There’s about sixty-odd posts out there promising that, behind the cut, you’ll find all the secrets you need to know to survive your time at Comic Con.
Survive. They make it sound like a day on the Serengeti or some kind of reality show. Fifteen thousand will go in! Only one will come out! (Hint: It probably won’t be Robert Pattinson.)
The secret isn’t in making it through the convention. It’s about coming out on the other side happy, content with your purchases and your panels, basking in the certainty that these were days and dollars well-spent. If you’d rather not come home exhausted, grumpy and disappointed, here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Plan and prioritize. Don’t show up to Comic Con with no idea what you’re going to do or where you need to be or you’ll find pretty quickly that you miss much more than you make. The official website has schedules up for every day of the convention, as well as a floor plan of the building. Take a little time to look over both and strategize. Know which panels are when and which ones you just can’t miss. If there are two or more at the same time, you’re just going to have to decide which you’re more desperate to attend and stick to it. Waffle at the last minute and chances are you won’t get into either.
2. Don’t be punctual – be early. Whether you want to attend one of the smaller panels or something that’s a massive hit, be there ahead of time. The smaller panels may be expecting fewer people, but they also have less room for those attending, and if you want a seat to that True Blood panel, you better plan to be in line for seat way in advance. In fact, if you want to see something with superstars from a hit show or film on the panel, be prepared to come so far in advance, you’re sitting through other panels you maybe don’t want to see so much. People will camp out for hours before Hall H and Ballroom 20 open their doors and they will stay planted in those seats all day. Showing up to a late panel an hour before it starts still might not get you in.
Really, though, some of those panels you didn’t want to see will surprise you. I sat through a Ben 10 Alien Force panel last year for a chance to see the Pushing Daisies cast and it turned out to be very entertaining. I still don’t watch the show, but it was a fun panel.
3. Bring a water bottle. You’re going to get thirsty and irritable, especially if you’re like me and you’re not a big fan of crowds. Having a water bottle with you takes care of one of these, at least, and I’d recommend bringing snacks if you’ve got room in your bag. Hell, bring a bigger bag. There’s no convention rule against it and they don’t have much in the way of food for sale (and what they do have is painfully overpriced). As for the water, there’s a fountain at the back of the bigger rooms, so you can just keep refilling your bottle for free.
4. Make a list, check it twice. Make sure you remember everything you need to attend the convention – and that includes getting through the doors. Write down what you need to bring with you and make sure you do not forget, whether it’s your ticket, your spreadsheet for what you’re seeing when, that photo you’re dying to get signed or the shoes you need for your costume.
5. Buy it now or buy it Sunday. If there’s an exclusive item you’re just dying to have, don’t think you’re going to come back and get it later. These crowds are huge and they’re all fans like you, dying to have the same precious toys and doodads you want. If you don’t get it, someone else will. If it’s not massively important to you, though? Wait until Sunday. Things are calmer and the vendors want to get rid of their wares as badly as you want to buy them. You might be able to bargain your way to a more agreeable price. Keep in mind, though, that a lot of them don’t accept credit; be ready to pony up the cash.
6. Bring a friend. If you’re planning on flying solo, this one’s a little late to change, but bear in mind for the future, it helps to go in pairs or groups. Someone’s gotta hold your seat when you desperately need the bathroom between panels, right? Speaking of which, first-timers, don’t panic: if you want to stay in the same hall but gotta go, gotta go right now, one of the volunteers at the back of the room will be able to give you a ticket that allows you to come right back in rather than waiting in line again. It’s having a good seat when you get back that you have to worry about.
7. Really think about what you’re going to wear. In fact, this goes for everyone, costumed or no: are you really going to be comfortable in that? It may be a big building but it’s still pretty close quarters and the air conditioning only goes so far. Don’t bog yourself down with too much to wear (or carry, for that matter; how much do you really need to bring?). Believe me, I will never again don long sleeves and full skirt to come as Susan Pevensie again. I mean, you might look amazing dressed up as one of the five hundred Stormtroopers who make the Con, but you’re going to melt in that thing and that helmet gets pretty unwieldy during panels. And to that guy last year dressed as a wolf, it really freaked me out when you were carrying your head under your arm.
8. Take advantage of the night life. The convention itself is totally awesome and the reason we’re all there, obviously, but the day doesn’t end when the panels do. There are a few places you can look up great parties going on at clubs and bars all across San Diego, some of which are free, a couple of which will even have some celebrity guests dropping by. Get out there and have fun! It’s all happening, from a rollerskating party hosted by the guys from Robot Chicken to a couple True Blood Happy Hours.
9. Don’t freak out. Be aware that everything is going to be crowded: lines for panels, lines to buy autographs, booths, walkways, everything. If you’re going with friends, make sure everyone has everyone else’s phone numbers and knows where to meet up, if you’re the kind of person whom crowds make anxious. Remember to be unafraid, too – not necessarily aggressive, I’m not saying knock anyone down to get to your favorite celeb or find that perfect seat. But you only get one shot at things – this year anyway. Take a gamble. Go for it. On the off chance you should bump into a celebrity, though – they have been known to wander the floor – try to remember they’re people, too. Really, really ridiculously good-looking people, but still people.
10. We’re all here for the same thing. I mean, not really, because Person X might be there for Twilight while I’m attending to be in the same room as Zach Levi, Yvonne Strahovski and Josh Schwartz, but you know what I mean. We’re fans and we’re going to celebrate the things we love. It’s a great time to meet other people who love the things you love and make new friends. Try to be at least polite in the process. There’s nothing like standing in front of a massive display for your favorite show while, across the hall, dozens of people flip through comics you love, and knowing you’re surrounded by people who get it.
Oh, and if you’re asking questions, make sure you read Nix’s post on the Five Questions Not to Ask at Comic Con. Learn the don’ts I’ve seen done every year and please don’t be that person we all hate.
See you in San Diego!