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Comic-Con By The Numbers: 135+ Tips For Attending San Diego’s CCI 2010!
posted June 19, 2010
-- also known as CCI, Comic-Con and San Diego Con -- is the largest gathering of comics industry professionals and fans in North America. It is also a show of great importance to hundreds of pros in and fans of related publishing, merchandising and film businesses.
Comic-Con International features on its main floor a massive marketplace of vendors, creators and direct suppliers. You can buy old comics, new comics, original art, movies, t-shirts, toys, and licensed items from every walk of geek life at Comic-Con. The upstairs rooms offer aggressive programming tracks in comics, film, television and a cornucopia of related activities. There are opportunities all over the show to see and meet creators from any number of entertainment fields: actors, cartoonists, academics, voice-over talent, models and writers. There are opportunities in the convention center and all over San Diego on Comic-Con weekend to meet like-minded fans, to celebrate your favorite, oddball things, and to network on a massive scale.
It's Geek Vegas, Nerd Prom, Fan Cannes, Fandom Branson, the Grand Ol' Cosplay Opry, Four-Color Ground Zero... and it's also an extraordinarily complex vacation event. That's where this guide comes in. What follows is a list of observations, tips and insights that may help prepare you for your San Diego con-going experience. Everyone's San Diego is different, but there are a few commonalities and shared experiences that we hope makes talking about some of them worthwhile.
In 2010, the show is scheduled for July 22-25, with a preview night
on July 21. I hope to see you there!
FIRST, LET'S TALK ABOUT BADGES
It used to be you could essentially not plan for Comic-Con and just go if the mood struck you. This was true just a few years ago. Those days are gone.
Tip #1. At This Point, You Better Already Have Your Badges
The convention is sold out. Non-attendee registration is completed. If you don't have tickets for the show, or aren't registered in another way, you're pretty screwed. For whatever reason, good or evil, the demand to attend the show as currently constituted outstrips the number of tickets for the show. In addition, the rise of demand has come with such sudden force as to discombobulate other avenues for securing tickets. You have to pre
-register as press now. Abuse of the system by several parties and a general desire to allow for as many attendee badges as possible means you can't easily pick up an extra badge or two through an exhibitor pal.
If you don't have tickets yet, honestly? I'd suggest calling it a day. I can't imagine anything sadder than someone showing up at the convention center expecting to score tickets like it's 1996. I'd suggest focusing on 2011, or on one of the many fine conventions all over the world where demand hasn't yet exceeded capacity. There are so many great shows now in cities like New York
, San Francisco
; chances are you won't be disappointed.
Tip #2. I Don't Recommend it, But There Are Some Grey Areas To Work
Still here? Okay, let's talk. Three ways of potentially securing tickets come to mind.
First, the convention has in recent years auctioned off a few tickets that come back to them via returns. So pay attention to their site.
Second, if you are a pro or near-pro whose presence would be so awesome as to kick a big exhibitor or convention player or participating agency into surreptitious action on your behalf, that may work as well.
Third, there are people that put up on Ebay certain badges or groups of badges. I would not send my Mom to that corner of the Internet for that purpose, I would not go myself, and I cannot recommend it to you other than to note I've heard it exists. I have no idea if badges are even transferable that way. Seriously, if that were my only option, I think I would seriously consider going to San Diego and sitting in bars hoping some drunk person from the cast of Supernatural
would leave their badge on the bar when they went to bathroom so I could steal it. That's hardly a plan. And even then I'd be too chicken to use it.
I saw exactly one person last year who faked a pass into the show -- a famous alt-cartoonist -- and it was more like we felt bad for this person rather than we were impressed by his ingenuity. Eventually, this person scored a proper ticket. I don't know how. Don't be this person.
Tip #3. If You Can't Attend, Don't Stress Not Going
So the way things are set up right now, some people are going to be left out of the Comic-Con experience. Despite what the insistent hype may suggest, this isn't a big deal. It's totally okay not to go. This was always the case, of course, but it's even more of a truth now.
There was a time when I could argue that Comic-Con was a necessity for a certain kind of fan and pro and press person. If you wanted to get everything you could out of comics, if you wanted to enter into the industry, if you wanted to be noticed, if you wanted to stay connected to what was going on, CCI was the primary facilitator of these things.
I can't say that with the same certainty these days. There are so many opportunities for daily connectivity and interaction out there, with multiple worlds of fandom. These things replace, I think, much of what used to get crammed into a single July weekend.
The great thing about that is this: if you go to Comic-Con these days, you can go because you want to
, not because you feel you have
to. This makes a huge difference. I think it's focused the show and has started to make it more about the joy of the comics- or fill-in-your-blank experience. San Diego no longer needs to act as a substitute for a lack of connection within the industry and the art form. So many used to go just to meet people. Now folks go to meet people but also to see the people they know and love and work with all year.
Tip #4. On The Other Hand, Don't Stress Attending, Either!
I think there's a trap in attending Comic-Con right now. The fact that it can be slightly more difficult to attend Comic-Con than other conventions or, let's admit it, other vacation destinations, this can put pressure on the Comic-Con weekend to give back on a scale that makes you forget the fussier parts of attending. That probably won't happen. It helps to remember that the hassle of going to Comic-Con is an accident of cultural history -- All those spectacle movies! All those fantasy franchise books! All those graphic novels! The rise of manga and anime! -- rather than something the convention itself enjoys or endorses or requires. I don't have any more fun going now than I did in '96 or, say, '01, when it was much easier to attend. But I still have fun, and it's still worth it for me on a lot of levels.
I can't stress that enough. I still have fun at this show.
For as much as some aspects have become a pain, for as much as some things I set out to do just don't happen, for as much as I find myself having to think about the show months
before I want to, I still find Comic-Con extremely pleasurable as a comics fan to attend, and it's wonderfully useful as as a press person covering the comics industry. For one thing, there's a great cross-section of creators and industry folk, particularly from west of the Rockies. The second half of the comics year release schedule is on the tip of everyone's tongues. There are a ton of creators of historical interest scattered about the place. There's been an upswing in original art sales which means I can look at Kirby
pages even if other people are the ones that get to buy them. There are a lot of $1 comics there, which I can buy a big pile of portable pop culture as easily as anyone. I see mainstream comics folk there that don't do the festival and small press shows. You get at least one, maybe two, major European guests. There's usually a manga guest now. It's ridiculous.
Because of all these people making the trip and solid programming choices, there was a half-afternoon in 2009 where in the space of five hours I got watch Mike Mignola
draw in pen and ink, Seth give his well-regarded slide-show/reading, Pat Oliphant
draw in charcoal while taking questions about being on Nixon's enemies list, Richard Thompson
talk (softly) about his cartooning and Leonard Starr
talk (forcefully) about his. That was a great half-day, and almost impossible to have anywhere else.
There will be a day when I don't attend CCI. I never got to attend the show in the 1980s. I'll never attend the late 1990s Comic-Con of my relative youth ever again. There are still definite joys to be had if you engage the show as it is, not as you'd prefer it to be, or remember it being.
Tip #5. Be Happy With Whatever Decision You Make
My suggestion is to pick a side and decide to really, really enjoy the weekend in the convention center and greater San Diego OR stay home and really, really enjoy getting some work done and enjoying a more typical summer weekend. If you think you need a year off from Comic-Con, take the year off! I have. There's having a miserable time, and then there's having a miserable time surrounded by people dressed as the Na'vi. And even if you end up feeling you've made the wrong choice, there's going to be another Comic-Con as soon as next year.
ONCE YOU HAVE YOUR BADGE SECURED, THE NEXT FOUR THINGS YOU SHOULD DO
Tip #6. Make Lodging Your Second Priority
Finding a place to stay is difficult, not impossible. Hopefully, you already have this done.
Rooms are at a premium. The lottery for room reservations through the convention took place a couple of months ago and even then there may have been more dissatisfied customers than totally satisfied ones. During the period of time between the lottery and the convention itself, it's a lawless scramble for accommodations, with a lot of broken hearts. One big change for 2010 is that instead of the convention's partner Travel Planners returning rooms to the interactive grid so that an attentive (obsessive) traveler can scoop them up in May, June and even July, it appeared that for a while there are either a) no returned rooms, b) a system in place that favors awarding them to people on what must be a lengthy waiting list. There were rooms added back through the site in mid-June for hotels outside of San Diego's downtown, so if that suits you, you should be in good shape.
If those rooms have disappeared since my last update, or if you're still gunning for something in close proximity, my next step would be to ask anybody that was sponsoring me at the show or interested in my being there if they had any rooms/beds/space/ideas. I would then extend this to anyone I knew was going. A friend who has an extra bed or a publisher who wants you there that has a room and just figured you just didn't want it, someone like that might surprise you. It never hurts to ask.
Beyond that, you're in the world of travel agents and on-line travel sites. I like this one
; your mileage may vary. The good news is that in mid-June when I run the dates on the five or six sites of this type I know of, I'm actually seeing hotels both downtown and in the outlying areas; I don't know why that is. They are pretty expensive, but they exist. That wasn't true in years past.
Tip #7: Don't Be Upset About Staying Further Away
A lot of people make a big deal out of staying downtown. Heck, a lot of people pitch a holy fit if they can't get in a hotel that's 200 yards or less from the convention center. I don't totally understand these people.
I've stayed in some of the really close hotels. I prefer
to stay at a certain downtown hotel that's about six blocks away and have a bunch of times as a result. Some people consider that too far away to stay, but I love it! I've stayed more than once in a hotel in a slightly further-away part of San Diego, and will this year as well. I've stayed four times in the dreaded hotel circle north of the city. I once stayed a half-hour away by car.
The upshot is this: I have no
memories that one area in which to stay was so superior to another that any year stands out just
for where I stayed. In fact, I used to love
staying out at this hotel on the Hotel Circle
back when staying here meant I decided three days before the show to go, just for the oasis-like feeling getting away from the con allowed. Any hotel can work if you're willing to work it. If you make the attempt to enjoy where you're staying as opposed to fuming about where you're not, you'll likely have a pretty good weekend.
Tip #8: Do Be Realistic About Staying Further Away
Your main problem staying further away will be getting to and from the show. If you stay in downtown San Diego proper, you should be able to get away with a combination of walking, cabs, shuttle buses and public transportation -- and this is certainly true of any hotels within 10 blocks of the show. At the Hotel Circle north of town you're relegated to some public transportation (the commuter train system) and cabs. I've always driven my own car in and out of those hotels -- that would be preferred, I think.
In some of the hotels on the water, there may actually be water transportation to the convention center. You should check with the hotel. Water taxis are an awesome way to commute to the convention center but they're limited to a few hotels and may shut down earlier in the evening than you want to head back -- which means a cab. If you're someone who needs to transport equipment at Comic-Con -- and you're probably the only class of con-goer that should complain about proximity -- you have to build in that much more time and care. You may be able to store some on-floor material or accrued crud with a friend at a better/closer hotel. Granted, that would take a heck of a friend.
Tip #9: Accept The Biggest Adjustment In Staying Further Away
The biggest adjustment in staying further away is that it's way more difficult, obviously, to pop back over to one's room and catch a nap or to simply get away from the show for a time. You're committing to being at the show and related surroundings, perhaps even until the far end of the day, the way the people staying in close proximity aren't. A change of shirt might be something you would consider stuffing in a bag if you think you're going to be away from your hotel room for 15 hours; other ways to refresh yourself may be worth musing over. You also might consider a shorter day that helps avoid burnout -- I know when I stay further away I tend to have longer breakfasts and a leisurely workout if I feel I'm able to skip the first couple hours of con activity.
Tip #10: Keep An Open Mind About Getting There
You have to get to San Diego, of course. I talk about different ways to arrange travel in and out of San Diego in the Placeholder Edition of this Guide
, and I'll talk about this as a money-saving possibility later on in this version of the guide. If you're just making your travel arrangements now, perhaps consider a certain amount of flexibility in your plans. Some years I fly into San Diego and budget for cab rides to my hotel and back. Some years I drive in and budget for parking costs at the convention center and at my hotel. Some years I fly to Vegas after the convention. Some years I go to Los Angeles for a few days before the show and take the train down. There are all sorts of ways to build more vacation time and perhaps some savings into a trip to Comic-Con.
Tip #11. Establish Your Network
I've already mentioned talking to your friends and any professional colleagues that may apply. This is your Comic-Con network. Even if you're squared away with tickets and a place to stay, I suggest sometime soon you might want to reach out in some modest way to folks you know that might be there and let them know you're going and with what general intention in mind (finding a job, getting your work seen, selling a screenplay, drinking a beer on the back porch of hotel bar with the guy who writes Ghost Rider
, learning about voice acting, seeing a panel of pale vampire boys, etc.). Once you get closer to the show, reestablish contact with your fellow soon-to-be attendees to ask after things like social events or to see if they can help you with any of your more specific goals for the weekend.
Not everyone will be helpful, but the number of people I've had tell me weeks after the show that there was a disappointing aspect to their Comic-Con weekend because of Reason X when I would have been able to provide them with Reason X had they only asked is... well, it's about a dozen people. Still. That's 12 whole weekends
I could have made better if the people involved had sent me a two-line e-mail. Reach out. Talk to your pals.
Tip #12. Start Your Bookmarks
The other great, recurrent skill in the con-goer's toolbox is research: bookmarking sites of use and then making use of them. My suggestion is at some point between now and the show start a folder and put everything related to the con into it, including the following web sites.
A. This Guide -- if for no other reason than I'm going to spend time between now and Comic-Con obsessively re-writing a lot of the lamer jokes.
B. Convention Web Site -- the source for tons of official information
C. Your Hotel's Web Site -- familiarize yourself with your surroundings, join the points club
D. Tripadvisor.com -- preview your hotel experience.
E. SDcommute.com -- commuting options.
F. VirtualGuideBooks.com -- see public areas before you visit them.
G. News From ME -- Mark Evanier has attended every single Comic-Con, and has logged about 63,000 hours of panel moderation time. He writes about his panels and the con itself with increasing frequency as the show dates approach.
H. The Beat -- Heidi MacDonald's purview is comics culture, and there's no entity of greater importance within comics' culture than Comic-Con.
I. Yp.Yahoo.com -- nearby business scouting.
J. SignOnSanDiego.com -- a halfway decent baseline review place, particularly for restaurants.
That may sound like a lot of sites, and you can tailor the folder for your specific intentions, but I still think it's a good idea in general.
Securing that badge, having your travel and hotel plans set in stone, letting your friends and acquaintances know you're going, and putting together a little bookmarks folder -- you're way up on a significant number of people who will be attending this year. You can stop now, if you want. It's all diminishing returns from here.
TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY ON A CCI TRIP
I can't tell if we're still in a Great Recession or not, but I do know that in any given year many of us are in an unique economic slow-down of our own making. 2010 feels to me like another year where people are going to want to save some cash in their various goings-on, even in the case of a massive extravagance like going to CCI.
Like many first class events of size and scope, Comic-Con is geared to lift money from your wallet. Yet it's also possible to go and not spend much at all, or at least arrive back home only having spent a fraction of your self-predicted per diem
. Here are a few strategies I've used.
Tip #13. Consider Making Your Trip Shorter
I have friends that only go to Comic-Con if they can be there for five nights and six days, from Preview Night through Sunday's private dead dog parties. While I'm sure it's still a blast to have the whole summer-camp experience, I work
in comics and I haven't been to the entire show since 1996. A four-day pass won't explode in your hand if you only use it for two or three days. As far as I know, a press or professional pass or your extra badge from an exhibitor can be picked up at any time.
The main savings you derive by going for only part of the show is on hotels and expenses like meals. If you plan well, you can do 90 percent of what you want from Comic-Con in 33 percent of the time spent there. Plus it's way better to leave wanting more than to leave fervently praying you never see a comic book again.
Tip #14. Consider Sharing A Room
I'm too old to do this now, if I can avoid it. For one thing, part of my personal San Diego routine as it's developed over the years seems to involve sitting in a fiercely air-conditioned room in my underwear for a couple of hours each day drinking Mountain Dew, eating barbecue corn chips and watching re-runs of Martin
with the volume all the way up. That said, I actually shared a room in 2009, the thermostat never went below 75 degrees, I kept my pants on, and I survived the experience with a few hundred extra dollars to spend on a full run of Snooper and Blabber
Again, reach out to any friends. You'd be surprised who might need a room or have an extra bed. Some message boards will be used to get people together, but that always seemed kind of slasher-movie to me. Share a bathroom with a stranger at your own risk, that's what I say. But if you have a friend who's going, even just an Internet friend, why not?
There are limits. Stuffing people into your room like college kids on Spring Break can be easy or difficult depending on the hotel. Stay away from the Westgate
when it comes to this practice unless you want to pay for each and every body. A new manager can make any hotel, even a traditional look-the-other-way establishment, a hard case. You never can 100 percent depend on anything. For instance, the Westin Gaslamp
and the Manchester Grand Hyatt
used to offer roll-away beds for a modest fee, but damned if I could get them to give me one in 2009.
Tip #15. Consider Volunteering (No Longer Applicable To 2010)
There's a whole sub-culture of Comic-Con volunteers
, who get access to the show in return for their hard work. I know them as the "please end your panel right now so we can have a less boring one on next hour, thank you" people. My understanding is that all volunteer slots are filled for 2010 but if that's something that interests you for the future maybe bookmark the appropriate page and check out its next-year equivalent when it shows up.
Tip #16. Consider "Temping"
Exhibitors from out of town will occasionally hire locals or people that have made their own plans to be at Comic-Con and put them to work at their booths. This way they save on flying in more people from the home office. In many cases, these exhibitors have the capability to secure you a badge, provide you with a discount on their stuff, or even pay you a small fee. This is the comic-con equivalent of standing on a street corner hoping a comics publisher pulls up in his pick-up and ask you to jump in, so I wouldn't make plans based on this, but you might keep your ears open.
Tip #17. Consider Adjusting Your Plans To Include Commerce
It's probably not worth mentioning, but someone actually e-mailed me about this. Yes, if you were already planning on being at Comic-Con as a professional and doing a signing or especially setting up at a table somewhere, you may be able to work up some extra art or items to sell at your signing or through your table space to make some cash.
People love buying original stuff at Comic-Con. It adds to the uniqueness of the con-going experience. I remember one artist who used to come down on a single day, do one or two signings, sell several thousand dollars of original art, and then fly out after dinner. He had defeated Comic-Con. You and I likely can't do this (I know I can't), but it's an attitude to keep in mind. Big key: check with your sponsors -- they may have a policy on this. One publisher might not want you selling another publisher's work or anything but the item they're having you sign. Another publisher may not have any room for a display of your work. If you are your own sponsor, you may secure permission from yourself.
Tip #18. Live Like A Cartoonist
The reason so many comics people are able show up at San Diego despite incomes that hobos mock is because they're really, really good at not spending money. You can be good that way, too. Trying your best to have other people feed you, shadowing your peers with expense accounts when it comes to getting cab rides or buying coffee, taking public transit to and from the airport, walking everywhere during the show even when it's far away, not buying drinks but waiting to have them bought for you, leaving your wallet in the room safe while you patrol the show... you might be surprised how freeing this is.
The great thing about this is that memory will toss any immediate hardship over the rails
: by which I mean two weeks after Comic-Con you probably won't remember the stuff you didn't
do; you'll remember the stuff you did
Tip #19. Consider Eating In
You may horrify the local tourism bureau if you choose not to utilize one of San Diego's excellent restaurants for each and every meal. But let's face it: with various food allergies, the closure of some of the cheaper-menu restaurants in the neighborhoods near the convention center, the number of pros on deadline who suddenly have
to stay in their hotel room to get some pages done and people spending enough days in the city that they may simply desire a non-restaurant meal -- I get like that -- there shouldn't be any stigma about buying something from a grocery store or deli and returning to your hotel room to chow down. And if there is, what's one more stigma to a comics and geek culture fan?
Tip #20. Consider Having A Getaway Hotel
If you're staying an extra night and heading out of town early the next day, you maybe don't need to be in the same hotel you just spent the days of Comic-Con inhabiting. You may be able to find a cheaper hotel out of downtown and by the airport, even, or up the highway a little bit. The city shuts down in cold, quick fashion Comic-Con wise when the convention closes on Sunday, and there's no particular comfort or lingering goodwill involved in waking up at a convention hotel on Monday morning.
Tip #21. If You're Young And Able To Do So, Consider Saving A Night In A Hotel Room By Not Getting A Hotel Room
When I was totally broke in my 20s and, let's admit it, my early 30s, and wanted to squeeze an extra day out of a Comic-Con, I'd store all my stuff with a friend or in the car, or at the front desk of the hotel I checked out of Saturday morning, made sure I had stuff to do until 2:00 AM or so on Saturday Night/Sunday morning (a hotel's last-closing bar, a party at the beach, a midnight movie), retrieved my bag, went to Denny's
on Pacific Highway for a leisurely breakfast and then went to the airport where I caught a super-early morning flight. You know what? That Dennys is still there.
On second thought, that was really stupid for me to do and I always ended up exhausted. Maybe don't do this.
Tip #22. Consider A Secondary Stop To Save On Two Vacations
One of the advanced strategies you might consider when planning for Comic-Con is to build in some vacation time to somewhere else right before or right after the show. Las Vegas and Los Angeles are probably the easiest secondary destinations to pair with San Diego. San Francisco may be less than a $100 add-on. Heck, you can also stay a few days on either end in San Diego itself and simply enjoy that great city.
Why go somewhere else? Because it allows you to take advantage of only minor increases in ticket prices that one can find by stringing together one-way tickets on a travel site. A trip to San Diego Con at X-amount of money might sound great, but a trip to San Diego Con and
Los Angeles at X-amount + $105 might sound even better. The further you're coming, the better this might sound. This can also be a way to convince someone not into all the Comic-Con stuff to come with you, although I never suggest anyone going to CCI not totally into it. Leave that poor person home.
I've done Comic-Con in combination with a couple of days at Las Vegas three times. I sat by the pool, ate prime rib, sat by the pool eating prime rib, saw Donny Osmond all calm and sleepy filled with prime rib... all the usual Vegas stuff. Comic-Con may be the only event where you can go to Vegas to decompress, but I assure you: it works.
The reason I began doing this, and another advantage that's cost-related, is that you can probably find a flight to Las Vegas when one might not be available to your home city. Sometimes it's cheaper to spend a $53 hotel for a night in Las Vegas than an additional $199 hotel night in San Diego.
PACKING AND PREPARATION
Tip #23. Get Your Pre-Convention Stuff Done At Least One Full Week In Advance
If you're preparing anything at all for the show -- resumes, business cards, art to sell, opening lines, books to sell, art to show, scripts to pass around, your camera, a freelance assignment you have to physically hand to an editor who threatened to kill you -- get everything done by July 15. This gives you a day or two of cushion if something gets screwed up. It also means you won't be a basket case when you arrive on the convention floor because you stayed up for 37 hours stapling 16,000 copies of your mini-comic biography of Warren Ellis.
Let me be firm about one thing: forget entirely
getting something done "when you get there." Whatever you're thinking of leaving of doing until you get to the hotel room? It's not convenient, you'll find 10,000 excuses to skip it, and you'll end up feeling dumb as a rock having to carry the raw materials back home with you on the plane: the DIY Walk of Shame.
Tip #24. Limit Your Physical Preparations To Fine-Tuning
I know that a lot of people drop a few pounds to fit into their Apocalypse Meow
costumes or simply to better show off their late-night cocktail wear, and I know that others get some walking in during the days leading up to Comic-Con so as not to risk their feet falling off while they're standing in line to meet Jaime Hernandez. That's all good. But know your limits. One actuarial chart-warping fat person to potential others, if you really have to lose a ton of weight just to walk around an air-conditioned building for a few days looking for old issues of Ka-Zar
, maybe stay home and use your Comic-Con funds to buy a gym membership. In the long run, you'll attend more conventions. And don't be that person that starves themselves for ten days eating liquefied Boo Berries and then has to take a nap on the floor of Rei do Gado
after being overcome by meat sweats. Trust me, your friends will never let you forget it.
Tip #25. Scout The Programming
Comic-Con programming goes up on the official site
shortly before the show begins. It's always worth a read even if you only attend one or two panels. If you plan on attending a lot of panels, it's like getting a detailed scouting report.
Tip #26. Pack Something With Long Sleeves
San Diego tends to offer ridiculously fantastic weather, but there are two reasons to remember to pack something with long sleeves: a lot of night-time socializing is done outside, in rooftop bars and on beaches, and some years the air conditioning in the convention center is really, really aggressive. It also doesn't hurt to check a weather site days out from the show.
Tip #27. Pack To Mail Stuff Back
Most years I'll buy a few things and then mail them back from a local post office rather than lug them on the plane with me. I do this because I don't want my luggage to incur an additional fee, plus I hate carrying books around like little kids hate mean neighborhood dogs. Luggage fees and regulations are more actively applied and stringent than ever.
You don't need to have a bunch of stuff to do this. I pack a couple of over-sized envelopes, a sharpie, a couple of labels and a thing of packing tape. There are easy to access mail delivery or private shipping service offices up by the Broadway hotels and in the convention center itself. I tend to stay up on Broadway, so on Saturday morning I hit the post office nestled up against the Westin Horton Plaza and shoot back everything I've received so far. Another way to approach it is to pick up one of the post office's "stuff everything in this box for this prepaid price" which is the kind of thing you can leave at a hotel front desk if you don't have time to visit a post office or Fed Ex hub on your last day.
Tip #28. Pack As If You'll Shake 1000 Hands
Because, well, you just might end up shaking 1000 hands. Hand sanitizer, breath mints, and aspirin are the three keys to happiness in any Comic-Con dop kit
. Okay, those things won't make you happy by themselves or together, but their absence is definitely a bus transfer to Sucktown, USA. You want to get sick at Comic-Con by gorging on the visual overload of a thousand cultural dead-ends and eating hot dogs for lunch five days in a row, not by falling victim to actual germs.
Tip #29. If It's Something You Do, Consider Eating Vitamins Or Other Ameliorative Behavior Through The Show
One of my brothers likes to take a bunch of a certain vitamin before going on a trip, during the trip, and then five days after a trip. Some people believe in those travel booster things that other people tell me are an outright scam. I won't tell you what to do, but I will assure you that Comic-Con offers up enough changes in climate, enough people met, enough broken thermostats and enough in the way of crowded rooms that whatever your routine may be, you might put it on deck.
My personal palliative is to start every Comic-Con day by chugging three raw eggs dropped into a can of malt liquor and then doing 45 squat thrusts while shouting the Green Lantern Oath, which I'm told is how they started the mornings at Crossgen.
Tip #30. Be Super Paranoid About Everything You Need Professionally
If Comic-Con is a working weekend for you, be outright paranoid about getting stuff there. You may be cut off from home while you're on the trip, so be fiercely mindful of getting the stuff you need professionally -- from business cards to art samples to cameras to laptops -- to your hotel room. If possible, maybe carry rather than check this stuff.
The key is that this paranoia should also extend to what people will be bringing to the convention for you.
So if you're doing a signing for a publisher, make contact a couple of weeks out to double-check if they're bringing the books you'll need to do what it is they want you to do. There's nothing sadder than the guy showing up at his publisher's table for a signing and the publisher has nothing for them to sign. Okay, maybe kids in dress-up clothes playing amongst the gravestones behind the adult crowd at a funeral, then ducks covered in oil-spill oil, then
the guy with no funnybooks to sign. But having no books is right up there on the List of Sad.
Tip #31. Maybe Build In A Back-Home Contact
A lot of people going to Comic-Con professionally shut down their studio or business for the weekend. And why not? You're not there. Still, it might be worth having an intern stop by and open things up for an hour on Thursday morning, or giving a nearby family member a key to your house. You may need someone to Fed Ex something to you might suddenly need or simply forgot. I've never had anything sent to me overnight while at Comic-Con, but I've sure seen it done.
Tip #32. Join the 21st Century
If like me you live a life that the Amish might reject as too technologically fearful, don't take your Jeremiah Johnson standards to San Diego. Try and at least fake some sort of gadget relevance. I buy a cheap watch every year and I make sure my little-used phone is out of the car trunk and ready to go. I also have my array of recording device and mini-computers so I can sit against a convention wall and fool my peers into thinking I'm filing some awesome scoop when I'm checking box scores. At the very least you'll need a way to tell time -- there are few if any clocks in the convention center -- and a way to get a hold of people. Some sort of texting capacity is crucial for many folks because a) it can be done silently, as you're doing something else like watching Dan Piraro discuss pen nibs on the pen nibs panel, and b) people expect you have to have this capability because it's 2010 and you have the body hair of an adult. I know how silly this all sounds to your average, well-connected person.
GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS, YOUR FRONT DOOR TO HOTEL LOBBY
Getting there is nowhere near half the fun.
Tip #33. Remember Lots Of Airlines Charge For Luggage Now
Double-check with your airline's web site. This can be a killer for Comic-Con because you may be taking stuff there to do business, or taking stuff home having done some collection-related impulse buying. Even if it's bad news, it's better to be prepared than to find out you've hit a bag limit and have no cash in your pocket.
Tip #34. You're Under No Obligation To Be The Ambassador Of Comics, But It's Sort Of Fun To Wear That Tri-Corner Hat
Travel chit-chat on either end of Comic-Con weekend can be fun because few of your fellow travelers are ever doing anything as odd and entertaining as spending a weekend digging around in boxes of Car-Toons
magazine and giving Ernie Hudson walking directions to Athens Market Taverna
. And they've heard of it now!
I've found one way to guarantee a lively conversation is to claim a family link or close business relationship with the first creator some person brings up. They get excited, and it tests your knowledge of the field. The last two years, I've been Neil Gaiman's troubled nephew Custis Flaherty and Robert Crumb's "bonded agent," whatever that means.
Tip #35. Don't Wear Your Weekend's Costume On The Plane
Seriously, that's just terrifying.
Tip #36. How To Easily Sidestep Your Intense Desire To Wear Your Weekend's Costume On The Plane
Pretend you're slipping into San Diego in your civilian guise.
Tip #37. Consider Amtrak From LA; Consider Anything Else From Anywhere Else
I like the Amtrak
journey from LA to San Diego -- it's short, it allows you to ramp up or ramp down depending which direction you're going, and you can drink booze from station to station, which is a terrible
idea when you're driving. I wouldn't take Amtrak from any point further North or from any points East at all unless you're a veteran of rail travel and a big fan of Amtrak's track record and peccadilloes when it comes to long-haul trips, like being late 11 hours and having to spend travel time with the kind of people that don't mind being late 11 hours. But that short trip, that LA to San Diego and back again, that's worked for me a half-dozen times. I did it twice last year, and I'll be doing it again for one leg this year. Although Amtrak prices have gone up a bit, it seems.
One creator at this year's Heroes Con told me they went east coast to west coast on Amtrak to attend San Diego in I think 2008 and reality seemed to warp around itself to make for the best trip possible. Mostly I hear the bad stories, so I wanted to mention this.
Tip #38: If You're Taking Amtrak, Embrace Its Peculiarities
If you're doing the San Diego/LA trip, consider these six things.
First, realize you may get to ride with people going to or leaving from the Del Mar
racetrack, which is hilarious when it happens. That's not really a tip, it's just extremely amusing to see sunburned, tipsy women in hats and pasty guys with light sabers hanging out.
Second, the stations on both ends are pretty cool looking, so enjoy that part of it as a bonus-add to your overall vacation/work weekend.
Third, you used to be able to have some leeway on when you made use of your Amtrak ticket, which meant you could schedule for a 4 PM departure and leave on the 8 PM train. I have no idea if they still do this, but it may be worth checking out. I've left Comic-Con on a train earlier than expected, too, and no, I don't want to talk about it. I'll find love someday.
Fourth, be prepared for a reasonably involved brisk walk at both stations to get on and off the trains. You're not going to be able to fake your bags onto the train or out to a cab, so make sure you can carry everything. You should be able to check luggage; I'm not totally certain how that works.
Fifth, there's a line-up fairly early on for the train from San Diego to L.A. and it's very much worth being towards the front of that line. There's also usually no way around that line, although a lot more people try to circumvent it than succeed. It's outside of the main sitting room. If you see about 10 people in that line, you have about 90 seconds before it's 200 people.
Sixth, recognize there's a good chance you're going to be late -- about 50 percent of the time, by my experience. So make your ride getting back to LA a phone call rather than a set time pick-up, and don't count on the train hitting San Diego the exact second you need to be there.
Tip #39. Realize Your Airport To Hotel Cab Experience May Depend On The Terminal
At the main San Diego airport (most flights), it's easy to catch a cab, but you'll have some distance to walk to get to that island. At the shuttle-service airport (small planes from Phoenix and LAX), the cabstand is very close. However, since not as many cabs go to the secondary terminal as to the primary, it can be a longer wait. Consider asking people ahead of you in line to share a cab, if you're going to the same general neighborhood. It should cost about $20 from the airport to one of the downtown hotels.
Tip #40. Call Ahead To See About An Airport Shuttle
Not every hotel has them and a few hotels that did have cut them in today's poor economy. You also may need to formally reserve the shuttle rather than summon it to attend your presence. I've never taken one, because I'm shy and vans make me nervous, but it sounds like a great idea.
Tip #41. If Flying, Look Out The Window At Your Own Risk
The trip down or up the coast can be very pretty as it frequently uses a corridor a few miles off the shoreline. I've even moved to a window seat to better take it in, and I'm a total aisle guy. On the other hand, the San Diego airport is right there in a northern corner of the city, so a lot of flights coming in take you near all of these buildings. I've had New Yorkers tell me this can be unnerving.
Tip #42. Planes Are Good Places To Catch Comics Luminaries And Actual Celebrities
If staring at people more famous than you are is part of the fun you have at Comic-Con, open your eyes at least one trip segment early. Any leg of a trip to or from SD that requires a shuttle-type flight to or from LAX probably has one celebrity on it, or the comics equivalent. "Are you going to the con?" and "How was your show?" are not-scary opening questions for most non-asshole celebrities.
YOUR HOME AWAY FROM HOME: HOTEL TIPS
I'm convinced that enjoying your hotel is 50 percent of what it takes to enjoy your convention-going experience, but I have an unhealthy fixation on hotels. Still, you're going to be spending up to half your time in San Diego there, so I figure none of the following can hurt.
Tip #43. Research Your Hotel
This is where you start to put your bookmarks to work. Find your hotel web site and bookmark it. Familiarize yourself with the information there. Learn if they have a pool, an exercise room, a restaurant that serves breakfast, the menu that indicates whether you can afford that breakfast. Then take a look at your hotel's listing on TripAdvisor.com
. Don't worry about the reviews so much -- those people are like mid-'80s Comics Journal
columnists; they hate everything
-- but the traveler's photos are almost always great. Then do a location search on your hotel and see what's in the neighborhood.
I know how obsessive this sounds, but trust me: spending that 10 minutes some Tuesday morning in June when you're bored out of your skull at work can save you an hour or more in July wandering around outside the Symphony Suites Sheraton looking for a place to buy a lint brush.
Tip #44. Join the Points Club
If your hotel or hotel chain has a points club, join it. The advantages here are many, even if you have no intention of ever staying there again. You may get your own check-in and checkout line. Joining may bring an instant reward, like a room upgrade, and of course will eventually pay off if you stay at the same place multiple years or during other trips. If you go to a lot of shows, you may be able to build a string of point-gathering institutions for the highest return over time. (You can also do this at one show -- Starwood has three or four of the Comic-Con hotels, which makes it easier to build points there because you're likely to get one of the places if you try.)
Most importantly, being in the points club is a hedge against something unfortunate happening during the trip -- say a piece of luggage gets lost or they keep checking people into your room just as you're squeezing into your Beast Boy outfit. Hotels are much more likely to bring a manager out to talk to you if you're a member of the points club and your ability to accept points gives them an easy way to say they're sorry.
Tip #45. Check In As Close As You Can To The Time Given
You already know the hotels are super-booked Comic-Con weekend. What you may not know is that according to most basic hotel reservation agreements, they can move you to a different hotel if they get totally booked up.
Overbooked folks at the Embassy Suites sometimes get moved up the coast to the Lodge at Torrey Pines, but in almost every other case it's a severe downgrade in addition to being further away. So don't put off getting into your room until after dinner and multiple whiskey-fueled games of Five Card Nancy. Get to your hotel on time or even slightly before the stated check-in time.
Tip #46. Put Everyone's Name On The Room
Unless you're sneaking people into your room, consider putting everyone's name on the reservation. That way they can all get keys and check in at different times. I once burst into tears at the Westin front desk when my co-workers left my name off the room. The manager gave me my own room I think to shut me up. I'd recommend this as a strategy, but I don't think anyone has enough rooms to do this these days. Plus, I am freakishly adorable when weeping.
Tip #47. Consider Getting A Room On A Higher Floor
Take a look at the neighborhood you're in. If it looks like it could be noisy, consider asking for a room on a higher floor. I've had people tell me this is a good idea for all the hotels on Broadway (there's a bus station beneath the Sofia and across the street from the Bristol), the Hilton
and the Omni
Tip #48. Exploit Your Hotel's Services
Most convention-goers are naturally focused on the convention center. That's why they came. This makes Comic-Con a great weekend to sneak in some quality hotel time. Use that research, in other words. If your hotel has a pool, it's not likely going to be used a whole lot. Ditto the gym. Ditto the spa services. Sneaking away from the convention center for a late afternoon swim and gym workout can be a wonderful way to break up one's schedule. It can also be a cheap date. If you're super-lucky, you might be able to network. I know one guy who got a gig a couple of years later by being the only other person at the Westin's pool at 3 PM on a Friday and making friends with a superstar cartoonist.
Tip #49. Don't Count On The Fridge
It used to be that you could empty your room's fridge of all that stuff they're trying to get you to buy for way too much money and stuff it with chow and drinks you bought at Ralphs. This isn't always the case now. Some refrigerators are constructed in a way they no longer allow for the hotel items to be unloaded. Improvise with a trashcan, a trash bag and a lot of that sweet hotel ice. I think every hotel except the Westgate has some sort of ice machine. The Westgate actually brings the ice to you, which could severely limit your MacGyver-style temporary icebox creation options.
Tip #50. Befriend The Concierge
The concierge is the person in the lobby of a nice hotel that's there to help you out that's not a hooker. They sometimes have their own desk: look around or ask. Those people are there to facilitate your tourism experience. Now, you're likely to have 95 percent of your time reserved for activities where you'll know way more than the concierge does. Granted. But if you have a question about a place to eat, somewhere to shop, a service of some sort, a place to buy a new camera battery (there were at one point two places in Horton Plaza), it's a great first place to stop. If you're like me and you have nothing to ask the concierge, sometimes it's fun to make up stuff to ask them. I'm still looking for that Armenian grocery store.
Tip #51: Beware The Crappy Concierge
You can tell a bad concierge by the way they fail to directly answer your questions. If you ask for a seafood restaurant and they mention the Asian place in the hotel also serves seafood, start scanning their answers for bullshit. If to answer your question they're doing research on a computer that you could have done yourself, consider the recommendation as being of that quality. That doesn't mean it's wrong, that just means they're not bringing any specific expertise to the issue. I wouldn't suggest getting mad, it's just that in the free advice industry you sometimes get what you pay for.
Tip #52: Tailor Your Concierge Questions
Advanced class: places like the Westin have multiple people filling this role. With that in mind, you might wait for the 30-year-old woman to ask after the dance club, and save your question about the best traditional steakhouse downtown for the 67-year-old guy with the John Waters moustache.
Tip #53. If You Need A Computer At Comic-Con, Check In Advance On Your Hotel's Specific Computer and On-Line Policies
I once got drunk in Las Vegas with a guy who sold hotels their Internet services. He told me that because hotels were so eager to provide these services at such an early date, a lot of chains got locked into strategies that may seem odd or outdated now. That's the long way of saying that hotels are all over the place on what kind of Internet services they offer. If you imagine that in this day of wi-fi and handheld devices that no one could be charging $17.99 a day for in-room access, there's a hotel out there ready to prove you wrong. Check ahead to see if you'll be paying to hook up to the Internet or if you'll be getting on for free and what's available to do so in your room, whether wireless connections are available or not and where in the hotel this may be.
Your hotel may also have a business center. That can allow you to work in your room on something without paying the connection fee -- the principle of it, naturally -- and then taking a detachable drive's worth of stuff onto the Internet via the business center for a much smaller, isolated fee. I go pretty computer-light at the show or without one altogether, but if you need your workstation it's definitely worth some thinking ahead. Another you might check is whether or not a laptop or mini can be stored in a room safe or with the front desk if you don't want to take it to the show or dinner.
Tip #54. Leave Yourself Enough Time To Get Out Of There
If you're leaving on Sunday, make sure you give yourself enough time to get out of your hotel. A lot of people are probably checking out that day, too, and lot of people are storing luggage until their flight leaves, and a lot of people are parked in each garage. I have had hotel staff lose my luggage, my reservation from their computer and, one year, my car. Be prepared. Consider using your in-room checkout or just building extra time into your schedule that day.
Tip #55. Don't Forget To Tip The Hotel Staff
A lot of comics people won't tip. The industry attracts a lot of Mr. Pinks. To those people I say, "Thanks for all the grumpy people I encounter at Comic-Con." For the rest of you, please don't forget the various hotel people: the guy who calls you a cab, the woman who brings you your car, whatever poor soul cleans your filthy room. A few dollars here and there can really make someone's day -- and reflects well on you, especially if you're one of the few people doing it. Enough people do it and it begins to reflect well on everybody attending. And make it cash. Just because people are crazy enough to leave Jack Chick tracts as tips and somehow manage to avoid getting beat up doesn't mean you can leave your mini-comic and expect it to end up anywhere but the trash.
GETTING AROUND TOWN
San Diego is a reasonably easy town in which to get around. You'll be walking in the immediate convention center vicinity, with maybe a shuttle bus or short cab ride thrown in. Outside of the immediate vicinity you'll be taking a car, occasional cab and public transportation in and out of the immediate area, where you will then also be walking around.
Tip #56. Get Ready To Walk
You'll be walking at the show, sure, but in most cases you'll be walking outside
of the show as well. Walking is still the best way to get around a wide space marked by the convention to the south all the way up to Broadway going north and several blocks east and west: basically this map right here.
Tip #57. Memorize The Following Places For A Basic Lay Of The Comic-Con Land
1. The Convention Center
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.