Tips for Comic-Con First-Timers

     July 13, 2011


The San Diego Comic-Con can be daunting for those who have never been.  You’re being crushed by over 100,000 people, the lines have lines, and you probably won’t see everything you want.  But there are some tips that can make the Con more enjoyable.  I’ve provided this advice in the past, but it’s been a couple years and I have refined my tips and added some new ones.

Hit the jump for some sage wisdom.  The 2011 San Diego Comic-Con runs from July 21st to July 24th.

1. Do It for the Experience and not the Panels

Everyone wants to get a first look at the films they’re excited for.  That’s totally understandable.  It’s also a thrill to see your favorite stars and directors up close and personal (or as up close and personal as security will allow).  But here’s the hard truth: the footage you see may not be representative of the final film and most of the people on stage will be giving recycled answers because they’re usually asked the same question eight different ways.

It can all be fun in the moment, but what you’ll remember isn’t the sneak peek you saw or the off-hand joke an actor made.  What you’ll remember is the fun you had with your friends and the new people you met.  Strike up conversations with people in line.  When Oni Press put a limit on the number of Brian Lee O’Malley books that he would sign, the people behind me in line took my extra books and got them signed for me.  I don’t remember the footage I saw from Red, but I remember hanging out in Hall H with @GermainLussier, @Schofizzy, and @jonniechang.  You can handle lines when you’ve got cool people around and the presentations are better when you can chat about them with folks afterwards.  If you’re going solo to Comic-Con just so you can see some Amazing Spider-Man footage, you’re missing the point.

2. Snacks

For your health and for your wallet, bring your own food.  Of the food that’s one sale, very little of it could be reasonably described as “healthy”.  It’s pizza, it’s hot dogs, it’s potato chips, it’s cookies, and while all of these are delicious, they’re hardly nutritious.  They’re also damn expensive.  Vendors at the San Diego Convention Center know you’re not leaving the premises to go get food and so they can charge you a premium.  Rather than pay inflated prices for junk food, bring your own snacks and a bottle of water.

merrell-sneakers-013. Comfortable Footwear

I can’t stress this one enough.  I know it seems silly, but imagine you’re standing in line for two hours or walking the floor of the exhibitors’ hall or just trying to get around the rest of the convention center.  While lines for panels will usually allow you to sit down until they open the doors, you can’t get away with that in the exhibitors’ hall.  You’ll also probably be walking the Gaslamp district so just do your feet a favor and get shoes that don’t suck.  Also, don’t be dumb and wear open-toed shoes.  There are thousands of people all trying to get around and some of them are probably going to step on your foot once or twice.

4. This Is How Rooms Work

Rooms do not empty out after a presentation.  If the only thing you care about on Friday is the presentation for The Amazing Spider-Man, then you’re getting in line outside of Hall H at 5am on Friday morning and you will spend your entire damn day in the Hall until the presentation rolls around at 4pm.  The same rule applies to every hall.  Last year, a lot of people who wanted to see some of the major TV panels got shut out of Ballroom 20 because it’s smaller than Hall H and the Comic-Con programmers still don’t understand what draws a crowd.  So I will put this as clearly as I can:

If there is a panel that you absolutely must see, you must get in line for that room well before the first panel of the day, even if you don’t care about any of the panels that come before the one you do care about.

Also, know when to cut your losses.  If Joss Whedon is doing a panel at 4pm and you’ve been in the back of a super-long line for most of the day, and 2pm rolls around and you haven’t gotten any closer, you may have wasted most of your day.  It’s important to learn to love standing in lines at Comic-Con, but you don’t want to spend your entire time in a line and never actually getting into anything.  There’s plenty to see at Comic-Con and just because you go to a panel that doesn’t involve a celebrity, it doesn’t mean that panel will be a waste of time.  The panel might be educational instead of promotional.

outside-hall-h-line-014a. Regarding Thursday’s Breaking Dawn panel: If you find yourself still stranded outside Hall H on Thursday morning but pretty close to the door, don’t despair.  Judging by from previous years, once the panel’s over, a lot of the Twilight fans won’t stick around for the remaining Hall H panels.

5. Do You Really Need to Buy That?

When you’re wandering the exhibitors’ floor, it’s tempting to buy posters, comic books, toys, etc.  However, before you buy anything, stop and think to yourself: “Can I buy this cheaper online?”  Furthermore, remember that if you buy too much stuff to take home, you’ll probably have to ship it (There’s a FedEx station inside the convention center) which will add to the cost.  There’s certainly loads of good stuff to buy and I’m sure I’ll make a couple of purchases myself.  My advice is to simply keep your impulses in check and avoid buyer’s remorse later.  If you are deal-hunting, your best bet is Sunday.

6. Keep Your Cool

Comic-Con is crowded, hot, and I can understand the exhaustion.  But please remember how to act like a reasonable human being.  Sometimes ass-holes will cut in line.  Sometimes a vendor will try to pretend like you didn’t give him a $100 for comics and try to steal your money (yeah, I remember you, guy).  The squealing of teen girls at the Breaking Dawn panel will most likely shatter your ear drums if you don’t have proper ear-protection. Last year, a guy got stabbed in the eye in Hall H.  The two guys involved in the altercation were reportedly fighting over a seat.  The seat did not cure cancer.  It did not bestow infinite wisdom or wealth.  It provided a view to see advertising for a movie.  Try to maintain perspective, treat others with respect, be the better person, and remember that you’re at Comic-Con to have fun.


- The grass outside of Hall H in the early morning is wet.  Your gigantic swag bag can make for a useful seat.

- If conversation in line with your friends becomes exhausted, bring a book or play a game or something.  Try to keep at least one portable entertainment device on your person that isn’t your phone.

- Make sure your phone’s got some juice and bring your charger anyway.  You don’t want to use up your phone’s battery power playing games between panels in Hall H and then have a dead battery when you want to call your friends and make plans to meet up later in the day.

- Don’t be the guy (or girl) wearing the t-shirt or bearing the sign that says “Free hugs.”  Everyone is creeped out by you.

- If you are standing by the back wall in Hall H and everyone starts shouting and looking towards the back wall, don’t stand around talking on your phone to your new writer who’s attending Comic-Con for the first time.  Run towards the stage.  Ask Steve what happens if you don’t do this (spoiler alert: you get crushed by scaffolding and get a massive concussion).

Other Comic-Con veterans, sound off in the comments section if you have tips that I didn’t mention.


  • Joseph William Greene



      I have seen this comment a lot, (personally I think it would be automatic, human nature or whatever to do that!) But why do people keep saying it, are there REALLY that many people who are dirty/smelly? I have just realised this is 3 years old, but I’m going to post it anyway. BTW do you still go to Comic Con’s? :)

  • Nate P.

    I’ve been a Comic Con vet for about 6 years now and I’m bringing my best friend from Minnesota this year. It will be his first Comic Con. I agree with most of your points, but I think you are exaggerating on a few:

    I don’t think Hall H will be that crowded this year mainly due to the lack of exciting panels. Spiderman and Breaking Dawn will probably be the only panels that fills Hall H to capacity. I remember last year for stuff like Tron, Thor, and Green Lantern, you HAD to get there early in the morning. This year, for Saturday, you could probably walk in as soon as the panel starts and still find a decent seat in Hall H. For Sony, I don’t think you’ll need to get there at 5am. Tin Tin is the first panel that morning and despite Spielberg being in attendance, I don’t think that’s going to be crazy full (though it might be).

    Ballroom 20 will be packed all weekend long. I’m staying far away from that. My main panel going into Comic Con was Game of Thrones, but the programmers gave that panel such a horrible slot that there’s no chance I will get to see it unless I want to waste half my day waiting in line and watching panels for USA shows I don’t care about. They should really move TV into Hall H and put some of their lesser films (Underworld/Knights of Baddassdom/Spy Kids 4) into Ballroom 20.

    What you say about the experience is dead on. My friend is kind of a shy guy, and that’s the complete opposite kind of attitude you need to be here. Strike up conversations with everyone around you. It’s Comic Con. Geek out as much as possible.

    A good piece of advice would don’t be afraid to approach a celebrity if you see them. The best part of Comic Con is running into all the different cool people on the floor/hotels/Gaslamp areas. I’ve met Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, and Donald Glover just in hotel lobby on my way to my room. This is what they are here for. Unless they look really busy, say hello and tell them how big of a fan you are. They’re not going get upset (mostly). I’ve kicked myself for not going up to certain people in previous years.

    • Dana

      Thanks! I have passes for Thurs only. What time should I show up? (I will pick up my passes tomorrow so I will already have them)????? Please advise!!!

  • Zak Abad

    Thanks I appericate you giving me these tips. It’s my first time going.

  • TNgirlinWA

    Great tips here (and THANK YOU to the person who suggested bathing!). I’ve been going to various cons for years, and I’ve got a few things I always do.

    1) Have a comfy backpack, but not one that’s so large you’ll give others a concussion. In the backpack stow your water, snacks, gum or breath mints and a mini emergency kit (some OTC pain relievers and a couple of band-aids would probably be plenty for most folks, but I like to include a couple of safety pins, a needle and a bit of thread, a tiny roll of tape, some Kleenex, a travel-sized deodorant, and some disposable toothbrushes as well). I also like to bring a thin notebook with some empty sheet protectors, as I’ve found this is a good way to keep my autographed comics, sketches and photos from getting damaged. If you like to be over-prepared like me, toss in a couple of Sharpies (one black, one silver) as well.

    2) Pack a collapsible duffel bag in your suitcase, just in case you collect so much stuff that your suitcase can’t fit it all. (Remember most airlines will charge extra for bags over 50 lbs., so if you’re even 5 lbs. over, you’ll be VERY glad you have that duffel so you can put some stuff in it and check it without paying that “too-heavy” fee.

    3) If at all possible, wear your camera around your neck. You want to be able to get it out, turned on, and clicked at a moment’s notice just in case you see a really awesome costume or spot a celeb.

    4) The most important thing? HAVE FUN! You are among your people, so there’s no need to worry if you’ll be acting too geeky. :) Say hi, make eye contact. If you’re into it, make up some little business cards with a photo of your face and some contact info (maybe your Twitter name or your gamer handle) so that you can make some connections that may result in a great friendship.

  • Samantha

    I’m with Zak – it’s my first time. Thanks for posting these tips!

  • TNgirlinWA

    Oops, I forgot to add HAND SANITIZER to my list of must-haves. Inevitably, folks will get the “Con Crud” after a convention. With so many people, it’s just a fact that there are gonna be some germs spread around. So bring hand sanitizer and use it often.

  • Castor

    This sounds more like preparing for war than going to a fun place ;)

  • Brian C.

    It is true with #6 in the article, some people can be jerks, even vendors. I was trying to take a picture once of Leonard Nimoy who was sitting in a corner of a collectible prints booth, and one of the guys told me I couldn’t be taking a picture of him from ten feet away with my crappy compact camera. I was standing about six inches inside the carpet of the booth, next to the isle, and he told me to get off the carpet of the booth! I was really bewildered since I was trying to get just 1 picture as I had just got there and was in back of a lot of people. The next day I walked by and I saw about 3 or 4 women standing in the exact same spot, he was there talking and laughing with them, and they were ALL talking multiple pictures of who I think was Nichelle Nichols or Leonard Nimoy, I can’t remember clearly. That guy was the biggest JERK I have come across in the convention in all the years I’ve gone. Not only the people can be a-holes but so can others.

  • susan

    A few words about “camping” in a hall so you can see the panel you want: just because you don’t care about whatever it is you’re sitting through, don’t forget that the panel might be the one thing the people sitting around you have been looking forward to (also, you might be taking up a seat of someone who wanted to be there but couldn’t get in because your ass is camping).

    Be respectful! Be polite, be quiet, don’t fidget or act like you’re waiting for a bus. Listen to the panel. Maybe you’re going to discover the next thing you love. If nothing else, you’ll be racking up some good karma and maybe won’t get stuck next to Mr. Unhappy Camper when the thing you want starts.

  • westmanca

    Getting scared now. This will be my first time there, and I’m already getting butterflies in my stomach.

    • Gabe

      It may sound like a lot, but it’s actually not that serious. Have fun!

  • Shmojo Jojo

    If you are wearing a costume that is hugely elaborate, don’t get in line for anything.

    First of all, nobody wants to get smacked in the eye with your huge styrofoam sword.

    Secondly, costumes make you sweat and stink. Waiting in lines will push you close to people who don’t want to smell or feel your sweaty grossness.

    Also, don’t collect a bunch of swag just because it’s free. You will throw it away eventually, so don’t get bogged down by it.

  • Shmojo Jojo


    Put your wallet in your front pocket. Last year a San Diego cop told me the con is filled with professional pickpockets because it is perfect conditions. Lots of cash in wallets, lots of people bumping into you all day, lots of distractions.

    • Bill Graham

      Great advice! I’ve never been pickpocketed in my life, but I don’t want it to occur either.

  • Pingback: Never been to Comic-Con? Here’s what you need to know! | TheBoubieNetwork()

  • Dan

    I disagree about hall H. Although many panels require dedication, not everything requires staying there from 5 in the morning to your panel. I was able to get in to Cowboys & Aliens as well as Thor/CapAm just by popping into line when I had nothing better to do. (After enduring the dreaded pen stabbing, of cource).

  • Jennifer

    Here’s a little advice I plan to try to follow: Be nice to people. See, wasn;t that simple?Moving on…

    For BR 20, get in line as early as you can if you expect to get in on Thurs or Fri. I agree that Hall H would have been a better place for the larger TV panels this year…you would think, after allowing Hollywood to gain access, that the programmers would have a clue as to how to make this all work.

    On another note, if you plan to attend in 2012, don’t count on getting tickets. The new system for getting tix is SERIOUSLY FLAWED and seems to me it will waste quite a bit of my time on Thursday am trying to get in to the Hyatt to purchase tickets for next year. If I AM lucky enough to get in, I will be among only 11 % of people who will want all four days w/ preview night. (Here’s the math that helped me estimate that figure: 5 min per person; 60 min in an hour=12 people at each terminal registering for tix. With me so far? Keep up. 12 people x 100 terminals=1200 people able to register in one hour. Three hours of business each day: 1200×3=3600. …3600 x 4 days of tix available=14,400. divide 14,400 by the 130,000 attendees, and you get 11% . Get it?)Pretty ridiculous.

    Despite this frustration, I will do my best to make the most of my Con experience, and hope everyone has a safe and happy Con!

    • Jennifer

      I meant that only 11% of the people attending will have access to the tix available for next year. Surely they plan to sell more than just 14,400 ahead of time….we can only hope. Good luck everyone!

  • blkyank

    I’m sorry,but I have only missed one con since 2005 (2006) and I was able to walk up to the door,stand in a fast moving line, and buy a ticket on a Saturday that first time. Since then, it’s gotten really insane with the crowds and Hall H,forget about it. In 2009,I was able to get into Hall H,after 3 hours in the sun and see panels for 9,with Tim burton and a Sony panel for Legion with Paul Bentley and District 9 with Peter Jackson.Last year, I sat in line for 3 hours to see the WB panel with Green Lantern and Harry Potter (the first of the day) and the line was cut off about ten people short of me and my kids(big kids who held up better then their old man) getting in.True,we could have sucked it up for another hour and a half and got in to see the much better Marvel panel at the end of the day, but for us,enough was enough.Thank God the con put up sun screens to shade the line and bottled water vendors were all about. I don’t want to belly ache,
    I’m just pointing out that from my limited experience,the line was
    a monster and you have to get there as early as possible and be prepared to sit through stuff you don’t like to get too stuff you do.
    I’m not saying I doubt those who say they could just get in a Hall H line and walk right on in,but as a guy who lives in California,I would advise those who come from further away, that after spending so much money on airfare,hotels,etc, too not take a chance of missing something you waited months to see by hoping you can just slip in Hall H. Good luck to everybody who’s going this year.

  • stranglelove

    This is a good list, and I will look back for it next year. But sorry, no Comic-Con for me this year.

    GENCON 2011!!!

  • Pingback: The SIRmon – The Official SModcast Internet News Portal » Blog Archive » The SIN Bin’s LIVE On Thursday, July 14, 2011()

  • 32_Bit_Hustler

    seems like Comic-Con happens every 2 months..

  • Pingback: #TheDailySpin: BBC tells staff to not be stupid on social media |

  • Giovana

    Can you do anything fun outside, though? I really need to know….

  • Michael

    Hello, I was wondering if anyone can tell me about signing up this year for next year. Do I have to prepay or just put down contact information? I’m wondering simply because if I don’t get a 4 day pass or better whether or not I should do this on day one etc.

  • Pingback: Hit List: July 20, 2011 « IMDb: All the Latest()

  • Pingback: Comic-Con, Captain America, Glee and the Emmys()

  • Giggy

    I will be hosting my OWN panels this year, outside of the convention area.

    This year, I will be the MC for the panel for the upcoming feature THE GOLAM IS COMING, starring Ryan Teese and Melody Ashberg. Ryan will be there, and Melody will be checking in via phone. It will take place on Saturday at 3:17 PM outside near the lamp post. We will be recording the image onto a hard drive to upload later on. However, we will NOT be recording the secret ending to this feature. YOU MUST attend the event to get the details!

    See you on Saturday!

  • Lisa

    If you dress up (well, that is), people will want to take photos with you, so be prepared.

  • Pingback: Comic Con: Buffy the Musical and Wrap-Up()

  • catbag

    and try NOT to be a huge dork…

  • Pingback: Saving Up for a Comic-Con Appearance at Shodan Scribbles()

  • Pingback: » The Essential Comic-Con Survival Tips & Checklist: How to Prepare For Comic-Con The TV Watchtower()

  • Zachary Nall

    What is dragon con? I mean I’ve never been to any con before and I’ve been invited to go to dragon con as karkat (if anyone knows who he is besides me…). But anyways, how is dragon con different from comicon?

    • Keila IG

      Karkat is basically a moody troll, one of the characters from a webcomic called homestuck.

  • anthony

    can you take you’re own comics to comic con so that artists can sign? or do you have to get it there? this is my second time going, first time was for experience, this time its for things and well yeah haha.

  • EroticToe

    Haiya, Comic con is here in Glasgowthis saturday and this s my first time going, like ever. How much money will i need to take?

  • Keila IG

    This Has Been Really Helpful!! I’m Going To The One Next Weekend In London (As Kanaya), So Am Trying To Get Prepared. Thanks xxx

  • Daniella

    I plan to go this year for the first time. What’s a panel? Do you get to meet stars? For example, if you go to the Thor/CapAm panel the person below was talking about, is there any way to meet those celebs? Just for an autograph or quick pic?

  • Pingback: Saving Up for a Comic-Con Appearance at Shodan Scribbles()