The end of July is rapidly approaching and with it, the return of one of Southern California’s most treasured events: San Diego Comic Con (SDCC). The comic convention will be hosted at the San Diego Convention Center from July 21-24, with preview night on July 20.
The convention has just recently released their full program schedule, and the lineup is as impressive as ever. As usual, television shows hold a large portion of the spotlight. This year, fans can expect panels boasting the casts of “Game of Thrones,” “The Walking Dead,” “Silicon Valley,” “Orphan Black,” “Vikings,” and “Teen Wolf.” Fans will also get their movie fix with the highly anticipated Warner Bros. panel, which will feature such upcoming films as “Suicide Squad” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”
With so much pop culture packed into such a small weekend, Comic-Con veterans and newbies alike can feel overwhelmed – and perhaps for good reason – but as the convention approaches, it is important to remember that having fun should be a top priority. Sure, nabbing merchandise exclusives and getting into your favorite panels can be stressful, but Comic-Con above all serves as a hub designed to bring people together over common interests.
Below is a list of tips, advice, and suggestions from someone who has attended the convention, survived the madness, and lived to tell the tale.
- Carry your badge at all times
During Comic Con, your badge is your lifeline. It is required to enter the convention center, the exhibit hall, and Hall H, and costs money to replace if lost. Though badges come with a lanyard to clip it to (usually located in your complimentary SDCC backpack/bag), using the attached safety pin to hook it on the lanyard as well is always a good idea. This significantly decreases your chances of losing your badge.
- Know how you’re getting there
Unless you planned ahead and booked your hotel room months in advance, transportation to and from the convention center can be a hassle. Nearby trolleys are packed like sardine cans, taxis are as expensive as ever, and the sidewalks often spill over into the streets. If you’re planning on frequenting SDCC’s free shuttle bus, which stops at 60 locations scattered throughout the area, know the schedule so as to avoid getting left behind. If you’re from San Diego, park at a trolley station located a couple of miles from the convention center and get your seats before the people at the downtown stations. If all else fails, cough up the cash and buy a ride from one of the many pedicab drivers riding around the city.
- Always carry cash
Part of SDCC’s appeal is the seemingly endless supply of exclusive fan merchandise, graphic tees, posters, comic books, trading cards, and fan art. In the weeks leading up to the convention, companies will often put out one-of-a-kind products that can only be found at Comic-Con, so it is important to keep your eye out for them! The convention center has ATM’s located on the ground floor, but in the likely case that you find yourself waist deep in the 460,000 square foot exhibit hall, face to face with a sold-out Pop! Vinyl figure, it’s a good idea to have cash ready to go. Spare cash is also good for buying snacks throughout the day. Don’t plan on sitting down for a meal while in the convention center; Wetzel’s Pretzel stands and snack carts are the best way to go.
- Plan your day
SDCC is massive. It is jam-packed with everything from headline Q&A panels to spotlights on special guests, and knowing which ones you want to go to ahead of time will maximize your Comic-Con experience. Some panels close their doors after the guests have taken their seats, so arriving early is crucial. How early you get in line for a particular panel or program will depend on its popularity and location. Some panel locations, like Hall H and Ballroom 20, are notorious for drawing crowds, so plan around that prediction. Create a personalized schedule that accounts for the programs you’d like to see, the time it will take you to get there, and possible conflicts with other things you’d hoped to do.
- Know your booths
One of the things that makes Comic-Con so special its vast array of booths. While most are self-explanatory (for example, the t-shirt towers and Pop! Vinyl alcoves), others are less so. Throughout the weekend, some of the big-name booths host autograph sessions. If you missed a panel earlier in the day, you may have the opportunity to get autographs from some of the cast members. Exhibit hall signings are typically determined by random draw, and are only open to those who registered to be in the drawing prior to the signing itself. Most people don’t know about exhibit hall signings until they are happening, thus creating large mobs that can be difficult to navigate. Research the time and location of exhibit hall signings so you can either enter in the drawing, secure a spot close to the tables to watch, or know which areas to avoid.
- Don’t limit yourself to the convention center
The total area of SDCC is in no way confined to the interior of the convention center. San Diego, knowledgeable of how difficult it is to obtain Comic-Con badges, hosts various other attractions for the rest of the city. Small county-fair style rides, ziplines through Gotham City, and exquisite displays have decorated the streets surrounding the convention center in the past, and are open to the public. Additionally, Nerd HQ, located in The New Children’s Museum and manned by actor Zachary Levi, is set to return. Likewise open to the public, Nerd HQ’s annual “Conversations for a Cause” resemble SDCC panels (often hosting the same guests) but are much more intimate, and much harder to get tickets for. Petco Park, local restaurants, and even the public transportation system all get into the Comic-Con spirit as well!
- Everything about Hall H
If you’ve been to Comic-Con before, you’ve heard of the insurmountable behemoth that is Hall H. Located at the convention center’s southeastern end, Hall H is the largest program hall, seating 6,500 people, and is home to the hottest panels of the year. It is not unusual for the Friday and Saturday lines for Hall H (usually Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead), to stretch from the door, through the adjacent park, down the bay-front walkway, onto what is called “The Island,” and back around the convention center. It’s madness. However, it can be beaten.
If you know that one of the reasons you’re attending the largest show in North America is to see one of the most popular panels, plan ahead. Entry into Hall H for a highly anticipated panel takes commitment, and most often requires that you set aside one of your other convention days for it. If you want to go panels on Friday, bring a sleeping bag and get in line Thursday morning or afternoon. Around midnight, Comic-Con officials walk through the line handing out wristbands that tell you how likely you are to get into the hall the next morning. For example, the first set of wristbands, Group A, is virtually guaranteed seats. After the wristbands have been given out, the line in consolidated. At this point, you are allowed to set out sleeping bags and camp until the following day. The next morning, people enter Hall H in groups, and the hall is filled for the first panel of the day. Sound daunting? It is. However it is also (and more importantly) crazy fun.
The people around you are just as obsessed with whatever panel you’re waiting for and are often up for in-depth fan talk that casual fans wouldn’t get. Sometimes sympathetic cast members will walk through the line at night and take photos or even bring dinner (it happened last year!). All in all, Hall H is worth the wait, but not something to be taken lightly.
- The necessary odds and ends
During the hectic Comic-Con weekend, there are some things that are necessary to have. Never go anywhere without double-checking that your badge is around your neck, secured to your shirt, or wherever else you’ve decided to keep it. San Diego is known for its moderate weather, so anticipate it being hot. Bring water, or if you don’t want to carry around the bottle all day, buy some inside the convention center. Bring a permanent marker. Comic-Con draws a large number of celebrities, and the last thing you’d want to do is stumble upon someone and have nothing for them to sign with! Bring a phone charger. There are outlets located all throughout the convention center, and taking an hour in the middle of the day to charge your device and regroup can be relaxing. Clear up space on your phone. You will take pictures, lot’s and lot’s of pictures, and you’ll need room to store them.
San Diego Comic Con is truly the experience of a lifetime. There is an unfathomable amount of things to see and do, and the energy is unlike anything you’ve experienced. It radiates quirkiness and positivity, and succeeds in uniting people from all over the world. Though it can be overwhelming to say the least, all that it has to offer is just as rewarding.
Keep these tips in mind while prepping for the outrageous and exhilarating adventure San Diego Comic-Con provides.