Convention Madness: A Noob’s Guide to San Diego Comic-Con

It comes once a year, rendering adults into trembling piles of childlike glee. The time leading up to it is anticipated as Christmas is to a five year old. People start talking about it the moment it ends, awaiting the one a year away. It always seems to last too long and exhaust you too much, but once it’s over you desperately desire more.

What I speak of is our geeky Lord and Master: San Diego Comic-Con. It is the mecca of all things pop culture and geeky, a Disneyland for geeks, a wonderland for dorks. The epicness of it is unparalleled by any other convention out there – it draws crowds of hundreds of thousands of people, the streets are entirely clogged with fellow pop culture aficionados from around the world; even celebrities show up to regale in the festivities. It has insane after parties, amazing toy exclusives, the best cosplay you will ever see outside of the internet, comic book creators from around the world… there is something for every level of geek – even if your geekiness means you want a pair of brain wave controlled electric cat ears.

I attended my first SDCC four years ago, and I had zero idea what to expect. I was from a small town and had never been to anything bigger than a tiny, hotel confined anime convention, so going to SDCC was like the country girl visiting the big city for the first time. But BECAUSE I had no idea what to expect, the entire situation was entirely overwhelming. I wish I would have had a handy little “SDCC how to” guide to prepare me for some of what I was going to experience.

Is this your first year at San Diego Comic-Con? Perhaps you have been before but feel you didn’t get all out of it that you could have? Even if you’ve been to other conventions, nothing will prepare you for SDCC except for SDCC itself. It’s four weeks away – time to start learning. Time to start preparing.

First, there’s a pretty essentially four week prior checklist that you need to go through.

  •  Do you definitely have your pass? Is the confirmation in your inbox?
  •  Do you know where you’re staying? If not, why aren’t you tweeting about it or freaking out in the comments of this article looking for a floor to crash upon?
  •  Are you saving every possible penny for the next four weeks? You’re going to spend more than you plan to, I guarantee it.
  • Did you get work off?
  • Have you purchased your plane ticket? Don’t wait much longer; prices are going up daily right now.
  • If you’re cosplaying: Is your cosplay finished or close to being finished? Are there any key pieces you need to order to make sure you get them in time (IE: Wigs)

Okay, you’ve gone through that checklist. You’re good? Good.
Now comes the day you’ve been waiting for: the night before you leave to this magical geeky wonderland. You’re full of all sorts of feelings, but most importantly you need to focus and make sure you’ve packed appropriately. Here are some essentials you’re definitely going to want:

  • Comfortable shoes!! While I am a ridiculous girl and I wear heels around SDCC, DON’T TAKE MY EXAMPLE. Your feet are going to be destroying you, because not only are you going to be on your feet all day AT the convention itself, unless you’re super loaded your hotel is probably going to be a bit of a walk from the convention center. Make sure you have Dr. Scholls in your shoes. Trust me, you’re going to need it.
  • Hand sanitizer. You’re going to be shaking a lot of hands that have shook a lot of other hands. I caught Swine Flu my first year at SDCC. Don’t die.
  • Business cards. Unless you don’t care, SDCC is THE place to network.
  • An extra suitcase or bag. You’re going to be leaving SDCC with a lot more than what you arrived with. Unless you want to mail it back to yourself, you should bring an extra bag to put all of your swag in.
  • Tylenol. SDCC is a great perpetuator of hangovers.
  • A PRINT OFF OF YOUR PASS CONFIRMATION. Without this annoying piece of paper, you’re essentially screwed at badge pick up. They are unforgiving and will not work with you if you don’t have it.


This is the crowd on PREVIEW NIGHT


You’re packed. You’re on a plane/in a car, gazing out the window, shivering in antici…pation. But what should you expect? What does SDCC have in store for you? While it is a truly awesome place, there are some pretty annoying things about it that you just need to be prepared for.

  • Don’t expect to get a cab to your hotel. The streets are entirely clogged until very late at night, so you’re either going to be taking the train to and from your hotel, walking, or pedicabbing it.
  • Dedicate at least an extra hour to what you expect to spend in the dealer/exhibition hall. It’s incredibly crowded. You spend a lot of time shuffling at a zombie like pace trying to get from point A to point B. Resist the urge to elbow people out of the way.
  • If you want to see a panel, expect to wait in line HOURS ahead of time. If it’s a smaller panel, get there at least an hour or two early. But if it’s something major like Doctor Who, expect to be in line for two to four hours, and you’re not even guaranteed to get in. The panels are worth it as they are the biggest source of breaking news, but it’s definitely a question of dedication.
  • It’s hard to get food. Unless you want to pay atrocious prices in the convention center itself, most restaurants near the convention have pretty ridiculous waits. I tend to carry around snacks throughout the day and then have one big meal at night.
  • Carry cash. While some booths accept cards, the shopping process is expedited by cash. Make sure to get it BEFORE the con, as the lines for the ATMs are ridiculous and they usually run out of cash by the early afternoon.
  • Have a game plan. There are all sorts of handy smart phone apps that have a map of the convention center and a schedule of the millions of amazing things to do. If you don’t give yourself some structure you’re going to spend the entire time wandering around, overwhelmed by everything (this was my first year of SDCC – I didn’t go to any panels or leave the main hall).


There’s also the classic convention etiquette that you should definitely try to practice. For example…

  • If you are going to photograph one of the amazing cosplayers, make sure to ask first and DON’T do it in the middle of the aisle. You’re going to clog up the flow of traffic if you stop that hot Black Canary in the middle of an exhibition hall aisle, as everyone ELSE is going to want to take advantage of the fact you stopped her and snap a million pics. If you’re going to photograph a cosplayer, politely ask: “Hey! Amazing costume. Do you mind if I take your picture over there against that wall?
  • Don’t cut in line. I mean, come on. These people have been waiting for hours for this panel and you’re going to be THAT guy?
  • Make sure to remember to bathe. Or at least wear deodorant. I know con is usually too exciting to remember to do ANYTHING, but please don’t contribute to the nerd funk. Please.
  • Be polite and have an open mind. SDCC brings out the creme de la creme of the weirdos. The best way to deal with them is with patience and understanding.
  • If you see a celebrity, don’t scream. This convention is CRAWLING with famous peeps. They are generally super accommodating and willing to take a picture with you if you act cool, quiet, and collected. If you scream SETH GREEN!!! and draw a huge crowd around him, he’s going to get pissed and run away.

But despite all of these warnings and “rules”, SDCC is by far one of the most unique and wonderful experiences you’re ever going to have. Some really amazing things to look forward to:

  • Cosplay of a caliber that it looks exactly like these people jumped off of the pages of a comic book.
  • More toys than you could ever imagine. Ever.
  • Incredibly interesting panels on amazing topics full of fascinating people.
  • A chance to encounter your heroes in the wild.
  • The best people watching ever. It’s like a safari.
  • After parties that will completely blow your mind.
  • SWAG!

All in all, just remember to have FUN!! Practice the golden rule, use common sense, and make sure you drink enough water and get at least an hour of sleep. Oh, and if you see us iFanboyers – say hi, will ya?


Any questions? Comments? Things to add? Post below!


Follow Molly McIsaac on Twitter as she scrambles to prepare her last minute cosplay for this year’s SDCC!



  1. Great article, Molly! You can’t stress the transportation thing enough. If you plan on taking the trolly from wherever you’re staying, give youself at least a half-hour extra time. And if you’re crazy enough to try and park around there (I”ve done it a few times), be prepared to walk a mile or two.

    This will be my 10th in 12 years, and yes, say what you will about the experience degrading over time, but the city is absolutely ELECTRIC. It’s so much fun. I don’t even have a pass this year, but I’ll be there. Hopefully I can make it on the floor for a bit. Where’s all the cool parties this year?

  2. Would love to go to something like that. I live in Scotland so it would be a pretty penny to go LOL hope everyone who is going has a good time

  3. great article what about new york city comic con?

  4. Oh man, is it that time of year again? I don’t even go and I’m already both excited and exhausted.

  5. 6 mentions of the word geek in this article. Molly needs a thesaurus.

  6. You should avoid taking any medications that contain acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) when treating a hangover because it may cause liver damage when combined with alcohol.

    • Glad someone pointed this out, I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t know this. Water is your best friend, during and after a night of drinking. The headache you get from being hungover is a direct result of dehydration. I’ve heard coconut water is really good too, or trusty gatorade.

  7. Some day I’m gonna go to a con. I’ll dress weird, stay up late, and be loud.

    Some day…

  8. Conor covers similar ground in an old video ep.