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First-Timer's Guide to Comic-Con

How to survive your first Comic-Con adventure

More than 130,000 ultra-fans are expected to descend on San Diego for the annual Comic-Con International, held this year July 21-24 at the Convention Center downtown. The Gaslamp transforms into an exciting, yet terribly crowded visual display of fandom. Attendees who have braved the crowds and snagged tickets in past years know where to go and what to bring in order to survive the four-day adventure.

If you’re a first-timer (aka a newbie or noob), the convention could be a little daunting--heck, just trying to scroll through the daily schedule is intimidating. For your benefit, SanDiego.com has asked a few Comic-Con experts—Audra, a self-proclaimed geek; Doug Kline, author of The Unauthorized San Diego Comic-Con Survival Guide; and Kiki, Worrier Princess, a London-based blogger and Comic-Con veteran--to weigh in on how to navigate this year’s convention like a pro.

You managed to score a pass to Comic-Con and a hotel reservation--both challenging tasks. If your hotel is anywhere downtown, the best option is to walk to the Convention Center. There are pedi-cabs (a fun option, but confirm prices before you accept a ride) and taxis that roam throughout downtown, should you need respite from pounding the pavement.

If you drive to San Diego, Kline suggests parking and leaving your car near the Convention Center for the entire week, not your hotel. “Imagine if you had a nearby ‘way station’ to stash your swag or pick up a snack or even change your shirt without having to go all the way back to the hotel (on foot or by trolley),” he says. “This is great for the person with a hotel eight or more block (or miles) away that has no desire to drag five bags overloaded with swag back to the hotel room every few hours.” Get there early, though, or look into reserving a parking place in advance.

Comic-Con runs free shuttles to the Convention Center from certain hotels throughout San Diego. Guests who aren’t staying at those particular hotels can still use the service by parking in the hotel parking lot and catching the shuttle daily. Find shuttle maps and schedule at Comic-Con’s website.

San Diego’s trolley service has two stops right in front of the Convention Center, making it an easy mode of transportation. The city even runs special trolleys to aid with the Comic-Con traffic. For the schedule visit the San Diego MTS website.

First and most importantly, bring comfortable shoes. The Convention Center is massive, and you’ll be doing a lot of standing and walking. Second, bring a backpack or bag to store all your freebies and goodies in. A camera and camera are no-brainers, and make sure it’s charged for the day. Kline suggests bringing a sketchbook—handy for collecting autographs. Water and snacks are lifesavers, as is something to do while you wait in line (a book, ipod, etc.), as you’ll be doing a lot of that. Also, stock up on cash, as some booths may not accept credit cards, cautions Audra.

Kline stresses bringing a watch that has a luminescent hands or face instead of using your cell phone for a clock. Why? “Try checking the time by flipping on your blindingly bright cell phone screen in the middle of a dark panel room when they’re screening some exclusive footageand watch how fast security pounces on you,” he says.

If your tykes are really small, child care is available through KiddieCorp. Register on comic-con’s site or when you arrive. But, if you children are of the age to walk and recognize animated characters, there are tons of things that kids will like at Comic-Con. Disney, Glee, Mattel, Twilight and more are participants.

“You’re eight-year-old son will love the exhibition floor,” says Worrier Princess. “The toys, the mad costumes (be sure to check out the LEGO booth). There are loads of events geared toward children.”

The only thing to be aware of, however, is scantily clad women walking around; some of the character costumes for women are pretty skimpy. Make sure you are comfortable with your child seeing some skin and have prepared him or her to understand it.

The choices are endless, but so are the lines. The biggest piece of advice is to see what interests you. Be a geek and be proud of it! And, have a backup plan or an alternate schedule. “The first thing you’ll have to accept is that you will miss stuff because it clashes,” says Worrier Princess. Take the schedule, highlight everything you want to see, then prioritize every day what’s most important to you. Additionally, some events may fill up too quickly for you to get into them. It happens. This is why you have that handy backup plan. If there’s a panel you really want to see, be prepared to sit through a few held earlier in the same room on that day. Then, between each panel, keep moving up to the front of the room, and viola! You’ll have a front-of-the-house seat for your preferred panel.

Sign up for Twitter or an RSS feed to have the most up-to-date news. Social media and word-of-mouth is the best way to find out about celebrity autograph sessions, cancellations or additions. There’s also a daily flyer that lists any changes in the schedule.

Souvenirs--for purchase and for free--abound at Comic-Con. Plenty of booths sell figurines and other souvenirs in limited quantities, making them even more of a hot commodity. “Whatever you choose to buy,” Audra warns, “read up on it beforehand to make sure you’re not getting ripped off.” Worrier Princess says many of the exclusive giveaways are previewed online, so if you google ‘mattel sdcc’ for example, you’ll be able to see what people are getting excited for.” If you’re really interested in a certain item, hit the booth up earlier during the convention; some of the more popular items tend to sell out by the end of the weekend.

Have some fun! But be careful There is so much to do at Comic-Con that attending after parties isn’t necessary. You’ll be at the convention center until 10 or 11 every night. But, if you want to join an after party, have fun! (But be safe, of course.) The Gaslamp District will be popping, and you’re sure to stumble across a great group of fellow Comic-Conners. Get a drink next door to the Convention Center at the Marriott, if you’re staying there or not--you may spot a celeb or two!