The Techland Guide to Having a Good Time at Comic-Con

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Comic-Con International is here, taking over the San Diego Convention Center, most of the rest of San Diego, and the lives of the 130,000 or so people who go there from July 21-25. It is a pressure-cooker of an event, and it’s easy to have a miserable time there if you get caught up in the crush. It’s also pretty easy to have an absolutely great time. Here are some of our more reliable strategies for enjoying it.

Anticipate the lines, and convince yourself that they’re fun. Getting into Comic-Con involves standing in line, probably a very long line; getting into the popular panels and signings involves standing in line; getting into Hall H, where the big movie screenings happen, involves standing in an unbelievably long line; for the Joss Whedon/JJ Abrams panel… you should probably be in line right now. No matter what you’re aiming for, get there early. Then do whatever you can to enjoy the wait: read, relax, think of it as a bit of well-earned down-time. I recommend asking the people next to you in line to tell you what they’re excited about at the show. I’ve learned about a lot of good stuff and made a few friends that way.

Download the app. If you have an iPhone, download Comic-Con’s official app. It’s free, it’ll have an updated schedule of everything that’s going on, and it’s infinitely easier than fumbling with the big printed program book.

(More on Techland: Comic-Con 2010: What to Get in Line for Early)

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. San Diego tends to be nice and warm, and the inside of the convention center can dry you out in a hurry. Bring a personal reusable water bottle. Drink water even when you feel like you don’t need to. It’s amazing what a difference that can make for your mood.

Have goals, and have unstructured time. Go to the convention center every day with three specific things you want to do: panels, screenings, signings, TV show previews, whatever. Make a particular effort to get those three things done. Then spend the rest of your day exploring–taking a look at things you’re curious about, or know nothing about. If you start feeling burned out, go outside–either on the back patio of the convention center, which is sunny and airy, or elsewhere in San Diego. It’s impossible to do everything, so don’t try. (Techland will, however, be posting a guide to things we strongly suspect are going to be awesome–including our own panel, which we’d love to see you at.)

Dress the part. It’s amazing how much it can sharpen up your spirits to be nicely dressed at Comic-Con, for many different values of “nicely dressed.” And if there’s any place to wear an actual costume, this is it. There is no such thing as “too nerdy-looking” at Con: let your geek flag fly! Even if you’ve snuck in dressed as a Hulked-Out Suicide Girl, though, wear very, very comfortable shoes. The aisles of the main show floor alone cover three miles; getting from one of the upstairs panel rooms to Hall H can be a twenty-minute hike.

(More on Techland: The Guy Who Hates Comic-Con Goes to Comic-Con, Part I)

Hit the show floor. Make sure you give yourself some time to explore the areas of the main show floor that interest you–comics, games, movies, whatever. If you’re a comics person, don’t miss Artists’ Alley, the area toward the back of the room where cartoonists of widely varying fame and skill levels hang out and sell their wares; meeting someone whose work has meant a lot to you for years or decades, telling them so, and buying some of their work from them is one of the particular joys of comics culture. If you like shopping for old comics, it can be a useful organizing principle to pick one specific comic book you want to find and have a specific maximum price that you’ll consider a good deal. There’s nothing like coming home with a five-dollar copy of that issue of Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane where Lois becomes a black woman for a day.

Think about meals in advance. I realize I sound like your grandmother here, but a danish and a coffee on the lam are not going to cut it at Comic-Con. Get some protein into yourself in the morning, at your hotel or elsewhere, and you’ll do much better for the rest of the day. For lunch and dinner, decide where you’re going in advance, and go either by yourself or with one other person if you can help it. With each additional person who’s joining your group, both the “I’m gonna be a couple minutes late, can you guys wait up?” factor and the “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” factor increase exponentially.

Go to the Eisners. The Eisner Awards are the comics industry’s annual awards, and the Friday-night ceremony where they’re preented is the most concentrated dose of comics culture there is. It always goes on way too long, and everybody leaves bubbling over with love for the medium anyway. Download the free iPhone app.

(More on Techland: Handicapping the 2010 Eisner Awards)

Go to some little panels. There are hundreds upon hundreds of them, and the smaller and more specialized they are, the more fun they tend to be. You can go to see the stars of a Hollywood blockbuster in the flesh with a few thousand other people, or you can see an unsung professional hero of yours answering your questions about his or her work. (I’m told the annual Fables panel is particularly fabulous for people who like that series.)

If all else fails, look around you. Find yourself exhausted, irritable, wondering why you sank so much money into this trip? Take a deep breath and look at the people around you–maybe the best thing about Comic-Con is that it’s so many people’s happy place. Be happy for everyone else, and it’s easier to have a good time yourself.

Bonus: if you’d like some more tips, Tom Spurgeon at the Comics Reporter has 135 of them.

More on Techland:

Where to See Techlanders at Comic-Con

Marvel Release Thor, Captain America Concept Art Posters For Comic-Con