Are you going to Comic Con in 2016?

4 JANUARY 2016

Happy New Year, nerds! Let's talk about the year stretching before us. What Comic Cons are on your dance card? What are your top #1 wish list Cons and which are your backup and safety Cons?

Probably the season seems far away. And if you're still new to Comic Con life and all of the reservations, badge sales and budgeting it entails, you might think of going to Comic-Con as some kind of fun activity that either "works out" or it doesn't. But that's just not true. While luck does play into it (sometimes mercilessly), there is a fair amount of planning involved that ultimately determines whether or not you walk through the doors of a major Con.

Here's what you need to think about.

Which Comic Con do you want to go to? 

San Diego Comic-Con is the big one, of course. If that's your dream, you need to start prepping now. Sign up for a Member ID, read the blogs as well as forums like Friends of Comic-Con, and get a realistic idea of what is involved - elements like your chances of actually getting a badge in Open Registration, hotel room options, Nerd HQ and the overall experience. SDCC can fall devastatingly short of a first-timer's expectations or dazzle them beyond anything they hoped. Try to figure out if you really want to jump through all the hoops required.

The key here is understanding what you want from your Comic Con experience. Don't think that the biggest Cons are necessarily the ticket to making your dreams come true. Let's say you want to meet celebrities. They are often more accessible at smaller Cons than the biggest ones. Or maybe you want to collect really obscure back issues. You'll definitely want a more comics-focused Con as opposed to other Cons which still have "Comic" in their name but reflect more of a Hollywood interest in their vendors and guests.

Maybe you want to network or promote your work. Maybe you'd like to host a panel of your own. Figure this out before you invest in a giant Con like NYCC or SDCC that may not be the best environment for you. Cons like Salt Lake, Emerald City, Denver or C2E2, just to name a few, are rapidly become a more appealing choice for many people than San Diego. Obviously SDCC is still an incredible spectacle but the chances of getting a badge dwindle every year and it's self-sabotaging to pin all your hopes on it.

As for New York Comic Con, I've heard general misinformation filter down that getting a badge is now "as bad as San Diego" which is an exaggeration. The 2015 badge sale was technologically rough but most people I know who joined at the start eventually got 4-day badges. And there were Thursday badges left over by the end.

A final caveat: if you roll into your local small-time Comic Con and assume it's just a smaller version of the more famous ones, stop right there. A lot of Cons boast high attendance numbers these days without boasting anything close to SDCC or NYCC offerings. It's impossible to really grasp the magic of San Diego Comic-Con until you actually go - no matter how many YouTube videos you watch.

Which Con works with your budget and schedule? 

One of the most interesting new Cons this year is Silicon Valley Comic Con. Described as "where science fiction blends with science fact, and amazing technologies will be on display from your favorite tech companies to the newest start-ups and app developers," this has piqued the interest of many tech and science-minded nerds. (And to be fair, it's also repelled a fair number who suspect it will be more business conference than convention. Post forthcoming.) The problem for many is that it's happening in San Jose only days before WonderCon in LA and a couple of weeks before Emerald City in Seattle. That's a whole lot of Conning for a West Coast nerd's schedule.

If summer is the easiest time for you to go to Comic Con, there's no shortage of options. Phoenix Comicon happens in early June, Denver Comic Con later in June, SDCC in late July, Gen Con and Boston in August, and Dragon Con and probably Salt Lake Comic Con in September. But overall you can find a Con at any time of year.

In terms of money, you'll want to start your Con cash stash right now. After you account for plane fare, badge, meals and hotel, you'll still be tempted to spend on a number of things - original art, action figures, comic books, party tickets and more. Maybe you've ascended to a higher plane of consciousness where such things don't tempt you, but if you're like most attendees you'll find at least a few Exhibit Hall treasures to make you drool. Be kind to future you and start socking money now so you can indulge your nerd hungers when the opportunity presents itself. If you come across the rarest of rare dream toys but your wallet forces you to pass it up, you'll be haunted for months.

You'll also want to make arrangements with your Con companions now. If you've been going to Comic Con for a while, you've probably had friends beg to go with you, then fade away when it came time to book a plane ticket or go through the various badge sale hassles. You rejoice over scoring a room at the Hilton Bayfront - then months later your friend suddenly has a wedding to attend and you're paying the entire tab alone. It might seem like a tall order to get people to commit to Con costs now but it's a good idea to suss out who's serious and who's not before badge sales start happening. It's also smart to vocalize this in your social circles; you might know several people who would love to come but just don't know how to get started.

What logistics do you need to take care of?

This is what separates the attendees from the people who watch Comic Con updates from home. While some Cons are still walk-in status, others require months of planning. Hotel room sales, registration and event tickets often go live months before the actual Con and sell out immediately. I'll be upfront with you: this isn't always easy to navigate. Go to a Con's website and it's usually full of cheery promises and colorful graphics rather than advice like, "Our badge sales are BRUTAL. Be ready the second it happens."

Which means you'll need to probe around in digital communities for inside tips and advice from Con veterans. (Who tend to be more than generous about helping newcomers - go ahead and ask any question you have, no matter how dumb you feel, because everyone has been in your shoes at some point.) Things like buying groups or the Early Bird sale vs open hotel reservations can baffle newcomers, if they are aware of them at all. So be prepared to do some research. And make friends now with attendees on social media. Many go to multiple Cons and meetups happen quite a lot.

Does all of this sound like too much effort? Then stick to smaller Cons. All the practices and skills required for attending and enjoying a big Con will probably exhaust you. This is survival of the fittest and the Comic Con experience is not for everyone. But if you think it is for you, get ready now - and you'll reap the rewards a few months down the road with incredible Comic Con memories.

Good luck. Here's to a beautifully nerdy 2016 for all of us.

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