You think you’re prepared for San Diego Comic-Con, but you have no idea. Even best laid plans go awry and require an unconventional approach to solve. From kid management to haute coffee, marketing to manners, or perhaps not going at all, this assembled Suicide Squad of a booth roadie, a con volunteer, exhibitors, and veteran attendees sneak us their secrets that go beyond making sure you pack snacks, water, and shoes.
This is the real work you only learn by doing and living—San Diego Comic-Con!
On Kids | Stephanie — 15 Year Veteran
Stephanie is a long time veteran of Comic-Con having used her project planning background to help her community multi-thread their resources in acquiring badges, parking, and panel access over the years. Having kids requires another level of problem solving, which she’s managed to navigate and pass on some learnings.
“Don’t underestimate the wait to get kid badges every day. Best solution is to get any kid badges you need on preview night since they usually have pickup time that starts much earlier than any events and if you don’t have preview night you can go leisurely later.”
Somewhat conventional thus far, but Stephanie gets into the real work for parents looking to take on a bit of risk for sanity.
“If you don’t get the badge on preview night, my not kosher solution to get around the line is to sneak the kid in with an extra lanyard around their neck. I sneak in around where there are internal stairs.
“We pop up the stairs—because they check extra at the escalator—and then we are able to enter the line to get badges right where you go straight into the badge pickup area by telling the person monitoring the line that the kid has lost theirs.
“A corollary to the above is that I usually use two lanyards for the badge in case it slips off one. You can be creative in how you attach the lanyard. But bottom line is you don’t want to lose your badge.”
Stephanie’s final tip for managing SDCC with tiny people is truly a public service announcement that can help with convention floor crowds and avoiding claustrophobic situations.
“Do not bring a stroller. If you are bringing a young kid carry or wear them. Strollers are dangerous for everyone—the kid included. [The kid] can’t see crap in the stroller anyway—just smelling people’s farts all day.”
On Coffee | Bruce Lidl — The Beat
Bruce provides insight on the intersection of technology and comics here at The Beat, and being an avid coffee connoisseur, a quality cup of coffee isn’t too far from his writing desk. But when you’re on the go, and SDCC panels are calling what’s the best way to get quality caffeine?
“If you are traveling from out of town, knowing where to get good coffee or bringing stuff to make your own is key (Aeropress is great).”
I’ve witness the man unpack an Aeropress, portable grinder, and coffee beans. He is dedicated.
Certainly coffee shops exist in and around SDCC, but given the lines you’re often trading time that can be the difference maker of getting into a panel or event. Consider the extra effort Bruce puts in to bring your own supply if you crave a quality cup to get you going for SDCC. No time for lines, and not a hobbyist barista?
Split the difference with Kuju Coffee. Geared towards backpackers, Kuju Coffee is equally at home for convention survivalists. It’s a single serving, portable pour over cup of coffee. So long as you have hot water and a cup—which most hotels provide—you’re good to go. Pick some up at REI, Bass Pro Shops, or Amazon.
On Marketing | Willow Volante — Volante Design
Volante Design have logged many miles at conventions selling their Superhuman Streetwear. (You should check out our recent interview with them to learn more.) What can you learn from Volante’s experiences as an exhibitor?
“We definitely get business cards into people’s hands and we design the back of our business cards to write notes about conversations, or styles and sizes of our clothing designs people tried on.”
Taking a picture so you can buy it later is all well and good, but the best tidbit to avoid online sizing anxiety later is by writing down sizes of items you like.
Don’t forget that business cards don’t always have to be handed out. Volante’s designs are next-level casual cosplay and Willow is often asked for a picture to show off the sleek looks. Whatever pose Willow strikes, that business card is in hand, branding details always in frame, making sure that Volante takes advantage of every opportunity to get their name out.
No, not that Michael Douglas. Though those that know him call him by another equally famous moniker shared by Beastie Boy Mike D. Mike D’s experience is in working with convention crews for load-in and load-out of exhibitor booths making sure they’re ready to go when doors open.
“Honestly, the first idea that comes to mind is be polite! It’s amazing what ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You’ will get you. It’s all about making a brief human connection. Value someone’s time, and they will remember you, and might try to help you out or hold the door open for you.”
Respect someone might not seem as unconventional advice, but in the world of convention services—it’s a rarity. I’ve witnessed Mike D get bumped up waiting lists at the docks, have union crews rally to build a booth in less than an hour, and source all manner of MacGyver ingenuity to fix what’s broken with a handshake and a smile.
“It’s a good way to get invited to VIP parties too.”
Long time con goers might remember the booth beast he was previously responsible for, the now defunct Geek Chic, with all its wooden weapons, speakeasy, and luxury board game tables.
Basically Mike D gets it done, and the right people know how to find him.
On Talent | Donald Tran — Volunteer/Magic and Balloon Artist
Waiting in lines isn’t fun, but if you’re lucky one of your line volunteers will be Donald Tran. He has a talent for making masterpiece-level balloon art that surpass the quintessential balloon animal. Every now and then he’ll take a break to make something special for a kid in line, and it’s just as entertaining for the adults to watch him craft pop culture icons out of balloons.
Because Donald is a fan, even he’s sometimes surprised how his spirit of giving and being nice has provided some positive karma. “As a balloon artist, I’ve given sculptures away to artists and other talents before, and that would sometimes score me free loot.”
At a magic convention the most applauded act is often the juggler. So don’t be afraid to share your talent especially if it stands out amongst the usual status quo of comic books, toys, and posters at SDCC.
Donald’s balloon art is an eye-catching medium and you might even see him walking the con floor with balloon art hats of Spider-Man, Predator, Rick and Morty or whatever he’s concocted for this year.
“EYE BREAK! It’s important to give yourself time off of the exhibit floor to take a real break. The overstimulation of your eyes is exhausting, and we talk to lots of burnt-out folks every afternoon. Go outside or sit in a small panel room. Don’t be a floor zombie! Take a break!”
Even if you think you’re taking a break by wandering the exhibit hall floor between panels, you never realize how much stimulation you’re taking in. Podcasts and playlists don’t count as a break folks. Quiet places are harder to find with SDCC sprawl, but make the effort. Maybe head to the marina and watch boats in the bay, or find an unused corner on the conference level of a neighboring hotel and use the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique. These small breaks can help to avoid staring off into the middle distance at the end of the day, trying to shake off convention shell shock.
“Spend your energy discovering new stuff. Most exclusives are for sale online, even before the show ends. But finding something unique—that an indie artist made—is the cool thing that you’ll remember long after the show is over.”
Take it from Steam Crow, one time Disney feature artists at WonderGround Gallery. The exclusive chase is alluring but don’t forget those creators in Artist’s Alley, or those makers and creators in smaller exhibitor booths who have dared to create an original piece of work outside the mainstream. Discovering something new can erase a day of con ho-hum line waiting.
Daniel even has a tidbit for those lunchtime woes when you wish you had one more hand to carry everything.
“Make a tray out of a cup lid, to help you carry your condiments when your hands are full.”
Steam Crow is living in the future!
On Attending | Victor Van Scoit — The Beat
Maybe don’t? There’s already a con glut. Disney, Marvel, and HBO have left the building this year (Hall H, rather). Con exclusives are going lottery which means secondary market may be the way to go. Hollywood shindigs are dwindling as celebrities and promotional dollars go elsewhere.
Point is ask yourself some hard questions as to why you put in the effort and money for San Diego Comic-Con each year. Some of the answers may have you realizing you can get the same pop culture feels and tribe vibe at other conventions for less money, less crowds, less stress with more comics, more creators, more makers, and as much fun.
Emerald City Comic Con has shown comics come first and the crowds dig it. Heroes Con is an artist friendly convention with opportunities for friendly conversation with fans. Board Game Geek Cons focus on the social element of tabletop gaming reminds you why we meet in IRL. For those craving immersion in experiential marketing activations there’s SXSW, a circus, and while not cheaper than SDCC it’s more likely to get expensed by your company at tech/marketing training. Finally there’s WonderCon—SDCC lite—with its easy pace and close proximity to Disneyland!
Your mileage may vary executing these hacks. However you approach San Diego Comic-Con, now or in the future, always make choices and take risks to keep fun and enjoyment at the forefront. It’s a moral imperative!