That’s right. It’s the magical mid-point of July, a time counted down like a religious holiday. The Trekkies are loading their phasers, the countless stormtroopers of the 501st are shining up their helmets, and comic book, movie, TV and collectible junkies are cramming into airports all around the world. They’re all heading to one place: San Diego Comic-Con.
SDCC: what started out as a convention of less than 200 in 1970 has become the geek Mecca, the Oscars, the Hollywood of popular arts with a splash of Christmas. It is mighty. It is awesome. And it’s absolutely terrifying.
When I made my own pilgrimage to Comic-Con in 2010, there was no way to truly fathom the scale of what I would experience. Not only was the San Diego Convention Center a massive architectural behemoth at over 2 million gross square feet of space, but the convention had sold out quickly when tickets went on sale the prior year. When I arrived, I was one tiny geek girl in a sea of over 130,000 otakus, fanboys, cosplayers, gamers and…well, everyone else.
I’m pretty sure there were a few times I whispered “Hold me” to no one in particular.
SDCC can be a rough world to conquer, and looking back, there are a number of things I wish I had done differently. Here are a few tips to make your stay in balmy, beautiful, geek-filled San Diego memorable and a less painful.
- Know where you are: San Diego is a big, sprawling city. Don’t feel like you need to be right downtown in the middle of everything to have a good time. San Diego’s convenient trolley system allows one to get anywhere they want to quickly, efficiently and cheaply with day passes, and the hotels across the area can get much more affordable outside of the pop spots like the Gaslamp District. Also, beware California’s tricky weather; always dress in layers and carry sunscreen. Even if it’s outcast, you will burn in San Diego’s veiled demon sun. Trust me on this one.
- Backpack with the essentials: Nobody wants to carry a bunch of junk around on a day that is sure to involve a whole lot of walking, but there are a few items you may regret not having. These include but definitely aren’t limited to: a good water bottle, a pocket-size first aid kit, a decent zoom lens and extra media cards if you’re shutterbugging, medication and sunscreen. Put all of this into a good backpack, as satchels and carrier bags can be cuter but can cause strain on your shoulder. Carry cash – doing so keeps from over-spending in the exhibit hall and allows to keep track of your budget (note: BUDGET!). Keep in mind that ATM’s can be hard to find and out of the way.
- Pack smart: If flying with lay-overs through places like Newark, LaGuardia, Detroit or any other number of busy airports, going all carry-on may seem like a great idea. And it is, until you’re sitting in a hotel room the night before you’re heading home trying to figure out how you’re going to fit books, dvds, sweatshirts and all the stuff you arrived with into one suitcase. Go all carry-on and check an extra empty bag or suitcase. This way when you return you can pack all your clothes into one bag, precious souvenirs into the other and check whichever bag you are comfortable with letting your airline manhandle.
- Take care of yourself: You only get one body at Comic-Con. Well, you only get one body, period, but anyway... Make sure to stock up on easy snacks like dry fruits and nuts, and keep track of when you’re eating throughout the day. Drink plenty of water – we’re talking fresh water, here, people. Not just coffee and energy drinks. Dehydration is a quick, not-so-fun way to end a day. Also, remember these two tricks: vitamins and stretching. Every morning, take five minutes, stretch like you’re about to do a marathon (you are, actually). Pop a multivitamin and a Vitamin C pill. These will be your yellow sun against “con crud” kryptonite, as you’ll inevitably hear some guy say, “I think I’m coming down with something.” And, lastly: bathe. No one wants to be on a trolley with you smelling like you have burritos in your armpits. Please note: this is not a tip. It’s the law.
- Make it a group thing: Everything is better with a friend (awwww). But, no, seriously, there are a lot of benefits to going to SDCC with a small group. Not only is it vastly cheaper when you take into account transportation, hotels and food, it’s a lot more fun having someone to swap stories with in line, share facts with about stuff going on and to make you feel safer in the city at night. Pick people to go with that you’ll enjoy being around and are generally respectful and considerate. Don’t go with anyone that you think you may just smother with a pillow if you’re tired and cranky enough.
And if you do go with others…
- Don’t be clingy: There are a lot of different things to do at Comic-Con, many of which unfortunately overlap. That’s just the nature of the dragon that is the SDCC event schedule (more on that to follow). If one person in your group wants to do one thing and other people want to do something else, don’t try to force someone to sacrifice the awesome panel they have been waiting to see because you don’t want to be alone in line. Agree to disagree, and do what you want to do without taking it personally.
- Tackling the Dragon: This is a little term I use when describing the task of planning your days at Comic-Con. When you get that big, beautiful convention guide as you walk in, it’s easy to start making earmarks left and right, planning out every last minute to every day (and night). There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but you'll find out quickly that it will be impossible for you to go to a panel for 1:00 to 2:00 and then get into a talk for the Big Animated Movie of Next Summer Everyone Wants to See at 2:30. Unfortunately, this is due to the fact that there are about, oh, 1,000+ people with the same idea, with a 3 hour head start in line. Don't let this discourage you. Narrow down each day to 1-3 panels or events that you want to check out. Look at what else is going on in the room prior to what you want to see. If there’s going to be something less popular for a niche audience, you have the option of sitting through it and camping out, since they clear the rooms between events. And who knows? That less-than-amazing something might surprise you.
The ultimate secret to surviving the San Diego Comic-Con? There is absolutely no way you can ruin this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You’re at Comic-Con! In the eyes of geeks across the nation – across the world, across the galaxy – you’ve made it! Even if you do nothing but walk up and down the massive exhibit hall all weekend, I guarantee you will have a blast. If you follow none of the above tips, just keep this last one in mind, and you will have an unforgettable weekend.
But trust me on the sunscreen. And the bathing. Especially the bathing.