Saturday, July 27, 2013

What I learned from San Diego Comic Con 2013

Our crew as Ghostbusters on the last day of SDCC.
Well, I'm back from a month-long hiatus after surviving the nerdnado that was Comic Con 2013.  What an awesome time!  I didn't quite know what to expect since my last time at the Con was seven years ago.  But despite the massive crowds and long lines, the SDCC planners and Convention Center staff did a fantastic job managing everything.  Like many other fans, I really hope that the Con will continue to be held in San Diego in future years.

View of the Convention Center from
the pedestrian bridge.
Prior to the con, there were a ton of articles online about "How to Survive San Diego Comic Con" or "Helpful Tips and Tricks" for first-time Con attendees.   While I personally did not find much of the content to be beneficial, I know that there's a lot of hopeful SDCC attendees looking for some suggestions for next time.  So here's some of my lessons learned--hopefully a few of which won't leave you saying "well, duh" and will save you some heartache during your 2014 preparations. 

1.  Lodging Considerations.  Here's the deal.  It's never too early to plan for next year's Comic Con.  Hotels in Gaslamp will fill up quickly once people have actually secured their tickets, and many people are left scrambling for a place to stay that's not miles away from the Con and costs less than $400-500 a night.  Why not try a vacation rental?  If you are going with a group of 3-4, or can wrangle a group together willing to pool their money, a condo rental is much more cost effective than a hotel.  Try or for listings. 
      Another bonus of a vacation rental is more flexibility than hotel reservations.  We signed a condo rental contract last fall before we knew we had tickets for this year's Con, after noting that most hotels do not allow cancellations for the week of the Con.  However, most landlords of vacation rentals are reasonable enough to include a sublet clause which will allow you to rent to someone else if you don't get tickets.  Better yet, book something now and just plan on coming to San Diego regardless, knowing you'll have MORE than enough to do outside of SDCC even if you don't score tickets to the main event.  Booking something early will save you a headache later on, trust me.

2.  Cosplay Considerations.  I dressed up every single day of the Con, including Preview Night.  While this was incredibly fun and I have no regrets, I didn't fully realize how slow our progress would be getting around the Con while in costume.  Between photographs, chatting with other cosplayers, interviews, and addressing wardrobe malfunctions, we were lucky to get from the Gaslamp into the Exhibit Hall within an hour or two.  This time delay will increase exponentially the better your costume is, or the bigger your boobs are, or the more skin you are showing.  So if you plan to cosplay and are trying to keep a strict schedule (probably unadvisable anyway), allow a LOT of extra time for the frequent stops.  Or, set aside a day that you dress casual and use that as your day to be efficient and just be a spectator.

3.  Who's Who in the (Nerd) Zoo?   I could have probably included this part within cosplay considerations, but my personal experience with this issue made me feel it warranted its own section.  In addition to being familiar with faces of key celebrities, artists, and major players in the comic industry, it might be a good idea to take a look around YouTube and other social media outlets that cover SDCC so you can recognize these folks as they are wandering around for photo ops or doing interviews.  I was interviewed several times and admit that I didn't know who the interviewers were, only to find out upon my return home that they are fairly well-known personalities on YouTube, TV, or podcasts.  I will definitely be brushing up on my media personality knowledge for next year!
A shot of me (as Captain Marvel) being interviewed, later
determined that this was Mediocre Films' Greg Benson.  Oops.
He still put me in his video though--as Moxxi and Captain Marvel!

   A separate but related point on this is: if you are cosplaying, you should know the character whom you are cosplaying.  And not just their name.  I saw a few instances (NOT me!) where folks were interviewed and when asked about the character they were cosplaying, they had nothing to say.  That's just embarrassing, man.  Don't do that to yourself.  Do your research if it's not a character you know well.
4.  Connectivity, Twitter, and Communications Limitations.    It was frequently noted before SDCC that cell phone batteries drain quickly and reception is not great within the Convention Center.  That's an understatement.  While Twitter was a great resource to find out about last-minute events, contests, and to keep tabs on the lines for Hall H and Ballroom 20, I gave up trying to tweet and upload photos after Day 1.  It just doesn't work.  I would recommend going to the Con with low expectations as to what social media capabilities you will have, and plan to do all your posting and uploading in the evenings once things calm down a bit.  Batteries will drain fast regardless, so having extra batteries or a power pack are a must-have.

Standing at the end of the
line to get into the Exhibit
Hall on Preview Night.
5.  Preview Night.  We were lucky enough to score the 4-Day with Preview Night tickets.  Based on this year's experience, we will not endeavor to get Preview Night tickets for next year.  If you're a passionate collector of something or have to get an exclusive what-not from a particular vendor, that would be the only motivation to go to Preview Night.  The crowds on the Exhibit Floor on Preview Night were by far the worst of any of the days of the Con, and since we don't really collect anything, it was a fairly miserable experience.  The only other reason to attend Preview Night would be to get in line for the exclusive previews in Ballroom 20, but we did not do this (after being stuck in crowds on the exhibit floor for three hours) so I am unsure if that experience was better.

We had the opportunity to meet and chat
with several Bioware artists and cosplayers
from Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

Our new friends at the Black
Sails ship, who we saw
again later that night at the premiere.
6.  Be Excellent to Each Other, Dude!  I did notice this comment was made in several online postings prior to SDCC, and good for those writers.  Con attendees were extremely decent to each other in general, but it really does pay to go that extra mile to help someone out or just spend a minute talking to some of the vendors about their work.  They are there because they love this stuff too, and on multiple occasions we were treated to some special experiences and/or swag just by showing genuine interest in the work that some of the artists were doing.  We did not spend a ton of time standing in line or camping out for Hall H panels, but I felt that the experiences we had interacting with artists, writers, cosplayers, and other vendors on the Exhibit Floor were extremely rewarding and we did not mind missing out on the popular celebrity panels (although we did make it to the Agents of SHIELD Panel and Preview, which was amazeballs).    
We eventually found time to squeeze in a visit
to the Ender's Game Experience off site.
Worth it! (and I thought this Moxxi shot was
7.  Outside Comic Con... I thought I'd end on a positive note by confirming that there ARE plenty of things to do outside of the Convention Center itself, so if you are not lucky enough to get tickets to SDCC, I don't think you'd be disappointed.  If you don't believe me, check out the Outside Comic-Con website to see everything that was going on.  I found it a bit challenging to see everything in Gaslamp because we were spending so much time in the convention, and there were many neat things like NerdHQ, Geek and Sundry's HQ, plus any number of promotions for upcoming movies and video games.  Many of the surrounding hotels have agreed to host different pieces of the event in an effort to distribute crowds more evenly, and many of these events don't require an SDCC badge.  That's why I said earlier that it makes a lot of sense to just plan on coming to San Diego for the Con whether or not you have tickets'll have plenty of nerdy things to do. :)
Adult Swim Funhouse, outside SDCC.
Never before was a superhero (me, as Viper)
so triumphant emerging from the
birthing canal.
Mad Moxxi at the Ender's
Game Experience.

Firefly: "So, think you'll go to Comic Con next year?"
Daredevil:  "I don't know, wearing costumes really isn't my thing.."
So, with all that said, remember:  Being a nerd is awesome!  Structure is fun but be flexible!  And it's never too early to plan for next year. See you in 2014!!