In an effort to assist you as you plan towards attending Comic-Con, I have compiled this handy list of tips to help you prepare for the big event. (This is an updated version of my articles “A NiceGirl’s Guide To Packing and Preparing for Comic-Con” (2010) and “A NiceGirl’s Guide to Navigating Comic-Con” (2009).)
The annual convention known as the original Comic-Con (SDCC) is held annually each year in San Diego, California.
Originally it was created as a comic-book convention, but as of the last 10 years or so, it became increasingly known for offering a vast array of entertainment panels, screenings, autograph signings and other exclusive events for all facets of the entertainment industry – ranging from film to television shows to computer games to comics and other genre-related books to memorabilia.
This year it is scheduled for July 12th – July 15th (with a special Preview Night on Wednesday, July 11th). The conventions outer doors typically open at 7:00 a.m., and the interior doors to the exhibit hall and individual panel rooms tend to be opened to the public after 9:30 a.m.
Hosted at the San Diego Convention Center, right along the beachfront and nestled amongst the famous Gaslamp District, the convention has expanded beyond the convention itself and into nearby hotel conference rooms and even into the streets themselves. Thus, any available space gets caught up in the Comic-Con frenzy. So don’t be surprised to find that the one panel or event that you are looking forward to is not even held in the convention center. Pay close attention to listings for venues and locations.
Tickets to attend Comic-Con sold out months ago in record time. So do not plan on attending unless you have already secured one of the elusive day-passes or 4-day passes. (In addition, be wary of anyone offering to sell any passes as Comic-Con has instituted new security measures this year to ensure that passes and admittance badges are not simply resold at exorbitant prices.)
NOTE: This cannot be emphasized enough: once you obtain your admittance badge at the convention center, do not lose it. It can be nearly impossible to replace.
Whether by plane, train or automobile, it can be tricky to get to Comic-Con simply due to the sheer number of people attending the event. With 125,000 attendees (per day), the roadways and freeways can become congested very quickly. The 3-mile distance from the airport to the convention center can feel very long if you do not allow for sufficient time in your travel itinerary.
The same can be said for travel to and from your hotel – depending on the distance and times of day you plan on coming and going from the convention center. While Comic-Con does provide bus shuttles throughout each day from hotels within the 3-mile radius, buses can get stuck in traffic too. So if you can walk to and from the convention center, it is highly recommended.
Another alternate travel method are the local trolleys, which do run regularly and can be quicker than the bus shuttles and are a great way to get into downtown San Diego if your hotel is beyond the 3 mile radius for the bus shuttles.
If you’re planning on driving and parking at the convention center or a nearby parking lot, make sure you prepaid and reserved your parking space before arriving in San Diego. Parking lots do sell out and reserving ahead of time at least ensures you can park your car after struggling through all that traffic.
Comic-Con is not cheap. The cost of airfare, gas, train tickets, hotel expenses, food costs, supplies, collectibles and memorabilia can make the entire experience rather pricey. Be sure to bring enough CASH with you as many of the individual vendors selling merchandise in the exhibit hall do not accept credit cards, nor do some of the autograph signings. Plus, the ATM machines in the convention center and surrounding areas do run out of money each day. So bringing cash is advisable.
It is also a good idea to carry smaller denominations, like $1, $5 and $10 bills as it will make transactions faster. It’s also a good idea for when you are tipping the luggage bellhops and others who assist you during your stay. (Don’t be a “Grinch” and don’t bother to tip just because you failed to get cash in bills smaller than a $20 bill.)
Comic-Con is not just a feast for the eyes. It is also a great place to acquire lots of stuff – whether it is t-shirts, hats, books, magazines, games, collectibles, autographs, posters, or other exclusive merchandise. Accordingly, you will not only need a carrying bag for the things you are bringing each day (water, medical aids, cellphone, rechargers, food, sunscreen), you will need a place to store all the “loot” you acquire. As fun as the giveaway bags are that Comic-Con and various vendors provide, they are rarely strong enough or large enough to hold everything. Plus, you would hate to find that the cool collectible bag you just acquired got a huge hole in and you lost the one item that you had search for diligently, or which you cannot replace. (Note: Roller bags with wheels are not allowed in the convention center. Leave those in your hotel room.)
As much as we hate to acknowledge it, Comic-Con not only attracts fans and people wanting to have a good time, it also attracts criminals and “opportunists.” So whether it is your money, your camera/laptop/iPad, or collectibles, be sure to keep a watchful eye on your belongings and your surroundings. A bag that is left open or unattended can be easy prey for the quick hands of a pickpocket thief. Likewise, do not venture out alone into areas where you could be a target for someone looking to mug you or alleviate your burden of all the cool stuff you are carrying.
Comic-Con is a grueling event. It’s long hours and in close proximity with a lot of people. So it is advisable to remember to bring with you anything that will make you feel more comfortable during the duration of the event, such as band-aids and extra socks for blistered feet, Advil/Tylenol for headaches, allergy medication, stomach ant-acids, and other prescription medication you may need. Unfortunately, these are probably things you need to carry with you each and every day as your hotel will be too far away to get to if you need any of these items and they are in scarce supply or no where to be found around the convention center itself.
San Diego is a beautiful city. When it is sunny, it is glorious. But it is also prone to weather extremes. One day it can be 105 degrees and blisteringly hot in the shade. Another day it can be 60 degrees with dense fog and moisture in the air. You will have to dress in layers and plan accordingly for weather fluctuations; especially since the convention center typically keeps the air conditioning running on high in the bigger panel rooms. It is not uncommon to hear people complaining that they wish they had brought a blanket, a jacket or something warmer to wear. But if you are stuck outside waiting for 1-2 hours in line for Hall H or Ballroom 20, you could also be subjected to the extreme heat and sunlight. So wear sunscreen and bring a hat for those occasions and pack a light jacket for when you are inside.
Because of all the opportunities to hob-nob with the celebrities, it is extremely tempting to wear clothing that attracts attention, but which can be miserable to wear for any length of time. Women particularly are the worst as they want to wear sandals, flip-flops, high-heeled shoes, as well as short skirts and dresses. While super cute, after a couple hours, such attire is not very practical. Extreme feet-fatigue can crush spirits and suck the life out of any great experience. If you must wear cute foot attire, bring a pair of comfortable shoes to change into later in the day. Likewise, if you are wearing something very revealing make sure to bring a change of clothes or a warm jacket once the sun goes down or if you find yourself turning into a popsicle inside the panel rooms.
Food related – bottled water, snacks (trail-mix, crackers, fruit bars, candy, gum), papertowels/napkins, plastic baggies for food and storing trash, handiwipes, breathmints
Medical related – band-aids, Advil/Tylenol, stomach ant-acids, allergy medication, prescription medication, extra socks, ear plugs/eye cover, sunscreen
Phone/camera/computer related – cellphone recharger, extra camera/computer/phone batteries and/or rechargers, extra memory cards & flash drives, power cords, adaptors
Miscellaneous – carrying bag, notepads, pens, sheet-protectors, CASH (money)
Clothing – hat, sunscreen, jacket, comfortable shoes
Comic-Con fortunately provides great area and convention center maps in the materials you will receive when you pick up your admittance badge. Rip-out or mark those pages as you will refer to the various hotel, street and convention room maps frequently during the duration of the event. Again, panels and events are no longer held strictly in the convention center anymore and you will to be able to locate the other conference rooms in nearby hotels and the elusive “swag room” – which is where you can redeem the tickets passed out in the panels and get some cool giveaway goodies from the movie and television studios. The maps are also helpful in finding autograph booths and exhibit booths where last minute autograph signings may be held. So whatever you do, don’t lose your maps!
Besides being aware of crowds, traffic, time-delays, unpredictable weather and temperatures, the most important thing to keep in mind is strategic scheduling. Comic-Con offers over 300 different panels and activities over the five days and it can be both hair-raising and mind-boggling to figure out how to navigate it all.
Thus, when the final Comic-Con schedule gets posted online sometime after the 1st of July, you will want to print-out each day and then start highlighting everything you are interested in attending or checking-out. Then you will have to distill down into a cheat sheet the panels you want to attend. It is only once you have compiled a cheat sheet that you will begin to see if there are any time conflicts or over-lapping panels. Note: there is a fine art to creating a cheat sheet into a manageable timeline of activities.
Back-up Plans: I do not recommend that you automatically cross-off or remove any conflicting panels, as it is always a good idea to have a back-up plan in case one or more of the panels you had planned to attend ends up being booked to capacity and you cannot get into the room and/or panel. So it is wise to have an A-Plan, a B-Plan and even a C-Plan so that you do not freak-out if a panel or guest gets canceled, or 10,000 people show up for a 1,000 seat room and you are stuck outside praying someone will leave so you can get in the room of your choice.
Allowing Extra Time: I also suggest that you allow extra time between panels so that you can navigate through the crowds from one panel to another and have time to (a) grab food, (b) use the restroom, or (c) wait in line to get in the room and find seats. If you do not allow built-in time in your schedule, you will be very agitated and frustrated to find that you are missing out on something you were dying to see. Time management is absolutely essential. So develop a flexible plan and keep an eye on it. Better yet, keep a printed copy of your cheat sheet (aka: itinerary) with you at all times.
Comic-Con is an easy place to lose people. The best way to keep in touch with others you are meeting or want to connect with is to have a handy cheatsheet of cellphone #’s for your contacts – or to have pre-programmed their numbers into your cellphone. (Though an actual list is helpful if someone steals you phone. It has happened.)
Finally, do not forget that Comic-Con is FUN. It will make you laugh and cry and dance with joy at all the amazing opportunities it provides. Try your best to be prepared and the entire experience will be a breeze. It will allow you to focus on all the fun stuff, and less on the tiresome aspects. So double-check your lists, make sure you are prepared and have a great time. See you at Comic-Con!
Other fun articles about what to expect at Comic-Con: