To those who have yet to make the voyage to San Diego Comic Con, you might have the idea that it is a Mecca for all-things ‘geek’. You would be half right as those who have gone in the last few years will tell you its actually more like Mecca at the top of Mt. Everest. And like the real Everest, you need to prepare yourself mentally and physically even if you have a lot of money to throw at the prospective expedition.
Trying to get a pass now is basically the digital version of the Hunger Games. You pray for the odds to be in your favor. For my first visit to SDCC, all i had to do was send a fax and mail a cheque. If you are lucky enough to buy a pass for yourself, here is how to prepare for your first foray into what is now the definitive pop culture event on the planet.
Firstly, you have to have an objective on what you want to do. If your primary focus to buy comics? Buy exclusives? Meet comics’ creators? Attend panels? Cosplay? Whatever your focus may be, you won't be able to do everything as not only is everything spread out. Some require getting there early just to get in line. Realistically, you will only be able to do a small combination of things per day. So prepare accordingly or you will face disappointment if you do not follow a planned time-table.
The latest statistics peg attendees at 150,000 and up to 50,000 exhibitors/event staff/security/etc.. So there will be a ton of people there. The sheer amount of people is your only real hurdle at SDCC, you literally have to get in line for most things, even comic creators’ signings. They cut off the line at a certain limit or time so there is no guarantee of getting in a line even before the event starts.
So if you're not willing to go through a sea of sweaty humans, never-ending lines that snake around the shuttle, that is more like a human cattle car, from your overpriced hotel to the convention center, perhaps going to SDCC is not for you. However, if you are mentally prepared to undertake the ubiquitous waiting and suffering that you will surely encounter, I promise you will come out of the experience alive and happy. That is, with a little help from me and years of SDCC experience under my proverbial belt.
Wear comfortable walking shoes as you will be walking A LOT. I mean, it will be a minimum of a few kilometers on average per day. The main floor stretches about 6 city square blocks and you would expect to be walking up and down, and between booths. So before you know it, your legs will be as tender as veal at the end of each day. You would also be standing a lot even if you don't walk far, as you would probably be in line for something or other.
You would probably end up buying something even though you might initially don’t have the intention to do so. 10 out of 10 people that I have brought along to SDCC have done this within the first day. So here are a few tips. Buy what you need first! In all likelihood, you will not have a drop-off point to dump your purchases, so you would have to accumulate your purchases throughout the entire day. Its not only the weight you have to consider, as most items you purchase will be of the fragile variety. They don't allow bags with wheels onto the floor as its considered a fire hazard and you will be denied entry if you try to bring one in. Try to limit your purchases to what you actually need if you don't want to encumber yourself.
Needless to say any food sold in any convention hall is over-priced. There are plenty of supermarkets that sell ingredients to craft a sandwich in the comfort of your hotel room, so i suggest you pack lunch before you head off to the convention. Bring along an empty water bottle as there are water coolers strewn along the entrance corridors. You may also forget to eat amidst the frenzy going around. So do eat something every few hours and drink plenty of water as you will burn a lot of calories and may get dehydrated pretty fast from all the walking around. You wouldn’t want to feel burnt out at 3pm and having the temper of a 5-year old with the temptation of wanting to crash on your hotel bed.
Nowadays, for exclusives the lines outside the convention center start as early at 3am with the ultra-early birds in the front even waiting overnight. Some even start lining up after the current day has ended. Basically its a lining up championship that would rival our country's top liner-uppers. Some lines are just to get a ticket to be able to line up for a certain booth for exclusives. Some lines are to go into certain panels like the infamous Hall 6 which has expanded its capacity from 5000 to 6500 making seats cramped together. If you have broad shoulders like me, prepare to trade dandruff with the guy next to you. Some lines are to get a wristband so you can come back the next day to line up. While all this might sound ludicrous, it has gotten to a point where it kinda works as there are so many people trying to get in or trying to buy that ‘exclusive item’.
So if you intend to go for something specific, be prepared spend at least half your day in lines. That includes certain more popular comic book artists. Sometimes, they show up only certain times of the day and you have to form a line before they arrive, other times, up to an hour before hand. If you seek the not-so-popular ones, you might have a easier time. But i will say this, if you go there purely for comics and you're not looking to buy a lot of merchandise other than back issues, you will have a much easier time than most visitors.
Bring cash in denominations under $100. Most exhibitors have a credit card Point-of-Sale system now thanks to mobile apps like Square, but considering the bank and exchange rates, cash is king.
There will be a few booths that only accept credit cards so its prudent to have a debit card at least as a contingency payment mode.
What I have shared here is only the tip of the iceberg and there is a whole lot more to cover. I will be holding a group Q&A session for anyone who is planning a trip and needing specific tips. For now I hope you get an idea of how much of a mad-house it is. However, once you have conquer the ‘mountain-top’, you could say that it’s definitely worth the effort.