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Comic-Con By The Numbers: 170+ Tips For Attending San Diego’s Comic-Con International 2012!
posted May 29, 2012


Comic-Con International -- also known as CCI, Comic-Con, San Diego Comic-Con and even by the shorthand "San Diego" -- is the largest gathering of comics industry professionals and fans in North America. It is also a show of great importance to hundreds of pros in and fans of related publishing, merchandising and film businesses.

Comic-Con International features on its main floor a massive marketplace of vendors, creators and direct suppliers. You can buy old comics, new comics, original art, movies, t-shirts, toys, and licensed items from every walk of geek life at Comic-Con.

The upstairs rooms offer aggressive programming tracks in comics, film, television and a cornucopia of related activities.

There are opportunities all over the show to see and meet creators from any number of entertainment fields: actors, cartoonists, academics, voice-over talent, models and writers. There are chances in the convention center and all over San Diego on Comic-Con weekend to meet like-minded fans, to celebrate your favorite oddball things, and to network on a massive scale.

It's Geek Vegas, Nerd Prom, Fan Cannes, Fandom Branson, the Grand Ol' Cosplay Opry, Four-Color Ground Zero.

It's also an extraordinarily complex vacation event.

That's where this guide comes in. I'm a 17-year veteran of attending the show and covering it as press. What follows is a list of observations, tips and insights from a comics-culture point of view that may help prepare you for your San Diego con-going experience.

Everyone's San Diego is different, but there are a few commonalities and shared experiences that we hope makes talking about some of them worthwhile.

In 2012, the show is scheduled for July 12-15, with a preview night on July 11. I hope to see you there!





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 Badge
The convention is sold out. Professional registration is completed. Exhibitor are set. Press registration is nearly over. If you don't have tickets for the show or aren't registered in another way, you're pretty screwed.

The current demand to attend Comic-Con outstrips the number of tickets available for the show. That rise came with such sudden force as to discombobulate 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 2013 Comic-Con, or on one of the many fine conventions all over the world where demand hasn't yet exceeded capacity.

As mentioned above, we have great shows now in cities like New York, Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco/Anaheim, Seattle and Charlotte; 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. Aren't There Are Any Gray Areas To Work To Get That Badge?
Short answer: no. Longer answer: not really.

The convention has in recent years auctioned off a few tickets that come back to them via returns. From what we've been told, that's already happened this year. Sales are done.

The only thing I can think of is this: if you are a pro or near-pro whose presence would be so awesome as to kick a big exhibitor or convention player or participating agency into surreptitious action on your behalf, that might work.

Beyond that… yikes. There are people that put up for sale on eBay certain badges or groups of badges. I wouldn't dare send my Mom to that corner of the Internet. I'd be scared to go myself. I cannot recommend it to you other than to note I've heard it exists. If this were my only hope, I think I'd find something else to do that weekend. That's how unlikely it is to secure a badge at a late date without certain connections or people willing to make this happen for you. It stinks, but that's the way it is.

Tip #3: Remember You're Going To Need Hold Onto That Badge
With increased value comes increased responsibility: the con's organizers will charge you for lost badges. Period. They don't care how you lost it. You're paying up. If you're mugged by 40 ladies in S.H.I.E.L.D outfits, you pay up. If you lose it in a late-night poker game with the Image founders on Jim Lee's floating island, you pay up. If you allow a badge-less pal to "steal" it, you pay up.

Tip #4. Going? Not Going? Be Happy!
So the way things are set up right now, a lot of people are going to be left out of the Comic-Con experience. Those are the cards that Comic-Con has to play. The show has decided to stay in San Diego for the immediate future, and capacity in San Diego was reached a few years back.

It's totally okay not to go.

There was a time when Comic-Con was an outright must-go for a certain kind of fan and pro and press person. If you wanted to get everything you could out of comics, if you wanted to enter into the industry, if you wanted to be noticed, if you wanted to stay connected to what was going on, if you want to sleep with a small press company intern, CCI was the primary facilitator of these things.

That's no longer as true. There are so many opportunities for daily connectivity and interaction out there that actually flying in and pressing the flesh and sharing a breakfast buffet -- while all still useful -- no longer seem like necessary things.

If you go to Comic-Con these days, you can go because you want to, not because you feel you have to.

And it's also totally okay to go.

Comic-Con can be a trap. Because it may be more difficult to attend Comic-Con than it is to go to other conventions, this puts pressure on the Comic-Con weekend to give back on a scale that makes everyone forget the fussier parts.

It helps to remember that the hassle of going to Comic-Con is mostly an accident of cultural history -- All those spectacle movies! All those fantasy franchise books! Marvel's post-bankruptcy comeback! All those graphic novels! The toy explosion! The rise of manga and anime! -- rather than something the convention itself enjoys or endorses or requires or was ever shooting for. I honestly don't have any more fun going now than I did in '96 or '01, back when it was so much easier to attend the con that the worst-case scenario was registering on-site and staying in a $65 hotel ten blocks away. 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. I find Comic-Con extremely pleasurable as a comics fan to attend, and it's wonderfully useful to me as a press person covering the comics industry.

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 again attend the late 1990s Comic-Con of my (relative) youth. Those days are gone. There are still joys to be had. You need only engage the show as it is, not as you wish it to be. Someone will have their first show this year.




Tip #5. Make Lodging Your Second Priority
Finding a place to stay is difficult, not impossible. Hopefully, you already have this done.

If not, know that hotel rooms are at a premium. The lottery for room reservations through the convention took place a couple of months ago. It was a pretty good year -- vastly fewer public complaints than there used to be, although maybe not as smoothly as things seemed to have gone in 2011.

It used to be that just about every hotel in the lottery added rooms back to the grid between the lottery and the show, with a bunch of them showing up in dashes and darts all through late May and early June. This doesn't seem to be the case anymore. What you do find is those hotels outside of the immediate area seem to have rooms available throughout the process -- and even that was diminished in 2012 as opposed to 2010 and 2011.

It's tough.

If you're lucky enough to be doing business at the show, remember to ask anyone that might be sponsoring you at the show or interested in your being there if they can help you find a place to stay. If this doesn't work, extend this query to anyone you know that is going. A friend who has an extra bed or a publisher who wants you there that has a room and just figured you just didn't want it, someone like that might surprise you. It never hurts to ask.

Beyond that, and if for some reason the convention's registration doesn't suit you, that places you in the world of travel agents and on-line travel sites. I like this one; your mileage may vary. Last year Jamie Levigne recommended, which looks useful.

Tip #6: Don't Be Upset About Staying Further Away
A lot of people make a big deal out of staying downtown. Some pitch a holy fit if they can't get in a hotel that's 200 yards or less from the convention center. I don't quite understand these people.

I've stayed in some of the super-close hotels. I prefer to stay at a certain downtown hotel that's about six blocks away. I'll be there this year. 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 15 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.

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 #7: Do Be Realistic About Staying Further Away
Your main problem staying further away will be getting to and from the show. If you stay in downtown San Diego proper, you should be able to get away with a combination of walking, cabs, shuttle buses and public transportation -- and this is certainly true of any hotels within 10 blocks of the show. At the Hotel Circle north of town and in some of the other San Diego neighborhoods you're relegated to a combination of public transportation, cabs and your own vehicle.

There may be water transportation from your hotel to the convention center. You should check with the hotel. Water taxis are an awesome way to commute to the convention center -- there's something about crossing a body of water on your way to an event that would make installing a toilet or buying bread feel like glorious tasks -- 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 #8: 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 Iron Man armor. You also might simply consider a shorter day.

Tip #9: Keep An Open Mind About Getting There
You have to get to San Diego, of course. I talk about different ways to arrange travel in and out of San Diego in the Placeholder Edition of this Guide, and I'll talk about some of the same issues as a money-saving possibility later on in this version of the guide.

Tip #10. Establish Your Network
I've already mentioned talking to your friends and any professional colleagues that may be going. This is your Comic-Con network. Reach out in some modest way to folks you know that might be there and let them know you're going and with what general intention in mind (finding a job, getting your work seen, selling a screenplay, drinking a beer on the back porch of a hotel bar with your favorite 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 network to ask after things like social events or to see if they can help you with any of your more specific goals for the weekend. Offer your help in return.

Not everyone will be helpful. Maybe no one will. Still, the number of people I've had tell me weeks after the show that there was a disappointing aspect to their Comic-Con weekend because of Reason X when I would have been able to 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 #11. 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. -- preview your hotel experience.
E. -- commuting options.
F. -- 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. -- nearby business scouting.
J. -- 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.



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 #12. Consider Making Your Trip Shorter
I have friends that only go to Comic-Con if they can be there for five nights and six days, from Preview Night through Sunday's dead-dog parties. While I'm sure it's still a blast to have that whole summer-camp experience, I work in comics and 2010 was the first time I'd made it for more than three days and two nights since 1996. A four-day pass won't explode in your hand if you only use it for two or three days. As far as I know, a press or professional pass or your extra badge from an exhibitor can be picked up at any time.

The main savings you derive by going for only part of the show is on hotels and meals. Remember that a lot of what people want to do at Comic-Con isn't tied into a specific panel or scheduled experience. If you plan well, it's more than possible to get 90 percent of what you want out of Comic-Con in, say, 33 percent of the time spent there. Plus, you avoid burnout. It's better to leave Comic-Con wanting more than to scurry away fervently praying you never see a comic book or anything related to a comic book ever again.

Tip #13. 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 as recently as 2009 and probably will again this year. I survived the experience with a few hundred extra dollars in roommate savings I immediately spent on a full run of Dagar The Invincible. This year it's all going to obscure manga t-shirts. The right roommate can be a very good thing, even when you're old enough to know better.

Reach out to your network. You'd be surprised who might need a room or have an extra bed. In the past, people have simply thrown in together on a message board. That always came across kind of slasher-movie to me. Share a bathroom and its tiny bottles of conditioner with a total stranger at your own risk, that's my motto. But if you have a friend who's going, even just a close Internet friend, why not?

Stuffing people into your room like college kids on Spring Break can be easy or difficult depending on the hotel. Stay away from the Westgate when it comes to this practice unless you want to pay for each and every body. They're notoriously tough on this point.

As a general rule, don't count on any hotel letting you re-enact the linen closet scene from Night At The Opera. A new manager can make a traditional look-the-other-way establishment into a hard case. The Westin Gaslamp and the Manchester Grand Hyatt used to offer roll-away beds for a modest fee, but damned if I could get either place to give me one in 2009.

Tip #14. Consider Volunteering (No Longer Applicable To 2012)
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 from personal experience as the "please end your panel right now so we can have a less boring one on next hour, thank you" people.

All volunteer slots were filled for 2012 months ago but if that's something that interests you for the future, maybe bookmark the appropriate page and check out its next-year equivalent when it shows up.

Tip #15. Consider "Temping," If The Opportunity Arises
Exhibitors from out of town will occasionally hire locals or people that have made their own plans to be at Comic-Con and put them to work at their booths. This way they save on flying in more people from the home office and still have time to see all their favorite showcase panels featuring inkers from the 1970s. In many cases, these exhibitors may have the capability to secure you a badge, provide you with a discount on their stuff, or even pay you a small fee. This is the Comic-Con equivalent of standing on a street corner hoping a publisher pulls up in his pick-up truck and asks you to jump in, so I wouldn't make plans based on this. Still, it couldn't hurt to keep your eyes and ears open.

Tip #16. Consider Adjusting Your Plans To Include Commerce
People love buying original stuff and other unique items at Comic-Con, and they love buying stuff directly from creators. It adds to the special nature of the con-going experience. I remember one artist who used to come down on a morning of the convention, do one or two signings, sell several thousand dollars of original art, and then fly back home after dinner. He had defeated Comic-Con. You and I likely can't do this (I know I can't!), but it's an attitude to keep in mind. A great way to mitigate costs at a comics convention is sell enough stuff it's a net positive.

Definitely double-check with any sponsors you have -- they could have a policy on this kind of thing. One publisher might not want you selling another publisher's work or anything but the item they're having you sign. Another publisher may not have any room for a display of your work. If you are your own sponsor, you may secure permission from yourself.

Does commerce at Comic-Con work? It can. On the other hand, I've known plenty of people that have had terrible shows, including those that have failed to sell a single item. I wish I could tell you there's a pattern, but I've never been able to discern one. I've known cartoonists who sold thousands of dollars in prints and original art despite being placed at a far-off table surrounded by booths that sold nothing but ergonomic chairs and paintings of lions. I've also known comics-makers in what seemed to be prime-time areas near all that's good and beautiful in the art form fail to click with the crowd for whatever reason and leave the weekend pretty much as they arrived, although much grumpier.

I think we're past the days when a comics pro might show up at Comic-Con needing to make the money for their return ticket from what they can sell at their table (at least one prominent mainstream comics writer claims to have done this multiple times back in the day). At least I hope so. Consider sales a wild card, tamping down your expectations while still planning accordingly, and you should be fine.

Tip #17. Walk Everywhere
You're probably going to walk most places even if you're stuffed with cash, and we'll talk about that a bit later, but deciding in advance you're not spending a lick on cabs can keep you from jumping in that Hilton line post-Eisners or deciding you're too tired to wear your backpack the half mile from hotel to train station. It's an hour's walk from the Broadway hotels to the airport (I'm not sure there are sidewalks, though). It's also a nice way to see the city and gain a different perspective on things.

Tip #18. Live Like A Cartoonist
The reason so man