As tradition around these parts dictates, it’s time for a re-presentation of our annual Comic-Con advice column and survival guide. Heed my words, y’all.
That’s what the San Diego Comic-Con can start to feel like in recent years: out-and-out war. It’s you against 124,999 other folks, all of whom are trying to get to the same places and buy the same things that you are, and you wish they’d just get out of your damn way.
Stop. Take a breath.
Remember, Comic-Con is supposed to be fun. And it still can be, as long as you approach it from the proper perspective. Mark Evanier makes a good point about Comic-Con, that it’s gotten so big now it’s more like multiple conventions, and the key to having a good time is to make it into the convention you want to attend (and bear in mind, that means letting a few things go.) With that in mind, let’s revisit my advice from last year, for those of you who might be braving the show for the first time.
You’re supposed to be having a good time. Comic-Con is just too big anymore for anyone to see everything, so remember to just slow down, and really enjoy the things you are seeing. Live in the now and don’t be afraid to let some things go if you’re enjoying what you’re doing. Which brings us to Point the Second.
2. Try to keep a little perspective.
Remember that what seems like the most important thing in the world to see today is old news within a month. And also, let’s be honest — almost everything of note will eventually wind up on the Internet. So if you don’t get into, say, the BATMAN V. SUPERMAN panel, don’t worry about it. Anything they show in there you’re gonna see on YouTube or Ain’t It Cool by August. In fact, it might not even be worth waiting in that two-hour line to see, and that could be two hours you spend on something you might never see again, like an interview with a favorite writer or artist, or a captivating panel discussion. The movie stuff is transitory — that clip you see from a trailer will eventually be on the DVD you buy 18 months from now, and the time you waste in line to see it is gone forever. Case in point: a few years back I missed the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 panel, because I was having dinner with friends and enjoying the evening and I knew I’d never get that time back. And guess what: the entire panel was made available on the next MST3K DVD box set. Not much chance of me ever getting that dinner back if I had missed it. Life is short, kids. Sometimes you got to stick with the important stuff.
3. Be flexible.
It’s impossible to really predict what’s going to happen at the show from year to year in terms of crowds. If I were writing this four years ago, I’d be telling you, if at all possible, to avoid the show on Saturday, because of the insanely overcrowded floor in the Exhibit Hall. However, numerous retailers told me the following year that Saturday was their slowest day that year, because the folks who run Programming for the show had stacked everything really newsworthy on Saturday, and so consequently there were thousands of people upstairs and in the giant auditorium who never left their seats all day. The year after that, the Programming schedule was better balanced, but because of the upstairs crowds the year before, even more people decided to go “panel camping” for the day, so many of the lines were cut off, resulting in heavier crowds back down in the Exhibit Hall. So most definitely have yourself a plan, but don’t be afraid to alter it.
4. Think ahead.
You know what happens every night in San Diego during Comic-Con week? Eleventy thousand people hit the Gaslamp Quarter at the same time and try to get a table at a restaurant. If there are a couple places you really want to eat at, do yourself a favor and make reservations. Nothing’s better than enjoying a nice steak while you watch dozens of hungry Stormtroopers trudge by looking for dinner options. Last year, some people wrote in and asked me why I didn’t recommend my favorite places to eat. The answer? Because I’d like to be able to get reservations myself, thank you very much…
5. Don’t give in to the hype.
Those exclusive action figures you want? There will be enough to go around. And even if by some chance you miss out on one, again, within a matter of months you’ll see them on eBay for the same price they were going for at the show. (Except for ours, that is. We always sell out. Seriously.) Now, I’m not saying don’t wait in line for the items you want most, but maybe skip the two-hour-long line at the Hasbro booth on Friday and try the 20-minute wait on Sunday instead. Last year, I myself held off until Sunday to make my Hasbro purchases, and walked away with a mountain of stuff. They’ve got plenty. Chill.
6. For god’s sake, get some air.
I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone in years past, but you really owe it to yourself to get out of the Convention Center for a while. San Diego’s a beautiful town, and there’s so much to see, so trade the zoo of sweaty humanity for an actual Zoo, or at least get out and sit by the pool for an hour or so. And especially if you’re accompanied by a significant other who’s not really a fan and is accompanying you out of the goodness of his/her heart? (A status now known in the geek community as a “Dr. Girlfriend,” by the way.) Go take them to a nice restaurant on the other side of town and earn some good karma for yourself.
7. Go and check out Artist’s Alley.
Lots of folks skip this area every year, and they’re missing out. Not only is there fantastic artwork available for sale at surprisingly reasonable prices (and what better way to spend your money at Comic-Con than on original artwork?), but it’s just a great opportunity to meet some of the folks who draw some of your favorite comics you read all year long. Comics are the reason for the show, as much as the Hollywood folks would like you to forget it. Go celebrate them by shaking your favorite artist’s hand, or even better, putting some money into it and walking away with a beautiful piece of artwork.
8. Play against the clock.
Don’t even think about trying to get in when the place opens at 10. Give yourself a break and go in at 10:30, when you can stroll right in. Pack a snack in with you, and have your lunch at 2 p.m. This sounds like basic, dumbass advice, but you have no idea how much of a difference it can make when 100,000 people all decide to get lunch at noon.
9. The Red Line is your friend.
If you’re staying someplace that’s a little farther than comfortable walking distance from the Con (and judging by how fast rooms go nowadays, with most of San Diego quite literally booked within minutes, that’s most of you), check out how close you are to a Red Line trolley stop. A couple of years back, I discovered to my delight there was a station next door to my hotel, and my 12-block walk suddenly became a low-stress, $3 five-minute train ride. By Day 3 of the show, it was the best Comic-Con discovery ever.
10. Don’t go home.
At least not right away. If you’re not too pinched for cash and vacation days, I highly recommend staying an extra day after the show is over to decompress. It’s much easier to enjoy Sunday night knowing you’re not going to be fighting that traffic getting out of town, and a leisurely day by the pool or at the mall on Monday is the perfect antidote for the “Con fatigue/flu” that’s bound to hit you after four days (or for some of us poor bastards, seven) cooped up in the Convention Center.
For an insanely expansive guide to everything you need to know to survive and thrive in the Comic-Con experience, I highly recommend Tom Spurgeon’s excellent manifesto on the subject over at his Web site, The Comics Reporter.