there's a great cross-section of creators and industry folk, particularly from west of the Rockies. The second half of the comics year release schedule is on the tip of everyone's tongues. There are a ton of creators of historical interest scattered about the place. There's been an upswing in original art sales which means I can look at Kirby
pages even if other people are the ones that get to buy them. There are a lot of $1 comics there, which I can buy a big pile of portable pop culture as easily as anyone. I see mainstream comics folk there that don't do the festival and small press shows. You get at least one, maybe two, major European guests. There's usually a manga guest now. It's ridiculous.
Because of all these people making the trip and solid programming choices, there was a half-afternoon in 2009 where in the space of five hours I got watch Mike Mignola
draw in pen and ink, Seth give his well-regarded slide-show/reading, Pat Oliphant
draw in charcoal while taking questions about being on Nixon's enemies list, Richard Thompson
talk (softly) about his cartooning and Leonard Starr
talk (forcefully) about his. That was a great half-day, and almost impossible to have anywhere else.
There will be a day when I don't attend CCI. I never got to attend the show in the 1980s. I'll never attend the late 1990s Comic-Con of my relative youth ever again. There are still definite joys to be had if you engage the show as it is, not as you'd prefer it to be, or remember it being.
Tip #5. Be Happy With Whatever Decision You Make
My suggestion is to pick a side and decide to really, really enjoy the weekend in the convention center and greater San Diego OR stay home and really, really enjoy getting some work done and enjoying a more typical summer weekend. If you think you need a year off from Comic-Con, take the year off! I have. There's having a miserable time, and then there's having a miserable time surrounded by people dressed as the Na'vi. And even if you end up feeling you've made the wrong choice, there's going to be another Comic-Con as soon as next year.
ONCE YOU HAVE YOUR BADGE SECURED, THE NEXT FOUR THINGS YOU SHOULD DO
Tip #6. Make Lodging Your Second Priority
Finding a place to stay is difficult, not impossible. Hopefully, you already have this done.
Rooms are at a premium. The lottery for room reservations through the convention took place a couple of months ago and even then there may have been more dissatisfied customers than totally satisfied ones. During the period of time between the lottery and the convention itself, it's a lawless scramble for accommodations, with a lot of broken hearts. One big change for 2010 is that instead of the convention's partner Travel Planners returning rooms to the interactive grid so that an attentive (obsessive) traveler can scoop them up in May, June and even July, it appeared that for a while there are either a) no returned rooms, b) a system in place that favors awarding them to people on what must be a lengthy waiting list. There were rooms added back through the site in mid-June for hotels outside of San Diego's downtown, so if that suits you, you should be in good shape.
If those rooms have disappeared since my last update, or if you're still gunning for something in close proximity, my next step would be to ask anybody that was sponsoring me at the show or interested in my being there if they had any rooms/beds/space/ideas. I would then extend this to anyone I knew was going. A friend who has an extra bed or a publisher who wants you there that has a room and just figured you just didn't want it, someone like that might surprise you. It never hurts to ask.
Beyond that, you're in the world of travel agents and on-line travel sites. I like this one
; your mileage may vary. The good news is that in mid-June when I run the dates on the five or six sites of this type I know of, I'm actually seeing hotels both downtown and in the outlying areas; I don't know why that is. They are pretty expensive, but they exist. That wasn't true in years past.
Tip #7: Don't Be Upset About Staying Further Away
A lot of people make a big deal out of staying downtown. Heck, a lot of people pitch a holy fit if they can't get in a hotel that's 200 yards or less from the convention center. I don't totally understand these people.
I've stayed in some of the really close hotels. I prefer
to stay at a certain downtown hotel that's about six blocks away and have a bunch of times as a result. Some people consider that too far away to stay, but I love it! I've stayed more than once in a hotel in a slightly further-away part of San Diego, and will this year as well. I've stayed four times in the dreaded hotel circle north of the city. I once stayed a half-hour away by car.
The upshot is this: I have no
memories that one area in which to stay was so superior to another that any year stands out just
for where I stayed. In fact, I used to love
staying out at this hotel on the Hotel Circle
back when staying here meant I decided three days before the show to go, just for the oasis-like feeling getting away from the con allowed. Any hotel can work if you're willing to work it. If you make the attempt to enjoy where you're staying as opposed to fuming about where you're not, you'll likely have a pretty good weekend.
Tip #8: Do Be Realistic About Staying Further Away
Your main problem staying further away will be getting to and from the show. If you stay in downtown San Diego proper, you should be able to get away with a combination of walking, cabs, shuttle buses and public transportation -- and this is certainly true of any hotels within 10 blocks of the show. At the Hotel Circle north of town you're relegated to some public transportation (the commuter train system) and cabs. I've always driven my own car in and out of those hotels -- that would be preferred, I think.
In some of the hotels on the water, there may actually be water transportation to the convention center. You should check with the hotel. Water taxis are an awesome way to commute to the convention center but they're limited to a few hotels and may shut down earlier in the evening than you want to head back -- which means a cab. If you're someone who needs to transport equipment at Comic-Con -- and you're probably the only class of con-goer that should complain about proximity -- you have to build in that much more time and care. You may be able to store some on-floor material or accrued crud with a friend at a better/closer hotel. Granted, that would take a heck of a friend.
Tip #9: Accept The Biggest Adjustment In Staying Further Away
The biggest adjustment in staying further away is that it's way more difficult, obviously, to pop back over to one's room and catch a nap or to simply get away from the show for a time. You're committing to being at the show and related surroundings, perhaps even until the far end of the day, the way the people staying in close proximity aren't. A change of shirt might be something you would consider stuffing in a bag if you think you're going to be away from your hotel room for 15 hours; other ways to refresh yourself may be worth musing over. You also might consider a shorter day that helps avoid burnout -- I know when I stay further away I tend to have longer breakfasts and a leisurely workout if I feel I'm able to skip the first couple hours of con activity.
Tip #10: Keep An Open Mind About Getting There
You have to get to San Diego, of course. I talk about different ways to arrange travel in and out of San Diego in the Placeholder Edition of this Guide
, and I'll talk about this as a money-saving possibility later on in this version of the guide. If you're just making your travel arrangements now, perhaps consider a certain amount of flexibility in your plans. Some years I fly into San Diego and budget for cab rides to my hotel and back. Some years I drive in and budget for parking costs at the convention center and at my hotel. Some years I fly to Vegas after the convention. Some years I go to Los Angeles for a few days before the show and take the train down. There are all sorts of ways to build more vacation time and perhaps some savings into a trip to Comic-Con.
Tip #11. Establish Your Network
I've already mentioned talking to your friends and any professional colleagues that may apply. This is your Comic-Con network. Even if you're squared away with tickets and a place to stay, I suggest sometime soon you might want to reach out in some modest way to folks you know that might be there and let them know you're going and with what general intention in mind (finding a job, getting your work seen, selling a screenplay, drinking a beer on the back porch of hotel bar with the guy who writes Ghost Rider
, learning about voice acting, seeing a panel of pale vampire boys, etc.). Once you get closer to the show, reestablish contact with your fellow soon-to-be attendees to ask after things like social events or to see if they can help you with any of your more specific goals for the weekend.
Not everyone will be helpful, but the number of people I've had tell me weeks after the show that there was a disappointing aspect to their Comic-Con weekend because of Reason X when I would have been able to provide them with Reason X had they only asked is... well, it's about a dozen people. Still. That's 12 whole weekends
I could have made better if the people involved had sent me a two-line e-mail. Reach out. Talk to your pals.
Tip #12. Start Your Bookmarks
The other great, recurrent skill in the con-goer's toolbox is research: bookmarking sites of use and then making use of them. My suggestion is at some point between now and the show start a folder and put everything related to the con into it, including the following web sites.
A. This Guide -- if for no other reason than I'm going to spend time between now and Comic-Con obsessively re-writing a lot of the lamer jokes.
B. Convention Web Site -- the source for tons of official information
C. Your Hotel's Web Site -- familiarize yourself with your surroundings, join the points club
D. Tripadvisor.com -- preview your hotel experience.
E. SDcommute.com -- commuting options.
F. VirtualGuideBooks.com -- see public areas before you visit them.
G. News From ME -- Mark Evanier has attended every single Comic-Con, and has logged about 63,000 hours of panel moderation time. He writes about his panels and the con itself with increasing frequency as the show dates approach.
H. The Beat -- Heidi MacDonald's purview is comics culture, and there's no entity of greater importance within comics' culture than Comic-Con.
I. Yp.Yahoo.com -- nearby business scouting.
J. SignOnSanDiego.com -- a halfway decent baseline review place, particularly for restaurants.
That may sound like a lot of sites, and you can tailor the folder for your specific intentions, but I still think it's a good idea in general.
Securing that badge, having your travel and hotel plans set in stone, letting your friends and acquaintances know you're going, and putting together a little bookmarks folder -- you're way up on a significant number of people who will be attending this year. You can stop now, if you want. It's all diminishing returns from here.
TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY ON A CCI TRIP
I can't tell if we're still in a Great Recession or not, but I do know that in any given year many of us are in an unique economic slow-down of our own making. 2010 feels to me like another year where people are going to want to save some cash in their various goings-on, even in the case of a massive extravagance like going to CCI.
Like many first class events of size and scope, Comic-Con is geared to lift money from your wallet. Yet it's also possible to go and not spend much at all, or at least arrive back home only having spent a fraction of your self-predicted per diem
. Here are a few strategies I've used.
Tip #13. Consider Making Your Trip Shorter
I have friends that only go to Comic-Con if they can be there for five nights and six days, from Preview Night through Sunday's private dead dog parties. While I'm sure it's still a blast to have the whole summer-camp experience, I work
in comics and I haven't been to the entire show since 1996. A four-day pass won't explode in your hand if you only use it for two or three days. As far as I know, a press or professional pass or your extra badge from an exhibitor can be picked up at any time.
The main savings you derive by going for only part of the show is on hotels and expenses like meals. If you plan well, you can do 90 percent of what you want from Comic-Con in 33 percent of the time spent there. Plus it's way better to leave wanting more than to leave fervently praying you never see a comic book again.
Tip #14. Consider Sharing A Room
I'm too old to do this now, if I can avoid it. For one thing, part of my personal San Diego routine as it's developed over the years seems to involve sitting in a fiercely air-conditioned room in my underwear for a couple of hours each day drinking Mountain Dew, eating barbecue corn chips and watching re-runs of Martin
with the volume all the way up. That said, I actually shared a room in 2009, the thermostat never went below 75 degrees, I kept my pants on, and I survived the experience with a few hundred extra dollars to spend on a full run of Snooper and Blabber
Again, reach out to any friends. You'd be surprised who might need a room or have an extra bed. Some message boards will be used to get people together, but that always seemed kind of slasher-movie to me. Share a bathroom with a stranger at your own risk, that's what I say. But if you have a friend who's going, even just an Internet friend, why not?
There are limits. Stuffing people into your room like college kids on Spring Break can be easy or difficult depending on the hotel. Stay away from the Westgate
when it comes to this practice unless you want to pay for each and every body. A new manager can make any hotel, even a traditional look-the-other-way establishment, a hard case. You never can 100 percent depend on anything. For instance, the Westin Gaslamp
and the Manchester Grand Hyatt
used to offer roll-away beds for a modest fee, but damned if I could get them to give me one in 2009.
Tip #15. Consider Volunteering (No Longer Applicable To 2010)
There's a whole sub-culture of Comic-Con volunteers
, who get access to the show in return for their hard work. I know them as the "please end your panel right now so we can have a less boring one on next hour, thank you" people. My understanding is that all volunteer slots are filled for 2010 but if that's something that interests you for the future maybe bookmark the appropriate page and check out its next-year equivalent when it shows up.
Tip #16. Consider "Temping"
Exhibitors from out of town will occasionally hire locals or people that have made their own plans to be at Comic-Con and put them to work at their booths. This way they save on flying in more people from the home office. In many cases, these exhibitors have the capability to secure you a badge, provide you with a discount on their stuff, or even pay you a small fee. This is the comic-con equivalent of standing on a street corner hoping a comics publisher pulls up in his pick-up and ask you to jump in, so I wouldn't make plans based on this, but you might keep your ears open.
Tip #17. Consider Adjusting Your Plans To Include Commerce
It's probably not worth mentioning, but someone actually e-mailed me about this. Yes, if you were already planning on being at Comic-Con as a professional and doing a signing or especially setting up at a table somewhere, you may be able to work up some extra art or items to sell at your signing or through your table space to make some cash.
People love buying original stuff at Comic-Con. It adds to the uniqueness of the con-going experience. I remember one artist who used to come down on a single day, do one or two signings, sell several thousand dollars of original art, and then fly out after dinner. He had defeated Comic-Con. You and I likely can't do this (I know I can't), but it's an attitude to keep in mind. Big key: check with your sponsors -- they may have a policy on this. One publisher might not want you selling another publisher's work or anything but the item they're having you sign. Another publisher may not have any room for a display of your work. If you are your own sponsor, you may secure permission from yourself.
Tip #18. Live Like A Cartoonist
The reason so many comics people are able show up at San Diego despite incomes that hobos mock is because they're really, really good at not spending money. You can be good that way, too. Trying your best to have other people feed you, shadowing your peers with expense accounts when it comes to getting cab rides or buying coffee, taking public transit to and from the airport, walking everywhere during the show even when it's far away, not buying drinks but waiting to have them bought for you, leaving your wallet in the room safe while you patrol the show... you might be surprised how freeing this is.
The great thing about this is that memory will toss any immediate hardship over the rails
: by which I mean two weeks after Comic-Con you probably won't remember the stuff you didn't
do; you'll remember the stuff you did
Tip #19. Consider Eating In
You may horrify the local tourism bureau if you choose not to utilize one of San Diego's excellent restaurants for each and every meal. But let's face it: with various food allergies, the closure of some of the cheaper-menu restaurants in the neighborhoods near the convention center, the number of pros on deadline who suddenly have
to stay in their hotel room to get some pages done and people spending enough days in the city that they may simply desire a non-restaurant meal -- I get like that -- there shouldn't be any stigma about buying something from a grocery store or deli and returning to your hotel room to chow down. And if there is, what's one more stigma to a comics and geek culture fan?
Tip #20. Consider Having A Getaway Hotel
If you're staying an extra night and heading out of town early the next day, you maybe don't need to be in the same hotel you just spent the days of Comic-Con inhabiting. You may be able to find a cheaper hotel out of downtown and by the airport, even, or up the highway a little bit. The city shuts down in cold, quick fashion Comic-Con wise when the convention closes on Sunday, and there's no particular comfort or lingering goodwill involved in waking up at a convention hotel on Monday morning.
Tip #21. If You're Young And Able To Do So, Consider Saving A Night In A Hotel Room By Not Getting A Hotel Room
When I was totally broke in my 20s and, let's admit it, my early 30s, and wanted to squeeze an extra day out of a Comic-Con, I'd store all my stuff with a friend or in the car, or at the front desk of the hotel I checked out of Saturday morning, made sure I had stuff to do until 2:00 AM or so on Saturday Night/Sunday morning (a hotel's last-closing bar, a party at the beach, a midnight movie), retrieved my bag, went to Denny's
on Pacific Highway for a leisurely breakfast and then went to the airport where I caught a super-early morning flight. You know what? That Dennys is still there.
On second thought, that was really stupid for me to do and I always ended up exhausted. Maybe don't do this.
Tip #22. Consider A Secondary Stop To Save On Two Vacations
One of the advanced strategies you might consider when planning for Comic-Con is to build in some vacation time to somewhere else right before or right after the show. Las Vegas and Los Angeles are probably the easiest secondary destinations to pair with San Diego. San Francisco may be less than a $100 add-on. Heck, you can also stay a few days on either end in San Diego itself and simply enjoy that great city.
Why go somewhere else? Because it allows you to take advantage of only minor increases in ticket prices that one can find by stringing together one-way tickets on a travel site. A trip to San Diego Con at X-amount of money might sound great, but a trip to San Diego Con and
Los Angeles at X-amount + $105 might sound even better. The further you're coming, the better this might sound. This can also be a way to convince someone not into all the Comic-Con stuff to come with you, although I never suggest anyone going to CCI not totally into it. Leave that poor person home.
I've done Comic-Con in combination with a couple of days at Las Vegas three times. I sat by the pool, ate prime rib, sat by the pool eating prime rib, saw Donny Osmond all calm and sleepy filled with prime rib... all the usual Vegas stuff. Comic-Con may be the only event where you can go to Vegas to decompress, but I assure you: it works.
The reason I began doing this, and another advantage that's cost-related, is that you can probably find a flight to Las Vegas when one might not be available to your home city. Sometimes it's cheaper to spend a $53 hotel for a night in Las Vegas than an additional $199 hotel night in San Diego.
PACKING AND PREPARATION
Tip #23. Get Your Pre-Convention Stuff Done At Least One Full Week In Advance
If you're preparing anything at all for the show -- resumes, business cards, art to sell, opening lines, books to sell, art to show, scripts to pass around, your camera, a freelance assignment you have to physically hand to an editor who threatened to kill you -- get everything done by July 15. This gives you a day or two of cushion if something gets screwed up. It also means you won't be a basket case when you arrive on the convention floor because you stayed up for 37 hours stapling 16,000 copies of your mini-comic biography of Warren Ellis.
Let me be firm about one thing: forget entirely
getting something done "when you get there." Whatever you're thinking of leaving of doing until you get to the hotel room? It's not convenient, you'll find 10,000 excuses to skip it, and you'll end up feeling dumb as a rock having to carry the raw materials back home with you on the plane: the DIY Walk of Shame.
Tip #24. Limit Your Physical Preparations To Fine-Tuning
I know that a lot of people drop a few pounds to fit into their Apocalypse Meow
costumes or simply to better show off their late-night cocktail wear, and I know that others get some walking in during the days leading up to Comic-Con so as not to risk their feet falling off while they're standing in line to meet Jaime Hernandez. That's all good. But know your limits. One actuarial chart-warping fat person to potential others, if you really have to lose a ton of weight just to walk around an air-conditioned building for a few days looking for old issues of Ka-Zar
, maybe stay home and use your Comic-Con funds to buy a gym membership. In the long run, you'll attend more conventions. And don't be that person that starves themselves for ten days eating liquefied Boo Berries and then has to take a nap on the floor of Rei do Gado
after being overcome by meat sweats. Trust me, your friends will never let you forget it.
Tip #25. Scout The Programming
Comic-Con programming goes up on the official site
shortly before the show begins. It's always worth a read even if you only attend one or two panels. If you plan on attending a lot of panels, it's like getting a detailed scouting report.
Tip #26. Pack Something With Long Sleeves
San Diego tends to offer ridiculously fantastic weather, but there are two reasons to remember to pack something with long sleeves: a lot of night-time socializing is done outside, in rooftop bars and on beaches, and some years the air conditioning in the convention center is really, really aggressive. It also doesn't hurt to check a weather site days out from the show.
Tip #27. Pack To Mail Stuff Back
Most years I'll buy a few things and then mail them back from a local post office rather than lug them on the plane with me. I do this because I don't want my luggage to incur an additional fee, plus I hate carrying books around like little kids hate mean neighborhood dogs. Luggage fees and regulations are more actively applied and stringent than ever.
You don't need to have a bunch of stuff to do this. I pack a couple of over-sized envelopes, a sharpie, a couple of labels and a thing of packing tape. There are easy to access mail delivery or private shipping service offices up by the Broadway hotels and in the convention center itself. I tend to stay up on Broadway, so on Saturday morning I hit the post office nestled up against the Westin Horton Plaza and shoot back everything I've received so far. Another way to approach it is to pick up one of the post office's "stuff everything in this box for this prepaid price" which is the kind of thing you can leave at a hotel front desk if you don't have time to visit a post office or Fed Ex hub on your last day.
Tip #28. Pack As If You'll Shake 1000 Hands
Because, well, you just might end up shaking 1000 hands. Hand sanitizer, breath mints, and aspirin are the three keys to happiness in any Comic-Con dop kit
. Okay, those things won't make you happy by themselves or together, but their absence is definitely a bus transfer to Sucktown, USA. You want to get sick at Comic-Con by gorging on the visual overload of a thousand cultural dead-ends and eating hot dogs for lunch five days in a row, not by falling victim to actual germs.
Tip #29. If It's Something You Do, Consider Eating Vitamins Or Other Ameliorative Behavior Through The Show
One of my brothers likes to take a bunch of a certain vitamin before going on a trip, during the trip, and then five days after a trip. Some people believe in those travel booster things that other people tell me are an outright scam. I won't tell you what to do, but I will assure you that Comic-Con offers up enough changes in climate, enough people met, enough broken thermostats and enough in the way of crowded rooms that whatever your routine may be, you might put it on deck.
My personal palliative is to start every Comic-Con day by chugging three raw eggs dropped into a can of malt liquor and then doing 45 squat thrusts while shouting the Green Lantern Oath, which I'm told is how they started the mornings at Crossgen.
Tip #30. Be Super Paranoid About Everything You Need Professionally
If Comic-Con is a working weekend for you, be outright paranoid about getting stuff there. You may be cut off from home while you're on the trip, so be fiercely mindful of getting the stuff you need professionally -- from business cards to art samples to cameras to laptops -- to your hotel room. If possible, maybe carry rather than check this stuff.
The key is that this paranoia should also extend to what people will be bringing to the convention for you.
So if you're doing a signing for a publisher, make contact a couple of weeks out to double-check if they're bringing the books you'll need to do what it is they want you to do. There's nothing sadder than the guy showing up at his publisher's table for a signing and the publisher has nothing for them to sign. Okay, maybe kids in dress-up clothes playing amongst the gravestones behind the adult crowd at a funeral, then ducks covered in oil-spill oil, then
the guy with no funnybooks to sign. But having no books is right up there on the List of Sad.
Tip #31. Maybe Build In A Back-Home Contact
A lot of people going to Comic-Con professionally shut down their studio or business for the weekend. And why not? You're not there. Still, it might be worth having an intern stop by and open things up for an hour on Thursday morning, or giving a nearby family member a key to your house. You may need someone to Fed Ex something to you might suddenly need or simply forgot. I've never had anything sent to me overnight while at Comic-Con, but I've sure seen it done.
Tip #32. Join the 21st Century
If like me you live a life that the Amish might reject as too technologically fearful, don't take your Jeremiah Johnson standards to San Diego. Try and at least fake some sort of gadget relevance. I buy a cheap watch every year and I make sure my little-used phone is out of the car trunk and ready to go. I also have my array of recording device and mini-computers so I can sit against a convention wall and fool my peers into thinking I'm filing some awesome scoop when I'm checking box scores. At the very least you'll need a way to tell time -- there are few if any clocks in the convention center -- and a way to get a hold of people. Some sort of texting capacity is crucial for many folks because a) it can be done silently, as you're doing something else like watching Dan Piraro discuss pen nibs on the pen nibs panel, and b) people expect you have to have this capability because it's 2010 and you have the body hair of an adult. I know how silly this all sounds to your average, well-connected person.
GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS, YOUR FRONT DOOR TO HOTEL LOBBY
Getting there is nowhere near half the fun.
Tip #33. Remember Lots Of Airlines Charge For Luggage Now
Double-check with your airline's web site. This can be a killer for Comic-Con because you may be taking stuff there to do business, or taking stuff home having done some collection-related impulse buying. Even if it's bad news, it's better to be prepared than to find out you've hit a bag limit and have no cash in your pocket.
Tip #34. You're Under No Obligation To Be The Ambassador Of Comics, But It's Sort Of Fun To Wear That Tri-Corner Hat
Travel chit-chat on either end of Comic-Con weekend can be fun because few of your fellow travelers are ever doing anything as odd and entertaining as spending a weekend digging around in boxes of Car-Toons
magazine and giving Ernie Hudson walking directions to Athens Market Taverna
. And they've heard of it now!
I've found one way to guarantee a lively conversation is to claim a family link or close business relationship with the first creator some person brings up. They get excited, and it tests your knowledge of the field. The last two years, I've been Neil Gaiman's troubled nephew Custis Flaherty and Robert Crumb's "bonded agent," whatever that means.
Tip #35. Don't Wear Your Weekend's Costume On The Plane
Seriously, that's just terrifying.
Tip #36. How To Easily Sidestep Your Intense Desire To Wear Your Weekend's Costume On The Plane
Pretend you're slipping into San Diego in your civilian guise.
Tip #37. Consider Amtrak From LA; Consider Anything Else From Anywhere Else
I like the Amtrak
journey from LA to San Diego -- it's short, it allows you to ramp up or ramp down depending which direction you're going, and you can drink booze from station to station, which is a terrible
idea when you're driving. I wouldn't take Amtrak from any point further North or from any points East at all unless you're a veteran of rail travel and a big fan of Amtrak's track record and peccadilloes when it comes to long-haul trips, like being late 11 hours and having to spend travel time with the kind of people that don't mind being late 11 hours. But that short trip, that LA to San Diego and back again, that's worked for me a half-dozen times. I did it twice last year, and I'll be doing it again for one leg this year. Although Amtrak prices have gone up a bit, it seems.
One creator at this year's Heroes Con told me they went east coast to west coast on Amtrak to attend San Diego in I think 2008 and reality seemed to warp around itself to make for the best trip possible. Mostly I hear the bad stories, so I wanted to mention this.
Tip #38: If You're Taking Amtrak, Embrace Its Peculiarities
If you're doing the San Diego/LA trip, consider these six things.
First, realize you may get to ride with people going to or leaving from the Del Mar
racetrack, which is hilarious when it happens. That's not really a tip, it's just extremely amusing to see sunburned, tipsy women in hats and pasty guys with light sabers hanging out.
Second, the stations on both ends are pretty cool looking, so enjoy that part of it as a bonus-add to your overall vacation/work weekend.
Third, you used to be able to have some leeway on when you made use of your Amtrak ticket, which meant you could schedule for a 4 PM departure and leave on the 8 PM train. I have no idea if they still do this, but it may be worth checking out. I've left Comic-Con on a train earlier than expected, too, and no, I don't want to talk about it. I'll find love someday.
Fourth, be prepared for a reasonably involved brisk walk at both stations to get on and off the trains. You're not going to be able to fake your bags onto the train or out to a cab, so make sure you can carry everything. You should be able to check luggage; I'm not totally certain how that works.
Fifth, there's a line-up fairly early on for the train from San Diego to L.A. and it's very much worth being towards the front of that line. There's also usually no way around that line, although a lot more people try to circumvent it than succeed. It's outside of the main sitting room. If you see about 10 people in that line, you have about 90 seconds before it's 200 people.
Sixth, recognize there's a good chance you're going to be late -- about 50 percent of the time, by my experience. So make your ride getting back to LA a phone call rather than a set time pick-up, and don't count on the train hitting San Diego the exact second you need to be there.
Tip #39. Realize Your Airport To Hotel Cab Experience May Depend On The Terminal
At the main San Diego airport (most flights), it's easy to catch a cab, but you'll have some distance to walk to get to that island. At the shuttle-service airport (small planes from Phoenix and LAX), the cabstand is very close. However, since not as many cabs go to the secondary terminal as to the primary, it can be a longer wait. Consider asking people ahead of you in line to share a cab, if you're going to the same general neighborhood. It should cost about $20 from the airport to one of the downtown hotels.
Tip #40. Call Ahead To See About An Airport Shuttle
Not every hotel has them and a few hotels that did have cut them in today's poor economy. You also may need to formally reserve the shuttle rather than summon it to attend your presence. I've never taken one, because I'm shy and vans make me nervous, but it sounds like a great idea.
Tip #41. If Flying, Look Out The Window At Your Own Risk
The trip down or up the coast can be very pretty as it frequently uses a corridor a few miles off the shoreline. I've even moved to a window seat to better take it in, and I'm a total aisle guy. On the other hand, the San Diego airport is right there in a northern corner of the city, so a lot of flights coming in take you near all of these buildings. I've had New Yorkers tell me this can be unnerving.
Tip #42. Planes Are Good Places To Catch Comics Luminaries And Actual Celebrities
If staring at people more famous than you are is part of the fun you have at Comic-Con, open your eyes at least one trip segment early. Any leg of a trip to or from SD that requires a shuttle-type flight to or from LAX probably has one celebrity on it, or the comics equivalent. "Are you going to the con?" and "How was your show?" are not-scary opening questions for most non-asshole celebrities.
YOUR HOME AWAY FROM HOME: HOTEL TIPS
I'm convinced that enjoying your hotel is 50 percent of what it takes to enjoy your convention-going experience, but I have an unhealthy fixation on hotels. Still, you're going to be spending up to half your time in San Diego there, so I figure none of the following can hurt.
Tip #43. Research Your Hotel
This is where you start to put your bookmarks to work. Find your hotel web site and bookmark it. Familiarize yourself with the information there. Learn if they have a pool, an exercise room, a restaurant that serves breakfast, the menu that indicates whether you can afford that breakfast. Then take a look at your hotel's listing on TripAdvisor.com
. Don't worry about the reviews so much -- those people are like mid-'80s Comics Journal
columnists; they hate everything
-- but the traveler's photos are almost always great. Then do a location search on your hotel and see what's in the neighborhood.
I know how obsessive this sounds, but trust me: spending that 10 minutes some Tuesday morning in June when you're bored out of your skull at work can save you an hour or more in July wandering around outside the Symphony Suites Sheraton looking for a place to buy a lint brush.
Tip #44. Join the Points Club
If your hotel or hotel chain has a points club, join it. The advantages here are many, even if you have no intention of ever staying there again. You may get your own check-in and checkout line. Joining may bring an instant reward, like a room upgrade, and of course will eventually pay off if you stay at the same place multiple years or during other trips. If you go to a lot of shows, you may be able to build a string of point-gathering institutions for the highest return over time. (You can also do this at one show -- Starwood has three or four of the Comic-Con hotels, which makes it easier to build points there because you're likely to get one of the places if you try.)
Most importantly, being in the points club is a hedge against something unfortunate happening during the trip -- say a piece of luggage gets lost or they keep checking people into your room just as you're squeezing into your Beast Boy outfit. Hotels are much more likely to bring a manager out to talk to you if you're a member of the points club and your ability to accept points gives them an easy way to say they're sorry.
Tip #45. Check In As Close As You Can To The Time Given
You already know the hotels are super-booked Comic-Con weekend. What you may not know is that according to most basic hotel reservation agreements, they can move you to a different hotel if they get totally booked up.
Overbooked folks at the Embassy Suites sometimes get moved up the coast to the Lodge at Torrey Pines, but in almost every other case it's a severe downgrade in addition to being further away. So don't put off getting into your room until after dinner and multiple whiskey-fueled games of Five Card Nancy. Get to your hotel on time or even slightly before the stated check-in time.
Tip #46. Put Everyone's Name On The Room
Unless you're sneaking people into your room, consider putting everyone's name on the reservation. That way they can all get keys and check in at different times. I once burst into tears at the Westin front desk when my co-workers left my name off the room. The manager gave me my own room I think to shut me up. I'd recommend this as a strategy, but I don't think anyone has enough rooms to do this these days. Plus, I am freakishly adorable when weeping.
Tip #47. Consider Getting A Room On A Higher Floor
Take a look at the neighborhood you're in. If it looks like it could be noisy, consider asking for a room on a higher floor. I've had people tell me this is a good idea for all the hotels on Broadway (there's a bus station beneath the Sofia and across the street from the Bristol), the Hilton
and the Omni
Tip #48. Exploit Your Hotel's Services
Most convention-goers are naturally focused on the convention center. That's why they came. This makes Comic-Con a great weekend to sneak in some quality hotel time. Use that research, in other words. If your hotel has a pool, it's not likely going to be used a whole lot. Ditto the gym. Ditto the spa services. Sneaking away from the convention center for a late afternoon swim and gym workout can be a wonderful way to break up one's schedule. It can also be a cheap date. If you're super-lucky, you might be able to network. I know one guy who got a gig a couple of years later by being the only other person at the Westin's pool at 3 PM on a Friday and making friends with a superstar cartoonist.
Tip #49. Don't Count On The Fridge
It used to be that you could empty your room's fridge of all that stuff they're trying to get you to buy for way too much money and stuff it with chow and drinks you bought at Ralphs. This isn't always the case now. Some refrigerators are constructed in a way they no longer allow for the hotel items to be unloaded. Improvise with a trashcan, a trash bag and a lot of that sweet hotel ice. I think every hotel except the Westgate has some sort of ice machine. The Westgate actually brings the ice to you, which could severely limit your MacGyver-style temporary icebox creation options.
Tip #50. Befriend The Concierge
The concierge is the person in the lobby of a nice hotel that's there to help you out that's not a hooker. They sometimes have their own desk: look around or ask. Those people are there to facilitate your tourism experience. Now, you're likely to have 95 percent of your time reserved for activities where you'll know way more than the concierge does. Granted. But if you have a question about a place to eat, somewhere to shop, a service of some sort, a place to buy a new camera battery (there were at one point two places in Horton Plaza), it's a great first place to stop. If you're like me and you have nothing to ask the concierge, sometimes it's fun to make up stuff to ask them. I'm still looking for that Armenian grocery store.
Tip #51: Beware The Crappy Concierge
You can tell a bad concierge by the way they fail to directly answer your questions. If you ask for a seafood restaurant and they mention the Asian place in the hotel also serves seafood, start scanning their answers for bullshit. If to answer your question they're doing research on a computer that you could have done yourself, consider the recommendation as being of that quality. That doesn't mean it's wrong, that just means they're not bringing any specific expertise to the issue. I wouldn't suggest getting mad, it's just that in the free advice industry you sometimes get what you pay for.
Tip #52: Tailor Your Concierge Questions
Advanced class: places like the Westin have multiple people filling this role. With that in mind, you might wait for the 30-year-old woman to ask after the dance club, and save your question about the best traditional steakhouse downtown for the 67-year-old guy with the John Waters moustache.
Tip #53. If You Need A Computer At Comic-Con, Check In Advance On Your Hotel's Specific Computer and On-Line Policies
I once got drunk in Las Vegas with a guy who sold hotels their Internet services. He told me that because hotels were so eager to provide these services at such an early date, a lot of chains got locked into strategies that may seem odd or outdated now. That's the long way of saying that hotels are all over the place on what kind of Internet services they offer. If you imagine that in this day of wi-fi and handheld devices that no one could be charging $17.99 a day for in-room access, there's a hotel out there ready to prove you wrong. Check ahead to see if you'll be paying to hook up to the Internet or if you'll be getting on for free and what's available to do so in your room, whether wireless connections are available or not and where in the hotel this may be.
Your hotel may also have a business center. That can allow you to work in your room on something without paying the connection fee -- the principle of it, naturally -- and then taking a detachable drive's worth of stuff onto the Internet via the business center for a much smaller, isolated fee. I go pretty computer-light at the show or without one altogether, but if you need your workstation it's definitely worth some thinking ahead. Another you might check is whether or not a laptop or mini can be stored in a room safe or with the front desk if you don't want to take it to the show or dinner.
Tip #54. Leave Yourself Enough Time To Get Out Of There
If you're leaving on Sunday, make sure you give yourself enough time to get out of your hotel. A lot of people are probably checking out that day, too, and lot of people are storing luggage until their flight leaves, and a lot of people are parked in each garage. I have had hotel staff lose my luggage, my reservation from their computer and, one year, my car. Be prepared. Consider using your in-room checkout or just building extra time into your schedule that day.
Tip #55. Don't Forget To Tip The Hotel Staff
A lot of comics people won't tip. The industry attracts a lot of Mr. Pinks. To those people I say, "Thanks for all the grumpy people I encounter at Comic-Con." For the rest of you, please don't forget the various hotel people: the guy who calls you a cab, the woman who brings you your car, whatever poor soul cleans your filthy room. A few dollars here and there can really make someone's day -- and reflects well on you, especially if you're one of the few people doing it. Enough people do it and it begins to reflect well on everybody attending. And make it cash. Just because people are crazy enough to leave Jack Chick tracts as tips and somehow manage to avoid getting beat up doesn't mean you can leave your mini-comic and expect it to end up anywhere but the trash.
GETTING AROUND TOWN
San Diego is a reasonably easy town in which to get around. You'll be walking in the immediate convention center vicinity, with maybe a shuttle bus or short cab ride thrown in. Outside of the immediate vicinity you'll be taking a car, occasional cab and public transportation in and out of the immediate area, where you will then also be walking around.
Tip #56. Get Ready To Walk
You'll be walking at the show, sure, but in most cases you'll be walking outside
of the show as well. Walking is still the best way to get around a wide space marked by the convention to the south all the way up to Broadway going north and several blocks east and west: basically this map right here.
Tip #57. Memorize The Following Places For A Basic Lay Of The Comic-Con Land
1. The Convention CenterTip #58. If You're Driving Into San Diego, Consider The Traffic
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. That sounds way more charming than it is when it happens to you or the movie star you waited in line to see.
2. The Marriott
Traditional nearest hotel to the convention and a place for a lot of informal gatherings, pre-convention brunch meetings and sneak-away confabs at their Irish-themed bar.
3. The Hyatt
This is through last year the comics industry late-night social hub. This year the Hyatt is hosting some sort of healthcare-related conference, so whether or not comics people still show up is up in the air. On the one hand, you have secret service details because of some of that show's guests; on the other hand, the entire comics industry is built on people showing up for stuff when it's probably no longer a good idea they do so.
4. Seaport Village
A set of restaurants and shops that people tend to forget about, just up the road a bit. If you're at the Hyatt, the Marriott or the Embassy Suites, you may be more oriented to these places than to their Gaslamp District equivalent.
5. Rail stop for Little Italy
Gaslamp too crowded? Everyone in your group of friends mad at you? Hit a restaurant up here.
6. Horton Plaza
Downtown shopping mall with tons of restaurants and more than a few 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 willing to yell mean things at you from their cars!
9. Petco Park
No games this year, but I'm told it's open to the public as a kind of sitting space.
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. I have no idea why I marked it.
13. Hilton San Diego Bayfront
This is actually a bit further south than my map allows -- the other side of the convention center, basically. It's a newer hotel that will be hosting some programming and the Eisners. It may also replace the Hyatt as the late night place for comics people to hang out and try to talk to Marvel editors.
If you're taking a car into San Diego for the weekend or for whatever day you're going, the first thing to consider is that there may be traffic -- con-related or just Southern California-related -- on the way in. I'm told Friday night can be extremely bad. Just build in some extra time.
Tip #59. If You're Driving Into The Show For The Day, Consider Going Early
This is a parking issue. It's nearly impossible to find convenient parking later on in the day. In fact, it might be a good idea to come in a couple of hours early, park in one of the city lots several blocks away and then go to breakfast somewhere in the Gaslamp or at a hotel. The parking at the convention center disappears almost immediately -- I've never even tried to park there.
Tip #60. Come To Terms With The Fact That Hotel Parking Is Expensive
It's likely you will pay a great deal for parking at any downtown hotel -- $18-$35 a day -- and that you will pay a modest amount for parking at some of the hotels not in the downtown area. I don't know any way around this except for one year really early on my brother and I parked at someone's house and had this person drop us off at our hotel. That worked out great, but that depends on having a pal in San Diego who won't put you up but is willing to guard your car and
give you a ride.
The one exception might be Sunday, when it's a little easier to find a place to stash your car for the day. I used to use a lot north and slightly west of the convention center on Saturday night/Sunday that cost about half of my hotel's charge. I also used to park in the neighborhood near the Imperial Street Station and take the commuter train, although I haven't done that in years.
Tip #61. In Fact, Consider Paying Extra For Them To Park Your Car For You
The two times I tried to park a car at my hotel in San Diego I found the parking structures terrifying and frustrating and would have paid anything to switch places with one of the valets who offered to do it for me. I still thought this the year after they lost my car for 90 minutes. That's just me, though.
Tip #62. Be Careful Where You Park In Downtown San Diego
Three things to keep an eye on if you're driving into downtown for a day at the convention center.
The first is that if you need to park all day and choose an all-day lot, make sure that the sign actually means all-day
and not just eight hours.
The second is that if you're in a facility with a machine to pay, pay the machine
. There's a scam apparently common in San Diego's parking garages for people to approach cars in thrown-together uniforms and ask to take the payment from you directly.
The third is that if you're staying at a hotel, take note of your hotel's exact parking policy: you may or may not be able to take the car out, for instance, without a penalty.
Tip #63. If You Have A Car, Consider Using It For Something Other Than A Trip To The Convention Center And Back
By the way, if you have a car, either just in for a day trip or parked at a hotel for the duration, considering using it to increase the scope of your trip. Take a meal outside of the immediate downtown area, go to a beach, head to a nearby tourist destination on a half-day away from the convention center. Invite people to come with you! Allowing a couple of friends of yours a temporary respite from people in costumes and the smell of all that pulp and desperation can be the greatest gift of all.
Tip #64. Don't Be Afraid To Use The Con's Shuttle Buses
A lot of people won't use the con's shuttle buses because they think they're only for hugely overweight people in costume weighed down even further by gigantic boxes featuring Lego versions of various movie spaceships, like that one in the John Sayles movie that had boobs. These people couldn't be further from the truth! The buses are for everyone. You might not always want to use them, but it's a great option for when you do. For the hotels that are past Broadway going North, when you're carrying a bunch of stuff, or when you're dog-tired, they can be a godsend
Every hotel lobby should be able to direct you to a stop if there's one nearby, and there's also information on the web site
. It's pretty easy to figure out how they line up in front of the convention center going the other way.
Tip #65. If You Ride The Transit Trains, Smile
Everyone seems to hate the transit trains
, because no one smiles on them. I think they work just fine, and I used to take the one from the nearby Imperial Street Station to the convention center every year. My friends who have tried to use them as a main way to travel to hotels and lodging further away from downtown say they're not exactly reliable time-wise, so maybe keep that mind.
Tip #66. Utilize The Short Cab Ride
San Diego has a compact downtown, which means that cabs tend to be an affordable way to supplement your walking and can save your life when utilized at key times (like when you're intoxicated, or when you're late for something). Once you move away from downtown proper, you're talking much more money as the short bursts on the highway add quickly to any fare. The occasional cab can still
be more timely than a train.
There are two things to remember about San Diego cabs. One, sometimes the cab driver will complain about giving you a short cab ride. Hold your ground. If they don't want your business, they can let you out of the cab. Two, San Diego cabs don't exactly cover the town to the extent you'll see in other large cities. Some neighborhoods are largely ignored, even if you call and ask for a ride. So don't count on a cab to always be able to come get you, especially if it looks scary out.
Tip #67. Get A Price Before You Get On A Pedi-Cab
San Diego has a bunch of pedi-cabs
downtown, which are basically bicycles with a chariot-like seat where a place for ice cream might ordinarily go. The good thing is that if you're tired enough to allow someone to bike you four or five blocks, you don't care how goofy you appear to others when sitting in one of these things trying not to look at your driver's butt. Decide on a price before you sit down, and remember to tip. If when you approach one they fight amongst themselves or otherwise act in a way that's unpleasant, feel free to walk away.
REGISTRATION AND PREVIEW NIGHT
You have to start standing in lines sometime; most people do it Wednesday and attend Preview Night
Tip #68. If You Can Get Someone Else To Register You, Do That
You probably can't, but if you're with a publisher or an exhibitor rather than registered on your own, you usually get to pick up your passes from them rather than by standing in line. This is ideal.
Tip #69. If You Qualify For Registration In Multiple Roles, Consider The Advantages Of Each
With a professional registration, you get to bring a guest and people will stare at your badge hoping you're somebody they've heard of -- at least until that impulse is beaten out of them by Friday. With press registration, you get a much shorter line and access to a pressroom that used to be empty but these days can be like Chalmun's Cantina for science fiction television actors. With registration as an exhibitor, you can enter and leave the hall early, which isn't that great a thing but triggers all the childhood impulses about getting to stay up late when other kids have to bed down.
I repeat my yearly request to the Comic-Con organizers that people in costumes be allowed to register in separate superhero/supervillain lines, just so I can get that photo.
Tip #70. Enjoy Your Time In Line
The registration line may be your only line of the show. It may also be the first of 38 you'll encounter Comic-Con weekend. Being furious makes few experiences shorter, so enjoy the time. The people on either side of you probably have something in common with you; if nothing else, you're both having the experience of being in line. Most of what I know about the coverage of CCI's movie and television elements I learned talking with fellow press people in the registration line.
Tip #71. Note The Extended Badge Pick-Up Hours Wednesday
If you're at Comic-Con for the whole thing and are picking your badge up on Wednesday, take advantage of the extended period they offer to process these things to get that task out of the way well before the show is due to open.
Tip #72. On Days Other Than Wednesday, Later In The Day Can Be A Good Time To Get Registered
I can't speak to the attendee line, but with pro and press badges picked up Thursday, Friday or Saturday it's frequently better to get one's badge a little bit after a morning rush.
Tip #73. If You're Selling Stuff, Use Preview Night To Gauge Overall Demand
I got this one from Larry Young
: if you're an exhibitor or someone selling stuff in any capacity, use Preview Night to figure out how much stuff you're going to sell. If you're about to sell out of something and it's only Wednesday night, it might be worth Fed Ex-ing more so that they arrive on Friday.
Tip #74. If You're Buying Stuff, Hit The Most Special Of The Specialty Retailers First
I'm not a conventions-exclusives person, and I imagine that if you are, then your Preview Night shopping patterns are already determined: you'll be heading to x, y and z booths on offering x, y and z items. Have fun!
For the rest of you, I'd suggest that maybe you visit those booths with specialty and one-of-a-kind items as opposed to the bigger booths and those that are offering widely available items. One of my first usual stops, for instance, is the bookseller Stuart Ng
, who sells rare books and limited edition portfolios -- more an antiquarian bookseller than a comics retailer, with all of the limited supplies that entails. The way I see it, you can see whatever giant model DC
has on hand tomorrow.
Tip #75. As Far As Con Exclusives Go, I Suppose I Can't Suggest You Skip Them
As noted in the last tip, a lot of companies offer special incentive items that are either specifically intended to be given out Wednesday night or are gone by the time Wednesday night passes. I can't think of any strategies for getting this stuff that doesn't sound unfair: I suppose lining up near a door near your intended first stopping point would be a strategy, as would convincing a friend with an exhibitor badge to sneak over by the target just as the doors are flung open.
Tip #76. Take A Deep Breath; Ruminate
The good thing about Wednesday nights being as insanely busy as Saturdays at the show used to be is you immediately have a picture of what negotiating the con will be like for most of the weekend. Take some time to think things over a bit and adjust your schedule accordingly. You may want more time to go from one place to another, or want to avoid certain locations that are bound to fill up. There's also a slight chance you'll be psychologically troubled by what you just saw, so working through some issues over a cocktail or eight might be in order as well.
GOING TO THE SHOW
Day in, day out: what are some tips to surviving the overall convention experience?
Tip #77. Definitely Eat Breakfast
Although it's tempting to use that chunk of time to do something else -- getting over to the convention center that much earlier to snag a place in a big-time panel's line, getting drunk in front of Ralphs and betting your spouse whether you'll see more DC superheroes than men in kilts walk by in the next 17 minutes, wandering around and trying to catch a glimpse of the horrified look on the locals' faces as they make their way around their neighborhood -- you need to eat breakfast. Anyone over the age of 30 and most people under will feel the effects of standing on your feet and walking several miles in the visual cacophony that is Comic-Con; it goes better on a full stomach.
Both the Hyatt
and the Marriott
offer a decent brunch. I'd recommend Kono's
and Hash House A Go Go
away from the immediate convention center neighborhood; Richard Walker's Pancake House
, Cafe Chloe
and the St. Tropez Bistro location
near Horton Plaza in the immediate neighborhood. The idea is to get something -- anything
-- nutritious into your system.
Tip #78. Bring Enough Money
Don't get caught depending on credit cards (not everybody takes them) or standing in line at the convention center's ATMs (those lines are long and you'll feel silly spending your con time there). Bring enough money to the show. If you can't hit an ATM away from the show, like one at your hotel or at the Wells Fargo on Broadway, maybe go to Ralphs and get change back on a debit card getting water or gum or something like that.
Tip #79. Consider The Bank That Is The Exhibitor
Sometimes if you're friends with a vendor or work for someone selling stuff on the floor you can write them a check for some of the extra cash they're holding. Sometimes people are glad to have the promise of money over more money. I used to do this a bunch.
Tip #80. Remember That The Convention Is Humongous
Tom Galloway uses a simple formula for determining the size of the convention's main floor. "Each aisle is about 100 yards long. There are 52 of them. So, just to walk down the center of each aisle, not even going side to side to look at things more closely, is about 5200 yards. Since a yard is three feet, and there are 5,280 feet to a mile, that means just getting a look at everything on the floor requires a three-mile walk." That doesn't even cover going upstairs for panels and other presentations. It is a massive place.
Tip #81. Wear Comfortable Shoes
It's a cliché, but one that offers a great deal of truth: if you don't wear comfortable shoes to Comic-Con your feet will never forgive you. It's tough
on feet. No one will think ill of you if you wear tennis shoes or sandals that don't quite match the rest of your outfit. Comfort first.
Tip #82. Take Your Own Water
Take a water bottle or buy one at Ralphs or a similar store on the way over. You can fill up from the convention center's various water fountains. You'll feel better at the end of the day if it's been a well-hydrated day.
Tip #83. Considering Taking Your Own Bag
Some of the companies have been giving away giant bags in recent years in order to utilize shoppers for advertising, but you can't count on this continuing forever. I have a backpack that only gets used that weekend. I keep it stuffed underneath some friend's table -- this is possible if you know someone and in most cases promise them they're not responsible -- so that I don't have people giving me extra stuff to carry, but to and from the convention center it's a blessing.
Tip #84. Don't Be Stinky
This is the graph where I'm supposed to make fun of the poorly socialized people that always show up at these events in ill-fitting clothes and a lack of body awareness that has an olfactory dimension. But, look: there are always going to be people like that at any event that caters to fan interests. I just attended my town's local music festival and there were people there that smelled like dirt could sweat.
No, this tip is for the rest of you. There's a furtive, focused and accepting atmosphere in the air at Comic-Con. The general currency is enthusiasm and love for media, not outward presentation. Sweatpants and suits mingle on equal footing, and I've seen people show up in their pajamas they were so comfortable being there. Nonetheless, no matter how tempting, it's still a very bad weekend to try and pull off the rock star ready to roll right out of bed or college student during finals or all your friends at the same lake house recording music and hanging out on the porch smoking pot thing: it's a convention, and there's a lot of walking, and it's summer. No one expects everyone to be cotillion fresh. Please try to be presentable and to remain so. Believe me, I feel you on this one. Be the freshest version of you that you can be. If you make an effort, it is almost always enough of an effort.
Tip #85. Consider Packing Lunch
You're officially not allowed to bring food into the convention center, as they have their own vendors: as generally bad and overpriced as any set of vendors in the long and distinguished history of convention center vendors stretching back to the tourshi
booths at the Assyrian Convention Center in downtown Nineveh, 700 BC. People bring in food anyway and I don't know anyone that's been caught as long as they've been discreet about it.
The reason to think about packing the noontime meal is that it's harder than you'd think to get away from the show for lunch. One thing people don't count on is that it's a good four or five blocks to the bulk of the Gaslamp lunch places, after you've cross the convention floor, and with the sit for service it ends up being a decent investment in time. If you do end up going out, a carried-in lunch can always be pressed into service as a late-afternoon snack. You can buy appropriate stuff for lunch at Ralphs or in the hotels that have deli-style offerings (check your hotel's web site). The convention center has a big back porch that's rarely used and is perfect for some alone time with a wrap and an orange juice.
If you do leave for lunch, many people love Buster's Beach House
or Dick's Last Resort
. My favorite place to eat lunch in San Diego is Las Cuatros Milpas
, a line up outside to get in Mexican place where they cook everything in front of you in giant tubs of boiling lard. I'm not kidding about that: one cartoonist who went there with me actually covered his eyes so he could deny to himself how they were preparing his food. That's a short cab ride to a neighborhood scary enough you'll have to walk the five or six blocks back, but it's worth it.
AT THE SHOW
You're loaded with money, water, a good bag to carry your stuff. Now what?
Tip #86. Remember Your Badge Skills
Your badge -- a basic ID with your name on it that gets you into events -- will come with a lanyard. Although this year could be different, and let's hope, the last decade or so has never seen Comic-Con make a badge with large print of the kind that's easy to read at a glance. So if you want people to know who you are, wear your badge proudly and wear it where people can see it. I dump the lanyard and just put the pinhole into my shirt, as I figure it beats people staring at my belly until my badge flips around.
Tip #87. Walk Artists' Alley At Least Once
If Comic-Con is a city, Artists' Alley
is that city's Historical District: a place where you can get to the heart of what the show's all about and prime real estate a lot of the cool people continue to call home. Artists Alley is that area of the show set up for individual cartoonists to come in without a lot of cost and sell their wares or meet their public or both. The exposure given in this fashion to individual cartoonists is the difference between the show being a full on, admittedly magnificent flea market and a cultural event with flea market tendencies. You should really walk it at least once. You'll almost certainly spot a creator that for at least a few months was one of your five favorites and another creator you hadn't thought of in 20 years. The writer and too-infrequent artist Jeff Parker offered some still-good advice
about the Artist's Alley experience a few years back.
Tip #88. Network Laterally
One thing I've noticed from people that come to the show to meet people is that sometimes they get frustrated waiting for a chance at a cold introduction rather when they could be working the connections they already have. In other words, if you're a writer about comics that wants to meet creators, access your fellow writers about comics as to who they know that's a creator. If you're a creator that wants to meet editors, talk to your fellow creators to see if anyone can give you an introduction. Most people are happy to introduce people because anything good that comes out of it reflects well on them. But you have to ask.
Tip #89. Always, Always Introduce Yourself
The person you're with that you expect to introduce you? That person may be too tired to remember to do so, may not actually remember your name, may never have said your name out loud, or any of those things regarding the other
person. Always introduce yourself to anyone you come across and save people the hassle of "hosting."
This goes double for a one-on-one situation. Don't put the person across from you in the embarrassing position of not remembering your name!
Tip #90. If You're The Person Standing Behind A Person, Talk To The Person Standing Behind That Other Person
If your friend/spouse/co-worker is talking to their favorite creator and you're definitely not, talk to the person standing behind that creator just like you're standing near your friend. It's a nice thing to do. You'll know this opportunity when you see it.
Tip #91. Don't Be Shy About Meeting People
Almost no one out there hates a quick greeting and a smile from a person who seeks them out. King of the Friendly Pros On The Comic-Con Floor is Batton Lash
. It's not a full Comic-Con experience until you've said hi to Batton. He's nice enough that despite knowing he's nice he actually remains nice. Cartoonists are generally
pleasant and smart; and there are great people all over the convention floor. Don't waste your time with any who aren't!
Tip #92. Keep Your Business Cards In Separate Pockets
If you're a business card person, and if you're there in a professional capacity you might think about faking it at least, my friend Gil Roth always suggests putting your cards to hand out in one pocket and the ones you get from people in another. This way, you avoid giving your prospective agent someone else's business card. Believe me, "Delightful Screw-Up" is not an image worth conveying to people. They probably already know one of those.
Tip #93. If You're Taking Kids, Put Them On Point
The one recurring piece of advice I hear from people who take their kids to the show is to let the kid's interests drive what you do while they're there. If they like looking at artists draw, do that. If they want to go to a certain television-related panel, do that. If they want to shop for early 1970s mimeographed fanzines, do that. If they want to play with the toys they brought while you try to banter with unctuous studio personnel about their securing an option on your comic book, do that. This puts you in the role of making sure they're not overwhelmed by the show or if they need to re-fuel as opposed to browbeating them about how awesome the thing is you want them to like as much as you do.
I believe the con offers some limited daycare and some of the hotels offering limited babysitting. I'd suggest networking about this subject to see what other parents do. I know that some pros have shared babysitting costs, for example.
Tip #94. Look For Secondary Or Tertiary Autograph Opportunities
I'm not an autograph seeker, but my friends who are -- for gifts, for themselves -- tell me that they pay as much attention to slightly offbeat signing opportunities as they do the big ones: the ones organized by cons and major handlers. If you know a creator has a series with a smaller publisher, check to see if they'll be there because the line is likely to be smaller. The CBLDF
and The Hero Initiative
are two charitable groups that sometimes have signings. So do some of the retailers on the west end of the floor. I believe Comic-Con produces a sheet full of signing opportunities, but it doesn't hurt to check around.
Tip #95. It's Not The Best Show For Sketches
The last few years have seen a surge on people seeking sketches for sketchbooks, perhaps with a theme or perhaps not. Conventional wisdom says the smaller shows are better for this activity, and I mostly agree with that. The one advantage Comic-Con has in terms of sketches is that there are so many cartoonists here, including a number of cartoonists you may not see at another show. Everything else, though -- the size of the show, the demands on guests, the number of people looking for sketches -- works against you adding to your Dharma And Greg
sketchbook or whatever you're working on.
My main advice is to be more cognizant of and forgiving about letting the cartoonists dictate your sketching relationship. If they're charging, pay the fee; if they're only doing a select number, sign up or don't sign up, but honor that arrangement. It's also nice to sneak in a half-dozen pages of reference folded in back if you're asking for a theme sketch related to something with which everyone might not be familiar.
Tip #96. Seek Bathrooms Out Of The Main Flow Of Traffic
The convention center does a generally good job with keeping the bathrooms clean and functioning, but it may be worth seeking out one or two restroom spots far from the maddening crowd. I'd also suggest just straight-up making friends someone with a room at the Omni, Marriott or Hilton for use of their bathroom, but there's really no good way to initiate that conversation.
Tip #97. To Travel The Floor In A Hurry, Sometimes It's Best To Use The Outside Hallways
If things get gummed up inside, sometimes it's most effective to go around the problem and re-enter the hall further towards or even past your ultimate destination. A lot of people that have been attending for years don't know there's another set of stairs in the back of the convention center; those are useful, too.
Tip #98. Certain People Want Their Pictures Taken; Others Just Want To Walk From A To B
There are some amazing costumes on the floor, and people love to take photographs of them. Don't be shy about asking people in such costumes to stop and pose for a picture -- it's very likely that that is what they're there for. Plus it's fun to shout basic modeling instructions at superheroes using their superhero names.
One thing that's not fun is if you're trying to cross the convention floor and you're blocked from doing so by preening members of the Batman Family. Be sympathetic to the traffic flow and try to take your photos not in the middle of an aisle somewhere.
Tip #99. Be A Con Hero, Not A Con Zero
Look into giving blood and/or registering to vote, if that's available. There are also ways to informally help the show function smoothly, even if it's just watching someone's table while they charge out to the restroom. Bring people coffee, smile, offer to help. Solano Lopez
once brought his publisher some cookies. It's a tough weekend for a lot of people, so cut them some slack if they don't give you exactly what you think you deserve to be given.
Tip #100. Don't Count On Wi-Fi At The Convention Center, But You'll Probably Get It Anyway
I rarely take a computer to the show, and I won't be using twitter that way this year, either. There are ton of hot spots around San Diego
, but for the convention center to offer it outside of the press room takes a sponsor looking for a unique advertising opportunity. Someone has stepped up the last couple of years, but it's a down economy.
Tip #101. Enjoy The Crazy Spectacle Of It
You'll find plenty to do at Comic-Con, but I always suggest taking a few minutes each day you're there to just look around. One great place to do this is in the back of the convention center on the mezzanine-level windows near the con's various food stands. It's an incredible madhouse of people and pulp, high-end movie displays meeting low-end longboxes. Enjoy the show!
Tip #102. Come With A List With Prices You'll Accept Rather Than Count On Finding The Best Price
If you're shopping -- and you really should shop at least a little bit -- I've found it's better to make a list that includes the price one can get the item in question elsewhere. That way you know if you've found a good price, and knowing you have a good price you can let go of getting the best price in every circumstance. Comparison shopping is an amazing time-suck when you're standing in a room with 40,000 to 60,000 other shoppers, and saving 80 cents on a copy of Sun Runners #1
probably isn't going to be worth the effort.
Tip #103. If You Can, Locate The Comics Shopping Core
There are things to buy all over the convention floor, from Artist's Alley to the corridor where the boutique toy makers set up to the dealers on the west end of the convention center to the publishers smack in the middle. Almost everyone will try and sell you something. There is a core of booths I always suggest as a starting point. This core is suddenly much less of one this year, as it's my understanding Comic Relief won't be attending for 2010. But that still leaves -- I hope -- mega-retailers Mile High Comics
and Bud Plant
. It probably makes more sense to see all the booths in that general area as the core these days. Anyway, I like orienting myself towards the comics and then working my way outwards. It's the most amazing flea market you'll ever visit, that's for sure.
Tip #104. Keep An Eye Out For Personalized And One-Of-A-Kind Items
It used to be that shopping at Comic-Con meant that you had an opportunity to see and purchase material to which you likely had no access the other 361 days of the year, like going to the best comic book shop in the universe. With the Internet and the growth of super-stores and the continuing utility of mail order, that's no longer the case. But there are compensations.
Comic-Con has in the 15 years I've been going become a much more excellent place to buy original art, for instance, and I think in general people are seeking out that one-of-a-kind item over getting the best deals or finding the most stuff for X amount of money. Both creators and publishers will do stuff just for Comic-Con: special ashcans, paintings, special watermarks or title stickers, limited editions of toys, and so on. Look for this stuff first.
Tip #105. Consider Having Stuff Brought To You
This doesn't apply the way it used to, but some publishers and even creators will bring something specific to the show for you to purchase if you ask them nicely. It saves you shipping, and guarantees them a sale.
Tip #106. Attend A Panel
The upstairs rooms are filled with panels, basically speaking and occasionally multi-media arrangements where everyone from 1950s bullpen staffers at the major comics companies to comics podcast suppliers to the cast of a network television show can take questions from and interact with their fans. Some people tell me they never go to them, but as there are so many with so many interests represented, I'd suggest you try at least one. A few traditionally good panels are the ones that feature the non-North American cartoonists in attendance that you won't likely see again at Comic-Con, anything featuring older cartoonists (ditto), and anything featuring funny people or those that work on funny enterprises.
Tip #107. Remember That The Bigger Panels Require Greater Commitment
First story. So I was walking around downtown San Diego at 4 AM on a Saturday morning in 2008 -- totally behaving myself -- when I ran into a man talking on a cell phone pushing a baby stroller. I found this bizarre, but as I listened to him (the sound carried) it was clear that he and his wife were up when I had yet to go to bed because they were angling to get a good place in the line for the best TV and movie panels. With their baby. So yeah, it's like that.
Second story. Last year I walk over to the Eisners and passed an entire area of people camping out. People camping out at San Diego isn't unheard of -- there are always a few kids that have managed to score tickets without getting a hotel room, folks who end up sleeping out near the convention center. Then I realize these folks I'm watching aren't camping out for that reason. They're camping out as a part of a line to get into certain panels whose subject matter rhymes with "Highlight." Amazing.
The closest I get to Hollywood at Comic-Con is random moments like noticing Eliza Dushku
is on the escalator 15 Silent Bobs in front of me. I have no advice for getting into the popular halls to watch the big-time entertainment panels except to note that it obviously requires a lot of perseverance, I'm sure the Comic-Con people have tried to make it as fair as possible, and I bet a lot of people are still dismayed and miserable.
Tip #108. No Line Outside Of A Kirby Comic Disappeared Because Some Stared At It With An Angry Face
The one thing I will suggest and what came back to me a lot from people I asked is that you just kind of have to give yourself over to the experience. At a certain point, being frustrated is just making yourself miserable. The line is what the line is.
Tip #109. Explore Alternatives To The Big Panels
There really aren't any true alternatives to the big panels because they represent a newsworthy -- such as it is -- event. But if you have a different motivation than witnessing said event, you might be able to find other ways to scratch your panels itch. If you just want to see some specific movie star up close, sometimes there are roundtable interviews that media people are allowed to attend, or they might be doing a signing somewhere in support of a comic book on the floor. If that doesn't do the trick, your expectations may be too high.
Tip #110. When In Doubt, Attend A Panel Featuring Sergio Aragones
If you don't have any idea of a panel you'd like to see but still want to see a panel, I always suggest something with Sergio Aragones
. Aragones is a world-class cartoonist who made his name doing silent gag comics in the panel borders of MAD
. He is a longtime Comic-Con attendee, and the kind of charismatic guy one imagines has never been seated near the kitchen. The panels in which Aragones tends to participate are old-school to the old-school power, so you get a sense of the event's history in addition to having some fun.
Tip #111. Consider Seeing Panels On The Basis Of Who You Might Not Be Able To See Again Any Time Soon
Any cartoonist from a country not the U.S. or Canada or the U.K. probably won't be back at Comic-Con any time soon, so those are usually great panels to see. I saw a fun panel about a dozen years ago with Frank Miller
and Ryoichi Ikegami
that had fewer than 35 people in the audience. An enjoyable panel with French slice-of-life masters Dupuy and Berberian
had about the same number of folks. Just great panels. Another category to target is older cartoonists who may or may not be able to make it back in subsequent years.
Tip #112. The Best New Panel Idea Of The Last Few Years Is The CBLDF Panel Where Cartoonists Draw And Talk About Art
Talk about a simple idea that no one else ever quite made good on. Starting last year, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
started hosting panels that simply feature one ore more cartoonists drawing, which is presented on a big screen via an overhead projector. They talk about their drawing while they do it, and the end result is given to the CBLDF to auction it. This is a fantastic way to spend a hour, and last year when I saw row after row of young artists either sketching along with Mike Mignola or simply taking a lunch break while watching him draw with eyes wide open, that's one of my favorite memories of Comic-Con ever.
Tip #113. Participate
If you go to a panel, feel free to ask questions if you have them and the opportunity arises. Almost every panel will make time for questions. You deserve to participate if that's what you want to do: you made the effort to attend this panel of all the things you could be doing. However, makes sure you ask a proper question: usually, a single sentence that ends in a question mark. As Tom Galloway put it last year: "The key points to remember are a) no one else in the audience cares about you and b) you're not going to become friends with the panelists." As another CR
reader put it, if your question wouldn't fit in a tweet, it's probably time to re-think the question.
Tip #114. Be Efficient With Your Post-Panel Meet And Greet
If there's someone on the panel with whom you need to have a few quick words, hit them right away or wait until that person gets all the way out of the room so as not to further delay the next hour's presentation. With reason, and with the caveats mentioned in the last tip in mind, most people at Comic-Con are good with their time this way.
Tip #115. Don't Haunt the Proceedings
If you know you have to leave before the panel is over, sit near the door as not to ignite questions of self-worth in the heads of the panelists who just watched you leave the room.
EVENINGS AT COMIC-CON
Your feet hurt, you're broke and all you want to do is go to bed. Time to party.
Tip #116. Do Something Outside The Show
Whether you're playing hooky from the show for a half-day or simply leaving the show at night, I always suggest that anyone at Comic-Con for more than two days spend some time doing something away from the show.
One classic is a day at the zoo. San Diego has a lovely zoo
, maybe the loveliest zoo, although it requires a lot of walking and somehow seems to have been designed by MC Escher
in that you constantly walk uphill. As David Glanzer is fond of reminding me, though, there's no vacation that can't be made 10 percent better by spending some quality time with the pygmy marmoset
I went to an amazing store that I can't find now that sold mostly old magazines. This may be it.
There are activities on the water, including boat rental, which I've done in the past and had a blast doing. I have yet to visit a boat
, although I'd like to someday. San Diego has all the traditional big-city stuff, like clubs and malls and movie theaters. You'd be surprised how many comics people you'll find at a nearby big-budget movie just to get away from the convention floor for a couple of hours. I once spent a fun late afternoon hitting outlet malls between downtown San Diego and Mary Fleener's house. There are lovely beaches all over the place, too. It can be psychologically useful to get away from the convention center for a while, plus it can be fun.
Tip #117. Eat Out
A good, leisurely meal can be a great way to socialize and relax before the evening's social festivities. As you get older, you'll find that on some nights having a relaxing meal is a substitute for an evening's worth of social festivities. There are any number of web sites
devoted to San Diego restaurants. Some of my favorites are the two Persian restaurants Sadaf
(Persian is one cuisine it's easier to get in southern California than anywhere else), Cafe Chloe
, Rei do Gado
, and the eminently affordable Pokez
. I also have a soft spot for beers and battered fish at The Field
. The best-known local food contribution to the American Experience is the fish taco. You can get one just about anywhere, including a busy The Tin Fish location in the Gaslamp.
Tip #118. Be Prepared To Pay For Eating Out
San Diego hosts a lot of conventions (there's a competing convention at the Hyatt this year!) and is a functioning downtown for business people besides. It therefore offers a few restaurants with entrees in the $15-$30 range, slightly fewer places cheaper than that, and a ton of places that scream "the gigantic pharmaceutical company that employs me is paying for this meal." So don't be shocked. If you prefer to pay a modest amount when eating out, you may have to look a bit harder, or go out of the immediate neighborhood. With the post-Recession real estate madness and the addition of the baseball stadium, San Diego developed several blocks east of the Gaslamp in places that used to be best known as a place you could park your car for the weekend on the street (the mind boggles) and for places past con attendees swore they saw people stabbed. There are even a few neighborhood-type restaurants and bistros over there. Look around.
Tip #119. Think Small Dinner Groups
Think small for dinner -- two to four people -- if you can help it. You should think small because the tendency otherwise is for people to cluster together in a large, amorphous, impossible-to-seat group of people that all want different things, a murder of con-goers that will wander the Gaslamp like a band of grumpy zombies, staring into windows before breaking up in a fit of acrimonious screaming.
Tip #120. Make Reservations
You should make reservations because it's polite, it focuses your evening, and even though Comic-Con attendees don't eat out in as high a percentage as maybe the folks at some other conventions do, there are still enough people around it might be hard to get in at some of the best places. Use your concierge, use an on-line service or look for a city-sponsored booth in the convention center lobby that has menus and will do this for you.
Tip #121. Think About Eating At Odd Times
One way to get into restaurants that may be difficult to get into at prime hours (7-9) is to go early or to go late. Going early to a bar rather than a restaurant has the extra advantage at some places there's a Happy Hour menu, which will save you some coin.
Tip #122. Go To Every Party That Will Have You, And One Or Two That Won't
The party scene in San Diego for comics people is odd. Comics folks generally don't compete with the Eisner Awards
, so Fridays are mostly out. Saturday can be very expensive in terms of renting a space, so that can be out except for a few major players. Sunday's gatherings tend to be old-school and invitation-only. Thursday is jammed with multiple events. There is a rising class of events sprinkled throughout the weekend at which comics people seems to be as welcome as the movie people. Socializing at Comic-Con is also a lot of informal gatherings here and there, "traditions" of three or four years in lengths like certain groups of people hitting certain lobbies to draw together, and a lot of nights that end at the hotel bar of choice and maybe even begin there. Don't pass up any formal party invitation you might receive, from your comics friends or from any other group. You can do the informal stuff later.
Tip #123. Keep An Eye Out For Special Events
There used to be more things like art openings and book launches at clubs than there seem to have been the last few years, but if you find out about something to do along these lines, you should do them. I used to love the art openings as a first stop in the evening. One thing you see now that you didn't see years ago is film industry-related press screenings and hosted presentations that stretch into the evening rather than take place during the day. Last year there was even one or two competing with the Eisner Awards.
Tip #124. Remember The Charity Events
It's not like I get invited anywhere, so if you're like me and out of the party loop but still want to go out, pay attention to any charity events that might be out there. Comics people take their charities seriously, so you're bound to get a pretty good guest-list together at such a function. Also, since they're fundraisers, a $20 bill buys you an invite whether you know every single person there or you don't know a mini-comic from an Absolute Edition.
Tip #125. Be Your After School Special Self Drink-Wise
There's no stigma in comics either way when it comes to drinking alcohol. Many people do; many people don't. Those that do and those that don't are united in not caring which side of that equation you're on.
Tip #126. Don't Forget The G&T
Beer is good. Local beers are always good. Ordering what someone else is having can be flattering, although there's a fine line between flattering someone and sucking up to them.
May I put in a good word or two for the Gin and Tonic? It's a warm-weather drink. It's for men and
women. It tastes good. It comes in a glass with a flat bottom so you're not likely to spill it when you set it down. You can order the gin by some jaunty-sounding name -- Bombay! Tanqueray! Hendricks! -- or you can have whatever the bar serves as a default gin: you will get equally loopy. The ice melts in a Gin and Tonic with just enough of the flavor returned to liquid form that you can nurse a single drink for as long it takes most people to drink two. You can ask if the hotel/bar makes its own tonic or what kind of tonic they're using, if you want to impress the squares. It's one of Perfect Things Of Summer.
Tip #127. Buying Someone A Drink Is Not All That Easy To Do
If you're cool enough to buy someone you want to know better a drink and actually have it be an avenue to conversation, let me know how you do it because I've never even seen anyone do this effectively. On the other hand, I can't imagine someone not being delighted by free drinks.
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR WEEKEND
Once you've settled down a bit -- well, below the point of panic -- and adjusted your eyes to the general visual overload that is Comic-Con, here are a few last suggestions to make a well-rounded weekend out of the affair.
Tip #128. Consider Going To The Eisners
The Eisner Awards
is the most widely-recognized of the American comic book-oriented awards, with the greatest amount of institutional force behind them. They also have the best awards show in that it's really long, recognizes a lot of great artists, features bizarre guest-stars from the wider media world, lets you see and maybe even meet cartoonists you've never seen in person, and asks a certain number of people to be funny in an impromptu fashion that should never be asked to do this. I go every year and wouldn't miss it for the world. My first year at the Eisners I wore shorts, came an hour late and sat at an empty table with Rich Johnston and some person I'm not certain to this day was all the way alive. When I won a prize someone I'd never seen before ran up on stage and accepted it for me. Oh, you Eisners. Now I wear a suit, they actively keep people from sitting at the front tables because so many want to, and people from the television set hand out the awards.
Tip #129. If You're Going To The Eisners, Get The Most Out Of Them
There are any number of things you can do to make your Eisner experience that much better. Eat dinner before you go. If you have to be at the convention center until 7 PM that evening, force your friends to save you a seat at a restaurant so you can go straight there or make someone pick you up some Wendy's. Whatever it takes, make time for a meal. You can dress up if you like or dress down; I wish more of the adults with corporate jobs would dress like adults as opposed to looking like they're hitting the luau at Disney World's Polynesian Resort during the summer of 1978, but I don't mind at all the artists dressing like artists. There's a cash bar that's easy to access, although I've known plenty of people that have supplemented their paid-for cocktails from a flask.
You should make your tablemates bet the Eisners by guessing who's going to win and who isn't -- you'll be amazed how little your conception of the industry matches up to what wins. (Betting tip: always choose the entry with the most contributors.) If you're away from the tables and back in the audience, you'll be more comfortable and you can heckle without being fired on the spot. Have fun with that. Have fun generally.
Tip #130. The Masquerade Is Great, Too
I've only been to the Masquerade
once, but it was pretty amazing. There's an entire fan sub-culture devoted to costume-making; this is basically their runway show. The atmosphere is Showtime At The Apollo
circa 1989, and the people up on stage are having more fun that single night than I've had in any six-month period of my life. One year right after the show a bunch of the costumed people gathered together in one of the open convention center spaces and made a circle to have dance offs. I was lucky enough to be standing nearby, stupefied. You haven't lived until you see Marge Simpson totally own Captain America with pelvic dance moves of the kind that once lead to widespread book burnings. It's hard to get in, so it's something of an investment, but it is a one of a kind thing.
STICK THE LANDING
Tip #131. Shop For Sunday Bargains
There's not as much of this as you'd think, and some vendors leave very early on the last day so as to beat the rush, but the old saw of people cutting prices so as not to carry stuff home still applies. Sunday is a fine day to shop.
Tip #132. Pre-Register For Next Year
You can do that on-site, although it may be restricted to a certain kind of ticket. You may also be able to reserve a room at your hotel once you know next year's dates.
Tip #133. Recover Quickly
Take that one day once you get back home and sleep in, but after that, get all of your initial follow-up and thank-yous out the door by the Friday after Comic-Con. Any longer than that, you'll feel silly sustaining any contacts you made. You'd be amazed by how many people let the same projects pile up year after year simply by not taking the initial action with the opportunities provided them.
Tip #134. Read All About It
A great way to re-live the experience -- or to help figure out what happened the first time -- is by going to this site's "Collective Memory" or just generally wandering around and reading various con reports. This year a lot of con report energy will go into Twitter, so the results should be amazing there. But there are also plenty of old-fashioned message board chats and blog posts out there. The great thing about so many people writing about a shared event is that you can fill in the blanks on things that you saw but didn't know quite what was going on.
AND FINALLY, THE BEST SECTION EVERY YEAR
Tip #135. Heed the Advice of Your Fellow CR Readers
a. "'I'd also suggest just straight-up making friends someone with a room at the Omni, Marriott or Hilton for use of their bathroom.' Um, an easier and even more convenient method would be to just use the bathrooms off the lobby of the Omni, Marriott, or Hilton." -- Tom Galloway
b. Don't Go to Mexico -- "Things have not really improved since last year. My friend that lives in San Diego and writes about Lucha Libre hasn't gone across the border to get magazines or a see a show in TJ for over a year. Going to Friday night lucha used to be our cool alternative to the Eisners. Now, it's not worth getting mugged, kidnapped or killed, especially if you 'stand out' as a gringo tourist." -- Mark Coale
c. "If you have a Kroger discount card, it will work at the Ralphs like a Ralphs card." -- Daniel Frank
d. "Bring earplugs and a sleep mask -- With the sole exception of the year I went to the con on Abercrombie & Fitch's dime and they put me and my illustrator friend up in separate suites each with its own in-room jacuzzi, I've always shared a room with friends or coworkers at the Con. The last time I went, it was a room belowdecks on Jonah Weiland's boat. And even the year of the jacuzzis, I ended up giving up my room and crashing in my illustrator friend's one night so that two girls I'd met earlier that day could sleep someplace more comfortable than the back of Dame Darcy's van. Moreover, even if you're lucky enough to be sleeping solo, hotels can be noisy places at the best of times, let alone when they're filled with cosplayers, Twihards, and Sergio Aragones.
"With all that in mind, I've found a good pair of noise-reducing earplugs and a comfy sleep mask to be godsends. Not only do you assure yourself a better, or at least less-interrupted, night's sleep, you also make it easier for your roommates to do whatever it is they want or need to do after you've hit the sack without having to worry about waking you up. Everyone wins." -- Sean T. Collins
e. "Don't count on cabs -- You touched on this a bit, but for real, I've had my worst-ever cab experiences in San Diego. Cabbies having no idea where landmarks or hotels were, having no idea how to get to street addresses, nearly getting in accidents, taking you minutes in the wrong direction, the works. It ain't New York. Maybe this has changed with the onset of GPS and Google Maps and suchlike, but be prepared to steer your driver in the right direction rather than just barking out your destination and passing out." -- Sean T. Collins
f. "If you're looking for sketches, get them from alternative-comics artists -- Getting sketchbook sketches from superhero artists generally requires one of the following: 1) Commissioning one and waiting on a months-long backlog of such requests; 2) Paying a minimum of $50 for a headshot; 3) Dodging the cost by waiting on one of those interminable signing lines at one of the big front-of-Previews publishers, where they'll do stuff for free but might only be signing, not sketching. Getting sketchbook sketches from alternative-comics artists generally requires walking right up to them and asking politely. Chances are good you can get a nice shot of J'onn J'onnz, Manhunter from Mars by someone responsible for one of The Comics Journal's 100 Best Comics of the 20th Century at the show, or at the very least one of the comics in NON #5; that's probably better than some guy who drew a few Green Lantern issues once." -- Sean T. Collins
g. Battery chargers. For your phone and your camera. -- Glenn Hauman
h. If you're bringing your laptop, make sure you back up everything before you go, and bring an extra boot disk. If you don't need it, someone else may very well-- particularly a forgetful pro on deadline. -- Glenn Hauman
i. Keep your phone on vibrate. You'll never hear it on the floor. Also: Check your phone for text messages at least once an hour, because half the time you won't feel it vibrate either. -- Glenn Hauman
j. If you're going to show off how well your iPad displays comics, try not to have a pirated copy on there. -- Glenn Hauman
k. Consider shipping things to your hotel, including shipping supplies to ship everything back from the convention. But check with the hotel first on their policy, and whether they charge for receiving shipped items. -- Glenn Hauman
l. If you need a place to eat your packed lunch and/or relax away from the Con, check out the Park in the Park behind PETCO Park. It's open to the public when there isn't a Padres game scheduled and home games aren't scheduled during Con anymore. There's lots of open space (and a playground for kids) and hardly anyone visits. It's a nice oasis in the middle of the madness. -- Lorena Nava Ruggero
m. Wash your hands. Repeatedly. Obsessively. You're touching things a zillion other people have touched. You're touching a zillion other people. See a bathroom? Go wash your hands. It's the simplest way to stave off "con crud." -- Erica Friedman
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.
Photos by Whit Spurgeon, 2003 and 2009; Gil Roth, 2005; Tom Spurgeon, 2007. Comic-Con International is an advertiser here, so you just spent all that time reading compromised, biased nonsense.