Comic-Con 2013: 10 Handy Survival Tips
San Diego Comic-Con is the biggest, funkiest, goofiest, most obnoxious and yet most fascinating pop culture gathering of the year, where thousands of nerds, proto-nerds, nerdawans and nerds-for-a-day gather to gasp and gaze agape at the spectacle of multimillion dollar genre fiction in all mediums, where once was a modest gathering of comic book enthusiasts. The comics are still there, but they may take some finding amidst all the movie stuff and TV stuff and video game stuff and general merchandising.
You hear a lot about what cool stuff they're going to show and have available, which is what makes you want to go in the first place. However, they don't always prepare you for the nuts and bolts of actually attending the show, so here's a quick rundown of some things you should probably be aware of before heading down to A Whale's Vagina. Or Saint Diego. I've been doing this for over ten years now. I've learned a thing or ten.
There will be a lot of waiting for things, and a lot of that waiting will be spent being uncomfortable. Lining up the day of to get your badges, lining up to make sure you get a seat for your chosen panel, lining up for the restrooms, lining up for the overpriced greasy food in the convention hall – this will require patience. You'll also have con volunteers likely shooing you away from various places where you'd like to wait – most often when you want to camp by an outlet to charge your phone – for reasons which may seem capricious, but rest assured, it probably has something to do with fire marshalls. Don't be a dick about such things. Don't start none, won't be none, as the saying goes.
Prepare to Camp Out for Hall H
Speaking of lines, this one's a doozy. Hall H is the biggest room in the convention center, complete with its own bathrooms and food carts, and it's the one where they put all the huge Hollywood panels. That means this is where you'll get to see the first footage of movies like Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: Winter Soldier, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Franchise: Subtitle and the like. However, don't just assume that you can casually hop into any of those panels. If that's what you're in San Diego for, it's going to take up your whole day. You have to get to the convention center hours before the show opens to make sure you're in the long, winding line normally reserved for brand new roller coasters or voting booths in disenfranchised Ohio districts. If you actually get in, you're gonna have to stay put until the panel you want to see shows up, which will mean sitting through the stuff you don't care about (and preventing someone who might care about it from seeing it because you just NEED to see that Godzilla footage). Lawd help ya if you want to see Hall H things on more than one day – you might not ever get to the show floor.
Beware the Stench
Speaking of the show floor – the first thing you'll notice when entering the main hall is an assault on your senses both visual and olfactory. Your breath is taken for a moment by the sheer scope of things to see, such as a giant Lego Batman or maybe a huge statue of Voltron. Once you start wading in, however, you'll start to smell people. It's easy to blame this on stereotypical nerd funk, and yes, you will come across your fair share of the hygenically-challenged. However, this is mid-summer in San Diego and, given those conditions, add thousands of generally doughy types like me lugging giant bags of knick-knacks around, cram us into one room no matter how giant, and the B.O. will arise regardless of how much Old Spice we've slathered on. The stench of that may overwhelm you at first, so be prepared to weather it.
Pay Attention to Your Surroundings
There are a lot of goddamned people at this thing, and when shoved into this SoCal Nerdvana, the standard tendency is to meander slowly and just try to take in everything there is to see. When a thousand people are doing that in each aisle, you're going to get human traffic jams writ large – especially when some of those people are wearing giant robot suits or elaborate demon wings or what-have-you, and a hundred people are gathering around to gawk at them. So just be aware of your immediate area – make sure you're not blocking people trying to get past you, make sure you're not about to turn around and elbow a bloke in a wheelchair, and make sure your giant bag isn't going to trip somebody. We're all in this together, so if you're going to dawdle, don't do it in the middle of an aisle. You'll drive people nuts.
Be Kind to Cosplayers
Cosplay is a wonderful thing, especially when done well, but even when not. It's nerd enthusiasm on display even with the low-rent variety, and that's to be commended. However, some folks have elevated it to an art form, and they transform themselves into living, breathing art exhibits. Sometimes with mighty cleavage! Now, while they certainly enjoy doing this and may get a thrill out of feeling like a celebrity for a day, that doesn't give you the license to act like a pushy paparazzo. It ain't easy to walk around all day in Emma Frost heels or with a huge Transformer rig on your back, but I've never seen a cosplayer acting rudely to anyone politely requesting to take a photo. So return the favor. Treat them with respect, don't act like you're entitled, and try not to openly drool.
Respect Your Panelists
On that note, there are many fine panels that run the gamut from movie promotion to instructional seminars to memorials, and they almost always end with a Q&A session where absolutely anybody can get in line and fire a question at comic creators, movie stars, teachers, television writers, and whoever may have caught your interest for that hour. While we all know how controversial creative choices can be in any medium, the fact that you, say, hate the New 52 or despise Superior Spider-Man doesn't mean you should step up to the mic and be a complete ass about it. There's a difference between earnest criticism and nasty barbs. You may think you've crafted the perfect one-liner to sum up how much you hate a guy's writing, but if you throw a dickish comment out there in front of everybody, the odds are that you're not going to get the thunderous applause you've imagined in your mind. Instead, you'll probably just cast a tense pall over the room and make everybody uneasy for a bit, and then just inspire others to come to your target's defense. There are ways to have a lively debate without sacrificing civility. Of course, if a panelist is a dick first, have at him. Just don't go overboard. Be the better person. Then go record a podcast where you engage in immense amounts of hyperbole about people. *koff koff*
Tip Your Pedi-Cab Drivers Handsomely
San Diego was the first place I'd ever seen the modern-day rickshaw, also called a pedicab. These are bicycles – well, tricycles, actually, but with big ol' seats in the back, so these world class athletes can mightily pedal around the downtown area and drag our gelatinous butts from place to place. I was stunned. This seemed like a horrible remnant of some obscene local version of class warfare I hadn't heard about – what must these poor souls have done to earn this punishment of ferrying portly nerds and their bags of indulgence from their trinket-merchants to their feeding troughs? But no, this is an actual gig for folks trying to earn a buck in this economy. So if you've got enough disposable income to come to SoCal and drop cash on lightsaber replicas and Chewbacca pajamas, and you've also exhausted yourself in the process so much that you can't trundle a few blocks to a watering hole or the train stop, you damn well better let these power-lifters know how much you appreciate their herculean transportation service.
Saturday is the Busiest of Days
Most horror stories you hear about Comic-Con likely happen on the Saturday of the fest, because that's when people with jobs can make it into town and make a weekend out of it. Thursday and Friday are still packed, but Saturday? Hey. That's when the biggest panels are held and when the showroom is the most packed, when the cosplay is the most elaborate thanks to the masquerade event that evening. It's a damn good time, but just be mentally prepared to deal with hordes of people constantly in your way, and a lot of having your personal space invaded drive-by style. It may be worth investing in a preview night pass on Wednesday, when you get the chance to walk the show floor in advance of most of the general public, and you'll be able to breathe easy.
Sunday is Deal Day
Conversely, if you're looking for specific merchandise, you'll want to come to the show on Sunday. While the big con-exclusive toys will likely be sold out by then, the dealer's tables will probably be a lot more amenable to dealmaking and haggling, because whatever they don't sell, they have to pack up and ship back home, and that's a pain in anyone's ass. It may not be a universal truth, but the odds are pretty good that you'll find somebody willing to work with you.
Dine Away From the Con
One thing you must remember is that this Nerd Mecca completely clogs up San Diego for four to five days, and that's a hell of a lot of frustration for the townies. What mitigates that is the business that's pumped into the local economy, so you should really try to patronize the local businesses whenever you can. That shouldn't be too difficult to manage, because all you can get within the convention hall are cookies and ridiculously overpriced personal pizzas and subpar grub. The Gaslamp District is within easy walking distance, and you'll find a massive variety of great places to go stuff your face and refuel for another round of aimless staggering through the explosion of genre detritus, most of which has no reason to actually exist and makes you start to wonder whether or not we're a completely wasted generation obsessed with our childhoods at the expense of our futures… oh, uh, sorry. No, I'm totally not cynical about any of this! Everything's peachy! Enjoy the nerdalanche!