For four manic days in July, San Diego hosts the largest pop culture event of the year: Comic-Con. Unlike the massive game conventions like E3 and even PAX, Comic-Con isn’t just about video games – in fact, it’s almost hard to pin down exactly what the show is “focused” on, since it encompasses graphic novels, film, TV, web entertainment, games, art, anime and so, so much more. Like live episodes of X-Play and Attack of the Show!
But whether you’re on our way to San Diego as a gamer or just a pop culture fan, we’ve prepared a few survival tips for you. After all, nobody wants to come back from a con complaining that all they saw was the back of some dude’s head in line, and a few lame Slave Leia costumes. The first thing newcomers should be aware of is just how gargantuan SDCC is. Take the most crowded PAX (so far, that would be PAX East 2011, with 69,500 attendees), multiply that by two, and you’ll get a rough estimate. Lines are an adventure unto their own – and a topic we’ll get to shortly.
Of course, that also means there’s a ton of variety, and awesome stuff you won’t see anywhere else. Where else in the world can you go to a panel about diversity in comics, check out a Klingon Lifestyles presentation, attend a four-day low-budget filmmaking boot camp, or hear George R.R. Martin discuss “epic” storytelling, all in one weekend? Read on for your survival tips!
Your Game Plan
Meet the Comic-Con schedule. Make friends with it – study it, pick your favorites, name your plan-B’s and either use Comic-Con’s own MySCHED or your own app of choice to devise your schedule. This will probably take some time, so be sure to give yourself a good hour or two (or three!) to figure it all out. This is an excellent airplane activity, for the bored and the restless.
Take a good look at the available maps as well, including the Exhibit Hall directory, and print a copy for back up. You’ll find your way around quickly enough, but getting lost on day one is a huge bummer if it means missing out on a panel.
You’ll also need to pack appropriately, depending on your plans. If you have overnight lines in your future, you’ll want to bring something warm to wear (it gets cool overnight) and something soft to sleep on. If you’re really serious about this (basically, if you really, really want to get into one of the exclusive panels in Hall H or any special events, and you’re willing to sleep outside for the privilege), go to REI (or a preferred equivalent) and get one of their lightweight camp beds. Otherwise, pack for endurance – know that you’ll be in a crowded space, so bring light, comfy clothes and lots of deodorant. Your fellow show-goers will thank you. Some hand sanitizer is always a good idea (unless you want convention plague), and a second small bag for all of your inevitable swag will come in handy as well.
It’s always a good idea to have a water bottle and some snacks handy, as you’ll probably be way too busy in panels, activities (or waiting in line for panels and activities) to go out and get “real” food. Just try to keep it simple, fairly healthy and as odor-free as possible – and once again, your neighbors will thank you. Granola bars, dried fruit, trail mix or peanut butter and crackers are all good bets. Bring enough to share and you’ll make friends easily.
And as with any big, loud, overstimulation-inducing environment, bring a dose of Tylenol with you, just in case. Checking out Star Wars: The Old Republic won’t be half as fun with a pounding headache.
You’ll also need to be sure you have your bar code and photo ID ready for badge pickup, and it doesn’t hurt to be familiar with the procedure ahead of time.
The Many Rules to Rule Them All
Because there are so many people, there are plenty of rules and regulations in place to keep things safe and reasonably sane. It’s generally common sense stuff, but good to know. Basically, be a good citizen, don’t save seats, don’t cut in lines - or invite 15 of your friends to cut in front of you at the entrance to a panel, and don’t be a creeper if you’re asking questions or getting autographs from celebrities. Every panel has its own rules about photography – so pay attention to any announcements. Generally, you won’t be able to take video of anything exclusive, so bear that in mind as well.
It’s also a good idea to know a little line etiquette and insider tips. SDCCSurvivalguide.com has an absolutely stellar three-part series on lines at Comic-con, beginning with Panel Lineup Tactics part 1 – Up All Night, and continuing on to Getting Badges and Seats and Deciding When to Line Up. You will have to put in some crazy line-waiting hours if you’re dead set on some of the big stuff, so come prepared, bring (or make) friends, and have back-up plans in place. Of course, you should also bring your handheld/mobile gaming platform of choice to while away the hours. You could do worse than play through Ocarina of Time 3D while you wait.
Another good tactic is to use a group of friends as a sort of mobile Comic-Con commando squad. By that, I mean you should show up to a line early in the morning (or overnight, if you prefer), and take turns waiting and going to check out the exhibition hall goodies. Just be absolutely sure that everyone is in line for the last hour or so, and keep the load even. The last thing you want to do is start a minor riot and get kicked out when you are so, so close to your goal!
While the show isn’t all about games, you could certainly fill your weekend with your hobby of choice. Many major upcoming titles, like Batman: Arkham City, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Deus Ex: The Human Revolution, Gears of War 3, Kinect Star Wars, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Twisted Metal, The Darkness II, and Resistance 3 will all be featured in panels throughout the show. Plus, there are plenty of game-related offerings that focus more on game culture or the creative process behind development, so check the schedule and plan accordingly. All panels with gaming content can be conveniently perused right here. Plenty of big publishers/developers like Activision, Bioware, and THQ have their own booths in the exhibit hall as well, so check out that directory as well if you have a game in mind you’d like to check out.
In addition to the game-specific programming, there are also a ton of tabletop, card and videogame tournaments running throughout the show. Pokémon, D&D, Bandai trading card games, Magic, Steve Jackson games and more were featured last year for open play and tourneys, check the 2011 dedicated gaming page for all the details as they become available.
Keeping these simple tips in mind, you should be able to survive Comic-Con this year, so we’ll just leave you with these parting words – have fun. This is always one of the best shows of the year, and it really can’t be beat in terms of the sheer number of awesome goings-on at any given moment. Just remember to take a deep breath, plan ahead, and please, for the love of all that is holy, make personal hygiene a priority.
Danielle Riendeau is a freelance writer, digital media professor, and nonprofit web ninja from Boston. You should follow her on twitter for all of the relevant links and details: @danielleri