Author: Stefanie Bautista
San Diego Comic-Con: it’s the holy grail of all comic book conventions for the last decade, and to any newcomer, it’s pretty intimidating. I’m a long-time lover of comics, manga, anime, and anything related to graphic novels with characters that move my soul and give me hope in the present day. With a background of attending Anime Expo since its early days in 2005 and sprinkled experiences at WonderCon, Comikaze, and Pacific Media Expo, I was seasoned with the convention lifestyle. SDCC, however, was the one convention that would continuously throw large obstacles at me, making it impossible to get into.
As you all may know, the lottery program that SDCC designed to distribute its badges is comparable to getting tickets to Coachella – waiting nervously in front of a computer to get into the coveted “Virtual Waiting Room” just for a shot to purchase tickets. If, and only if, you are lucky enough to get in, there is still no guarantee for which days, or how many days, you will successfully snag. Those who normally make it are long-time attendees who have two chances to grab a badge (as they get pre-registration before the general populace) and also can take days off of work in advance. These challenges often deterred me.
By a twist of fate, 2017 allowed me to board the mothership! I, a veteran of comic book conventions, thought I could navigate the halls quite successfully at my first SDCC, determined to make the event memorable. It’s not like I was new to attending conventions, right? Well, what I didn’t account for were some surprising hurdles in-store for my SDCC experience. After many lessons learned in those sacred comic halls, I knew I had to share the tips I gathered for all the newbies.
From attending your first major panel, navigating through the gigantic exhibit hall, to scoring freebies and exclusives from the booths, here’s my take on surviving AND having a successful San Diego Comic-Con:
CREATE THE PLAN, EXECUTE THE PLAN, AND EXPECT TO THE PLAN TO GO OFF THE RAILS.
The program schedule comes out exactly two weeks before the weekend of the convention itself. There are many events, from small panels, including workshops tackling voice acting, industry navigation, and cosplaying tips, to larger panels comprising major movie and TV productions. Review the list, and review again, keeping in mind what you REALLY want to accomplish in a day. Many of these panels run from an hour to an hour and a half; not all panels happen in the San Diego Convention Center. There are a ton that can be found offsite in the surrounding hotels. No matter where your panel is, you must factor in walking and line time. Therefore I suggest having a daily “Top Three Must Do List.” That way, when your plan A to attend some Marvel panel doesn’t go through, you’ll be a-ok going to a how-to panel next door.
For the two days I was there, I had planned out about 5 panels to see for each day: a couple in the convention center and a few major panels in the infamous Hall H. Out of the five on Thursday, I got to see three; the rest of the time was spent walking the hall, which closed at 6 P.M. Panels held on Friday in Hall H are TV Network filled, usually full of star-studded panelists from the small screen. I was lucky enough to get into Hall H that day, so once in, I stayed the whole time! This meant sacrificing walking in the exhibit hall, though I knew it was definitely worth it. My planned schedule didn’t go through, but getting into Hall H (or even Ballroom 20) is worth it!
DOES THE “H” STAND FOR HEAVEN OR HELL?
The elusive Hall H hosts the biggest events and panels that SDCC has to offer, and with seating ready for at least 6,000 people, it holds many fans. Unfortunately, this number isn’t nearly enough for every fan, so it can be a hall you simply walk into. Since the Twilight movies took SDCC by storm, it’s customary to camp out with your friends in tents for days behind the center in front of the marina to secure a spot for your group to attend the star-studded panels. People take sleeping shifts, go on food runs, and ensure the spot is secure while trying to survive on the street.
However, many people aren’t as fortunate to roll up to con with a big group, so that’s where networking comes in. As you can imagine, it’s hard to camp out in line alone; you can’t go to the restroom, sleep, or get food. Luckily, simply typing “Hall H” into your Twitter search will connect you to hundreds of people looking for line buddies to switch out. Though many people attending SDCC are just looking to see their fandoms come to life, as always when meeting with strangers, make sure you use common sense and take caution to have the best convention experience possible.
ALL DAY SNACK-FEST.
Let’s be honest; if you’re in a place surrounded by visual and auditory stimulation from your favorite TV shows, comics, and movies, you’ll forget to eat. That’s why it’s important to always keep snacks with you. You don’t want to pass out in the middle of your favorite panel due to low blood sugar. It’s also good to remember to pack a water bottle and stay hydrated. Coffee is great to keep you up, but water will keep you from drying out, especially if you’ve been sweating all day! These on-hand essentials save precious time wasted hunting down a meal. You can score freebies in any major booth at the exhibit hall, so a lot of food is needed to give your body energy to do a lot of walking in the exhibit hall and outside in the outdoor experience tents. You need to make sure your body moves as best as possible to jet from spot to spot to collect that sweet freebie swag.
Though I’m a foodie, I had to settle for protein bars, trail mix, and basic conventional food. In my mind, I was eating to sustain energy, especially during my stint in Hall H. Trust me when I say pass on the pizza and go straight to the hotdog if you absolutely HAVE to buy food in the convention center kiosks. I also opted to get assembled dessert snack boxes from the nerdy girls at Kneady Bakery, perfect for munching on while I was in the morning line for Hall H.
I SMELL THE SMELLY SMELL OF SOMETHING THAT SMELLS SMELLY.
The number one warning I received from friends before making my way to SDCC was that the odor – body odor in particular – was unbearable. Let’s put the scenario into perspective: thousands and thousands of people from all over the world descend upon the San Diego Convention Center in the summertime, most in cosplay, and they all roam the skinny walkways between cramped booths. This is the perfect recipe for ripeness, as the excitement, sweat, and miles of walking the floor aren’t enough for even the strongest air conditioning systems to control.
Do yourself a favor; get to know your limits when being around large groups of people, and if it’s not your jam to stay around hordes of Comic-Con “walkers,” find refuge in small rooms with smaller panels. These havens have plenty of seating and room to breathe. There are also video rooms that play various anime and TV shows you can take a literal breather in. The quick fixes I used for smell included portable Febreze, travel-size deodorant, and a nasal inhaler like Olbas oil. Use any of these if you never want to miss a moment of the exhibit or if you’re like me and absolutely have to attend the Game of Thrones panel.
YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND IN ME.
Aside from freebies, exclusives, and cosplaying to your heart’s delight, making new friends is the most fun and beneficial part of SDCC. Whatever your forte be, DC extended universe, Marvel mania, or even Stranger Things; you’ll strike up conversations with people like you who are there to geek out just as much as you do. The biggest advantage of developing these fast friendships is that they can help you enter glorious Hall H. It’s not hard to connect with strangers when you’re both superfans.
I was fortunate to meet some amazing people from Canada that have been coming to SDCC for years. Because they’ve seen it all, they’re extremely well-versed in which lines to stand in and where to be when you want to get into major panels or score an SDCC-exclusive item. Although we didn’t have the same EXACT tastes in panels, we were all huge Game of Thrones fans, so we collectively made that panel our goal for Friday. Keeping an open mind and not being so finicky about the waiting game made way for some great conversation. I feel like I left the convention creating great friendships that will help me when I return next year!
ARE WE HAVING FUN YET?
Know that even when you plan every event to the last second and map out your destinations, things will all go to the crapper quickly. THAT’S OK! The point is San Diego Comic-Con has so much to offer! Ensure you’re having fun, and don’t stress out if you miss something. You may discover something you hadn’t even planned to do!
I was lucky to attend my favorite panels because I went with some SDCC veterans. Still, one night, I found myself accidentally at Petco Park. MTV took it over with a huge block party, and the cast of Teen Wolf showed up and treated the crowd to some amazing content. If you’re open to the experience and allow yourself to go with the flow, you never know what fan party or celebrity you’ll encounter.
Personally, I wish that I had done so much more at SDCC, but not doing so really gave me the motivation to want to come back next year for all four days. I wish I had known a lot more about navigating the halls and factoring in wait times, but now I can say this year opened my eyes to a different convention experience.
I’ll be prepared to keep my ear to the ground and my phone locked on the “#hallh” hashtag on Twitter for important updates from fans like me. I’ll also be cosplaying for at least one day, as last-minute planning prevented me from doing so. Last but not least, I’ll definitely be recruiting more friends to come along and geek out because there’s nothing better than sharing this crazy experience with your geek squad!
I hope these tips help ease some tension and prepare you to tackle whatever comes your way during the next Comic-Con. Good luck, and I hope to see you next year at San Diego Comic-Con 2018, which is set for Preview Night from Wednesday, July 18, to Sunday, July 22, 2018!
Also, check out our “Survival Guide” for any convention, which provides quick tips for all comic-book conventions.