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May 25, 2009

Comic-Con By The Numbers: 100 Tips For Attending San Diego’s CCI 2009!


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

Comic-Con International features on its main floor a massive marketplace of vendors, creators and direct suppliers. You can buy old comics, new comics, original art, movies, t-shirts, toys, and licensed items from every walk of geek life at Comic-Con. The upstairs rooms offer aggressive programming tracks in comics, film, television and a variety of related activities. There are opportunities all over the show to see and meet creators from any number of entertainment fields: actors, cartoonists, academics, models, writers. There are opportunities in the convention center and all over San Diego on Comic-Con weekend to meet like-minded fans, celebrate your favorite, geeky things, and even network on a massive scale.

It's Geek Vegas, Nerd Prom, Fan Cannes, Fandom Branson, the Grand Ol' Cosplay Opry, Four-Color Ground Zero... and it's also an extraordinarily complex vacation event. That's where this guide hopefully comes in.

What follows is a list of observations, tips and insights that may help prepare you for your San Diego con-going experience. The list this year has been simplified somewhat to emphasize the tips and advice portion of its mission. This was done mostly because doing so was easier than writing around the same 10 lame jokes that have appeared in past five guides. But let's face it: these are leaner, tougher times. Simplicity and straight-forwardness are at a premium. This document shall remain ridiculously long, but not quite as long as it used to be and hopefully with more solid advice per column inch.

In 2009, the show is scheduled for July 23-26, with a preview night on July 22. Hope to see you there.




It used to be you could essentially not plan for Comic-Con and just go if the mood struck you. Those days are gone.

Tip #1. Get Off The Fence And Stay Off
If you haven't decided whether or not to go yet, decide right now. Now. It's really late in the process, but you might still be able to go if you want. You can also still back out if you've made plans to go.

It's okay not to go. This was always the case, and it's even more true now. There was a time when I could argue that Comic-Con was a relative necessity. If you wanted to get everything you could out of comics, if you wanted to enter into the industry, if you wanted to be noticed, if you wanted to stay connected to what was going on, CCI was the primary facilitator of these things. I can't say that with the same certainty these days. There's so many opportunities for daily connectivity and interaction out there. These things replace, I think, much of what used to get crammed into a single July weekend.

The great thing is that now if you want to go, you go because you want to, not because you feel you have to. This makes a huge difference.

So pick a side and decide to really, really enjoy the weekend in the convention center and greater San Diego or stay home and really, really enjoy getting some work done and enjoying a more typical summer weekend. If you think you need a year off, take the year off! There's having a miserable time, and then there's having a miserable time surrounded by people in Harry Potter costumes. And even if you end up feeling you've made the wrong choice, there's going to be another one as soon as next year.

But mostly: make that decision right now. Be like Robot Caveman: commit.

Tip #2. Finalize Your Plans ASAP
If you've decided to go, and if you've left anything to chance on your Comic-Con plans, take care of them immediately. Make your travel plans, hotel plans and ticket plans your highest priority. Travel's pretty good this year -- tickets are down in price a bit. Hotels aren't bad -- you can still find a room here and there on the convention's hotel service, particularly single-day options. Tickets... well, you might be screwed there. The show is sold out of four-day passes and sold out of its single-day passes. If you're counting on tickets as a professional person or press person or from a third, sponsoring party -- and that's just about the only way it's going to happen at this point -- now's the time to make sure you're going to get them. Professional self-registration is closed. Press registration closes June 8. It used to be you could show up at the convention center day-of and score a pass from an exhibitor friend who had an extra pass in his pocket made out to "Gyro Gearloose." (I'm not kidding.) Those days are far behind us now. If you don't have all of your plans nailed down as you're reading this, I suggest trying to take care of it in the next 24 hours. All of it. If you can.

Tip #3. Establish Your Network
There are two things that make just about every facet of a trip to Comic-Con easier to do. The first is networking. All I mean by networking in this context is taking a minute or so here and there to reach out to friends and acquaintances in a modest way and let them know what you want to do at the show. Take some time in the next 24 hours to tell folks you know that you're going, and pay attention over the next few weeks to which of your friends and peers are joining you. Once you get closer to the show, reestablish contact with your fellow soon-to-be attendees to ask after things like social events or to see if they can help you with any of your more specific goals for the weekend.

The number of people I've had tell me they had a disappointing aspect of their Comic-Con weekend because of Reason X when I would have been able to provide them with Reason X had they only asked is... well, it's about a dozen people. Still.

Tip #4. Start Your Bookmarks
The other great, recurrent skill in the con-goer's toolbox is bookmarking sites of use and then making use of them. That's right: research. My suggestion is to start a folder and put the following web sites into it.
A. This Guide -- if for no other reason than I'm going to spend time between now and Comic-Con obsessively re-writing a lot of the lamer jokes.
B. Convention Web Site -- the source for tons of official information
C. Your Hotel's Web Site -- familiarize yourself with your surroundings, join the points club
D. -- 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 writes about it as the date approaches.
H. The Beat -- Heidi MacDonald's purview is comics culture, and there's no entity of greater importance within comics' culture than Comic-Con.
I. -- 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.

Deciding to go, having your travel and hotel plans set in stone, letting your friends and acquaintances know you're going, and putting together a little bookmarks folder -- you're way up on a significant number of people who will be attending this year. You can stop now, if you want. It's all downhill from here.




2009 looks to be the kind of year where people are going to want to save some cash, even in the case of something like CCI. Many folks have already committed to going, or feel it's important they do so. While like any good event of size and scope Comic-con is geared to lift money from your wallet, it's also possible to go and not spend much at all, or at least arrive back home only having spent a fraction of your predicted per diem.

Tip #5. Consider Making Your Trip Shorter
I have friends that only go to Comic-Con if they can be there for five nights and four days. While I'm sure it's still a blast to get the whole summer-camp style experience, I haven't been to the entire show since 1996. Ticket availability may force a shorter trip on those of you who started late, but a four-day pass won't explode in your hand if you only use it for two or three days. The main savings that you get by going for only part of the show is on hotels and expenses like meals. If you plan well, you can do 90 percent of what you want from a Comic-Con in 33 percent of the time spent there. Plus it's way better to leave wanting more than to leave fervently praying you never see a comic book again.

Tip #6. Consider Sharing A Room
I'm too old to do this now if I can avoid it. For one thing, part of my personal San Diego routine as it's developed over the years seems to involve sitting in a fiercely air-conditioned room in my underwear for a couple of hours each day drinking Live Wire Mountain Dew, eating barbecue corn chips and watching ESPN's Baseball Tonight. Not this year, though: I'm sharing a room this year, and about 1/3 of the Comic-Cons I've attended I've either found a roommate or found a place to stay, with the obvious savings this entails.

Reach out to your friends -- you'd be surprised who might need a room or have an extra bed. Some message boards will be used to get people together, but that always seemed kind of slasher-movie to me. Share a bathroom at your own risk. But if you have a friend who's going, why not?

Stuffing people into your room like college kids on Spring Break can be easy or difficult depending on the hotel. Stay away from the Westgate when it comes to this practice unless you want to pay for each and every body. The Westin Gaslamp and the Manchester Grand Hyatt both offer roll-away beds for a modest fee. If you're not a jerk about it, usually something can be worked out even if the hotel knows you've exceeded your stated limit. It's not like these hotels have three-bed guestrooms you're declining to use.

Tip #7. Consider Volunteering (No Longer Applicable To 2009)
There's a whole sub-culture of Comic-Con volunteers, who get access to the show in return for their hard work. I know them as the "please end your panel right now so we can have a less boring one on next hour, thank you" people. My understanding is that all slots are filled for 2009 but if that's something that interests you for the future maybe bookmark the appropriate page and check out its next-year equivalent when it shows up.

Tip #8. Consider Temping
Exhibitors from out of town will occasionally hire locals or people that have made their own plans to be there anyway to work at their booths. This way they save on flying in more people from the home office. In many cases, these exhibitors have the capability to secure you a badge, provide you with a discount on their stuff, or even pay you a small fee. This is the comic-con equivalent of standing on a street corner hoping a comics publisher pulls up in his pick-up and ask you to jump in, so I wouldn't make plans based on this, but you might keep your ears open.

Tip #9. Consider Adjusting Your Plans
It's probably not worth mentioning, but someone actually e-mailed me about this. Yes, if you were already planning on being at Comic-Con as a professional and doing a signing or especially setting up somewhere, you may be able to work up some extra art or items to sell at your signing or table space to make some cash.

People love buying original stuff at Comic-Con. It adds to the uniqueness of the con-going experience. I remember one artist who used to come down on a single day, do one or two signings, sell several thousand dollars of original art, and then fly out after dinner. You're probably not able to do this, but it's something to keep in mind. Big key: check with your sponsor -- they may have a policy on this. One publisher might not want you selling another publisher's work or anything but the item they're having you sign. Another publisher may not have any room for a display of your work. If you are your own sponsor, you're in better shape.

Tip #10. Live Like A Cartoonist
The reason so many comics people are able show up at San Diego despite incomes that would alarm 1930s denizens of Appalachia is because they're really, really good at not spending money. You can be good that way, too. Trying your best to get invited to events where they'll feed you, taking public transit to and from the airport, walking everywhere during the show even when it's far away, not buying drinks but waiting to have them bought for you, leaving your wallet in the room safe while you patrol the show... you might be surprised how freeing this is. Memory will eventually toss any immediate hardship right over the rail: two weeks later you won't remember the stuff you didn't do; you'll remember the stuff you did.

Tip #11. Consider Eating In
You may horrify the local tourism bureau if you choose not to utilize one of San Diego's excellent restaurants at every meal. But let's face it: with various food allergies, pros on deadline who have to stay in their hotel room to get some pages done and people spending enough days in the city that they may simply want a non-restaurant meal, there's no stigma about buying something from a grocery store or deli and returning to your hotel room. I've done this with breakfast a lot when I'm solo at the show -- fruit and yogurt consumed in one's room while watching Hancock on HBO is just as good as fruit and yogurt eaten at a cafe watching Mike Richardson read a newspaper.

Tip #12. Consider Moving Your Getaway Hotel
If you're staying one last night and going straight to the airport the next day, you maybe don't need to be in the same hotel you just spent the days of Comic-Con inhabiting. You may be able to find a cheaper hotel out of downtown and by the airport, even.

Tip #13. If You're Young And Able To Do So, Consider Saving A Night In A Hotel Room By Not Getting A Hotel Room
When I was relatively broke in my 20s and early 30s and wanted to squeeze an extra day out of a Comic-Con, I'd store all my stuff with a friend or at the front desk of the hotel I checked out of Saturday morning, made sure I had stuff to do until 2:00 AM or so on Saturday Night/Sunday morning (the Hyatt's last-closing bar, a party at the beach, a midnight movie), retrieved my bag, went to Denny's on Pacific Highway for a couple of hours and then went to the airport where I caught a super-early morning flight.

On second thought, that was really stupid. Don't do this.

Tip #14. Consider A Secondary Stop To Save On Two Vacations
One of the advanced strategies you might consider when planning for Comic-Con is to build in some vacation time to somewhere else -- Las Vegas and Los Angeles are probably the easiest secondary destinations to pair with San Diego -- either right before or right after the show. Heck, you can also stay a few days on either end in San Diego itself and simply enjoy that city. I remember quite a few people in the mid-1990s using a company-bought plane ticket to get a little add-on vacation in after the rest of us scuttled home.

Going somewhere else in addition to San Diego allows you to take advantage of only minor increases in ticket prices that one can find by stringing together one-way tickets on a travel site. One vacation at X amount of money might not sound great, but two vacations at X + $170 after all the expenses get added up might start to sound pretty good. It can also be a way to convince someone not into all the Comic-Con stuff to come with you, although I never suggest this. Leave that person home.

I've done Comic-Con in combination with a couple of days at Las Vegas three times now. I ate a succession of Reuben sandwiches, sat by the pool, bet on WNBA games, pretended to be an ex-astronaut, denied I pretended to be an ex-astronaut when confronted by angry actual ex-astronaut... good times. Comic-Con may be the only event where you can go to Vegas to decompress, but it worked all three times I did it. The reason I began doing this, and another advantage that's sometimes cost-related, is that you can probably find a late-day flight to Las Vegas when one might not be available to San Diego or your home city. Sometimes it's cheaper and more fun to spend two $53 hotel nights in Las Vegas than one more $199 hotel night in San Diego in order to a get a full day Sunday at the convention center.




Tip #15. Get Your Pre-Convention Stuff Done One Full Week In Advance
If you're preparing anything at all for the show -- resumes, business cards, art to sell, opening lines, books to sell, art to show, scripts to pass around, your camera, a freelance assignment -- get everything done by July 15. This gives you a day or two leeway if something is screwed up, but it also means you won't be a basket case when you arrive on the convention floor because you stayed up for 37 hours stapling your mini-comic biography of Phil Seuling. Forget entirely getting something done while you're there. It's not convenient and you'll find 10,000 excuses to skip it.

Tip #16. Limit Your Physical Preparations To Fine-Tuning
I know that a lot of people drop a few pounds to fit into their Apocalypse Meow costumes or simply to better show off their late-night cocktail wear, and that others get some walking in in the days leading up to the show so as not to risk their feet falling off while they're standing in the checkout line at Ralphs. But know your limits. If you really have to lose a ton of weight just to walk around an air-conditioned building for a few days looking for old issues of Albedo, maybe stay home and use your Comic-Con funds to buy a gym membership. In the long run, you'll attend more conventions. And don't be that person that starves themselves and then has to take a nap on the floor of Rei do Gado after being overcome by meat sweats.

Tip #17. Check Out The Programming
Comic-Con programming goes up on the official site shortly before the show begins. It's always worth a read even if you only attend one or two panels. If you plan on attending a lot of panels, it's like getting a detailed scouting report.

Tip #18. Pack Something With Long Sleeves
San Diego tends to offer ridiculously fantastic weather, but there are two reasons to remember to pack something with long sleeves: a lot of socializing is done outside, in rooftop bars and on beaches, and some years the air conditioning in the convention center is really, really aggressive.

Tip #19. Pack To Mail Stuff Back
Most years I'll buy a few things and then mail them back from a local post office rather than lug them on the plane with me. I do this because I don't want my luggage to incur an additional fee, and I hate carrying books around. You don't need to have a bunch of stuff to do this. I pack a cardboard tube stuffed with a couple of over-sized envelopes, a sharpie, a couple of labels and a thing of packing tape. There are easy to access delivery stations up by the Broadway hotels and in the convention center itself.

Tip #20. Pack As If You'll Shake 1000 Hands
Because, well, you might end up shaking 1000 hands. Hand sanitizer, breath mints, and aspirin are the three keys to happiness in any Comic-Con dop kit. Okay, not really, but the absence of those three things is definitely a bus transfer to Sucktown, USA.

Tip #21. Consider Cycling Through The Week With A Germ-Resistant Booster
You've seen these travel dose drugs at the store even if you haven't used them -- things like Airborne, designed to reduce your chance of picking something up on the plane. The great thing about taking those a couple days before through a couple of days after San Diego is that it not only helps square you away for close encounters while you travel but should assist in buttressing your resistance for all the meeting and greeting at the convention itself. It's like you never leave the plane, I swear.

Malt liquor is not a germ-resistant booster, no matter how many CCS alumni claim otherwise.

(check tip #100d for a CR reader who claims this is a very bad tip)

Tip #22. Be Super Paranoid About Everything You Need Professionally
If this is a working week, be outright paranoid about getting stuff there. You may be cut off from home while you're on the trip so be fiercely mindful of getting the stuff you need professionally -- from business cards to art samples to cameras to laptops -- to your hotel room. Carry rather than check this stuff, for instance.

The key is that this paranoia should also extend to what people will be bringing to the convention for you. So if you're doing a signing for a publisher, call 'em up a couple of weeks out to see if they're bringing the books you'll need to do what it is they want you to do. There's nothing sadder than the guy showing up at his publisher's table for a signing and the publisher has nothing for them to sign. Okay, maybe when ducks get covered with oil from oil spills, then the guy with no funnybooks to sign. But it's right up there.

Tip #23. Join the 21st Century
If like me you live a life that Amish people admire, don't take your frontier standards into San Diego. I buy a cheap watch every year and I make sure my little-used phone is ready to go. You'll need a way to tell time -- there are few if any clocks in the convention center -- and a way to get a hold of people. And yes, I know how silly this sounds to your average, well-connected person.




Getting there is nowhere near half the fun.

Tip #24. Remember Lots Of Airlines Charge For Luggage Now
Double-check with your airline. This can be a killer for Comic-Con because you may be taking stuff there to do business, or taking stuff home having done some collection-related impulse-buying. It's better to be prepared than to find out you've hit a weight limit that you can't afford -- or at the very least sets you grinding your teeth.

Tip #25. You're Under No Obligation To Be The Ambassador Of Comics
Travel chit-chat Comic-Con weekend can be fun because few of your fellow travelers are ever doing anything as odd and entertaining as spending a weekend digging around in boxes of Car-Toons magazine and giving Ernie Hudson walking directions to Athens Market Taverna. Have fun with it. You don't want to direct anyone to a show where all the tickets are sold out or anything unfair like that, but you're not going to be paid $1000 for every convert, either. One of the three best conversations I ever had on an airplane was with a 62-year-old guy from New Jersey who asked several questions about an anime/manga show that took place in the Boston hotel where he and his wife had a recent getaway weekend. It's also fun to spot fellow Comic-Con goers during early stages of your trip.

Tip #26. Consider Amtrak From LA; Consider Anything Else From Anywhere Else
I like the Amtrak journey from LA to San Diego -- it's short, it allows you to ramp up or ramp down depending which direction you're going, and you can drink booze from station to station, which is a terrible idea when you're driving. I wouldn't take Amtrak from any point further North or from any points East at all unless you're a veteran of rail travel and a big fan of Amtrak's track record and peccadilloes when it comes to long-haul trips. But that short trip has worked for me a half-dozen times.

Tip #27: If You're Taking Amtrak, Embrace Its Peculiarities
If you're doing the San Diego/LA trip, consider four things. First, realize you may get to ride with people going to or leaving from the Del Mar racetrack, which is hilarious when it happens. That's not really a tip, it's just extremely amusing to see sunburned women in hats and pasty guys with light sabers hanging out. Second, you used to be able to have some leeway on when you made use of your Amtrak ticket, which meant you could schedule for a 4 PM departure and leave on the 8 PM train. I have no idea if they still do this, but it may be worth checking out. Third, be prepared for a reasonably involved brisk walk at both stations to get on and off the trains. You're not going to be able to fake your bags onto the train or out to a cab, so make sure you can carry everything. Fourth, there's a line-up fairly early on for the train from San Diego to L.A. and it's very much worth being towards the front of that line. There's also usually no way around that line, although a lot more people try to circumvent it than succeed. It's outside of the main sitting room.

Tip #28. Realize Your Cab Experience May Depend On The Terminal
At the main airport (most flights), it's easy to catch a cab, but you'll have some distance to walk to get to that island. At the shuttle-service airport (small planes from Phoenix and LAX) , the cab stand is very close. However, since not as many cabs go to the secondary terminal it can be a wait. Consider asking people ahead of you in line to share a cab, if you're going to the same general neighborhood. It should cost about $15 from the airport to one of the downtown hotels.

Tip #29. Call Ahead To See About An Airport Shuttle
Not every hotel has them and a few hotels have cut them in today's poor economy. You also may need to reserve the shuttle rather than summon it to attend your presence. I've never taken one, because I'm shy and van
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