SDCC – 10 Tips & Links To Help You Survive San Diego Comic-Con 2011

It seems as though everyone […]

It seems as though everyone has some sort of SDCC Survival Guide and First Comics News should be no different. The Internet allows us to share information like never before, so it pays to be prepared.

Sure, you could just wing it and hope for the best (like I did my first time back in 2007), but a little bit of preparation beforehand can save you a lot of time and headaches later on.

That’s not to say your time should be rigidly planned (as it can be with CCI’s new MySCHED system) – you still need to allow for the wonderful spontaneity that Comic-Con brings – but if you want to make sure you don’t miss out on things or people you want to see, then you need to have a plan.

Otherwise, you’ll be distracted by every shiny stand, toy, cosplayer and comic book vying for your attention. Those things are fun, and I recommend giving yourself  ‘free time’ for this very purpose, just don’t let it be ‘all the time.’

There have been a number of great survival guides already published on other websites. I highly recommend Kat Kotler’s piece for Bleeding Cool, as well as this one at The Beat, and this post from the (unofficial) SDCC Comic-Con blog.

You’ll find a half-a-million others as well, so take heed and pay close attention to the things everyone mentions. If it’s worth repeating then it’s worth doing! As for my tips, here you go:

1. Don’t be afraid to deface your Comic-Con Guide book!

When you get your hands on the Guide book, feel free to dog-ear pages, highlight text, circle certain items, and tear out the map. I know some of you will consider this sacrilege and can’t bring yourself to do it, but if you’re really that anal then it’s usually not hard to get a second copy to preserve … I’ve done it myself! Going over the book with a fine-tooth comb is actually a lot of fun, and you’d be surprised how much info you can retain.

2. Take your own supplies along with you.

Think ahead and take along some of the stuff you’re going to need. Pre-pack some empty bags with boards, so you have somewhere safe to store your new comics. If you have one of those hard plastic covers that fit a few comics then even better! Maybe you’re not that precious about your books, but you never know which ones are worth keeping nice.

It also helps to take a poster tube or portfolio to store any posters, prints or original art you may get. At the very least, pack some rubber bands to make it easier!

You may also want some good sharpies or pens, just in case you spot someone on the fly or they don’t have a decent pen to sign with – take the initiative and have some of your own.

3. In addition to supplies, take your own food & drink.

This may sound cheap, but taking your own food and drink is useful for numerous reasons. Sure, fiscal concerns may be one of them (and I’d rather be spending my money on goodies or drinks at the bar), but it will also save you valuable time lining up and/or deciding where to go.

This also enables you to opt for healthier alternatives that will keep you energised on-the-go. This year I’ve chosen to take along citrus-flavoured Lipton Green Tea to keep me hydrated and fresh, plus some granola bars and raisins. If you eat a healthy breakfast and take along some snacks like that, then you’ll have a little spare cash to enjoy dinner after the show.

4. Carry (and use) your own personal hand sanitiser.

When I first went along, I didn’t think much of this. But the fact is you’ll be handling money, flicking through comics, and shaking hands that have already been through several other hands.

Aside from the fact that you’ll want to eat with those same hands, it’s also a courtesy to ‘freshen up’ between activities and people. I wouldn’t go so far as one creator who sanitised between everyone single person they saw (and made me feel like a leper), but doing it regularly recommended.

It’s also great if you’re about to meet someone and you get a bit nervous … It’s natural to sweat a little and get those clammy hands, but a little hand sanitiser will take more of it in no time!

5. Speaking of sweat, carry deodorant & a nice scent with you.

As I said, it’s natural to sweat. It could be nerves or the crowds or the hot San Diego weather, but it’s going to happen! The trick is to be prepared ahead of time. Get a good deodorant that will last, and then take it with you when you go.

It should go without saying that a shower is crucial before you start each day. Don’t do that horrible thing of trying to masking your B.O. with deodorant – it doesn’t work and creates an even funkier odour later on. As a bonus, carrying  a nice perfume or scent will work wonders if you don’t overdo it.

6. Be nice.

This one is common sense, yet it’s the most uncommon sense there seems to be! Just be nice to people no matter who they are – other fans, creators, film/TV stars, volunteers, staff – treat them all how you’d want to be treated and 99% of the time they’ll return the favour.

Besides, you’ll never know if the person you pissed off just now is someone you should know or someone you’ll want to know in the future. Karma will get you in the end, so play nice now and save yourself the trouble later.

The other thing to remember is that the creators and stars attending Comic-Con have all mentally prepared themselves for what’s going on. They usually know what to expect and will be in good spirits – happy to mix and mingle with the fans.

That doesn’t mean you should feel entitled or take advantage, but it does mean you might enjoy some nice conversations and perhaps a few special ‘moments’ if you’re not a total douchebag!

7. Talk to people in line.

This is part of being nice, but it has its own rewards. You’ll do a lot of lining up at Comic-Con, especially if you’re after certain things, so make it easier on yourself and chat with those around you.

You’re both there for the same purpose anyway, so you must have a world of things in common. You could meet your new best friend or, at worst, you’ll have made the time more bearable for all of you … and that’s a victory right there.

8. Keep your eyes peeled.

I don’t advocate bugging stars when you see them, but it’s nice to notice them moving around the convention floor. In past years, I’ve seen Zach Quinto browsing through the stalls, Thomas Jane (literally) running around for last-minute bargains on Sunday afternoon, and Joss Whedon sweeping by with Neil Patrick Harris in tow. I also managed to nab some photos with the cast of Eureka, but you have to be careful how you approach people.

Being observant might also lead to picking up some unexpected bounty simply by being in the right place at the right time. There is a plethora of free swag floating around the Convention Centre, and some of it is pretty damn cool, so stay alert and you might come away with something special.

9. Don’t bother with the big panels – opt for the smaller ones instead.

I know not everyone will listen to me here (or agree), but I’d suggest skipping all the big panels. If it’s in Hall H or Ballroom 20 then give it a miss unless your an absolute die-hard fan who can’t live without a glimpse of [insert name here].

I did Hall H in my first year and fried like an onion out in the Californian sun. This reminds me that you should also carry sunblock with you at all times – especially now there’s more events happening outside and around the Convention Centre.

When I did get in to Hall H, I was sitting miles away from the stage and could only just make out the dots that were Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly. I’d do almost anything to see Jennifer Connelly up-close and in-person, but this simply wasn’t worthwhile.

Head along to some of the smaller, single-room panels instead and enjoy the more intimate atmosphere. You’ll get a good seat and the room usually has a much better ambience – especially since the panellists will glad for everyone single person who turns up. Who knows, you might get some cool limited swag here as well?

10. And again … Be nice.

I know I said this before, and many of my points come back to this simple fact, but it really is the key to a great convention. I don’t mean being fake – that never works and people hate it – but being genuine and nice will get you a long way.

I make a point of trying to be nicer each year, and it helps both me and everyone feel more at ease. Take the opportunity to step out of your shell a little – talk to some new people, make some new friends, visit some of the folks in the small press aisles and comment on their work – you’ll be better for it.

Most of all, have a great time and enjoy the wonder of San Diego Comic-Con! Maybe I’ll see you there …

About Chris Thompson

Chris Thompson is an internationally-recognised comics journalist, podcaster, retailer and speaker who has appeared at conventions across three continents. You can hear him on The Orbiting Pod and Pop Culture Hound podcasts; see his work on First Comics News, Bleeding Cool and various other sites; and follow him on Twitter @popculturehound.