Congratulations! You've done it — you got passes to the five-day geek Valhalla known as San Diego Comic-Con. You’ve been initiated into a ritualistic annual pilgrimage for many a comic/sci-fi/fantasy fan, and it’s going to change your life.
But before you set out on your journey, you'll want to prepare. What to bring? What to do? Where to go? Fret not, we have some helpful advice for first-time Comic-Con attendees.
Wear comfortable shoes.
The events for Comic-Con are mostly held in the San Diego Convention Center, which is a big building (as it needs to be to accommodate the hordes of fans in attendance). As Comic-Con has grown, though, it has expanded its footprint, with events held at the Hilton, Marriott Marquis, Hyatt and San Diego Central Library. From one end to another, Comic-Con spans more than a mile, so plan on doing plenty of walking. And don't just stick to the convention center, either; there's tons of cool stuff going on in Petco Park and down by the waterfront.
Walk the floor at least once a day.
The exhibit area, also known as “the floor,” is the most interesting place at Comic-Con. Vendors ranging from Marvel and DC Comics to Cartoon Network and indie artists all have booths selling their wares, and lots of the bigger companies do giveaways (if you like movie posters, be sure to check out movie studios' outposts — but don’t forget to bring a poster tube with you, otherwise your poster will be toast by the end of the day). It’s also a great place to people-watch, whether you’re looking for awesome cosplayers or absurd celebrity sightings (like the members of KISS promoting a Scooby-Doo movie).
Keep your eyes open.
You will see some amazing things at Comic-Con, whether it’s a group of girls shrieking at Seth Green on an escalator, Jamie Foxx and Mike Tyson riding together on the back of a golf cart, or a cosplaying Deadpool dressed as Elsa from Frozen. It is truly incredible, so make sure you don’t miss out by keeping your head stuck in your phone. (Looking at you, Pokemon hunters.)
Pack your own snacks.
You will very quickly get tired of overpriced Freschetta pizzas, Auntie Anne’s pretzels and Mrs. Fields cookies. Go full soccer-mom status and pack your own snacks (and juice boxes!) beforehand. If you’re looking for a quick, cheap meal, check out Petco Park, where in previous years companies have given away free pizza and ice cream. Skip the hotel buffets and convention center hot dog stands, which are expensive and not very good, and instead opt for Sweet Frog fro-yo, a Yogurtland-like outpost in the bottom of the Hilton, or one of the less-touristy restaurants in the Gaslamp.
Unless you enjoy the self-flagellation of paying $50-$70 or more for a day’s parking, don’t drive to downtown San Diego. You will circle for much longer than you planned to trying to find a place that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (and isn’t two miles away or in a not-so-reputable area), and you won’t succeed. Instead, opt for the tram (a pass that’s good for the duration of the Con is $20, and you can park for free at Qualcomm Stadium or Hazard Center and ride in from there) or take an Uber or Lyft in. It’ll end up being much less expensive, and you’ll be much happier for it.
Figure out your plan of attack beforehand.
Look at the schedule and prioritize your panels. Know that, realistically, you should only attempt to get into Hall H one day — and if you want to go to a panel that’s near the end of the day in Hall H, realize that you will be stuck in Hall H for all of that day until your panel, and you won’t be able to go to any panels in other rooms that day. Also, sleep strategically — if you know that you can bank up on sleep, do it, because you’ll have some sleepless nights ahead of you.
Get over your FOMO.
There are approximately 70 zillion cool things going on at Comic-Con, both official and unofficial, off-site events, like Nerd HQ. You will not be able to attend all of them (unless you have Hermione’s Time Turner or the Doctor’s TARDIS, in which case I’m very jealous of you). Come to terms with this now, and focus on all the cool things you will be doing, and don’t worry about the cool things you won’t be able to do. Comic-Con is a textbook example of opportunity cost in action, and the earlier you realize this, the happier you’ll be in the long run.
Talk to people.
Imagine being surrounded by thousands of geeks. If this thought terrifies you, you probably shouldn’t be going to Comic-Con. But if the idea of being able to hop into a discussion about how Sean Bean dies in everything he’s in or have a heated debate about how bad Batman v Superman was sounds right up your alley, then you are in the right place. Comic-Con is full of friendly geeks who speak your language — it’s kind of like the internet come to life. Maintain good social graces and don’t be creepy, but definitely feel free to start chatting with the person next to you in line. Because you will be in line for a long time, and you might as well make a new friend while you’re there.
Bring a back-up battery.
Cellphone reception inside the convention center is pretty terrible, and the Wi-Fi is even worse. Bring a backup rechargeable USB battery, and rest assured that your phone will be usable throughout the day (and overnight, if you’re camping out). There are batteries available to buy/rent inside the convention center, but it’s a lot less expensive to buy one beforehand and bring it with you.
Prepare to literally camp out for Hall H.
I’m hesitant to give this advice, as it perpetuates the problem, but the fact of the matter is that you will likely need to camp out overnight to get into Hall H, at least on days with big-ticket panels like Friday and Saturday. (Apparently, the Pokemon Go panel also has been relocated to Hall H.) It’s unfortunate, and you’ll meet many longtime attendees who resent Twilight fans for it (lines used to be much more manageable, but the Twi-hards started camping out to get into their panels once the movies started coming to San Diego in 2008). Knowing this, be prepared to spend all night queuing outside if you want to get into some panels. It will be cold overnight, and a thin blanket and sweatshirt won’t cut it. You want to strike a balance between being warm and comfortable enough and not having to shlep too much stuff around with you all day, so think light and compact. Also, don't feel that you need to go to Hall H; there's plenty of cool stuff happening outside of that room, and it's possible to have a fun and fulfilling Comic-Con without setting foot in there.
Maintain good hygiene.
Comic-Con can get a little stinky, especially in Hall H. (Think about it: 6,500 geeks have been camping out to get in there. Hygiene has not been their greatest priority.) For the sake of the noses around you, remember to shower and brush your teeth regularly, and apply deodorant liberally.
Don’t put anything in your bag.
You’ll get a really cool bag when you check in and get your badge. It's a cool souvenir, but don’t put anything in it. It will rip. Comic-Con is a BYOB affair: Bring your own backpack.
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Check out some comics.
It’s tempting to just go to panels for your favorite TV shows and movies, but Comic-Con is called Comic-Con for a reason. If you haven’t yet, find a few comics to read and go to an event with the creators of that comic. (My advice: A great entry point into comics is the Matt Fraction/David Aja 2014 run of Hawkeye — the art is simple and not overwhelming, and the writing is sharp. Or, if you’re not a fan of superheroes, try The Wicked and the Divine, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, which is about mythical gods reincarnated as pop stars.)
Learn from the panels you sit through.
Because they don't empty the room between panels at Comic-Con, you'll likely find yourself sitting in the room where your panel will be later that day, listening to an entirely different panel. For example, I've somehow wound up attending the panel for The Originals two years in a row, just by virtue of it being before panels I wanted to attend. If you're sitting in the front, don't be rude and check your phone the entire time — take the opportunity to learn about content you weren't previously familiar with, or, at the very least, let yourself be entertained by the personalities onstage and around you.
Comic-Con can be stressful at times, but it’s also a ton of fun and a unique experience. Don’t lose sight of that. And don’t worry: By the time badge registration rolls around next year, you’ll be craving Comic-Con again.