I have been a comic book/sci-fi fan for most of my life. And at 33 years old, I attended my first San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC). This is the big one. This year marked the celebration of 50 years of Comic-Con in San Diego and it was huge. At least 135,000 people converged on San Diego at probably the largest pop culture convention in the world. I have been to several comic conventions in Anaheim, San Jose, and Honolulu but there’s nothing like SDCC. I thought I was ready but I had no idea so below are the top 5 things that I learned that might be useful to someone else out there.
#1 Be prepared
It might go without saying to prepare for the experience especially if you don’t live in San Diego. So besides deciding on a 1-5 day experience, arranging transportation and lodging, and making sure you have enough underwear, you need to plan out your convention journey. Make sure you take care of yourself, for folks like myself who are carrying some extra baggage, there will be a lot of walking. Wear comfortable shoes and have a hydro flask or water bottle to stay hydrated. The convention spans various locations and you’ll need to keep moving because there’s nowhere to sit.
And speaking of nowhere to sit, when I was standing in line for a panel and saw someone take off their backpack and it turned into a chair, I knew I was a newb in over my head. Look for ways like this to improve upon the not-so-great parts of the convention (waiting, expensive convention food, long lines for the escalator and elevator, etc.).
Lastly, make sure to study the schedule and know it like the back of your hand. Give thought to the distance of stuff you want to get to because if you think the distance to get from Hall H to Room 27AB upstairs is 10 minutes, you’re going to have a problem. Also, you might have to sacrifice some time if you are looking to go to a very particular panel in one of the big halls like Hall H or Ballroom 20. The lines will be ridiculous.
#2 Get out of the convention center
I realized with thousands of people, we couldn’t all literally fit in the convention center at once. So in the last 50 years, SDCC has expanded greatly. There are a lot of other venues and fun stuff to do in adjacent hotels, restaurants, the San Diego Central Library, Balboa Park, and even just the street in the Gaslamp district.
As much as there are a million things you can do within the Exhibit hall and mounds and mounds of panels, take a day or some hours to explore San Diego and the various other locations. A few things are the Comic-Con Museum pop-up at Balboa Park, the Comic Conference for Educators and Librarians, and the IMDBoat hosted by IMDB for the 4th year in a row. Also, I ran into a Sy Fy Channel contest where Batman and Spider-man cosplayers had a dance battle in the street two blocks from the convention center. I was thoroughly entertained.
#3 Come early, stay late
If you have big plans like you want to get to panels, get autographs, and purchase things, you might want to get there early. Many things start at 8 or 9, but don’t think you’ll be the first one there. If you got a Hall H wristband or if you’re just an eager beaver, there will be folks that will be there before 7:30 am waiting by the various entry doors. There will always be hoards of people but getting there early increases your chances of getting what you want done, done. Which leads me to the next thing…
#4 Patience is a virtue
Because there are thousands of people at the same convention and these are literally the most popular creators, characters, and subjects in the world, plan to wait. SDCC aka LineCon is notorious for its lines for panels but expect to line up in other places too, like for food, for the bathroom (even for men), elevators, escalators, etc. for indeterminate spans of time. As I waited in line for the escalator to get to the 3rd floor, I was furious at my knees for being so weak.
Also, as you wait for particular panels that aren’t the last one, expect to maybe miss some. I waited in line for hours at the Indigo ballroom at the Hilton Bayfront hotel and missed Rick and Morty and Bob’s Burgers, I got a pin as a consolation, but what really satisfied me was that I made it to Archer at the end of the night. As well, I patiently waited through some panels I wasn’t as enthused about and I got into what I ultimately wanted to see (Batman Beyond 20th Anniversary!).
#5 Good vibes only
Along with patience, I must stress that all these people in close quarters, probably the most important thing you can do is respect folks and permeate good vibes wherever you go. We are all here to enjoy ourselves and like the cliche says, one apple can spoil the whole bunch. I met some friendly, helpful, and hilarious folks along the way and it keeps me with hope for the fandom.
Keep the attitude at home, if anything sucks it literally does for everyone. Having different badge types don’t matter much for you unless you are a super exclusive VIP guest. Press and Professional don’t really get you any special privileges other than getting in for free. We have to stand in line and wait forever just like you. Welcome to our very egalitarian convention. Lastly, have respect for folks. Ask permission to take pics of cosplayers, look but don’t touch, respect volunteers instructions, no cutting, etc. Also, since there are so many new fans here, you could potentially sour them on the whole industry. Let’s try not to steal any joy and just get through this thing together.
If you are one of the lucky few (relatively) that get a ticket to SDCC, relish in the privilege and make the most out of the experience by taking heed to the things I listed above. And, also, if you don’t get into SDCC, Wondercon is an excellent option that might be a little more manageable.