Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

May 27, 2007

Welcome to Nerd Vegas: A Guide to Visiting and Enjoying Comic-Con International in San Diego, 2007!


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 a show of growing importance to hundreds of pros in related publishing, merchandising and film businesses. Comic-Con International is traditionally held over four days, Thursday through Sunday, with a Wednesday preview night added on for good measure, at some point between mid-July and mid-August.

In 2007, the show is scheduled for July 26-29, with a preview night on July 25.

What follows is a long list of numbered observations that will hopefully augment your San Diego con-going experience. I hope you have a good time, and if you have any tips of your own, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) I'd like to make a list of reader tips at the bottom of this document.

Although the article has been updated with many new photos and several brand new jokes of dubious value, I realize you may not want to read the whole thing again. If you're a long-time reader who doesn't have time for the whole document, try The Update. If you're too busy to read something this long, try The Short Form.

Otherwise, enjoy!





Four Things CCI Offers

1. A massive main floor marketplace featuring exhibitors including but not limited to publishers, individual artists, comic book back issues dealers, movie studios, toy companies and individual artists, many of which have wonderful things for sale.

2. In rooms of varying size at other places in the building, convention programming including but not limited to previews of big-company titles, small-publisher spotlights, single-artist slideshows, themed-issue discussions, film presentations (celebrities), and sneak peeks at forthcoming TV shows (more celebrities).

3. At night there are entertainment activities both formal and informal, including Friday evening's Eisner Awards ceremony and Saturday's famous costume Masquerade.

4. All around San Diego at all hours of day and night comics industry employees, writers, artists, fans, retailers, Hollywood types, and press people are taking morning meetings, breaking bread over long lunches and sharing late-night drinks, socializing and seeing to informal business matters on a massive scale.


Seven Reasons to Attend CCI

1. The show's size.
Between exhibitors and attendees, nearly twice as many people attend Comic-Con International as live in my hometown. It's therefore a tremendous opportunity to interface with a lot of comics constituencies at their most fulsome: creators, customers, editors, you name it.

2. Its proximity to Los Angeles' film business.
Making a connection with some sort of film interest is a significant and growing concern for many professionals and fans. The marriage of film and comics at the show has led to the development of an entire wing of programming to previews and advance publicity. Other pop culture industries have followed film's lead by increasing their presence as well -- toy makers, animation studios, television shows and book publishers, just to name a few. I'm a comics guy, not a film guy; I tend to forget the movie people are even there. Still, I'd be lying if I told you that the proximity to the film industry hasn't been a major and unique driving force in the con's development or if I downplayed in any way the fact that it's hugely appealing factor for tons of people who go.

3. Left coast roll call.
There is no other sizable West Coast comics industry show during the summer season, which makes CCI an even bigger attraction for the major comics professional communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle, as well as in the medium-sized ones like Las Vegas and San Diego itself. It's a national show, for sure, but the percentage of comics folk west of Denver who make it down to San Diego's convention center is extraordinary.

4. A well-run convention.
Years of experience on staff not only helps the show function, there is enough institutional memory for staffers to be sensitive to -- and invested in -- a lot of different con-going experiences.

5. Meet and greet.
Practical business really does get done there. There is a ton of looking at talent, a lot of talking about future plans, a great many people having introductory meetings, and so on. Just touching base with people in person can yield enormous benefits later on.

6. Special guests.
Although there are other major comics shows in places like Angouleme, France and New York City, Comic-Con remains big enough it can bring in special guests from around the world of cartooning. For example, the writer Warren Ellis will make a rare convention appearance at the show this year.

7. The year doesn't feel the same without it.
CCI is one of the few recurring, reliable experiences on the calendar by which comics people can mark the passage of time as they waste their once-promising lives.


Seven Reasons To Skip CCI

1. It can make you hate comics.
Some cartoonists express particular discouragement at the excesses of the show's omnivorous, pop-culture focus. Life is tough enough as a cartoonist without inviting a soul-destroying, four-day migraine.

2. Money.
It costs a lot to exhibit and it can cost a lot to attend.

3. Who needs it?
You might feel, and you might be right, that you can get much of what a big convention offers elsewhere for less expense and trouble. If you're only going in order to buy comics, for example, you might be better off spending your San Diego hotel and food budget at an on-line comics store or your local shop.

4. Too big a tent.
Some might feel more comfortable at a show that better matches a specific interest, like Wizard Entertainment's Chicago show (mainstream American superheroes) or the MoCCA Festival (small press and handmade comics) or Austin's Ikkicon (anime and manga).

5. You've got things to do.
You simply can't find time in your schedule for that many days away from home. If it's a work trip, you may need an additional day or two once you get back home to decompress and for follow-up, so you have to figure that in, too. That's a full week away from the drawing table and/or writing desk.

6. What? Leave home?
Your distaste for crowds and travel far outweighs any benefit you might see from attending.

7. I can't believe it's July again already.
Even though you've liked it in the past, and you might like to go in the future, you'd just rather not go this year.


Six Questions to Ask Before You Commit to Attending


1. "Do I Really Want to Go?"
Again: If it's a chore in any way, don't go. It's not a requirement. If you're connected in any way to people that are going, you may feel a twinge of regret caused by being left out, but it goes away really quickly.

2. "Do I Need to Be There the Whole Weekend?"
I never go the full length of the show. Greatest benefit? There's no better way to reduce the costs of a convention than to cut the time spent there. If your goal is to socialize and see the big panels, think about Friday-Sunday. If you want to shop and network, think about Wednesday-Saturday. Think about going one night, even. You may miss one out of five things you wanted to do, but you'll also be much less likely to get bored or burnt out. You may even leave wanting more.

3. "Do I Need a Room or Just a Bed?"
Figure out exactly what you need and what you're willing to accept. A bed is easier to find than a room. If going means taking the whole family for multiple nights, and you haven't done any planning until a few weeks before the show, you might reconsider your attendance.

4. "Do I Want to Go for Realistic Reasons?"
A comic book convention is not a young-woman-with-her-first-job-in-the-big-city movie. If it were, you probably wouldn't be the star. It's best not to go assuming you'll engage in long conversations with your favorite writers, powerful comic book editors will solicit your opinion on where to take their characters next, Pantheon and First Second will enter into a bidding war for your mini-comic, and you'll cap off your evenings doing shots with the cast of Battlestar Galactica at J6Bar. It's a convention, people are working, and you're one of 130,000 people experiencing the moment. Enjoy the experience you're having, not the experience you think you deserve.

5. "Will I Have Too Much on My Plate?"
The more commitments you make = the more stress to which you're exposed. Don't agree to every single thing if you can help it. Besides, some stuff people choose to do at CCl -- portfolio reviews, say, or obtaining certain autographs -- have a lot of line-time or other dead time built in that might end up squeezing the other parts of an ambitious, complicated itinerary. Free time is good. It's nice to just wander and go with the flow. When someone tells you, "You gotta go see this booth," it's great to have the time to go see that booth.

6. "Do I Need to Stay in a Hotel Really Close to the Convention Center?"
It's nice, but not necessary. I've stayed a few miles away and a lot of miles away, and neither weekend stands out in memory as a horrible experience. Anyone insisting you have to stay 100 yards away from your hotel bar of choice is either being lazy or way too precious about their vacation time.




Lodging Choices Ranked By Status

1. One of the hotels extremely close to the convention center (Omni, Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt)
2. A friend's place you get all to yourself
3. House rental
4. One of the hotels sprinkled throughout the Gaslamp (Solamar)
5. One of the hotels on Broadway (Westin Horton Plaza, US Grant)
6. Staying at a friend's place with that friend
7. Apartment rental
8. One of the hotels north of Broadway, south of the highway (Radisson, Best Western, W)
9. Bed and Breakfast
10. One of the hotels across the bay where a water taxi is available for the morning jaunt but you have to take a regular cab to get home
11. Hotel Circle (Red Lion, Handlery)
12. Tijuana
13. Way up the coast at a sleepy beach hotel
14. Your car
15. Steps of the Convention Center
16. Staying up all night, sleeping in someone's room during the day
17. Commuting back and forth from Los Angeles
18. On the beach
19. With whomever takes you home from a Hyatt bar
20. In the convention center, underneath the Mile High Comics table, in a series of complicated tunnels you've created from old copies of Steelgrip Starkey
21. A stranger's car
22. State-run lodging.


Fourteen Random Observations About Various Hotels

image1. The venerable US Grant -- home of a fine lobster bisque, quiet and well-appointed rooms, decent brunches and a lovely bar no one in the comics industry visits -- has reopened for Summer 2007. I mention this here because all three people that felt its absence are regular readers of this site.

2. In eight years of staying there, four days per visit, the only comics-related person I have ever seen in the Westin Horton Plaza's exercise room is Kevin Eastman. In general, use of hotel facilities like pools, hot tubs and exercise rooms seems to be really light during the convention weekend. Taking a couple of extra hours in the morning to pamper yourself or get in a workout can be fun and a great stress reliever.

3. The security people at the Hyatt will follow you into a bar in order to yell at you for not obeying their orders, but you pretty much have to take a swing at one to get thrown out. Don't test this.

4. My favorite hotel out on the Hotel Circle is the Red Lion Hanalei. I'll be staying there one night this year, in fact. The Red Lion features easy parking, a hot tub, an exercise room, a pool and a cheap breakfast buffet -- everything necessary to spend a quality, quiet morning before heading out to the convention hall.

5. If you don't want to drive but are staying out on Hotel Circle north of downtown, check your hotel's proximity to a train; some are close enough to walk to a station while others are not. There are also a few hotels across the bay to the south and to the northeast that can get you near the convention hall via water taxi, which is a cool way to start your day but may be sort of impractical depending on your schedule. You can likely get to the convention center via a water taxi, but they might stop running before you want to go home.

6. Staying until Monday or Tuesday? Think about moving to a different, less expensive hotel. Two times I've stayed for an early Monday flight, I've switched to a cheaper hotel out by the airport, and, sadly, used the money I saved to buy a complete run of Defenders. I'm hideous! Don't look at me!

image7. The Holiday Inn on Harborview is the place I keep seeing comics people I thought could afford a fancier hotel. It's also a world unto itself, with a beer-focused bar, a seafood restaurant across the street, a Denny's a block or two away for late nights, and its own feel and atmosphere. An underrated convention headquarters.

8. The hotel I've heard people complain about the most is -- by far -- the Westin San Diego Emerald Plaza. In summary: 1) isolated 2) has tiny rooms 3) and sports thin walls. It is, however close to the Y building and one of the easier, nicer places to eat breakfast. The runner-up in terms of bad vibes is the Hyatt, getting specific low marks for grumpy staff.

9. A nice place to meet and chat that's close to the show and very quiet is the bar in the Horton Grand. The Horton has some nice things going for it. It's really close, its own prices aren't much more than the CCI discount so it's a good place to get a back-up or safety room if, for instance, you think you might come out a day early as you can cancel the day before and not get penalized, and, as long as you're not facing the street, the rooms are quiet and nice enough. Its most bizarre quirk is a guestbook in every room into which about 50 percent of the guests scrawl obscenities.

10. The Westgate has very large, nice rooms, but don't try to stuff extra people in there -- of all the San Diego downtown hotels, the Westgate has the fiercest reputation for keeping the number of crashers down. To that end, they don't offer roll-away beds the way the Westin Horton Plaza does, and they're not above charging you for an extra person if they think you had a non-reported person in your room for the entirety of your stay.

11. When I win the lottery, I'm staying at the Hotel Solamar and throwing a fancy party.

12. I hear there is another group using much of the Hyatt the weekend of this year's Con, busting its status down from the convention's official hub to its unofficial hub. May God help those poor people. Also, this makes me wonder if there's a chance that this may change the hotel's lenient attitude about the various late-night functions, like all the people sprawled out on the lawn.

13. There's fun to be had at every hotel in San Diego, from the diviest dive to the swankiest suite. Enjoy your stay no matter where it might be.


Six Things To Remember About Reserving a Hotel Room Through the Con

1. It's great to get the hotel discount offered through Comic-Con, but it's not the only way to get a discount and there are desirable hotels not on that list. Also, in a few cases it's worthwhile to have the ability to cancel at the last minute. Given the crush of people who want to use it, you should see the con's room brokering service as one option, not the only option.

2. You're pretty screwed if you've just now looked into the Comic-Con hotels, and at this point you have some work ahead of you, period. The most desirable hotels for the most people, meaning those close to the convention center, are snapped up within ten minutes on the first day they are offered. That's just the way it is. By the time you're reading this, that was months ago. In fact, with more companies being pushed by their attending employees to buy hotel rooms in advance, many of these hotels are booked the old-fashioned way long before their discounted rooms come up. I'm told a few boutique hotels were almost totally booked one week after last year's show.

3. It's probably worth noting that with almost every room guaranteed to sell out, there's very little incentive for hotels to make a lot of rooms available at discount. It's really not going to get any better in the near future, and with so many on-line media sources now, more than enough people are going to be aware of the exact moment the rooms become available to make getting a room a pain in the butt. Accept the pain for what it is; you'll be happier for it.

4. Two tips for using the Comic-Con site if you weren't on it getting a room on that first day. 1) Check back often, even now; the most desirable hotels won't have rooms open up, but several of the mid- and lower-rung hotels will. I saw open rooms on there in late April, the last time I checked. 2) You may have more luck stringing reservations together on a day by day basis as they open up rather than waiting for a four-day window to become open. Friday is the toughest single evening to secure.

5. Once you secure a room, bookmark your hotel's web site to check on potential specific hassles. The convention won't tell you if there's construction in the parking lot, say, or if the pool is down, but your hotel's web site almost certainly will.

6. If you got your room from the con, or even if you didn't, you may want to confirm that reservation before you go to San Diego. Seven months is a very long period between reservation and stay, in which a lot of stuff can happen.


What Eight Things Should I Do As It Gets Closer to the Con and I Still Need A Room?

1. Again, check aggregate sites like, Kayak and Do it today!

2. Wait until deposits begin to come due for rooms reserved through the convention, in June or early July. This is when rooms are dropped from people deciding not to go, people moving to another hotel, and people that were hedging 0their bets.

3. Reach out to your friends and see if any of them can help. There may be people who are looking to drop a room, or others looking for a roommate or two. Be creative. Many hotels do a roll-away for an extra $20 or so. You might look into that kind of thing if you can find willing roomies. All of the major comics message boards where people gather will usually accommodate people posting about needing a room or roommate. Here's one for 2007 on The Engine.

4. Consider Bed and Breakfasts. I did this once, and had a great time.

5. Google "San Diego Vacation Rentals." Think about renting a house or an apartment. This could be cheaper than a hotel in many cases. I suspect people will be doing this a lot more frequently over the next few years.

6. Consider local places off the beaten track like La Pensione in Little Italy, a little hotel with tiny rooms and no air conditioning that's nice for the less than $100 price. It's totally sold out this year, of course, and anyone who took my advice in last year's heat is probably still saving up the strength to come punch me in the jaw, but the key is to look around.

7. If you're an AAA member, some hotels may keep a few extra and nearly all the hotels give a discount for those customers.

8. Stay calm. You're really only in danger of not finding anything if you wait until just a couple of weeks before. You're probably going to have to stay slightly further away than right next door, or stay someplace you'll need to use cabs or a car, but where there's a will, there's almost always a way.


Four Uncomfortable Conversations I've had in the Elevator of My Hotel About Comic-Con International

1. 2001:
Man With Wife: Are you going to the comic book show?
Me: Yeah.
Man With Wife: We should go to that Saturday, honey; everybody who goes is a weirdo.
[Awkward Silence]

2. 2004
Woman In Her 30s: Are you here for the convention?
Me: Yes.
Woman: That's so cute.
Me: Really?
Woman: Well... how old are you?

3. 2005
Teenager With Friend: Are you here for Comic-Con?
Me: Yes.
Teenager With Friend: Are you anybody?
Me: No.
Teenager With Friend: I haven't met anybody.

4. 2006
Woman in Her 50s: Are you with the Comic-Con?
Me: Kind of. I'm attending the show.
Woman in Her 50s: Well, they should have kiosks.
Me: Kiosks?
Woman in Her 50s: They should have kiosks in hotel lobbies so people can buy something that don't want to go.
Me: Why don't you want to go?
Woman in Her 50s: Those people are dangerous!



Seven Ways To Maximize Your Hotel Experience

1. Remember that the hotel is there to get you to the con.
This is one for the pros out there, although the principle applies to a lesser degree to everyone. The best hotel room in San Diego county is no consolation if getting from the hotel to the convention center is either a) impossible, or b) such an ordeal it forces you into a tension-releasing orgy of violence a la Robert Stack in Airplane! on the first group of people that approach your table.

In other words, if your trip counts on you getting to the convention center and back carrying a bunch of supplies, you're probably not going to be able to stay way out on the Hotel Circle or up the shore. You're going to want to make that much greater a priority out of staying downtown. I can stay just about anywhere, but I'm not carrying piles of art and drawing supplies back and forth; I'm carrying my wallet, a camera and a few notes for my Sapphire and Steel pitch. I'm a great believer in making every trip work the best it can, but for pros, distance is going to be a bigger factor than it is for most people.

2. Put everyone's name on the room.
Hotels won't give an unlisted person a key, even if that person swears that they're staying with someone that told them they would leave an extra key at the front desk. On the other hand, someone screwed over by their roommates in this fashion may get a comped room just so the desk staff can get to the next person in line. Trust me on this. I wouldn't count on it these days, though.

3. Register at your hotel as close as you can to when check-in times begin.
Hotels can and will bump you; I've heard stories about being shoved out to the boonies without compensation. Secure your room!

4. Consider using everything your hotel offers.
Check out the various options you have for hotel services, from pools to room service to spas, to add value and variety to your trip.

5. Make friends with the concierge.
This is a person in the lobby of nicer hotels who is paid to answer your questions. Ask some. Make one up if you have to.

6. Start a tradition.
Bagels and the morning Internet in the Westin's cafe, a nightcap standing on the lobby looking out over the Holiday Inn pool, counting hookers on the street from the lower-level rooms at the Bristol: it's fun to connect a hotel with a certain thing you enjoy doing, no matter what it is.

7. Sign up for the points program.
If your hotel has them, sign up for the frequent stay program or point program or guest program -- whatever they call it. You may be able to check in and check out more quickly, you may get a bonus upgrade or similar reward for joining, if something happens that's inconvenient in a very busy weekend for the hotels you can be more easily compensated, and if you go to multiple conventions over the years you can earn free rooms even when you sign up through the con.




Three Travel Sites to Bookmark

1. -- A good starting point for cheap flights. In the past I've used Orbitz, and as well. I don't travel frequently enough nor do I pay enough attention to the travel industry to know which sites are the best, but those are ones I've used.

I travel just enough to know that you should check every result from sites like those above against the airline in question's web site, to see if the latter is a better deal.

2. -- I've taken Amtrak to San Diego from LA and would recommend it for the laid-back traveler. The traffic on Interstate 5 on arrival and getaway days can be brutal (although that doesn't mean it will be; last year it was very nice). Amtrak may allow some leeway on which train to take on your travel days, so if you have a ticket on Sunday and suddenly want to sleep in or do a late lunch with a friend you didn't even know was there until 10 PM Saturday night, you can go on a train later that day -- don't take my word on that without confirmation, though.

Anything over six hours on Amtrak can be shaky in terms of comfort and is almost guaranteed to be a bust in terms of timeliness, so I would not recommend the trip from the Bay Area, Portland, Seattle, or any point due East. The Bay Area trip might work if you're on a super loose schedule, but even then you're likely to step off the train back home cranky, exhausted and in desperate need of a shower.

3. San Diego Transit -- If you're driving into town, this is a good place to map out the transit stations where you can leave your wheels and train the rest of the way. (I used to use the one to the east of Petco Park.) It's also the place to find out how to use public transit to get to Tijuana (as I recall, the trolley to Tijuana is $3 or $4 for the round trip).


Five Things to Prepare Well In Advance

1. Business cards
I never give out more than 15 or 20, but there's a certain class of folks that are pretty adamant about preparing for future contacts through a card exchange. Plus this makes me feel like my dad, although his business cards didn't have cartoon versions of himself on them. Remember to put all relevant information on your card.

2. Any art to give out
If I'm taking a mini-comic to give away or trade, I try to prepare it well in advance so it doesn't feel like yet another con expense. This is frequently impossible, I know. I would suggest getting it done in advance, because time to hit a kinko's to finish something like this us is pretty rare at a show like San Diego's.

3. Any art by which to get jobs or published
I'll put a little section with links to portfolio review advice below, but in general if you're taking a proposal to show publishers or to pitch to publishers or to give to reviewers, the one thing my friends seem to regret most is not bringing enough copies of the proposal or ashcan or whatever form it's in. Plus be prepared to re-send it when you get home, because people lose things.

4. Cash, both on your person and in your bank
Make sure you do the basic travel thing of making sure you have enough money around or in the right accounts to cover your trip and emergencies. One year I went down to San Diego with a single debit card tied to an account that had been closed without my knowing it. That was so not a good weekend. Also, CCI costs a lot: there's travel, there's a couple of $15 cab rides in there, most likely, there's food, there's hotel rooms that can be a lot of money at night. Make sure you budget for the show far in advance. You don't want to have the stress of stretching a dollar down there when you're busy if you can help it.

5. Things to Sell
Again, the only time I hear regrets is when people don't bring enough to sell and are out of stuff by Friday morning or whatever.

Here's a related piece of advice you might want to consider. If you're counting on a publisher to bring your books in order to facilitate your signing or selling them, you might want to double-check with them to make sure this is being done. They're busy getting ready for the show, too, and it's easy for them to forget that extra box with your book, particularly if you're not a big artist for that publisher.


Five Things To Think About Packing

1. Drugs -- Aspirin or similar pain relief can be a blessing.

2. Germ protection -- Hand lotion or wipes to keep your germ exposure down are nice to have if that's a concern for you. A few people have told me they use immunity boosters like Airborne in the days leading up to San Diego and right on through the week. This seems to me a great idea.

3. Watch/Phone -- I know this makes me sound like Jeremiah Johnson, but I don't carry a phone anymore nor do I wear a watch, so I borrow them both for the convention. You'll want to know what time it is and have a way to stay in contact with your friends old and new.

4. Postage Supplies -- Don't want to carry a suitcase loaded down with books? Mail stuff back. Buy a cardboard tube; stuff it with tape, a sharpie and a couple of big envelopes; stick it in your luggage. There is a post office convenient to the Broadway-area hotels right next to the Westin Horton Plaza lobby; it's open on Saturday. There are also some mailing services at the convention itself, although I can't personally vouch for them.

5. Light Jacket -- It can get a little chilly at night in San Diego, and some of the most commonly utilized nighttime social spaces at CCI are beaches, courtyards and decks. Don't get caught being that cold person that everyone feels sorry for. A sturdy long-sleeve shirt will do the trick for most people.



Five Things to Tell People On the Airplane

1. "It's a gathering of tribes. Strange, nerdy tribes."
2. "Rumor is they've discovered some sort of comics in Japan."
3. "I'm one Burl Ives and two of the nymphos away from completing my collection of Sam Fuller action figures."
4. "Iron Man? Based on my dad."
5. "Ironically, as a kid I spent my summers playing golf and drinking martinis."





Seven Quick Notes About San Diego's Transit Options

1. Walking is good. If your hotel is downtown, from Broadway to Harborview particularly, you'll probably be doing a lot of walking.

2. No one ever smiles on the trains pictured above, and most cartoonists and industry folk I know avoid them like the plague. I've never had a problem on one and found them a convenient way to go from parking garage to convention center. They don't exactly run on a tight schedule, though.

3. Like many mid-sized cities, San Diego boasts a small downtown perfect for jumping in and out of taxis, so consider doing so at those moments when a walk seems daunting or problematic. The late nights aren't scary in downtown San Diego, but it's still a city and that means you can get in trouble stumbling around at 2 AM. I don't think I've ever spent more than $6 on a cab ride not to the airport. To go outside of downtown, you're talking more the $15-25 range. Think $15-ish from the downtown hotels to the airport.

4. It's probably worth mentioning that in terms of getting home from many places until sort-of late (as opposed to really late) there's always the option of the convention buses. And of course, this is an option during the day, too. The convention has buses that run all day and into the night on various circuits from hotels to convention center and back again. It's kind of like the city bus I used to take to the good arcade, but with more people in costume. Most folks I know take the buses if they're tipsy at night and it's early enough they're still running, if they leave the convention center tired and sore and don't want to walk back to their hotel, or even to the convention if they're at a hotel across Broadway serviced by the bus circuit. Check out this link to get to the bus schedule PDF, but it won't be up until closer to the show. Don't stress about it if you forget; you can pick it up when you get there.

5. Like in Las Vegas -- only without the excuse of being, you know, Las Vegas -- there are various places around town where cabs will simply not come and get you. I used to go to this skeevy but fantastic Mexican place in a horrible neighborhood and learned the hard way that it would be a bus trip back into downtown proper. I've heard other, similar horror stories. Try not to depend 100 percent on cabs.

6. If you have a car and put it in a garage, most of the city garages stay open really late into the night for con-goers. Please double-check how late. I remember being locked into a parking garage once, although the security guards in the adjacent building were nice enough to help me get out, after much pleading and weeping.

7. San Diego has pedicabs -- bicycles that can hold a driver and two passengers where otherwise an ice cream freezer might go -- but the only time I took one was in 1999 when a guy gave me a free, pity ride rather than see me pummeled to death by CBLDF-hired security. Some people really like pedicabs when they're exhausted, which also helps in that you're too tired to care how potentially goofy you look. Get a price beforehand -- that's important -- and also be sure to tip if you liked the service.


Four Web Sites to Bookmark For Use In the Weeks Leading Up to the Show

1. -- A well-maintained resource for checking out when things start and end and checking out the programming before you arrive.

2. -- Mark Evanier hypes his own panels at the show, which are generally excellent, old-school panels of the intimate, talk among friends variety. Mark also provides a lot of plain-speak advice about general con issues. Mark's skinnier this year so you can trust his advice that much more.

3. Virtual Guidebook to San Diego -- See the sights before your visit.

4. The Beat -- Heidi MacDonald is a longtime CCI attendee and will likely post about any big news story that might have an effect on the show.



Twelve Places You Should Know Ahead of Time To Have a Basic Lay of the Land

1. The Convention Center
2. The Marriott
3. The Hyatt
4. Seaport Village
5. Rail stop for Little Italy
6. Horton Plaza
7. Ralph's Supermarket
8. Gaslamp Quarter
9. Towards Petco Park
10. Fed Ex/Kinko's (actually a block north, on C street)
11. US Post Offices
12. Omni Hotel




Five Tried and True Pieces of Con Advice That Bear Repeating

1. "Wear Comfortable Shoes"
The convention floor is huge. It's bigger than the room Steve Geppi keeps his duck comics. It's bigger than that soundstage where they filmed the emperor's arrival in Return of the Jedi. It's sit down and make you cry big. It's make strange excuses not to walk the whole thing more than once big. Wear nothing that will harm you, weigh you down, or make you sweat more than anyone near you would like. But most of all, do no more harm than is necessary to your feet.

2. "The Convention Center Food is Expensive and Bad"
This has been true of every convention at every convention center everywhere in the world since 1952, and remains true at CCI. No need to apologize if you like the food, but don't act surprised if you don't.

3. "Get in Shape for The Con"
Yes if it's to drop five pounds in anticipation of squeezing into your Lucy from Elfen Lied costume. No if you need to get in better shape simply to survive a few days of walking around tracking down back issues of Werewolf By Night. I know how you feel, I'm quite large myself, but if you honestly need to get in shape just to pursue some attentive loitering for four days and five nights, please consider staying at home and spending your con money on a YMCA membership and personal trainer. We want you at all the cons yet to come, not just this year's show.

4. "Please Don't Smell Bad"
Be considerate enough to work hard at being presentable, even when it's difficult to be at your freshest. Don't worry too much about not being post-shower, ready-for-cotillion fresh -- it's summer, it's a big show and there's a lot of walking. It's really only the people that don't seem to care a lick, that have visible stink lines coming from them, that make others mad.

5. "It's Not Your Basement"
Be friendly and courteous and open to new experiences and you will probably see some amazing sights, meet lots of nice people, chat with a few art heroes and even get in a good dose of informal networking. People are there to meet and be met. As is the case with summer camp and jury duty, people make convention insta-buddies all the time, and sometimes they develop into enduring friendships. On the other hand, snort loudly, muscle into conversations and fire off abrasive commentary in the faces of people you don't know, and you will probably be hired by Diamond. Ha ha, I'm just kidding. You will have your choice of comics-related jobs.


Six Things to Take to the Show Each Day

1. Lunch
Consider packing a lunch or large snack in case you end up wanting to do things in the Convention Center that make it hard to leave for a sit-down meal. You can get a lunch ahead of time at places like Ralph's, Redfield's at the Hyatt, or at the Westgate Hotel.

If you're meeting someone for dinner that's working at the show, or if you yourself are working, dinner will probably be later than you think because people at the show usually don't get out until 7 PM. If you pop out for a burger at noon your lunch won't go to waste; it can be called into duty as a 3 PM snack or a 5 PM blood-sugar boost to a friend that has that wild look in her eye. For a place to eat your packed lunch, the convention center has a lot of outdoor balcony space accessible from its second floor with nice views of the surrounding area.

2. Cash Money
Don't get caught cash-short and have to stand in The Line of Compulsive Nostalgia Indulgence in the convention center lobby. The nearby hotel ATMs can be a better bet speedwise, but unreliable, particularly on the weekends. I generally take two credit cards, approximately $150 in cash and a couple of checks to the convention center each day, although everyone's needs are different. I also carry about $200 in $3 bills with Prez Rickard's face on them, but only Chris Pitzer takes those.

A convenient way to meet your cash needs is to get cash back on a purchase at the grocery store -- say bottled water -- on the way over to the show. Or hit your own hotel's ATM as you head out the door. Credit Cards are pretty widely accepted, but don't count on every exhibitor being able to take them.

Also, please don't mug me.

3. A Backpack or Carry Bag
Over-sized giveaway bags have been popular promotional items the last two years, although you can't always count on that kind of thing being made available and may want to take your own. Bags and backpacks are also fun for knocking over other people's children "by accident." Don't leave your bag in a room while you go pee, because it may be stolen. Trust me on this.

4. Water
It's easy to refill your bottle at the con's water bottle.

5. Business Cards and/or Handouts
If you brought things to distribute, don't forget them to take them to the convention center!

6. Pen and something to write on
This is a magic spell deal where if you don't have them you will want them, but if you do have them on you you will never use them. It's your choice which is more frustrating.


Five Con Registration Tips

1. If you can get an exhibitor to register you, you won't have to wait in line and can simply obtain your badge from them rather than at the registration desks.

2. If you qualify as both a professional and a media person, the media line is shorter than the professional line. Plus there's a press room handy if you want to interview someone or simply stare at a roomful of bizarre celebrities.

3. Although things improved greatly last year, the professional line is still more bearable on off-hours and days. I've registered on late Friday mornings without any line whatsoever.

4. I don't even know what to say about that generally monstrous attendee line. Good luck with that. I'd suggest coming at an off time but that might be risky, too. It's amazing how quickly they process the crowds, but holy crap that line is long.

5. Badge Skills! If you don't want people to keep staring at your chest or mumble "Yeah, yeah" when you ask them questions because they have no idea you're their buddy Paul from the Bendis Board, don't give them the excuse of a lanyard that flips around. Display that badge and display it proudly, that's what I say. After eight hours in the visual-overload nightmare that is the CCI convention floor, I wouldn't recognize Mr. T without seeing his name to be sure. Keep those badges forward!


Eight Notes on Parking a Car at the Show

1. Parking is a bear. A big bear with sharp teeth and a bad attitude, hopped up on powdered No-Doz. Mark Evanier jokes that if you want to find a parking space, then leave right now. That's a lie: Mark isn't joking. Do whatever you can to avoid it. There are stories of people who drive down from LA, can't find a space, and drive back to LA.

2. If you're going to park at a hotel, count on spending $20-$25 a day.

3. Make sure you have the right to take your car out and bring it back without extra charge before you do so.

4. Many people I know decide that having a car simply means sucking it up and going in earlier than they might have gone were they not with car, in order to find a parking space in close proximity to the convention center. Others park at garages near transit stations, or downtown, and then walk/train/cab over.

5. When I used to drive a car to the show, the parking garage at the 12th and Imperial station (east on Broadway to 12th, turn right) was my friend for a lot of reasons. One, it was one stop away on the trolley line. Two, at the time nobody used it . Three, despite the parking garages being open really late, when this one was full it was in a neighborhood where at least on the weekend you could find parking nearby on the street. I have absolutely no idea if this is still true. I kind of doubt it.

6. You might go in even earlier the first day to at least scope things out.

7. Don't be shy about parking far enough away there's a short walk, convention bus trip or trolley hop involved.

8. If it makes you feel better while suffering the hassle of having wheels, your carless friends aren't able to pop out to Hodad's for a burger. If you have a car at the show, make use of it by extending your dining and social options.




Three Things About Approaching Famous People; You Will See Famous People

1. Walk up, offer firm handshake and smile. "Hi, [honorific] [last name]. My name is [your actual name, or, if you can't remember it, "Steve Lieber"]. I'm a great fan of your work in [comic, show or movie]. Can I help you [or if the person is with someone, "you folks"] find something?"

2. If someone is approachable, nine times out of ten it's because they're lost or confused by the assault of product. And if they're not approachable, leave 'em alone, you creep.

3. Please don't follow famous people around, stopping as they do, blocking everyone else's foot traffic. Because I will hate you.


Five Things to Make Time For at the Show

1. The Eisner Awards (Friday Night) -- You know that speech by Wallace Shawn in Heaven Help Us? The Eisners is like that, but three hours long. If you work in comic books, you should go at least once just to see it. Be warned that attendance by pros seems to have gone up in recent years, so you can't count on a table up front with the nominees just by showing up the way you could ten years ago, when the Fantagraphics table consisted of me, Rich Johnston and I think the drummer from Foghat. Another reason to go is there's usually a smallish cocktail party afterwards that's useful for seeing people you might not run into otherwise.

2. The Masquerade (Saturday Night) -- Showtime at the Geekpollo. This is another amazing thing to watch, if only once, although you may get depressed when you realize the participants are probably having way more fun in those few moments than you had the entire weekend. This is packed, and there's a line, so count on investing the evening.

3. Go to a Panel -- A good rule of thumb is that if you can't find something in the programming that specifically interests you, go to anything featuring Sergio Aragones.

4. Shop the Convention Floor -- What's easily available at Comic-Con seems to ebb and flow. This decade CCI has become a great place to buy original art, cheaper 1970s comics, and, as of 2004, boutique toys. Keep an eye out for convention-only mini-comics or similar, con-only offerings. I believe in shopping early and gawking late -- there are a few people that cut prices on Sunday to lighten the return load home, but not as many as you'd think, not with a Chicago show in a couple of weeks.

5. Walk Artists' Alley -- This is the part of the convention consisting of rows of tables set up with artist after artist behind them. Somewhere in the scores of people is someone you didn't know was still alive and someone whose work you've just started enjoying. I guarantee this.



Four Types of Comics Panels to Consider Attending

1. Panels With That Year's Featured Non-North American Cartoonist(s) -- You'll probably get to see a slide show of pretty art, and the person/people likely won't be back. I've seen artists like Lorenzo Mattotti, David B., Permalink

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