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Comic-Con By The Numbers: 150+ Tips For Attending San Diego's CCI 2011!
posted June 14, 2011
-- also known as CCI, Comic-Con, San Diego Comic-Con and even "San Diego" -- 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 chances 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 2011, the show is scheduled for July 21-24, with a preview night
on July 20. 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 go if the mood struck you. This was true just a few years ago. Those days are gone: very, very gone.
Tip #1. At This Point, You Better Already Have Your Badges
The convention is sold out. Non-attendee registration is completed. Press registration closes later this week. 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 current demand to attend Comic-Con outstrips the number of tickets available for the show. That rise in demand has come with such sudden force as to discombobulate traditional avenues for securing tickets -- if not snuff them outright. You have to pre
-register as press now. Being able to claim professional status in a hobby-related field, even comics, is no longer a guarantee of entry. 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, the kind of fakes that used to be commonplace. That's right: even "Bruce Wayne," "Ned Stark" and "Penny Priddy" have difficulties getting badges now.
If you don't have badges 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've seen it; it's awful. I'd suggest focusing on the 2012 show, or on one of the many fine conventions all over the world where demand hasn't yet exceeded capacity.
The great thing right now is that there are so many great comics show, up from a time there were three, maybe four, anyone considered attending. We have great shows now in cities like New York
, San Francisco
; chances are you won't be disappointed if you focus your energies there. Comic-Con itself offers an alternative-comics show later in the year, the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco.
Tip #2. I Don't Recommend it, But There Are Some Gray Areas To Work
Still here? I didn't scare you off? Okay, let's talk. It's still not pretty, but 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. No guarantees, of course.
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.
Third, there are people that put up for sale on eBay certain badges or groups of badges -- the Bartertown method of attending the show. I wouldn't dare send my Mom to that corner of the Internet. I'd be scared to go myself. 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. Be super, super careful Seriously, if option #3 were my only hope, I think I would seriously consider going to San Diego hoping to be nearby when some drunk person from the cast of Being Human
left their badge on the bar when they went to bathroom so I could steal it. That's how unlikely it is to secure a badge at a late date without certain connections or people willing to make this happen for you. It stinks, but that's the way it is.
One thing they've done for 2012 that I'm not certain was policy before now is that they will charge you $75 for lost badges. They don't care how you lost it. You're paying up. If you're mugged by 40 ladies in ninja costumes, you pay up. If you lose it in a late-night poker game with the Image founders in Jim Lee's floating heli-pad, you pay up. If you allow a badge-less pal to "steal" it, you pay up. I'll admit to experiencing that kind of friend-on-friend crime back when replacement badges were free. With a cash penalty on top of the possibility you'll be flat busted for the practice in the first place, it seems that even that most desperate and basic of loophole strategies is now closed.
Tip #3. If You Can't Attend, Don't Stress Not Going
So the way things are set up right now, a lot of people are going to be left out of the Comic-Con experience. Those are the cards that Comic-Con has to play. Despite what the insistent hype may suggest, this isn't a big deal. It's totally okay not to go.
There was a time when I could argue that Comic-Con was an outright must-go 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, if you want to sleep with a small press company intern, CCI was the primary facilitator of these things.
I can't say that these days. There are so many opportunities for daily connectivity and interaction out there that actually flying in and pressing the flesh and setting eyes on Dirty Wolverine at the same time and sharing the same breakfast buffet -- while all still useful -- no longer seem like necessary
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. San Diego no longer needs to act as a substitute for a lack of connection within the industry and the art form. So many of us used to go to CCI just to meet people who did the same thing we do. With the on-line opportunities and all the shows out there today, it's actually harder to escape people that share your interests than it is to find them. Believe me, I've tried. Folks still go to CCI to meet people, but more and more they also go to see the people they know and love and work with all year. Comic-Con may be less of a necessity now, but in many ways it's a greater pleasure. If you don't get to go this time around, it's probably not going to cost you anything but the fun you might have had.
Tip #4. On The Other Hand, Don't Stress Attending, Either!
Comic-Con can be a trap. Because it may be more difficult to attend Comic-Con than it is to go to other conventions, this puts pressure on the Comic-Con weekend to give back on a scale that makes everyone forget the fussier parts.
Let me be honest with you: it's still a comics show. It helps to remember that the hassle
of going to Comic-Con is mostly an accident of cultural history -- All those spectacle movies! All those fantasy franchise books! Marvel's post-bankruptcy comeback! All those graphic novels! The toy explosion! The rise of manga and anime! -- rather than something the convention itself enjoys or endorses or requires or was ever shooting for. I honestly don't have any more fun going now than I did in '96 or '01, back when it was so much easier to attend that the worst-case
scenario was registering on-site and staying in a $65 hotel ten blocks away. And yet I still have fun, and it's still worth it for me professionally 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 to me as a press person covering the comics industry.
I love a lot of comics shows, but there are things I get from CCI that it's much harder to get anywhere else in exactly the same combination. There's a great cross-section of creators and industry folk at Comic-Con, particularly those west of the Rockies less likely to attend events in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Comic-Con bisects the publishing year: the second half of the comics year release schedule is on the tip of everyone's tongues, and next year's line-up are in the back of their minds. 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 means 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 because of Comic-Con's programming choices, there was a morning in 2010 where in the space of a few hours I got see Carol Tyler
, Jillian Tamaki
, Peter Bagge
and Gabrielle Bell
. A day earlier I'd gone to four panels in a row featuring a murderer's row of cartoonists, all female. A day later I got to meet Moto Hagio
and Milo Manara
15 seconds apart. These were all very good days.
There will come a time when I won't attend CCI. I can feel it coming. I never got to attend the show in the 1970s or 1980s. I'll never attend the late 1990s Comic-Con of my relative youth ever again. Those days are gone. For now, though, there are still definite joys to be had if you engage the show as it is, not as you wish it to be.
Tip #5. Be Happy With Whatever Decision You Make
My advice is 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 taking in a more typical summer weekend. And if you think you need a year off from Comic-Con, take the year off! I have. I mean, there's having a miserable time, and then there's having a miserable time surrounded by multiple couples dressed as Sapphire and Steel
. If you end up feeling you've made the wrong choice, there's always next year.
ONCE YOU HAVE YOUR BADGE SECURED, THE NEXT SIX 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.
If not, know that hotel rooms are at a premium. The lottery for room reservations through the convention took place a couple of months ago. It was a good year -- vastly fewer public complaints than usual.
But there are differences now. It used to be that just about every hotel in the lottery added rooms back to the grid between the lottery and the show, with a bunch of them showing up in dashes and darts all through late May and early June. This doesn't seem to be the case anymore. What you do find is those hotels outside of the immediate area seem to have rooms available throughout
If you're lucky enough to be doing business at the show, remember to ask anyone that might be sponsoring you at the show or interested in your being there if they can help you find a place to stay. I would then extend this query to anyone I knew that 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, and if for some reason the convention's registration doesn't suit you, that places you in the world of travel agents and on-line travel sites. I like this one
; your mileage may vary. Potential good news can be found in that in mid-June 2010 when I ran last year's Comic-Con dates on five or six sites of this type, I saw hotels both downtown and
in the outlying areas. They were pretty expensive, but they existed. That gives me hope for the future.
In the end I don't personally know anyone that decided not to go to the show because they ended up not being able to find any room at all, but I know it happens. Get this done now.
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 understand these people.
I've stayed in some of the super-close hotels. I prefer
to stay at a certain downtown hotel that's about six blocks away. Some people consider that way too far away to stay, but I love it! I love the remove, I love the walk back and forth, I love having slightly more of San Diego to explore. I've also stayed more than once in a hotel in a further-away part of San Diego. That had its charms. Four of the fifteen years I've attended I've stayed out at the dreaded hotel circle some miles north of the city. One year I stayed a half-hour away by car.
The thing is, I have no
memories that one place 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 there meant I had decided three days before the show to go -- just for the oasis-like feeling getting away from the con it 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 and in some of the other San Diego neighborhoods you're relegated to a combination of public transportation (the commuter train system), cabs and your own vehicle.
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 -- there's something about crossing a body of water on your way to an event that would make installing a toilet or buying bread feel like glorious tasks -- but they're limited to a few hotels and may shut down earlier in the evening than you want to head back. That could mean you'll need to supplement your water taxi trips with a regular taxi ride or two. I still totally recommend doing this at least once if you're able.
If you're someone who needs to transport equipment back and forth at Comic-Con -- and you're probably the only class of con-goer that should actually 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: Embrace The Primary Adjustment In Staying Further Away
The biggest adjustment in staying further away is that it's more difficult to pop back over to one's room and catch a nap or to get away from the show for a time. When you start out the morning further away, you're committing to being at the show and related surroundings from the early morning to the far end of the day the way the people staying in close proximity simply aren't.
You might consider stuffing a clean shirt in a bag if you think you're going to be away from your hotel room for 15 hours. Perhaps carry a small bottle of Neil Gaiman perfume
in a hidden compartment of your favorite ankh. You also might simply consider a shorter day. I know when I stay further away from the convention center I tend to have longer breakfasts and maybe even indulge in a leisurely workout, doubly so if I feel I'm able to skip the first couple hours of con activity and I have a line on parking.
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 some of the same issues 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. There are all sorts of ways to build more vacation time and perhaps some savings into a trip to Comic-Con, many of which we'll discuss later.
Tip #11. Establish Your Network
I've already mentioned talking to your friends and any professional colleagues that may be going. This is your Comic-Con network. Even if you're squared away with tickets and a place to stay, 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 a hotel bar with your favorite crime comics writer, learning about voice acting, seeing a panel stuffed with 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. Offer your help in return.
Not everyone will be helpful. Maybe no one will. Still, 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 I only known 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. So 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 slipping in more 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 single 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 on out.
TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY ON A CCI TRIP
I'm told the Great Recession is over. I'm glad, but I'm also aware that in many ways comics has been suffering a recession since 1947 or so. 2011 feels to me like any other year of recent vintage in that some folks are going to want to save some cash in their various goings-on, even in the middle of a massive and slightly ridiculous extravagance like going to CCI.
Like many first class events of size and scope, and much like the comics industry it hosts, Comic-Con is geared to lift money from your wallet from the moment you touch down to the moment you take off. Yet it's also possible to go to Comic-Con and not spend a lot of cash, 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 dead-dog parties. While I'm sure it's still a blast to have that whole summer-camp experience, I work
in comics and 2010 was the first time I'd made it for more than three days and nights 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 living expenses like meals. Remember that a lot of what people want to do at Comic-Con isn't tied into a specific panel or scheduled experience. Thus, if you plan well, it's more than possible to get 90 percent of what you want out of Comic-Con in, say, 33 percent of the time spent there. Plus, you avoid burnout. It's way better to leave Comic-Con wanting more than to scurry away fervently praying you never see a comic book or anything related to a comic book ever 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 Baseball Tonight
with the volume all the way up.
That said, I shared a room in 2009. The thermostat never went below the reptilian levels seemingly required of eight out of ten women I know. I kept my pants on when not sleeping. I even skipped the corn chips. In the end, I survived the experience with a few hundred extra dollars in roommate savings I immediately spent on a full run of Dagar The Invincible
. The right roommate can be a very good thing, even when you're old enough to know better.
Reach out to your friends and close, professional acquaintances. You'd be surprised who might need a room or have an extra bed. In the past, people have simply thrown in together on a message board, but that always seemed kind of slasher-movie to me. Share a bathroom and its tiny bottles conditioner with a total stranger at your own risk, that's what I say. But if you have a friend who's going, even just a close 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. They're tough.
As a general rule, don't count
on any hotel letting you re-enact the linen closet scene from Night At The Opera
. A new manager can make any hotel, even a traditional look-the-other-way establishment, into a hard case. So 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 either place to even give me one a couple of years back.
Tip #15. Consider Volunteering (No Longer Applicable To 2011)
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 from personal experience as the "please end your panel right now so we can have a less boring one on next hour, thank you" people.
All volunteer slots were filled for 2011 months ago 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 may 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 truck and asks you to jump in, so I wouldn't make plans based on this. It couldn't hurt to keep your ears open.
Tip #17. Consider Adjusting Your Plans To Include Commerce
This seems pretty rudimentary, but one of the convention's guests actually e-mailed me about this in 2010. Yes, if you were planning to be 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 of that sweet, sweet cash.
People love buying original stuff and other unique items at Comic-Con, and they love buying stuff directly from creators. It adds to the special nature of the con-going experience. I remember one artist who used to come down on a morning of the convention, do one or two signings, sell several thousand dollars of original art, and then fly back home 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.
Definitely double-check with any sponsors you have -- they could have a policy on this kind of thing. 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.
Does commerce at Comic-Con work? It can. On the other hand, I've known plenty of people that have had terrible
shows, including those that have failed to sell a single item. I wish I could tell you there's a pattern, but I've never been able to discern one. I've known cartoonists who sold thousands of dollars in prints and original art despite being placed at a far-off table surrounded by booths that sold nothing but ergonomic chairs and paintings of lions. I've also known comics-makers in what seemed to be prime-time areas near all that's good and beautiful in the art form fail to click with the crowd for whatever reason and leave the weekend pretty much as they arrived, although much grumpier.
I think we're past the days when a comics pro might show up at Comic-Con needing to make the money for a return ticket from what they can sell at their table (at least one prominent mainstream comics writer claims to have done this multiple times back in the day). At least I hope so. Consider sales a wild card, tamping down your expectations while still planning accordingly, and you should be fine.
Tip #18. Live Like A Cartoonist
The reason so many comics people are able show up at San Diego despite yearly incomes that would bring about a spit take from vagrants 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, sleeping on a piece of spare carpet, 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 hotel 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 that 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. Bad, bad convention-goer! But let's face it: with the more comprehensive programming, 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 -- or a con report -- done and people spending enough days in the city that they may simply desire a non-restaurant meal, 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 luxury downtown hotel you just spent the days of Comic-Con inhabiting. You may be able to find a cheaper hotel by the airport, perhaps, or up the highway a little bit if you're driving home. 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. In fact, it's sort of depressing, the difference between childhood-you and your siblings taking sleeping bags into the room where the Christmas tree was set up on December 23 and again on December 27.
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 face it, my early 30s, and wanted to squeeze an extra day out of a Comic-Con, this is what I'd do: 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. I 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). I retrieved my bag. I went to the Dennys
on Pacific Highway for a leisurely breakfast. Then I went to the airport where I caught a super-early morning flight. You know what? I believe that Dennys is still there.
On second thought, this was fraught with potential danger and even when it worked I ended up totally exhausted for the next three days in that way you wonder if you forgot getting physically beat-up at some point. So maybe don't do this.
Tip #22. Consider A Secondary Stop To Save On Two Vacations
As mentioned above, 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. Follow me. 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 at 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 eating prime rib, became all calm and sleepy filled with prime rib... all the usual Vegas stuff (that involves prime rib). Comic-Con may be the only event in the history of civilization where you can head to Vegas to de
compress, 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, especially if you want to leave the con late at night. Sometimes it's cheaper to spend a $53 hotel for a night in Las Vegas and a string of tickets home than an additional $199 hotel night in San Diego and a single ticket on a Monday morning.
PACKING AND PREPARATION
Tip #23. Get Your Pre-Convention Work 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 and your pets -- 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 straight stapling 16,000 copies of your mini-comic biography of Rob Granito
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? You will not
get that thing done. 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. It's the DIY Walk of Shame.
Tip #24. Consider Shipping To The Hotel, But Be Extremely Careful About Doing So
Shipping material to the convention center or hotel as major exhibitor is way, way advanced class and I wouldn't dare suggest to provide comment on any of it. But what about shipping a box or two? Some folks ship material to the hotel where they're staying. This can be a danger, for obvious reasons -- you not getting your stuff at all, or it being a big pain in the butt to get it. I suggest two prerequisites: 1) A personal conversation with someone at the hotel to confirm that they do this, a person who can spell out in great detail for you how it will work, including your getting that person's name. 2) Speaking to or e-mailing with someone that's shipped to that specific hotel in the last two years (if it's you, even better). In addition to potential screw-ups and hassles, there may be a charge. Tread carefully.
Tip #25. Limit Your Physical Preparations To Fine-Tuning
I know that a lot of people drop a few pounds to fit into their Elfen Lied
costumes or simply to better show off their late-night cocktail wear. 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 Greg Evans
. That's all good.
Know your limits, though. From one lumbering super-mammal to a few, potential others: if you really have to lose a bunch of weight just to walk around an air-conditioned building for a few days looking for old issues of Witching Hour
, maybe this is the year you 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. Your friends will never let you forget it, and the restaurant won't be too happy about it, either.
Tip #26. 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: by nerds, for nerds.
Tip #27. Pack Something With Long Sleeves
San Diego tends to offer ridiculously fantastic weather, but there are two reasons to remember to pack at least one item with long sleeves. The first is that a lot of nighttime socializing is done outside, in rooftop bars and on beaches. The second is that some years the air conditioning in the convention center is really, really aggressive.
Tip #28. Check The Forecast
It never hurts. What you're looking for isn't so much the specific permutations of San Diego's ridiculous weather -- there's little advantage to finding out if it will be 71 and 73 degrees at night -- but if you're due one of those weird years when everything is slightly chilly or really, really hot. Almost every site has a ten-days-out forecast that should do the job. Who knows, you might find it a good idea to pack two
Tip #29. 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 as much as little kids hate mean, neighborhood dogs. Luggage fees and regulations are more actively applied and more 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. I usually dump anything I have left over.
There are easy to access mail delivery or private shipping service offices up by the Broadway hotels about six or seven black away 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/bought 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 even the kind of thing you can probably 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 #30. Pack To Sleep Defensively
If you're one of those folks sharing a room or not quite all the way sure where you're sleeping, pack earplugs and a sleep mask. You won't look cool putting them on, but you won't see or hear the people making fun of you, either. Also, your roommate is probably either a nice enough person that they'll feel guilty waking you up, or a jerk that shouldn't be given the satisfaction.
Tip #31. 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 even 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 five days in a row, not by falling victim to actual germs.
Tip #32. Pack For Power
Glenn Hauman reminded CR
readers last year that battery chargers for a phone and a camera and any related devices are a necessity for many folks, and that it may involve some individual effort to get them packed in addition to the devices they power. This seems rudimentary, but it seems like I'm always
finding myself near someone who's spreading out their time on a device they can't recharge until Sunday evening.
Tip #33. 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 personal protect-yourself routine may be, you might put it on high alert.
My private palliative is to start every Comic-Con day by chugging three raw eggs dropped into a can of Marvel movie tie-in malt liquor and then doing 45 squat thrusts while shouting the Green Lantern Oath in Klingon. I'm not sure it works, but I'm not sure it doesn't.
Tip #34. Pack Paranoid In Terms Of Anything You Need Professionally
If Comic-Con is a working weekend for you, be outright paranoid about getting your working materials 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 published material to laptops -- to your hotel room. If possible, maybe carry rather than check this stuff.
The key is that this paranoia should 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 what books they're bringing down and what it is they want you to do. An artist sitting at a convention with no books to sign because someone dropped the ball is an entire chapter of The Big Book Of Sad.
Tip #35. Maybe Build In A Back-Home Fail-Safe Contact
A lot of people going to Comic-Con professionally shut down their studio or business for the weekend. And why not? They're not there.
Having the lights and the computer on and the coffee going while you're hundreds of miles away is just sort of weird. 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 the house if, like me, you work at home and live alone. You may need someone to Fed Ex something that 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 #36. Join the 21st Century
If like me you live a life that most Amish find technologically fearful, don't roll your wagon into San Diego. Try and at least fake some sort of gadget relevance. At the bare minimum 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.
If you can't manage 2011, try 1998. 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 devices 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 really checking gossip sites for the latest from my favorite unwed teenaged-mother reality TV stars.
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 CCI's annual Pen Nibs Of The Reuben Winners panel, and b) people expect you have this capability because it's 2010 and you appear to 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 #37. Remember Most Airlines Charge For Luggage Now
Double-check with your airline's web site or this page here
. 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 available to you.
Tip #38. You're Under No Obligation To Be The Ambassador Of Comics, But It's Sort Of Fun To Wear That Fancy Sash Made Of Unstable Molecules
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
. Plus, they've heard of it now!
If you'd prefer not to answer personal questions about your Comic-Con weekend, consider the classic conversation starter: "Yeah, [latest Marvel Comics movie] is sort of about my dad."
Tip #39. Don't Wear Your Weekend's Costume On The Plane
Seriously, that's terrifying.
Tip #40. 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 #41. Consider Amtrak From LA; Consider Anything Else From Anywhere Else
I like the Amtrak
journey from LA to San Diego. It's a short trip, 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 the authorities frown on 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 rail travel veteran 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. Amtrak prices have gone up a bit, it seems, but still seem rational for a one-time expense. Don't forget to snag your AAA discount if you're a cardholder.
One prominent webcomics creator at last year's Heroes Con told me they went east coast to west coast on Amtrak to attend San Diego Con in I think 2008 and had the finest trip imaginable, a rolling cocktail party of people better looking and smarter than oneself, and all his jokes laughed at. Since the majority of what I hear are bad stories, I wanted to mention this.
Tip #42: 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 together.
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. I don't want to talk about it, but it's not exactly fair Mitchell and Webb can make 50 pedophile jokes on their TV shows and no one cares but I make one during a panel about inking and everyone flips out.
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, but it should be easy to find out because almost no one does this. Build a little time between your arrival and being picked up if you give your luggage away to be hauled in a different part of the train.
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. (The photo here is the 2010 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. I'd get in it as soon as 10 minutes after the last train leaves. Also, if you see about five people in that line, you have about 90 seconds before it's 200 people. This is doubly important on Sunday, when they jam people on the trains in punishing fashion.
Sixth, recognize there's a good chance you're going to be late -- about 50 percent of the time, by my experience. So maybe 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. Take the train before the train that fits your time schedule.
Tip #43. Realize Your Airport To Hotel Cab Experience May Depend On The Terminal
At the main San Diego airport (servicing 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 (servicing 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, especially if you're going to the same cluster of hotels. I'm guessing right now that with tip it tops out at about $20 from the airport to one of the downtown hotels, although it's been a couple of years.
Tip #44. Call Ahead To See About An Airport Shuttle
Not every hotel has them and a few hotels that did have them cut them for economic reasons in 2008-2009. You also may need to formally reserve a shuttle rather than summon it to attend your presence by waving your hands and thinking good thoughts in the direct of your hotel. I've never taken one, mostly because I can't seem to exit a van without mooning everybody in a three-mile radius. Still, for normal people more adept at wearing pants it sounds like a great idea.
Tip #45. If Flying, Look Out The Window At Your Own Risk
The trip down or up the California coast can be very pretty as it frequently uses a travel corridor a few miles off the shoreline. Sit on the left-hand side if you want the best view. On the other hand, the San Diego airport is right smack in a northern corner of the city, so a lot of flights coming in take you near bunches buildings. I've had East Coast city folk tell me this can be particularly unnerving.
Tip #46. 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 travel 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. Then again, 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 #47. 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 with prices that tells you if 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 photos are almost always great. Then do a location search on your hotel and see what's in the immediate neighborhood.
Look, 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 and you've already been to the restroom four times can save you an hour or more in July wandering around the Symphony Suites Sheraton
in concentric circles looking for a place to buy a two-liter of soda and a lint brush.
Tip #48. 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 again staying at that hotel. You may get a separate check-in and checkout line. Joining may bring an instant reward, like a room upgrade. You may even get to use points for free or discounted rooms if you attend Comic-Con for multiple years. If you go to a lot of shows in other cities, you may be able to build a string of point-gathering institutions for the highest, sustained return over time. (You can also do this at one show -- for instance, Starwood
has multiple Comic-Con hotels, which makes it easier to build points and
find a place to spend them.)
Most importantly, being in the points club is a hedge against something unfortunate happening during the trip -- say a piece of luggage gets lost in the check room or they keep walking people into your room just as you're squeezing into your B'wana Beast
outfit. Hotels are much more likely to bring a manager out to talk to you if you're a member of the points club. Best of all, your ability to process points provides those managers with an easy way to say they're sorry.
Tip #49. Check In As Close As You Can To The Time Given
You likely 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 Strip Five Card Nancy
alumni. Get to your hotel on time or even slightly before the stated check-in time.
Tip #50. 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 Horton Plaza
front desk when my co-workers left my name off the room (on purpose, I found out later). The manager gave me my own room, I think to stop me from blubbering. It was basically in the elevator shaft, but hey, free room. I'd recommend this as a strategy, but I don't think anyone has rooms to give away these days. Plus, I am freakishly adorable when weeping.
Tip #51. 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 #52. 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. 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 and massage can be a wonderful way to break up one's schedule. Heck, meeting at the pool can even be an impromptu date if you've met somebody. 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 a certain hotel pool at 3 PM on a Friday and thus making friends with a superstar cartoonist playing hooky from the show.
Tip #53. 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 or brought from home. 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 #54. Befriend The Concierge
The concierge is the person in the lobby of a nice hotel that's there to help you that's not a hooker. They sometimes have their own desk: look around or ask. They are there to facilitate your tourism experience. Granted, you're likely to have 95 percent of your time reserved for activities where you'll know way more than the concierge does. 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 (I've used a place in Horton Plaza for years), 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 #55: Beware The Crappy Concierge
You can spot most lousy concierges 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 some pretty good seafood, start scanning their answers for bullshit. If to answer your question they're doing the kind of research on a computer 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 #56: Tailor Your Concierge Questions
Advanced class: places like the Westin Horton have multiple people filling this role rotating at a desk. 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 #57. If You Need To Have 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 possibly 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 -- because of the principle involved, 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.
Tip #58. Leave Yourself Enough Time To Get Out Of There
If you're leaving on Sunday, make sure you give yourself enough time to get all the way 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 #59. Don't Forget To Tip The Hotel Staff
The comics industry attracts a lot of Mr. Pinks
. To those people I say, "Thanks for the grumpy service people I sometimes encounter at Comic-Con."
For the rest of you, please don't forget the various hotel people: the guy that calls you a cab, the young woman who brings you your ridiculous-looking car, whatever poor soul cleans your filthy, cheetos-and-bone-marrow stained 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.
Definitely make it cash. Just because some people are crazy enough to leave Jack Chick tracts
as tips and somehow manage to avoid perpetual beatings 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 #60. 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 center to the south all the way up to Broadway going north and several blocks east and west: basically this map right here.
Tip #61. Memorize The Following Places For A Basic Lay Of The Comic-Con Land
1. The Convention CenterTip #62. If You're Driving Into San Diego, Consider The Traffic
Where the convention takes place. There are entry points from 5th and 1st Avenue. There's a walkway past the 5th Avenue entry point in case there's a train on the tracks.
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. They're in the same chain with Krogers, so if your card works there, it should also work at Ralphs.
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 #63. If You're Driving Into The Show For The Day, Consider Going Early
This is a parking issue. Traditionally, it's been nearly impossible to find convenient parking later on in the day. In fact, a lot of my friends who drive in or drive over 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 itself also traditionally disappears almost immediately -- I've never even tried to park there.
Tip #64. Maybe Think North But Also East Of The Show For Public Parking
Last year I walked to the show about 11 blocks up and a bit east of the convention center -- along 8th and 9th before jogging over to 5th. One thing I noticed is that even though I wasn't exactly hitting the show early there was still plenty of public parking to be had up in those neighborhoods. It could be that the show selling out so far in advance favors fly-in, walk-to-the-convention-center guests over the kind that used to come into town last-minute from LA or wherever. It could also be that I just witnessed a terrible aberration. Still, it was certainly really easy
to find paid parking in those neighborhoods last year, at least after 9 AM and before Noon.
Tip #65. If You're Exhibitor, Double-Check Parking Options
One thing that I heard happened last year is that there was apparently more parking at the convention center for exhibitors, and that this was in some way held for them. At least that's what people said on the floor, mostly with giant, shit-eating grins on their faces. You should talk to your Comic-Con contact if this sounds like something you'd like to know but for whatever reason haven't heard a thing about it.
Tip #66. 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 it's 50/50 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 my brother and I parked at someone's house and had this person drop us off at our hotel and pick us up after the weekend. That worked out great, but that depends on having a pal in San Diego that won't put you up but is willing to guard your car and
give you a ride. That's a very narrow sweet spot.
The one exception to parking at your hotel used to be Sunday, when it's a little easier to find a place to stash your car just for the day. I used to use a parking lot north and slightly west of the convention center on late Saturday night and into 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 #67. In Fact, Consider Paying Extra For Someone To Park Your Car For You
The two times I tried to park my own car at my hotel in San Diego I found the parking structures terrifying and frustrating and would have at the moment paid $700 to switch places with one of the valets that offered to do it for me. I will never star in my own driving manga, that's for sure.
Tip #68. 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 #69. 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 #70. 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 spaceship in the John Sayles movie that had boobs. These people couldn't be more wrong. The buses are for everyone. It's really only the first five seats on either side that are reserved for the fat folks bearing toy sets.
You might not always want to use the buses, and there are years when I've skipped using them altogether, but it's a great option to have. For the hotels that are past Broadway going North, when you're carrying a bunch of stuff, or when you're simply 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 out to the hotels, too.
One thing you might want to double-check if you're considering taking a shuttle bus from your hotel to the convention center is where your hotel is on the number of stops the bus makes before hitting the show. It might be easier to walk in some cases. Also, it used to be the buses could get bogged down in the last block or so before the convention center. Being late but being 200 feet from your last stop is basically an invitation to have your head explode.
Tip #71. 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. Nobody smiles. It's spooky.
My friends who have tried to use them as a primary way to travel to hotels and lodging further away from downtown say they're not exactly reliable time-wise, so maybe keep that in mind.
Tip #72. Utilize The Short Cab Ride
San Diego has a compact downtown, which means that cabs should be a semi-affordable way to supplement your walking and can save your life when utilized at key times (like when you're intoxicated, or when Andrew Garfield keeps trying to pick a fight with you, or when you're late for something important). 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 ride can still
be more timely than a train or shuttle bus.
Tip #73. At The Same Time, Maybe Don't Count On That Cab Ride
There are a few not-great things to remember about San Diego cabs.
One, sometimes the cab driver will complain about giving you a short cab ride, like from the train station to your downtown hotel. Hold your ground. If they don't want your business, they can let you out of the cab. (It's always nice to tip a couple of extra dollars for a short ride, by the way.)
Two, San Diego cabs seemingly don't provide coverage to the extent common to other large cities. From experience I can tell you some neighborhoods are flat-out avoided, even if you call and ask for a pick-up. So don't count on a cab to always be able to come get you, especially if it looks scary out.
Three, some of my friends and peers from more cab-centric towns like New York City don't think the taxi service in San Diego is very good at all, encompassing both of the above complaints but also charges of general incompetence. I've never had a super-bad experience in a San Diego cab, but they're apparently not unknown.
Tip #74. Get A Price Before You Get On A Pedi-Cab
San Diego has a bunch of pedi-cabs
downtown. Pedi-Cabs are basically bicycles with a chariot-like seat where a place to hold ice cream might ordinarily go. You sit in that seat and someone bikes you to your destination. 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.
Big key: decide on a price before you sit down. Second: remember to tip. If when you approach a group of these bikes they fight amongst themselves or otherwise act in a way that's unpleasant, you should always 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
. If nothing else, this is the moment you turn your pre-registration into an actual badge by standing in line and giving people pages you've printed out in advance so that they may scan them.
Tip #75. If You Can Get Someone Else To Secure Your Badges For 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 that publisher or exhibitor rather than by standing in line. This is ideal.
Tip #76. 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 and pro wrestlers. 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 #77. 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 #78. 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 #79. On Days Other Than Wednesday, Slightly 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 #80. 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 project 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 #81. 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 a general strategy of visiting those booths with specialty and one-of-a-kind items ahead of 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 supply that entails. The way I see it, you can see whatever giant model DC
has on hand tomorrow. I hear it's going to be the vault that contains the money they pay Christopher Nolan
Tip #82. 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 studying the floor maps from the Con site and then 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 #83. Take A Deep Breath; Ruminate
The good thing about Wednesday nights being insanely busy 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 #85. 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 chunks your kids' college money against that put up by random strangers as to whether you'll see more Green Lantern
s than One Piece
pirates in the next 11 minutes, trying to catch a glimpse of the horrified look on the locals' faces (anyone jogging or with a pet is local) as they make their way around their suddenly-transformed neighborhood -- you need to eat breakfast. Anyone over the age of 30 and most people under will feel the effects of standing on their 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; 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 #86. 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.
Tip #87. 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 money. I used to do this a bunch.
Tip #88. 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 #89. 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. If you don't want your feet to detach themselves and sign an exclusive with another person's body, be nice in terms of what you put them through.
Tip #90. Take Your Own Water
Buy a water bottle at Ralphs or at a similar store on the way over to the show. 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 #91. 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, and while that won't go away any kind soon you can't count on this continuing forever. Also, some folks simply aren't giant bag people.
I have a backpack that only gets used CCI 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. To and from the convention center having something to carry your stuff is a total blessing.
Tip #92. 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 exhibiting a lack of body awareness that has an olfactory dimension. Someone at a mainstream publication finds this graph every year and then makes a big point of it in their column about the show.
At this point I'm just putting it here to be funny. We are years past the era where Comic-Con might feature a significant percentage of people that take such poor care of themselves that it's worth noting. And it's not like Comic-Con ever had a monopoly on this. I attended my town's local music festival on Memorial Day weekend and there were a few happy, well-adjusted people in attendance that smelled like body parts that don't yet have a name.
Do your best. Comic-Con is a convention, with people working and playing in equal numbers. There's a lot of walking, and it's summer. No one expects everyone to be cotillion fresh, but it's also the wrong weekend to play rock-star-rolling-out-of-bed. Be the freshest version of you that you can be, no matter if you're wearing the same Ferro Lad
costume for five days in a row or if you're wearing a series of dry-cleaned, French collar shirts with Checkered Demon
cufflinks. If you make an effort, it will almost certainly be enough of an effort. You'll feel better.
Tip #93. Wash Your Hands, Then Wash Them Again
As much as you're able, get those hands washed. Flat-out orient yourself towards washing your hands. If you're near a restroom and it looks sparsely populated, maybe dart in and wash them. You are touching so many other people and the things that other people have touched; washing your hands is an honest-to-goodness, time-proven way to avoid the germs that come with that kind of constant interaction.
Tip #94. 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. In fact, at one very pleasurable panel a couple of years ago I watched entire rows of kids at desks eating packed lunches. It was kind of adorable.
The reason to think about packing the noontime meal is that it's harder than you'd think to get away from the convention center just 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. With the wait for service lunch out ends up being a decent investment in time. If you do end up going out anyway, 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) somewhere on the premises.
Where to eat if you're packing? 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. Last year, Lorena Nava Ruggero suggested the Picnic Hill park behind PETCO Park
, the Padres' baseball stadium. "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."
Tip #95. Don't Leave For Lunch Without At Least The Rough Outline Of A Plan
If you do leave for lunch, and I do at least one day every year, don't leave the convention center with vague plans of finding a place and sitting down and eating. A quick maps.google.search will give you a few ideas to focus your journey before it ends with you bursting into tears having walked seven blocks away and seeing nothing but art galleries for three blocks in every direction.
Many people love Buster's Beach House
or Dick's Last Resort
. Others I've heard people mention are Maryjane's inside Hard Rock
, the Gaslamp's Tin Fish
, a terrifying-looking place called Rockin' Baja
and the Cheese Shop Deli
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 and you eat what you purchased in side rooms on benches you share with lawyers and firemen and neighborhood families. I'm not kidding about giant tubs of lard: 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 I think it's worth it.
AT THE SHOW
You're loaded with money, water, a good bag to carry your stuff. Now what?
Tip #96. 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 #97. 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 #98. Network Laterally
One thing I've noticed from people that come to the show to meet people and network 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 the people they know that are creators. 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 #99. Always, Always, Always Introduce Yourself
The person you're with that you expect to introduce you? Don't count on that person. That person may be too tired to remember to make an introduction, may not actually remember your name, may have never said your name out loud, or any number of things that keep them from piping up. It's the mind melting aspect of the show. I've forgotten the names of longtime co-workers and future hall of fame cartoonists that have slept on my couch with equal aplomb. I am the opposite of a clutch performer when it comes to introductions.
So please introduce yourself to anyone you come across and save people the hassle of "hosting" your encounters. This goes double for a one-on-one situation. It's not you. It's Comic-Con.
Tip #100. 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 in the same way you're standing near your friend. It's a nice thing to do. You'll know this opportunity when you see it.
Tip #101. 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. I also always like seeing legendary nice folks Kristy Valenti
, Peter Birkemoe
(he makes it out every two of three years to sell from The Beguiling's original art collection at the D+Q table), Gene Yang
and the Beagle Boys
Of North American Independent Comic Books: Top Shelf's Leigh Walton
, Chris Staros
and Brett Warnock
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 #102. 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 out someone else's business card. Believe me, "Delightful Screw-Up" is not an image worth conveying to prospective clients. If they work in comics, they already know plenty of those.
Tip #103. 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. 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 banter with unctuous studio personnel about their securing an option on your comic book, do that. Putting the kids in charge 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 offer 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, even at times bringing someone out and sharing the costs of her stay with five or six sets of parents.
Is the con kid-safe, even kid-friendly? Depends on the kid, really. It's an exhausting place, and waiting in line when the time spent in that line constitutes a greater percentage of your lifespan-to-date can be extra tough. Still, there's a lot of kids material as the show's central focus, and there are once-in-a-lifetime experiences to be had if meeting creators or getting a special item or seeing some of the behind the scenes work is important to your child. While comics folk tend not to have as many prostitutes standing near booths as folks did in the early to middle 1990s (they were called booth babes, which is a much more hilarious appellation a few years removed from when they were dominant), and there isn't the big business in pornographic comics there once was, there's still a sniff of the illicit in the air and certainly there are people there to do business that haven't made a priority of making a wholesome experience for your kid.
Tip #104. 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. Comic-Con produces information specifically tailored to signing opportunities, but it also doesn't hurt to check around before you go.
Tip #105. Remember That It's Maybe 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 whatever they're doing honor that arrangement.
It's also nice to sneak in a half-dozen pages of reference folded in the back of your notebook if you're asking for a theme sketch related to something with which everyone might not be familiar.
Tip #106. You Might Have Luck Seeking Sketches In Offbeat Places
The writer Sean T. Collins says that he has some luck at San Diego getting offbeat or alternative artists to do sketches, particularly considering how busy the mainstream comics artists are and how much they may charge.
Again, this is out of my range of experiences, but it does make a certain amount of sense that it's going to be easier to get a sketch at a super-busy show from someone maybe not asked to do sketches all the time. Plus, these sketches are usually the coolest ones.
Tip #107. 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. Or, as I'm reminded every time I make that joke, you could just use the public bathrooms in those hotels.
Tip #108. 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 #109. Certain People Want Their Pictures Taken; Others Just Want To Walk From A To B
There are some amazing costumes on the floor. People rightfully 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 getting some attention is exactly why they slapped together that Black Jack Tarr
costume. Plus it's fun to shout basic modeling instructions at superheroes. "More personality, Lord Namor
One thing that's definitely 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. Again, outer hallways are a great place to do this and to see the costumes for which it's worth getting a photo.
Tip #110. 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. I saw Solano Lopez
once bring his publisher some cookies. Mostly, though, just have a generous heart. It's a tough weekend for many people. Please cut them some slack if they don't give you exactly what you think you deserve to be given the way you think you deserve to be given it.
Tip #111. 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 tweet at home on a hand-made device powered by small animals running on treadmills, a device that sports almost 300 vacuum tubes and numerous, Dr. Doom-like made scientist levers.
For the rest of you, in addition to all the usual ways to access the on-line network to which you're accustomed for the basics, there are ton of hot spots around San Diego
for more formal access. It's my understanding that for the convention center to offer it outside of the pressroom and in the hall generally takes a sponsor looking for a unique advertising opportunity. Someone has stepped up most years, but it's a down economy. Check into it preview night if that kind of access interests you, but don't count on it.
Tip #112. 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. It may be that I'm older now, but the spectacle of it impresses me maybe more than any of the one-on-one opportunities. One great place to see the show unfold in real time 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 #113. 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 #114. Don't Forget The Comics Retailers
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.
Please don't forget the comics retailers. There's no longer a core section as there was back in the heyday of Comic Relief, Bud Plant and Mile High Comics staking out huge sections just past the independent publishers, although I'm sure CCI will put their best foot forward in approximating that experience.
No matter what it looks like down there in 2011, I hope you'll try and spend a few minutes of time and a smatter of your available cash with the retailers that have made the point to exhibit. Retailers tend to do very well at the show with super-expensive comics and very cheap ones -- which means there are comics for just about every comic-book reader to die. While there's no shortage of avenues for buying comics these days, doing so at the biggest comics show in North America is kind of a tip of the hat to the way things used to be, when the entire industry was held together by a few dozen men with an ambition and desire to sell books far outstripping the impressiveness of their retail spaces.
Tip #115. Keep An Eye Out For Personalized And One-Of-A-Kind Items
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 #116. 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. Pay attention to some of your favorite creators and publishers in the weeks leading up to the show, or even instigate the discussion with them yourself.
Tip #117. 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 (whom you may also not see again at Comic-Con, although for more depressing reasons), and anything featuring funny people or those that work on funny enterprises.
Tip #118. Remember That The Bigger Panels Require Greater Commitment
First story. So I was walking around downtown San Diego at 3:45 AM on a Saturday morning in 2008 -- totally behaving myself, officer, I swear -- when I ran across a man talking on a cell phone pushing a baby stroller. I found this bizarre, but as I listened to him (the sound carried further in the clear night than in the daytime) it was clear that he and his wife (at the other end of the phone) 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. In 2009 I walk over to the Eisners and pass an entire area of people camping out. People camping out at San Diego isn't unheard of. There have always been a few dozen kids that have managed to score tickets without getting a hotel room that end up "sleeping" near the convention center like the kids from generation waited for Van Halen
tickets. Then I realize these folks I'm watching -- and there are a lot
more than usual -- aren't camping out for that reason. They're camping out even though they have room just 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 Bob
s 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. The only thing I can suggest is to fully commit, because most people with whom you're competing for seats are doing their best to access this very limited resource.
Tip #119. 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 #120. 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 #121. 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 #122. 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 #123. 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 in 2009 when I saw row after row of young artists sketching along with Mike Mignola
, that's one of my favorite memories of Comic-Con ever.
Tip #124. 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, make 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 #125. 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 #126. Don't Haunt the Proceedings
If you know you have to leave before the panel is over, sit near the exit door so as not to ignite questions of self-worth in the heads of the panelists who all just watched you leave the room.
Tip #127. If You're A Celebrity Watcher, Keep Your Eyes Open As You Leave A Panel
If you're in one of the panel rooms that has an entrance door on one side and an exit door on the other, and you want to see famous people, keep your eyes open as you walk out the exit hallway. It may not still be true, but it used to be that many celebrities were escorted to their panel down the exit hallway and through the exit door rather than brave the over-excited crowd filing in the entrance.
Tip #128. For God's Sake, Please Don't Stab Anybody
Someone stabbed somebody in the face
last year. This was awesome in all the terrible ways something is awesome, as we all stood witness to a kind of acting outside of the bounds of accepted behavior that was deeply upsetting and fairly astonishing to have finally unfold.
It was also awesome because Comic-Con treated the matter with the same kind of impatient fury and refusal to make a big deal out of it one might see from a mother who finds herself saddled with an incontinent child in church on Easter Sunday. I'm in the camp of those that thinks it's amazing something like this hadn't happened before, and that all of it underlines how generally peaceful Comic-Con has remained over the years despite the obvious potential for shenanigans, even violent ones. Of course, your mileage may vary.
Anyhow: it should go without saying that nothing that's happened in a Comic-Con panel in the last 40 years combined is worth someone physically assaulting someone. Hopefully we can all take a step back, breathe and relax.
EVENINGS AT COMIC-CON
Your feet hurt, you're broke and all you want to do is go to bed. Time to party.
Tip #129. Do Something -- Anything! -- 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.
A 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 < href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePczUi3CcTQ&feature=related" title="the pygmy marmoset">the pygmy marmoset.
San Diego has a bunch of your average big-city options. 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 giant ship
, although I'd like to someday.
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 saw Inception
last year rather than wait outside the convention center for Preview Night to start like Tuesdays at the methadone clinic, and that was a great way to push the fast-forward button. I once spent a fun late afternoon hitting outlet malls between downtown San Diego and Mary Fleener
's house. It's been said before, but 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. You'll remember what you did as a big part of that year's trip, just for it being a different thing.
Tip #130. 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 #131. 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. You've probably heard stories about how an old favorite comics publishing company of yours went out of business. Those stories are wrong. They broke up because they tried to seat 13 people in a restaurant in San Diego on a Friday night.
Tip #132. 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 #133. Consider 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. Also, if you're up on Broadway or in another neighborhood in town, some restaurants that focus on lunch and takeaway dinners -- your classic hole-in-the-wall places -- are only open until six.
Tip #134. Take Advantage Of Being In Non-Proximate Neighborhoods
This is a bit of common sense, but I'm surprised when people don't follow it. If you're staying in Little Italy or Old Town or one of the fine San Diego neighborhood that is not
the Gaslamp and downtown neighborhoods closes to the convention center, think about eating at a place up there rather than closer to the show. There's no magic to finding a place to eat that isn't crowded -- on a summer weekend in a big city, you can find restaurants full of people that don't know Spider-Man
from Forbush Man
-- but there are
great restaurants all over town and there are simply more people in some of those neighborhoods than there are in others. I wouldn't go out of my way to leave the area where the show and the evening programming is taking place, but if you're going back to your hotel to change, maybe consider eating wherever you are before heading back.
Tip #135. Think East
So what should you do, if, despite all advice to the contrary above, you find yourself standing with a restless group of people in front of the convention center with 70 minutes before the thing you want to do that evening and half the group insists on reading the menu before you sit down? My advice is veer east. For whatever reasons, con-goers seem a bit reluctant to travel much further east than Fifth or Sixth. I walked into two restaurants on Ninth last year, no waiting, plenty of room, having on both occasions walked past several restaurants to get there on Fifth and Sixth that were jammed with people standing outside. Couldn't guarantee that this holds up, but there seems to be something at work there. (This may also good advice for breakfast, if the zombie-like masses outside of Richard Walker's Pancake House
over on Front Street mid-morning are any indication.)
Tip #136. Maybe Skip That Evening In Mexico
I don't know that a lot of people look to do an evening in Mexico the way con-goers used to. There's a bit more to do in terms of Comic-Con's evening programming, both formal and informal, than in years past. I haven't gone to have dinner in Tijuana since... '97, maybe? Still, I'm told that even if you have the free time it might not be a great idea right now.
Mark Coale, who used to make such trips a part of every weekend, wrote CR
last year that he's scratched it off the to-do list. "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 Tijuana 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."
It may be better this year, I'm not sure, but it doesn't sound like something I'd put at the top of the list.
Tip #137. 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 parties and show sprinkled throughout the weekend at which a certain class of comics people seem 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 end in a hotel bar.
If I have any advice to offer in this arena, it's don't confuse parties and after-parties. God wants you to attend both, thus the clever naming of them. If you get any sort of formal party invitation, from your comics friends or from any other group, take the time to go! Ditto the idiosyncratic personal invite from one or more peers. The crowded bar with the people standing around it chatting each other up will be there when you're done.
Tip #138. 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. I assume they'll come back. 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. Again, follow your passion.
Tip #139. Remember The Charity Events
It's not like I get invited anywhere. If you're like me and out of the party loop but still want to go out, pay special 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 in attendance's first gig or if you don't know an Absolute Edition from an Absolut edition.
Tip #140. Don't Change Your Relationship To Alcohol For The Con Weekend
Just be yourself booze-wise. If you're a drinker, drink. If you're a teetotaler, teetotal. There's no stigma in comics either way when it comes to drinking alcohol. Many people drink in comics and the other attendant art forms; many others don't. Those that do and those that don't are united in not caring which side of that line you're on.
Tip #141. You Are Not In A Good Place To Do A Ton Of Extra Drinking
Staying up every night until 2:30 AM is like drinking two beers physiologically. Staring at the visual jackhammer that is the floor of the convention center all day? Another two beers. Toss in the exhaustion of walking around and being "on" for eight hours, and you're a six-pack into your evening before you're touched a drop of alcohol. Adjust to your weary and giddy state as you grow into the evening.
Tip #142. Consider Drinking Local
Beer is a safe choice. Local beers are always good. There's no real dominant local beer as far as I can tell, and the San Diego breweries themselves are sprinkled throughout the county. I did some research last year bar to bar and there didn't seem to be any set pattern as to what bars carried what beers, but it did seem that most of the hotel bars and most of those in the Gaslamp carried something
that was made locally. Couldn't hurt to ask.
Tip #143. Consider My Friend, The G&T
I want to put in my annual good word for the Gin and Tonic as an ideal convention imbibing experience. 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 #144. 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.
Tip #145. Remember That You Sometimes Get Points For Being Able To Talk About Something Other Than Comics Or The Related-To-Comics Activity In Question, But Only Sometimes
It isn't always the case that people are dying not to talk about comics. People in artistic fields, including and maybe particularly comics people, love to talk about the medium and the industry and many have come to San Diego for a weekend's worth of just that kind of exciting, back-and-forth gossip and chatter. I'll just mention that it's nice to be able to talk about other stuff, too, particularly if you're in a group where the enthusiasm levels aren't quite exactly matched up. I even know people that are known to their favorite comics and entertainment people based on the rolling conversation they have year to year on oddball subject X, Y, and Z. Being conversationally adept is like being able to wear a cape -- it might not come up, but if it does and you can you're going to stand out. Plus, both may draw the ire of townies.
Tip #146. Don't Get Arrested
This is pretty obvious advice, I know. If you're in San Diego to a have a good time, going to jail is not having a good time. If you're in San Diego to find a job, going to jail impresses very few people for whom you'd actually want to work.
I'd suggest actively playing defense on this count. Getting arrested in a foreign country is tough, and for this weekend only San Diego is no longer in the U.S. but its own Land Of Pop Culture Entertainment. It's that much more difficult to find someone to post bail when they're staying at seven strange hotels and are currently spread out between a dozen different social engagements, half of them involving puppets. It's also difficult for them to get to you: as I recall, the holding place for drunks in San Diego isn't always easy to access. So maybe tamp it down to 3/4 of your usual world-conquering behavior, and keep enough money in a spare part of your wallet for a cab or a pedi-cab ride.
One trick that might be useful is to get a card for your hotel and stick it in your shirt pocket. That's a good thing to do when you're overseas so that a cabbie can get you back to where you're going, but it's also useful in case you spend most of your evening at the Hilton right up next to the bar and you end up eschewing English for The Language Of The Bear People.
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, and have a night under your belt that consisted of eating fish tacos and buying 47 drinks for your favorite animation voice actor, here are a few last suggestions for a well-rounded weekend.
Tip #147. Check Out Any And All Same-Time, Off-Site Events
It was bound to happen soon or later -- people were going to begin to take events off-site and into their own space. It's happened in recent years but mostly in a promotional sense, like a parking lot that was taken over a few blocks away to promote 2010's Jackass 3
. This year the show is seeing off-site events devoted wholly or in part to comics. I don't think there's any reason to debate the notion that Comic-Con has somehow devalued comics in a way they need
to go elsewhere. I don't think that's true, and it seems like a pretty tedious argument to me all-around. But there's limited space at the show, limits to what can be done within that space, and lots of people looking to get over with an event when given the opportunity -- like I say above, some off-site activity seems inevitable.
Tip #148. 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 a fine 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, ever be asked to do this. I go every year and wouldn't miss it for the world.
Tip #149. If You're Going To The Eisners, Maximize Your Experience
There are any number of things you can do to make your Eisner experience that much better. Although there's some food on hand, I suggest eating a proper dinner before you go if this is possible in any way. If you have to be at the convention center until 7 PM that evening, maybe even force your friends to save you a seat at a restaurant so you can go straight there. Heck, make someone pick you up some Wendy's. Whatever it takes, make time for a meal.
If you're sitting up front at the tables as opposed to the audience seating, 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 no one minds the artists dressing like artists, the young people dressing like young people, the poor people dressing like poor people.
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 or walked in with a back pack full of beer. Here's a tip: there's usually a bar or two in the hallway that serves people before and after the show, and the last couple of years this has been manned during the awards. So if there's a line at the bar in the room where the awards are taking place, check the bar in the hallway.
You should make your table or seatmates bet the Eisners by guessing who's going to win and who isn't. It's not difficult: circle letters on your programs and throw a dollar into the center of the table or an empty chair. You'll likely 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 #150. 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 horrified Reverend Shaw Moore
It's hard to get into the Masquerade, so attending is something of an investment line-wise, but it is certainly a one of a kind thing.
Tip #151. There Is Usually A Sunday Morning Meeting Of Christian Cartoonists That's Sort Of Like Church
There's probably no scrubbing the filth off your soul three days into Comic-Con, but if you want to try you have some options. Any hotel of significance should be able to direct you to a church of your denominational choice. If you want to mix church and comics, consider hitting the traditional Sunday morning meeting of Christian cartoonists. The con moved that meeting out of the convention center and to a nearby hotel last year, but it's reasonably close by the floor of the show. I've gone to this a couple of times and it was sort of like going to comics church. There was praying and uncomfortable guests looking at the door and everything.
STICK THE LANDING
Tip #152. 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 have to carry stuff home still applies. Sunday is one fine day to shop.
Tip #153. Take Courage In The Fact You're In The Stretch Run
On Sunday morning in 2010, a comics industry veteran friend and I walked past a 30-something boss screaming at his 20-something assistant on an otherwise empty city block near the Hyatt. We were each too tired to act on our shared, initial impulse of dropkicking the employer between the Marriott towers. My friend pointed out a half-hour later as a way of making us feel better that the real tragedy was this couple -- and I bet they're still together somehow -- probably could have avoided the entire scene altogether simply by recognizing that they were probably heading home an hour or two after lunch.
Don't be those people. You can settle any con beefs next week, perhaps in one of the passive-aggressive ways preferred by comics people since the late 1930s. Reach that finish line. Eyes on the prize. No meltdowns.
Tip #154. 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 as you check out once you know next year's dates.
Tip #155. Recover Quickly
Take one day once you get back home to sleep in, but after that, get all of your initial written follow-up and thank-yous out the door by Friday, July 28th. Any longer than that, you'll feel silly sustaining the 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.
Comic-Con is such an intense experience that people are sick of it by Monday morning at 9 AM -- they want to move on. See to it you've taken the next step by week's end.
Tip #156. 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" entry that runs the week after the show or just generally wandering around the Internet and reading various con reports. This year a lot of con report energy will once again go into Twitter, so the results should be amazing there. 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. You can also find out who had a better time than you did and slowly, inexorably, plot your revenge.
AND FINALLY, THE BEST SECTION EVERY YEAR
Tip #157. Heed the Advice of Your Fellow CR Readers
a. In your recent article on Comic-Con 2011 ("Comic-Con By The Numbers: 150+ Tips For Attending San Diego's CCI 2011") you touched on the difficulty of finding hotel rooms downtown. Your readers might find it useful that bedmap.com has a map of the remaining rooms. There are indeed still a few places downtown as well as many in surrounding areas. -- Jamie Lavigne
b. If you're bringing a still/video camera to take pictures of celebrities and cosplayers, bring more spare batteries than you think you'll need. Few things suck worse than seeing something cool and not being able to record it because your batteries are dead. -- Scott Bieser
c. Don't be a loner. If you're an attendee especially, bring a buddy or quickly hook up with a friend or two once you're there. The experience that is San Diego Con is much more fun when shared. -- Scott Bieser
d. Be open to something new and different. The exhibits floor is full of new (or not so new but off-beat) comics offerings, and for many people this may be the best chance to greet the creators and view their creations. It can be a real thrill to find a diamond-in-the-rough this way. And there's a chance you'll meet some up-and-comer who will end up being the next Jeff Smith or Grant Morrison and then you'll get to say, "Yeah, I knew him way back when." -- Scott Bieser
e. Attend the annual Pop Candy meet-up. -- Whitney Matheson
f. San Diego has a great local style called West Coast IPAs -- essentially extra bitter and extra strong IPAs. Two venues within walking distance from the Convention are Downtown Johnny Browns and The Neighborhood: both have excellent selections of San Diego Beers. Further afield, about seven minutes by car, $10 cab ride, is 30th Street -- called the Best Beer Blvd America by Men's Journal. -- Edward Wilensky
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 2009-10; Gil Roth, 2005; Tom Spurgeon, 2007 and 2010. Comic-Con International is an advertiser here, so you just spent all that time reading compromised, biased nonsense.