Because San Diego Comic-Con 2013 opens three weeks from today, my countdown has officially begun. Okay, well, it actually began when we got home from Comic-Con last year (“it’s only 51 weeks away!!”), but now that we’re down to less than a month, I’m officially TOTALLY EXCITED.
And because it’s our sixth year attending, I can consider myself somewhat of an expert of all things SDCC. Sort of. I mean, I know there are people who have been attending since the 70s, but the SDCC of the 2010s is a lot different than the 70s-90s. And my husband and I have pretty much have the whole SDCC thing down, at least enough for me to write my own Do and Don’t list for some of you newbies to go by. So if you want to know how to survive SDCC, read on.
DON’T bring a car.
The first few years we attended the con, we drove in to San Diego from LA, always either parking at a hotel or some other parking structure that charges mucho dinero to leave your car there. The solution? Well, if you’re traveling a long distance and flying direct to San Diego, there are many shuttle services operating within the area during SDCC that can easily take you to your hotel, and also can shuttle you to and from the convention center. Or if you’re coming in from a place like LA (like us), you can take the train. We did this for the first time last year, and we will never do it any other way. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. Seriously, you don’t have the stress of driving down the 405 freeway for three hours, and instead can sit back and relax with some free refreshments and free wifi while the train takes you past ocean-side cities and beautiful cliffs. Yes, it takes longer, but really…if you probably can’t check into your hotel until 3:00 in the afternoon anyway, so if you leave in the morning you have plenty of time. Plus a train ticket from LA to SD is only around $30, which is cheaper than filling up your car.
DO have a planned schedule.
There’s a reason why SDCC releases their complete schedule before the convention begins. You need to plan ahead. Find the panels you want to see, write down the time and location, and make sure they don’t conflict with anything else. Of course there’s ALWAYS going to be something that conflicts, so you’ll most likely have to make some Sophie’s Choices. Is the panel on Women Comic Book Artists more important to you than that panel on the upcoming season of Supernatural? Do you think you can make it in time to get from one panel to another when they’re 15 minutes apart…assuming there’s no line? Which of course brings me to my next tip…
DO get in line early.
I cannot stress this fact enough, especially if you want to see the panels that are in Ballroom 20 and Hall H, which are always reserved for the big TV and movie panels. Getting in line an hour early at SDCC is 8 hours too late. I’m totally serious. When there’s a panel that everyone wants to see, like last year’s Firefly 10th Anniversary panel, we got in line at 2:00 in the morning. The panel wasn’t until noon the next day. And we weren’t in the front, if you’re wondering. The panel was in Ballroom 20, which holds 4250 people, and we got a spot towards the middle of the room. One of the reasons for having to get in early even if the panel you want to see isn’t until later that day is because they don’t clear out the rooms between panels. So you can end up camping out in the same hall all day in order to see your panel. I know, it sounds insane. At least to outsiders, it does. To seasoned SDCC people, it’s just another day in Hall H or B20. I always feel kind of bad for the people who show up late (in SDCC terms) and say, “Is this the line for such-and-such panel?” with confused and worried looks on their faces, after you’ve been sitting there for literally six hours, as you nod and point towards the end of the line, which is now about 5000 people-deep (Hall H holds 6500 people). But that just goes to show you, you need to be prepared.
DO dress comfortably.
Since you’ll probably be doing a lot of waiting/sitting/sleeping on the ground, you’re gonna want to be as comfortable as you can get. This is whether you dress up in costume or just regular clothes (like me). Don’t bring those cute jeans that make your butt look great but are just a smidge too tight in the waist, because after about 30 minutes of sitting you’re going to wish you had a pair on of sweatpants. Also, wear layers. Just because it’s 80 degrees doesn’t mean it’s going to be 80s inside (it’s more like 50 degrees inside). And when you’re not sitting, you’ll be walking, so don’t wear freaking stilettos (which I’ve seen girls do). Unless it’s part of your costume, no one will be looking at your feet anyway. Comfort is KEY at SDCC, trust me.
DON’T expect to get much sleep.
This is more so directed at the whole “get in line at 2:00am” business, but sleep should definitely not be a priority at SDCC. If it is, then you’re going it wrong. Last year, for example, I averaged about 3 hours of sleep per night. And honestly, I didn’t feel tired the whole time I was at the convention. You’re having so much fun and your adrenaline is going the whole time because there’s just so much excitement, that it’s just something you’re not thinking of. Of course when we got back to LA when the convention was over it all caught up to me and hit me in the face like Thor’s hammer (haha), but it’s usually worth it (for me, at least).
DO stay hydrated and fed by more than junk food.
Since I’m older now I can say this with more confidence. Junk food is not your friend when you’re running on 2 hours sleep and caffeine. Of course since it’s a convention, there’s junk food everywhere, which is probably no big deal to the people in their early 20s who could probably go all day on a bag of Skittles, greasy pizza, and Mountain Dew. But if your body doesn’t work like that, it’ll probably benefit you to bring some healthier options with you to keep in your bag or backpack just to keep your body from falling apart. Trust me, you’ll thank me at the end of the day.
DON’T expect to get autographs.
Unless you’re going to specific signings, there are no autographs at the big panels. Once the panel is over, the actors and creative team get up, wave to the crowd, stand there for pictures, and then leave. They don’t usually hang around, and some even have limos waiting for them out the exit doors to take them to the airport (like Harrison Ford in 2011). Of course you may see someone out on the exhibition floor just walking around and being a fan themselves, like the time I saw Grant Imahara from Mythbusters on the floor, in which I blurted out, “Hi! I love your show!” and he said, “Thanks!” Or there was the time last year when Joss Whedon came to the line for the Firefly panel and signed pretty much every autograph he could, but that was totally out of the blue (and it was Joss and Joss is Boss). But honestly, that exhibition floor is so crowded that there is no time or space for autographs. So if you want an autograph, get in line at the designated areas and WAIT.
DO get out of the convention center.
It’s easy to stay at the convention center all day, what with all the excitement going on, but you need to get out every now and then and hang out in San Diego’s Gaslamp District. The Gaslamp District is one of my favorite places in all of Southern CA. It’s filled to the brim with restaurants, pubs, coffeehouses, and shops, and during SDCC the whole area gets into the spirit of the convention. And because SDCC gets bigger every year, lots of events now happen offsite at places in the Gaslamp District. So get out and get some fresh air and relax a little – before you have to get back in line!
DON’T take everything that is free.
In the exhibition hall where all the vendors are promoting their art or book or whatever, you can find yourself being handed everything from business cards to free comics to huge bags to hold even more crap. It’s okay to take some, but keep in mind that you probably have to carry around this stuff ALL DAY. And that can get pretty heavy on your back. So a free button here and there, maybe a few business cards, but know where to draw the line. It’s okay to decline – there are 130,000 other people there to take them for you.
DO bring extra batteries.
Whether you bring a regular camera or your phone, you’re going to need some back-up. The last thing you want is to finally make it into that panel for which you’ve been waiting eight hours, only to realize that your phone or camera is now dead and you can’t take any pictures of Robert Downey, Jr. My husband and I both have iPhones but know that they definitely won’t last an entire day, given how much we use them, so we invested in back-up iPhone battery packs that last about ten hours (give or take). So when you need to charge your phone, you just plug it into the battery pack and it charges it up. If you’re completely out of juice and aren’t stuck outside waiting in line, there are plenty of places within the convention center to recharge – you just have to be able to find an available one.
DON’T stress out.
Yes, there are a lot of people. Yes, you may be waiting in line for hours on end. Yes, you might not get into a panel you wanted to see. Yes, you may be forced to talk to complete strangers. But you know what? Enjoy it. Comic-Con is an awesome experience that you’ll never forget, whether you go just once or every year, and you don’t want to have the whole thing ruined by stressing about something you have no control of that will only bring on a headache. So the official SDCC mantra to live by? JUST GO WITH IT. It’s crazy, fun, and frustrating at times, but JUST GO WITH IT.
See you in three weeks!