Tell me if this is you: you hate reading directions, you can figure out everything on your own, you prefer spontaneity and rolling with your own personal Tao as opposed to following roadmaps, and you often feel blessed by serendipity. Yeah, me too. But I still study the Exhibit Hall map and plot my course - and you should too.
This is what CCI just published:
The Exhibit Hall map
The list of exhibitors
The list for Artists' Alley
The list and map for Small Press Area
The Fan Tables map
Why This Matters
Because the Exhibit Hall is a mindblowing colossus of noise, crowds and visual stimulation, and you will not accomplish your goals if you try to wing it.
"But I don't have any goals," you might be saying. To which I say: "Hogwash" and point out there's no point in merely shuffling along zombie-like with the crowd, which is what you'll do if you don't have some kind of plan upon entering.
I mean, you can just trudge around and see what there is to see. But if you have any kind of collectible, comic book or general idea in mind - you want a Neko Atsume shirt, you want to get your boyfriend a certain ancient X-Men issue - it helps to look up vendors in advance. Sometimes you'll see a publisher you didn't know would be there, or get an idea for something you do want. You don't have to memorize everything, that would be impossible, but you will get a little more organized. And you won't be on a flight home Sunday night and realize you never did see that amazing Walking Dead photo op everyone else is posting on Instagram.
The myths and realities of the Exhibit Hall
You can see everything by walking up and down every aisle. No. The crowds are too thick and the booths too crowded for you to spot every single item. I've walked right past favorite artists doing signings because there are just so many people around. The above video gives you an idea of how crowded it is.
You'll remember everything on your list. First of all, you'll have your own list and the wish list from coworkers, roommates and friends - and much of the latter will take the form of "If you see a Ms. Marvel statue" or "Any Orphan Black toddler shirt" etc. And once you're on the floor, with video games thundering in your ears and Darth Vader blocking your path and footage flashing on multiple screens, a lot of thoughts will fly right out of your head.
It's all overpriced crap that's available cheaper on Amazon anyhow. No... er, not always. Yes, some of those "rare finds" aren't so rare once you check online. But you will see unusual gizmos you can't find anywhere else and if you have even a few nerd molecules in your blood, you'll probably spot some weird item you can't live without. My friend's girlfriend was so not into Comic-Con when he took her, but she was thrilled with a Lily Munster figure she found, and that happened only because he steered her to a small booth of vintage horror stuff.
Artists' Alley and Small Press are just indie people who don't have much commercial appeal. No a thousand times. This is exactly where you find new artists, books and work that are magnificent. There is so much talent operating outside the big houses these days. These areas may not be your cup of tea but if you have any comic/art/lit interests, you should make them a destination.
The Exhibit Hall is all Hollywood studios, with nothing for comic book geeks. Not true. Yes, there is plenty of studio bombast. There are also aisles offering books from Fantagraphics, Last Gasp, Boom, Drawn and Quarterly, Oni Press and others. Lots of back issue dealers. Graphic novels that get cheaper every day. I won't pretend San Diego Comic-Con is what it used to be in this regard (it's not) but this comic nerd always finds a few treasures to take home.
You've come so far on your Comic-Con journey. You've spent serious money on badges and hotel rooms and maybe cosplay and airfare. The last thing you want is to show up and not understand how to navigate the booming chaos around you - so please take a look at the maps and use them to shape your agenda. Because your mind will be blown the moment you walk into the Exhibit Hall for the first time.