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Nerd Vegas: A Guide to Visiting and Enjoying CCI in San Diego, 2008! (Final Version)
posted May 27, 2008


Comic-Con International, also known as CCI, Comic-Con and San Diego Con, is the largest gathering of comics industry professionals and fans in North America. Held at the convention center in beautiful downtown San Diego, CCI is a show of great importance to anyone in the world of comics as well as to hundreds of pros in related publishing, merchandising and film businesses.

In 2008, the show is scheduled for July 24-27, with a preview night on July 23.


Seven Basic Reasons to Attend Comic-Con International

1. Shopping!
The show is anchored by a massive, main floor marketplace featuring exhibitors including but not limited to publishers, individual artists, comic book back issues dealers, movie studios, toy companies and individual artists, many of which have wonderful things for sale.

2. Programming!
In rooms of varying size at other places in the building, the convention offers programming including but not limited to previews of big-company titles, small-publisher spotlights, single-artist slideshows, themed-issue discussions, film presentations (celebrities), and sneak peeks at forthcoming TV shows (more celebrities).

3. Socializing!
At day there's hand-shaking and how-you-doing aplenty. At night there are entertainment activities both formal and informal, including Friday evening's Eisner Awards ceremony and Saturday's famous costume Masquerade.

4. Socializing's Better-Dressed And Occasionally Sleazier Cousin: Schmoozing!
All around San Diego at all hours of day and night comics industry employees, writers, artists, fans, retailers, Hollywood types, and press people are taking morning meetings, breaking bread over long lunches and sharing late-night drinks, fraternizing and seeing to informal business matters on a massive scale.

5. Working!
Meet your fans. Sign their books. Sell your art. Move your publisher's books. Update a signing chalkboard. Fetch Matt Fraction's bottled water. While Comic-Con International can be a fine vacation, it's also not a bad way to punch the clock for a few workdays. If you don't already work for yourself or for an exhibitor, several companies sometimes hire people for the show in return for passes. The con also offers volunteer opportunities on much the same basis.

6. Staring!
Between the costumes, the displays, the toys, the statuary, the comics luminaries, the Hollywood elite, the Hollywood not-so-elite, and the various entertainment options, CCI makes your average Cirque Du Soleil show look like a Depression-era photo of people digging holes in the mud. It's the people-watching and the things that look vaguely like people-watching national headquarters.

7. Vacationing!
Unlike comics conventions that are restricted to a single hotel or are held in airport-convenient towns lacking in culture of the non-upscale chain variety, Comic-Con International is held in beautiful downtown San Diego, right on the water, next to that city's restaurant- and bar-stuffed Gaslamp District, with easy access to dozens of quality activities off site. If it's possible to have a vacation that's not attending a convention at the same time you're attending a convention, it's possible in San Diego. Many folks at the con share a room and maybe a bed with someone that attends only a light smattering of con activities, spending the rest of their time shopping and sight-seeing everywhere but Comic-Con. San Diego makes that possible.


Seven Things That Distinguish CCI From Other Shows

1. It's Huge
Between exhibitors and attendees, twice as many people attend Comic-Con International as live in my hometown. It's therefore a tremendous opportunity to interface with any number of comics constituencies: creators, customers, editors, fans -- you name it.

2. Its Proximity To The LA Film Business
I know this is likely to get comics' purists worked up into a pro-funnybook lather, but let's be honest: making a connection with some sort of film or television interest is a significant and growing concern for many comics professionals and comics fans. The marriage of film and comics at CCI -- sometimes winning, sometimes uneasy -- has led to the development of an entire wing of programming. Other pop culture industries have followed film's lead by increasing their presence: toy makers, animation studios, television shows and book publishers, just to name a few. I'm a comics guy; I tend to forget the movie and TV people are even there. Still, I'd be lying if I told you that San Diego's proximity to the film industry hasn't been a major and unique driving force in the con's development, or if I downplayed that it's a hugely appealing factor for tons of people who go.

3. Left Coast Roll Call
There is no other sizable West Coast comics industry show during the summer season, which makes CCI an even bigger attraction for the major comics professional communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, as well as in the medium-sized ones like Las Vegas and San Diego itself. It's a national show, for sure, actually an international one, but the percentage of comics folk west of Denver who make it down to San Diego's convention center is extraordinary.

4. A Well-Oiled Machine
Years of experience on staff not only helps the show function well, there is enough institutional memory for staffers to be sensitive to -- and invested in -- a lot of different con-going experiences.

5. Meeting And Greeting
Practical business really does get done there. There is a ton of looking at talent, a lot of talking about future plans, a great many people having introductory meetings, and so on. Just touching base with people in person can yield enormous benefits later on.

6. A World Of Guests
Although there are other major comics shows in places like Angouleme, France and New York City, Comic-Con remains big enough it can bring in special guests from nearly every corner of the world of cartooning. This year, for instance, fans will get a chance to meet folks such as Lynda Barry, Kim Deitch, Al Jaffee, Jim Starlin, Mike Grell, Ralph Bakshi, Eddie Campbell, Signe Wilkinson, Rutu Modan and Gipi. That is a tiny, tiny sampling.

7. A Year Without San Diego Is A Year Without Sunshine
CCI is one of the few recurring, reliable experiences on the calendar by which comics people can mark the passage of time as they waste their once-promising lives.



Seven Reasons Not To Bother With CCI At All

1. It Can Make You Hate Comics
Some cartoonists express particular discouragement at the excesses of the show's omnivorous, pop-culture focus. Life is tough enough as a cartoonist without inviting a soul-destroying, four-day migraine.

2. Major Spondulicks
It costs a lot to exhibit and it can cost a lot to attend. With higher gas prices and pretty much higher everything as a result, this is going to be a major concern this year.

3. Who Needs It?
You might feel, and you might be right, that you can get much of what a big convention offers elsewhere for less expense and trouble. If you're only going in order to buy comics, for example, you might be better off spending your San Diego hotel and food budget at an on-line comics store or at your local shop.

4. Too Big A Tent
Some might feel more comfortable at a show that better matches a specific interest, like Wizard Entertainment's Chicago show (mainstream American superheroes) or the MoCCA Festival (small press and handmade comics) or Austin's Ikkicon (anime and manga).

5. You've Simply Got Things To Do
It could be you just can't find time in your schedule for that many days away from home. If you're a salaried employee somewhere, the majority of the show takes place on non-weekend days, which means vacation time. If you're a freelancer and going to CCI a work trip, you may need an additional day or two once you get back home to decompress and for follow-up, so you have to figure that in, too. It can mean a full week away from the drawing table and/or writing desk.

6. What? Leave home?
Your distaste for crowds and travel far outweighs any benefit you might see from attending. Everyone feels this one a bit the older they get.

7. Not July Again
Even though you've liked it in the past, and you might like to go in the future, you'd just rather not go this year.


Even If You Love CCI, Six Ways To Tell You Might Need To Take A Year Off

1. You realize you know the sushi chef at Ralphs by name.

2. You start to refer to individual years at the show by stupid things that were on the floor that weekend: "I haven't seen Brian since 'half-naked woman under glass' year."

3. Random hotel employees clap you on the shoulder, call you by name and say, "Good to have you back again."

4. During a long meal you point out at the sidewalk across the street and inform your dinner companions you saw two bums have a knife fight over there a decade ago.

5. You're already worried about making it to the airport on time.

6. You lie awake late at night wondering what happened to all the Klingons. Seriously, there used to be way more Klingons.



Even If You Don't Care For CCI, Six Ways To Tell You Really Need To Go To This Year's Con

1. You're reading this post when you have better things to do. Far better things.

2. All of your jokes about going to Comic-Con feature a) Hart Fisher, b) Troma Studios, c) the Spawnmobile.

3. Your accountant texts you to let you know that you have to spend a lot of money on hotels, food and several piles of cross-media ephemera this summer or the books simply won't balance.

4. The last time you wore a costume, it was from Chronicles of Riddick.

5. You play the "Last Meal" game at a cocktail party and no one understands your answer of "lobster bisque from the US Grant, three fish tacos and a six pack of Red Trolley ale."

6. Much to the horror of wife Teri Garr, you've begun to subconsciously shape your mashed potatoes into the Hyatt.


Four Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Commit to Attending

1. "Do I Really Want to Go?"
If it feels like it will be a chore in any way, don't go. It's not a requirement. You may feel a twinge of regret right before the show, when everyone else is giddy with excitement, but that feeling goes away really quickly. Not going can even be a relief. At some point during CCI weekend, the writer Warren Ellis will realize he's not in San Diego and will spend the next 20 minutes dancing joyfully like Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof.

2. "Do I Need to Be There the Whole Weekend?"
I never go the full length of the show. Greatest benefit? There's no better way to reduce the costs of CCI than to cut the time spent there. Second greatest benefit? It's better to leave wanting more than to wander around Saturday afternoon with a stomachache wondering if you can get an earlier flight. Don't let a comics show put you in a financial bind or a bad mood.

3. "Do I Need a Room or Just a Bed?"
Figure out exactly what you need and what you're willing to accept. A bed may be easier to find than a room. A day trip may be easier than both. Plenty of people attend the show but never stay the night. Knowing what you want and need will greatly help you leap the con-goer's biggest hurdle: lodging.

4. "Do I Want to Go for Realistic Reasons?"
A comic book convention is not a young-woman-with-her-first-job-in-the-big-city movie. If it were, you'd be the plucky but unhappy comic relief. Go for the experience you're likely to have, not the experience you think you deserve.



So I Want To Go: What Seven Things Do I Do Now?

1. Bookmark The Convention's Web Site
Here. It's still the best place for announcements and the like.

2. Make Certain You Can Afford It
Comic-Con ain't cheap. Air travel is more expensive than it's ever been, particularly from smaller airports. Driving into San Diego means paying those gas prices and finding a place to store your car at upwards of $25-$30 a day. San Diego is both a convention and a resort town, which means that hotel rooms can cost a lot. Factor in meals and incidental expenses (cabs from the airport, cabs from the Hyatt at 2 AM, bail money), and you're talking a decent investment before you start buying those much-desired copies of Dunc and Loo.

I stay by myself, so I accrue additional costs there that some may not have, but I also don't tend to buy stuff on the floor. To prorate it out to five days and four nights of attendance, the last few years going to Comic-Con has become at least a $1400 trip for me. That's a not-insignificant amount of money.

3. As Early As You Can Stand, Start Thinking About a Room
Because hotel rooms are so expensive, and because so many people want them, a lot of people make securing a room a minor hobby on the level of cleaning out the car or shampooing the dogs -- something you look after once a month or so. The convention provides the opportunity to reserve discount rooms through their site early in the year. Getting one on that day (or the days immediately after) proves very competitive. If you can find one you can live with at any time between the moment you decide to go and the moment you get on the plane, snatch it up!

4. After January 1, Make Getting a Room a Major Priority
After the con's room have their initial sellout, you should get the best rooms you can as soon as you can. It is totally possible to get a room later in the Spring. In 2007, I booked three days at downtown hotels for myself and four days for a friend -- in June. I also directed people to better hotels that became available through the convention and on hotel sites all through last Spring.

5. Try For A Room As Close As You Can To The Convention Center
General rule for what to look for in a room? Proximity. Closer is better, particularly if you have things you have to carry back and forth with you each day, like an art portfolio or a laser crossbow. Hotels more than five or six blocks away require a mental adjustment in that you're not able to easily pop back to the room. Hotels further away than the highways require an even bigger mental adjustment and, depending how you're oriented and feel about public transport, a car.

6. Don't Dally On The Air Travel
Once you're committed, and if you're flying, it sometimes pays to start paying attention to air travel through your favorite on-line ticket site in order to secure the best ticket prices.