Common questions about the Con

3 JULY 2015

Every year as soon as Comic-Con hits, I get a ton of emails. It's hard to anticipate what might confuse you when you arrive, so here are some of those most common questions people ask.

Can I barter in the Exhibit Hall?

It depends. When the Con first gets started, prices are usually as marked. If you go in and try to haggle aggressively like you're at a swap meet, you'll get some cold looks. The exception: volume discounts. Buy more of 1, or appear torn between buying 2 things, and the vendor will usually propose a discount. On Sunday, prices get more flexible because vendors want to unload as much product as possible. You'll see lots of markdowns, but go ahead and ask about getting a deal if you don't see anything advertised. Just be polite about it.

When do I get in line?

The ultimate Comic-Con question. Here's my unsatisfying answer: I have no idea. There used to be a loose science around this but the last 2 years have introduced some wild dynamics. If you're asking about a panel in one of the smaller rooms, just monitor the situation as best you can. If you're talking about Hall H, the same advice applies - but you want to start monitoring the day before for morning panels. Revisit the situation that day and see how it looks. Sometimes Hall H will clear out during the day hours and you can get in, especially for the night. For instance, Hall H on Thursday is going to be a very different story from Hall H on Friday. And be aware that Hall H and Ballroom 20 are huge rooms and even a massive line may not be as hopeless as it looks. 

For lines for autographs and exclusives, these have gotten more competitive every year. Try to gauge the popularity of whatever you're chasing, then err on the side of safety and get in line even earlier than you think you need to. Again, for every line question you have, you should ask yourself what you'll be giving up - and if it's worth it.

How many places in line can I hold?

Not that many. Everyone accepts that a friend or two may join you at some point. But if 11 people cut in ahead of attendees who've been waiting 4 hours, you can expect a reaction. Ditto in terms of holding seats. One or two is fine; if you try to colonize an entire row by distributing your belongings across each seat, you'll get called out.

Where's the cheapest place to eat?

There are plenty of options here. I'll cover more in my Comic-Con on a Budget post, but be aware of places like the Horton food court, Subway, food trucks (although these can get pricey), pizza slice places like Gaslamp Pizza on 5th, and the Grab and Go options and special Con menus at surrounding hotels. A lot of Gaslamp bars will be running great Happy Hour specials where you can get a quasi-nutritious meal. And don't forget Ralph's - if you really want to avoid eating out, you can pick up enough groceries to slap together some kind of breakfast or lunch in your room. 

Where can I charge my devices?

Getting a good charge can be tough in the convention center. The easiest answer here is bringing battery packs. You can usually find free outlets upstairs in the room 27 area - that tends to stay one of the most spacious, coolest areas of the center. But if you're desperate to get some good charging action and the outlets at the convention center aren't delivering, walk over to the hallway lounges in the North Tower at the Marriott. 

Where can I put my stuff?
Bag check. It's in the lobby near A and E and usually costs just $2 - a low price to roam around free and unencumbered. Be aware that you can't leave your items here overnight.

Can I pick up all my badges at once?

It depends.

Town & Country: you can only pick up a Thursday or all four single day badges, which will convert to a four-day badge. If you have Thursday, Friday and Sunday or some other combination - you can only get Thursday here.

Convention Center: You can pick up all your badges at once on your first day at the convention center. So if you're in that Thursday/Friday/Sunday group, you can pick them all up Thursday morning at the Con.

So it's up to you and your panel plans to decide if it's worth getting your Thursday badge a day early so you can skip the Thursday morning badge line, or if you'll just tough it out and pick up all 3 at once. One nice thing: with the Preview Night crowd growing as it has, the badge lines aren't as bad as they used to be.

How do I meet people?

Talk to them. Wherever you're physically standing at the Con, there will be something to talk about. If you're normally shy or socially awkward, that won't magically go away - but attendees tend to be pretty friendly and laidback and conversations start very naturally. Offer any information you've heard, whether it's about a secret show (there's always one surprise band or comedian) or a way to get a certain exclusive. SDCC is one nonstop information exchange. And just chatting up other attendees is the best way to get invited to things you wouldn't know about otherwise.

If you're actually looking to meet someone romantically, your best bet is to go to events and bars at night - just like in the real world. Again, you'll have common ground to talk about, so this shouldn't feel that awkward.

How do I meet famous people?

This is all very serendipitous. People used to have tips for waiting in certain areas to see celebrities and their handlers emerge, and I've known people to stalk the Marriott lobby in the hopes of waylaying a certain person. These plans rarely work out. Instead you'll get in an elevator on Friday morning and find yourself face to face with some famous old actor your mom would kill to meet and you'll exchange that neutral elevator smile and that'll be it.

This should go without saying - but always be polite, non-crazy and respect whatever signals they're throwing up. I've seen abominable treatment of celebrities at the Con. I was once swept into a Jack Black Exhibit Hall vortex that was terrifying. Don't be that fan.

Can I take pictures of cosplayers?

Sure. The general etiquette is to ask first. However, if someone is already posing for 6 cameras, there's no harm in jumping into the mix. In terms of taking pictures with cosplayers, things get dicier. Remember that you're often going to be in a humid, crowded environment; cosplayers may not want dozens of sweaty strangers pressing up against them. (Would you?) So if you do take a photo with them, don't try to get as close as possible. Obviously be respectful; many cosplayers (male and female) have had people say crude things to them or worse, grope them. I once saw a woman lick a male cosplayer's bare chest, which was gross just to witness.

I make a point to ask permission before posting anyone's picture on this blog - and that goes double for pictures of kids. Tiny cosplayers are adorable but a lot of parents would prefer their childrens' pictures stay offline so always get permission before even taking a snap.

Someone's offering a guest badge online, is it safe?

It could be, but probably not. Times are tough. My pro friends had grim stories this year about their inability to procure badges for everyone on their team. The days of retailers and pros having extra badges at their disposal have shrunk. To be fair, some places still do - but most of those places already have friends and colleagues who need those badges. It's really unlikely they couldn't find anyone who wanted a badge so they put it online. And let's remember that CCI has a taskforce now that shuts down that kind of thing.

My brother wants to come and we'll swap my badge back and forth. Will we get caught?

Probably not, but you could in theory and that could spell an unhappy end to your Comic-Con career. They do check IDs sometimes. Also be aware that swapping a badge back and forth isn't that easy and nimble unless you're literally staying next door. Just getting inside and either doing the Exhibit Hall or going to a panel is a serious endeavor. Also be aware that most everyone I know who's done this has wound up furious at their partner in crime, because someone stayed at the Con way longer than they promised. It's inevitable.

What if we just show up outside? Can we buy badges off people who are leaving the Con?

No. People keep their badges so they can participate in Pre-reg. And the general environment as such isn't conducive to scalping and selling. You'd have to run into someone who just A) moved heaven and earth to get into the Con but B) found they hated it and didn't care about holding onto their badge and C) was willing to risk the wrath of whatever kind of undercover badge enforcement is in front of the Con. Which may or may not exist, but is conceptually intimidating. And the Gaslamp is full of hucksters ready to take your money.

These are the days when desperate nerds succumb to their emotions and take stupid risks - so I can only beg you to please not do it. The odds are painfully high that you'll be taken for a ride. If it was easy to sneak into SDCC, or if there was even a predictable but expensive way to do it, thousands of affluent nerds would be greasing palms and sliding into the doors with fake IDs. Just enjoy the surrounding activities, visit Nerd HQ and Gam3rCon, and soak in the energy. And try for 2016.

Finally, because I've already heard a number of you first-timers gripe about various inefficiencies - I suggest looking at this list of what people didn't like last year, so you can prepare yourselves now. Comic-Con is full of challenges, no doubt. The sooner you accept that and get Zen about the whole experience, the more you'll appreciate the good parts.


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