A Guerrilla Guide to Doing San Diego Comic-Con Without a Badge, Money, or Dignity
San Diego Comic-Con is coming up, or as it is known to science, "Nerd Mardi Gras." For nearly a week in mid-July the population of this Southern California city swells by several hundred thousand pop culture fans, all expressing their undying love for the intellectual property of large entertainment corporations, along with the representatives of said entertainment corporations, looking to extract that love in the form of money.
If you love long lines in the blazing sun, massive slow-moving glaciers of mobbed humanity and people dressing up as fictional characters, but somehow got yourself banned from Disney World for puking into the moat outside Cinderella's castle (if Disneyland, read "Sleeping Beauty's Castle"), then, my friend, Comic-Con International is the place for you.
"But my pal Fred Van Lente," I can hear you cry, "I am just hearing about this amazing event now, from this article, because I have been in a coma since 1974. I am sure the tickets to such a fabulous event have long been sold away. Is there any way I can enjoy the benefits of this celebration of childlike nostalgia without selling my body in the Gaslamp Quarter for extra badges?"
Inside this box is my San Diego Comic-Con badge … unless the con is proposing to me.
Why yes there is, Internet Stranger, and I am here to tell you how. Here's three places you can enjoy the splendor and glamour of Comic-Con International without actually going inside the convention center, and best of all, they're all ABSOLUTELY FREE:
1) Hotel Bars. As I can attest from my ten-plus years in the business, almost all comics pros are (finger quotes) high-functioning alcoholics. One of my great personal pleasures of going to comics conventions around the world is to go the hotel bar where all the pros are staying after the con and watch them fill the place beyond capacity. The mounting horror on the bartenders' faces (or, even worse, bartender's) as they realize these people won't stop drinking and I may not have enough stock to last the weekend, much less the night is a truly awe-inspiring sight to behold, not unlike seeing the sun setting behind the Grand Canyon.
So if you can't get the signatures of your favorite comics pro at the con itself, just hang out in three or four hotel bars on the same side of the train tracks as the convention center. Your faves will turn up eventually. Just wait until they're too drunk to take a swing at you when you bug them — and too drunk to land a punch if they do.
2) Between Industry Parties. Hollywood discovered Comic-Con International not long after the turn of the millennia, as it is a mere two hours south of Los Angeles and thus a great place to waste employers' expense accounts while acting all hip at the same time by pretending to be into these graphic manga comic novel things. Agents and producers and entertainment sites' primary function at SDCC are to throw cool, expensive parties with exclusive guest lists to keep unwashed scum like you out and the golden A-list party people in.
Here's the thing, though: if seventh grade has taught us anything, it is that trying to be cool is in fact the exact opposite of being cool. In fact, the very act of trying anything at all is the epitome of lameness. So all these parties, no matter how high the rooftop and how expensive the cash bar, all universally suck.
#Protip: Do not look cosplayers directly in the eye, or they will follow you around until you take their picture.
But as Hope Springing Eternal is an integral aspect of human nature, you will find packs (3-6) of mid-range celebrities roaming the streets of the Gaslamp Quarter on weekend nights, fleeing from one crappy industry party to the next, only to discover it is indeed just as dead as the last one before moving immediately on to the third.
Confused, frustrated and vulnerable, these celebrities are now primed for you to walk up to and say, "Hey I loved you in that thing. You're really underrated, you know that?"
Celebrities love it when you call them "underrated." Trust me. It means they still have something to strive for!
3) Dumpsters. San Diego is the Bataan Death March of comic-cons, a grueling test of endurance as all five senses are bombarded with an overload of pop culture excess. In the dictionary definition of "an embarrassment of riches," those lucky few who make it inside are rewarded for their tenacity and line-standing ability with a dizzying array of swag. Large bags handed out by your geek corporate overlords will droop pendulously from con-goers' arms under the weight of free manga, toys, games, statues, and the occasional tchotchke you will be hard-pressed to identify. But who cares what it is? It's free! Take it!
And so, by the time these nerds leave the convention center, many will have far exceeded the allotted Encumbrance levels on their character sheet. Like the Millennium Falcon pursued by Imperial destroyers, they will jettison expendable swag before attempting the jump to light speed (i.e., karaoke). If you linger near the trashcans and other waste receptacles around the con, that unwanted Sean Spicer Funko doll or Human Centipede Adult Coloring Book can be yours!
This would have been cool 'swag' to take home, if I could fit a two-story tall redhead on a Vespa inside my house.
So I hope you have a great time at Comic-Con International—perhaps we will even run into each other! Say hi. And remember, if you do get inside the con, head straight for the Quirk Books booth (#1636) and pick up a copy of my debut novel, the standup murder mystery Ten Dead Comedians. After all this free advice I just gave you, I think you kind of owe me one at this point, don’t you?
Fred Van Lente is the #1 New York Times best-selling writer of the comics Odd Is on Our Side, Archer & Armstrong, and Action Philosophers! He also cowrote the graphic novel Cowboys and Aliens, which was made into a film starring Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig.