It doesn't matter how many times you go to San Diego Comic-Con, there is always something new to learn. This was my fourth year at the annual pop culture extravaganza and I still felt like a bit of a n00b, still trying to figure out how this mega-convention works. Here are the seven things I learned at San Diego Comic-Con 2012. Share your own lessons in the comment section.
7. Buy your toys first.
Toy collectors already know this. If you want something that's either a Comic-Con exclusive or is available there well before it hits stores, get in line and make that purchase early. This is a lesson that My Little Pony fans learned at SDCC 2012 when Zecora, a new pony figure that was sold at the con first, sold out by Thursday morning. Yes, that's the day the convention officially begins.
If you can, get a pass for Preview Night and do your shopping then. You'll have a few hours where you can stand in line for whatever item you really need to get. Keep in mind, though, that the 4 Day + Preview Night badge usually sells out first. If you can't get it, head to the convention center early on Thursday and prepare to stand in line.
6. Buy your comic books last.
People often joke about how empty the comic book section of SDCC's exhibit hall is in comparison to pretty much everything else. That all changes on Sunday, when comic book retailers dramatically drop prices. I don't usually spend much time in the exhibit hall on Sundays. This year, I had some time to kill, so I started flipping through boxes of discounted comic books. I picked up four omnibuses for the price of two. On the last day of the convention, you'll see comic books on sale, typically for 50 percent-60 percent off the listed price. Note that some of the vendors are cash only on the final day of the con. Make sure you stop by an ATM first.
5. Hang out in the convention center after dark.
I'm usually out of the convention center by sunset. On Saturday night, though, I decided to stick around for the 9 p.m. “Tromatize Yourself” panel, a personal branding session featuring Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman. After that, my friends and I decided to chill out in a hallway and let our phones charge.
Hanging around the convention center at night gives you a glimpse of Comic-Con that you won't see during the day. Saturday night is Masquerade, so you'll still see tons of people in costume, but they're all packed into a few rooms where they can watch either the event itself or a telecast. The corridors are empty. You can wander around the venue without security guards telling you to keep walking or go out another door. You can talk to your friends without having to shout. It's a good way to decompress while you're still at the convention.
4. Find a way to party on the USS Midway.
I have often heard about SDCC parties on the USS Midway, but this was the first year I managed to get into one. As a precursor to their forthcoming tour, Dethklok, the real-life band spawned from the Adult Swim series Metalocalypse, played on the aircraft carrier/museum Friday night. They arrived by helicopter and played a thunderous set in a venue below the flight deck.
The USS Midway is quite a walk from the convention center, but if you ever have the chance to attend an SDCC party there, don't pass up the opportunity. It's a fun and unusual experience.
3. Check out the smaller panels.
When I go to conventions, it's to report, so I often don't have the chance to sit in on panels that I would want to attend for personal education purposes. This year, photographer Shannon Cottrell and I made an effort to do that. The lines for these panels are often very short, sometimes nonexistent, quite the opposite of the TV and film panels.
We checked out a few panels on blogging and public relations, but my favorite was “Censorship and the Female Artist.” This session featured writer Anina Bennett and artists Camilla d'Errico and Olivia talking about censorship issues (including self-censorship) that affect their work. Olivia, the famed pinup artist, discussed the censorship issues she has faced throughout her career. “Erotica is always pushed back,” she said. “It's not considered art in America.” Meanwhile, d'Errico talked about the criticism that has met her paintings of topless, adolescent girls in North America, despite the fact that she repeatedly states that her characters aren't sexualized. “As an artist, I think that nudity is separate from pornography,” she said. It was interesting to hear two women with very different approaches to their work discuss similar situations.
2. Give Firefly all your love and respect.
Mention space epics and superfans to anyone and, chances are, the first two franchises that will pop into their mind are Star Wars and Star Trek. I humbly suggest that we add Firefly to the list. And, no, I'm not just saying that because I watched the short-lived Joss Whedon show when it first aired on television. Firefly doesn't have the abundance of related media that those other two franchises have, but it certainly has the fans.
This year is the 10th anniversary of Firefly and Friday morning's reunion panel became one of the defining moments of the convention. I didn't attend the panel. (Morning deadlines and morning panel lines pose an immediate scheduling conflict.) My friends did. They got in line at 6 a.m. Others queued up over the course of the night. Meanwhile, the orange and yellow hat worn by Jayne Cobb in the series became the must-have fashion item of the convention. We saw plenty of cosplayers, too.
1. Get inspired.
From exclusive toys to free posters to massive panels, SDCC is the ultimate place to be a fan, but it's more than that. Whether you've heard about the event through a fan-oriented site or mainstream news, chances are the emphasis is on the consumerist aspect, things that we buy, watch and read. There's nothing wrong with that, but it misses an important part of the experience.
If you're a big enough fan of something to make the trip to SDCC, it might be because that comic book, that TV show, inspired you to pursue your passion. Don't miss the opportunity to start work on your creative projects at the convention. Make costumes. Draw in your sketchbook or write in your notebook. Most importantly, make new friends. There are thousands of people at SDCC with the same interests as you. Your future collaborators are bound to be roaming the same convention hall as you. Go find them.