SDCC 2013 marks my third time attending the convention. I’ve had a pretty charmed experience at both the 2009 and 2012 shows. In fact, last year was so amazing and perfect that I’d planned on taking a few years off. The bug bit me a couple months later though, and we decided to head back again this year.
I’m getting a little better each year at planning for these large conventions, and I thought I’d pass along what I’ve learned.
A little background on my personal SDCC logistics, as not everything I list will be applicable to everyone. I fly in from the Boston area with my girlfriend, grab a taxi/shuttle from the airport and we usually stay with another couple at either the Marriott Marquis & Marina or the Hard Rock Hotel. Yes, those rooms are pricier than others, but splitting the room with others drops the cost, and the quality of life and convenience with SDCC is far, far more than doubled.
I’ll split my SDCC survival guide into three sections — Pre-Packing Preparation, Packing and On-Site Preparation.
I’ll assume you’ve already got your flight booked, your hotel secured, and of course your SDCC badge (unless you’re coming exclusively for the off-site activities).
Autographs – Long before the official artist alley or guest list is announced, I start making my pile of comics, DVDs, etc to have signed. That’s one of my favorite parts of SDCC, so I put a lot of planning into this task. I tend to bring anthologies or “jam” books that feature a lot of artists and writers on one book. Think Marvel’s Point One book from 2011 that featured 20+ creators or any of the major publishers’ holiday specials. I personally like having a lot of signatures on a single item, and it means having to pack/carry a lot fewer books.
Make a point of learning what your favorite creators look like. It sounds obvious, but it can save you hours in line. At NYCC this past October, a line was wrapped around itself at the Midtown Comics booth for a Brian K Vaughan signing. Vaughan spent much of that day hanging out at the Image booth just saying hello to the few people that recognized him and asked photos or autographs. Bring a checklist of the items you brought for signatures and keep it updated. No sense lugging a hardcover around the main floor if you’ve already got it signed by everyone.
Cameras – Whether you’re relying on your phone’s camera or bringing a nice point & shoot, LEARN HOW TO USE IT! Focus on knowing the best settings for dimly lit rooms and for catching quick shots while walking around the crowded floor. That second bit is crucial. If your camera is configured to the improper settings, you’ll get a blurry mess as you pass Stan Lee in the hall, even if he poses for you briefly (I speak from experience on that one). Bring a backup battery and remember to keep it charged. Empty the SD card before you get to the convention (again, speaking from experience).
SDCC Schedule – When it’s (finally) announced, take the time to figure out your absolute, must see panels first and build the rest of your schedule around those. I keep a hard copy on me at all times with alternate panels for each and every slot. Don’t forget to build in time for lining up early, meals and time to wander the main floor. Make a checklist of the booths and artist alley stops you want to make, too.
Social Media – It’s never too early to start preparing your Facebook and Twitter feeds. On Facebook, I recommend creating a list devoted to SDCC and add anyone and everyone you think will have a presence at the con. Check it often. For your favorites, make sure you’re configured to receive notifications when they post entries. For Twitter, make use of lists there as well. For the stuff I absolutely don’t want to miss, I turn on SMS notifications. Use that with moderation though, or your phone will go off about every two minutes.
There’s no shortage of “SDCC Packing” lists online, but here are my essentials,
♦ SDCC Confirmation printout – you won’t get far without it
♦ Inner soles – a brand new pair of inner soles for walking around SDCC is a life changing experience. Best $15 you can spend.
♦ Sharpies/pens – I have one of each in my back pocket at all times
♦ Messenger bag/backpack – my bag of choice is the Kensington 62210 Saddlebag Pro (see above). It has a tons of storage space, backpack straps and a compartment underneath for everything you could possibly need to carry.
♦ Backup batteries for cellphone and camera
♦ Collapsible chair (above) – fits in the backpack and will make everyone around you in lines jealous
♦ Comic boards – I keep a stash of these on hand for booth signings and artist alley. A lot of artists will give a quick, free 20 second sketch.
Packing Tips – Pack clothes you’re thinking of tossing/donating soon. I plan on packing shoes, jeans and a few shirts I don’t need anymore. They’ll be staying in San Diego when I leave, making lots more room for swag.
I pack lots of food/drinks to keep in the room. Again, this is all space you’ll have on the return trip for SDCC purchases/swag.
Weigh the luggage you plan on checking and know your air carrier’s limits before they start charging you a fortune. Put the DC Absolute Editions in your carry-on bag. I put all my valuable comics in boxes as if I’m shipping them and stuff them into my carry-on bag.
Transportation To Your Hotel – My personal preference is to avoid arranging a shuttle in advance. I took a cab without having to wait long at all in 2009. Last year the cabs were not handled well when our plane landed and we paid $5 more to jump on a shuttle heading towards the convention center. My advice – play it by ear. Chat up the people around you, find someone heading to your hotel and split a cab. Or hop a shuttle, but get a fixed price from the driver before you hop in.
Get Your Badge And Walk Around The Convention Center – Even if you’ve been to the con before, go for a walk once you’ve dropped off your stuff at your hotel. They won’t let you in except to pick up your badge, but you can walk all the way around it. Odds are you’ll run into a bunch of artists and writers checking in as well. Familiarize yourself with the entrances and exits. You’ll probably see a handful of people in line for Hall H already. It will really help you get your bearings to see the building without 100,000 people running all around you.
Cash – Grab it early and often. You won’t want to be hunting for an ATM at the convention center. There are banks a few blocks away that won’t have long lines. If you’re planning on shopping on the main floor, don’t try your luck with vendors attempting to use their cellphones to run credit cards. Reception is dicey at best and you can move along much faster paying in cash. Some vendors *only* take cash. Bring cash.
Hit The Grocery Store – There’s a grocery store called Ralph’s right down from the convention center. Stock your hotel room as much as possible to avoid having to wait in restaurants/take out lines while the con is open.
Getting Into Panels – At any given time there are up to 20 rooms hosting panels at SDCC. That’s in addition to Artist Alley, the autograph area in the Sails Pavilion and whatever’s happening on the main floor. Many of these are aimed at very niche audiences and the rooms don’t fill up, but the more mainstream/popular panels are going to require some extra preparation if you want to get in.
Hall H is the king of panel rooms. It holds over 6,000 people, but it can take three or four hours (or more) to advance through the line. SDCC *does not* clear the room between panels. Last year people got in line at 7AM for the Firefly panel and never got into the room. If there’s something later in the day you’re aiming for, arrive 3-4 panels ahead of time. If you want to see what Marvel & Warner Bros. are bringing on Saturday this year, you’ll probably have to get in line by 5AM to ensure that you’re getting in. If you decide to get in line that early, you’re allowed to bring a chair, blanket, etc, but remember that you’ll be carting that stuff around all day, so pack light. Last year restrooms were open in Lobby G overnight. The buddy system is a huge help here. You can hold your spot in line during bathroom breaks and once inside, try to upgrade your seats between panels. If you’re alone in line, chat up the people around you. Hall H is much, much easier to conquer with a friend or two. Note – when trying for better seats between panels, send someone to scout for as many as you need while you hold the ones you already have. Wait for a text confirming you have new seats. The second after you stand up, yours will be gone.
Ballroom 20 isn’t quite as insane as Hall H, but again, there are some huge panels held in there as well. Rooms 6A, 6BCF and 6DE are also rooms that might require getting there a couple panels before the one you want to see. Mavel & DC hold many of their panels in these rooms, and often you’re stuck standing in the back or waiting in the hallway before you’re even allowed into the room.
Buying SDCC Exclusive Items – Nothing requires more preparation at SDCC than hunting down certain exclusive items. They vary in both supply & demand, so know exactly what you want, what is costs and where to get it before heading over to the convention center.
Plan ahead. By now, most exclusives have been announced and are listed on the SDCC website. There are always a few last minute surprises, so keep an ear out for those. I regularly search Twitter for “SDCC Exclusive” leading up to the con. Make a list that clearly indicates cost, the vendor and prioritize it. The buddy system works well here too. Even the most popular items usually have a limit of two, so you can split up and attack multiple booths simultaneously.
Hasbro and Mattel are the most popular booths and both require some early morning line-waiting. They both have daily allotments for items, so if you strike out on the first day, try again the next morning. Mattel’s booth uses a first come, first served system. They only let so many people line up at once, but they regularly open the line back up. Hover close by, but not too close that you’re annoying the staff. Get there early on Thursday or on Preview Night if possible. Hasbro is a little more work. They issue tickets before the con opens each day. Head to the Sails Pavilion upstairs, queue up as early as you can (6-7AM is a safe bet) and you’ll be issued a ticket bearing a designated return time. When that time comes, head to the Hasbro booth on the main floor and shop away. I’d recommend biting the bullet, get up as early as you can on Thursday and get this out of the way.
With a little planning, you can actually fund most or all of your SDCC trip with these exclusives. If you are looking to flip these items, put them on eBay quickly before demand softens. Last year I used the eBay app to post things from my phone. I had items sold before I even crossed the street back towards my hotel. It helps to search completed auctions on eBay ahead of the con to gauge what items are fetching the most money. Again, it’s all about timing. Prices are often highest on Thursday/Friday as buyers are still getting a feel for just how rare some of these items are. That Walking Dead Escape variant of issue #100 plummeted by the end of the weekend last year. If you’re looking to flip your exclusives, don’t wait to get home before posting these on eBay. There’s a post office down the road from the convention center. You can even mail out your eBay packages before you even head home!
Explore The Off-Site Activities – There’s more and more official and unofficial programming every year. Petco Park is hosting the Walking Dead Experience again (an amazing time last year – go at night during one of the final waves) and the Nerd HQ meet & greets/panels. The movie theaters near the convention center host all sorts of red carpet premiers – great opportunities for pictures or autographs. Last year we met the entire cast of Breaking Bad, half the cast of The Walking Dead and some of the cast of Dredd just by walking past the movie theater at the right time. The lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel is also great for that, though at peak times they ask for a room key to get inside.
Nightly Prep List – Before calling it a night, make sure you charge up your phone, camera, iPad, etc. Pack up your items for the next day before you turn in. Get cash. Know your first couple panels/booths/signings for the next morning and where they queue up. Ask the day before where specific lines are going to be held (and get a second confirmation from another SDCC staff person).
Preparation For Next Year
Keep a running list of any inconveniences you experience and figure out how to eliminate them for future SDCC trips. Be social! Make friends with people who share your interests. They may very well come in handy next year for buying badges, splitting a hotel, chasing exclusives or waiting in line for Hall H.
My one top piece of advice for future conventions – whether it means saving a little extra cash or splitting with 4-5 other people, aim for a room at one of the hotels that are right next to the convention center. I know they’re first-come-first-served, I know they’re a bit pricey, but if you have a handful of people trying and get your submission in as soon as housing opens, it’s very attainable. And it makes all the difference. You don’t have to worry about parking, taxis, trolleys or traffic. You get that much more sleep. You can run to your room and back to the floor in ten minutes. It’s the best decision you’ll make all con (beside the inner soles I mentioned earlier).