So last year (2012), I jumped feet first into the exciting world of San Diego Comic Con for the first time. And I loved it so much that by two days in, I knew I needed to go back. So, after a year of wrangling with badge sales and hotel lotteries, I sit here just two weeks away from immersing myself into sheer awesomeness all over again. And I thought it might be fun (and perhaps useful to some 2013 first timers out there) if I shared my thoughts on what I learned last year as a SDCC newbie, especially those things that surprised me.
1. Even when you go, you are going to miss everything
The big reason I wanted to attend SDCC last year was that for the previous few years I'd been so jealous of all the cool news coming out of San Diego every summer. Cool Rock Band parties hosted by Wil Wheaton? Panels with all my favorite shows? A giant exhibition floor with everything I had spent a pre-Internet childhood dreaming about all laid out for me to touch? How could I let another year of that awesomeness pass me by?
And so I went! And I got to attend W00tstock. And I got to be at the insanely fraking awesome Mythbusters panel. And I even got to spend hours on the con floor and see a green R2-D2, and get my picture taken with Chewbacca, and get a picture of dumb Nathan Fillion standing in the way of cute playboy bunnies. By the time I got home, I was feeling pretty damn good about myself. I'd done it. I'd gone to SDCC, and now I was the one with all the cool stories that everyone would be jealous of. Then I turned on the TV...
HBO was showing a little production piece about comic-con before the show I was waiting to watch started. I recognized the convention floor, the panel rooms, and then...suddenly they were showing a cool nightclub type place all decked out for a sexy vampire party. And there was Anna Paquin...and Steven Moyer...and the cute redhead whose name I didn't know. And...wait...are those playboy bunnies? And they are all dancing and drinking and having a cool, sexy vampire themed time? What the *hell*!
Yes, it was a super awesome True Blood party where they also invited playboy bunnies. Because why the hell not? This is SDCC. There is no meaning to the phrase "too awesome."
I was just stunned. I had spent months researching and scouring the internet so I would not miss a thing, and I had not even so much as heard about this party. And that is just how SDCC is. You spend four solid days doing the most amazing things you could imagine; you push yourself to go on three hours sleep each night because it's all so cool, and you just can't bear to miss a thing. But you do. You miss a ton. SDCC is just too huge. You can't do it all. So just accept that going in, and hold on. You will have the time of your life, but there is no way you are going to do--or even see--everything.
2. Exclusives aren't so exclusive
One big worry I had last year was tracking down and buying some of the awesome "exclusive" merch from the con floor. After everything I read--and especially after that crazy scene in the comic-con movie--I felt like if you didn't have a good spot in line when they opened the doors Thursday morning, you were out of luck. I wasn't up for that, so I figured I was going to miss out on all the cool exclusive merch getting. I was totally wrong.
I don't mean to say it was easy. As I wrote in my recap last year, I spent over an hour waiting in line for a chance to wait in the real line for the Hasbro booth. But despite my fears, the supplies on most of the exclusives lasted, and I was able to get what I wanted. So don't panic, and just stay positive. Half the point of these exclusive little prizes is the fun you have (and the stories you get to tell later about) getting them!
The other thing that surprised me was how little I spent. While it is true you can go crazy and spend a fortune should the mood strike you, you really don't have to. Almost everything I bought was only $20. I only had one "splurge" item that I bought on Saturday (an art piece I really loved)--and even that was only $50. And I feel like I have some really cool souvenirs from the con that mean a lot to me. So you don't have to break the bank or sacrifice a ton of time camping out in line to get in on the exclusives game. Definitely try it, but don't let it take over your trip.
3. Food is not really an issue
One thing I really worried about last year was eating. I figured with 100,000 people crammed into one place, come lunch time and dinner time all of the local restaurants would be slammed. I packed snacks and power bars so that my friends and I could survive should getting a table at a restaurant prove impossible for days on end. I was happily surprised to find out how wrong I was.
The Gaslamp (the neighborhood around the convention center) seems to be built specifically to support events happening and the indescribably huge San Diego convention center. I was really surprised how it handled the crowds and then some.
Every day at about noon--depending on our panel schedules--I would text my friends and we would meet up at one of the main doors (helpfully lettered for our connivence). We'd cross the street and head into the Gaslamp and start to wander around. As we traded stories of all the cool things we had done and seen that morning, we'd pass by restaurants until we found one that seemed fun. Not once did we ever hit a crowd or have to wait for a table. And dinner was always the same way. So, don't let eating stress you out. The. Gaslamp has you covered!
4. SDCC can be as big or as small as you want it to be
In my recap last year, I wrote about our failure trying to get into the Firefly panel. We arrived about an hour too late and ended up a thousand people or so too far back in the massive line to have any chance of getting in. It was disappointing, but our poor timing gave me the chance to experience two very different sides of SDCC in the same morning.
The crazy long lines and the camping out required for Hall H and Ballroom 20 are very well publicized. And even getting into some of the more popular panels in some of the smaller rooms can be really tough. With all the planning and strategizing required to get into those rooms, it can start to feel like that is all SDCC is: waiting in endless lines and spending all day fighting for a spot at one particular panel. But there is another side to SDCC.
After I left the endless Firefly line (where I had intended on spending most of the day waiting with my friends), I spent the rest of the morning attending smaller panels in some of the small rooms. I had an amazing time at some panels on writing, fiction, and science. The lines were short, and I had no trouble getting a seat at any of them. And, moreover, the atmosphere was totally relaxed. Instead of stressing out about how far back I was in the line or what I might be missing if I risked waiting and didn't get in, I spent time between panels talking with people around me and just having a great time. By the end of my third panel that morning, the gigantic, intimidating SDCC I had been navigating until that morning disappeared. And I felt like I was at a tiny convention (like the amazing ConText, in Ohio).
So while SDCC can be all about camping out all night in the pavilion to get at spot for the Doctor Who panel the next day (which can be really fun and an amazing experience all on its own), it doesn't have to be just that. If you need a break or just don't feel the need to deal with those huge rooms, there is a ton of amazing content available in a relaxed, low pressure little corner of the con. So just make SDCC the experience you are looking for, and I don't think you'll be disappointed.
5. I was totally wrong about why one goes to SDCC
As I said above, my big motivation for attending SDCC last year was to do all the "cool" stuff and meet celebrities and get my hands on the super rare exclusives. But I was wrong. Very, very wrong.
Last Christmas (stay with me kids, this will relate, I promise), my wife bought me a ridiculously expensive R2-D2 Lego model. I opened it in front of our friends and family on Christmas Eve and squealed with delight, joined only in my glee by Erin, my super awesome geek-in-training daughter.
"I don't get," one of Kim's friends said. "Is it like a remote control robot kit or something?"
"No," my wife said with a shrug. "It's just Legos. They just build it."
Everyone (ten people total) just exchanged confused looks while Erin and I studied the box with barely controlled glee.
"So wait," my dad said, still trying to grasp the situation. "Once you build it, you can hook it up to your computer and stuff and program it or..."
I just shook my head. "Nope. It's just R2-D2. Made of Legos!"
"And also made of win," Erin said. "This is totally made of win!" (I told you she was awesome).
See, while most of the people in my life know how much I care about this stuff and do their best to support me, they have a real hard time understanding it. My wife loves me, and knew that--even as insanely expensive as Lego R2-D2 was--it would make me very, very happy and wanted to make it happen. She just couldn't comprehend why, nor could anyone else (aside from Erin).
And to me, that is the real point of SDCC. It's four days where we all make the journey to a place where we can be with 100,000 other people who get it. It's a celebration of all the fiction and art we care about so much. And it's a chance to put our normal lives on hold and let ourselves indulge in loving the things we love.
Two weeks from now, I am going to be sitting in a cool restaurant, having a beer with my best friend and excitedly discussing the forthcoming J.J. Abrams Star Wars movies and what the heck is going to happen on Doctor Who this Christmas and all the things I am working on with my own fiction. Our normal worries about work and family and all the rest of our usual day to day stuff will be put on hold. And it will be amazing.
And so, Virginia, that is why we go to SDCC. Not to party with Wil Wheaton. Not to dance with Playboy bunnies at cool vampire themed parties. And not to flirt with cute Hooters waitresses dressed like slave Leia. Because while those things can and do happen--and are awesome!--SDCC is more than that. It's a celebration of who we are. Don't lose sight of that.