Crash course in Comic-Con

By LARRY GAURANO

Congratulations! After registering on comic-con.org months ago, keeping track of the monthly emails about purchasing badges, remembering your member id, waking up the day of the online sale, logging in at exactly 9 a.m. while never hitting refresh, sticking in your queue although it looked hopeless, having the money required to purchase all those badges on one credit card…

If you have ever tried to register for the world famous, San Diego Comic-Con International, this should all sound very familiar. Every year people from across the globe go through this process for the chance to attend the convention.

When tickets become available on the website, they sell out within minutes. Social media then explodes with exclamations of joy from those who got badges and complaints from those who hate the system. Love it or not, they are doing it again next year.

I’m a native San Diegan and I’ve been going to the SDCC since 1994, way before it was cool to be a nerd. Back then it was much more about the comics. Instead of registering months in advance, you would just show up to buy your tickets.

Things are much different now. The SDCC is considered to be the pop culture and entertainment expo of the year. People have it on their bucket list to attend, and telling people that you have gone before makes you a celebrity.

But is it all smooth sailing once you purchase your badges? After all, the hard part is over right? Wrong.

“If you have no idea what the San Diego Comic-Con is like, you’ll miss the whole thing even if you were here,” an attendee told me as we waited in line for 6 hours.

I will give you the rules on how to survive and get the most out of your SDCC experience, while paying homage to the rules in the film, Zombieland.

Rule #1 Shoes

You’re going to spend 95 percent of your time at the Con on your feet. You’re going to stand in line just so you can stand in another line. Without warning, you’re going to be expected to run or hike countless stairs. It’s best to be prepared. Get those gel inserts to make your feet happy.

Rule #2 Badge pick up

You will get an email about picking up your badges on Wednesday, the first day of the Con. It will say to go to the Town and Country Resort in Mission Valley of San Diego. It will also say you can’t pick up your badges before 3 p.m. that day. A quick, pro tip is to pick them up early, like 12 p.m. early.

Park at the Fashion Valley Mall because the resort will be packed with cars trying to park. The mall is one block north of the resort. Just walk to the resort and grab your badges. Staff will be giving them out as soon as they are done setting up.

Rule #5 Preview night

You just got your badges and were lucky enough to get preview night access. I guess you have time for lunch or to check in at the hotel, right? No, head straight to the Con. It’s a 15 minute drive south in downtown San Diego. When you get there, no matter how early you got your badges, there will already be a ton of people in line.

Rule #11 Hotels

You should stay at the hotels near the Con, right? Wrong. Your car is almost useless downtown during the Con. Public transportation, such as the trolley, will do you better.

You know the saying, “you don’t need a fancy hotel because you’ll just be sleeping in it”? Not at SDCC. All you’ll be using your hotel room for is storage for all your purchases. Go book a hotel in Mission Valley. It’s where the tourists stay, as it is centralized in San Diego. You’ll save money and have access to amenities that are not available downtown.

Rule #12 Mission Valley

I’ve mentioned this part of San Diego multiple times. Your badge pick up is here and the majority of San Diego’s hotels are here. The best part is there are grocery stores and malls here along a direct and short route to downtown.

Stop at Target for snacks that you can carry. You may not want to deal with the hassle of carrying stuff, but do you really want to spend hiked up prices on food at the Con? Every dollar saved is another dollar you can spend at the Con.

Rule #15 Bags

When you pick up your badges, you get a cool, oversized backpack that becomes a badge of honor for attendees. People will use them at other cons as a type of trophy that says, “Look at me, I’ve been to SDCC.”

They usually give out about eight types of bags and they don’t let you pick the design. If there’s a design you want, don’t spend the effort trying to trade or buy someone else’s bag. On the last day of the Con, in the final hours, staff gives out the remaining bags. You can get as much as you want and whatever you want.

Rule #28 Celebrities

From what you’ve seen on television, so many celebrities attend the Con that you’re sure to run into all them, right? Wrong. Most celebrities make brief appearances which are unannounced. While some go to their press conferences then leave, others are in complete incognito. The best way to see celebrities is to spend time in downtown’s restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Pay attention to social media as well for possible sightings.

Rule #29 The Buddy system

Just like in Zombieland, it’s important to have a buddy. You need a friend that can hold your spot in line. A friend that can wait in one line while you wait in another. A friend that can do a food run while you hold your spots in line. Most importantly, you need a friend to hold you as you weep when you find out that the exclusive you want is sold out.

Rule #32 Panels

Professional conferences are meant to educate by sharing information from the industry. The SDCC prioritizes that same purpose. Be sure to attend different panels. Use the guide to plan out your schedule ahead of time. Panels are free to attend, but just like everything else at SDCC, you’re going to have to stand in line.

Rule #39 Going multiple days

You cannot see everything the SDCC has to offer in one day, even if you speed walk. In fact, you can’t speed walk because of everyone in your way. Your best bet is to create an agenda for each day. Spend one day going to panels, another day shopping in the vendor sections and dedicate a day to lining up exclusives.

Rule #40 San Diego

San Diego is considered to be “America’s Finest City”. It would be a shame to go there, attend the con and then leave when it’s all over. Arrive early or stay late to see the sights. Balboa Park, Coronado Island and the beach at La Jolla are all worth seeing.

Rule #51a eBay

Has the idea of selling SDCC exclusives at 200 percent of what you paid for sound enticing? Well, unless you have five people with you to pick up multiples of each item, it’s not worth it.

After online selling fees, shipping supplies and the cost of postage, I find the average net profit to be around 40 percent. This sounds great until you consider how much time you spent waiting in line, what you missed out on while waiting in those lines and the costs associated with your hotel and travel.

The best time to sell exclusives is the day you get them. Prices drop considerably after the Con ends and don’t pick back up until months or years later.

Rule #51b eBay

People must be crazy to pay those prices on eBay when the item only cost half of what they were selling for at the Con, right? After you experience the pain of trying to get the exclusive, only to fail, you’ll realize the prices are worth it, especially if the line you’re in is only for one of many items being offered. The best time to buy is two weeks after the Con, as the market will be saturated.

Rule #67 Exclusives

Hasbro and Mattel are the companies that offer the most coveted exclusives each year. If you want a chance to get them, plan on lining up around 12 a.m. Once you are in line for the exclusive, have a buddy or yourself go purchase them from the smaller companies. These exclusives usually have no limit and no line. They sell out by the second day of the Con.

Rule #71 Security

There are two types of security. There are security staff that work for the exhibitor and security staff that the SDCC has hired. Exhibitor staff are there to help manage lines for their appropriate booths, but are quickly overwhelmed. They rely heavily on SDCC staff.

Befriend both types. There will be times where they will tell you the line is closed off for now, but you can come back later to see if it opens up. People will try and stand around the line but it quickly blocks up, creating a fire hazard. If you become friends with security, just like with bouncers at night clubs, they’ll remember you and hook you up when they can.

Rule #80 Buying decisions

You’re going to be bombarded with different things to buy, but you have a limited budget. When in doubt, buy exclusives, artist alley or small press items. Items that you can find on Amazon are usually going to be cheaper than at the Con. Who knows when you’re going to have a chance at a unique item from an artist here?

Rule #92 Sunday funday

You made it to Sunday, but that probably means you’re also broke. There are so many free things to do at the Con, including video games and movie screenings. They are usually going on at the extended parts of the Con, located at the neighboring hotels.

Rule #95 Collapsible chairs

Invest in a high end, compact, collapsible chair that can easily be carried in a backpack. Sitting on the floor gets old fast. You can find them at outdoor sports stores.

Rule #99 Downtown

There are many other Comic-Con experiences going on downtown. Businesses capitalize on the Con by renting out their businesses to companies who were not able to get a space. For most of these events, you don’t even need a comic-con badge to attend. However, you will have to stand in line.

Rule #101 Your first Comic-Con

If you have never attended a Comic-Con before, don’t let San Diego be your first. Seasoned Comic-Con attendees are overwhelmed with SDCC. Get your feet wet by going to a smaller con. I find the Phoenix Comic-Con much more enjoyable and it’s a great con to start off with.

 

Demo games

Video game developers including Square Enix provide fully functional demos such as the new Kingdom Hearts to play before they are released. (Larry Gaurano/Aztec Press)

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