So you're going to San Diego Comic-Con this week. Congrats! I'm sorry to hear that! Both reactions are equally appropriate - when SDCC is good, it's great. But it's also often a horrible nightmare of crowds, stinks and expense.
I've been attending Comic-Con for a few years now, and I'd like to share the wisdom I've gleaned from rubbing shoulders with 200 different people dressed like The Joker. (Pro-tip: don't dress like The Joker)
- The show is HUGE. If you have never gone you cannot imagine how huge Comic-Con is. The show floor alone is over half a million square feet. It will take a fast walker fifteen to twenty minutes (depending on foot traffic) to make it from one end of the convention to the other. That's important to know because panels take place all over the convention center. When planning your schedule take into account the possibly very long travel times. Let's put it this way: if you have to make it from Hall H to Room 7A in ten minutes, abandon all hope.
- Take a fucking shower. There are some unfair cliches about Comic-Con and then there are some really true ones. The truest is that Comic-Con STINKS. The floor of the Con is a miasma of stench, a swamp of nerd stink. There's no getting around it, to be honest - a long day at the Con will leave anybody exuding a bit of a funk. But one way to help avoid it is to take a shower before hitting the show. And bring deodorant with you to apply during the course of the day. One application will not be enough!
- Pack a lunch. There is no decent food at the convention center, and the garbage they serve will be expensive. The restaurants around the convention center will be packed, and their prices will be jacked up for the event. Your sanest option is to simply bring a sandwich and snacks with you. Also bring a big bottle of water; the convention floor is huge, and you're probably a largely sedentary nerd, so you're going to be seriously exerting yourself.
- Don't stop in the middle of an aisle to take pictures. We get it - you're excited to see a girl with daddy issues wearing the skimpiest possible approximation of your favorite hero's costume. Or you've never been to a con before and the sight of people in Stormtrooper outfits is blowing your mind. You want to take a picture so that Buzzfeed can later steal it for their 'Best/Sexiest/Worst Cosplay of the Con' feature. Cool. Just don't take up an entire fucking aisle on the show floor to do it. I will walk directly through your picture. I will jostle you as you attempt to snap the shot.
- Carefully choose what lines to wait in. Waiting in line is a big part of the Comic-Con experience, especially if you're interested in the movie and TV programming. The biggest room at the show, Hall H, seats about 6,000 people. Roughly 150,000 people attend Comic-Con. You do the math. If you want to see the Breaking Bad premiere presentation in Ballroom 20 (probably half the size of Hall H), don't show up right before it starts. Consider getting in line two panels ahead of what you want to see, and sit in the room through whatever plays in between. There are people who line up for Hall H early in the morning and spend all day in there. I don't recommend that, but it's an option.
Make waiting in all the long, long lines fun by pretending your cosplaying as a Soviet citizen circa 1979.
- Fuck Hall H. Listen, I'll be spending most of Con in Hall H. But I'm there on business. If I was at Con for pleasure I'd be nowhere near Hall H. While there's an excitement in being the first to see promotional clips and trailers, remember that you're wasting your whole day watching promotional clips and trailers. You're presenting yourself as a captive audience, saying "Please market to me!" There are lots of other great things to do at Comic-Con. Like...
- Enter the convention center's main floor and head right. Towards the left and center of the convention floor the aisles will be thronged with people. You won't be able to walk. But head off to the right a bit and you'll see everything thin out. Why? Because you're entering the comic book portion of the show. While the Marvel and DC booths will be in the highly-trafficked areas in the middle, the interesting small presses will be to the right. As will the interesting vendors, who will be selling actual comic books, weird toys, and odd memorabilia. The moment I have a break from work at Con, this is where I head. This is the best stuff at the show.
- Don't take all the free stuff. When you get your Comic-Con badge you will be given the world's most hilariously enormous bag. It's for the schwag you can collect on the show floor. Leave the bag, forget the schwag. Every booth will have useless, pointless free crap to give to you, most of which isn't even worth the effort of picking it up. There are people who compulsively hoard every free slip of paper, button and sticker they get their hands on - these people sicken me. Comic-Con is already an orgiastic celebration of consumerism in place of imagination - these people are like the bottom feeders of that ecosystem.
- Get sketches. You came to the Con with some money. Instead of buying an overpriced piece of plastic you can get on eBay, head over to Artist's Alley and buy a sketch. The prices will vary - the really well-known guys will charge a bunch while lesser known guys will be cheaper. But whatever the price, you'll be getting a unique, personalized piece of art. That's so much cooler than a rare Darth Vader variant figure any day of the week. Even better - your purchase helps keep these artists paying the bills.
- Cruise The Walk Of Shame. Comic-Con has a huge autograph area, which is packed with has-beens and never-wases, all who will sign a piece of memorabiia for you... for a price. Some of these guys charge so much money it's offensive And forget about taking pictures with them - I've seen Robert Englund charging 60 bucks a photo. But there's something uniquely weird about seeing Flash Gordon's Sam J Jones sitting nex to the original Boomer from Battlestar Galactica and across from a Playboy Playmate from 1986. I've spent money at Autograph Alleys before, but my tastes in autographs run weird - I go for the Rip Taylors and Richard Herds of the show.
- Don't harass the sexy cosplayers. We all know there's a lot of attention whoring that goes into the skimpiest outfits worn at Comic-Con. But that doesn't mean you have the right to touch or creep on these women. I know that you guys reading this don't need to be reminded of such a simple fact of human decency, but I've heard enough horror stories to include it here. Look, but don't touch. And look in as respectful a way as possible, okay?
- Be open minded. You're going to see a lot of new things at Comic-Con. There will be a lot of small presses, indie films, and unique artists everywhere, all vying for your attention. Be a little bit open-minded. Yeah, you're in San Diego because you're dying to see footage from Man of Steel, but be aware of all the cool, undiscovered stuff everywhere around you.
EDIT! UPDATE! I forgot one last tip:
- Buy stuff on Sunday. If you're at the Con for the whole weekend, wait until Sunday to make your purchases. The vendors will be packing up to go home and the less they have to pack, the happier they'll be. They will slash prices and entertain haggling on Sunday afternoon.