15 JULY 2016
At this point, you probably have a good idea of your Comic-Con priorities. You at least know which panels you want to see, which exclusives you want to get, and which events you'd like to attend. And now you need to calculate the lines involved for all of them, collaborate with partners on who can stand in what line, and then discard the smaller game you'll sacrifice to get the bigger kill.
Take the Star Trek premiere Wednesday night. You will line up for a drawing earlier that day. We don't know exactly how many tickets are available, but we do know that many of us will draw losing tickets. People without Preview Night badges may not be in town early enough to participate - and people with Conan tickets for that day need to get in that line that morning. Factor all of that into your decision on when and if to line up for this drawing.
Same with waiting in line for drawings on autographs and exclusives. Weigh what else you're missing at the Con against this possibility of winning or losing.
Hall H is a different story. The wristbands give you some guarantee you'll get in and while many people make fun of them (including me, in the past), I do think they've reduced the chaos and conflict of the Hall H line. The 3-days campouts, people cooking on tiny grills, fights over cutting in line, that woman getting hit by a car because she was so afraid of losing her spot - it was pretty much anarchy for a few years. It's definitely calmer now. But you'll still need to dedicate effort and time to getting a good wristband.
Here are a few general practices that can help you make wise decisions on lines:
#1. Pack provisions. Batteries for your devices, water, snacks, blankets if you're outside in the San Diego night; you don't want to put 2 hours into a line and then throw it all away because you're starving or cold.
#2. Talk to the people around you. This happens naturally at Comic-Con, even for introverts who loathe small talk. One, it's not small talk; we all have interests in common. Two, SDCC fosters an atmosphere that is friendly yet chill, with everyone feeling pretty comfortable. So get to know your line friends. They'll hold your place while you run for coffee, they'll tell you about events or signings you didn't know about, and they may have valuable information about the fandom you share. Plus it's just a fun way to pass the time.
#3. Always check which line you're in. It's too easy to be told the wrong thing and spend 90 minutes in a line for something you don't care about.
#4. Be very proactive about finding out where lines are. Volunteers and guards don't always know, or will feed you some weak excuse just to get you to go away. For instance, last year a girl at my NASA panel missed the Spirited Away screening because multiple volunteers couldn't tell her where to line up for Horton tickets. Later I ran into the same problem (the Horton line is usually opposite Ballroom 20 doors, right by the Sails Pavilion, FYI.) Another year I was in line for a Neil Gaiman panel that went on forever. The volunteers kept telling us they were letting people in. The panel started, 10 minutes passed, 15 minutes, he assured us we'd get in. Finally we sent a scout to the front of the line who reported that the doors were closed, no one else was getting in. You do have to take control of your destiny at SDCC because there's too much misinformation flowing around.
#5. On that note, go ahead and ask people in uniforms for help - but it's your fellow attendees who usually know the answer. That's not to trivialize volunteers in any way, but volunteers only have the information they're given.
#6. When it comes to the Exhibit Hall, lines can get contentious. And it's not uncommon to get conflicting directions from different types of staff and guards. Every year attendees get furious because they're told the line is closed for a certain booth - then someone lets new people wait, who buy up the exclusives, and it all gets rather ugly. There's no surefire trick here. Just keep asking different people and if someone challenges you, say, "That person told me I could stand here/wait/buy that." Usually this buys you time as they conference and you get closer to your goal.
#7. Remember that the big room panels (Hall H, Ballroom 20) usually have their panels played back that night. If you only want to see 1 panel and don't want to wait 4 hours to get into the room and then sit through another 3 panels, this is a good option. I know everyone wants to be within the physical presence of their favorite casts, but when there's 4,000 people between you in the room, it's not going to feel that physical anyhow. Going to the playback sessions at night (check the programming for times and rooms) can free up your days to do other stuff.
#8. That said, don't assume every big room panel is inaccessible. It's been quite uneven in recent years, with some walk-in Ballroom 20 and Hall H panels, and others requiring an all-night vigil. Overall, the big room lines have gotten much more reasonable; I think people are just over it.
#9. Standing in line with friends definitely helps free you to fetch takeout or stretch your legs. Everyone expects to see that kind of shift work. But don't be the person who waits alone in the 6BCF line and then is joined by 13 other people moments before the panel starts. That's going to piss off the people behind you who put in the time, just like it would annoy you. When this happens over and over, you can wind up with an extra 200-300 people ahead of you who didn't wait like you did.
#10. If you're unsure of how people take care of business in these long waits/room vigils, some panel will give out tickets so you can slip out for a bio break. Hall H has restrooms in the space. You can also use the lobby restrooms overnight. Some restaurants deliver to outside lines. And yes, the rumors about certain celebrities handing out donuts or pizza or coffee to the Hall H line have been true in the past but it's nothing to bank on.
#12. Try to calculate how much of the crowd will clear out for your panel. Let's say you want to see Archer on Friday at 5 pm. Indigo is a popular all-day activity for animation fans on Friday, but it's a safe bet that some attendees who got in line while it was dark out for those first panels will pack it in by afternoon and go get a meal and a shower. Not that I'd advise showing up at 4 pm, but I wouldn't say you need to be there at 5 am either.
#13. If you're interested in a panel and can't guesstimate how bad the line will be, try to swing by the general area and monitor the situation. Ask people which panel that line is for. When NASA first came to the Con, people were still getting in line just minutes before the first panel - apparently they assumed it wouldn't be that in demand. (They didn't get in.) It's easy to both underestimate and overestimate how many people will try to get into a panel. Check Twitter for panel line estimates and post your own - attendees appreciate it.
I've mostly talked about panel lines here. Mattel, Hasbro and that whole
carnival involves a different strategy, and I would advise searching
out tactics on the specific company you're targeting. Not to be a
gloompuss, but almost every "regular" collector I know has come away
from SDCC in the last 4-5 years angry and empty-handed because it's so
difficult to triumph over what can feel like a rigged system. I don't
want to steer you awry, so please ask for specific tricks and tips from
attendees experienced in that particular domain.
In general, my feeling on lines is this: it's always best to enjoy the Comic-Con you're at because it could be your last. Your enjoyment could be catching up with friends in a line camp-out (because really, how often do any of us just sit down and talk for hours these days?) or it could be a day mixed with offsites, the Exhibit Hall, and one panel. Only you know what's most urgent in your Comic-Con heart. And you could easily fail in both badge sales for 2017 - so before you spend all of this Con in one line after another, think about what will make you happiest.