Keep Calm and Prepare for Con

Banners for the 2012 San Diego Comic Con align in the convention center rafters.

by Wes Smith

Each Summer, over 130,000 people gather in San Diego for the Comic Con International convention (SDCC). Presented as the largest gathering of pop culture in the United States, the convention’s popularity has skyrocket in the past decade. What once started as a small meeting among friends in the U.S. Grant hotel now attracts new attendees with unprecedented growth.

Conventions like SDCC are becoming fixtures around the country thanks to the prevalence of comic book and fan cultures. As these become more acceptable to the public mindset, first-time convention goers continue to lead to explosive growth of these events.

Going to a massive convention for the first time can be a daunting experience. Few gatherings of any industry see as many participants at one time as downtown San Diego does in July. To help manage expectations for your trip, AD has compiled a few tips that may come in handy as you navigate the convention center and beyond.

1. Don’t Expect To See Everything

SDCC is an amalgamation of several different aspects of many different industries and mediums. It covers everything from comic books to toys to Film/TV. Some convention goers are there for a specific purpose, but many first-time attendants have a much broader focus.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to soak it all in; SDCC is almost sensory overload, after all. However, don’t try to do too much because it’s almost impossible to see everything you want to see. Without a focus, some new guests become disappointed when they find that a desired panel is at the same time as their favorite stars’ autograph signings. Or that they missed an impromptu giveaway in the Gaslamp District because they were waiting in line for an exclusive toy. This becomes a bigger issue the fewer days you have at the convention.

When the official Comic Con website releases the panel schedule two weeks before the convention, go over it and choose what is most important to least important. Have some hierarchy to your choices and understand you will likely miss something you wanted to see. Don’t feel too upset; the convention has many years ahead of it! Plus, by lowering expectations, you open more time to wander and encounter the energy flowing throughout the city. There are countless blogs and stories about people running into their favorite celebrity or cosplayer simply because they freed up their time in order to walk around.

It’s SDCC. You will have fun with or without that panel.

Attendees for the 2012 San Diego Comic Con line the upper floors of the convention center before the exhibit hall gates open.

Attendees for the 2012 San Diego Comic Con line the upper floors of the convention center before the exhibit hall gates open.

2. Pace Yourself

Whether you’re there for one day or all five, SDCC is a long process. There are lines at every turn, enclosed spaces filled with other attendees, and booths to ogle every few steps. In order to have a fun – and healthy – experience, be mindful not to overdo yourself.

According to the Unofficial SDCC Blog site, the San Diego Convention Center is one of the largest convention centers in the U.S. at 2.6 million sq. ft. Keep in mind that even with so much space, there have been calls from guests for years to expand the center because of overcrowding issues. Long story short: there’s a lot of walking and a lot of people impeding that walking.

Make sure to get a good night’s rest each evening, and wear comfortable shoes during the day. Trips around the floor are typically measured in miles, not steps, and will require a fair amount of energy to power through. If you’re uncomfortable or weary, don’t be afraid to step outside for a bit of fresh air; San Diego is a beautiful city, and the convention center is located right on the water.

Many Con goers pack light snacks to eat throughout the day. Fruit, granola bars, and juice are all great options that can also help you avoid the dreaded “Con Crud” that sickens many each year. There are also several food stands throughout the convention center and outside (though the Starbucks line inside may put your willpower to the test).

This ties in directly with the first point, and carefully listening to your boundaries can prevent sickness and an bad experience.

3. Understand Cosplay Etiquette

A 2012 SDCC attendee cosplays as Marvel's "Thor" outside the convention center.

A 2012 SDCC attendee cosplays as Marvel’s “Thor” outside the convention center.

One of the most discussed aspects of comic conventions is costume play, or “cosplay.” Whether you’re a novice or an expert tailor, dressing up as a favorite character from comics or tv is a beloved pastime for SDCC. However, cosplay etiquette has become a major topic in recent years due to harassment from other convention guests.

SDCC is very much a family affair. Even the most risque of costumes may have taken the owner hundreds of hours of work that he or she can finally show off to the world. Such costumes are not an invitation to harass the wearer, make rude comments or gestures, or, worse, inappropriately touch. Just like any public event, it is important to remain respectful of a cosplayer’s boundaries. Though most cosplayers love taking photos, the line usually ends there.

If you see a costume you really like, ask them if they would be willing to take a photo. Don’t linger or make crude remarks. If you want to talk, ask about how a costume was made, the time involved, or if they have a card. Don’t ask about their figure or other insensitive personal questions.

Many cosplayers are happy to talk, but at the end of the day, you are strangers to each other. Be respectful.

4. Utilize SDCC Services

As the convention has grown, so too have the services provided by Comic Con International for their attendees. While they can do little to dampen the crowds, they do have several items of interest that can ease the experience for first-timers and veterans alike.

One of the biggest changes in recent years is the complimentary 24-hour shuttle service that takes guests from the convention to their hotels. With many downtown hotels this year being booked within two minutes of their release, many people will be staying in Mission Valley or other areas out of walking distance to the center. With the 24-hour shuttles, you have the ability to make return trips as often as needed to unload the bags of giveaways and merchandise to be found within the halls. While they may take longer than walking, these buses provide an important lifeline towards you and the downtown parties happening during the week.

Another service is the bag check. For only a few dollars, Comic Con volunteers are happy to check your bags and hold them until the hall closes. You can return for them throughout the day without losing your check-in, making it an absolute necessity for all-day goers. If you have purses, luggage, or unneeded camera equipment, use those bags to store snacks and paperwork throughout the day while you are free to enjoy the Con unburdened.

5. Get To Know Your Fellow Nerds

"Star Wars" cosplayers gather for a group photo at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con.

“Star Wars” cosplayers gather for a group photo at the 2011 San Diego Comic Con.

Amid the sea of people and numerous events, it’s easy for a first-time convention goer to get overwhelmed. Dr. Ali Mattu discusses this phenomenon in his blog, explaining that large gatherings of people can inadvertently lead to something coined “deindividuation,” or a loss of personal identity in favor of group anonymity.

Sounds confusing? Well, by talking with people and sharing interests, you may not have to worry about it.

Conventions are gatherings of people with similar mindsets. No matter what your interest, you are likely to find someone that shares them while attending SDCC. However, you won’t know if you don’t talk and meet people.

Sometimes, chatting is a way to pass the time while waiting in a Hall H line at 3 a.m. Other times, it’s because you’re checking out a booth and want to get to know the exhibitors behind the table. Whatever the case may be, SDCC is a time for socialization and forging new memories. You may never meet the random person you’re waiting with for an exclusive, but you’ll almost certainly remember the experience down the road.

Go out, meet people, and have fun! That’s the heart of what SDCC is all about.

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