Con Artist

“I write to be the characters that I am not.”
―Joss Whedon

Starting tomorrow the most wonderful event of the summer takes over my hometown. So let’s talk about San Diego Comic Con.  It’s not only a fun-filled weekend, but also a great networking opportunity.

Last fall, like so many others, I woke up a little early and signed into the epic waiting room in hopes of snagging coveted tickets to Comic Con.  Ah Comic Con.  That magical time of year when fans of all sizes dress up as Deadpool and Slave Leia, press together in corrals that would make the calmest of bovines totally insane, hope for a glimpse or a word from their favorite writers, directors, artists and actors and maybe even snag a sneak peak at the next great season or film release.

The first time I attended Comic Con, four years ago, it was a fluke.  I was asked to help out with a panel and got a free ticket.  The panel was on Saturday and I didn’t think to attend any other day and so I was thrown head first into the craziest day of the extended weekend.  I was immediately hooked.  It was a nerd girl’s dreamland.  I roamed with a pack of zombie dancers, took pictures with Dark Helmet and Canadian Batman, touched Han Solo’s carbonite, and went home with a beautiful deck of Game of Thrones playing cards.

The next year I resolved to do things right and get myself an 4-day pass (these are now discontinued), but encountered the dreaded white page of death during the main sale.  My only hope lay in the resale a month before the event and I managed to get a pass for Friday and Sunday.  It was good enough for me, especially when I found out the line up for those days.

Thus began The Greatest Comic Con Ever.

My son was three months old and not big enough for me to leave for the whole day, but he was amazingly portable so I threw a pair of Yoda ears on him, plopped him in a mei tai carrier, stuffed some diapers in my purse and off we went.  He was the perfect Comic Con buddy, not only was he quiet and cuddly, but he very sportingly let me pick every panel and activity.  Plus he was so cute and tiny, everyone was enamored.  Though I wasn’t expecting it, he turned out to be my golden ticket.  I won’t go into details, but I got awesome parking, made it into a couple events and panels I shouldn’t have been able to (calm yourselves, I didn’t cut), was interviewed for two television networks, and even scored tickets to the Metallica secret show.  It. Was. Awesome.

IMG_0810  Everyone loves a baby.  Even at Comic Con.

Last year, with their new randomized waiting room system, I was only able to get a Sunday ticket at the preregistration, and a Thursday ticket during the regular sale. Thankfully I have friends in high places and in the end managed to score a creative professional badge and was able to go the whole weekend as well as hang in the professional break room, and visit some swanky hospitality suites.

Even if you don’t have friends in high places, Comic Con is still worth it. Here are my tips and tricks for a minimally frustrating, nay even great, experience.  Full disclosure, I live in San Diego so I know nothing about hotels, air travel, etc for this event other than book way way early.  These tips are for what to do when you are actually at the convention.

1) Make friends.

This is the number one tip of Comic Con.  This is what it is all about.  Everyone there wants to have a good time, including the staff and volunteers.  So chat up your line mates, joke around with the people sitting next to you, be friendly with the security staff.  I got a great seat in Hall H because I brought extra coffee and offered it around.  I got the Metallica tickets because I had made friends with the people sitting next to me and let them use the flashlight on my phone to check their winning raffle tickets.  I got a wristband for an autograph session because I had made friends with the people in my line AND the security guard manning the distribution.  Etc.  Etc.  Make friends.

This is also where the networking thing comes in.  At my last Comic Con I helped a very tall Black Widow put on gauntlets in the parking lot.  She turned out to be the amazing Fatal Siren (aka Izola Siegfried) and I made a very cool friend.  I usually also use the time to take my LA contacts out for a meal or coffee or something.  Last year I got to have breakfast with super-consultant Jen Grisanti, and hang with Script Chix Miranda Sajdak and Sandra Leviton of Under the Stairs Entertainment. This year I’m going to try to meet up with some buddies from grad school who now have a television show on the air.

If you are or want to be in the businesses that Comic Con represents, it never hurts to network with your fellow attendees.  Or you can go the bolder route of finding people whose work you admire via social networks like Facebook and Twitter and simply ask to take them out.  Now, this is not going to work with David Benioff but it might work with indie producers or lesser known writers. And what’s the harm in trying, eh? Everyone likes free food as long as you’re not weird.

2) Pre-purchase your parking if you are planning to arrive after 5am.

You will never get parking otherwise.

3) Bring food and water.

You think you will take a break to go grab food, and that might be true at the end of the day, but you will spend so much time waiting in lines and in halls that even belly-rumbling hunger won’t convince you to give up your spot.  Bring snacks so you won’t starve.  On Friday two years ago I only had one bottle of water and one cookie between 6:00am and 8:30pm.  I didn’t really feel it until later, but by that time it was serious and I ending up scarfing the contents of random Tupperware from my fridge before heading out to the Metallica show.  I lost almost five pounds that weekend. It’s a fun diet, but not one I recommend. I smartened up the next year.

4) Pay it forward.

Karma’s a bitch, so make sure she’s on your side.  Because of the way they have organized the halls and panels, it is inevitable that you will take up a seat at a panel you don’t really want to see.  I had almost no interest in Fringe, but I wanted to see the next panel in Hall H so I was thrilled when I made it in.  Little did I know that Fringe was ending that season and so it was their last year at Comic Con.  They handed out free hats to mark the occasion and I took a couple, because free.  As I walked around the floor later, a group of very excited people walked up and asked me where I got the hats.  They were fans who had tried to get into the Fringe panel but were unable.  I gave them my hats and we all walked away a little happier.

Remember, everyone is there because they love the same stuff. A friendly con is a happy con.

5) Dress up on Saturday, don’t dress up Sunday.

In reality you can dress up everyday, but Saturday is the biggie for cosplay.  It’s the day of the masquerade, however if you are anything like me, you don’t have thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to spend making hand-forged elven armor.  But there is something magical about dressing up, so even if you slap something halfway decent together you won’t feel out of place grabbing a coffee with Boba Fett and She-Ra.  I have only attended Comic Con alone or with a small baby, so my options before were limited.  With my son I decided to go as Female Bespin Luke with attached baby Yoda.  Last year I did Mara Jade. If you are not a serious cosplayer, find a costume that is comfortable to walk around it.  And for the love of the many faced god, don’t go barefoot.

Sunday is the short day and though there are still many in costume, let this be your low-key day.  Everything is winding down and packing it in.  Go in your street clothes so you don’t have to spend the second half of the day wiping Hulk make-up off your torso.

6) Be smart about purchases.

Don’t buy that life-size Wraith first thing in the morning.  You really want to carry it around all day?  However, morning is a great time to shop.  Ask the seller if they will hold large items for you to pick up at the end of the day (they may not but it never hurts to ask).  If worse comes to worst and you just can’t make the hike back to your car because the Heroes of Marvel panel is starting in fifteen minutes, there is a bag check for a small fee.

7) If you come with others, make it okay to split up.

I met up with my uncle for lunch one day of Comic Con but for the rest of the time we went our separate ways.  He wasn’t going to miss out on Veronica Mars because I was dying to hear The Big Bang Theory’s writers discuss their process.  It’s okay to split up.  Get together for meals, parties and sleeping, but don’t force a group to adhere to one schedule.  Go it alone.  Everyone will survive and you’ll all be a lot happier if you can see the things you want to see without guilt.  Believe me, you’ll make friends in line.  See tip #1.

Remember, Comic Con isn’t for everyone. Don’t force significant others into an all-day anime lovefest if they’re not into it too. Comic Con is a marathon, not a sprint, and not everyone wants to run that long.  It’s okay to split up.

8) Be on Twitter

Lots of inside and last minute info goes out via twitter.  If you don’t have an account, get one.  Follow Comic Con (obviously), but don’t forget to also follow your favorite studios, networks, actors, directors, websites, bloggers, etc. etc. etc.  NerdHQ is a good one to have bookmarked.  In the past they’ve announced their panel ticket sales via Twitter.  You can also keep up with line lengths and star sightings by following the right hashtags.

9) Check out the happenings outside the convention center

If you don’t get a badge, and you might not, Comic Con is still pretty fun.  It takes over downtown San Diego and the Gas Lamp district, so there is no shortage of things to do.  This year I’m going to go the Game of Thrones Experience the Realm instead of panels. Believe me, you’ll probably have to choose one or the other as last year they shut the line down at 11am when they didn’t close until 5pm.

Nerd HQ is another awesome place to hang outside the convention and boasts its own set of panels, entertainment, and even food.

10) Embrace the Wait

You will be waiting in lines. Embrace this idea.  Make friends. Bring food.

Hope to see you all there!

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