A first-timer's guide to Comic-Con

BY KELLY LIN

Contributor

Congratulations on investing in your first ever Comic-Con ticket! For the next four days, you and your 126,000 new best friends will walk the San Diego Convention Center's hallowed halls that most have only dreamed about. With your pass, you'll have the opportunity to see world-renowned entertainment and get the highest quality freebies ever.

And believe me when I say you couldn't have chosen a better year to attend. Warner Brothers will be hosting its first ever Harry Potter panel, geek gods JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon will be in the same room together, and best of all there will be no Twilight panel (which hopefully guarantees that I won't be receiving yet anther Twilight-themed "Entertainment Weekly" issue in the mail this week. YES!)

At its most basic form, the Comic-Con experience consists of the following three major activities: touring the exhibit hall, attending panels, and of course eating. This guide will discuss all three and provide helpful hints that will definitely be useful when the time comes. Whether you're going for one day or four or if this is your first time or 20th, this handy dandy guide could prove to be instrumental in helping you navigate this awesome event.

Planning for your day

Even before you show up to Comic-Con, there are several steps you can take to ensure that your experience will be great. This year, the Comic-Con website has introduced a cool new feature called "My Schedule" which allows for attendees to look through the schedule for each day and customize their own itinerary of specific events they want to attend.

Additionally, with the "My Schedule" feature, you can learn about each event, find out where it will be located, and connect with others who will be attending the same event. The last thing you want to do is come to the Con and spend the first hour figuring out exactly what you are doing. With "My Schedule," you'll avoid looking like a total n00b AND not waste a moment of your Comic-Con experience.

When packing for your excursion, try to bring only things that are absolutely essential such as your cell phone, camera, and wallet with I.D. Upon entering the exhibit hall, you will be bombarded with tons of free stuff and if you already have a smorgasbord of other items, you'll have a hard time carrying and storing your new loot.

You're not in Kansas anymore

After you've gotten your badge, it's time to hit the exhibit hall. Navigating the main hall for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. For an optimum adventure, I suggest starting on the right side of the main floor, where it is less crowded, and then working your way over to the left. I like to visualize the main floor like a multilevel video game. The farther to the left you go, the more people and more obstacles you have to endure. Then again, some of Comic-Con's greatest treasures are hidden in those very aisles.

Level one begins at the far right side of the convention center. This section houses most of the retail items, cheaper collectibles, and comics. As you move farther to the left, things get more advanced.

Level two, hosts the more expensive collectables that grown men spend their paychecks on and of course the Star Wars loot. Oftentimes, this section can get pretty crowded, especially if one of the booths features some girl posing in a skimpy Princess Leia costume next to a life size Jabba the Hut doll. To avoid the chaos, I suggest you move to one of the side rows where it is generally less crowded.

After you've traversed the toy section, you'll have made it to my favorite section, the movie section. This section is level three for a reason. In this section, you will be faced with wall-to-wall people and unless you are on one of the side roads, it will be nearly impossible for you to come to a complete stop. Yet despite these obstacles, the freebies in this section are unparalleled. Free books, posters, poster tubes, buttons, capes, and delightful goodies that will be worth something on eBay in twenty years await those who make it to this treasure trove.

Past this wonderful section lies the video game section, which is the final section. After the climactic movies section, the video game section serves as more of a denouement. Things are less busy here, but still totally fun. The best part of this section is having the opportunity to be one of the first people to try out the latest video games. A couple of years ago, I visited this section during Preview Night and I was the 10th person in the world to try out the new Harry Potter game. It was a thrilling experience and one that I will be sure to tell my grandchildren.

TIME TO GET THOSE ENERGY POINTS!

Time to get those energy points

After you've traversed the main hall, it's time to get some grub. Inside the convention center, unless you love stale pretzels and overpriced hot dogs, food options are severely limited. During the day, you will be doing tons of walking and without food, your ability to endure the Con will be limited. Food is especially important if your Comic-Con schedule involves waiting for a panel for five hours or more. I don't care how exciting the panel is, without food, you may not be awake to see it.

Luckily, outside the center there are several food options. If you're a healthy eater and/or on a budget, there is a Ralphs a couple of blocks away that has a lot of great grab and go options. Comic-Con even provides a free shuttle that can transport you there and back. Additionally, a lot of other Comic-Con attendees go here too. Who knows? You might even see Darth Vadar buying a sandwich.

Rock concert for nerds

A first time Comic-Con experience wouldn't be complete without going to a panel in either Hall H or Ballroom 20, Comic-Con's two largest venues. Although there may be long lines, the panels are often the best that Comic-Con has to offer and definitely worth it. The best part about these panels however is the crowd, which is often more fun then the actual panel.

Want to hear what 5,000 excited people sound like when they are about to witness something amazing? Then I suggest you attend a panel in one of these two venues. To get an idea of what these panels are like, picture a UC Berkeley vs. Stanford football game at UC Berkeley or going to a crazy concert. Being surrounded by a crowd of people who are as big fans as you are, witnessing their reactions, and hearing the wild audience questions and sometimes even wilder responses is a magical experience that should not be missed.

The best piece of advice that I can give any first timer is to not get overwhelmed. During the next four days, it's quite likely that you'll be in situations where you'll be surrounded by hundreds of people all trying to get a free item or you'll wait in a line with a wait time that's twice as long as the doctor's office or DMV. Although at moments like these, your quest may appear hopeless and you may feel like giving up, DON'T. In such hard times, I am able to overcome them by finding inspiration in my favorite characters. Did Harry give up in his quest to defeat Voldemort when Dumbledore died? Did Mulan surrender when she saw thousands of Hun warriors racing towards her? I don't think so.

At Comic-Con, like in life, you don't get anywhere unless you at least try. And if you are able to get in, the rewards exceed the costs. Nothing beats the feeling of being in the presence of entertainment's greatest minds and knowing you're the first in the world to witness a piece of footage. If you don't make it in, don't fret. Everything will be on YouTube in a couple of hours and now you'll have more time to explore other parts of the Con.

A final word

If you had a blast at Comic-Con this year, make sure to stop by the appropriate booth and purchase your tickets for next year's bash. By January or February, almost all the tickets will be gone, so it's best to get them as soon as possible. My first trip to Comic-Con was definitely an enlightening experience and I hope that, with the help of this guide, your first time will be just as fun as mine was.

Kelly Lin is a freelance writer who lives in La Jolla Shores.

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