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July 19, 2014

Comic-Con Coping Guide 2014—Your Last-Minute Tips, Insights And Advice For The Big San Diego Show

imageComic-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, Nerding Man, Fan Cannes, Fandom Branson, the Grand Ol' Cosplay Opry, Four-Color Ground Zero.

It's also an extraordinarily complex event.

That's where this guide comes in.

I'm a near 20-year veteran of attending the show as a professional 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 2014, the show is scheduled for July 24-27, with a preview night on July 23. I hope to see you there!


imageTip #1: Stay Safe
In 2012, a woman with the intention of attending Comic-Con died after running into traffic and being struck by a car during the time she spent in a line that formed in advance of the show. Her name was Gisela Gagliardi. She was a fan, a lot like you and me that way. She didn't think she was going to die when she got out of bed that morning.

Please, please be careful.

Don't do anything because you're at a show and in a different headspace you wouldn't do and wouldn't invite your family to do with you at the same time back home.

Remember that San Diego is a city. San Diego isn't some strange city from a fantasy book. It's a real-life city with all that entails: crime, commutes, carelessness. Please remember this.

It's okay to complain about the police officers and what they have you do as far as crossing streets and waiting for trains, but do it anyway; they have your best interests in mind.

The security inside the convention center has a job to do and your day will go just fine making their days go a little easier by in nearly every case doing what they ask.

You look after you.

None of what follows is important at all if you don't come out of it on the other side as healthy as happy as the day you set foot in San Diego.

Tip #2: If You Don't Have A Badge, A Way To Get There And Place To Stay, Maybe Stay Home
The convention is sold out. The demand to attend Comic-Con in its current form outstrips the number of tickets available for the show. That rise in demand came with such sudden force as to discombobulate -- if not snuff outright -- traditional avenues for securing tickets. 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. You certainly can't show up at the show and buy a ticket.

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. Fakes like this used to be commonplace; now they're useless. That's right: even "Bruce Wayne," "Ned Stark" and "Sarah Manning" have difficulties getting badges now.

It is possible if you're a big attraction all by yourself that an exhibitor or the convention itself may be willing to help you secure a badge. I've never heard of an A-list movie star sitting at the Omni Bar, unable to walk across the street, or a significant creator at Image Comics lurking around the parking lot exhibits hoping for her friends to get done inside so she can join them for dinner.

At this point, the Comic-Con people are so busy that they may not have the time to recognize and process such a request, no matter who you are.

As far as a place to stay, this late in the game I would suggest commuting in from Oceanside, Escondido or parts further north. This is perfectly feasible, with some slight hassles. I've done the Escondido commute before.

If you don't have an airline ticket or an Amtrak ticket or a bus ticket -- I assume that there's bus service into the city although I'm not 100 percent sure the discount bus thing has hit the Los Angeles/San Diego corridor the way it has other parts of North America -- I'd suggest driving in.

If you have enough money to fly in buying a ticket right this moment, you have probably hired someone to read this for you, so hello to that person.


Tip #3: 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 several years ago now.

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 wanted to start datung a small-press company intern and maybe have access to their free comics, Comic-Con was the primary facilitator of these things.

That's no longer as true. As true.

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

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 incredibly useful -- no longer seem like necessary things. At least not to the same degree.

Conversely, it's also totally okay to go. It's fine to look forward to San Diego, to build your professional year around it, to have social/personal expectations and hopes.

Don't fall into the Comic-Con trap. Because it may be more difficult to attend Comic-Con than it is to go to some other conventions, this puts pressure on the Comic-Con weekend to give back on a scale that would obliterate the fussier parts.

Remember that the hassle of going to Comic-Con is mostly an accident of our recent 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! Kids read comics now! Older people continue buying toys! More women than ever are openly interested in geek culture! -- 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. It wasn't that long ago!

But I also can't stress this enough. I still have fun. 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. These last few years I got to meet Gilbert Shelton, see Kate Beaton slaughter a devoted crowd at her spotlight panel, chat with Alison Bechdel, see Dave McKean talk over beautiful images of his work, see Eric Stephenson and comiXology blossom into major industry players, watch as significant publishing figures made impromptu, heartfelt tributes to the late Kim Thompson, see the look of horror and bemusement on Anthony Bourdain as he loped around the Marriott lobby... I had nearly 100 meetings with friends, peers and key industry figures.

There will come a time when I won't attend CCI. I can feel it coming. I've cut a couple of days from my show this year due to personal and professional obligations. There's a big chance that very soon I'll become a Friday morning to Saturday night attendee for a time. Then Comic-Con will be something I used to do.

I never got to attend Comic-Con 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. Someone will have their best. Someone will say goodbye. It's all good.


Tip #4: You Still Might Be Able To Score A Bed, A Sofa, A Stretch Of Floor; You Also Might Find A Seat In Someone Else's Car
If you don't want to commute but still feel lie you must attend, reach out to personal and professional peers immediately and let them know what you need. You'd be surprised how many people have an extra bed come open as people make last-minute cancellations. Similarly, you might be able to find a ride coming into San Diego or leaving the city, particularly if you're willing to buy more than your fair share of that particular trip.

Remember if you get anything from anyone, even if it's just a section of floor or a knee on Mark Evanier's lap, treat that gift like a limousine ride to a suite at the Hilton. It's only polite.


Tip #5: Don't Count On Being Able To Stuff Multiple People Into A Room, Whether It's Your Room Or You're One Of The People
The Westgate and Westin Gaslamp have particularly notorious reputations in terms of figuring out who is staying at their hotels and making them all pay whatever might be applicable for that overnight visit. Most of the hotels deny roll-aways to anything with two beds. I have been asked about extra room keys I pick up for professional reasons (interview tapings). Be safely circumspect; don't flaunt your Night At The Opera status.


Tip #6: Plan For The Distance Between The Place You're Staying And The Convention Center
Once you're done figuring out where you're going to stay, if there was still work to do there, adjust yourself mentally as to what's on the way.

I won't lie to you any longer that there isn't a significant jump in class from every other staying option to staying in one of the six to eight hotels within a stone's throw of the San Diego Convention Center. For nearly every single person that wants to go to Comic-Con, staying close is better. Significantly so. You don't have to fight as many crowds, and you can get back to your room without a lot of hassle. You may get anywhere from an hour to nine hours of time back depending on where you're able to stay. All of those hotels near the convention center are pretty good ones, too, so it's not like you're skimping on the amenities. Plus they tend to be social hubs, so you're close to a network of bars that can serve as the last couple of hours of every meaning. Staying at the Hilton Gaslamp last year, I ran into people at my own hotel I was happy to see, and spent two of the four nights having a nightcap with pals. That was so freaking nice.

That said, staying further away won't ruin your weekend. I've been 20 years, stayed everywhere, and have no memory of distance as a damaging element. When I'm there, I adjust to the distance as a calming factor, a short walk to get my mind off the craziness of the convention floor. If I'm further away than a walk or a shuttle bus, I treat the convention as my oasis during the madness, and particularly try to enjoy the relative calm of morning spent where no one is dressed up as Black Lightning.

Count on more time to get back and forth. Go a little early in the morning, particularly if you're carrying items of professional import. You can always stop for a coffee in the lobby of someplace close. Build in a trip home early in the evening or before dinner before you head out for any socializing. Reach out to friends and peers as to where they're staying, and if someone's close, they might take your portfolio and bag of comic books in their room in exchange for that first drink out. If after projecting on the day ahead you think there may be a chance you can't get back to your room before your social obligations shift, maybe take along a new shirt.

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. 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 Batman 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 easily 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. Don't be a bother, but talk to your pals. Be to the point and unfailingly polite, but do it.


Tip #8. Start Your Bookmarks
The other great, recurrent skill in the con-goer's toolbox is research. Research in this day and age means 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 to put together a little folder of bookmarks.


Tip #9: Don't Stress Overspending On The Ground
So if you've planned this big trip but now money is a little tight, don't cancel. You don't have to spend a lot of money to go to Comic-Con. In addition to the necessary strategy that you'll have to curtail your retail consumption significantly or entirely, consider a) walking everywhere as a general rule, b) eating in rather than eating out, c) living like a cartoonist.

By living like a cartoonist I mean embrace your inner cheapskate as a temporary way of life -- make a game of being as cheap as possible at all times. Mooch. Keep an ear open as to whether a freebie you received might be worth more than another option (I've known dozens of people that sold their over-sized convention bag when it became clear that they had the most desirable one, usually Supernatural in terms of number of bags to number of wild-eyed fans). There are people with per diem accounts that they can spend on you in "meetings" and that get paid back for cabs. Public transport goes just about anywhere a car might, just not as quickly or directly (I've taken it to the airport). Unleash your inner Joe Matt.


imageTip #10: You're Done Working On Stuff for The Show
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 and your pets -- you are probably done now. Seriously. If you can't end in an hour, wrap it up by the end of the day. You don't want to go through Comic-Con having stayed up for 37 hours straight stapling 16,000 copies of your mini-comics biography of Matt Fraction.

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? You will not get that thing done. 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. Packing materials you never touched back into the bag you brought with you is the DIY Walk of Shame.


Tip #11: At This Point, Count On Hand-Carrying Anything You Want There
Even just shipping to a hotel at this point would be ridiculous, particularly after you scouted whether or not you could get something on time. If you're not a pro at moving stuff around, engage with your amateur status by putting your hands on anything you want down there. Remember that there are luggage restrictions. If you're flying, and nudging up against the carry-on limits or wa
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