Tony Lee’s Guide To Surviving San Diego

Posted by July 3, 2009 Comment

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Tony Lee, writer of Hope Falls, Milf Magnet and, oh go on then, the ongoing writer of the IDW Doctor Who comic (bastard) has his own special guide to getting through the biggest comic con in the English speaking world. Take it away, Tony!

So, San Diego is coming up soon, and if you don’t know what that means, then you should give your ‘comic book fan’ card in at the door and go home. The San Diego Comic Con has become so big, so gigantic that it’s known by both contractions – San Diego and Comic Con. It’s also known as SDCC, Nerd-Prom, Oh dear God they’re everywhere, Cosplay-prom and half a dozen other names. It’s the place where once upon a time, comics ruled. Now, we’re relegated to the side while larger movie production houses display candies and sticky treats to their captive audience demographic.

And it’s the best convention in the world.

And you’re coming to SDCC are you? It’s your first year and you’re very excited, are you? That’s great. And there’s countless guides out there telling you how awesome it’s going to be and how you can’t step anywhere for tripping over a celebrity and all that.

For the most, this is what we call in the trade – ‘bollocks’.

You are not going to find yourself sharing the escalator with David Tennant or Shia LeBouf. You are not going to accidentally bump into Megan Fox while buying Pocky. If you do? BUY A LOTTERY TICKET because your luck has passed beyond the dreams of avarice.

Let Uncle Tony tell you how it really is, this Nerd-Prom of geektastic fortitude.

First off – SDCC is large. HUGE. ENORMOUS. GIGAN- okay, you get the idea. Think of an American Football pitch. Now think of about five of them, all side by side. Now cover this in an airplane hanger style roof. This is the main hall. Not the convention, just the main hall. Don’t believe me? Look at it like this. Each exhibitor can book a six foot booth. It might be ten foot now, but you get the point. Each one is numbered. Still with me? We have fifty of these a side, and each ‘avenue’ that goes across the hall therefore has a hundred possible exhibitors. Sure, many people book more than just one ‘booth’, but these spots stay numbered. So, you have rows. The first avenue is 1 – 100. The second is 101 – 200 and so forth. People like DC comics are usually around the 1600’s. That’s right, sixteen ‘avenues’ worth of booths. And they’re not even in the middle. In 2005 I went to SDCC with APC Comics and they were stuck against the back wall, by Hall H – and they were in the 5400’s. So FIFTY FOUR AVENUES. It’s a quarter of a mile just walking from entrance A to entrance G, so you can see there’s a lot inside. And that’s not including the upstairs section where you have half a dozen halls for talks and panels, and a massive autograph area. You have to remember this, because it’s very easy to forget that places are a good ten minutes walk from each other, even within the hall – because on a Saturday – hell, what am I saying, on ANY day now, the place will be packed. And you have to get past these people to get to your meeting… If you do need to get from one end to the other – walk out and along the outside. Far less people.

So. It’s your first convention. What should you be doing?

Well, I’m going to be talking to you on the basis that you’re a creator, a writer (as thats what I am) new to the business and looking to get yourself known. First off, make sure that your hotel is close. I know this is a bit of a ‘oh, really? Gee, thanks for telling us that two weeks before the convention, asswipe’ statement, but there are still late cancellations if you look about. A distance hotel isn’t bad, but you have to change your game. For example, I usually stay a block or so from the convention centre. This means that when I need to, I can return, rest, change a shirt and be back within half an hour. You never really spend time in your hotel room – the shower and the space on the floor that is your bed are the only two places you need. This also means that if you buy things, you don’t need to lug them around all over the place with you.

Now, last year, I ended up staying in the Coronado Bay Marriott. It’s a beautiful hotel and has a variety of fun things to do there. Great. As I said, all I need is a bed and a shower. The downside of the Coronado was that it’s across the bay, and you got to the convention centre by water taxi – six bucks, every half an hour until seven pm. Which meant that if you wanted to go out in the evening, it was a seventeen buck taxi ride home. But more importantly, if you wanted to go out, you had to be back in the hotel room to get changed and be ready before seven to catch that last taxi, so you would be leaving the convention around half past five. So schedule meetings accordingly.

I’m not lying when I say that you barely hit your hotel room. The average creator will get up around nine, go have breakfast at their place of choice (there’s a couple of excellent places in the Horton Plaza, a block or so away) and then get to the con centre around 11am. They’ll then spend the day going from meeting to signing to panel, maybe having breaks in the Industry lounge – more on that later – and then, around 6pm returning to change/shower. Then, they’re off to the Hyatt or the Omni or the Marriott, have a few drinks, go to a party, end up at the Hyatt around 1am and stand out in the cool night until around 4am when they stroll home. Repeat until broken. And again, I’m not joking.

If you’re a wannabe writer – make sure you have business cards. These are going to be your best friend. But before we even get to that, some other things.

Most people go from Tuesday until Monday. That’s effectively SIX DAYS of clothes needed. And San Diego is hot and sticky, especially inside the con, you’ll need a change of clothes for the evening. And Deodorant. And breath mints, because you’ll forget to drink water, you will get dehydrated and your breath will smell. You’re there to make an impression. Make sure it’s the right one.

Every SDCC I take about ten shirts and a variety of T Shirts. Every day I have a shirt / tie / vest combination on, in the evening I might relax to simply a shirt. But I ensure that I always look respectable because you never know when you might have an important meeting. I had a publisher meeting at 1am at the Hyatt bar last year. So be that cub scout. Always be prepared. take a satchel or rucksack with you and ensure that necessaries are inside it. Deodorant spray. Comb. Wet wipes. Water. Spare shirt. Hand sanitiser. What? Hand Sanitiser? Yes.

You will be shaking a lot of hands. And many of these hands will have been shaking a lot of hands. And then you eat something, or scratch your nose and BAM! you’ve got what is affectionately known as Convention Crud or San Diego SARS. You’ll feel like shit for about a week as your head becomes a petrie dish for God knows what. So use hand sanitiser whenever you can. People don’t mind any more, in fact you’ll most likely find them asking if they too can borrow some. Hand Sanitiser is your other best friend. I also know people who bulk up on stuff like AIRBOURNE the week before the show, as any immunity boosters are good.

You have some scripts to show? That’s nice. Leave them in the hotel room. No editor will care. They’ll be seeing a hundred or so a day. And a script is far harder to examine than a page of artwork. So leave them behind and instead bring your business cards. That way you can find the editor you want to speak to, introduce yourself, check their availability over the convention – sometimes an editor is full with meetings, but sometimes they’ll have some time on the Sunday morning to see people off the cuff – and if not, swap business cards, saying that with their permission, you’ll email them later in the month, after the SDCC craziness ends. With luck, they’ll remember you, especially if you have a shtick, like the ‘British guy who wore the shirt / tie / vest’… And then you can start to pitch.

If you are going to SDCC to get a big two gig and you’ve never spoken to an editor there? Not going to happen. What do you think this is, a fucking Disney movie? It’s a courtship. You have to woo them. And that, my friend will take a long time.

Now, let’s talk about the important things – the parties and the drinking. San Diego in the evening becomes an almost TOP TRUMPS level of do-over, as people get their party invites – some are super exclusive, some like BOOM!’s yearly bash are held in the Hyatt bar for everyone to come to. Getting invited to a party is a game in itself, and it’s very difficult to crash most of them. Although it is worth it, as the big ones have free bars. Keep an eye on the news sites though – last year True Blood launched at a local bar – The Tilted Kilt – and they gave free beers to people. The CBLDF have good parties and usually the way to get a ticket is to join them, which you should be doing anyway. You’re not going to get into the DC or Marvel parties, but you’ll get into the Image one if you speak to the right people, etc etc.

But even if you don’t get into the ‘cool’ parties, you can still party. The Hyatt is one of the main staging areas for party goers over recent years and has the advantage of two bars, each at opposite ends of the long lobby – here you can usually find creators and editors at rest and play. Don’t hassle them – but if you offer to buy them a drink, they’ll remember you more. And you can usually join their table if they like you – and then you get to sit with some of the names in comics. I remember doing this in 2005 and finding myself in an effective comics masterclass. I think I learned more in that one night than I did the previous year.

Yeah, you’ll be drinking. So for gods sake regulate it. Drink a glass of water for every couple of beers / whiskeys or the heatstroke will kill you. It’s not a drinking contest and nobody wants to see the dehydrated, puking drunk. My drink of choice for the last two years has been soda water with lime. I’ll drink occasionally as well, but I also want to remember.

Remember also that these drinks are not cheap. NOTHING is cheap in San Diego this week. You can buy a pack of twelve bottled waters in Ralphs, a block from the con centre that cost the same as one of the same bottles in the Starbucks inside the con centre. You will be effectively ‘eating out’ for every meal. Evening meals end up in Old Town or the Gaslamp. You’ll be drinking. Eating. And these things cost money. So make sure that you have a lot of it. My rule of thumb is to budget about a $100 a day. Sure, I sometimes barely use that, and so on the Sunday I buy a shitload of books, but $100 is enough to get a nice lunch and pay for your share of a dinner / drinks if you suddenly find yourself invited out by people. NEVER LOOK CHEAP IN SAN DIEGO. Remember, your reputation is being created here. Also, there aren’t that many working ATMs in the Con Centre after half an hour – but the Hyatt and the Marriott ones are usually okay. And Ralphs gives cashback.

As for eating, my schedule usually goes as follows – nice breakfast to fuel me up. A giant pretzel at lunch, and then a meal in the evening. Occasionally I’ll lunch in the Gaslamp, the Marriott or the Hyatt. And if I need drinks, I’ll go to the Industry Lounge.

If you have a pro pass, utilise the Industry Lounge. It’s well worth it. You get free squash to rehydrate and coffee to wake you up. Sometimes there are cans of coke. But more importantly there is space. I go there to write up my daily con report, I also go there to work when I’m on a deadline.

Also, look for the out-of-the-way toilets. These, when they are found can be a godsend later in the weekend.

Of course, eating in the Gaslamp is always fun, as there are a HUNDRED THOUSAND PEOPLE all trying to eat there too. And on the Wednesday, the San Diego Padres are playing, which means EVEN MORE PEOPLE. So, if you’re looking to do a meal for about ten of you? Expect a long wait.

Anyway, back to the partying. Can you ‘pull’ at San Diego? Yes. Yes you can. In 2005 I found myself with a lady at the Hyatt who was with another convention – and ended up staggering back to my hotel at 8am with a stupid grin on my face and managing half an hour sleep before getting up for the next day at the con. I lived on Rockstar and Stay Awake pills that day and even then managed to fall asleep at the booth, shades on, waking up to find someone showing me their portfolio. And there are people at SDCC who do that every single day.

I know people who go there every year and hook up. The whole ‘what happens at con – stays at con’ mentality is rife. I also know people who go there every year with the express intention of pulling, and failing miserably. There is a large male to female ratio, and some of those females are local hookers who come to the Hyatt Bar looking for trade. So be wary, because you might find yourself spending more than that $100 you put aside.

Personally, I’m there for the chance to see friends and kick back. Oh, and watch Mets games on the Hyatt TV. Oh yeah, and get work.

People also discuss a lot about whether it’s worth attending the con every day – I say no. If you have a day where you don’t need to be there, sure, pop in, say hi – but do something else too, so you can recharge your battery. Last year I bunked off and went to see The Dark Knight. It was great. This year I have a Saturday panel and a signing, so I won’t be able to – but I do intend to spend more time during the day in the Marriott ‘Tiki’ lounge bar, by the pool. Nice drinks and a great atmosphere – I thank you.

So. You have your business cards. Your sanitiser. Your deodorant. Change of clothes. More changes of clothes. A jacket – throw THAT away, you won’t need it, if you’re wearing a long sleeved shirt. And definitely not during the day. Trainers or comfortable shoes – you’ll be walking approximately ten miles a day around that convention centre. A working watch – so you know the time. A phone, so you know what’s going on. Preferably with Twitter on it, as at the NYCC in February more after con events and meals were organised on that than in texts. You have your money. Sunglasses and sun cream. Bottles of water and minty fresh chewing gum. And remember to take a pen, just in case…

Right then. I think you’re ready.

And I know I’ve forgotten half a dozen other things…

(Oh, and Rich can you mention that you can follow my con diary daily from Monday 21st July at www.tonylee.co.uk – that’d be much appreciated)

Image copyright Birmingham Mail.

(Last Updated July 3, 2009 5:31 am )

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