Comic Con 2011: 12 Tips for newbies

jared-jensen-comic-con.jpgLast July, I lost my Comic-Con virginity.

Yes, its true. After years of observing from afar via YouTube and Getty Images, I arrived in San Diego armed with nothing but false confidence in my own ability to survive the weekend full of panels, parties, fans, and famous people.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that a week after I left San Diego, I was still having stress dreams about Comic-Con. Naked-in-Hall-H, accidentally-missed-the-last-ever-"Smallville"-panel, full-on panic dreams.

In an effort to keep my anxiety to a minimum, I've compiled a list of 12 tips for a fun, healthy, and only-sort-of-stressful experience at Comic-Con. This year, I plan to kick back and enjoy the embarrassment of TV riches that the event provides me... without needing a Xanax refill halfway through the weekend.

If you're a newbie, too, these tips may help you out. If you're a longtime Comic-Con vet, do me a favor. If you see a twenty-something girl cowering in a corner, clutching her press pass, and muttering nonsense to herself, give me a slap and tell me to get a grip on myself, okay?

1. Learn the layout.
The San Diego Convention Center is, for lack of a better word, ginormous. Luckily, there are helpful maps available online. If you familiarize yourself with the layout of the center before you arrive, and leave yourself a little time to get oriented before your first event, you'll definitely reduce the likelihood that you'll want to bail by 10 AM on the first day. If you're a fan of big TV shows like "The Vampire Diaries" and "Fringe," you're likely to spend a good chunk of your time in Ballroom 20. Blockbuster movies (and "Supernatural") are in Hall H this year. Newer, smaller shows are in smaller rooms, and the autograph booths and vendors are down on the convention center floor.

2. Make a schedule.
As the event approaches, the various studios and publishers will announce their schedules. For example, Warner Bros TV has provided us with this helpful schedule. Decide which events you want to attend (and which events you absolutely need to attend) and write them down. If two events overlap, you're going to have to prioritize. The "Harry Potter" folks will not switch times with the "Avengers" folks just because you need them to, so be prepared to miss some things. There's always YouTube. And next year.

3. Be flexible. That schedule you just made is important, but it can't be set in stone. First of all, there will be unexpected adventures. Last year, I missed out on PaceyCon because I was married to my schedule and couldn't spare ten minutes to go outside and observe the reincarnation of my all-time favorite TV character. It's one of the great tragedies of my young life. You're also going to have to scratch things from the schedule in favor of everyone's favorite Comic-Con pastime: standing in line.

4. Stand in line like a boss. Unless you're lucky enough to snag press passes to certain panels, the likelihood of you spending a significant chunk of your trip standing in line is very, very high. People will arrive five hours before the doors open to stand in line for the "Chuck" panel on Saturday morning, so prepare to join them. (Coffee is your BFF.) If you've got a friend attending with you, you guys can take turns standing in line. People mostly won't get mad if someone joins you in the line -- but don't take advantage of that. If you're standing in line for two hours and then you're suddenly joined by 32 of your closest friends from your favorite "Twilight" message board, the person who has been standing in line behind you might just use their plastic light saber for nefarious purposes. And we wouldn't blame them.

The rooms don't clear out between panels, so if you plan to attend several panels in the same room, keep that in mind. Lots of people get in line early for Ballroom 20 on Saturday and just... stay there. All day. The "Chuck" panel starts at 10 a.m., and the panels will continue in that room until the "Alcatraz" panel ends at 6 p.m. You can leave for bathroom breaks and (very) quick food runs, and if you don't want to waste a million hours in line, staying put is your best bet.

5. Get comfortable. San Diego can be hot in July, but you're going to be in an air-conditioned building all day, so keep in mind that you'll likely get chilly. Go with layers and comfortable shoes. Yes, you'll probably be in the same room as a bunch of super-hot celebrities and every instinct will tell you to look your absolute best, but limping around on blistered feet is never cute, either. hand-sanitizer.jpg

6. Hand sanitizer. Remember that 1998 Baz Luhrman single, "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)"? Well, ladies and gentlemen of the class of '99, if I could offer you just only one tip for the future, hand sanitizer would be it. There are a lot of people packed into this convention center, with varying degrees of hygiene. So bring hand sanitizer. While you're at it, take some extra Vitamin C and wash your hands like you've got obsessive compulsive disorder. (It's likely that you'll get sick afterward anyway, but at least you'll know it's not your fault.)

7. Pack wisely. You can carry a bag in -- in fact, Warner Bros. will provide you with a bag the size of a large tent so that you can carry all of your swag. Here's what I'm going to carry with me this year.
  • Phone and charger. The charger is key; you will run your battery down.
  • Camera. You'll want to take photos in the panels, but the real gold will be on the floor, where you can catch the most enthusiastic fans dressed (or, in some cases, undressed) in elaborate, intricate costumes.
  • Water bottle. You can re-fill it at water fountains and in the bathroom (seriously, tap water isn't poison) and it'll keep you from paying insane prices to stay hydrated.
  • Your badge. Just glue the thing to your neck; you'll need it for everything, and you're out of luck if you lose it.
  • Cash. Hit the ATM before you arrive if you plan to buy swag or art. Many vendors don't take credit cards, and carrying cash (in a very safe place, of course) will help you stay on budget. You don't want to run out of funds before Sunday comes around.
  • Don't bring weapons. Even fake ones. You'll be asked to check them at the Weapons Check. Yes, there is a Weapons Check.
  • Trust me on the hand sanitizer.

8. Sleep. I can say this from experience: partying all night at the Maxim Party will feel like a great idea while you're partying at the Maxim Party. It will feel like less of a great idea when you spend the entire next day resisting the urge to vomit on some CW star's shoes. So have fun in moderation and make sure to catch a few Zz's before you have to go stand in line in the morning. Your body will thank you. So will the CW star's shoes.

9. Get out of the convention center. It's easy to get so caught up in the SDCC events that you literally only leave the convention center to sleep, but you'll be doing yourself a great disservice. San Diego is a fantastic city and you're right in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter. Leave room for a leisurely dinner (there is exactly zero nutritional value available for sale at Comic-Con) or a walk by the water. It's always healthy to catch some fresh air and spend some time with friends that doesn't involve anxiously standing in line for a werewolf's autograph.

10. Prepare for zero bars. If there's one thing nerds love, it's staying connected. We tweet, we tumble, we mupload, we live-blog -- our need to recount our experience as we're experiencing is immeasurable. The problem is, when thousands upon thousands of nerds come together and try to connect at the same time... we tend to crash servers. Unless you're a member of the press and you absolutely must lug your laptop to Comic-Con, don't.

Try not to stress about it, either. You'll be able to upload photos and blog to your heart's content and update your 13 fan sites when you get back to your hotel. While you're at the convention center, there is one guarantee: The WiFi will suck. Your cell phone is likely to give you trouble, too -- we relied on texting all weekend because 99% of our phone calls were dropped. If you're prepared for this in advance, you're less likely to feel like you've lost a limb when you get that dreaded spinny-wheel thing on every website you try to access.

11. Think green. At the risk of sounding preachy, be mindful of your carbon footprint. Huge events like Comic-Con take a serious toll on the environment. Carpool to San Diego (or, better yet, take the train -- it doesn't break the bank and it's a great way to meet people on the way). Throughout the weekend, you'll be offered an average of ten zillion fliers from enthusiastic flier-hander-outers per day. If you're not interested, don't take the flier. If you are interested, make sure to recycle it after you've read it and realized that you're actually not interested after all. The amount of paper I saw strewn about San Diego last year because of carelessness was, frankly, disgusting. Keep in mind that somebody's going to have to clean up after you and don't be a jerk.

12. If you want to dress up like a warrior princess, a vampire, or Lois Lane, the time is now. Seriously; have fun. Let your freak flag fly. Comic-Con is a great opportunity to let your fanatic tendencies take over before you have to return to your cubicle and your judgy co-workers, so don't hold back.

If you're a Comic-Con vet and you think I've missed some essential info, feel free to weigh in below in the comments section! See you in San Diego, Zappers.
Photo/Video credit: WB; Purell