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Comic-Con Coping Guide 2013 -- 180 Tips To Survive And Thrive San Diego Con Weekend!
posted May 30, 2013
-- also known as CCI, Comic-Con, San Diego Comic-Con and even by the shorthand "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.
It's also an extraordinarily complex vacation event.
That's where this guide comes in. I'm a near 20-year veteran of attending the show as a professional and covering it as press. What follows is a list of observations, tips and insights from a comics-culture point of view 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 2013, the show is scheduled for July 18-21, with a preview night
on July 17. I hope to see you there!
THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP OF THEM ALL
Something to keep in mind for always, even if you forget every dumb joke and trite observation that follows.
Tip #1. Stay Safe
A woman with the intention of attending Comic-Con died last year after running into traffic and being struck by a car during the time she spent in a line that formed in advance of the show. Her name was Gisela Gagliardi. She was a fan, and a lot like you and me in at least that way. She didn't think she was going to die when she got up that morning.
Please, please be careful. Don't do anything because you're at a show and in a different headspace you wouldn't do and wouldn't invite your family to do with you at the same time back home. Remember that San Diego is a city, and not some strange city from a fantasy book but a real-life city with all that entails. It's okay to complain about the police officers and what they have you do as far as crossing streets and waiting for trains, but do it anyway; they have your best interests in mind. Even the security inside has a job to do and your day will go just fine making their days go a little easier by doing what they ask. You look after you. None of what follows is important at all if you don't come out of it on the other side healthier and happier and in a position to enjoy all of the potential fun that may await you.
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 #2. At This Point, You Better Already Have Your Badge; If You Don't, Maybe This Is The Last Tip You Need To Read
The convention is sold out. Professional registration is completed. Exhibitors are set. Press registration is nearly over. If you don't have tickets for the show or aren't registered in another way, you're pretty screwed.
The current demand to attend Comic-Con outstrips the number of tickets available for the show. That rise came with such sudden force as to discombobulate -- if not snuff outright -- traditional avenues for securing tickets. 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. In fact, I've seen this: it's awful. I've seen it in English, and it's awful, and I've seen it Spanish: muy awful. I'd suggest focusing on the 2013 Comic-Con, or on one of the many fine conventions all over the world where demand hasn't yet exceeded capacity.
As mentioned above, we have great shows now in cities like New York
, San Francisco/Anaheim
; 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, and has thrown a more mainstream-oriented Spring show for the last two years in Anaheim called WonderCon. We are in the Great Convention Era: you can find something that suits you, I'm sure.
Tip #3. If You're Asking, "Aren't There Are Any Gray Areas To Work To Get That Badge?" Please Listen Closely
Short answer: no. Longer answer: not really.
The convention has in recent years auctioned off a few tickets that come back to them via returns. I don't know if this has happened yet this year, or if it has yet to happen.
So the only thing I can think of is this: 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 might work.
Beyond that… yikes. There are
people that put up for sale on eBay certain badges or groups of badges. 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. If this were my only hope, I think I'd find something else to do that weekend. 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.
Tip #4: Remember You're Going To Need Hold Onto That Badge
With increased value comes increased responsibility: the con's organizers will charge you for lost badges. Period. They don't care how you lost it. You're paying up. If you're mugged by Joss Whedon's personal assistant, you pay up. If you lose it in a late-night poker game with the Image founders in the captain's quarters on Jim Lee's zeppelin, you pay up. If you allow a badge-less pal to "steal" it, you pay up
An additional tip for this point suggested by a reader is to take a pin and secure your badge to your shirt as well as have it attached to the provided lanyard. It's worth considering.
Tip #5. Going? Not Going? Be Happy!
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. The show has decided to stay in San Diego for the immediate future, and capacity in San Diego was reached a few years back.
It's totally okay not to go.
There was a time when 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.
That's no longer as true. As
true. There are so many opportunities for daily connectivity and interaction out there that actually flying in and pressing the flesh and sharing a breakfast buffet -- while all still incredibly useful -- no longer seem like necessary
things. At least not to the same degree.
If you go to Comic-Con these days, you can go because you want to
, not because you feel you have
And it's also totally okay to go, to look forward to it, to build your year around it.
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.
It helps to remember that the hassle
of going to Comic-Con is mostly an accident of our recent 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 the con that the worst-case
scenario was registering on-site and staying in a $65 hotel ten blocks away. It wasn't that long ago!
But I also can't stress this enough. I still have fun.
I 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. Last year I got to meet Gilbert Shelton. Gilbert Shelton! I got to see Kate Beaton slaughter a devoted crowd at her spotlight panel. I got to chat with Alison Bechdel. I interviewed Eric Stephenson at a triumphant moment for his Image Comics, as Anthony Bourdain kept walking by, to and fro. I had like 30 meetings with publishers and publishing figures.
There will come a time when I won't attend CCI. I can feel it coming. I'll become a Friday morning to Saturday night attendee for a few years and then it will be something I used to do. I never got to attend the show in the 1970s or 1980s. I'll never again attend the late 1990s Comic-Con of my (relative) youth. Those days are gone. There are still joys to be had. You need only engage the show as it is, not as you wish it to be. Someone will have their first show this year. Someone will have their best. Someone will say goodbye. It's all good.
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 pretty good year -- vastly fewer public complaints than there used to be, although it's never perfect, and there were probably more complaints than in 2012.
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
the process -- and even that was diminished in 2012 as opposed to 2010 and 2011.
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. If this doesn't work, extend this query to anyone you know that is 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. In a previous year, CR
reader Jamie Levigne recommended bedmap.com
, which looks useful.
Tip #7: Don't Be Upset About Staying Further Away
A lot of people make a big deal out of staying downtown. Heck, some folks 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 quite understand these people.
I have stayed in some of the super-close hotels. I'm lucky to stay in one this year. My favorite place to stay during San Diego Con is a downtown hotel about six blocks away that some of my friends seem to find intolerably far to walk. I love that slight 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 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. That was a great year!
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, cabs and, if you brought one, your own vehicle.
If you're on the water, there may be water transportation from your hotel 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. It's worth noting, however, that water taxis are 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 that makes you a member of the only class of con-goer that should actually complain about proximity -- you have to build in that much more time and care in how you get there and when. 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. Build in enough time and give yourself the ability to make some concessions -- like jumping in a cab if the public transportation is delayed -- and you'll be more than fine.
Tip #9: Embrace The Primary Adjustment In Staying Further Away
The biggest adjustment in staying further away is time. The second biggest adjustment is that you practically sever your connection to your room every morning from the moment you leave until the time you return. It's way more difficult to pop back over to one's room and catch a nap or to get away from the show for a time or drop off stuff if it's out of the immediate area. 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 War Machine armor. You also might simply consider a shorter day.
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.
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.
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 Batman
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 network 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 easily 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. Don't be a bother, but talk to your pals.
Tip #12. Start Your Bookmarks
The other great, recurrent skill in the con-goer's toolbox is research. Research in this day and age means 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 to put together a little folder of bookmarks.
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
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 two 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 not having to spend on that many extra days of hotels and meals. Remember that a lot of what people want to do at Comic-Con isn't tied into a specific panel or scheduled experience. 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 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 Diet Mountain Dew, eating barbecue corn chips and watching Baseball Tonight
with the volume all the way up. I'm a bad roommate.
That said, I shared a room as recently as last year. 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 network. You'd be surprised who might need a room or have an extra bed. In the past, I know that people have simply thrown in together on a message board. That always came across kind of slasher-movie to me, if not something people only did in the late 1990s that seems totally insane now, like wearing Aqua Socks. Share a bathroom and its tiny bottles of conditioner with a total stranger at your own risk, that's my motto. But if you have a friend who's going, even just a close Internet friend, why not?
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 notoriously tough on this point. Other hotels might be, too.
So 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 a traditional look-the-other-way establishment into a hard case. I know that many hotels will deny rollaways to rooms that already have two beds out of "policy" -- a policy that I've never seen many of these same chains apply in any other location at any other time. The Westin Gaslamp
and the Manchester Grand Hyatt
used to offer them during San Diego Con for a modest fee, but damned if I could get either place to give me one in 2009 or 2012.
Tip #15. Consider Volunteering (No Longer Applicable To 2013)
There's a whole sub-culture of Comic-Con volunteers
, who get access to the show in return for their hard work making sure programming goes smoothly and helping people to get where they need to go. I know them from personal experience as the "please end your panel right now so we can have a less boring one in here next hour, thank you" people.
My understanding is that all volunteer slots were filled for 2013 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," If The Opportunity Arises
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 and still have time to leave someone else in charge of commerce and sneak off to see all their favorite showcase panels featuring inkers from the 1970s. 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 publisher pulls up in his pick-up truck and asks you to jump in, so I wouldn't make plans based on this. Still, it couldn't hurt to keep your eyes and ears open.
Tip #17. Consider Adjusting Your Plans To Include Commerce
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. A great way to mitigate costs at a comics convention is sell enough stuff that it's a net positive to be there.
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 exhibitor 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 -- although I'm not sure that wasn't just a line to get me to buy something. Still: some people have lousy weekends commercially. 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 their 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. Walk Everywhere
You're probably going to walk most places even if you're stuffed with cash, and we'll talk about that a bit later, but deciding in advance you're not spending a lick on cabs can keep you from jumping in that Hilton line post-Eisners or deciding you're too tired to wear your backpack the half mile from hotel to train station. Heck, it's only about an hour's walk from the Broadway hotels to the airport (I'm not sure there are sidewalks, though). Walking is also a nice way to see the city and gain a different perspective on things. I've known people that went to San Diego and never got in a cab, bus or train. It's worth thinking about, anyway.
Tip #19. Live Like A Cartoonist
The reason so many comics people are able show up at San Diego despite yearly incomes that would generate derisive, barking laughter 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.
Tip #20. 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 #21. Consider Having A Getaway Hotel
Say you're staying Sunday and heading out of town early Monday. You maybe don't need to spend that last night 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.
Tip #22. 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. 1) 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. 2) 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, or all three). 3) I retrieved my bag. 4) I went to the Dennys
on Pacific Highway for a leisurely breakfast. 5) I went to the airport where I caught a super-early morning flight. I did this three different times. 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. So maybe don't do this.
Tip #23. 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, including last year. 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). Plus sports-betting and impressing no one at the pool with my raggedy swim trunks. 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. Going to Vegas cost me $11 more than heading home directly.
PACKING AND PREPARATION
Tip #24. 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 4. Seriously. 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-comics biography of Matt Fraction.
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. Packing materials you never touched back into the bag you brought with you is the DIY Walk of Shame.
Tip #25. 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. Still, I know that some folks ship a box or two to the hotel where they're staying. 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 #26. Limit Your Physical Preparations To Fine-Tuning
I know that a lot of people drop a few pounds to fit into their Red Lantern pukesuits 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 Tom Gauld. That's all good.
Know your limits, though. Take it from one who knows: 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 Little Dot
, 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 Count Chocula 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 #27. 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 #28. 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 #29. Check The Forecast
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 or 73 degrees at night -- but we're way overdue 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
long-sleeve shirts. And double-check close to the show. Approximately 25 percent of cartoonists attending this year's TCAF did so after checking the long-range forecast… which changed to something much, much colder in the days right before the show. Don't count on Paul Pope giving you a hat.
Tip #30. 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 mostly because I don't want my luggage to incur an additional fee, but I also 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.
There are easy-to-access mail delivery or private shipping service offices up by the Broadway hotels about six or seven blocks away and in the convention center itself. 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. This can be even more important if you're taking a vacation after the show. No one wants to see your Flintstones animation cels burst out of your bag in the lobby of a Palm Springs hotel.
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 with appropriate postage if you don't have time to visit a post office or Fed Ex hub on your last day. Double-check, but they are jerks if they don't do that.
Tip #31. Pack To Sleep Defensively
I got this one from Sean T. Collins: 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.
Tip #32. 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.
Tip #33. Pack For Power
Glenn Hauman reminded CR
readers in 2011 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.
If you do get caught without device powering implements, your hotel's front desk or concierge should be able to direct you to the nearest store or even provide that services right there. Another thing to consider is to scan the walls of the convention center lobby or the seats on your train or plane for people using a similar device, with whom you can then bargain for access. I've seen this done, so I know it works -- my brother traded a bag for 30 minutes with a charger in 2010.
Tip #34. If It's Something You Do, Consider Eating Vitamins Or Performing Some Other Ameliorative Tasks 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 Iron Man 3
tie-in malt liquor and then doing 45 squat thrusts while singing made-up lyrics to the songs in Joann Sfar's Serge Gainsbourg film in Klingon. I'm not sure it works, but I'm not sure it doesn't.
Did I mention I'm not the greatest roommate?
Tip #35. 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. Make that its own bag, or make it a bag within a bag. 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, carry rather than check this material.
Tip #36. Share That Packing Paranoia
The key to packing defensively is your paranoia should extend to what people will be bringing to the convention for you.
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 and/or bring. An artist sitting at a convention with no books to sign because someone dropped the ball is an entire chapter from The Big Book Of Sad.
Tip #37. 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/family member stop by and open things up for an hour on Thursday morning. 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 #38. Pack Your Motherboxes
It's taken longer than a lot of us thought it would, but the convention utilizes Internet support to a much greater degree than it used to. So saddle up with your devices. You will want to supplement the information at your disposal with access to Twitter and Facebook and the comics coverage sites; you will want a place to scan/download and keep digital exclusives; you will want to text people to find out about dinner plans.
If like me you live a life that most Amish find overly distrustful of technology, try and at least fake some sort of gadget relevance. If you can't manage 2012, get yourself up to 1998. You need something to tell time (there are no clocks in the convention center) and for people with whom you're at the convention to call/text you. You probably need a lot more, but these two are still crucial.
Some sort of texting capacity is necessary for many folks because a) it can be done silently as you're doing something else like watching Tom Richmond 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 2013 and you appear to have the body hair of an adult.
I know how silly this all sounds to your average, well-connected person. But the biggest change between, say, 2009, and the Comic-Con today is that social media and the Internet generally have been mainstreamed into the experience. Go to a panel early and sew what the panelists are doing: they are checking their phones. That is a new thing, a new reality. Don't get caught having half a con because you don't want to play catch-up.
GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS, YOUR FRONT DOOR TO HOTEL LOBBY
Getting there is nowhere near half the fun.
Tip #39. 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 #40. You're Under No Obligation To Be The Ambassador Of Comics, But It's Sort Of Fun To Wear That Vibranium Crown
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, Iron Man 3
is sort of about my dad."
Tip #41. Don't Wear Your Weekend's Costume On The Plane
Seriously, that's terrifying.
Tip #42. 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 #43. Consider Amtrak To And From LA
I like the Amtrak
journey from LA to San Diego. I'm taking its reverse portion on Sunday this year after flying in to San Diego directly. 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 I'm told the authorities frown on when you're driving.
Tip #44. Consider Anything Else From Anywhere Else
I wouldn't take Amtrak from any point further North or from any points East at all unless you're 1) a rail travel veteran and
2) 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. The southern train that comes over from Texas isn't as bad as it used to be in terms of sheer percentage of malcontents and deviant railroad employees, but it's not exactly 1920s Orient Express level service, either.
Tip #45: 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. 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 afforded some leeway on when you made use of your Amtrak ticket within the day of your reservation
, 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 used this once when I had the chance to do a post-con lunch one Sunday.
I've left Comic-Con on a train earlier than expected, too. No, I don't want to talk about it.
Fourth, be prepared for a reasonably involved brisk walk at both stations to get on and off the trains. You should be used to walking by that point of the weekend -- or you should get used to it if you're talking before the show -- but it can still be a shock. 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 and may have to if you have a lot of it -- Amtrak is limiting luggage now on most train trips, just like the airlines. Build a little time between your arrival and being picked up if you give your luggage away to be hauled to your destination 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. There's also usually no way around that line, and as a result way more people try to circumvent it than succeed, to the jeers an contempt of the crowd they eventually join. One of the great joys of last day of Comic-Con is standing in the train line and see person after person ask an Amtrak employee if that line the rest of us are standing in is really the line they have to stand in. Yes. Yes, it is. We call that strategically-placed railroad worker "The Destroyer Of Dreams."
The line in San Diego is to the immediate west 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. Or you could buy the reserved ticket -- I'm told that works, too. I'd still show up reasonably early.
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 in LA dependent on a phone call for someone to come get you rather than a set time pick-up, and coming down to the convention don't count on the train hitting San Diego the exact second you need to be there. Maybe even take the train before the train that fits your time schedule.
Tip #46. 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 to the adorable little terminal. However, since not as many cabs go to the secondary terminal as to the primary, it can be a longer wait.
Tip #47. Share A Cab
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. If the end result is two single people sharing the back of the cab, that would seem bearable to save ten bucks.
Tip #48. Call Ahead To See About An Airport Shuttle
Not every hotel has them -- in fact, none come to mind. A few hotels that did have them cut them for economic reasons about three years ago. That may have come back, though: I'm not sure. 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.
Tip #49. 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 of buildings. I've had East Coast city folk tell me this can be particularly unnerving.
Tip #50. Planes Are Good Places To Catch Comics Luminaries And Actual Celebrities
If staring at famous people 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. Commiserating with anyone con-bound that's headed to the same place can be an awful lot of fun.
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. My road not taken? Hotel Management. My favorite movie of the 1990s? Barton Fink
. It's a sickness.
Tip #51. 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 the short-lived 1990s hate-a-thon publication Crash Magazine
; they rip into everything
-- but the traveler photos are almost always great. Then do a location search on your hotel and see what's in the immediate neighborhood.
I know how obsessive this sounds, but trust me: spending that 10 minutes some Tuesday morning in June when you're bored out of your skull at work 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 #52. Join the Points Club
If your hotel or hotel chain has a points club, join it. There are advantages even if you have no intention of ever again staying at that hotel. You may get a separate check-in and checkout line. You may get an instant reward, like a room upgrade. You may 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.)
The most important thing about joining is that being in the points club is a hedge against something unfortunate happening during the trip, like a piece of luggage getting lost in the check room or people continuing to walk 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 #53. Check In As Close As You Can To The Time Given
You already know the hotels are super-booked Comic-Con weekend. What you may not know is that according to most basic hotel reservation agreements, they can move you to a different hotel if they get totally booked up.
Overbooked folks at the Embassy Suites
sometimes get moved up the coast to the Lodge at Torrey Pines
, which would have been the greatest day in my hotel-obsessed life, 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 #54. 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. I later invited the person who I didn't blackballed me to share the room so they could have their own bed and they confessed that they were mad at me and it was a twenty-something workplace drama special coming-to-terms late-night discussion. I don't miss my twenties. Anyway, 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 #55. 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 #56. 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 your research. If your hotel has a pool, it's not likely going to be used a whole lot. Ditto the gym. Ditto the spa. 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 a guy who scored a gig from a name-above-the-title comics personality by being the only other person at Westin Gaslamp pool at 3 PM on a Friday.
Tip #57. 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 that cold box with chow and drinks you bought at Ralphs. This isn't always the case now. Some refrigerators are constructed in a way they no longer allow for the hotel items to be unloaded. Improvise with a trashcan, a trash bag and a lot of that sweet hotel ice. I think every hotel except the Westgate has some sort of ice machine. The Westgate actually brings the ice to you, which could severely limit your MacGyver-style temporary icebox creation options.
Tip #58. 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, 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 Markovian grocery store.
Tip #59: 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 #60: 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 dive bars, and save your question about the best traditional steakhouse downtown for the 67-year-old guy with the mane of silver hair.
Tip #61. If You Need To Have Full Computer Access While At Comic-Con, Check In Advance On Your Hotel's Specific Computer and On-Line Access 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. He said that in drunk, so there was a lot of slurring involved and a couple of high-five moments, but that was the gist of it.
That's the long way of saying that hotels are all over the place on what kind of Internet services they offer. It should
be free and easily available by now throughout every hotel; it's not. 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 if things go wrong with your computer -- I think most of these are being phased out, but I could be wrong. I've used the Hilton's (it was good) and the Hyatt's (the opposite of good).
Another thing 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 that particular device to the show.
Tip #62. 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. In particular, get down early to check in your luggage -- mid-morning to late morning that can be an hour wait.
Tip #63. 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-cheap-ink 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. And 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 #64. 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 #65. Memorize The Following Places For A Basic Lay Of The Comic-Con Land
I used to include a map that I stole and disfigured, and then I remembered that I'm an adult and I shouldn't do such things. So I'm going to include the descriptions and then a google map location and hope that I remember to commission an actual map of my own next year. Sorry!
1. The Convention Center [location]Tip #66. 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 near the big Hilton in case there's a train on the tracks.
2. The Marriott [location]
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 [location]
This is the traditional comics industry late-night social hub. The Hilton has cut into it a bit, getting a chance to do so during some unfortunate advocacy by Hyatt owners on behalf of anti-gay marriage laws, but I think this has rallied to retain its hold as the busiest place. There's an upstairs bar where a slightly more cool, younger version of the comics crowd secures tables early, but most folks hang out downstairs and spill over to the outside or even use the sports bar at the other end of the lobby. If you're done with what you had planned for the evening or just want to see what it's like, stop by.
4. Seaport Village [location]
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 [location]
Gaslamp too crowded? Everyone in your group of friends mad at you? Hit a restaurant up here.
6. Horton Plaza [location]
Downtown shopping mall with tons of restaurants and more than a few shops.
7. Ralphs Supermarket [location]
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 [location]
Restaurants! Movie Theaters! Hotels! People willing to yell mean things at you from their cars!
9. Petco Park [location]
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) [location]
Get on-line; ship stuff home; make copies!
11. US Post Offices [location]
You probably know what a post office is. Media rate is your friend.
12. Omni Hotel [location]
One of the many newer hotels right up next to the convention center.
13. Hilton San Diego Bayfront [location]
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 eventually replace the Hyatt as the late night place for comics people to hang out and try to talk to Marvel editors, but hasn't yet. I prefer the physical set-up here.
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 #67. If You're Driving Into The Show For The Day, Consider Going Early
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.
Tip #68. Maybe Think North But Also East Of The Show For Public Parking
In 2010 I walked to the show along 8th and 9th about two blocks past Broadway. Even though I wasn't exactly hitting the show early -- it was about 11 AM -- there was still plenty of public parking to be had. It could be that I just witnessed a terrible aberration. Still, it was certainly really easy
to find paid parking in those neighborhoods.
Tip #69. If You're An Exhibitor, Double-Check Your 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. 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 #70. Check Out The CCI Site For Potential Advance Parking Options
According to several readers, the convention site has offered some limited advance parking through ACE. This was different than parking at the convention center for key exhibitors -- this was parking offered through ACE at various nearby hotels and lots that they own. You were not allowed to leave after parking, and you have to be out by midnight, but there was apparently a discount if you purchased this way and as one reader put it, "it was another thing not to have to worry about paying for when you got there."
Tip #71. 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. The one exception to parking at your hotel used to be Sunday, when it was a little easier to find a place to stash your car just for the day. I would also imagine you can still park east of downtown and walk back into that area, but I'm not sure if there are city rules that would lead to ticketing.
Tip #72. 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 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 #73. 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 policies: you may or may not be able to take the car out, for instance, without a penalty.
Tip #74. If You Have A Car, Consider Using It For Something Other Than A Trip To The Convention Center And Back
If you have a car, use it! 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 #75. 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 from the John Sayles movie that talked in a lady voice and 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 heavy folks bearing toy sets.
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. You'll need to remember a color.
I used to never use them, and now I use them at least once in a weekend.
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 and much quicker 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. It depends on the driver if they'll let you out. Being late but being 200 feet from your last stop is basically an invitation to have your head explode.
Tip #76. 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.
Tip #77. Remember There's A Footbridge Now
It used to be you could stuck behind trains achingly close to the convention center. The footbridge has made this something of a non-factor. It might be worth building in some extra time to walk to the show if you have an important meeting, because that's a bit out of the way -- I was late to the Eisners in 2012 because I hadn't build in extra time for a stopped train.
Tip #78. 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 Felicia Day keeps trying to pick a fistfight 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 #79. 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, it's been my experience that a San Diego 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 #80. 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 (or trying to look like you're not looking at it).
Decide on a price before you sit down.
Also: 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
Tip #81. If You Can Get Someone Else To Secure Your Badges For You, Do That
You probably can't -- and it may be that this option is no longer an option even for those few folks to whom it applied -- but if you're with a publisher or an exhibitor rather than registered on your own, it used to be you get to pick up your passes from that publisher or exhibitor rather than by standing in line. This is ideal.
Tip #82. 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 noon or so. With press registration, you get a much shorter line and access to a pressroom that used to be empty but these days can be like Chalmun's Cantina
for science fiction television actors. With registration as an exhibitor, you can enter and leave the hall early, which isn't that great a thing but triggers all the childhood impulses about getting to stay up late when other kids have to bed down.
I repeat my yearly request to the Comic-Con organizers that people in costumes be allowed to register in separate superhero/supervillain lines, just so I can get that photo.
Also, Chris Butcher wrote in last year to say that exhibitor badges are by far the best badges and shut up about the rest of it, so maybe that's settled.
Tip #83. 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.
Last year was the first time I was sent to cattle-pen areas on Wednesday night, holding places for bunches of fans. Before then I had just stayed out in the lobby -- I'm guessing getting people out of the lobby had become a point of emphasis for the show. I blew that off to go eat a burger and just came back when the doors were open.
Tip #84. 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 #85. 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 #86. 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 #87. 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: it will be there all four days. I hear this year it's going to be a statue of Wonder Woman built entirely out of pages from failed pilot treatments and stalled movie scripts.
Tip #88. 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 #89. Take A Deep Breath
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. It's an eye-opener. 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 #90. Definitely Eat Breakfast
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. Get an orange juice at Ralphs for pity's sake. A donut. Street food. Something.
Tip #91. Consider Making A Meeting Out Of Breakfast
I bet there are going to be more and more breakfast meetings this year and in the years ahead. Lunch is difficult considering all that's going on at the show; dinner is being pressed by a smaller window between the close of programming and the evening activities.
If you're going to do a meeting at breakfast, maybe do a place that will take a reservation and thus is less likely to find you waiting in a line. If you're not a breakfast person and you're asked to do a morning meeting, consider the lobby of any of the hotels near the Convention Center. The Marriott in particular has a little area with a Starbuck's in it where I've taken maybe a half-dozen meetings at various morning times. It's easy to find and close by. Also, if you want to extend your meeting, you can usually walk with the person back to the show.
Tip #92. Bring Enough Money To The Convention Center
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 #93. 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 #94. 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 #95. 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 hold an impromptu press conference denouncing your abusive behavior, treat them nicely. In fact, if you can, wear comfortable everything.
Tip #96. 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. You'll also have saved a couple of bucks over what's available at the show.
Tip #97. 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 time soon you can't count on this continuing forever. Also, some folks simply aren't giant bag people. I know I can't pull it off.
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. Having something to carry your stuff to and from the convention center is a total blessing.
Tip #98. 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. People that don't take care of themselves tend not to have the kind of money and time it takes to have a five-day vacation, even a Comic-Con vacation. It's also not like Comic-Con ever had a monopoly on stinky folk. I attended my town's local music festival the day before I wrote this year's guide and there were a few happy, well-adjusted people in attendance that smelled like body parts that had been buried inside other body parts. "If Dirt Could Sweat" could be my town's festival motto.
Do your best. 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.
Tip #99. Wash Your Hands, Then Wash Them Again
Most of you is clean; some of you is filthy. Your hands are gross. 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 #100. Be Sensitive To Those That Don't Wish To Shake Hands
One thing I've noticed at a lot of these shows is that fewer people seem to want to shake hands -- understandable, given our greater awareness of germs and the like. I don't think people are allowed to be grumpy if you didn't read their minds and know they prefer a fist bump, but you might be sensitive to who wants to initiate contact and who doesn't. And gentlemen: remember that a lady has the right to engage a handshake and you should defer to that initiation or lack thereof.
Tip #101. Remember The AM/PM Rule
So as to avoid frustration when I'm at a show, I try to pick one event for each half-day that is a mega-priority, and then allow the day to come to me otherwise. There is nothing wrong with finding you have an hour free and going and finding a panel that you can maybe attend, or hitting the floor to look at the movie exhibits. You're not going to enjoy that part of your day any more for having fretted over it long in advance, not knowing if you'd make it or not. In fact, the opposite tends to be true. Don't build in opportunities for disappointment! Comic-Con can be a hard place in which to move around, so limiting what you really want to do gives you a better chance of at least having those experiences and leaves you open to letting the show happen in your presence as opposed to closely sticking to a schedule. If what you want to do requires more than a half-day split, like waiting in line for a specific must-see panel, you may be required to do whatever it takes -- within reason -- to make this happen. But for most events and panels and the other things you might want to do, a half-day tends to suffice.
Tip #102. 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, and that's after
you've crossed the convention floor. With the wait for service, lunch out ends up being a decent investment in time. Besides, if you 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 somewhere on the premises. Some of the businesses have taken to packing lunches for people to carry out, like a barbecue place on the southwestern corner of Horton Plaza. Keep your eyes open.
Where to eat if you're packing? I have never seen an open seat at the convention eating areas. Never. Not once in my life. I'm pretty sure they have seat-fillers like the Oscars. Eating standing up behind your table is a total comics-star move if you're cool enough to pull it ooff. 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. In 2010 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." You can find a place.
Tip #103. 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. If you see me at the show, ask me and maybe we'll go.
AT THE SHOW
You're loaded with money, water, a good bag to carry your stuff. Now what?
Tip #104. Remember Your Badge Skills
Your badge -- a basic ID with your name on it that gets you into events -- will come with a lanyard along with any chip technology they're putting in those things now. A greater poet than I am would cleverly note the irony of the distance between this new technology and the rudimentary method for displaying it. 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. This is another way that pinning the badge to your shirt in addition to having it on the lanyard might help.
Tip #105. 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 #106. Take A Similar Swing By The Small Press Area
Comic-Con actually splits its Artist's Alley from its small press area. The former is usually on the eastern end of the hall; the latter is usually south of the comics publishers, with a slightly bigger group near the front of the hall and between the mainstream publishers and the alt-/arts- folks. Try to visit as many of these folks as you have a passion for, as it's one area of the convention that I think has genuinely become more difficult to make work given the flow of traffic and how people spend money. Much like visiting the old retailers, or seeing an old-school panel, visiting a comics person and just seeing new work is a nod to the show's past. In the case of new work, it's also getting in on the ground floor of comics' future.
Tip #107. 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 #108. 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. 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 #109. 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, consider talking 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 #110. 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
Of The Friendly Pros, incidentally, is Sergio Aragones.) It's not a full Comic-Con experience until you've said hi to Batton. He has a prime location in the independent publishers' section near the big mainstream-y guys. Lash is 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 #111. 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 #112. 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 SCAD senior thesis, 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.
Tip #113. Don't Count On Resources To Help You With Kids At The Show
I believe the con offers some limited daycare and some of the hotels offer limited babysitting. I'd suggest networking about this subject -- or just asking around -- 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.
Tip #114. The Con May Not Be Right For Every Kid, But It May Be Perfect For Yours
Is Comic-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 significant percentage of your lifespan-to-date can be 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 they did in the early to middle 1990s (if you missed these years, don't ask, just be glad you missed them), 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. If some loudmouth nearby is being a pottymouth, please forgive him. Also, say hi; that's probably me.
Tip #115. Consider Buying The Latest Issue Of Love And Rockets From Los Bros Hernandez
It's become a minor tradition: the Hernandez Brothers almost always have their new work out in conjunction with Comic-Con, which they either always attend or almost always attend. Those of us that are fans of Love And Rockets
usually snap up copies as soon as possible and spend time reading it during the weekend -- last year it was the only comic book I read while I was at the show. Jaime and Gilbert also bring a ton of art to the show for sale, so if you can, attend one of their signing sessions and look at what they have to offer. Mario frequently shows up, too. Anyway, they are great cartoonists, and this is something that you can do that is very comics, very Comic-Con and very cool.
Tip #116. 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 #117. Signings Are Made For Social Media
Follow the twitter account of anyone from whom you're hoping to have something signed. That's where they'll likely announce any last-second signings and appearances.
Tip #118. 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; 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 JAG
sketchbook or whatever it is 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 #119. 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 #120. 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. The far ends of the show and the mezzanine levels are a good place to start. 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. I spend a lot of times thinking about bathrooms, but I'm at that age. The other advantage to seeking bathrooms out of the main flow isn't so much about empty stalls but about fewer Princess Bubblegums making costume adjustments.
Tip #121. To Travel The Floor In A Hurry, Sometimes It's Best To Use The Outside Hallways
If things get jammed up inside the main hall, and they will, and you have places to go, 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 #122. 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 Dum Dum Dugan
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 #123. Be A Con Hero, Not A Con Zero
Look into giving blood and/or registering to vote; that's usually do-able in the Marriott. There are also ways to informally help the show function smoothly. You can always watch someone's table while they charge out to the restroom. Bring people coffee, smile, offer to help. In the mid-1990s 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 #124. 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, steampunk-style device powered by small animals running on treadmills, a device that sports almost 300 vacuum tubes and numerous, Dr. Doom-like, mad-scientist levers. So this doesn't apply to me. I'd rather die than tweet from the show floor.
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 we are still in the post-2008 economy. Check into it preview night if that kind of access interests you, but don't count on it.
I can't imagine finding a free wi-fi connection is going to be very hard these days, and I suspect this tip will work itself right out of this guide in future years.
Tip #125. 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 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!
It's the Comic-Con way.
Tip #126. Come With A List With Prices You'll Accept Rather Than Count On Finding The Best Price On The Floor
If you're shopping -- and you really should shop at least a little bit, if only as tip of the hat to the retailers that make up a significant part of the show's history and to support artists directly if you're able to support some -- 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 60,000 other shoppers, and saving 80 cents on a copy of Sun Runners #2
probably isn't going to be worth the effort.
I try to buy some comics while I'm there. If you've never been, the con traditionally does well in terms of classic comics retailers offering up super-high end stuff (which I can't afford) and super-cheap stuff (which I can). It feels old-fashioned. There was a time when I felt the only kind of convention that made sense was one where you could buy stuff you couldn't get anywhere else. That was what cons were to me. I like getting back into that mindset if only for a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon.
Tip #127. Keep An Eye Out For Personalized And One-Of-A-Kind Items
Comic-Con has in the last 15 years become an excellent place to buy original art, although I'm told that's flattened out some. 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.
Tip #128. 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. Many artists that do commissions will accept commissions ahead of time and deliver them to you at the show. Don't be mean about this.
Tip #129. Remember That Most Of The Vendors Exist Outside Of Comic-Con
Take business cards, sign up for e-mail lists, write down web sites; whatever you need to do to keep in mind that retailer you found whose work you can't afford because you spent $175 on a pedi-cab ride home from Imperial Beach the night before.
What's is upstairs at Comic-Con like? Like this.
Tip #130. Attend A Panel
The upstairs rooms of the convention center are filled with panels. Panels are speaking and -- more frequently -- multi-media arrangements of the powerpoint presentation variety where everyone from 1950s bullpen staffers at the major comics companies to comics podcast makers to the casts of network television shows can say a few words, interact with a moderator, and then 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. I don't go to a lot of the non-comics ones, but I can suggest a few in that realm. The panels that feature any non-North American cartoonists in attendance that you won't likely see again at Comic-Con are good, as are generally any of those featuring older cartoonists (whom you may also not see again at Comic-Con, although for more depressing reasons). In panels generally, funny people or those that work on funny enterprises make for funny panels.
Tip #131. 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 now.
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."
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 #132. No Line Outside Of A Kirby Comic Disappeared Because Someone 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 #133. 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. I'm sure there are some geeks out there still talking about being so many feet away from Andrew Garfield when he popped up in that Spider-Man outfit the other year. If you have a different motivation than witnessing said events, 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 -- if you can find someone for whom to do some writing -- or they might be doing a signing somewhere in support of a comic book on the floor. Sometimes a person from a TV show will appear on an industry or unrelated panel for a friend, and if not a lot of people go to that one may have some time afterwards to briefly interact with you -- no guarantees, but I saw it happen last year with a popular Supernatural
cast member whose attendance at a theme panel bumped into my Brecht Evens panel and about five of his delighted fans.
If that kind of thing doesn't do the trick, your expectations may be too high.
Tip #134. 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 a 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 #135. Consider Seeing Panels On The Basis Of Who You Might Not Be Able To See Again Any Time Soon
We touched on this a bit already. 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 17 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
a dozen years back had about the same number of folks. Just great panels.
Tip #136. 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 in 2009, 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 that first year 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 #137. 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.
Tip #138. Make People Hate You For Being Awesome, Not For Being Self-Indulgent
Make sure you ask a proper question: usually, a single sentence that ends in a question mark. As Tom Galloway put it: "Don't do non-question asking things like tell your life story or say how much and why you love the panelists. Remember, no one else in the room cares about your life, and you're not going to become best friends with the panelists" I'll note that I have
seen friendships hatched at panels -- Chris Sparks of the Team Cul De Sac effort met Richard Thompson at a HeroesCon panel -- but what Mr. Galloway says is pretty good advice generally and certainly welcome advice to the people who might otherwise have to hear your idiotic, rambling, non-question question. As another CR
reader put it, if your question wouldn't fit in a tweet, it's probably time to re-think the question. In general, just follow your curiosity and leave the other stuff at home. If you really think you're getting over in some way because of the awesome question you're about to drop at a Comic-Con panel, you're less a regular con-goer and more a person from an Onion
Tip #139. 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 #140. 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 #141. 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. Many celebrities are escorted to their panel down the exit hallway and through the exit door rather than having them brave the over-excited crowd filing in the entrance side.
Tip #142. For Many Of The Smaller Panels, You May Save Time Showing Up About Five Minutes In
Many of the panels have lines now; for the non-filled comics panels, you can often avoid line time by showing up when the panel has just started. This is dangerous, because you might miss a panel that becomes filled up. But over time, played correctly, you can spend way more time in panels than in lines.
Tip #143. Remember That Attending The Panel Before For The Panel After Doesn't Always Work Out
They tend not to clear the rooms between panels, but I know it happens because I've seen it, and if you've been sitting through a panel about Czechoslovakian Autobio Cartoonists to get to the one featuring your favorite new animated television program, you're going to be heartbroken if this happens. If you do sit through a previous panel to get to the one you want, at least be silent and respectful of the one you're crashing. You might enjoy that one, too, if you give it a chance.
Tip #144. For God's Sake, Please Don't Stab Anybody
Someone stabbed somebody in the face
in 2010. This was awesome in all the terrible ways something is awesome, as we collectively 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 to track Comic-Con's response, which was the most disdainful "no big deal" in the history of pop-culture anything.
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. And I say that as someone who sat through multiple Image reunion panels. Play nice. Leave the bad behavior to the experts: inkers.
EVENINGS AT COMIC-CON
Your feet hurt, you're broke and all you want to do is go to bed. Time to party.
Tip #145. Mornings, Afternoons, Evenings: Do Something -- Anything! -- Outside The Show
Whether you're playing hooky from the show for a half-day or simply leaving the show for the evening, I always suggest that anyone at Comic-Con for more than two days spend some time doing something away from the show. Not away from the show like a Patton Oswalt concert up the street. Away from the show and in the real world 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. But as David Glanzer is fond of reminding me, though, there's no vacation that can't be made at least 10 percent better by spending some quality time with the pygmy marmoset
San Diego also has a bunch of your average big-city options: bookstores, shopping, sit-in-front-and-people-watch cafes, tourist attractions. 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 pooling together cash for a 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 do that 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
one year rather than line up outside the convention center for Preview Night to start, and that was a great way to push the fast-forward button. I once abandoned the show altogether to watch that movie with George Clooney and Marky Mark on a fishing boat -- Diane Lane's accent still haunts my dreams -- because I was so freaked out by the spectacle of Comic-Con. It's also good to visit any locals you know. I once spent a fun late afternoon hitting outlet malls between downtown San Diego and Mary Fleener
's house. And while it's been said before, 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 #146. 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 fine 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
, the Oceanaire
chain, Rei do Gado
, and the eminently affordable Pokez
. I also have a soft spot for beers and battered fish at The Field
Tip #147. Eat Something San Diego-y
As I understand it, the best-known local-to-San-Diego food contribution to the American Experience is the fish taco. You can get one of those just about anywhere, including a busy The Tin Fish location in the Gaslamp.
If you want to drink something local rather than eat something local, nearly every bar has mainstreamed some of the city's rich microbrew tradition into their current offerings -- just ask.
Tip #148. 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 #149. Eating Out A Trifle More Expensively May Yield Immense Benefits In Terms Of Ease And Enjoyment
It seemed to me last year that it was incredibly
easy to get into restaurants that in the mid-2000s required a reservation and/or waiting outside for up to a half-hour. I ate at a steak house right up next to the convention center on a Friday night at 6:30 PM and it was only ¾ full. That was astonishing to me. I ate at one of the Persian restaurants mentioned above at 7:30 PM on a Thursday and only two other tables were filled -- this used to be a full-house on such a night, easy. A peek into various restaurants as I walked around the rest of the weekend indicated the same thing.
So I suspect
what might be going on is that the make-up of the convention audience has shifted slightly away from the kind of people with money to spend on luxuries like a night out -- or those that would choose to spend their money that way -- and towards a more intense, devoted fandom or perhaps just people for whom eating a nice Italian meal at $30 an entrée isn't part of how they do things. This would also cover some of what I'm hearing from specific merchants on the convention floor. I'm not making any judgment there, I'm really not -- I just think that's potentially fascinating, and if it means I have my choice of restaurants if I fail to get something reserved, I'll take that as a perk of being older and wiser and, well, maybe more epicurean than I used to be.
Tip #150. For Pity's Sake, Think Small Dinner Groups
Think small for dinner -- two to four people -- if you can help it. 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 at 8 PM on a Friday night.
Tip #151. Make Reservations
You should make reservations because it's polite and it focuses your evening. When you don't have a reservation, you've suddenly given the person with the least stringent ideas about the proper time to eat the most power to decide when that's going to happen. 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 #152. 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 #153. Be Prepared To Wait Even If You've Made Excellent Plans
It happens. Don't count on getting out the second you think you need to get out. If you do need to hurry, be as sweet as possible explaining this to the people that come to your table, and get your order in as soon as possible. If they make an effort to get you through the dinner more quickly, add a bit extra to your tip! (Many restaurants are actually happy to move you more quickly if they can because it frees up another table.)
Tip #154. Take Advantage Of Being In Non-Proximate Neighborhoods
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 closest 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 when you're a long way away from the convention center -- 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 trust me in that there are
great restaurants all over San Diego 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 to Nerd Central.
Tip #155. 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. Put your back to the convention center and start heading in a general two o'clock direction. For whatever reason, like vampires penned in by fields of garlic, con-goers have traditionally been a bit reluctant to travel much further east than Sixth Avenue. I walked into multiple restaurants on Ninth in 2010 and again in 2012 and experienced no waiting, plenty of room and a quick sit-down. This was even true of two super-cheap places.
Tip #156. 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 -- there are enough rumors of anti-tourist crime and hassles crossing the last few years that I wouldn't automatically discount as reactionary or deeply unfair. The Tijuana trip may simply be a feature of another Comic-Con era, and this is likely its last year of being mentioned in the guide.
Tip #157. Go To Every Party That Will Have You, And One Or Two That Won't
I don't know what the party landscape is like for people not comics people; I assume it's great, like floating on air in some sort of dream-state filled with constant explosions of awesomeness. The party scene in San Diego for comics people, well, it's sort of odd. Comics folks generally don't compete with the Eisner Awards
in a formal, big-party sense, 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 of a more modest, early-in-the-weekend kind -- a lot of cocktail parties with food.
It gets weirder: there is even a rising class of parties and shows sprinkled throughout the weekend at which a certain class of comics people seem to be as welcome as the movie people. People love-love-love going to those. On the other end of the spectrum, 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. For a lot of people a lot of nights end in a hotel bar. For a considerable portion of those folks, the nights begin there, too. There is the added pressure in the funnybook world of wishing to support the off-site installation, gathering spot and retail space Trickster.
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. At the same time, I wouldn't press, or head where you're actively not wanted. It's a short weekend, and you stood in enough lines during the day.
Tip #158. Keep An Eye Out For Special Events
There used to be more things like art openings and book launches at clubs Comic-Con weekend 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. This is a trend that should continue.
Tip #159. Remember The Charity Events
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. I always try to at least attend the CBLDF event, which is traditionally on a Thursday evening.
Tip #160. 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 basically not caring which side of that line you're on.
Tip #161. Remember You Are Not In A Good Place To Do A Ton Of Extra Drinking
Comic-Con is tough on everybody. 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 #162. 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 #163. 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 #164. 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 #165. 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.
Tip #166. 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. One trick that might be useful is to get a card for your hotel and stick it in your shirt pocket or purse. 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 Durlan.
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 toy sculptor, here are a few last suggestions for a well-rounded weekend.
Tip #167. At Least Maybe 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. 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 #168. 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 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 and the fact that I'm old and so happy to find a place to sit down for three hours has nothing to do with it.
Tip #169. 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. I know a couple that carries out and eats while they change their clothes. Whatever it takes, make time for some food. No one should have to listen to that many bad yet well-meaning jokes and earnest thank you speeches on an empty stomach.
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 singles night at the bar connected to their neighborhood bowling alley, 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 backpack 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 #170. 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. 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 #171. This is where I mention Whitney Matheson's Pop Candy Gathering And Others Like It So She Doesn't Have To E-Mail Me
A lot of people not just the USA Today
columnist have been hosting informal gatherings and meet-ups during different points of the weekend. I don't know if Matheson is going to have hers this year or not, and I don't know who else is; all I'm saying is keep your ears open. I remember three years ago one Hall Of Fame cartoonist holding impromptu court on the back porch of the convention center for a couple of hours Friday afternoon. Again, twitter should be great for this, as will be just paying attention in the ramp-up to the show.
Tip #172. Scoring A Job Or A Publishing Deal Isn't Unheard Of, But It's Pretty Rare
I still think the best way to look at conventions, even Comic-Con, in terms of their facilitating work or even employment is that it's the place to lay groundwork on which one can latter follow up more than it is a place where something magical happens. Still, I can remember a lot of today's top pros when they were random guys with small press tables. I worked next to a guy for a year at Fantagraphics I first met at Comic-Con before he was hired, where he made the impression that got him that gig. The first time I met one of the most important editor/cartoonists in art comics was when he had the first two issues of his anthology for sale at a random table.
The best way to find work in comics is to work in comics. This sounds absurd, but the low threshold for participation in comics means this is advice that is inviting and encouraging rather than evidence of a snotty, frustrating, closed circle. Whether you're going in for a portfolio review, getting your Image comic into a book publisher's hands or dropping off a mini at an arts publisher: make the work closest to the kind of work you want to do. Be direct but don't be pushy. Don't count on anyone being able to see what it is you want if you haven't made this explicit. Take all advice seriously even if you think it seriously misguided. Be prepared to follow up: have business cards, have hand-outs, have a way for folks to contact you, anticipate questions. Be respectful of everyone's time and natural inclinations as to how they want to do business.
The comics industry loves new talent. If you're awesome enough, the people you want to pay attention to you will eventually pay attention to you.
Tip #173. 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.
Tip #174. Commit In Matter-Of-Fact, Buckaroo Banzai Fashion To Enjoying Wherever It Is You Find Yourself
Some of the best times I ever had at Comic-Con were in weird places I found myself by accident, in many cases after being outvoted by my friends: a Marge Simpson/Captain America dance-off, a small piano bar at the Westgate listening to a lady sing "Anything Goes," a porch talking to Pete Sickman-Garner and Jeff Smith at 2 AM after the Eisners. You're not going to get to do everything; let go and enjoy what it is you get to do. The one thing that can ruin a weekend is figuring out ahead all the ways that the weekend can be ruined.
STICK THE LANDING
Tip #175. 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 #176. 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 to dropkick the employer between the Marriott towers. My friend pointed out a half-hour later, as a way of making us feel better about our lack of initiative, that the real tragedy was this couple -- and I bet they're still together -- probably could have avoided the entire scene by recognizing that they were 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 #177. Get Any Follow-Up Finished Right Away
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 26th. 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 with such a long build-up that people are flat-out sick of it by Monday morning at 9 AM. Most folks are dying to move on. See to it you've taken the next step by week's end or they'll have moved past whatever it is you wanted, too.
Tip #178. 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.
Tip #179. Maybe Do What You Can To Plan For Next Year's Show
I know, I know, but you'll thank me later. Or curse me. Whatever. I just appreciate coming up. I'm actually uncertain there's as much you can do to register a year in advance the way you used to be able to, but I know some people at least talk to their hotels if they have that kind of year-in, year-out relationship with them. I would just keep an eye open: enjoy the present, not the future. But if something presents itself...?
AND FINALLY, THE BEST SECTION EVERY YEAR
Tip #180. Heed The Advice Of Your Fellow CR Readers
a. "I usually leave the hotel cleaning crew a tip of $5 a day. For some reason, this is never stressed enough the way tipping at restaurants is. Now when I do tip, and I always do if I'm staying multiple days, I'm almost always guaranteed a very clean room during my stay. And after a hard day at Con, that can make a lot of difference." -- Gabriel Neeb
b. "The one tip I wish I'd known before going to SDCC was to be aware that not every attendee is harmless. From the guy who follows you around until you give him his phone number to the jerk who tweaks your breast when you're on the down escalator & he's on the up one, there are a lot of people who think of San Diego as a place where they can get away with all sorts of creepy behavior. Don't convince yourself you deserved to be treated in ways that make you feel invaded, and don't let anyone else convince you that you 'asked for it.'" -- Randi Mason
c. "Don't wander alone outside the Gaslamp area because you might get stabbed? (Happened to a Comic Relief manager years ago)." -- Landry Walker
And... that's it. Have fun. Smile. Say hi if you see me; I'd like to meet you. No, seriously.
Photos by Whit Spurgeon, 2003, 2009-10, 2012; Gil Roth, 2005; Tom Spurgeon, 2007, 2010, 2012. Comic-Con International is an advertiser here, so you just spent all that time reading compromised, biased nonsense.