Taking On Comic-Con (Again)
So it’s been nearly three months since my last trip to San Diego to attend the geekstorm that is Comic-Con, and here I go attempting to relate my experience there. While I should have gotten to this while it was fresh in mind, it’s better late than never, right?
But instead of simply recounting my entire con experience, I’m going to do what I said I might last year: a small guide to con survival, based on my own experiences and recollections after four years of Comic-Con forays. It’s by no means a definitive list of what ensures maximum enjoyability; just fast facts that will hopefully hold some merit if you find yourself attending this beautiful madhouse of a convention.
So, based on four years experience, here’s 4 facts that I find helpful:
1 – If you want to go cheap, prepare to use the trolleys
Let’s face it: hotels in the area are going to ramp up their rates hugely when Comic-Con is in town, and why not? People will pay premium to stay within walking distance of the Convention Center, and that’s fine… if you’re willing to spend the buku bucks to snag a room at the Hilton or Marriott.
I, on the other hand, am willing to forgo the convenience for the sake of my wallet, and with careful planning it doesn’t have to be a detriment. For the last four years, me and my group have stayed in hotels near Old Town, and until last year have been in walking distance of the excellent trolley system that goes right by the convention center. A 15-20 minute trip either way is a small price to pay, and often you meet other con-goers on the trolley.
This might not be the way to go if you’re claustrophobic, or simply don’t feel you have the patience to deal. These trains can and will get jam-packed with people, all coming and going from the con. There’s an atmosphere of anticipation and fun that I really enjoy, however, and it spreads the convention beyond the vicinity of the con itself. I’ve often struck up conversations with total strangers simply because we’re all there for the same thing, and just this last year – in a remarkable coincidence – I ran into two old college friends I hadn’t seen since graduation, simply because I was standing near the door when it opened at a station and they were standing in front of it.
(Also, as a subtip: pack lunches! Food around the con is expensive, and if you’re trying to keep the costs down, bring your own lunchbox with you. It might not be terribly glamorous, but surviving on homemade PB&J sandwiches and containers of yogurt is better than spending nearly $10 on a corn dog, in my opinion.)
2 – Disappointment is Inevitable (but it doesn’t have to ruin everything!)
This seems like a pessimistic mantra, but its wise to keep it in mind. Everyone’s got their own agenda at Comic-Con, and unfortunately many hundreds – or even thousands – of them may have the same goal you do. There’s only so much space, and with the Fire Marshall’s presence looming over everything, that space is a premium. People can, and do, get turned away after standing in line for hours because the event filled up. There’s a very good chance that something you want to do at Comic Con won’t happen, especially if it’s a high-profile event or rare collector’s item being sold in the Exhibit Hall.
This is never truer than with the dreaded Hall H. This is where the biggest and showiest events happen, usually associated with big-budget movies or popular TV shows: just this last year, Breaking Bad had a presentation that was immediately followed by Doctor Who, as an example of what goes on. Because Comic-Con does not clear the rooms between panels, people can sit through other panels while waiting for the one they want, turning things into a first-come, first-served nightmare – yours truly got up at 4 in the morning to try and get a good spot in line in anticipation for Doctor Who, only to find it snaking around behind the convention center into the marina (and the panel was scheduled for around 1 PM).
Those hours spent in line were not worth getting into the panel only for the last 10 minutes, which was my biggest disappointment of the con. Yet in the back of my mind, I was prepared for something like this, and risked it anyway.
My advice is to weigh your options carefully. If you’re willing to camp overnight to see something you’re a diehard fan of, then by all means. However, if that seems ludicrous to you, then it might be better to pass on something you really love and find joy in doing other, less-strenuous things. Odds are you’ll stumble across something unexpected and wondrous that will make for a much better story later than saying you saw Bryan Cranston from the back of a massive hall over a sea of screaming fans.
Speaking of which…
3 – Take time to explore
Just because Comic-Con is a noteworthy place to see what’s new in the big panels, doesn’t mean that’s the only thing to do. If you go poking around the various corners of the Exhibit Hall, wander over to the nearby hotels or investigate things outside in the Gaslamp District, you’ll often find interesting distractions and enjoyable opportunities. The Exhibit Hall alone can provide hours of entertainment if you wander from end to end; beyond the crowded and noisy middle sections their massive franchise displays, you’ll find individual booths for artists, writers, webcomic folk and voice actors, many of whom are more than happy to welcome you and show you what they’re offering, or even just to chat about the convention. The south portion of the hall houses an Artists Alley with a lot of original material; head northward and you’ll experience something akin to the Comic-Con of the past, where comic collectors get together, trade, buy and sell their collections – a sobering reminder of how much the con has grown from a gathering of humble lovers of comics to a gargantuan media expo.
It’s surprising how often some of my best experiences each have been just walking around and meeting people rather than in panels: during my first year at the con, I met Dino Andrade (head of SoulGeek.com and professional voice actor, most notable for me as the voice of the Scarecrow in Batman: Arkham Asylum) because he happened to notice my Groundskeeper costume and turned out to have a mutual love of Disney’s Haunted Mansion. I make an effort to track him down every year and say hello.
Even visiting some of the smaller panels can be more fun than hanging around Hall H all day. There’s more liveliness, more character, and generally more fun at these, and you often have more of a chance to take part in the Q&A and talk candidly to those involved. One my best experiences this last year was sitting in for the Axe Cop panel and watching my sister (in her Hellhound costume) do a “cosplay battle” with a little girl dressed as Ranma, directed by both the Nicolle brothers.
4 – If all else fails, make your own fun
Above all else, unless you’ve got intensely high expectations, the hardest thing to do at Comic Con is not to have fun. Worst case scenario, you don’t make it into anything… Unlikely as that is, so what? You’re never far from something entertaining.
The cosplay alone is enough to turn heads sometimes, and at Comic Con, people really outdo themselves. You can be entertained simply by interacting with cosplayers, and seeing which crazy character is going to round the next bend in the hall.
I think I’ve made my point. Hopefully, should you ever find yourself at Comic-Con, some of what I posted might be useful. If you can go, go at least once. You won’t regret it.
Until next time!
(All photos were courtesy of the lovely and talented Katie Fleming, who did a splendid job!)