Orientation: A Nerd Newbie Guide to #SDCC

Next week will be my fourth annual trip to San Diego Comic-Con (the first as a fan, the next 3 as press). I have made every conceivable mistake along the way, and wanted to pass on a few suggestions for rookies and newbies alike. Admittedly, these tips are geared more toward film & TV fans that are attending panels than they are for actual comic book fans with different agendas.

Here are a few suggestions to avoid boredom, dehydration and overall frustration at the Con.


Buddy up! Always have at least one friend or new acquaintance to save your place in line or guard your chair with their life. Because you will need to use the restroom and grab food/water. In the larger rooms, you will be given a color-coded pass if you need to leave during or between panels. Even though you have already secured a seat, and even if your backpack is on said seat, you will want a trusted source next you to in order to reinforce that it is indeed taken.


Cash! Obtain it before you get to the Con and keep plenty of it throughout. You’ll need it every day, for snacks, toys, autographs, coffee, etc. Avoid ridiculous non-branded bank ATM fees inside the convention center.


Tube etiquette! If you don’t bring a poster tube, you’ll likely purchase one on the exhibition floor. Even if you have no plans to buy any posters, you will be handed free prints and swag all day that you may want to keep in decent shape. Please, for the love of Robert Pattinson, be aware of your tube. That is not a euphemism. Or maybe it is. But we’ve all been sideswiped and clocked by the plastic poster tubes protruding from your backpacks and swung over your sweaty shoulders. So let’s all exercise a little more tube awareness this year.


Panel Q&As! If you are fast enough to make it to the microphone and have a chance to ask a question at a panel, DO NOT BE A DOUCHE. The masses, who waited in line for hours to spend 45 minutes with their heroes, will audibly groan and hiss at you (it happened to me at my first Con; I may or may not have had a fan girl moment directed at Liz Mitchell in front of 5k people).

Know your cast/crew/film/show and ask intelligent questions that relate to the actual panel and talent. Don’t declare your love for anyone on stage, or use your precious 30 seconds to just make negative statements and walk away (i.e. ‘I just wanted to say that I really hated the LOST finale’). It is a Question & Answer session, not a Question from A-hole session.


H20! Whether you are making your way to the convention center or in lines weaving inside and outside awaiting panels, you will be in the scorching sun at some point. Ignore the forecast teasing you with mid-70’s temperatures; the weather channel lies to us every year. You will need water. Bring your stainless steel canteen with the trendy design. Save money (and the environment) by avoiding the purchase of bottled water. There are water fountains around the convention center for your convenience.


Apps! In addition to the official SDCC app (a handy, quick guide to the panels, maps, times, etc. so you won’t have to schlep around the heavy guide they hand out when you pick up your badge), you should definitely download other apps that will assist your search for local ATMs, bars, coffee, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. Suggestions: AroundMe, Open Table, Urbanspoon, Yelp.


Deodorize! The notorious lack of personal hygiene at the Con is not a myth; stinky fan boys are a reality (for what it’s worth, I’ve yet to brush into a particularly odorous fan girl). I would simply recommend that you all lather on a strong layer of deodorant before heading to the Con (or throw it in your backpack to freshen up later in the day). Because you’ll be in very close proximity to others on the exhibition floor, in lines and in chairs at panels. And definitely include a small container of hand sanitizer in your backpack.


SPF it! Some lines have shade, but many portions of the lines do not. And you will be outside awaiting shuttles and walking from your hotels and parking garages. Keep sunscreen and Chapstick on your person at all times.

But they tend to over-air condition the panel rooms and it does get chilly after Sundown, so when you’re out to dinner or at parties – you might consider throwing a thin additional layer in your backpack.


Rise & line! The earlier you arrive to start each day at the Con, the better. If you want to see a panel in Ballroom 20 at 4pm, you’re going to have to get in line as early as 9am. They only let in a few hundred people at a time between panels, as many fans plant themselves in there all day long in order to guarantee spots for their upcoming panels. Even if the first panel of the day is at 10am, and they may not open the Con doors until 9 or 9:30am, lines will form early and primarily outside in the vicinity of your panel.


OMG, it’s that guy from that thing (<– more often than not it is Mark Sheppard)! Download the IMDB app. You’ll have plenty of time while waiting in line to learn more about the casts and creative folks behind the films and shows you’re about to see at panels. Use this app to create spontaneous trivia games with new friends in line. And if you have the chance to meet someone you admire, you will be armed with facts about their previous roles (side note: actors and writers tend to appreciate your knowledge about their experiences prior to their current show/film).


Mangia (not to be confused with Manga)! You’ll all have a purse or backpack. Bring food that will not melt, smell or taste disgusting after sitting in your bag for 6 hours. Make sure your snacks contain protein. Your blood sugar will get low and it won’t be pretty. Suggestions: nuts, apples, granola/protein bars (w/o chocolate), dried fruit, beef jerky. Also: bring gum. Your friends and line neighbors will thank you.


Screenings! If you have a pass for Preview Night on Wednesday, plant yourself in Ballroom 20 and watch 3-4 previously unreleased pilots for brand new shows debuting in the Fall and Winter. In my experience, there are always seats because most fans are out on the exhibition floor that night. In some cases, these pilots will air again during the Con, at their individual panels. Pay attention to the schedule, because there are encore screenings of certain pilots later in the evenings at the Con.


125k attendees! Don’t be that person, the anti-social one in line that never looks up from your texting addiction. Talk to people in line, at panels and booths. Because they’re YOUR people. This is the one place on earth where being slightly or outright geeky is rather awesome. Let your freak flags fly, but wave them politely.


Swag! Leave room in your suitcase, because you will be lugging home plenty of goodies (free and purchased). And bring a sharpie. It is possible that you’ll stumble upon someone you admire and have the opportunity to ask for an autograph. But don’t pull out a lame flyer or piece of scrap paper; have a notepad or specific item ready in your backpack (i.e. the tee you just bought from her show or the action figure from his film).


Enjoy the insanity! Your experience at the Con is entirely up to you. As stressful as pre-planning and long lines can be, you really can make the most of your time, make new friends for life and network with people who can potentially change your life. Don’t stress out if you don’t get into a panel; it will appear online somewhere the following week. If you’re unable to obtain a limited edition toy at a booth, it will no doubt appear on eBay shortly thereafter. SDCC is a hectic yet incredible four days, and you’re lucky to be attending. Soak it all in, and sleep when you get home.


Panel flexibility! Be patient. The panels taking place later in the day tend to have far shorter lines (if any at all). Thousands of exhausted nerds start heading back to their hotels in every afternoon after very long days at the Con, opening up seats at panels for patient souls like you. And aside from Glee, you are more likely to easily secure a seat at most panels on Sunday.

And size isn’t everything. For panels, that is. Yes, the major films and show panels take place in the larger rooms. Spend a good deal of time perusing the schedules, because there are some amazing, entertaining and informative panels in smaller rooms all day long. And you have a better chance of getting seats at those panels.


Comfort, not fashion! Costumes aside, don’t try to impress anyone with your Con clothing choices. Any variation of jeans and tees are the standard. And trust me – wear your most comfortable shoes. Because you’ll be standing in lines, waiting for shuttles, hiking miles back and forth to your car and walking the exhibition floor far longer than you’ll be sitting at a panel. Unless you’re a Hall H or Ballroom 20 seat whore.


Charge! Your phones and camera batteries will die after several hours of tweeting, texting and posting all day long. So keep your chargers with you throughout the Con; there are various outlets available in panel rooms and hallways. I strongly recommend that you also acquire a cell phone battery extender case, which will power your phones for hours beyond the norm.

The End. Namaste. Any ?

[Follow my SDCC misadventures on Twitter: @jopinionated]

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