May 25, 2009
Comic-Con By The Numbers: 100 Tips For Attending San Diego's CCI 2009!
-- also known as CCI, Comic-Con and San Diego Con -- is the largest gathering of comics industry professionals and fans in North America. It is also a show of great importance to hundreds of pros in and fans of related publishing, merchandising and film businesses.
Comic-Con International features on its main floor a massive marketplace of vendors, creators and direct suppliers. You can buy old comics, new comics, original art, movies, t-shirts, toys, and licensed items from every walk of geek life at Comic-Con. The upstairs rooms offer aggressive programming tracks in comics, film, television and a variety of related activities. There are opportunities all over the show to see and meet creators from any number of entertainment fields: actors, cartoonists, academics, models, writers. There are opportunities in the convention center and all over San Diego on Comic-Con weekend to meet like-minded fans, celebrate your favorite, geeky things, and even network on a massive scale.
It's Geek Vegas, Nerd Prom, Fan Cannes, Fandom Branson, the Grand Ol' Cosplay Opry, Four-Color Ground Zero... and it's also an extraordinarily complex vacation event. That's where this guide hopefully comes in.
What follows is a list of observations, tips and insights that may help prepare you for your San Diego con-going experience. The list this year has been simplified somewhat to emphasize the tips and advice portion of its mission. This was done mostly because doing so was easier than writing around the same 10 lame jokes that have appeared in past five guides. But let's face it: these are leaner, tougher times. Simplicity and straight-forwardness are at a premium. This document shall remain ridiculously long, but not quite as long as it used to be and hopefully with more solid advice per column inch.
In 2009, the show is scheduled for July 23-26, with a preview night
on July 22. Hope to see you there.
THE FOUR THINGS YOU MUST DO IMMEDIATELY
It used to be you could essentially not plan for Comic-Con and just go if the mood struck you. Those days are gone.
Tip #1. Get Off The Fence And Stay Off
If you haven't decided whether or not to go yet, decide right now. Now. It's really late in the process, but you might still be able to go if you want. You can also still back out if you've made plans to go.
It's okay not to go. This was always the case, and it's even more true now. There was a time when I could argue that Comic-Con was a relative necessity. If you wanted to get everything you could out of comics, if you wanted to enter into the industry, if you wanted to be noticed, if you wanted to stay connected to what was going on, CCI was the primary facilitator of these things. I can't say that with the same certainty these days. There's so many opportunities for daily connectivity and interaction out there. These things replace, I think, much of what used to get crammed into a single July weekend.
The great thing is that now if you want to go, you go because you want to
, not because you feel you have to. This makes a huge difference.
So pick a side and decide to really, really enjoy the weekend in the convention center and greater San Diego or stay home and really, really enjoy getting some work done and enjoying a more typical summer weekend. If you think you need a year off, take the year off! There's having a miserable time, and then there's having a miserable time surrounded by people in Harry Potter costumes. And even if you end up feeling you've made the wrong choice, there's going to be another one as soon as next year.
But mostly: make that decision right now. Be like Robot Caveman: commit.
Tip #2. Finalize Your Plans ASAP
If you've decided to go, and if you've left anything to chance on your Comic-Con plans, take care of them immediately. Make your travel plans, hotel plans and ticket plans your highest priority. Travel's pretty good this year -- tickets are down in price a bit. Hotels aren't bad -- you can still find a room here and there on the convention's hotel service, particularly single-day options. Tickets... well, you might be screwed there. The show is sold out of four-day passes and sold out of its single-day passes. If you're counting on tickets as a professional person or press person or from a third, sponsoring party -- and that's just about the only way it's going to happen at this point -- now's the time to make sure you're going to get them. Professional self-registration is closed. Press registration closes June 8. It used to be you could show up at the convention center day-of and score a pass from an exhibitor friend who had an extra pass in his pocket made out to "Gyro Gearloose." (I'm not kidding.) Those days are far behind us now. If you don't have all of your plans nailed down as you're reading this, I suggest trying to take care of it in the next 24 hours. All of it. If you can.
Tip #3. Establish Your Network
There are two things that make just about every facet of a trip to Comic-Con easier to do. The first is networking. All I mean by networking in this context is taking a minute or so here and there to reach out to friends and acquaintances in a modest way and let them know what you want to do at the show. Take some time in the next 24 hours to tell folks you know that you're going, and pay attention over the next few weeks to which of your friends and peers are joining you. Once you get closer to the show, reestablish contact with your fellow soon-to-be attendees to ask after things like social events or to see if they can help you with any of your more specific goals for the weekend.
The number of people I've had tell me they had a disappointing aspect of their Comic-Con weekend because of Reason X when I would have been able to provide them with Reason X had they only asked is... well, it's about a dozen people. Still.
Tip #4. Start Your Bookmarks
The other great, recurrent skill in the con-goer's toolbox is bookmarking sites of use and then making use of them. That's right: research. My suggestion is to start a folder and put the following web sites into it.
A. This Guide -- if for no other reason than I'm going to spend time between now and Comic-Con obsessively re-writing a lot of the lamer jokes.
B. Convention Web Site -- the source for tons of official information
C. Your Hotel's Web Site -- familiarize yourself with your surroundings, join the points club
D. Tripadvisor.com -- preview your hotel experience.
E. SDcommute.com -- commuting options.
F. VirtualGuideBooks.com -- see public areas before you visit them.
G. News From ME -- Mark Evanier has attended every single Comic-Con, and writes about it as the date approaches.
H. The Beat -- Heidi MacDonald's purview is comics culture, and there's no entity of greater importance within comics' culture than Comic-Con.
I. Yp.Yahoo.com -- nearby business scouting.
J. SignOnSanDiego.com -- a halfway decent baseline review place, particularly for restaurants.
That may sound like a lot of sites, and you can tailor the folder for your specific intentions, but I still think it's a good idea in general.
Deciding to go, 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 downhill from here.
TEN TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY ON A CCI TRIP
2009 looks to be the kind of year where people are going to want to save some cash, even in the case of something like CCI. Many folks have already committed to going, or feel it's important they do so. While like any good event of size and scope Comic-con is geared to lift money from your wallet, it's also possible to go and not spend much at all, or at least arrive back home only having spent a fraction of your predicted per diem
Tip #5. Consider Making Your Trip Shorter
I have friends that only go to Comic-Con if they can be there for five nights and four days. While I'm sure it's still a blast to get the whole summer-camp style experience, I haven't been to the entire show since 1996. Ticket availability may force a shorter trip on those of you who started late, but a four-day pass won't explode in your hand if you only use it for two or three days. The main savings that you get by going for only part of the show is on hotels and expenses like meals. If you plan well, you can do 90 percent of what you want from a Comic-Con in 33 percent of the time spent there. Plus it's way better to leave wanting more than to leave fervently praying you never see a comic book again.
Tip #6. 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 Live Wire Mountain Dew, eating barbecue corn chips and watching ESPN's Baseball Tonight
. Not this year, though: I'm sharing a room this year, and about 1/3 of the Comic-Cons I've attended I've either found a roommate or found a place to stay, with the obvious savings this entails.
Reach out to your friends -- you'd be surprised who might need a room or have an extra bed. Some message boards will be used to get people together, but that always seemed kind of slasher-movie to me. Share a bathroom at your own risk. But if you have a friend who's going, 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. The Westin Gaslamp
and the Manchester Grand Hyatt
both offer roll-away beds for a modest fee. If you're not a jerk about it, usually something can be worked out even if the hotel knows you've exceeded your stated limit. It's not like these hotels have three-bed guestrooms you're declining to use.
Tip #7. Consider Volunteering (No Longer Applicable To 2009)
There's a whole sub-culture of Comic-Con volunteers
, who get access to the show in return for their hard work. I know them as the "please end your panel right now so we can have a less boring one on next hour, thank you" people. My understanding is that all slots are filled for 2009 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 #8. Consider Temping
Exhibitors from out of town will occasionally hire locals or people that have made their own plans to be there anyway to work at their booths. This way they save on flying in more people from the home office. In many cases, these exhibitors have the capability to secure you a badge, provide you with a discount on their stuff, or even pay you a small fee. This is the comic-con equivalent of standing on a street corner hoping a comics publisher pulls up in his pick-up and ask you to jump in, so I wouldn't make plans based on this, but you might keep your ears open.
Tip #9. Consider Adjusting Your Plans
It's probably not worth mentioning, but someone actually e-mailed me about this. Yes, if you were already planning on being at Comic-Con as a professional and doing a signing or especially setting up somewhere, you may be able to work up some extra art or items to sell at your signing or table space to make some cash.
People love buying original stuff at Comic-Con. It adds to the uniqueness of the con-going experience. I remember one artist who used to come down on a single day, do one or two signings, sell several thousand dollars of original art, and then fly out after dinner. You're probably not able to do this, but it's something to keep in mind. Big key: check with your sponsor -- they may have a policy on this. One publisher might not want you selling another publisher's work or anything but the item they're having you sign. Another publisher may not have any room for a display of your work. If you are your own sponsor, you're in better shape.
Tip #10. Live Like A Cartoonist
The reason so many comics people are able show up at San Diego despite incomes that would alarm 1930s denizens of Appalachia is because they're really, really good at not spending money. You can be good that way, too. Trying your best to get invited to events where they'll feed you, taking public transit to and from the airport, walking everywhere during the show even when it's far away, not buying drinks but waiting to have them bought for you, leaving your wallet in the room safe while you patrol the show... you might be surprised how freeing this is. Memory will eventually toss any immediate hardship right over the rail: two weeks later you won't remember the stuff you didn't do; you'll remember the stuff you did.
Tip #11. Consider Eating In
You may horrify the local tourism bureau if you choose not to utilize one of San Diego's excellent restaurants at every meal. But let's face it: with various food allergies, pros on deadline who have to stay in their hotel room to get some pages done and people spending enough days in the city that they may simply want
a non-restaurant meal, there's no stigma about buying something from a grocery store or deli and returning to your hotel room. I've done this with breakfast a lot when I'm solo at the show -- fruit and yogurt consumed in one's room while watching Hancock
on HBO is just as good as fruit and yogurt eaten at a cafe watching Mike Richardson read a newspaper.
Tip #12. Consider Moving Your Getaway Hotel
If you're staying one last night and going straight to the airport the next day, you maybe don't need to be in the same hotel you just spent the days of Comic-Con inhabiting. You may be able to find a cheaper hotel out of downtown and by the airport, even.
Tip #13. 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 relatively broke in my 20s and early 30s and wanted to squeeze an extra day out of a Comic-Con, I'd store all my stuff with a friend or at the front desk of the hotel I checked out of Saturday morning, made sure I had stuff to do until 2:00 AM or so on Saturday Night/Sunday morning (the Hyatt's last-closing bar, a party at the beach, a midnight movie), retrieved my bag, went to Denny's
on Pacific Highway for a couple of hours and then went to the airport where I caught a super-early morning flight.
On second thought, that was really stupid. Don't do this.
Tip #14. Consider A Secondary Stop To Save On Two Vacations
One of the advanced strategies you might consider when planning for Comic-Con is to build in some vacation time to somewhere else -- Las Vegas and Los Angeles are probably the easiest secondary destinations to pair with San Diego -- either right before or right after the show. Heck, you can also stay a few days on either end in San Diego itself and simply enjoy that city. I remember quite a few people in the mid-1990s using a company-bought plane ticket to get a little add-on vacation in after the rest of us scuttled home.
Going somewhere else in addition
to San Diego 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. One vacation at X amount of money might not sound great, but two vacations at X + $170 after all the expenses get added up might start to sound pretty good. It can also be a way to convince someone not into all the Comic-Con stuff to come with you, although I never suggest this. Leave that person home.
I've done Comic-Con in combination with a couple of days at Las Vegas three times now. I ate a succession of Reuben sandwiches, sat by the pool, bet on WNBA games, pretended to be an ex-astronaut, denied I pretended to be an ex-astronaut when confronted by angry actual ex-astronaut... good times. Comic-Con may be the only event where you can go to Vegas to decompress, but it worked all three times I did it. The reason I began doing this, and another advantage that's sometimes cost-related, is that you can probably find a late-day flight to Las Vegas when one might not be available to San Diego or your home city. Sometimes it's cheaper and more fun to spend two $53 hotel nights in Las Vegas than one more $199 hotel night in San Diego in order to a get a full day Sunday at the convention center.
PACKING AND PREPARATION
Tip #15. Get Your Pre-Convention Stuff Done 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 -- get everything done by July 15. This gives you a day or two leeway if something is screwed up, but it also means you won't be a basket case when you arrive on the convention floor because you stayed up for 37 hours stapling your mini-comic biography of Phil Seuling. Forget entirely getting something done while you're there. It's not convenient and you'll find 10,000 excuses to skip it.
Tip #16. Limit Your Physical Preparations To Fine-Tuning
I know that a lot of people drop a few pounds to fit into their Apocalypse Meow
costumes or simply to better show off their late-night cocktail wear, and that others get some walking in in the days leading up to the show so as not to risk their feet falling off while they're standing in the checkout line at Ralphs. But know your limits. If you really have to lose a ton of weight just to walk around an air-conditioned building for a few days looking for old issues of Albedo
, maybe stay home and use your Comic-Con funds to buy a gym membership. In the long run, you'll attend more conventions. And don't be that person that starves themselves and then has to take a nap on the floor of Rei do Gado
after being overcome by meat sweats.
Tip #17. Check Out The Programming
Comic-Con programming goes up on the official site
shortly before the show begins. It's always worth a read even if you only attend one or two panels. If you plan on attending a lot of panels, it's like getting a detailed scouting report.
Tip #18. Pack Something With Long Sleeves
San Diego tends to offer ridiculously fantastic weather, but there are two reasons to remember to pack something with long sleeves: a lot of socializing is done outside, in rooftop bars and on beaches, and some years the air conditioning in the convention center is really, really aggressive.
Tip #19. Pack To Mail Stuff Back
Most years I'll buy a few things and then mail them back from a local post office rather than lug them on the plane with me. I do this because I don't want my luggage to incur an additional fee, and I hate carrying books around. You don't need to have a bunch of stuff to do this. I pack a cardboard tube stuffed with a couple of over-sized envelopes, a sharpie, a couple of labels and a thing of packing tape. There are easy to access delivery stations up by the Broadway hotels and in the convention center itself.
Tip #20. Pack As If You'll Shake 1000 Hands
Because, well, you 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, not really, but the absence of those three things is definitely a bus transfer to Sucktown, USA.
Tip #21. Consider Cycling Through The Week With A Germ-Resistant Booster
You've seen these travel dose drugs at the store even if you haven't used them -- things like Airborne
, designed to reduce your chance of picking something up on the plane. The great thing about taking those a couple days before through a couple of days after San Diego is that it not only helps square you away for close encounters while you travel but should assist in buttressing your resistance for all the meeting and greeting at the convention itself. It's like you never leave the plane, I swear.
Malt liquor is not
a germ-resistant booster, no matter how many CCS
alumni claim otherwise.
(check tip #100d for a CR reader who claims this is a very bad tip)
Tip #22. Be Super Paranoid About Everything You Need Professionally
If this is a working week, be outright paranoid about getting stuff there. You may be cut off from home while you're on the trip so be fiercely mindful of getting the stuff you need professionally -- from business cards to art samples to cameras to laptops -- to your hotel room. Carry rather than check this stuff, for instance.
The key is that this paranoia should also extend to what people will be bringing to the convention for you.
So if you're doing a signing for a publisher, call 'em up a couple of weeks out to see if they're bringing the books you'll need to do what it is they want you to do. There's nothing sadder than the guy showing up at his publisher's table for a signing and the publisher has nothing for them to sign. Okay, maybe when ducks get covered with oil from oil spills, then
the guy with no funnybooks to sign. But it's right up there.
Tip #23. Join the 21st Century
If like me you live a life that Amish people admire, don't take your frontier standards into San Diego. I buy a cheap watch every year and I make sure my little-used phone is ready to go. You'll need a way to tell time -- there are few if any clocks in the convention center -- and a way to get a hold of people. And yes, I know how silly this sounds to your average, well-connected person.
EIGHT GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS, YOUR FRONT DOOR TO HOTEL LOBBY
Getting there is nowhere near half the fun.
Tip #24. Remember Lots Of Airlines Charge For Luggage Now
Double-check with your airline. 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. It's better to be prepared than to find out you've hit a weight limit that you can't afford -- or at the very least sets you grinding your teeth.
Tip #25. You're Under No Obligation To Be The Ambassador Of Comics
Travel chit-chat 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
. Have fun with it. You don't want to direct anyone to a show where all the tickets are sold out or anything unfair like that, but you're not going to be paid $1000 for every convert, either. One of the three best conversations I ever had on an airplane was with a 62-year-old guy from New Jersey who asked several questions about an anime/manga show that took place in the Boston hotel where he and his wife had a recent getaway weekend. It's also fun to spot fellow Comic-Con goers during early stages of your trip.
Tip #26. Consider Amtrak From LA; Consider Anything Else From Anywhere Else
I like the Amtrak
journey from LA to San Diego -- it's short, it allows you to ramp up or ramp down depending which direction you're going, and you can drink booze from station to station, which is a terrible
idea when you're driving. I wouldn't take Amtrak from any point further North or from any points East at all unless you're a veteran of rail travel and a big fan of Amtrak's track record and peccadilloes when it comes to long-haul trips. But that short trip has worked for me a half-dozen times.
Tip #27: If You're Taking Amtrak, Embrace Its Peculiarities
If you're doing the San Diego/LA trip, consider four things. First, realize you may get to ride with people going to or leaving from the Del Mar
racetrack, which is hilarious when it happens. That's not really a tip, it's just extremely amusing to see sunburned women in hats and pasty guys with light sabers hanging out. Second, you used to be able to have some leeway on when you made use of your Amtrak ticket, which meant you could schedule for a 4 PM departure and leave on the 8 PM train. I have no idea if they still do this, but it may be worth checking out. Third, be prepared for a reasonably involved brisk walk at both stations to get on and off the trains. You're not going to be able to fake your bags onto the train or out to a cab, so make sure you can carry everything. Fourth, there's a line-up fairly early on for the train from San Diego to L.A. and it's very much worth being towards the front of that line. There's also usually no way around that line, although a lot more people try to circumvent it than succeed. It's outside of the main sitting room.
Tip #28. Realize Your Cab Experience May Depend On The Terminal
At the main airport (most flights), it's easy to catch a cab, but you'll have some distance to walk to get to that island. At the shuttle-service airport (small planes from Phoenix and LAX) , the cab stand is very close. However, since not as many cabs go to the secondary terminal it can be a wait. Consider asking people ahead of you in line to share a cab, if you're going to the same general neighborhood. It should cost about $15 from the airport to one of the downtown hotels.
Tip #29. Call Ahead To See About An Airport Shuttle
Not every hotel has them and a few hotels have cut them in today's poor economy. You also may need to reserve the shuttle rather than summon it to attend your presence. I've never taken one, because I'm shy and vans make me sweaty, but it sounds like a great idea.
Tip #30. Look Out The Window At Your Own Risk
The trip down or up the coast can be very pretty as it frequently uses a corridor a few miles off the shoreline. I've even moved to a window seat to better take it in. On the other hand, the San Diego airport is right there in the city, so a lot of flights coming in takes you near all of these buildings. I've had New Yorkers tell me this can be unnerving.
YOUR HOME AWAY FROM HOME: HOTEL TIPS
I'm convinced that enjoying your hotel is 50 percent of what it takes to enjoy your convention-going experience, but I have an unhealthy fixation on hotels. Still, you're going to be spending up to half your time in San Diego at the hotel.
Tip #31. Research Your Hotel
This is where you start to put your bookmarks to work. Find your hotel web site and bookmark it. Familiarize yourself with the information there. Learn if they have a pool, an exercise room, a restaurant that serves breakfast, the menu that indicates whether you can afford that breakfast. Then take a look at your hotel's listing on TripAdvisor.com
. Don't worry about the reviews so much -- those people are like mid-'80s Comics Journal
columnists -- but the traveler's photos are almost always great. Then do a location search on your hotel and see what's in the neighborhood.
This sounds obsessive, I know, but spending that 10 minutes some Tuesday morning when you're bored out of your skull can save you an hour wandering around outside looking for a place to buy a soda when you have an appointment you're trying to keep.
Tip #32. Join the Points Club
If your hotel or hotel chain has a points club, join it. The advantages here are many, even if you have no intention of ever staying there again. Hotels are much more likely to bring a manager out to talk to you if you're a member of the points club. You may get your own check-in and check-out line. Joining may bring an instant reward, like a room upgrade, and of course will eventually pay off if you stay at the same place multiple years or during other trips. Finally, if something happens that's unfortunate -- say a piece of luggage gets lost or they keep checking people into your room just as you're squeezing into your Beast Boy outfit, this gives them an easy way to reward you.
Tip #33. Check In As Close As You Can To The Time Given
The hotels are super-booked Comic-Con weekend. According to most basic hotel reservation agreements, they can move you to a different hotel if they get totally booked up. So don't put off getting into your room until 11 PM after dinner. Get over there near or even slightly before the stated check-in time.
Tip #34. Put Everyone's Name On The Room
Unless you're sneaking people into your room, consider putting everyone's name on the reservation. That way they can all get keys and check in at different times. I once burst into tears at the Westin front desk when my co-workers left me off the room and the manager gave me my own room. I don't think they have the rooms to do this anymore. Plus, I am freakishly adorable when weeping.
Tip #35. Exploit Your Hotel's Services
Most convention-goers are naturally focused on the convention center, which makes it a great weekend to sneak in some quality hotel time. Use that research, in other words. If your hotel has a pool, it's not likely going to be used a whole lot. Ditto the gym. Ditto the spa services. Sneaking away from the convention center for a late afternoon swim and gym work-out can be a wonderful way to break up one's schedule. It can also be a cheap date.
Tip #36. 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, the Hilton
and the Omni
Tip #37. Don't Count On The Fridge
It used to be that you could empty your room's fridge of all that stuff they're trying to get you to buy for way too much money and stuff it with chow and drinks you bought at Ralphs. This isn't always the case now. Some refrigerators no longer allow for the hotel items to be unloaded. Improvise with a trashcan, some trash bags 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 #38. Befriend The Concierge
The concierge is the person in the lobby of a nice hotel that's there to help you out that's not a hooker. They sometimes have their own desk: look around or ask. Those people are there to facilitate your tourism experience. Now, you're likely to be locked into 95 percent of your time already in ways where you'll know more than the concierge does. Granted. But if you have a question about a place to eat, somewhere to shop, a service of some sort, a place to buy a new camera battery (there are actually two places in Horton Plaza), it's a great first place to stop. If you're like me and you have nothing to ask the concierge, sometimes it's fun to make up stuff to ask them. I'm still looking for that Armenian grocery store.
Tip #39. Check Out Your Hotel's Specific Computer and On-Line Policies
I once got drunk in Las Vegas at one of those terrible gaming floor bars in the Flamingo 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. Check ahead to see if you'll be paying to hook up to the Internet and what's available to do so in your room. Your hotel may also have a business center. That can allow you to work in your room on something without paying the connection fee and then taking a detachable drive's worth of stuff onto the Internet via the business center for a much smaller, isolated fee. I go pretty computer-light at the show or without one altogether, but if you need one it's worth doing some research about the connections you'll be able to get and, say, if you can store your laptop at the front desk while you're at the show. It might even be worth a phone call.
Tip #40. Leave Yourself Enough Time To Get Out Of There
If you're leaving on Sunday, make sure you give yourself enough time to get out of there. A lot of people are checking out that day, 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.
Tip #41. Tip The Hotel Staff
A lot of comics people don't tip at all. To those people I say, "Thanks for all the grumpy people I encounter at Comic-Con." For the rest of you, please don't forget the various hotel people: the guy who calls you a cab, the woman who brings you your car, whoever cleans your room. A few dollars here and there can really make someone's day -- doubly so if you're one of the few people doing it. Just because people are crazy enough to leave Jack Chick tracts as tips and somehow manage to avoid getting beat up doesn't mean you can leave your mini-comic and expect it to end up anywhere but the trash.
GETTING AROUND TOWN
San Diego is a reasonably easy town in which to get around. You'll be walking in the immediate convention center vicinity, with maybe a shuttle bus or short cab ride thrown in. Outside of the immediate vicinity you'll be taking a car, occasional cab and public transportation in and out of the immediate area, where you will then also be walking around.
Tip #42. Get Ready To Walk
You'll be walking at the show, sure, but in most cases you'll be walking outside
of the show as well. Walking is still the best way to get around a wide space marked by the convention to the south all the way up to Broadway going north and several blocks east and west: basically this map right here.
Tip #43. Memorize The Following Places For A Basic Lay Of The Comic-Con Land
1. The Convention CenterTip #44. If You're Driving In And Parking, Pay Attention To Details
Where the convention takes place. There are entry points from 5th and 1st Avenue. Yes, sometimes people have to wait for a train that blocks those streets. That sounds way more charming than it is when it happens to you or the movie star you waited in line to see.
2. The Marriott
Traditional nearest hotel to the convention and a place for a lot of informal gatherings, pre-convention brunch meetings and sneak-away confabs at their Irish-themed bar.
3. The Hyatt
The nighttime comics industry bar scene social hub.
4. Seaport Village
A set of restaurants and shops that people tend to forget about, just up the road a bit. If you're at the Hyatt, the Marriott or the Embassy Suites, you may be more oriented to these places than to their Gaslamp District equivalent.
5. Rail stop for Little Italy
Gaslamp too crowded? Everyone in your group of friends mad at you? Hit a restaurant up here.
6. Horton Plaza
Downtown shopping mall with tons of restaurants and more than a few shops.
7. Ralphs Supermarket
The San Diego business MVP of every show. Get your late night snacks, your cheap lunches and your mixers all in one place. Worth getting a Ralphs card for this one weekend a year.
8. Gaslamp Quarter
Restaurants! Movie Theaters! Hotels! People willing to yell mean things at you from their cars!
9. Petco Park
Game on Wednesday night.
10. Fed Ex/Kinkos (actually a block north, on C street)
Get on-line; ship stuff home; make copies!
11. US Post Offices
You probably know what a post office is. Media rate is your friend.
12. Omni Hotel
One of the many newer hotels right up next to the convention center. I have no idea why I marked it.
13. Hilton San Diego Bayfront
This is actually a bit further south than my map allows -- the other side of the convention center, basically. It's a new hotel that will be hosting some programming.
If you're taking a car into the show, there are several things you should consider. Consider going early. It's nearly impossible to find convenient parking later on in the day. In fact, it might be a good idea to park in one of the city lots several blocks away and then go to breakfast. There is parking at the convention center, but that disappears almost immediately -- I've never even tried to park there.
Three things to watch out for when parking: one 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. Another 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 to take note of your hotel's exact parking policy: you may or may not be able to take the car out, for instance, without a penalty. You might also be able to save money by taking a self-parking option.
Tip #45. If You Have A Car, Consider Using It
If you have a car, either just in for a day trip or parked at a hotel for the duration, considering using it to increase the scope of your trip. Take a meal outside of the immediate downtown area, go to a beach, head to a nearby tourist destination on a half-day away from the convention center. Allowing a couple of friends of yours a temporary respite from people in costumes and the smell of all that pulp can be the greatest gift of all.
Tip #46. Don't Be Afraid To Use The Shuttle Buses
For hotels that are past Broadway going North, when you're carrying a bunch of stuff, or when you're dog-tired, the convention's chartered bus system can be a godsend. Every hotel lobby should direct you to a stop if there's one nearby, and there's also information on the web site
Tip #47. If You Ride The Transit Trains, Smile
Everyone seems to hate the transit trains
, because no one smiles on them. I think they work just fine, and I used to take the one from the nearby Imperial Street Station to the convention center every year. My friends who have tried to use them as a main way to travel to hotels and lodging further away from downtown say they're not exactly reliable time-wise, so maybe keep that mind.
Tip #48. Remember The Short Cab Ride
San Diego has a compact downtown, which means that cabs tend to be an affordable way to supplement your walking when utilized at key times (like when you're intoxicated, or when you're late for something). Once you move away from downtown proper, you're talking more money as the short bursts on the highway really add to the fare. The occasional cab can still be more timely than a train. One thing about San Diego cabs is that they don't exactly cover the town to the extent you'll see in a larger city. Some neighborhoods are largely ignored, even if you call and ask for a ride. So don't count on a cab to always be able to come get you.
Tip #49. Get A Price Before You Get On A Pedi-cab
San Diego has a bunch of pedi-cabs
downtown, which are basically bicycles with a chariot-like seat where ice cream might ordinarily go but in this case it's for you and a friend to sit in. The good thing is that if you're tired enough to allow someone to bike you four or five blocks, you don't care how goofy you appear to others when sitting in one of these things trying not to look at your driver's butt. Decide on a price before you sit down, and remember to tip.
REGISTRATION AND PREVIEW NIGHT
You have to start standing in lines sometime; most people do it Wednesday and attend Preview Night
Tip #50. If You Can Get Someone Else To Register You, Do That
You probably can't, but if you're with a publisher or an exhibitor rather than registered on your own, you usually get to pick up your passes from them rather than by standing in line. This is ideal.
Tip #51. If You Qualify For Registration In Multiple Roles, Consider The Advantages Of Each
This is for future reference, naturally. 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 until that's beaten out of them by Friday. With press registration, you get a much shorter line and access to the press room which used to be empty but these days can be like Chalmun's Cantina for science fiction television show actors. With an exhibitor badge 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.
I repeat my request to the Comic-Con organizers that people in costumes be allowed to register in separate superhero/supervillain lines, just so I can get that photo.
Tip #52. 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, particularly if you're both press or both pros.
Tip #53. 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 #54. On Days Other Than Wednesday, Later In The Day Can Be A Good Time To Get Registered
I can't speak to the attendee line, but with pro and press badges picked up Thursday, Friday or Saturday it's frequently better to get one's badge a little bit after a morning rush.
Tip #55. If You're Selling Stuff, Use Preview Night To Gauge Overall Demand
I got this one from Larry Young
: if you're an exhibitor or someone selling stuff in any capacity, use Preview Night to figure out how much stuff you're going to sell -- Thursday morning may be the last time you can call someone back at home and have them send more if that's what's necessary.
Tip #56. If You're Buying Stuff, Hit The Most Special Of The Specialty Retailers First
I'm not a conventions-exclusives person, and I imagine if you are then your shopping patterns are already determined: you'll be heading to x, y and z booths offering x, y and z items. For the rest of you, I'd suggest that maybe you visit those books with specialty and one-of-a-kind items rather than the bigger booths and those that are offering widely-available items. One of my first stops, for instance, is the bookseller Stuart Ng
, who sells rare books and limited edition portfolios. You can see whatever giant model DC
Tip #57. As Far As Con Exclusives Go, I Suppose I Can't Suggest You Skip Them
As noted in the last tip, a lot of companies offer special incentive items that are either specifically intended to be given out Wednesday night or are gone by the time Wednesday night passes. I can't think of any strategies for getting this stuff that doesn't sound unfair: I suppose lining up near a door near your intended first stopping point would be a strategy, as would convincing a friend with an exhibitor badge to sneak over by the target just as the doors are flung open.
Tip #58. Ruminate
The good thing about Wednesday nights being as insanely busy as Saturdays at the show used to be is you immediately have a picture of what negotiating the con will be like for most of the weekend. Think it 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 when they're 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
What do you need to have with you or need to have done between the door to your hotel room and the convention center proper?
Tip #59. Definitely Eat Breakfast
Although it's tempting to use that chunk of time to do something else -- getting over to the convention center that much earlier to snag a place in a big-time panel's line, getting drunk in front of Ralphs and betting your spouse whether you'll see more DC superheroes or men in kilts walk by in the next 17 minutes, wandering around and trying to catch a glimpse of the horrified look on the locals' faces as they make their way around their neighborhood -- you need to eat breakfast. Anyone over the age of 30 and most people under will feel the effects of standing on your feet and walking several miles in the visual cacophony that is Comic-Con; it goes better on a full stomach. Both the Hyatt
and the Marriott
offer a decent brunch. I'd recommend Kono's
and Hash House A Go Go
away from the immediate convention center neighborhood; Cafe 222
, Richard Walker's Pancake House
, Cafe Chloe
and the St. Tropez Bistro location
near Horton Plaza in the immediate neighborhood. The idea is to get something -- anything
-- nutritious into your system.
Tip #60. Bring Enough Money
Don't get caught depending on credit cards (not everybody takes them) or standing in line at the convention center's ATMs (they're long and you'll feel silly spending your con time there). Bring enough money to the show. If you can't hit an ATM away from the show, like one at your hotel or at the Wells Fargo on Broadway, maybe go to Ralphs and get change back on a debit card getting water or gum or something like that. Sometimes if you're friends with a vendor you can write them a check for some of the extra cash they're holding, but that involves carrying a check and it's no longer 1981 so most people don't.
Tip #61. Wear Comfortable Shoes
It's a cliche, but a true one: if you don't wear comfortable shoes to the show your feet will never forgive you. Your feet will do an interview in a comics-related magazine telling all of your secrets, they'll be so mad at you. Your feet will text Rich Johnston. No one will think ill of you if you wear tennis shoes or sandals that don't quite match the rest of your outfit.
Tip #62. Take Your Own Water
Take a water bottle -- you can fill up from the convention center's various water fountains. You'll feel better at the end of the day if it's been a well-hydrated day.
Tip #63. Take A Bag
Some of the companies have been giving away giant bags in recent years in order to utilize shoppers for advertising, but you can't count on this continuing forever. I have a backpack that only gets used that weekend. I keep it stuffed underneath some friend's table -- this is possible if you know someone and in most cases promise them they're not responsible -- so that I don't have people giving me extra stuff to carry, but to and from the convention center it's a blessing.
Tip #64. Don't Be Stinky
This is the graph where I'm supposed to make fun of the poorly socialized people that always show up at these events in ill-fitting clothes and a lack of body awareness that has an olfactory dimension. But, look: there are always going to be people like that at any event that caters to fan interests. I just attended my town's local music festival and there were people there where it was as if dirt could sweat. This tip is for the rest of you. There's a furtive, focused and accepting atmosphere in the air at Comic-Con. The general currency is enthusiasm and love for media, not outward presentation. Sweatpants and suits mingle on equal footing, and I've seen people show up in their pajamas they were so comfortable being there. Nonetheless, no matter how tempting, it's still a very bad weekend to try and pull off the rock star ready to roll right out of bed or college student during finals or all your friends at the same lake house recording music and hanging out on the porch smoking pot thing: it's a convention, and there's a lot of walking, and it's summer. No one expects everyone to be cotillion fresh. Please try to be presentable and to remain so.
Tip #65. Consider Packing Lunch
You're not officially 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 -- but people do it anyway and I don't know anyone that's been caught as long as they've been discreet about it.
It's harder than you'd think to get away 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 with the sit for service it ends up being a decent investment in time. If you do end up going out, a carried-in lunch can always be pressed into service as a late-afternoon snack. You can buy appropriate stuff for lunch at Ralphs or in the hotels that have deli-style offerings. The convention center has a big back porch that's rarely used and is perfect for some alone time.
If you do leave for lunch, many people love Buster's Beach House
or Dick's Last Resort
. My favorite place to eat lunch in San Diego is Las Cuatros Milpas
, a line up outside to get in Mexican place where they cook everything in front of you in giant tubs of boiling lard. I'm not kidding about that: one cartoonist who went there with me actually covered his eyes so he could deny to himself how they were preparing his food. That's a short cab ride to a neighborhood scary enough you'll have to walk the five or six blocks back, but it's worth it.
AT THE SHOW
You're loaded with money, water, a good bag to carry your stuff. Now what?
Tip #66. Remember Your Badge Skills
Your badge -- a basic ID with your name on it that gets you into events -- will come with a lanyard. Although this year could be different the last decade or so has never seen Comic-Con make a badge with large print of the kind that's easy to read at a glance. So if you want people to know who you are, wear your badge proudly and wear it where people can see it. I dump the lanyard and just put the pinhole into my shirt, as I figure it beats people staring at my belly until my badge flips around.
Tip #67. If You're Shopping, Come With A List With Prices You'll Accept Rather Than Simply Look For The Best Price
If you're shopping -- and you really should shop at least a little bit -- I've found it's better to make a list that includes the price one can get the item in question. That way you know if you've found a good price, and knowing you have a good price you can let go of getting the best price in every circumstance. Comparison shopping is an amazing time-suck when you're standing in a room with 40,000 to 60,000 other shoppers, and saving 80 cents on a copy of Sun Runners #1
probably isn't going to be worth the effort.
Tip #68. Locate The Comics Shopping Core
There are things to buy all over the convention floor, from Artist's Alley to the corridor where the boutique toy makers set up to the dealers on the west end of the convention center to the publishers smack in the middle. Almost everyone will try and sell you something. There is a core of booths I always suggest as a starting point. I don't know if they're all going this year, but traditionally located between the arts and indy publishers and the back-issues dealers is an area containing mega-retailers Mile High Comics
, Bud Plant
and Comic Relief
. Comic Relief has a longstanding reputation -- of which the late founder Rory Root was very proud -- for bringing items that may suddenly become of interest at the show, like an Eisner-nominated comic book few have read.
Tip #69. Keep An Eye Out For Personalized And One-Of-A-Kind Items
It used to be that shopping at Comic-Con meant that you had an opportunity to see and purchase material to which you likely had no access the other 361 days of the year, like going to the best comic book shop. With the Internet and the growth of super-stores and the continuing utility of mail-order, that's no longer the case. Comic-Con has in the 15 years I've been going become a much more excellent place to buy original art, for instance, and I think in general people are seeking out that one-of-a-kind item over getting the best deals or finding the most stuff for X amount of money. Both creators and publishers will do stuff just for Comic-Con: special ashcans, paintings, special watermarks or title stickers, limited editions of toys, and so on. It's a great place to shop if you have the money and the appetite for more stuff.
Tip #70. 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 sort-of guarantees them a sale.
Tip #71. Attend A Panel
The upstairs rooms are filled with panels, basically speaking and occasionally multi-media arrangements where everyone from 1950s bullpen staffers at the major comics companies to comics podcast suppliers to the cast of a network television show can take questions from and interact with their fans. Some people tell me they never go to them, but as there are so many with so many interests represented, I'd suggest you try at least one. A few traditionally good panels are the ones that feature the non-North American cartoonists in attendance that you won't likely see again at Comic-Con, anything featuring older cartoonists (ditto), and anything featuring funny people or those that work on funny enterprises.
Tip #72. Remember That The Bigger Panels Require Greater Commitment
So I was walking around downtown San Diego at 4 AM on a Saturday morning last year -- totally behaving myself -- when I ran into a man talking on a cell phone pushing a baby stroller. I found this bizarre, but as I listened to him (the sound carried) it was clear that he and his wife were up when I had yet to go to bed because they were angling to get a good place in the line for the best TV and movie panels. Yeah, it's like that.
The closest I get to Hollywood at Comic-Con is random moments like noticing Eliza Dushku
is on the escalator 15 fat dudes in front of me. I have no advice for getting into the popular halls to watch the big-time entertainment panels except to note that it obviously requires a lot of perseverance, I'm sure the Comic-Con people have tried to make it as fair as possible, and I bet a lot of people are still dismayed and miserable.
Tip #73. 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 flown coach. 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 #74. Participate
If you go to a panel, feel free to ask questions if you have them when solicited. You deserve to: you made the effort to attend this panel of all the things you could be doing. If there's someone on the panel you want to meet, or a conversation you want to continue, wait until that person gets all the way out of the room so as not to further delay the next hour's presentation. If you know you have to leave before the panel is over, sit near the door as not to ignite questions of self-worth in the heads of the panelists who just watched you leave the room.
Tip #75. Again, Enjoy The Lines
This is probably a good place to suggest that if you do invest in panels and programming as a thing to do -- or autograph seeking, or portfolio reviews -- you're likely to be in a number of lines. It's a great place to be social -- you already have something in common with the people on either side of you. Also, the people you meet in line today may be more important to your career and/or leisure time a decade from now than the people you're both waiting in line to see. A friend of mine that watches a lot of panels actually buys a prose paperback book
at the airport or someplace similar and carries it along to read in case the people on either side of her are duds (her word) and she gets done with her phone.
Tip #76. 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. 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 someone you hadn't thought of in 20 years. The writer and too-infrequent artist Jeff Parker offered some good advice
about the Artist's Alley experience a few years back.
Tip #77. Network Laterally
As many of the previous tips suggest, Comic-Con can be a great place to meet people. One thing I've noticed from people that come to the show to meet people is that sometimes they get frustrated trying to meet those exact people from the basis of a cold introduction rather than trying to work the connections they already have. In other words, if you're a writer about comics that wants to meet creators, access your fellow writers about comics as to who they know that's a creator. If you're a creator that wants to meet editors, talk to your fellow creators to see if anyone can give you an introduction. Most people are happy to introduce people because anything good that comes out of it reflects well on them. But you have to ask.
Tip #78. Always, Always Introduce Yourself
The person you're with that you expect to introduce you? That person may be too tired to remember to do so, may not actually remember your name, may never have said your name out loud, or any of those things regarding the other person. Always introduce yourself to anyone you come across and save people the hassle of "hosting."
Tip #79. 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. Some of my favorite people at most shows, year-in and year-out are Batton Lash
, Jim Ottaviani
, Paul Karasik
, Scott McCloud
and Roger Langridge
. Richard Thompson
is supposed to be there this year and he seems as nice as they come. Cartoonists are generally
pleasant and smart; don't waste your time with any who aren't!
Tip #80. If You're Taking Kids, Put Them On Point
The one recurring piece of advice I hear from people who take their kids to the show is to let the kid's interests drive what you do while they're there. If they like looking at artists draw, do that. If they want to go to a certain television-related panel, do that. If they want to shop for early 1970s mimeographed fanzines, do that. If they want to play with the toys they brought while you try to banter with unctuous studio personnel about their securing an option on your comic book, do that. This puts you in the role of making sure they're not overwhelmed by the show or if they need to re-fuel as opposed to browbeating them about how awesome the thing you want them to like as much as you do might be. Also, I believe the con offers some limited daycare and some hotels offering limited babysitting. I'd suggest networking about this subject to see what other parents do.
Tip #81. Look For Secondary Or Tertiary Autograph Opportunities
I'm not an autograph seeker, but my friends who are -- for gifts, for themselves -- tell me that they pay as much attention to slightly offbeat signing opportunities as they do the big ones: the ones organized by cons and major handlers. If you know a creator has a series with a smaller publisher, check to see if they'll be there because the line is likely to be smaller. The CBLDF
and The Hero Initiative
are two charitable groups that sometimes have signings. So do some of the retailers on the west end of the floor. I believe Comic-Con produces a sheet full of signing opportunities, but it doesn't hurt to check around.
Tip #82. Seek Bathrooms Out Of The Main Flow Of Traffic
The convention center does a generally good job with keeping the bathrooms clean and functioning, but it may be worth seeking out one or two restroom spots far from the maddening crowd. I'd also suggest befriending someone with a room at the Marriott or Hilton, but there's really no good way to initiate that conversation.
Tip #83. To Travel The Floor In A Hurry, Sometimes It's Best To Use The Outside Hallways
If things get gummed up inside, sometimes it's most effective to go around the problem and re-enter the hall further towards or even past your ultimate destination.
Tip #84. Don't Count On Wi-Fi At The Convention Center, But You'll Probably Get It Anyway
I rarely take a computer to the show, and I won't be using twitter that way this year, either. There are ton of hot spots around downtown San Diego
, but for the convention center to offer it outside of the press room takes a sponsor looking for a unique advertising opportunity. Someone has stepped up the last couple of years, but it's a down economy.
Tip #85. 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's an incredible madhouse of people and pulp, high-end movie displays meeting low-end longboxes. Enjoy the show!
EVENINGS AT COMIC-CON
Your feet hurt, you're broke and all you want to do is go to bed. Time to party.
Tip #86. Do Something Outside The Show
Whether you're playing hooky from the show for a half-day or simply leaving the show at night, I always suggest that anyone at Comic-Con for more than two days spend some time away from the show. Tijuana
can be an amazing experience for a group of people (although CR
reader Mark Coale suggests this may be a no-go this year as "amazing" seems to mean "stabby" in Tijuana these days). San Diego has a lovely zoo
, maybe the loveliest zoo, although it requires a lot of walking and somehow seems to have been designed by MC Escher
in that you constantly walk uphill. As David Glanzer is fond of reminding me, though, there's no vacation that can't be made 10 percent better by spending some quality time with the pygmy marmoset
I went to an amazing store that I can't find now that sold mostly old magazines. This may be it.
There are activities on the water, including boat rental, which I've done in the past and had a blast doing. I have yet to visit a boat
, although I'd like to someday. San Diego has all the traditional big-city stuff, like clubs and malls and movie theaters. There are lovely beaches all over the place, too. It can be psychologically useful to get away from the convention center for a while, plus it can be fun.
Tip #87. Eat Out
San Diego hosts a lot of conventions and is a functioning downtown for business people besides. It therefore offers a significant number of restaurants with entrees in the $15-$30 range, and a few places on either side of that range. A good, leisurely meal can be a great way to socialize and relax before the evening's social festivities. As you get older, you'll find that on some nights having a relaxing meal is a substitute for an evening's worth of social festivities. There are any number of web sites
devoted to San Diego restaurants. Some of my favorites are the two Persian restaurants Sadaf
(Persian is one cuisine it's easier to get in southern California than anywhere else), Cafe Chloe
, Mister Tiki Mai Tai Lounge
, Rei do Gado
, and the eminently affordable Pokez
. I also have a soft spot for beers and battered fish at The Field
. The best-known local food contribution to the American Experience is the fish taco. You can get one just about anywhere, including a busy The Tin Fish location in the Gaslamp.
Tip #88. Think Small Dinner Groups; Make Reservations
Think small for dinner and make reservations. You should think small because the tendency otherwise is for people to cluster together in a large, amorphous, impossible-to-seat group of people that all want different things, a murder of con-goers that will wander the Gaslamp like a band of grumpy zombies, staring into windows before breaking up in a fit of acrimonious screaming. You should make reservations because that's polite, it focuses your evening and even though Comic-Con attendees don't eat out in as high a percentage as maybe the folks at some other conventions do, there are still enough people around it might be hard to get in at some of the best places. Use your concierge, use an on-line service or look for a city-sponsored booth in the convention center lobby that has menus and will do this for you.
Tip #89. Go To Every Party That Will Have You, And One Or Two That Won't
The party scene in San Diego for comics people is odd. Comics folks generally don't compete with the Eisner Awards
, so Fridays are out. Saturday can be very expensive in terms of putting something formal together, 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. Socializing at Comic-Con is a lot of informal gatherings here and there, "traditions" of three or four years in lengths like certain groups of people hitting certain lobbies to draw together, and a lot of nights that end at the Hyatt or your hotel bar of choice and maybe even begin there. Don't pass up any formal party invitation you might receive, from your comics friends or from any other group.
Tip #90. Keep An Eye Out For Special Events
There used to be more things like art openings and book launches at clubs than there seem to have been the last few years, but if you find out about something to do along these lines, you should do them. I used to love the art openings as a first stop in the evening.
Tip #91. Remember The Charity Events
It's not like I get invited anywhere, so if you're like me and out of the party loop but still want to go out, pay attention to any charity events that might be out there. Comics people take their charities seriously, so you're bound to get a pretty good guest-list together at such a function. Also, since they're fundraisers, a $20 bill buys you an invite no matter if you know every single person there or you don't know a mini-comic from an Absolute Edition.
Tip #92. How To Drink If You're Not Used To It
There's no stigma either way when it comes to drinking alcohol. A lot of people in comics don't; a lot of people do. For summer I always recommend the Gin and Tonic for men and
women. It tastes good, it comes in a glass with a flat bottom so you're not likely to spill it as you lug it around the room and you can have both high-end (calling the gin by name; Bombay is a good one because it sounds jaunty
) and low-end (settling for whatever they have that's cheapest) versions and get equally loopy. If you're not a heavy drinker, 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. As far as using drinks as a social entry point, if you're cool enough you can buy drinks for editors and creative people you've never met before and not look like a dork doing it, you're cool enough they're probably going to buy you the next round.
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR WEEKEND
Once you've settled down a bit -- well, below the point of panic -- and adjusted your eyes to the general visual overload that is Comic-Con, here are a few last suggestions to make a well-rounded weekend out of the affair.
Tip #93. Consider Going To The Eisners
The Eisner Awards
is the most widely-recognized of the American comic book-oriented awards, with the greatest amount of institutional force behind them. They also have the best awards show in that it's really long, recognizes a lot of great artists, features bizarre guest-stars from the wider media world, lets you see and maybe even meet cartoonists you've never seen in person, and asks a certain number of people to be funny in an impromptu fashion that should never be asked to do this. I go every year and wouldn't miss it for the world. My first year at the Eisners I wore shorts, came an hour late and sat at an empty table with Rich Johnston and some person I'm not certain to this day was all the way alive. When I won a prize someone I'd never seen before ran up on stage and accepted it for me. Oh, you Eisners. Now I wear a suit, they actively keep people from sitting at the front tables because so many want to, and people from the television set hand out the awards.
Tip #94. If You're Going To The Eisners, Get The Most Out Of Them
There are any number of things you can do to make your Eisner experience that much better. Eat dinner before you go. If you have to be at the convention center until 7 PM that evening, force your friends to save you a seat at a restaurant so you can go straight there or make someone pick you up some Wendy's. Whatever it takes, make time for a meal. You can dress up if you like or dress down; I wish more of the adults with corporate jobs would dress like adults as opposed to looking like they're hitting the luau at Disney World's Polynesian Resort during the summer of 1978, but I don't mind at all the artists dressing like artists. There's a cash bar that's easy to access, although I've known plenty of people that have supplemented their paid-for cocktails from a flask. You should make your tablemates bet the Eisners by guessing who's going to win and who isn't -- you'll be amazed how little your conception of the industry matches up to what wins. (Betting tip: always choose the entry with the most contributors.) If you're away from the tables and back in the audience, you'll be more comfortable and you can heckle without being fired on the spot. Have fun with that. Have fun generally.
Tip #95. The Masquerade Is Great, Too
I've only been to the Masquerade
once, but it was pretty amazing. There's an entire fan sub-culture devoted to costume-making; this is basically their runway show. The atmosphere is Showtime At The Apollo
circa 1989, and the people up on stage are having more fun that single night than I've had in any six-month period of my life. One year right after the show a bunch of the costumed people gathered together in one of the open convention center spaces and made a circle to have dance offs. I was lucky enough to be standing nearby, stupefied. You haven't lived until you see Marge Simpson totally own Captain America with pelvic dance moves of the kind that once lead to widespread book burnings and the movie Footloose
. It's hard to get in, so it's something of an investment, but it is a one of a kind thing.
Tip #96. Be A Con Hero, Not A Con Zero
Look into giving blood and/or registering to vote, if that's available. There are also ways to informally help the show function smoothly, even if it's just watching someone's table while they charge out to the restroom. Bring people coffee, smile, offer to help. Solano Lopez
once brought his publisher some cookies. It's a tough weekend for a lot of people, so cut them some slack if they don't give you exactly what you think you deserve to be given.
Tip #97. Pre-Register For Next Year
You can do that on-site, although it may be restricted to a certain kind of ticket. You may also be able to reserve a room at your hotel once you know next year's dates.
Tip #98. Recover Quickly And Dispose Of New Business Once You Get Home
Take that one day once you get back home and sleep in, but after that, get all of your initial follow-up and thank-yous out the door by the Friday after Comic-Con. Any longer than that, you'll feel silly sustaining any contacts you made. You'd be amazed by how many people let the same projects pile up year after year simply by not taking the initial action with the opportunities provided them.
Tip #99. Read All About It
A great way to re-live the experience -- or to help figure out what happened the first time -- is by going to this site's "Collective Memory" or just generally wandering around and reading various con reports. This year a lot of con report energy will go into Twitter, so the results should be amazing there. But there are also plenty of old-fashioned message board chats and blog posts out there. The great thing about so many people writing about a shared event is that you can fill in the blanks on things that you saw but didn't know quite what was going on.
Tip #100. Heed the Advice of Your Fellow CR Readers
a. Go to a Padres game. This only applies if you come early in the week, since they now (wisely) schedule the Padres to be on the road during the Con. This is especially true now that the team plays right down near the Convention Center and it doesn't require taking the trolley all the way out to Jack Murphy Stadium. Note: It's very possible Jake Peavy could be traded by the time the team is playing July, so cavaet emptor. (Mark Coale)
b. Don't go to TJ. I always miss the Eisners because I go to Tijuana Friday nights during the Con to see Lucha Libre. Not this year, though. My Lucha watching friends that live in SD haven't gone in months, due to all the violence in the city. Your desire to see Santo or Mistico may be great, but it's not worth getting killed or kidnapped. (Mark Coale)
c. One of my favorite tips I give people that I didn't see on your list is to use the Trolley. It runs right in front of the convention center and lets you get a cheaper hotel farther away from the epicenter of the action without having to drive/walk/get a cab. You can get a multi-day pass but in my experience they don't bother checking tickets near the Con since there are so many people. Plus, you get to mingle with other con-goers and compare panels, purchases, etc. (Matt Grommes)
d. I just read your list of Comic-Con tips (following a link from Mark Evanier's site) -- nice work. I've been to Comic-Con three times -- in '98, '99, and 2000. Just reading your tips brought back lots of memories of the convention, and San Diego in general. Not sure if I'll ever get back; someday, perhaps...
Anyway, I wanted to suggest that you edit your Tip #21 (Consider Cycling Through The Week With A Germ-Resistant Booster). The truth is that Airborne (and similar products) just don't work. There is no proper double-blind test in which Airborne users have been shown to avoid colds any more than people who don't use it. Like so much of the herbal/dietary supplement business, it's just snake oil.
Now an Airborne user might say, "Well, I used Airborne, and I didn't catch a cold!" -- but this kind of anecdotal evidence is pretty useless, since the person is assuming that they would have caught a cold otherwise. In reality, if they didn't catch a cold with Airborne, they also wouldn't have caught a cold without it. (And the diehard Airborne believers come up with excuses either way -- even when they do catch a cold, they rationalize that they just didn't take their Airborne soon enough.)
Taking Airborne probably won't hurt you (except for the money wasted) -- but it might! Here's a notice from the National Council Against Health Fraud:
"The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics has concluded that Airborne, a dietary supplement promoted for preventing and treating colds, has not been proven effective. The product contains seven herbal extracts (lonicera, forsythia, schizonepeta, ginger, Chinese vitex, isatis root, echinacea), three vitamins (A, C, E), two amino acids (glutamine, lysine), selenium, zinc and several other ingredients and is available in both adult and child (Airborne Jr) versions. The adult product contains 1000 mg of vitamin C. The recommended dosage -- one tablet every three hours at the first sign of a cold -- contains enough vitamin C to increase oxalate and urate excretion and thus may cause kidney stones."
(Link: http://www.ncahf.org/digest05/05-04.html#airborne )
As someone with an interest in the skeptical/critical thinking movement, I've read a little about Airborne in the past, so it caught my eye in your (otherwise excellent) list. I hope you'll consider removing your recommendation for this type of product. There are plenty of valid health tips for convention attendees, many of which you've listed -- like eating a proper diet, using aspirin or a similar pain reliever (which, unlike Airborne, is real medicine) if needed, washing hands, and staying hydrated. I'd add to that list getting plenty of sleep (although no one seems to follow that one at conventions...). (Kevin Eldridge)
e. Consider eating dinner earlier, and at the bar, even if you don't drink. Several bars near the convention center offer incredible happy hour food and drink specials. If I don't see a sign about specials than I always ask! (Erin Tapken)
f. The USPS offers flat rate Priority Mail boxes that are the perfect size for comic books. You can get them at any post office along with the proper stamp. Then fill them to the brim, tape them up and leave them with the front desk of your hotel for the mailman to pick up. Doesn't matter if they weigh 2 lbs or 10 lbs., as long as the box is not altered, and closes properly, it's all the same price. And flattened, the boxes fit nicely in the bottom of a suitcase. (Erin Tapken)
g. Even if you have met someone before, even if it was the day before, always assume the person doesn't remember your name and offer it to them, along with a reminder of how you know them, if applicable. (Erin Tapken)
h. One tip you might add: If someone ignores your suggestion not to go to Mexico this year, remind them that at least be sure and take your
passport. You'll need it to get back into the USA. I'll bet a lot of comic fans haven't thought about that! (Rick Loomis)
i. If you can't go, remember you can get your ticket money refunded if you ask early enough (usually by mid-June) through information on the convention web site. (John Burgess)
j. If you've not been there, you really don't realize just how big the con really is. My favorite stat for illustrating this comes from looking up the length of the aisles on the dealers' floor on the online blueprints. 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. (Tom Galloway)
k. While you should ask questions in panels and the like, know how to ask them. The key points to remember are a) no one else in the audience cares about you and b) you're not going to become friends with the panelists. Questions should be to the point as to what you want to ask about, and not prefaced with the personal reasons/history that explain why you want to ask that question. They also should not be used to tell the panelists how much you like their work and what your favorite bit was and the like. A while back, Mark Evanier wrote the following approximation of what had been announced at a Stephen Sondheim he'd attended:
"Later, there will be a Q-and-A session and I'm sorry to say I need to explain to people what the "Q" means. It means you ask a question. A question is a sentence that begins with an interrogatory pronoun and it ends with a question mark and your voice goes up at the end. And it's one sentence. If it's more than one sentence, it's not a question. This is not an audition. It is not about you. We don't need to hear what the first Sondheim show was you saw and how it forever changed your life. Just ask a real question and sit down." (Tom Galloway)
l. In recommending the "go someplace else besides SD for a vacation" item, I'd add San Francisco.
1. A flight on Virgin America from SD to SF a few days ago was $38. And that was down from $49.
2. The Schulz Museum is a short drive away from San Fran.
3. Miyazaki is speaking at Berkeley on that Saturday during the Con.
4. It's San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose/etc. Plenty to do there that has nothing to do with comics. (Mark Coale)
m. Take the bus from the airport. It's only $2.25 and it comes every 10-15 minutes. Then take it back to the airport for your flight out. It's only $2.25 and it comes every 10-15 minutes if you're standing on Broadway. (Peter Coogan)
n. If you're interested in getting sketches from artists, go to your local art supply store and buy a hardback sketchbook. Check out the Con schedule and if there's someone you want to get an autograph from, come prepared with something for them to sign, like a DVD they were in if they're an actor or a certain comic book if they're a comic writer or artist. (Brian Carroll)
o. Keep your cell phone on vibrate. At all times. You may not be able to hear it ring on the main exhibit hall floor or any late night bars, and you will disrupt a panel if it rings there. Better: when possible, text a message instead of calling -- again, because ambient sound levels where you are may be too high to hear anything or because they should be very low. (Glenn Hauman)
p. Related: when asking a question at a panel, if it's too long to put in a Twitter message, it may be too long to ask. Consider rephrasing. (Glenn Hauman)
q. And you have no excuse for not having a business card. They're cheap, easy and quick to get. You don't have to go crazy, but you do have to have something. You never know when you'll need one-- buying a drink for a Playboy Playmate, for example. At worse, buy blank cards and prepare to write your name a lot -- but write a few in advance, for speed's sake. (Glenn Hauman)
And that's it. Have fun. Smile. Say hi if you see me; I'd like to meet you. I'll be the fat, bald guy.
Photos by Whit Spurgeon, 2003; Gil Roth, 2005; Tom Spurgeon, 2007. Comic-Con International is an advertiser here, so you just spent all that time reading compromised, biased nonsense.
posted 4:00 pm PST
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