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Surviving San Diego Comic-Con International: 46 Tips and Tricks

We contacted those who've fought in the Comic-Con trenches and asked them for their survival strategies.

Surviving San Diego Comic-Con Tips and Tricks

We first attended San Diego Comic-Con International as a couple in 2011. It was a life-changing experience, one we've tried to replicate every year since, except for those two horrible years that we won't bother dwelling upon. You lived them, too. You get it.


San Diego Comic-Con, blessedly abbreviated as SDCC, elicits strong opinions from most people. With attendance commonly reaching as high as 130,000 inside the convention center, never mind the mass of humanity weaving throughout downtown's congested Gaslamp District, the convention overwhelms everyone. Long before we ever took part in SDCC, we'd heard the horror stories, and they kept us away until the FOMO became unbearable.


One of the first lessons we learned at San Diego was to make friends and ask questions. You'll be in a line at some point, maybe even at most points. While there, make nice with the person in front of you and the person behind you. Conversation speeds up the process, and those around you are bursting with useful information. The regulars have accumulated vast knowledge, and it can get you through even the most stressful situations.


So, with that philosophy in mind, we contacted some of our friends and asked them for their best tips and tricks for surviving San Diego Comic-Con. These lessons come from various perspectives. We spoke with seasoned attendees, artists, writers, publicists, podcasters, and journalists. They all have different relationships with SDCC, but their intel should apply to most, and if it doesn't, it could ignite some alternative pathways to enjoy the convention.


Also, the knowledge listed below is not exclusively applicable to San Diego Comic-Con. Most of these tips and tricks are just as helpful for other large conventions, such as New Comic-Con, C2E2, HeroesCon, Baltimore Comic-Con, etc.

 

Step One: Good Shoes.


“Anyone who was at DC during a certain era will remember Paul Levitz reminding everyone to wear comfortable shoes...and he was really right about that." - Pornsak Pichetshote (Man's Best, Infidel, The Good Asian)


"Lieutenant Dan Taylor's Golden Rule: protect your feet! Wear comfortable shoes, consider probiotic foot spray/powder (Dr. Scholl's is our preferred brand), and sit when the opportunity presents itself. - Chris Hacker (The Oblivion Bar Podcast)


Hokas are for everyone, and the best-kept secret in San Diego in recent memory is the second location of Spill the Beans behind the Hyatt. But you didn’t hear it from me!” - Shannon Meehan (Skybound Senior Public Relations Manager)


Step Two: Hydrate


"Always wear comfortable shoes and a smile on your face - remember that fans have gone through a lot to meet their favorite artists. Also, hand-sanitize, hydrate, and don’t forget to have fun!" - Kathleen Glosan (Production Manager Cartoon Books, INC)

"Eat a GOOD breakfast. You’ll need the fuel as you walk miles worth of show floor. Speaking of walking, wear supportive shoes. Converse are the enemy of a good con walking experience, learn from my mistakes. Bring a refillable water bottle; it’s already hot here in San Diego, and you need to stay hydrated." - Lance Watkins (Comic Book Keepers)


“1. Stay hydrated. Liquid IV first thing every morning BEFORE the con. 2. Pack snacks! Food lines suck, and if you're not prepared, you'll end up waiting two hours for a wilted salad. 3. Schedule breaks. Make time to sit. Breathe. Hide in your hotel room.” - Heather Antos (Group Editor, Licensing at IDW on Star Trek, Mattel, and more)


“Comic-Con survival kit: comfy shoes, backup chargers, hand sanitizer, and a water bottle. Pace yourself, hydrate." - Karama Horne (The Blerd Gurl)


Since You're Bringing Water, Stock Up on Supplies


"I know it sounds dumb, but I carry a roll of toilet paper and hand soap in my bag.  With thousands of people descending on the local hotels and restaurants, they can run out! Carry hand sanitizer.  People are in such close quarters that it is really easy to get sick! Bring a folding chair and extra points if you can integrate it into your cosplay. You can spend a lot of time waiting in line! Bring sunscreen. With all of the concrete outside, you will get a lot of reflective sunlight. Stay hydrated. It always tends to be hot, and you will be doing a lot of walking." - Sean Whitley-Ross (Seasoned Attendee)


"It's kind of a different show depending on where you're staying. If you're staying at one of the hotels in that row of the convention center, you have the option of going back to your hotel room to crash between things. If not, you'll be out for the day, so remember to bring things like external cellphone batteries." - Pornsak Pichetshote (Man's Best, Infidel, The Good Asian)


"KISS: Keep It Simple, Silly: Invest in material (windowed bags/boards, preferred marker colors, etc.) that makes it easy for the creator to sign your books and keep it moving. The creator will almost always make it worth your while when you are in front of them, but also be considerate of their time and the fans behind you in line." Chris Hacker (The Oblivion Bar Podcast)


Stock Up on Supplies (Tabling Artist Edition)


“It sounds ridiculous, but I never fail to bring a big roll of clear packing tape.  It is impossible to state how many times that's saved my con for me.  Your signage is coming off your table?  Clear tape. Your storage box tore? Clear tape.  Your price list keeps falling off your table?  Clear tape. Absolutely the sonic screwdriver of convention tabling.” - Gail Simone (Uncanny X-MenMistyBirds of Prey)


“Have a big refillable bottle of water, cough drops, and some food with you. Food in and around cons tends to be on the junk food side, so for me, raw foods like apples or carrots are best." - Jesse Lonergan (Man's Best, Arca, Hedra)


“This is sort of what I've gathered over the past seven months: bring water, bring sustenance (protein bar, nuts, fruit), bring chapstick, bring a Sharpie or paint pen, bring a battery back-up for your phone, and bring breath mints :) Don't expect to actually use your phone for texting or the internet, as the towers in that area are probably going to be jammed most of the day with the huge amount of people in one spot. ALWAYS double-check if the signature is dry before putting it back into your bag and board. PLEASE ask first before putting anything on someone's table, and if it's food or drink, just don't (even if they say it's fine).” - Patrick Horvath (Beneath the Trees Where Nobody Sees, Free for All)


Sarah Myer's Bulleted List to Help Any Artist Remain Calm


  • "Try to organize the area behind your table (with your stock, supplies, etc.) as you're setting up, and do your best to keep it organized. Your future self from Saturday at 3 pm will thank you when they can find the tape or that extra Post-It note quickly!

  • Use a fanny pack or small wearable bag to keep your money/change in; that way, if you have to leave the table, the odds of you forgetting to lock down your cash are null, and you won't misplace it because it'll be attached to your body.

  • Make friends with your neighbors, and remember that you're all working towards the same goals: to share your art, make a little money, and have a good time.

  • Don't take anything personally in Artist Alley! You're likely going to be having lots of concerns, worries, etc. about your art and table. But don't forget that the people walking by your table have their own plans, spending limits, etc. If someone politely declines chatting or seems to want to walk by, for example, let them and don't take it to heart. For all you know, they may have spent their last dollar earlier, and it's got nothing to do with your table or your art!" - Sarah Myer (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Saturday Morning Adventures, Monstrous, Cheer Up, Michael)


Plan a Con as You Would a Heist


"As much as it's possible, know where you're getting lunch beforehand. It's easy to say we'll just go out and find something, but the crowds are so intense that movement can be slow, and you can waste a lot of time finding something, especially if you have to be back at a certain time.” - Pornsak Pichetshote (Man's Best, Infidel, The Good Asian)


"Look through the online guest list, guide, and schedule to see what creators will be in attendance, plus the booth layouts, panels, and special events. One of the worst feelings is missing out on an incredible signing, event, or experience because you didn’t know it was even occurring. Schedule your days! Some signings, panels, and events may overlap, so prioritize accordingly. Most comic creators will have multiple signings, but panels only happen once, so you can catch a creator on another day if there’s a panel or event going on simultaneously that you don’t want to miss. Know what booths have the “hot” exclusives and get there QUICK. If you’re looking to get commissioned art from your favorite artists, know what booths are repping them and get there as soon as the show floor opens! Good luck, and I’ll see you on the show floor!” - Lance Watkins (Comic Book Keepers)


"Never underestimate the value of finding alternate routes into or out of the immediate convention area or the most coveted thing of all: the secret bathroom in a connected hotel or in a quiet hallway. - Sarah Myer (Saturday Morning Adventures: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Monstrous, Cheer Up, Michael)


"Consider parking farther out from the city center and riding the trolley. Way cheaper! Remember, you will need to have any pretend weapon checked and approved. Be considerate of everyone feeling safe." - Sean Whitley-Ross (Seasoned Attendee)


Covering the Con, The Geekly Grind Way


"Covering Comic-Con can definitely be overwhelming - so my biggest advice is to plan, plan, plan - Including planning for downtime (very important!) If you’re a one-person operation, you may want to focus on a key angle for the show (comics, tabletop/board games, pop culture, toys) to prevent being spread too thin. If you’ve been approved for press, make sure to take advantage of the media room for dropping off bags and grabbing a snack and drink in between panels. Big-name interviews are fun to land, but make sure to scour artists alley and the small press area as well! You’ll likely find a rising talent and/or unique story to share with your community. Oh - and make sure to spare some time for cosplay pictures! The days can get away from you, and before you know it, it’s Sunday, and you’re playing catch-up! Have a great Con!” - Jeremy Snow (The Geekly Grind)


*Gulp* The Hall H Line


"1) Make sure you bring enough people in your groups so that you can alternate being in line and walking the floor. 2) Make sure you have sun protection, and somewhere you can sit in the shade. 3) Invest in an inflatable mattress if you are going to sleep on the sidewalk! 4) Having a car in your group that can shuttle bedding, etc, back and forth can help cut down on the amount of stuff you have to carry. - Sean Whitley-Ross (Seasoned Attendee)


"The best part of the Con, for my family, has been meeting people who have similar interests with wildly different backgrounds and experiences and finding we have more in common than not. In the Hall H line, my children have spent time with people of different religious backgrounds, nationalities, races, and found friends whom they love, trust, and respect—even if they don’t always agree on the merits of some new show or political agenda. It’s been a wonderful counterpoint to the divisiveness of our culture in our lives." - Scott Wood (Seasoned Attendee)


Prepare to Ditch the Plan


"Planning is a key part of San Diego Comic-Con, but it's equally important to go with the flow. I always suggest over-researching so you know what your options are and then deciding on a few key things you want to try to do during the con. Then having a backup plan for if those don't work out. But the more you know about what's available at the con, the easier it is to pivot if a line is capped or you sleep in longer than you intended." - Kerry Dixon (Editor-in-Chief, The San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog)


“The most important thing I can say to anyone attending SDCC is this: plan for nothing to go according to plan! Just like all other major comic book conventions, San Diego Comic-Con is absolutely packed. Lines are going to be longer than you expect, signings may run late, and it's going to take a lot more time than you think to get to your next destination. Those experiences may make some people feel rushed or stressed if the show isn't going according to their personal schedule, but you just need to go along for the ride that is SDCC, and you'll undoubtedly have a memorable experience." - Gregg Katzman (IDW Senior Publicity Manager)

"Try and schedule some time in your schedule to literally have NOTHING on the cards, with no agenda or planning. Take a deep, confident breath, and randomly head in a direction around the con for an hour or so, to somewhere where you may not have explored before: a hotel off site, the panel rooms upstairs, the gaming rooms...anywhere! SDCC is packed to the gills with people and fandoms incredibly passionate about all forms of pop culture - you may just discover your brand new obsession that you didn't even know about." - Leonard Sultana (An Englishman in San Diego)


Cash Remains King

"Mo' Money, Less Problems: cash is king, and wi-fi science is abysmal at comic conventions. When purchasing something from a vendor and/or creator, they will 10/10, 100% of the time, prefer cold, hard cash. 50k+ people jammed into a convention area will almost always destroy the internet capabilities, and you can avoid that problem (and taxes!) by coming prepared.” - Chris Hacker (The Oblivion Bar Podcast)


"Tech is awesome, but printed paper copies of your tickets, registrations, etc. can be a lifesaver if the wifi isn't working, you forget your phone somewhere, etc. And on that same note, while most take credit cards, it's always a good idea to have cash too. I've gotten to jump the line at booths simply by having cash in hand and ready to go.” - Kerry Dixon (Editor-in-Chief, The San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog)


Find the Cons Within the Con


“I’ve found that San Diego Comic-Con is so big, you can kind of cater what you want out of it. I spend most of my time in the art rep section, which is nowhere near any of the Netflix/Hollywood stuff. There’s enough just in that little part that it scratches the itch. And that’s where Stuart Ng’s Books sets up, he’s the best bookseller that attends the show!” - Daniel Warren Johnson (Murder Falcon, Transformers, Do a Powerbomb!)


"Don't overlook the less popular panels, especially when you need some time off your feet after walking all day. Some of my favorite SDCC experiences have been in panels you don't have to line up for! Check the schedule for which up-and-coming comics creators are showing up, and spend some time at the Animation Show of Shows." - Tiffany Babb (Critic)

"Do not miss the chance to wander through the small press section of the con floor. While it doesn't always receive the same amount of attention as the flashier attractions at SDCC, it is an unpredictable and fascinating area of the con and contains a wealth of sequential art treasures you never even knew existed." - Bryant Dillon (Co-founderFanbase Press, Co-host of The Fanbase Weekly podcast)


"In larger convention centers, if the showroom floor/main area of a convention gets too hot, you can sometimes get relief from crowds and heat by physically moving to a higher floor; these tend to be where con ops, panels, etc are held so the hallways are quieter and less densely populated. And in many cases, the AC is blasting up there and goes further than it does in the crowded exhibit hall. Plus, it can be fun (and a little more relaxing) to people watch if you get a birds-eye view of the floors below.” - Sarah Myer (Saturday Morning Adventures: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Monstrous, Cheer Up, Michael)

"Walk the whole floor; you never know what you will see  – two years in a row, I had long conversations with Marv Wolfman (MARV WOLFMAN!!) because they had set him up with his own table just because he was going to be there and he was just sitting there in between panels. The highlight of the year for me both times!” - Sean Whitley-Ross (Seasoned Attendee)


Find the Cons Outside the Con


“It's faster to walk on the harborside promenade behind the convention center if you're going from your hotel on that side of Harbor Drive to the convention center or between hotels. It's less crowded and way more scenic. Taking some time from the stress to enjoy the scenic beauty of San Diego and the harbor is super important, and a little sea breeze refreshes the spirit.” - Heidi MacDonald (Editor-in-Cheif, The Beat)


“There is so much to see and do, not just in and around the convention center but further out in the Gaslamp District around San Diego. If you are looking to explore everything SDCC has to offer, prepare for a lot of walking. It’s good to get some insoles for your shoes to try and stay as comfortable as possible as you trek through different terrains around Comic Con.” - Bryan Young (PGCTV, B and B Movies)


“If you're 21+ make sure to make some time to hang out at your hotel bar and/or the hotel bars around the convention center. The vibes there are always impeccable and it's a great chance to connect with people away from the madness of the con. Also, hotel bars tend to have really good bartenders, so treat yourself to a nice mixed drink!” - Jordan Morris (Youth Group, Bubble, Free with Ads)


"Always compliment someone when you see a unique cosplay – people can put a lot of work into their costume and want to be recognized. I once called out a man in a 70’s Simon Williams Wonder Man full-body costume, and the guy said I made his whole con. Several years ago, another person walked past me in a full Moon Knight cosplay, and I asked him, “Am I in the presence of The Fist of Khonshu??” He was very excited to be recognized. Don’t be shy to ask people if you can take their picture – many people have worked up a pose that shows off the work they have done! Be outgoing – I have never had a bad experience recognizing someone’s fandom. Everyone is there to celebrate what they love! Be nice to the people working – they are mostly volunteers!" - Sean Whitley-Ross (Seasoned Attendee)


Gimme a Break!


“You can always leave. Big conventions can be overstimulating, with a lot of people and sounds and attention-grabbing imagery. It is a lot. Take some time away from the convention, outside the building, away from the noise and bustle. Have a moment to yourself, or two, or three, as the day requires. You can always leave, center yourself, and then go back in. The door works both ways.” - Jadzia Axelrod (Galaxy: The Prettiest Star, Hawkgirl: Once Upon a Galaxy)


"Take real breaks for meals and try to get away from the con if possible. This mainly comes from the bigger shows like NYCC, where the show opens at 9 am for VIPS and doesn't close until 8 or something. There's no point in running yourself into the ground. My hero at a con was a guy in Toronto who took off to watch a Blue Jays game and then came back.” - Jesse Lonergan (Man's Best, Arca, Hedra)


"I've never been to San Diego Comic-Con, only comparably sized conventions like New York Comic-Con. But the premise is the same, and this reality is as well: it's a marathon, not a sprint. You might think you want to put up four or five days of 30,000+ steps where you go and do and see everything. But it'll be a challenge to do so. So, my tip is something it took me a while to learn. Don't be afraid to leave the convention. Whether it's taking a power nap at your hotel or getting a coffee off-site, giving yourself the grace to relax and the chance to recharge will allow you to enjoy the marathon more than if you turned it into a series of sprints. And your feet will thank you! (also, buy good walking insoles because you'll be on your feet A LOT)" - David Harper (SKTCHD, Off Panel)


"SDCC can be very intense and overwhelming and you may find the volume, the crowds, the sheer mania of the con to be too much. Be brave enough to just step away and find a moment of zen for yourself; have a drink of water, grab a snack, read a comic! The floors of the corridor above Hall H are nicely cool and relaxed, certainly moreso than the walls of the outer concourse of the convention center itself; head to the Upper Balcony at the back of the center to get some fresh air and shade under the tents; if you can get outside towards the Hilton Bayfront, Sweet Things is a great eats venue to get something chilled down you; hell, there's plenty of great bars and restaurants in the Gaslamp to go and sit, and crowd watch. If it all gets too much, and it easily can...take time and walk away. This is your nerd heaven; it doesn't have to become your personal hell.” - Leonard Sultana (An Englishman in San Diego)


"1) Don’t spend more than a day on the floor. 2) Try talking to an artist in the Alley—they have great stories and are very dedicated to their craft. 3) Wait in line for Hall H and talk to your neighbors. 4) Stay on Coronado to get a respite from the crowds. 5) Stay hydrated" - Scott Wood (Seasoned Attendee)


Remember, This is Fun!


"First-timers - don't stress about seeing it all! You can't, so just soak in the fun!" - Karama Horne (The Blerd Gurl)


"Even if you miss something that you really had your heart set on, there is still so much to see and do while you're there. SDCC is only once a year, so remember to enjoy the experience!" - Gregg Katzman (IDW Senior Publicity Manager)


"The first thing is to enjoy yourself! You're doing it! The thing you most want to be doing, so take it in! Make friends, or at least get to know some comic folks! It's great to have lunch with other people and share good and bad stories about what you're all going through! Be sure you have a water bottle with you! - Jeff Smith (Bone, Rasl, Tuki: Fight for Family)

 

Seriously, drink water, friends. Also, say hello if you see us on the streets or on the floor. We'll have CBCC stickers for you. And have a great time!

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