So next week, William “Bibbs” Bibbiani and I, as we mentioned at the tail end of the last episode of The B-Movies Podcast (now at number 75), will be trekking to San Diego, CA for the geek prom that is Comic-Con, an annual event where hundreds of thousands of people gather to watch previews of upcoming movies, hear some of their admired idols speak, get autographs, talk comics, play Vampire: The Masquerade, dress in those cool-looking but really baffling steampunk outfits, and spend piles of money on old comic books, bootleg DVDs, t-shirts with clever pop culture slogans on them, and bottled drinks made to look like blood. Comic Con was once (many moons ago) a low-key affair where only a few hundred people would gather to talk about the brilliance of Jack Kirby, and swap their favorite Conan back-issues. It is now a frothing, heedless Gomorrah of cross-pop-culture decadence. Whether you’re interested in rumors about the next Twilight film, or would prefer to hear aging experts talk about Famous Monsters of Filmland, or just want to wiggle about whatever the next superhero flick/trend/movement is, Comic-Con will have you covered.
I have attended a mere two Comic Cons in the past. Bibbs has been to a few more. We are not seasoned veterans of the event (I have met people who have been attending consecutively for nearly 30 years), but we both have enough experience, perhaps, to offer some practical advice to the newbie. Seriously, hundreds of thousands of people are going to be tromping through the San Diego convention center come next week, and I’m willing to bet a majority of them are going to be first-timers. This article is for them.
Here, then, are a few important hints for survival at Comic-Con.
Get Comfortable Shoes
Bibbs will back me up on this one. While sitting on panels or watching movies may be your beat, you are going to spend most of your time on your feet. Waiting in lines, walking great distances, perusing the millions of comics for sale. You’ll be spending more time on your feet than an above average day at Magic Mountain, only you won’t have the calming respite of a roller coaster to relax you. So wear your comfy shoes. If you are in a costume that involves chunky boots or high heels, be sure to bring a spare set of sneakers with you. Unless you’re one of those superhumans who can actually walk several miles in pumps and not get blisters, you’re going to need comfy shoes. Some gel inserts wouldn’t hurt either. I’d draw the line at carrying a footspa with you.
Bring Your Own Food and Drink
The only food available inside the San Diego convention center is either going to be overpriced coffee from the Starbucks-sponsored kiosks (which will have horribly long lines), or rat-horrible 7-11-level pizza and nachos from sparsely located food stands (which will also, curiously, have horribly long lines). This may sound kind of extreme, but I wholly encourage you to bring a canteen or a water bottle. Drink frequently. Comic Con can be like a long hike in the Adirondacks, only with white kids dressed as unidentifiable anime characters in place of bears. Stay hydrated. Trail mix can’t hurt either. If you have to eat, bring in a sack lunch, just like you did back in school. You’ll find the extra food can keep you upright for longer periods. Try to stay away from energy drinks and sugary snacks. Their rush will wear off quickly in this environment. It’s true fortification you’ll need.
If You Want a Picture of a Pretty Girl, Ask Politely
Comic-Con is replete with hundreds of attractive young ladies in alluring Power Girl costumes, and any red-blooded heterosexual male will want to stare. Some will even want to take pictures. This is fine. Anyone who came to Comic Con in a costume is likely there to draw attention. It’s just like Halloween in West Hollywood. So take pictures, but, for goodness’ sake, ask them first. Ask them to pose. Snap a picture quickly, say “thank you,” and move along quickly. If you want to talk about the costume, ask. I’m sure they’d be happy to discuss things with you. Don’t leer. Don’t sneak pictures. And please don’t try to take surreptitious pictures of their buttocks. I’ve known some women who have told me stories of buttocks bandits, and they are a feared and hated segment of the Comic Con audience. You’ll be surrounded by flesh. Please stay dignified.
You’ll be crammed into an indoor place with thousands of human bodies. You don’t want to be the stinky one. Wear clean clothes.
Don't Feel Bad About Saying "No"
All of the stars, panelists, and exhibitors are there to advertise and to make money. Almost every table to pass on the main floor will be hustling and giving you the hard sell. Many booths will be handing out postcards or stickers or some other trinket so you’ll remember their name. After only a few hours of this advertising gauntlet, much of Comic Con can feel like open panhandling. Unless you like to collect postcards and stickers, get used to saying “No thank you” a lot. Don’t be brusque. But it’s okay to refuse.
Attend the Smaller Panels
The largest panel hosting room at Comic-Con is a vast, mythical place called Hall H. It seats, at last estimate, about 9 billion people, which is greater than the entire human population. You won’t get in. The line is too long. All of the biggest news events take place in there, and even though there aren’t enough people in the world to fill it, it will still somehow be full, and billions more will be waiting to get in. And while I have heard stories of people actually getting inside of Hall H, I would encourage most people to pass it by on most days in favor of the smaller, more modest panels. In these smaller places, you’ll find hard-working writers and artists expounding eloquently on their craft, and you begin to see the true heart of Comic Con: the actual passion for comics that started this whole mess. It’s fun to get worked up about, say, Iron Man 3: Toulon’s Revenge, but it’s actually moving and inspiring to hear Alison Bechdel or Seth talk about the power of comics.
If You’re Into Redheads, Prepare to Drool a Lot
I don’t know what it is about the geek lifestyle that attracts pretty redheaded girls, but attract them it does, and in vast numbers. You’ll see more gingers in the five days of Comic-Con than you will for the rest of the year. Acres of easily-burned pale skin, orange locks and freckles will be readily available for the redhead lover in you. I can’t offer any advice as to how one cruises for lovely, curvy, nerdy redhead girls, but if you have more game than I (and that’s most of you), bring it to the convention floor. Maybe you can go for a romantic swim and quote episodes of Doctor Who together later that night.
Next: Bibbs' Advice
From the Desk of William “Bibbs” Bibbiani:
There are three kinds of people who love Comic Con. People who are totally spazzing out about the weekend they’re about to have, people who are cutting their wrists as we speak because they couldn’t get in (damn, this thing sells out fast now) and professional journalists and critics like myself, who are currently chugging beta blockers like there’s no tomorrow. Comic Con is one of the most wonderful places in the world, but if you’re racing from one end of the convention to the other, often dashing outside the theater for miles on end in a sweaty footrace to the next big interview, it’s a level of stress hitherto unknown outside of parents who forgot all about Christmas until the 24th.
That said, we have absolutely no right to complain.
I’ve been to almost every Comic Con since 2000, and it’s my haven from the world at large. Sure, I surround myself with fellow arts and entertainment enthusiasts whenever possible, but one look at the great big world out there shows me an endless sea of washed masses, to whom “Rocket Raccoon” would be considered a typo and The Amazing Spider-Man is somehow good enough. (Oh, there are going to be a lot of debates on the floor this year about that film, mark my words.) At Comic Con, there is comfort. Every single person in the San Diego Convention Center this weekend wants to be surrounded by geeks of every stripe imaginable, or is at least adequately prepared to in order to sell their wares. It’s like coming home again after a long sea voyage, except you’re never allowed to stay for more than four-and-a-half days. The drive home always sucks, and not just because of the traffic (which sucks harder than The Amazing Spider-Man).
So for those of you who might be attending Comic Con for the first time, or at least those who haven’t yet learned their lesson, I also offer some helpful hints to make your adventure a little less hazardous. It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.
Seriously, Take Care of Your Feet
Witney wasn’t kidding about this one, so I wanted to reiterate: you are going to be on your feet a lot, so wear comfortable shoes or, if that’s not an option (cosplayers, we appreciate your sacrifice), invest in some foot pads. The last time I forgot this, my feet looked like something out of a Garbage Pail Kids trading card by Saturday morning. I’m a fan of Dr. Scholl’s Massaging Gels, myself, but listen to your heart.
Oh yes, and Comic Con is not the place to break in those sexy new shoes of yours. Under any circumstances. Learn from my mistakes.
Talk to People
Geeks tend to be characterized as loners, or at least somewhat socially awkward. While that’s not entirely true, it is the entire point of these conventions, especially the long ones: to get all of us in one place so we can share our mutual and even dueling love of comics, genre movies, action figures or whatever else gets your rocks off (so long as it’s not sports). So take advantage of it. If you see someone looking at a comic book you love, particularly something that hasn’t been optioned by Hollywood yet, tell them how much you like it and start a dialogue. How often do you really get a chance to talk to an absolute stranger about Sandman Mystery Theatre, anyway?
Be Nice to the Twi-Hards
A few years ago, Twilight fans invaded Comic Con and, in the eyes of some old-timers, ruined it for everyone. They stuffed Hall H to the gills at the start of the day, and only begrudgingly watched some of the most anticipated panels of the year in order to get good seats for Robert Pattinson snapshots. Some even argued that there were so many Twilight fans, whom we call “Twi-Hards,” that quote-unquote “real geeks” couldn’t get in. I have a newsflash for you people: Twi-Hards are real geeks. In fact, they’re geekier about Twilight than half the convention goers are for Star Wars, Star Trek, Batman or any damned thing else in there. Geeks are people who define themselves by their passions, particularly for fictional, genre-related stories, and Twilight qualifies. Sure, it sucks, but that’s a matter of opinion. We’re all going to Comic Con to celebrate our obsessions, and excluding anybody – even sneering behind their back – turns you into the very bullies you go to San Diego to get away from.
Try Something New
That being said, if you’re only going to Comic Con for Twilight, or The Hobbit, or the “Firefly” reunion, you are missing out on a golden opportunity to expand your horizons. Witney recommended going to the smaller panels. I recommend going to a panel or at least scouring a booth dedicated to something you have no interest in whatsoever. If it’s at Comic Con, it’s there because some people love the hell out of it. Again, talk to the people you meet. If you’re not familiar with manga, go up to a booth selling nothing but and ask them what they would recommend for a noob. Check out the independent comic book booths. If you don’t know a thing about martial arts movies, attend Ric Meyers’ annual “Superhero Kung Fu Extravaganza.” I took a chance on it my first year, and it changed my life. I mean it. There’s no better salesman than someone with nothing to gain from the sale. Share your passions with everyone.
Do Your Shopping on Wednesday and Sunday
Unless you’re burdened with an overabundance of money, you’re going to want to pace yourself. Write down a list of things you absolutely have to buy while you’re there – exclusives, graphic novels, rare TV series, fancy posters, whatever floats your boat – and buy it on preview night to make sure it doesn’t sell out. For everything else, wait until Sunday. Many vendors mark their prices down on Sunday because they don’t want to lug all of their products home with them. If you’re worried about not finding something at the last minute, well, that should be on your “must have” list. This will free up Thursday, Friday and Saturday to attend the panels (the best ones are rarely scheduled on Sunday), and you’ll have saved a bundle.
Don’t Worry About Hall H… Except on Saturday
Witney warned you against Hall H, and yes, it’s crowded as hell. But in recent years they’ve worked out a lot of the kinks, and it’s actually easier to get into than ever. The convention-runners finally learned to schedule the Twilight panel early on Thursday morning, and so last year there were a shocking number of free seats at almost every panel afterwards. But don’t get too cocky on Saturday: it’s a non-stop deluge of panels about the biggest films on the horizon, starting with Django Unchained and moving right along to Man of Steel, Pacific Rim, The Hobbit and Iron Man 3. If someone’s there in the morning, they’re going to be there all day, so park your ass and stay there on Saturday. Otherwise, you can probably get away with shuffling in a panel or two ahead of time, tops.
What Comic Con Survival Tips have you learned over the years?