But it wasn’t always so big. When it first began on March 21, 1970, it was a tiny, one-day affair known as San Diego's Golden State Comic-Minicon—a beta test for a gathering of like-minded nerds, geeks, and pop culture obsessives. The event attracted a staggering 100 people and two celebrity guests: Forrest J. Ackerman, who is essentially the father of modern sci-fi fandom, and comic book artist Mike Royer. By all accounts, it was considered a success, and a few months later the first-ever San Diego Comic-Con (neé San Diego's Golden State Comic-Con) took place at the beginning of August. Over three days, guests like Jack Kirby, Ray Bradbury, and A.E. van Vogt mingled with the con’s 300 guests for panels, screenings, signings, a dealer’s room, and more, paving the way for what would become the biggest annual event in nerd culture.
A critic, commentator, and on-camera host for more than six years, Dan Casey serves as senior editor of Nerdist.com, a Nerdist News on-camera correspondent, and the host of The Dan Cave. In addition, Casey co-hosts the Today We Learned podcast on the Nerdist Network, and his book, 100 Things Avengers Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, was released on May 1.
Nowadays, Comic-Con is a sprawling affair, a mammoth event attracting more than 130,000 guests in recent years and some of the biggest movie stars in the world. If my math is correct—and it rarely is, but I used an online calculator, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed—that is a 43,233.33 percent increase in attendance between the 1970 Comic-Con and the 2014 Comic-Con. That can be mind-boggling to consider in the abstract, but it's even more daunting in person, especially if you aren't prepared for the veritable sea of humans, the endless lines, and the seemingly interminable shuttle rides between your exorbitantly priced hotel and the convention center.
But don't freak out—at least not until you see Tom Hiddleston's cheekbones—because during my years at Comic-Con, I have picked up a number of survival tips that will help you transform your time there from sad to rad. Unless you're staying in Chula Vista. There isn’t anything I can do about geography; I’m not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, for crying out loud.
Before you even set foot on the convention floor, you're going to want to make sure you have all the necessary odds, ends, sundries, and accessories to maximize your efficiency. After several years of trial and error, coupled with plenty of shaking my fist helplessly towards the heavens, I have determined with near-scientific accuracy that these are the essentials you'll need to make it through Comic-Con in one piece.
Footwear: You will be walking. A lot. Now let's combine those two sentences to really hammer it home: you will be walking a lot. Last month at E3, I averaged about six miles per day in the Los Angeles Convention Center, which is but a fraction of the size of San Diego's. Sure, it's great for your cardiovascular health, but that won't mean diddly squat if your feet transform into swollen, blistered misery hooves. Whether you're just exploring the Gaslamp or frantically running to make it to a panel on time, you’re going to want to wear a comfortable pair of shoes, ideally with plenty of padding or shock absorption. If you're cosplaying, make sure you carry a backup pair with you so you can take a load off from time to time. As a side note: a little Gold Bond will make your feet feel like peppermints. Whether that's a good thing or not is up to you, but the tingling sensation of powdered relief is always a comfort to me after I have been on my feet for upwards of 10 hours.
Still, as a backup plan, you may want to invest in some Band-Aids or Moleskin tape. The last thing you need is a blister derailing your entire convention experience. This goes double if you're going to be cosplaying because even if those boots were made for walking, that’s not the only thing they'll do.
Anti-Bacterial Countermeasures: While you are walking around a lot, you will come into close contact—sometimes almost too close contact—with thousands and thousands of people. Some of them will be perfectly healthy, some of them will be slowly metamorphosing into melting candles, and others will be like Gwyneth Paltrow in Contagion, which is to say walking plague monsters. Nearly every year at Comic-Con, I come down with some sort of mystery illness that knocks me on my ass for the week afterwards. Nearly every year, I croak out a desperate, "Why, god, why" as I remember that I forgot to take appropriate preventive measures to combat potential illness. But enough about my diseased corpse; here are six easy steps that will help you stay in peak physical condition.
Step 1) Wash your hands as often as possible and apply copious amounts of hand sanitizer. Having experienced more than my fair share of moist handshakes, this is absolutely essential.
Step 2) Drink plenty of water and maybe a packet of Emergen-C or two for good measure. You need fluids, especially if you're going to be walking, sweating, and drinking your body weight in beer later in the evening. As for the Emergen-C, it's probably a placebo at best. However, if you convince yourself that you're healthy, your body might not give up hope and will be more willing to fight off infection. Doesn't that sound like a medically sound answer? Whatever, it works, and empirical data is as good as anything.
Step 3) Shower each night and/or morning. Not because of the old "heh heh man nerds sure are smelly" trope, but because showering has a restorative quality, especially when you've been building up a layer of grime and con funk all day long. If this were an RPG, it would be like getting poisoned and taking damage over time until you take an antidote. Why wouldn't you take an antidote?
Step 5) Don't open doorknobs with your mouth. Seems like common sense, but who knows, maybe there are some real monsters out there.
Step 6) Wash your hands and apply copious amounts of hand sanitizer. Trust me. This will save your life. But not Gwyneth Paltrow's. She was doomed from the start.
If you accept the simple fact that you may not be able to Instagram, tweet, and text your way through the entirety of Comic-Con, you'll be doing yourself a favor in the long run. You can wave your cell phone around your head like it's a sprig of burning sage and you're cleansing a haunted house all you want, but with 100,000-plus people all trying to access local cellular networks at once, mobile data becomes as rare as unobtanium, which if I'm not mistaken is only available if you travel to wherever the hell Avatar takes place. (Yes, guys, I know it's Pandora.) To make matters worse, not only will your cell phone refuse to find a signal for more than a minute at a time, but you'll be sucking down battery life like Daniel Plainview at an all-you-can-drink milkshake buffet. All dogs go to heaven, but what about dead batteries? No one knows. Fortunately, there's a number of ways to counteract the dreaded drain with portable chargers. Here are a few options.
Option 1) The Fluxmob Bolt, $59.99. With a variety of fun colors that have dumb names like "Stealth," "Tango," and "Argon," the Fluxmob Bolt is both a portable USB charger and has the ability to plug into a wall like a normal charger. This makes it very versatile whether you're killing time while waiting in line (we'll get to that) or sitting conveniently close to a wall socket in the back of your ninth panel of the day. Born from a Kickstarter, the Bolt is compatible with both iOS and Android devise (as well as Windows phone, I presume), and it has enough juice for two charges before needing to recharge (which is where the plugging in feature comes in handy).
Option 2) Verizon Jetpack 6620L mobile hotspot, $49.99. Not only is the Jetpack 6620L able to recharge your ailing cell phone, but it also functions as a mobile hotspot, using Verizon's 4G LTE Internet to give web access to up to 15 devices simultaneously. The real kicker is that you can use them both at the same time. Sure you'll drain the Jetpack's battery faster by transferring that sweet, sweet electricity to your phone, but this kind of form and functionality is hard to come by.
Option 3) Anker 2nd Gen Astro3 12,000mAh Portable Charger, $46. Arguably the strongest charger of the bunch, the ineffciently named Astro3 is capable of charging up to three devices at once. According to the manufacturer, the device can completely charge iPhone 6 six times, a Samsung S6 three times, and an iPad Air once before running out of juice. As Uncle Ben taught us though, with great power comes great responsibility, and if you want to use all of the Astro3's great power, you’ll need to plug it in for nine hours before it completely recharges, so plan ahead. Unlike our other options, the Anker can't charge itself and charge additional devices simultaneously.
Option 4) Carry a second cell phone around. Just tell everyone you're cosplaying as literally anyone on The Wire. Sure you'll look like a jerk, but it'll be worth it when you can create an Ouroboros of Periscope feeds, two livestreams gazing into each other's eternal abyss.
Between the copious amounts of hand sanitizer and backup plans for your various electronic devices, you're going to accrue an awful lot of swag as your traverse the con floor and the surrounding area. You're not just going to hold it in your hands like some sort of monster, are you? No! You're going to need a bag that is up to the task. While you'll receive a massive bag upon picking up your Comic-Con badge (ideal for doing laundry when you're back at your apartment), you're going to want something a fair site more functional.
"But what about my L.L. Bean backpack with my initials monogrammed on the back?!" Listen, we're not in middle school anymore; plus no one likes a showoff. Backpacks are all well and good, but it'll wind up making your back all sweaty; messenger bags are more stylish and they hold all your stuff, to boot. Don't just go with any old messenger bag though; you'll likely want something specifically designed for use and abuse at a convention such as ThinkGeek’s Bag of Holding (or the con-specific Con Survival Edition). These expansive bags come with multiple compartments, a laptop pocket, is sturdy enough to be stuffed to the gills with all of those sweet, sweet Jek Porkins figures that you just had to have.
What should you put inside of this bag? Well, for starters you'll want a black and/or silver Sharpie because you never know when you'll run into someone who might be able to give you an autograph. Speaking of autographs, you'll need some paper; I recommend picking up a nice notebook because that way you can also use it to jot down cool things you see, doodle in the margins, and even have commission your favorite artist to draw a sketch in it by heading on down to Artist Alley on the show floor. You'll also want a nice, sturdy, leak-proof water bottle that you can refill at various water fountains rather than paying the exorbitant convention center prices for bottled water. Speaking of exorbitant convention center prices, you should pack some snacks too to give you quick energy in between meals. Things like fruit, nuts, granola bars, and beef jerky are all excellent options as they won't need constant refrigeration and will put that extra pep in your step. If you're anything like me, you'll also want some ibuprofen or aspirin in there for good measure, which both staves off hangovers and can help with the pain your body may be feeling after camping out all night in front of Hall H.
Within the hallowed halls of the convention center are a number of smaller rooms that house panels, as well as the gigantic show floor where everyone from Marvel to Hasbro to Lego and beyond has a booth set up with awesome items on display and unique experiences just waiting to be had. Also within those hallowed halls will be more people than you could possibly imagine seeing in one place. Honestly, it’s staggering. Just when you think you've seen all the people you could possibly see, there are more of them, and there’s a good chance that they're all in your way. This is where your hours of playing Assassin's Creed and Arkham Knight will come in handy. You'll want to turn on the air traffic controller part of your brain and try to find the path of least resistance. Sure, you can trudge on along at a snail's pace behind every Slow-Walking Susan out there, but why would you when you can Tokyo Drift your way to victory? Just pretend you're playing a time trial mini-game in which you're trying to Frogger your way from point A to point B as fast as humanly (or amphibiously) possible. It’ll keep you sharp and alert, and you'll maximize your time.
When it comes to snatching up those ever-so-elusive con exclusives, most people will say, "May the odds be ever in your favor." It's not just a pithy saying from Effie Trinket; it's a very real mentality when it comes to navigating the convention show floor to get those coveted exclusive items. Considering that some people will literally sprint as soon as the show floor opens in order to get themselves a good spot in line, you'll have to do some planning ahead. The layout of the convention center should be readily visible online, along with the booth number of whomever happens to be selling that limited edition, glow-in-the-dark Galactus figure you want so badly. If you're with a friend, sometimes it pays to divide and conquer, particularly if you're allowed to purchase more than one convention exclusive. Otherwise, walk briskly, be prepared to wait in line, or be prepared to sweet talk someone towards the front of the line in order to make sure you go home with the sweet swag.
Of course, if you're not insistent on finding that ultra-limited-edition exclusive replica of Anakin Skywalker's Padawan braid, then there's plenty of amazing items to be found in Artist's Alley. Why get a figure that will just collect dust on your shelf when you can get a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork from an up-and-comer who might be the next Alex Ross?
"Patience is a virtue." Whoever coined that axiom clearly never waited in line for 10-plus hours in order to get into the Game of Thrones panel in Hall H. If there's one thing you'll do at Comic-Con, it's wait. You'll wait and wait and wait and wait, and then just when you're done, you'll wait some more. That's why leading a rich inner life is essential. Or load up your phone with podcasts and audiobooks. Or bring an actual novel or a comic book with you. Or go out on a limb and actually converse with your fellow con-goers who are suffering in silence along with you.
One of the unique pleasures of a place like Comic-Con is that it's full of people who are thrilled to be there in a place full of other people who share their deep-seated pop cultural passions. Do you have a theory about whether Jon Snow is secretly the lovechild of Hodor and Aemon Targaryen? Chances are they do too, or they have something even crazier. If you're willing to put yourself out there, you can make some incredible friendships. Who knows, maybe they'll share their snacks with you! Or maybe it'll be like in years past where folks like Joss Whedon swing by to say hello to the people camping out. If nothing else, you’ll have a startlingly accurate idea of what experiencing Stockholm Syndrome is like.
Eventually, you will run out of snacks. It's a sad fact of life, but one that you are best suited to coming to terms with now. While you're traversing the labyrinthine halls of the convention center, you'll notice various food carts slinging soft pretzels and slowly gyrating hot dogs. Whatever you do, don’t get the hot dogs; not because they're gross (they probably are), but because I'm not convinced that the centripetal force of their spinning isn't keeping the electromagnetic field around the convention center from exploding outward. Rather, when hunger pangs strike, take some time to leave the convention center, breathe in that salty sea air, and explore the Gaslamp Quarter to find some of the excellent local fare. Plus, they'll likely have pandering drink specials like the Iron Mantini (which is insensitive given Tony Stark’s alcoholism) or the Caipirinha America, so that'll be fun too. If you really feel like treating yo' self, then I highly recommend checking out Searsucker—mainly because the food is delicious, but also because it was started by a guy from Top Chef. (And I love Top Chef).
After the convention floor closes, chances are you’ll either be too exhausted to move or ready to unleash your final form: a complete and total party animal. There are no shortage of exclusive soirees, after parties, and late-night shindigs that go on into the wee hours of the morning. The problem, however, is that most of these are invite-only entertainment industry affairs that normal folks can't get into. While I'm not suggesting that you invest in a grappling hook and scale the side of the Hard Rock, usually some of these events aren't quite as exclusive as they may seem. Without naming names, some light Internet sleuthing can turn up a number of potential places to RSVP. Sure, you may hit some dead ends, but you might find success, and nothing tastes better than a tray full of tiny hamburgers that you weren't supposed to be eating in the first place.
However, if breaking and entering isn't your game, there's tons of drink specials, late night happy hours, and public events going on throughout the week. Just be willing to walk a couple of blocks into the Gaslamp with some of the friends you made in line, and you can find adventure in the least likely of watering holes. From art galleries to dance parties to bar trivia, the Gaslamp is like a nerdy Mos Eisley. Sure, it might occasionally be a wretched hive of scum and villainy, but you might just find the droids you're looking for too. If drinking isn't your thing, you could find a supremely delicious piece of pizza. And if you're not a pizza person, then I really have nothing further to say to you, and I think you should think long and hard about who hurt you.
Those are the basics of what you need to know in order to have a successful Comic-Con. Obviously, everyone's experience is different, and part of the fun of Comic-Con is the trial and error of finding what works, what doesn't, and making those unique discoveries that could only happen through the Butterfly Effect of being at the single nerdiest event of the calendar year with 100,000-plus other people. I'm sure there's plenty of tips that I didn't include in here, but this article has stretched on long enough already. So, if I did leave anything out, be sure to flag me down at the Nerdist Conival at Petco Park at this year's Comic-Con. I'll be there applying generous amounts of hand sanitizer. And I encourage you to do the same.
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