I posted this over at my travel blog earlier in the year but thought I’d share it here too.
I’m a member of a few San Deigo Comic Con Facebook groups and I put the word out that I was looking for some tips in order to write up a blog post that might help out other first timers like myself. What I got was an awesome list! Brian Stempien is President of Leftyfilms and provided me with the great advice you’ll find below.
Bryy’s Guide to SDCC
Wear solid shoes
The Convention Center is huge and you will more than likely get stepped on once or a million times. I turned my head and almost ended up biting a girl’s left boob at SDCC 2008. You will get “walking fatigue”, and getting back out into the lobby will be hell. Be comfortable.
You’re going to get dehydrated, and many of the panels (mainly Hall H and Ballroom 20) are rife with the stench of humanity.
Arrive EARLY the first day
The lines to get passes are huge-mongous every single day, up until the very last hour on Saturday. Starting with SDCC 2008, I had to wait in line for a professional badge for the first time ever. It’s also insanely hot in San Diego during July, and you don’t want to be stuck all the way frick down by Hall B at 4pm. If you are coming for Preview Night (which is now just Day One), do not assume that this does not apply.
Schedule the hell out of your week
Panels do not go online until the last two weeks prior. I usually end up redoing my schedule five or six times. SDCC 2009 was nothing special, but the programming for SDCC 2008 was ludicrous. There were at least ten panels every hour that I wanted to attend. We’re not even talking Fluff Panels, either; we’re talking the Big Dogs. Due to the crazy atmosphere of SDCC, you’ll want to make sure you have a plan. A lot of the times, it will change when you are there, so be prepared.
Once again – as I will iterate many times, I am sure – SDCC’s crowds will take the wind out of you (no, literally). Knowing when to quit is key.
The Gaslamp, San Diego’s historic downtown district, has a ton of great food and a lot of entertainment. The Strip Club (not to be confused with the plethora of actual strip clubs in the harbor district, many harboring their own SDCC discounts) is a steakhouse that you need to experience at least once in your life. Live music, a rowdy but non-threatening atmosphere, and great eats. Another fan favorite is Rockin’ Baja Lobster, which offers spiced seafood. Both of these are very expensive, though. Subway, up by the Marriott Gaslamp, is cheap, but due to SDCC’s recent population boom, it has been seeing huge lines the past few years. If you don’t mind walking a distance, Seaport Village has less extravagant eats for a bit more decent prices. Great bacon burgers. TGI Fridays and The Yardhouse are also further away, but are also faves for post-day parties. You’ll even find that some Gaslamp eateries have been transformed into PR Moves, the most notable being SyFy’s Eureka’s Dream Café.
Budget the dealer’s hall
Look on the SDCC page the day that Exclusives come out and see if you want any. They will go fast. You will also find things you need but didn’t know you needed. I got a beautiful Cthulhu statue one year, $80. Expect to go overbudget, and strategize accordingly.
Forget about Hall H unless you enjoy camping
The year that they converted Hall H into a panel room, I was floored. There was nothing online about such a remodeling. It just Happened. Anyhow, forget about Hall H. There will always be a huge line spanning ten-plus blocks (seriously, last year it went all the way to the new Hilton on the wharf), and it will always be populated by fans much more diehard than you. Hall H is YouTube’d by most major blogs, anyway.
Get in line early
The second floor lines are killer. Ballroom 20 is better than they are. This is almost entirely due to the fact that you have a bunch of rooms that are next to each other in an amazingly, mindfrakkingly narrow hallway. The need to get in lines early for even the smallest of panels has become a concern ever since the population boom.
Don’t be afraid to blow off panels
If you can’t get in, you can’t get in. If you are having a pleasant conversation, have a pleasant conversation. Ultimately, your schedule is going to screw up big time (unless you are press like me) at least twice a day for so many reasons. This is not the end of the world, and it is not the point of conventions.
Go to a panel you wouldn’t normally
Whether because it’s with a friend that is only down for Friday, or you want to expand your view, going to a panel for something you either know very little about or nothing at all is quite liberating. At WonderCon and SDCC, I usually pick out at least two panels that I would normally just look over. A huge opportunity for this is with the “Spotlight” panels that host indie artists that nobody cares about because they are not DC/Marvel.
Don’t simply walk into DC/Marvel panels
I did this once at WonderCon 2008, and now my Steam username is The Goddamn Tiny Titans. Google it, I got into a few blogs. It was also how I met Bob Wayne, DC’s VP of sales. But seriously, they really take offense to stuff like this.
Interact with people. You’ll meet so many interest folk at SDCC, whether it be just for one day or for a lifetime. Some of my best friends were met at cons. Don’t be afraid to approach professionals, either; SDCC is a great place to talk to writers/directors/actors in a friendly environment. Heck, you may even end up with a connection or two, personal or otherwise. I love SDCC and WonderCon specifically because I can schmooze with all of my friends in the industry all in one gigantic place. The good folks in Artist’s Alley are all jovial and craving interaction. Just stay out of Porn Alley. You’ll know what I mean when you get there.
Figure out if you have any friends with extra guest/pro/press passes
Getting in to SDCC for free is better than paying the what-is-now $100 price tag for all four days. Getting in for free is just plain awesome no matter how many days you attend.
Use Points whenever and wherever possible
If you can book a hotel using AMEX/Interval/Marriott/ect. Points saved up over the year, do so. It’s how I’m about to stay at the Marriott Gaslamp again, and not out in Chula Vista like last year.
Build your budget around SDCC
Unless you make a decent wage, SDCC is a huge expense. Gas, airfare, food, toys, all of it needs to be thought of as not just a vacation but as a battleplan. For myself, I have to take SDCC into consideration year-round. If you come to Preview Night, scope out what you want for the rest of the week. That’s what I do.
Build your work schedule around SDC
You need to know if you have time off, and for what days. If you want to go all four days plus Preview Night, that’s a hefty thing to consider if you work a nine-to-five job, and taking out those vacation days will have an impact.
Do not wait for SDCC Hotel Discounts
Don’t. Other people are not. It’s best to book a hotel by mid-February, with the extreme – but smart – measure being booking the next SDCC on the Sunday of the previous SDCC. I know that saving $100 seems like a huge deal, but the SDCC Hotel Discount comes online way too late into the game, and everything normally books up in a span of ten minutes. This is especially crucial if you are going to SDCC for business and yet you have not been deemed important enough to have a room booked for you. I also know that a lot of people enjoy staying at the Marina or the new Hilton, but the discounts for those are not really discounts, and they sometimes offer less services due to their SDCC HQ status. My friend was not able to use her points for the Marriott Marina, but was able to use them for the Gaslamp. By the way, the Gaslamp is a wonderful hotel. I endorse it fully. It’s not fancy, but it’s close and roomy.
Don’t be afraid to blow off Preview Night
Liz Cavalier once told me that she thought Preview Night should be reserved for press and pro only. This was in 2006, a full two years before the population boom. I know that it sounds cool and special, but Preview Night has essentially become Day One of SDCC with the recent addition of programming and a time extension. It’s suddenly become nothing special, and that is sad, because I remember when it felt like Preview Night was my own personal playtime on the con floor. I’m only 27, and I only started going to SDCC in 2004. If that doesn’t give you an indication of how quickly SDCC has grown, I don’t know what will.
Bring business cards and/or content but don’t expect anything
One of the worst kept secrets of SDCC is that the pitch sessions are worthless. You’re better off just giving people your stuff on at a one-on-one level. Don’t think that they will read it, however.
Investigate the city
San Diego is honestly a wonderful town. Right in the harbor district, you have the USS Midway, Coronado Island, water expeditions, museums, Seaport Village, Point Loma, SeaWorld, TWO Zoo’s, Balboa Park, and NBC. There is even a yearly migration of giant, killer, flying Squid. A lot of people come in from out of town and just don’t experience the city because SDCC is just so huge. Even more sad is they just go for the comic books.
This seems obvious, but it really isn’t. With an astronomical crowd and very few newbies at booths, it’s very easy to fall into the mindset of looking at SDCC as work. Just have fun, and let go.
There are Opening Night Fireworks, no matter what anyone else says
My friends all thought I was making stuff up until they saw the fireworks reflecting in the windows of adjacent buildings.