Tuesday, August 2, 2016

So, You Think You Want to Come to Comic-Con?

This year, Comic-Con: International San Diego (#SDCC) took place 13 - 17 July 2016. What was different from years past? Me. This year, I was fortunate enough to be in attendance.

What is Comic-Con? Well, what started in 1970 as a modest comic book convention (peopled also by some film and sci-fi fans) has become THE media festival of the year and Mecca to geeks everywhere. According to Comic-Con's official website, the event has topped 130,000 attendees.

If you earn a ticket, you can expect access to an enormous exhibit hall where companies show off exclusive merchandise, hand-out giveaways, showcase unique paraphernalia, and even display video sneak-peeks. What sorts of companies man tables in the exhibit hall? Oh, you know, Top Cow Comics, BBC America (Can you say "Doctor Who?"), AMC's The Walking Dead, Penguin Books, Nintendo, Star Wars, Conan O'Brien, Lego, Funimation, MTV and much, much, MUCH more.

Occasionally, your favorite actors, authors and personalities even schedule visits to their affiliated table. For instance, I was very sad to miss it when Penguin Teen's booth gave away ARC copies of A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir at 3PM on Saturday or the day prior when Tahir herself sat at the booth to sign copies.

The exhibit hall is chaos; however, and daunting to navigate. If you really want to chill with your favorite celeb, there are also panels, which take place in nice meeting rooms above the exhibit hall and in ballrooms inside neighboring hotels. San Diego Comic-Con has taken over a solid chunk of the beautiful city's gas lamp district, right on the water. Needless to say, I've never walked so much in my life.

I'll speak more on panels later, but know that there are often three, at least, going on at any given time, so attendees have to major in prioritization FOR REAL. A panel could be anything from "How to Pitch your idea to Hollywood" (ya know, useful guides for we creative types), to Q & A with the cast of USA's Mr. Robot. Yes, I did attend that one this year and it was marvelous. A fan asked a question and the next thing you know, the whole world has learned that Christian Slater plays Pokemon Go!

Yes, I'd say about 1 or 2% of the crowd of attendees dress in costume. For the uninitiated, we call this cosplay. You don't have to actually "play" your character in any sort of formal setting. If you do dress up, just expect to be stopped by folks who want a picture with you.

There are also screenings of movies, new and old (this year you could celebrate 30 years of LABYRINTH or snag a ticket for an advance showing of Star Trek Beyond). You can learn how to play D&D or White Wolf. Or the serious cosplayer can attend contests or a proper masquerade.

My favorite part of Comic-Con is getting elbow to elbow with celebs. Okay, so 400 feet away isn't exactly elbow to elbow, but it is still very fun. Often your favorites have scheduled time slots for autograph signings also and unlike some newer, smaller, local conventions, there is NO COST to obtain an autograph at Comic-Con. That being said, a celeb can refuse to sign the item of your choosing, so...be reasonable. Kristen Bell may not want to sign your 9 month old's forehead. That's kind of weird and, ya know, alive.

Celebs I was in the room with were Slater, Bell, Ted Danson, Josh Holloway, Sarah Wayne Callies, Rami Malek and one of my favorite, favorite, favorite authors of all time, the beautiful Sarah J. Maas. There were more, not to mention directors, producers and writers for some pretty wonderful shows (BUFFY, yes, I just said BUFFY).

I'll continue to blog about my experience, which was totally fantastic, but for this first installment I want to make sure to explain how you, too, can take part in Comic-Con.

If you're reading all of this and you can barely sit still with excitement, you need to come. If you're reading all of this and you don't understand why a gal from the green state of Georgia would fly all the way to San Diego for such an event, but you'd like to see Christian Slater or, dare I say it, Daryl actor, The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus, what you need to do, my friend, is find a smaller, local convention.

Cons are all the rage right now. Walker Stalker will be in Atlanta, Orlando, London, Chicago...there's even a cruise now. If you're a fan of The Walking Dead, but not a whole lot else. Guess what? It's okay to go small. At least you'll save money on plane tickets.

Likewise, MEGACON takes place every year in Orlando. This year William Shatner and Stan Lee were there as well as actors from Harry Potter, Daredevil and The Walking Dead.

For me, THE Comic-Con had always been on my bucket list. I just had to go. If you feel the same, here's the bottom line. This is what you need to do.

Follow the link right now, right this minute, and register with the official website to get your own, individual Comic-Con ID.

Here's the thing, fanboys and fangirls, getting tickets was HARD. The nice thing is, if you have a blog, some business cards, and have written three media reviews in the past year or so, you qualify as a member of the press and can get one day of Comic-Con free. Sorry, there's no plus one.

Even if you aren't a member of the press, SDCC is very, very affordable. The cost for tix is about $50 per day. What will get you is the flight and hotel.

Do not procrastinate in registering with the site and obtaining your ID. I believe I registered in the later months of 2014. I did this in order to have a chance to purchase tickets in February of 2015. Notice that while Comic-Con is every year in July, tickets go on sale for a minuscule, insane twenty minute window in February. In fact, if you are lucky enough to buy tickets, the official schedule of events isn't even released until two weeks prior to the actual convention in July.

The worst part of this for me was NOT getting tickets in February of 2015. I had already put aside money for the flight. I was heartbroken. I almost didn't try again in February of 2016, but obviously I did and this time with pleasing results.

So, once you have registered with the site an obtained your ID, you wait until February. Comic-Con will email you, informing you that in SEVEN days you'll be able to use the link and the code they send to get into the EPIC Registration Waiting Room. This is a webpage. You will login at the appropriate time and you will WAIT. You won't refresh. You'll wait and wait and wait.

Thousands of people login all over the world and wait for the algorithm to randomly select a few people at a time and drop them onto the page that allows ticket buying.

In addition to doing this myself, I gave my unique ID to two other people. Guess what. I never won this painful lottery. I never was scooped up and dropped onto the purchase page. My best friend WAS and there was lots of screaming (she was on her desktop and I was next to her on my smart phone).

So, yes, you can buy tix for a friend IF they registered and IF they gave you their ID. Likewise a friend who has registered and has your ID can buy tix for you. You cannot give away or buy scalped Comic-Con tix. My badge has my legal name on it.

This year, when my bestie was dropped onto the purchase page, after the screaming, the biggest days of Comic-Con were sold out. We simply didn't have the option to buy tix for Friday or Saturday. We chose Thursday (there's also a preview day on Wednesday and a regular convention day on Sunday available).

A clock then counts down, giving you a bare minimum amount of time to chose who is getting which tix (you need member ID and full legal name), input your credit card info and address and complete your purchase. Oh the humanity!!

This year about a month prior Comic-Con International mailed out our badges. They were sent to her address and we just had to like NOT lose them.

I hear you can guarantee yourself a ticket by volunteering to work at the convention. I'm not sure how the scheduling works, though. If I'm working concessions at the same time as a can't miss panel... Ug.

I also hear that now that I have been to the Con one time, I will get early bird access to buy tix next year. Would I go back? YES SIR (or ma'am)! Fingers crossed, I'll reveal what that's like another time.

So, THAT is the process in a nut shell. There's a lot of planning ahead here, folks, and very few guarantees.

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