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Comic-Con By The Numbers: 150+ Tips For Attending San Diego’s CCI 2011!
posted June 13, 2011
-- also known as CCI, Comic-Con, San Diego Comic-Con and even "San Diego" -- is the largest gathering of comics industry professionals and fans in North America. It is also a show of great importance to hundreds of pros in and fans of related publishing, merchandising and film businesses.
Comic-Con International features on its main floor a massive marketplace of vendors, creators and direct suppliers. You can buy old comics, new comics, original art, movies, t-shirts, toys, and licensed items from every walk of geek life at Comic-Con.
The upstairs rooms offer aggressive programming tracks in comics, film, television and a cornucopia of related activities. There are opportunities all over the show to see and meet creators from any number of entertainment fields: actors, cartoonists, academics, voice-over talent, models and writers. There are chances in the convention center and all over San Diego on Comic-Con weekend to meet like-minded fans, to celebrate your favorite oddball things, and to network on a massive scale.
It's Geek Vegas, Nerd Prom, Fan Cannes, Fandom Branson, the Grand Ol' Cosplay Opry, Four-Color Ground Zero... and it's also an extraordinarily complex vacation event.
That's where this guide comes in. What follows is a list of observations, tips and insights that may help prepare you for your San Diego con-going experience. Everyone's San Diego is different, but there are a few commonalities and shared experiences that we hope makes talking about some of them worthwhile.
In 2011, the show is scheduled for July 21-24, with a preview night
on July 20. I hope to see you there!
FIRST, LET'S TALK ABOUT BADGES
It used to be you could essentially not plan for Comic-Con and go if the mood struck you. This was true just a few years ago. Those days are gone: very, very gone.
Tip #1. At This Point, You Better Already Have Your Badges
The convention is sold out. Non-attendee registration is completed. Press registration closes later this week. If you don't have tickets for the show or aren't registered in another way, you're pretty screwed.
For whatever reason, good or evil, the current demand to attend Comic-Con outstrips the number of tickets available for the show. That rise in demand has come with such sudden force as to discombobulate traditional avenues for securing tickets -- if not snuff them outright. You have to pre
-register as press now. Being able to claim professional status in a hobby-related field, even comics, is no longer a guarantee of entry. Abuse of the system by several parties and a general desire to allow for as many attendee badges as possible means you can't easily pick up an extra badge or two through an exhibitor pal, the kind of fakes that used to be commonplace. That's right: even "Bruce Wayne," "Ned Stark" and "Penny Priddy" have difficulties getting badges now.
If you don't have badges yet, honestly? I'd suggest calling it a day. I can't imagine anything sadder than someone showing up at the convention center expecting to score tickets like it's 1996. I've seen it; it's awful. I'd suggest focusing on the 2012 show, or on one of the many fine conventions all over the world where demand hasn't yet exceeded capacity.
The great thing right now is that there are so many great comics show, up from a time there were three, maybe four, anyone considered attending. We have great shows now in cities like New York
, San Francisco
; chances are you won't be disappointed if you focus your energies there. Comic-Con itself offers an alternative-comics show later in the year, the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco.
Tip #2. I Don't Recommend it, But There Are Some Gray Areas To Work
Still here? I didn't scare you off? Okay, let's talk. It's still not pretty, but three ways of potentially securing tickets come to mind.
First, the convention has in recent years auctioned off a few tickets that come back to them via returns. So pay attention to their site. No guarantees, of course.
Second, if you are a pro or near-pro whose presence would be so awesome as to kick a big exhibitor or convention player or participating agency into surreptitious action on your behalf, that may work.
Third, there are people that put up for sale on eBay certain badges or groups of badges -- the Bartertown method of attending the show. I wouldn't dare send my Mom to that corner of the Internet. I'd be scared to go myself. I cannot recommend it to you other than to note I've heard it exists. I have no idea if badges are even transferable that way. Be super, super careful Seriously, if option #3 were my only hope, I think I would seriously consider going to San Diego hoping to be nearby when some drunk person from the cast of Being Human
left their badge on the bar when they went to bathroom so I could steal it. That's how unlikely it is to secure a badge at a late date without certain connections or people willing to make this happen for you. It stinks, but that's the way it is.
One thing they've done for 2012 that I'm not certain was policy before now is that they will charge you $75 for lost badges. They don't care how you lost it. You're paying up. If you're mugged by 40 ladies in ninja costumes, you pay up. If you lose it in a late-night poker game with the Image founders in Jim Lee's floating heli-pad, you pay up. If you allow a badge-less pal to "steal" it, you pay up. I'll admit to experiencing that kind of friend-on-friend crime back when replacement badges were free. With a cash penalty on top of the possibility you'll be flat busted for the practice in the first place, it seems that even that most desperate and basic of loophole strategies is now closed.
Tip #3. If You Can't Attend, Don't Stress Not Going
So the way things are set up right now, a lot of people are going to be left out of the Comic-Con experience. Those are the cards that Comic-Con has to play. Despite what the insistent hype may suggest, this isn't a big deal. It's totally okay not to go.
There was a time when I could argue that Comic-Con was an outright must-go for a certain kind of fan and pro and press person. If you wanted to get everything you could out of comics, if you wanted to enter into the industry, if you wanted to be noticed, if you wanted to stay connected to what was going on, if you want to sleep with a small press company intern, CCI was the primary facilitator of these things.
I can't say that these days. There are so many opportunities for daily connectivity and interaction out there that actually flying in and pressing the flesh and setting eyes on Dirty Wolverine at the same time and sharing the same breakfast buffet -- while all still useful -- no longer seem like necessary
The great thing about that is this: if you go to Comic-Con these days, you can go because you want to
, not because you feel you have
to. This makes a huge difference. I think it's focused the show. San Diego no longer needs to act as a substitute for a lack of connection within the industry and the art form. So many of us used to go to CCI just to meet people who did the same thing we do. With the on-line opportunities and all the shows out there today, it's actually harder to escape people that share your interests than it is to find them. Believe me, I've tried. Folks still go to CCI to meet people, but more and more they also go to see the people they know and love and work with all year. Comic-Con may be less of a necessity now, but in many ways it's a greater pleasure. If you don't get to go this time around, it's probably not going to cost you anything but the fun you might have had.
Tip #4. On The Other Hand, Don't Stress Attending, Either!
Comic-Con can be a trap. Because it may be more difficult to attend Comic-Con than it is to go to other conventions, this puts pressure on the Comic-Con weekend to give back on a scale that makes everyone forget the fussier parts.
Let me be honest with you: it's still a comics show. It helps to remember that the hassle
of going to Comic-Con is mostly an accident of cultural history -- All those spectacle movies! All those fantasy franchise books! Marvel's post-bankruptcy comeback! All those graphic novels! The toy explosion! The rise of manga and anime! -- rather than something the convention itself enjoys or endorses or requires or was ever shooting for. I honestly don't have any more fun going now than I did in '96 or '01, back when it was so much easier to attend that the worst-case
scenario was registering on-site and staying in a $65 hotel ten blocks away. And yet I still have fun, and it's still worth it for me professionally on a lot of levels.
I can't stress that enough. I still have fun at this show.
For as much as some aspects have become a pain, for as much as some things I set out to do just don't happen, for as much as I find myself having to think about the show months
before I want to, I still find Comic-Con extremely pleasurable as a comics fan to attend, and it's wonderfully useful to me as a press person covering the comics industry.
I love a lot of comics shows, but there are things I get from CCI that it's much harder to get anywhere else in exactly the same combination. There's a great cross-section of creators and industry folk at Comic-Con, particularly those west of the Rockies less likely to attend events in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Comic-Con bisects the publishing year: the second half of the comics year release schedule is on the tip of everyone's tongues, and next year's line-up are in the back of their minds. There are a ton of creators of historical interest scattered about the place. There's been an upswing in original art sales which means I can look at Kirby
pages even if other people are the ones that get to buy them. There are a lot of $1 comics there, which means I can buy a big pile of portable pop culture as easily as anyone. I see mainstream comics folk there that don't do the festival and small press shows. You get at least one, maybe two, major European guests. There's usually a manga guest now. It's ridiculous.
Because of all these people making the trip and because of Comic-Con's programming choices, there was a morning in 2010 where in the space of a few hours I got see Carol Tyler
, Jillian Tamaki
, Peter Bagge
and Gabrielle Bell
. A day earlier I'd gone to four panels in a row featuring a murderer's row of cartoonists, all female. A day later I got to meet Moto Hagio
and Milo Manara
15 seconds apart. These were all very good days.
There will come a time when I won't attend CCI. I can feel it coming. I never got to attend the show in the 1970s or 1980s. I'll never attend the late 1990s Comic-Con of my relative youth ever again. Those days are gone. For now, though, there are still definite joys to be had if you engage the show as it is, not as you wish it to be.
Tip #5. Be Happy With Whatever Decision You Make
My advice is to really, really enjoy the weekend in the convention center and greater San Diego or
stay home and really, really enjoy getting some work done and taking in a more typical summer weekend. And if you think you need a year off from Comic-Con, take the year off! I have. I mean, there's having a miserable time, and then there's having a miserable time surrounded by multiple couples dressed as Sapphire and Steel
. If you end up feeling you've made the wrong choice, there's always next year.
ONCE YOU HAVE YOUR BADGE SECURED, THE NEXT SIX THINGS YOU SHOULD DO
Tip #6. Make Lodging Your Second Priority
Finding a place to stay is difficult, not impossible. Hopefully, you already have this done.
If not, know that hotel rooms are at a premium. The lottery for room reservations through the convention took place a couple of months ago. It was a good year -- vastly fewer public complaints than usual.
But there are differences now. It used to be that just about every hotel in the lottery added rooms back to the grid between the lottery and the show, with a bunch of them showing up in dashes and darts all through late May and early June. This doesn't seem to be the case anymore. What you do find is those hotels outside of the immediate area seem to have rooms available throughout
If you're lucky enough to be doing business at the show, remember to ask anyone that might be sponsoring you at the show or interested in your being there if they can help you find a place to stay. I would then extend this query to anyone I knew that was going. A friend who has an extra bed or a publisher who wants you there that has a room and just figured you just didn't want it, someone like that might surprise you. It never hurts to ask.
Beyond that, and if for some reason the convention's registration doesn't suit you, that places you in the world of travel agents and on-line travel sites. I like this one
; your mileage may vary. Potential good news can be found in that in mid-June 2010 when I ran last year's Comic-Con dates on five or six sites of this type, I saw hotels both downtown and
in the outlying areas. They were pretty expensive, but they existed. That gives me hope for the future.
In the end I don't personally know anyone that decided not to go to the show because they ended up not being able to find any room at all, but I know it happens. Get this done now.
Tip #7: Don't Be Upset About Staying Further Away
A lot of people make a big deal out of staying downtown. Heck, a lot of people pitch a holy fit if they can't get in a hotel that's 200 yards or less from the convention center. I don't understand these people.
I've stayed in some of the super-close hotels. I prefer
to stay at a certain downtown hotel that's about six blocks away. Some people consider that way too far away to stay, but I love it! I love the remove, I love the walk back and forth, I love having slightly more of San Diego to explore. I've also stayed more than once in a hotel in a further-away part of San Diego. That had its charms. Four of the fifteen years I've attended I've stayed out at the dreaded hotel circle some miles north of the city. One year I stayed a half-hour away by car.
The thing is, I have no
memories that one place to stay was so superior to another that any year stands out just
for where I stayed. In fact, I used to love
staying out at this hotel on the Hotel Circle
-- back when staying there meant I had decided three days before the show to go -- just for the oasis-like feeling getting away from the con it allowed.
Any hotel can work if you're willing to work it. If you make the attempt to enjoy where you're staying as opposed to fuming about where you're not, you'll likely have a pretty good weekend.
Tip #8: Do Be Realistic About Staying Further Away
Your main problem staying further away will be getting to and from the show. If you stay in downtown San Diego proper, you should be able to get away with a combination of walking, cabs, shuttle buses and public transportation -- and this is certainly true of any hotels within 10 blocks of the show. At the Hotel Circle north of town and in some of the other San Diego neighborhoods you're relegated to a combination of public transportation (the commuter train system), cabs and your own vehicle.
In some of the hotels on the water, there may actually be water transportation to the convention center. You should check with the hotel. Water taxis are an awesome way to commute to the convention center -- there's something about crossing a body of water on your way to an event that would make installing a toilet or buying bread feel like glorious tasks -- but they're limited to a few hotels and may shut down earlier in the evening than you want to head back. That could mean you'll need to supplement your water taxi trips with a regular taxi ride or two. I still totally recommend doing this at least once if you're able.
If you're someone who needs to transport equipment back and forth at Comic-Con -- and you're probably the only class of con-goer that should actually complain about proximity -- you have to build in that much more time and care. You may be able to store some on-floor material or accrued crud with a friend at a better/closer hotel. Granted, that would take a heck of a friend.
Tip #9: Embrace The Primary Adjustment In Staying Further Away
The biggest adjustment in staying further away is that it's more difficult to pop back over to one's room and catch a nap or to get away from the show for a time. When you start out the morning further away, you're committing to being at the show and related surroundings from the early morning to the far end of the day the way the people staying in close proximity simply aren't.
You might consider stuffing a clean shirt in a bag if you think you're going to be away from your hotel room for 15 hours. Perhaps carry a small bottle of Neil Gaiman perfume
in a hidden compartment of your favorite ankh. You also might simply consider a shorter day. I know when I stay further away from the convention center I tend to have longer breakfasts and maybe even indulge in a leisurely workout, doubly so if I feel I'm able to skip the first couple hours of con activity and I have a line on parking.
Tip #10: Keep An Open Mind About Getting There
You have to get to San Diego, of course. I talk about different ways to arrange travel in and out of San Diego in the Placeholder Edition of this Guide
, and I'll talk about some of the same issues as a money-saving possibility later on in this version of the guide.
If you're just making your travel arrangements now, perhaps consider a certain amount of flexibility in your plans. There are all sorts of ways to build more vacation time and perhaps some savings into a trip to Comic-Con, many of which we'll discuss later.
Tip #11. Establish Your Network
I've already mentioned talking to your friends and any professional colleagues that may be going. This is your Comic-Con network. Even if you're squared away with tickets and a place to stay, reach out in some modest way to folks you know that might be there and let them know you're going and with what general intention in mind (finding a job, getting your work seen, selling a screenplay, drinking a beer on the back porch of a hotel bar with your favorite crime comics writer, learning about voice acting, seeing a panel stuffed with pale vampire boys, etc.). Once you get closer to the show, reestablish contact with your fellow soon-to-be attendees to ask after things like social events or to see if they can help you with any of your more specific goals for the weekend. Offer your help in return.
Not everyone will be helpful. Maybe no one will. Still, the number of people I've had tell me weeks after the show that there was a disappointing aspect to their Comic-Con weekend because of Reason X when I would have been able to provide them with Reason X had I only known is... well, it's about a dozen people. Still. That's 12 whole weekends
I could have made better if the people involved had sent me a two-line e-mail. So reach out. Talk to your pals.
Tip #12. Start Your Bookmarks
The other great, recurrent skill in the con-goer's toolbox is research: bookmarking sites of use and then making use of them. My suggestion is at some point between now and the show start a folder and put everything related to the con into it, including the following web sites.
A. This Guide -- if for no other reason than I'm going to spend time between now and Comic-Con obsessively slipping in more jokes.
B. Convention Web Site -- the source for tons of official information
C. Your Hotel's Web Site -- familiarize yourself with your surroundings, join the points club
D. Tripadvisor.com -- preview your hotel experience.
E. SDcommute.com -- commuting options.
F. VirtualGuideBooks.com -- see public areas before you visit them.
G. News From ME -- Mark Evanier has attended every single Comic-Con, and has logged about 63,000 hours of panel moderation time. He writes about his panels and the con itself with increasing frequency as the show dates approach.
H. The Beat -- Heidi MacDonald's purview is comics culture, and there's no single entity of greater importance within comics' culture than Comic-Con.
I. Yp.Yahoo.com -- nearby business scouting.
J. SignOnSanDiego.com -- a halfway decent baseline review place, particularly for restaurants.
That may sound like a lot of sites, and you can tailor the folder for your specific intentions, but I still think it's a good idea in general.
Securing that badge, having your travel and hotel plans set in stone, letting your friends and acquaintances know you're going, and putting together a little bookmarks folder -- you're way up on a significant number of people who will be attending this year. You can stop now, if you want. It's all diminishing returns from here on out.
TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY ON A CCI TRIP
I'm told the Great Recession is over. I'm glad, but I'm also aware that in many ways comics has been suffering a recession since 1947 or so. 2011 feels to me like any other year of recent vintage in that some folks are going to want to save some cash in their various goings-on, even in the middle of a massive and slightly ridiculous extravagance like going to CCI.
Like many first class events of size and scope, and much like the comics industry it hosts, Comic-Con is geared to lift money from your wallet from the moment you touch down to the moment you take off. Yet it's also possible to go to Comic-Con and not spend a lot of cash, or at least arrive back home only having spent a fraction of your self-predicted per diem
. Here are a few strategies I've used.
Tip #13. Consider Making Your Trip Shorter
I have friends that only go to Comic-Con if they can be there for five nights and six days, from Preview Night through Sunday's dead-dog parties. While I'm sure it's still a blast to have that whole summer-camp experience, I work
in comics and 2010 was the first time I'd made it for more than three days and nights since 1996. A four-day pass won't explode in your hand if you only use it for two or three days. As far as I know, a press or professional pass or your extra badge from an exhibitor can be picked up at any time.
The main savings you derive by going for only part of the show is on hotels and living expenses like meals. Remember that a lot of what people want to do at Comic-Con isn't tied into a specific panel or scheduled experience. Thus, if you plan well, it's more than possible to get 90 percent of what you want out of Comic-Con in, say, 33 percent of the time spent there. Plus, you avoid burnout. It's way better to leave Comic-Con wanting more than to scurry away fervently praying you never see a comic book or anything related to a comic book ever again.
Tip #14. Consider Sharing A Room
I'm too old to do this now, if I can avoid it. For one thing, part of my personal San Diego routine as it's developed over the years seems to involve sitting in a fiercely air-conditioned room in my underwear for a couple of hours each day drinking Mountain Dew, eating barbecue corn chips and watching Baseball Tonight
with the volume all the way up.
That said, I shared a room in 2009. The thermostat never went below the reptilian levels seemingly required of eight out of ten women I know. I kept my pants on when not sleeping. I even skipped the corn chips. In the end, I survived the experience with a few hundred extra dollars in roommate savings I immediately spent on a full run of Dagar The Invincible
. The right roommate can be a very good thing, even when you're old enough to know better.
Reach out to your friends and close, professional acquaintances. You'd be surprised who might need a room or have an extra bed. In the past, people have simply thrown in together on a message board, but that always seemed kind of sla