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SDCC 2023: Popverse's guide to making the most out of San Diego Comic Con

A veteran of 20+ years of attending the show offers some advice for San Diego Comic-Con newcomers

San Diego Convention Center
Image credit: San Diego Convention Center

If you only remember one thing about San Diego Comic-Con, it should be this: You have not eaten enough ahead of heading into the convention center, and at some point during the show, you’re going to end up thinking that the overpriced pretzels are probably worth it because you’re that hungry at that exact moment. They’re not. Buy something to snack on and bring it in your bag. You’ll thank me later.

It’s more than slightly disturbing to me to realize that I’ve been attending San Diego Comic-Con on-and-off (mostly on) for more than two decades, by this point. I was there when you could still get into Hall H if you started lining up a couple hours early for the panel you want to see; I was there for the panel when Edgar Wright decided to just walk everyone out of the convention center and into a movie theater so we could all watch Scott Pllgrim vs. the World instead of listen to people talk about it; I was there for the communal therapy session held by DC to promote Heroes in Crisis way back when, in which everyone dressed in dressing gowns and kneeled on the deck of a yacht while Tom King spoke surrounded by men in masks. Yes, really.

(Hell, I was even there for the year when Marvel announced that it had bought Miracleman back in 2009, and the dual senses of both disbelief and confusion that followed. Would that all intended-to-be-showstopper announcement could evoke such disbelief in its intended audience.)

All of which is to establish my bona fides as someone who is pretty familiar with San Diego Comic-Con by this point. I’ve been around, which is to say, “I’ve walked around the San Diego Convention Center multiple times, over and over and over again for days on end, annually.” I’m here today to share what San Diego Comic-Con is like for those who’ve never actually attended. Think of it as the Popverse equivalent of the opening line of the Sex Pistols’ 'Holidays in the Sun.'


Eat right

I promise you: the odds of you managing to maintain a good diet during San Diego Comic-Con are far worse than you imagine, and that pretzel is going to look mighty tempting before too long. Bring snacks with you to the show. Check in on yourself about how you’re feeling and if you need to take a break to eat, or drink some water. (Oh, yeah; I don't need to tell you to bring water with you, do I? I will if I have to.)

In other words, don’t be a fool, Billy.


Slow down

For years, SDCC had the reputation of being the biggest comic convention in North America. That’s a claim that might not hold water anymore — New York Comic Con took the title way back in 2013 — but it remains both a particularly large convention, with the 2022 event reported to have seen somewhere in the region of 135,000 attendees, and a lengthy one, as well, lasting four and a half days, if you factor Wednesday’s 'Preview Night' as a half-day. There’s an argument to be made for any comic convention being marathons of endurance, but that’s more true for SDCC than most, especially if you factor in the fact that there are a lot of evening/nighttime activities that can extend the con far past its official end-time each day. Just the Eisner Awards, which take place the Friday of each SDCC, can be a marathon in itself given that it traditionally runs far over its allotted time and finishes somewhere around midnight if you’re lucky.

What I’m saying is, San Diego Comic-Con can be exhausting if you’re not careful. And, honestly, even if you are careful very often. Pace yourself.


Step outside

San Diego loves San Diego Comic-Con. It utterly takes over the area immediately surrounding the convention center in a way that simply isn’t true for other big shows in the US, including NYCC; it’s not just that there are any number of off-site events and panels across the run of the show, but that seemingly every business down in the Gaslamp district — whether they’re hotels, bars, restaurants or even just random candy stores designed to make you pay more money for a small bag of sweets than you could ever imagine (you know who you are, shop) — somehow gets in on the act with homemade signs and deals that announce that they, too, love Comic-Con and would be very happy if you wanted to expand your Comic-Con experience by spending both time and money in their fine establishment. For anyone staying anywhere close to the convention center, it’s as if the entire world has been taken over by San Diego Comic-Con, which is at once thrilling — everything is con! — and utterly disorienting.

My tip, then, is to check in with the real world once or twice a day while you’re at the show. It’s good to maintain some sense of perspective… and just make sure that nothing catastrophic has happened while you’ve been waiting in line to see the Muppets.


Be patient

Getting from one place to another in the San Diego Convention Center should be a straightforward thing; it is, after all, a relatively easy-to-navigate place, there are maps available, and the rooms are — for the most part — numbered for ease of use. That said, it is also a building that is full of literally tens of thousands of people who are either (a) also trying to get somewhere, (b) don’t know where they’re going, or (c) are not really in any rush to go anywhere at that particular moment for whatever reason, all of which adds up to one simple fact: it is going to take longer than you think to get anywhere at San Diego Comic-Con, and you need to factor that in to any planning you’re making. Want to get from a panel that finishes at 12:30 to another panel that starts at 12:30? Unless they’re in the same room or literally right next to each other, that’s not going to happen… and even then, it might not happen because there’s a line to get into the room that’s stretched around the corner and has been there for the last 20 minutes.

That’s saying nothing about the fact that, sometimes, racing across the convention center means that you’ll have to wait while a line of people march into the panel room they’ve been patiently waiting for for the last 30 minutes; traffic control is a real thing at SDCC and should always be factored into any attempts to move across the convention center. The long and the short of it is, it’s going to take longer to get to where you’re going than you think in nine out of ten cases, so plan accordingly.


Enjoy it

One of the drawbacks about having gone to SDCC for so long is that, bluntly, sometimes you can forget the joy and awe of being at the show. San Diego Comic-Con is actually great; it’s filled with all kinds of interesting people, publishers, and things to see. As much as you (me) can get jaded about these kinds of things after repeated exposure, it’s worth stepping back sometimes and realizing, all of this is wonderful, and we’re lucky to be here. If you’re at the show, take a moment to stop and appreciate it.

Just don’t take that moment in the middle of the show floor. You’ll be blocking the path of someone who really needs to get somewhere in a hurry, and is probably so hungry they’re thinking about one of those overpriced pretzels.

San Diego Comic-Con runs July 19 through July 23 at the San Diego Convention Center. Popverse will be there for the whole thing, sharing everything from the very start of the show until the very end.

Wondering what to expect from this year’s SDCC? We’ve got some answers for you.