I have been attending conventions since I was a very small child around the age of five. I’ve gone to big cons and teensy-tiny cons that barely put a blip on the Fandom Radar. The 2015 San Diego Comic-Con is coming up next month, and I know some people who are going for the very first time. They’re worried it’s going to be a madhouse (It will be), and that they will be overwhelmed (This is possible), so I figured I would offer some friendly advice. I’ve provided some guides for friends in the past, so I thought I would write one up for this blog. This isn’t designed to tell you what panels to see or not see, but rather as a way to ensure you aren’t too overwhelmed and lost on that first day. There are a lot of people and, while the convention center is huge, it can seem like you’re stuck in a ketchup bottle or something. (A ‘can of sardines’ is used far too often.)
Read on for some of the things I’ve learned about SDCC over the years.
First: Hall H, Panels, and Rooms
The con does not empty the rooms once each panel ends. This is incredibly important to remember because, once you’re in the room, that’s it. You’re in. Nobody will come along to kick you out like they do in movie theaters. If you’re outside, then you’re ability to get in and find a spot is left entirely up to how good you are at navigating through crowds and how many people saunter out after a panel ends.
If you want to see something that you know (or expect) is going to be REALLY popular, then you need to plan ahead and ensure you have a spot. There are THOUSANDS of people in Hall H at any given time, and you can count on THOUSANDS of people wanting to see a popular panel. This means you need to get there at least a couple hours early and stake out a seat for you and – if the room allows – one for your friend(s). If you’re going to a popular Saturday morning panel, you may want to camp out in line Friday night. It all depends on your dedication, how badly you want to see the panel, and how good your luck is. For example, if I knew I had a chance to see David Bowie, you can bet your ass I’d be camped out Friday night. I wouldn’t risk losing a spot for anything.
Second: Lines Are Part of Life
Lines are all part of any con experience. They are less of an issue with the smaller cons, but they are still an inevitable aspect of any convention. You wake up super early, grab your coffee (go to a nearby shop to save a couple dollars), and get in line. From there, you could potentially spend hours waiting in line and sitting through panels you really don’t care about JUST so you can see the one you want. This may seem frustrating, but it’s just a part of life. Lines and cons go hand-in-hand, and are unavoidable.
It’s best to bring water (but pace yourself, so you do not have to lose your place to use the restroom), and take a seat on the floor. Sit with your back to the wall, and inch along as the line moves. I’ve met some really neat people waiting in line. Strike up conversation, talk about what you’re excited to see, and discuss your favorite fandoms.
If you’re not big on socialization, then it’s perfectly acceptable to break out a book, game, or any other form of entertainment. Just make sure to keep an eye on your stuff, and don’t trust anyone to “watch” it for you. Not everyone is nice, and not everyone can be trusted. Still, you’ll have a better time if you try to chat with the person next to you. Lines are a big part of the con experience, and could lead to some lifelong friendships.
Third: Sexual Harassment Is Very Common
Whether you are cosplaying or not, please be aware of the fact that there is a chance someone will touch you, ask you inappropriate questions, or otherwise harass you. Convention harassment has been a huge problem for years,even leading to women having to take actions into their own hands with campaigns and petitions in order to feel safe. Examples of this harassment include: Pictures being taken without consent, inappropriate questions, lewd comments, attempts at inappropriate pictures (up skirts, down tops, etc.), touching, name-calling, and more.
If someone is harassing you, report it immediately. There are generally at least two security guards at each of the main doors in Hall H (Dealer’s Hall, the main part). They will deal with the issue right away, as SDCC does not take the matter lightly. They have been working hard for years to put a stop to this harassment.
Call someone out on their actions, as someone around you will likely come to your defense. There have been several times when other women – and even some men – have come to my rescue when someone would not leave me alone. If you are underage, make sure the harasser is especially aware of this and that, should they fail to cease and desist, they are acting inappropriately towards a minor.
This does not mean that you should not cosplay/go in costume, but you should be aware that this is a possible experience you may have to deal with. This is ESPECIALLY true if you are female.
Fourth: Don’t Be a Creep
This goes as a counterpart to Number Three. Yes, there are going to be people dressed up as your favorite characters. There will be people you find attractive, and there will be people wearing very little clothing. This does not mean you have a right to make lewd comments, act pervy or creepy, or touch someone without their consent.
Oh, and yes, it’s creepy to say, “You’re really hot,” or something along those lines. It does make people uncomfortable. Furthermore, some people worry about offending others, even if those others are making them uncomfortable. Keep an eye on body language when talking to someone, and look for signs of discomfort.
DON’T BE A CREEP. These are real people, not your sexual fantasies come to life.
Fifth: Bring Your Own Food
I still do not understand why SDCC insists on shoving awful food onto their attendees. I love junk food, but it shouldn’t be the ONLY option available for hungry people jammed into Hall H (It’s damn near impossible to get out of there). There has never, in my experience, been any healthy options available at this con in all the years I have attended. Additionally, the food is also incredibly high-priced, since they know people will pay what they have to in order to eat.
Bring a backpack, and keep PB & J sandwiches, bananas, protein bars, and bottles of water in there. You will save massive amounts of money, and avoid having a horrible stomachache. Trust me on this.
Six: Wear Comfortable Shoes!
This is one thing I learned during my first year of dressing up for cons. My knee-high, stiletto boots may have been cute as hell and completed my costume, but my feet were in massive amounts of pain after about an hour. I wasn’t even in the door yet!
You will spend a lot of time in lines, as I mentioned. You may be sitting, but you will also be standing. You will be walking around, going from place to place, or shuffling through the Dealer’s Room. Comfortable footwear is essential for any convention. I will never forget how the horrible agony I was in, and how badly I wanted to just sit and nurse my bleeding feet.
Additionally, be VERY sure you want to wear open-toed shoes. I really do not recommend you do so. They make look fantastic, or go with your costume, but they will seem less amazing when you are curled up in a ball, sniffling in the First Aid tent. One year, I changed into sandals. Stupid, I know. I was walking along in the Dealer’s Room, keeping pace with those in front and around me. Suddenly, the girl ahead of me backed up and her shoe hit my right, big toe. The nail popped up, and the pain was immense. I was carried to the First Aid tent by two Furries, and had to sit out for the rest of the day until my parents were done. I couldn’t walk at all, and had to skip out on the rest of the con. Did I mention that was on a Thursday? Yeah. It was horrible.
Seven: Keep Your Electronics Charged
Electrical outlets are few and far between, and there are thousands of people attending at any one time. Get your electronic devices to a full charge before heading to the con, and make sure to bring spare batteries and your chargers. Additionally, bring a power strip to make new friends (You will be well-liked for this), and for keeping all of your devices charged at once.
Eight: Be Prepared
Backpacks are your friend. Bring one, and fill it with snacks, energy drinks, and water bottles. Bring a change of clothes, a first-aid kit (with Tylenol), a book or two, some pens, a notebook, and a change of shoes. If you are someone who has those lovely “times of the month”, make sure you’re prepared…just in case. Trust me.
I hope that these tips will make the entire experience of attending your very first comic-con less overwhelming for you. It can be a bit scary to be shoved into a building with a bunch of people, especially if you have bad social anxiety (I feel ya). However, knowing what to expect and being prepared can help alleviate some of that stress. Look at some pictures of past cons, to try and get a sense for how many people are in the halls at one time. Look up the numbers, and use those to plan your routes and schedules. Keep your schedule with you, and plan your day by it.
Figure out which panels you want to see the most, which booths and tables you count as absolute must-sees, and make sure you know when your favorite celebrities will be speaking and signing. Planning it all out, and being completely prepared will make everything SO much easier for you. If you’re going on Preview Night, you can also use that time to get a good feel for the layout. Additionally, the convention center is sometimes open to the public for a month or so before the con starts. You can walk around, get a real feel for the place.
Above all, remember to Have Fun. You paid exuberant amounts of money for this trip, made tons of preparations, and endured lots of people who don’t understand what deodorant is (yes, you will be surrounded by those people at some point). After all of that, you might as well remember to have fun.
Keep in mind, too, that there is plenty to do outside of the actual convention center, so make sure to check out any off-site events going on. There is always something interesting happening, especially if you are of drinking age. You didn’t buy a super expensive badge to just sit around and sulk because you couldn’t get that action figure, right? Get out there and party with your fellow nerds!