The Exhibit Hall
The ground floor of the Convention Center is devoted to the Exhibit Hall, which is a massive sprawling marketplace with vendors hawking everything from DVDs to action figures to t-shirts to celebrity photos to yes, comic books. The upper floors are where the panels are, as well as the film festivals and gaming tracks and special events. In recent years, panels have spilled over to ballrooms in the adjacent hotels. Expect to see this trend grow for as long as the Con remains in San Diego.
The snacks in the Exhibit Hall are overpriced and kind of wretched. You’re not supposed to bring in your own food but as long as you tuck it away discreetly, it should be okay. I've never had my bag searched so I always bring a granola bar and water in. Stay hydrated and if crowds bother you, take breaks by going out back to the outdoor deck. Wireless is also best out there, in my experience.
If you want to amble around the floor in blissful spontaneity, good for you. If, however, you take a competitive and organized approach to getting the best exclusives at the best booths, study the Exhibit Hall map and list of vendor/artist booth numbers CCI publishes before the Con, and make a game plan. Otherwise you might just walk right by your favorite artist or #1 dream toy in the crowd.
If you bring kids, remember their vantage point. Being in a stroller or holding an adult's hand in a crowd of thousands can be overwhelming to a small person. I'm a 5'4 woman and it's overwhelming for me sometimes.
Remember your manners. Ask nicely if you can take a costumed person's picture and they pretty much always say yes. By and large Con goers tend to be pretty decent to each other; it's with celebrities they can turn into jackasses. Don't monopolize your favorite artist when other people are waiting for a sketch and don't foam at the mouth when you're around someone famous. I got trapped in an excited crowd of fanboys once that surrounded a revolted-looking Jack Black on all sides. Have some dignity.
Also on the subject of taking pictures: learn to do it quickly. When you stop to take Darth Vader's picture, a dozen other people will politely stop so as not to walk in front of your lens; this causes bottlenecks faster than you can imagine, and if you're struggling to operate your camera, you are creating a crowd-jam nightmare. Ditto having your own picture taken. You don't need an entire portfolio of you posing with the Jensen Ackles cardboard cut-out. Have one taken and then let the next girl pose.
Know that Exhibit Hall vendors aren't always offering the best deal in town. Often you can find something online cheaper. Whether you're looking for a specific Thundercats shirt, a signed photo of Lily Munster or a 1953 issue of Weird Tales, see what it's going for online so you know whether or not a vendor's price is fair. On Sundays vendors just want to sell off as much as possible, but on other days I've seen everything from first edition books to action figures to movies priced significantly higher at the Con than on Ebay or Amazon.
If you've never been to Comic Con before, or haven't attended these last few years, it's impossible to convey how bad the lines are. A few years ago a bad line meant a 2-3 hour wait. Now it can mean an 8-hour wait, can mean sleeping outside in the damp San Diego night. It can mean waiting that long and still not getting into the panel, and realizing you just spent money on a hotel room you didn't even sleep in and now you're too sleep-deprived and bitter to have fun doing other things. And sometimes it means waiting 3 hours in line, getting into the panel and seeing a lot of empty seats behind you and realizing you didn't need to wait after all.
All of which points to deciding in advance how to allocate your time. For your priority panels, sit through the preceding panel in that room to ensure a good seat. And if you decide a line is just too long, remember that Ballroom 20/Hall H panels are replayed (without trailer footage) later that night - and that most panels show up on YouTube within hours. Grainy and shaky, yes, but you will be able to see them.
Try to go to popular panels with a friend so you can take turns waiting in line. Spending hours alone in a Hall H line can really suck if you need to hit the restroom.
Wear sunscreen. You might find yourself outdoors more than you'd imagined and even if the temperature is moderate, you can pick up a sunburn fast.
Don't try to do everything. If you try to cram in every panel, film festival and screening, then run around all night, you will collapse. Decline some things and don’t look back. If your hotel is close by, going back to your room mid-day to swim or nap or read in a quiet room is a very smart idea.
Wear comfortable shoes and break them in before you get there. I live in high heels, and even I trade them in for big cushiony sneakers when I go to the Con. The Exhibit Hall alone is 460,000 square feet. You might shuffle along in 2-mile lines, or need to run from Hall A to Hall H, or walk too many blocks late at night. Take your feet seriously.
Charging devices: yes, I know this is always a dodgy endeavor in the convention center. Wifi is spotty, devices fail, and it can be hard to get a good charge. If you're looking for some free outlets, try down by room 27, or any far corner of the center. Also, those hallway lounges in the North Tower at the Marriott are a good place to collapse for a while and charge your phone, tablet and so on. Don't bother waiting around an outlet at the convention center for an hour if you're not getting results.
Sometimes not everyone at the Con is clean. It's summer, it's crowded and it's over a hundred thousand people, some of whom are shower-challenged. If you have a sensitive nose like I do, bring a scent you like and apply it under your nose when the going gets tough. You will thank me.
If you get sick easily, take precautions. Some people complain that they always pick up a cold at the Con; even if you have immunity of steel, remember that you will be in close quarters with many people and touching escalator rails and chairs and books that they've touched. So if you're worried about picking something up, bring Airborne or bee pollen or echinacea or whatever your favorite magic pills are.
If you have any kind of disability or health issue that makes it difficult to navigate crowds, do everything in your power to attend Preview Night. It’s not nearly as crowded as the following days and you'll get a better look at the booths. If you're not lucky enough to possess a Preview Night pass, keep in mind the other less-crowded hours: right after the doors open in the morning, right before they close in the evening, and Sunday afternoons.
If you start imploding with frustration and disappointment - this happens to some people - pick a day away from the Con. Going to the beach or Balboa Park, or getting a massage in your hotel spa, can be a very sane move.