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How to Comic-Con

Lisa Jonte Posted:
Columns Fair Game 0

San Diego Comic-Con is over for another year and I can look forward to twelve months blissfully free of half my compatriots complaining about being on the convention floor, and the other half ulcerating because they aren’t. Myself, I haven’t been to the Nerd Prom in years, and frankly, I don’t miss it. Not that it didn’t have its allure, but because when I went, I was working, not fan-girling. Believe me, attending SDCC and working SDCC are completely different experiences. (Also, working small press or web comics at what has become a comics-lite, pop-culture extravaganza tends to make one a little bitter. But I digress.)

Now, despite that well of Comic-Con antipathy bubbling in the cauldron of my cold, black heart, I do understand why so many people love it, dream of it, scrimp, save and plan for it every year. To that end, just this once, I’m using my powers (and experience) for good, to create a list of helpful tips to get you would-be attendees ready for next year.

1.    Get your room now.

Not kidding here, not even a little bit. Gone are the days when there were “hidden” places to stay and deals to be had. Those affordable nights spent at La Pensione in Little Italy are history. Once the herd found it, it was all over.

Find a hotel (or hostel) you think you’ll be able to afford and reserve it right now. Don’t panic, they won’t charge your credit card until your stay, and you can cancel (or even sell) your reservation until almost the last minute (24-48 hours before the day, depending.)

2.    Have a plan.

As with the above, it really helps to map it all out as much as you can beforehand. Make a list of things you’d like to see, people you’d like to meet and panels you’d like to attend. Even if you don’t know for sure what guests and panels they’re going to have yet, use this year’s schedule as a template and fill in the blanks later.

This will cut down on a lot of stressful indecision when the enormity of the con smacks you upside the head that first day. Think of it this way, you’re invading a country, the country of Comic-Con. Plan your strategy, marshal your resources and then you can, with confidence, lay seige.

3.    1, 2, 5

This is a rule I stole from a friend of mine, who, in turn, stole it from someone else, who stole it from god-knows-who, and so on. But it’s a common caution on the convention circuit, and it goes like this:

  • 1 Shower: You may not think a shower is totally necessary everyday, and in your regular life it may not be, but a convention of this size is nothing like your regular life. The crush of tens of thousands of people in the summer heat of San Diego quickly overwhelms the site’s ventilation system. Things get real familiar, real fast, even in the best of hygienic situations. Add some day-old B.O. to the mix and a fun afternoon can quickly go sour.
  • 2 Meals: Budget a set amount for meals, and don’t be tempted to blow that money on stuff from the dealer’s room. No matter how glorious that vinyl figure/first edition/replica weapon may be, it’s not going to keep you from passing out from low blood sugar. And your friends will be a lot less interested in having you around if you spend every meal making cow eyes at their nachos and sighing about how hungry you are. It’s not their job to rescue you from your own lack of impulse control, so keep your food money in one pocket and your swag money in another, then don’t cross the streams.
  • 5 Hours of Sleep: No matter how much fun it is, Comic-Con is also stressful and stress is exhausting. Lack of sleep can impair your judgment to the point where you start acting like a mean drunk. There is so much to see at the con that there is no way you could ever get to it all, no matter how much sleep you sacrifice in the effort. So don’t even try. And five hours isn’t optimal, it’s the BARE MINIMUM. You and everyone around you will have a much better time after some shut-eye.

ALL OF THESE THINGS. EVERY DAY. No hedging on this.

Read more of Joel’s convention adventures in: in The Five Days of SDCC

4.    Pace yourself.

Go ahead and pack your schedule, but be prepared to blow some of those items off. Also schedule in some non-negotiable down time. Remember, you’re spending all this money on travel, lodging, food, swag and maybe even cosplay, in order to have fun. Don’t treat it like a marathon. It would be a shame to spend all that time, money and effort only to make yourself miserable.

5.    Don’t be that jerk.

There are many ways to make an ass of yourself at a convention, especially one the size of the Federated States of Micronesia. There are a few that stand out however, and it behooves attendees to prepare accordingly:

  • The Cattle Call: Tempers, like the temperature, are often high at SDCC. There is no crowd control inside or outside the convention. People get jostled. Take a breath and remember why you’re there. There’s no need to go ballistic if you get shoved, and even less need to go ballistic if someone is angry that you shoved them. Acknowledge, apologize and move on.
  • The Cat Call: Cosplay is a huge deal at conventions. Fans of every stripe spend their hours and hourly wages crafting what they wear. They do it for fun, for the love of whatever it is that they love, be it Dr. Who or Superheroes or Where’s Waldo. They do it for themselves and to bond with friends and like-minded fans. What they don’t do it for is your approval. If you like a particular cosplay, say so politely and with respect. Ask before you snap that picture. Look, but DON’T TOUCH. If you don’t like a cosplay, (or, more to the point, how someone looks in their chosen cosplay) that’s your prerogative, but keep that bile to yourself. You are not the designated arbiter of anything. They’re taking all the risk here, financially and emotionally. The least you can do is not take pot-shots.
  • The Claim Jumper: As much as Comic-Con isn’t about comics these days, there are still plenty of small pressers and webcomics people to be found. They work hard and often at a loss to do what they love. Show a little respect for that dedication by not asking if their wares are for free, and by not boosting said wares anyway when informed that they are not. If you want freebie swag, go hit the Marvel booth, they have a budget for that sort of thing.

And while I’m at it, exhibitor space is expensive and hard won, especially in small press areas. Be respectful. Don’t use someone’s table as your personal lounging post. Plunk neither thy bags nor thy buttocks upon an exhibitor’s work space.


6.    Hope for much, expect little.

You may get the chance to show your portfolio to a Pro. It will be an exciting, nerve-racking, and maybe even terrifying dream come true. What it won’t be is the day you’re discovered and instantly made a star.

The same goes for getting that autograph from your celebrity crush. High hopes and feverish fantasies are great, but keep your expectations realistic. You’re going to have a great time and leave with tons of purchases, memories and maybe even some new friends, but you’re not going to become besties with the cast of Game of Thrones.

Well, there it is. That’s the least you’ll need to get you started on the road to attending Comic-Con (or any con, really) and enjoying it. I have more experience and, of course, more advice, but let’s save that for another column, shall we? I’ve already overstayed my word-count welcome for this week.

Until next time, may your escort missions be few and your drops plentiful.

Image attribution:

1. By Kristin Dos Santos from Los Angeles, California, United States [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Lisa Jonte

Lisa Jonte / Writer, editor, artist, parent. Currently reviewing games and writing the column, Fair Game at MMORPG.com. One time (print and web) comics creator, and former editor of the webcomic enclave GirlAMatic.com; now a secretive and hermit-like prose writer, (and not so secretive nor hermit-like blogger.)