RULES FOR SDCC NOOBS
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 that has to do with graphic novels that have characters that move my soul and give hope in the present day. With a background of attending Anime Expo since it’s early days in 2005, and sprinkled experiences at WonderCon, Comikaze, and Pacific Media Expo, I was seasoned to 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 have the ability to take days off of work in advance. These challenges often deterred me.
By a twist of fate, 2017 gave me a chance to board the mothership! I, a veteran of comic book conventions, of course thought I could navigate the halls quite successfully at my first SDCC, determined to make the event memorable. I mean 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 have gathered for all the newbies to come.
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, expect to the plan to go off the rails.
The program schedule comes out exactly two weeks prior to the weekend of convention itself. There are lots of events, from small panels including workshops that tackle voice acting, industry navigation, and cosplaying tips, to larger panels consisting of 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, and 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 need to factor both 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 basically stayed the whole time! This meant sacrificing walking in the exhibit hall, though I knew it was definitely worth it. All in all, my planned schedule didn’t go through, but getting into Hall H (or even Ballroom 20) is totally 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 does hold a lot of fans. Unfortunately, this number isn’t nearly enough for every fan so that it can be a hall you simply walk into. Since the Twilight movies took SDCC by storm, it’s pretty much customary to camp out with a bunch of 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 make sure that the spot is secure while trying to survive on the literal 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 all by yourself; you can’t go to the restroom, sleep, or get food. Lucky for us, simply typing in “Hall H” into your Twitter search will connect you to hundreds of people who are 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 so that you can 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 keep snacks with you at all times. You don’t want to pass out in the middle of your favorite panel due to a low blood sugar. It’s also good 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! This on-hand essentials save precious time which would be wasted hunting down a meal. You can score freebies in basically 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 not only in the exhibit hall, but outside in the outdoor experience tents. You need to make sure that your body’s moving as best as it can in order 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 convention food. In my mind, I was really 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, which was 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 that I received from friends before making my way to SDCC was that the odor - body odor in particular - is 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 isn’t enough for even the strongest air conditioning systems to control.
Do yourself a favor; really 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 that you can take a literal breather in. The quick fixes I used for smell included portable Febreze, travel size deodorant, and of course 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 even beneficial part of going to SDCC. Whatever your forte be, DC extended universe, Marvel mania, even Stranger Things, you’ll strike up conversations with people just like you who are there to geek out just as much as you do. The biggest advantage to developing these fast friendships is that it can help you get into 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 a 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 really made way for some great conversation. I personally feel like I left the convention creating great friendships that will help me when I come back next year!
Are we having fun yet?
Know up front that even when you plan every event down to the last second, map out your destinations, things will all go to the crapper quick. THAT’S OK! Point is, San Diego Comic-Con has so much to offer! Make sure 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 enough to attend my favorite panels because I went with some SDCC veterans. Still, there was one night where 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 run into.
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 definitely say this year opened my eyes to a whole 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 just 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 honestly there’s nothing better than sharing this crazy experience with your very own geek squad!
I hope these tips help you to ease some tension and leave you ready to tackle whatever comes your way during 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 Wednesday, July 18 to Sunday, July 22, 2018!
Also be sure to check out our “Survival Guide” for any convention, which provides quick-tips necessary all comic-book conventions.
Follow Stef B. on Instagram: @Stefa_Knee