Tips for Comic-Con
This article was originally part of the Insider Cinema guide to Hollywood, a website from the mid-2000s. We are reposting it here as both a writing sample and a guide for those seeking to get their foot in the door in Hollywood.
Comic-Con is unlike any other event. It’s a trade show, it’s a fan gathering, it’s a launching pad for new projects, it’s a press junket, it’s an autograph ring, it’s an artist’s showcase, it’s a job fair, it’s even a film festival. At comic con, there’s something for everyone, and this means you can utilize this massive 4 and a half-day event for your maximum benefit.
- Get your passes early – Whatever kind of passes you want to get, get them early. Comic Con sells out fast, so try and land your passes in March.
- Stay With a Friend – In order to minimize costs, find a friend who lives in San Diego (preferably near a trolley station) and ask if you can crash on their couch during comic con. Be a polite guest, and buy your own food. This also allows you to offer a couple of people you meet at Comic Con to come back to your friend’s place for a party.
- Use Public Transit – San Diego has a thorough (though confusing) public transit system. The San Diego trolley has several lines that run across the city and county, and allow you to get off right at the convention center’s doorstep. You can buy a 4 day pass for $15, but be sure to check the times on the various days, since they differ greatly. Wednesday and Thursday stop running much earlier than the weekend lines. Also, the city will extend some lines to go all the way to the convention center on comic con weekend. It’s very confusing, but worth the $15 to save on parking and gas money.
- Be prepared to work on someone else’s schedule. The trolleys run at odd hours so be prepared to arrive late, and leave early if need be.
- Arrive Early – Parking fills up fast (both near the convention centers and at the distant trolley stations) – if you are going on Friday or Saturday and you are planning to park your car – try to get there by 7:30AM – park and go eat breakfast and then get in line to get in – doors open at 10AM – but you will be allowed to go upstairs in the Sails Area at 9AM where you can use the restrooms and check out the Freebie Table. This will also give you time to check out the schedule to see what you would want to do for the day.
- Get a Program – When you check in and get your badge make sure you receive a program schedule. This will help you strategize where you want to go.
- Research – Do some pre-research about what’s going to be big in Your field. Focus on panels and launches that your type of professionals are going to be at. Don’t waste your time with the Twilight panel.
- Go For Comfort – Wear Comfortable shoes and clothing – you will be doing a lot of walking and standing.
- If you’re there for business, dress professionally – Too often people go to Comic Con to pitch themselves, and they go dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, or they go dressed as a Zombie. Comic Con offers a great opportunity to approach real industry professionals about your work, in an environment where they are less guarded and open to new opportunities. Don’t sabotage yourself by looking like a slob. Dress in a nice shirt (button downed and/or ironed), look professional, and groom yourself well. The people you’re pitching yourself to want to see that you’re responsible, reliable, and can represent yourself well.
- Don’t be antisocial – The biggest hindrance to someone trying to promote themselves at Comic Con is their own shyness. You can’t look at the floor and sit in the corner the entire time, or hope that someone with a million dollars will start a conversation with you. You have to reach out and talk to everyone, and I mean EVERYONE. Booth organizers, artists, and just regular old fans. Smile. Talk about what you’re doing. Ask them what they’re doing. This is a sardine can of people, and the socializing aspect will be exhausting for you, but it will be worth it. There’s no telling where that diamond in the rough connection will be lying. It could be that 50 year old wearing the “Superman Lives” shirt who actually owns a massive real estate empire. It could be the girl dressed like Naruto who is actually the assistant to the VP of development at Fox. Even on its face, it’s good to know an illustrator or two, and may come in handy in the future, and that fan boy in the Rocketeer outfit may turn out to be your biggest supporter once he discovers your website. Be welcoming to others.
- If you’re there for business, have something good to show – You can’t just go to Comic Con with nothing but your words. You need something to prove that you’re worth someone’s time. If you’re a writer, have a 4 page writing sample. If you’re an illustrator, have a portfolio. Have it professionally presented, and have it be the best work you can muster.
- Have a web presence – As I’ve said in the seminars I’ve given, it’s always good to have a web page that acts as your anchor. Ideally, you want to meet people, and then drive them to your website, which will have at least three times the amount of work on it as your portfolio. No matter what form your web presence takes (a basic web display page, a blog, a primitive social networking site, or an elaborate flash site) it’s important to have it, and have a way of collecting your followers. Have an e-mail list. Have an RSS feed. Have something to keep your followers involved in what you’re doing, and keep them excited about your work.
- Have a lot of things to show – Remember that Comic Con is for everybody. It has fan boys and professionals, opinion makers and movie stars. You can’t have something for everyone, but you can have the basics presented in a really cool light. In order to keep track of what’s what, it’s also important to separate these by size. It’s also important to note that most of these items should be hard paper stock rather than standard copy paper. All these materials should have your name, phone number, e-mail, and web presence on them so you don’t have to hand someone 4 different things for them to know how to get a hold of you. All of these should also be available as printed pdf’s on your website.
- Business Card – The standard business card is always a good thing to have. Have it include your name, phone number, e-mail, and web presence. A graphic or picture on the side is also good, if it’s something that is memorable but not tacky. Standard business card size is preferred, but a little creativity is always appreciated. The more cards you have, the better, and you can get hundreds of them from Vista Print.
- Quest Card – Recently Comic Con has been slandered as nothing more than a giant commercial, and the people who attend are thirsty for something that is pure and totally geeky. There’s nothing better than a Comic Con Quest, which is basically a giant scavenger hunt. There are several ways to organize a quest, but ideally, you want to have it be truly intellectually stimulating, elaborate, and have a cool prize at the end. If you can tie the quest in with the narrative of a property you have, great, but don’t try and force it. Your quest card is the kick off for your challenge, and should have only the details the participants need to know. It should be memorable, and about 1 inch wide by 11 inches tall, so it stands out from the rest of the pack.
- Bar Card – Have a card that shows who you are and your interests. Similar to the Quest Card, this is for the fans who might be interested in finding out about you and your projects. Your bar card is a list of panels or events you are attending (utilizing the herding method), or it could be similar to a 1-sheet, with quick posters/covers and synopses of the projects you’re working on. There are variant sizes for bar cards, but go with something that’ll fit in a pocket, roughly 4” by 6”
- Mini Work Sample (A Leave Behind) – This is for the professionals, as a work sample for them to take home and remember you by. If you’re a writer, your Leave Behind should be a 4 page story. If you’re an illustrator, it should be a mini-comic with a compelling story. The key word here is story. If you have a professional and intriguing story, it will be easier for the person you’re pitching to enjoy your work, and favor you. You should have as many of these as possible, and also remember that while presentation is important, it’s not the only thing. A few Xeroxed pages stapled together at Kinkos will go further than a glossy graphic novella if the story is better.
- Large Work Sample – Some artists bring a graphic novel or other large scale sample to show off to potential employers, but keep in mind, while it can be handy to have one or two of these, no one will be interested in taking these home. They are to show; maybe the professional will see an interesting page here or there, but that’s it. In the unlikely event someone will request it, let them have the copy, and then run to Kinkos with the file on a thumb drive.
- Know how to spot the big bosses – There are two types of people in charge at a booth: the obsessive administrators surrounded by hot booth babes; and the well dressed professionals sitting in the far background, texting on their phones while the booth is managed by unattractive interns. If you can’t find either of these individuals, feel free to ask the attendant who is in charge, or who you would speak to about a portfolio sample.
- BYO – Bring Your Own – Bring water and snacks with you – Suggestions: Small bottled water that you can refill from the drinking fountains, fruit and/or nuts, cookies. If you buy food on site – the best bargains are the Pizza Slices sold in the Mezzanine, the individual Pizzas sold in the exhibit hall, or the Greek Gyros sold by one of the carts – the prices are more than outside – but not too bad for these items – avoid the hamburgers and hot dogs.
- Backpack It – Bring a small backpack for your snacks and freebies – also, a lot of the booths hand out carry-bags to put stuff in that you pick up for free or purchase.
- Take a Break – If you get tired, there are tables to sit at, but the best place to take a break, if you can find a seat is up on the Mezzanine – there are a bank of windows that give you a panorama view of the entire convention floor – it is a great photo spot.
- Strategize – The most important thing to make your time at Comic-Con enjoyable is to plan out a strategy on how to spend your day. Check out the program and mark what programs you really want to go to and an alternate in case you can’t get in or don’t want to wait in a long line. If you’re going on one day only – check the programs and find the booths you would be most interested in and check those out first, then check out the nearby booths for other fun stuff.
- Can You Hear Me Now? – Take your cell phone and learn how to text message – this is the best way to communicate with others in your party if you get separated or want to do different things. The cell phone reception in the heart of the convention center is not the best because of the massive amounts of concrete. Also, there will be a massive amounts of nerds, so 3G response will also be decreased because of the high demand.
- Take Cash – $5s and $10s are best. Even if you don’t think you will buy much – take some money to cover unexpected expenses – especially for parking or food – There are two Starbucks on site. There is an ATM on-site and many booths do take credit cards.
- Keep Some Extra Room In The Car – You’ll need some extra room for all the swag bags (at least one extra bag per person, maybe more) so don’t cram your trunk to the brim for the trip going down. Leave some breathing room for the ride back up… keep in mind, I’m writing this as I am sandwiched in the back seat of my friend’s 2002 Honda Civic, between two pieces of rolling luggage, 2 swag bags, 2 computer bags, a sports jacket, and 3 hats.
Do you have your own thoughts?
Let us know in the comments!