Best Vacation and Convention: San Diego Comic Con International

by TessaSchlesinger

by Tessa Schlesinger. Four Days of glitz and glamour with famous writers, artists, actors, producers, directors, 140,000 con goers, and me!

If you've got four days in July to change your life, make your way to San Diego and attend San Diego Comic-Con International. Everybody who has ever gone has said the same words, "I never knew what it was about. It is fabulous." And so it is. Where else can you learn to write a screen play, draw a comic character, chat to a world famous actor, and speak geek speech for four entire days? Comic-Con comes once a year. It descends on San Diego, California, in late July, mid-summer, and fills the 1.7 million square foot convention center to capacity. In 2005, with 168,000 convention attendees draping every inch of the available space, the fire marshall shut it down. Today, no more than 145,000 comic-conners from all parts of the globe attend this convention.

History of San Diego Comic-Con International

A Little History of San Diego Comic-Con International
The convention had its beginnings in 1970 with an attendance of 300 people at an entry cost of $3.00. Today, attendees and traders come from every part of the globe. They include leading comic publishers, manufacturers of movie and comic book memorabilia, games manufacturers, sci fi and fantasy book publishers, manga, anime, Hollywood studios, wannabe comic writers and artists, and fans of comics, costume, and everything fantastical. The entry fee for 2009 was $75.00 for the four day convention, now it is approaching $100, and it will, no doubt be more in the future.

Art is plentiful - Great Artists Abound

Fantasy Art and Sci Fi Art
Fantasy and Sci Fi Art
Fantasy and Sci Fi Art

Weapons of past ideas and future sci fi designs abound!

Fantasy and Sci Fi Weapons for sale
Fantasy and Sci Fi Weapons for sale

Facts and Figures

More than 1000 comic dealers have their stalls on the ground floor of the San Diego Convention Center. Comics dating back to the golden, silver and bronze years of the comic industry have fabulous price tags attached to them, and avid collectors come ready to purchase rare finds. In addition, newly established comic artists display their wares and sign up potential readers.

I am a San Diego Comic-con Insider

Volunteer Staff Member

I've been working for San Diego Comic-Con International for close on a decade. At some point, I signed up to become a committee member and attended the monthly meetings with great delight. I made friends, indulged my passions for writing, art, sci fi, fantasy, any anything creative and imaginative. Throughout this piece, I will mention how this completely volunteer run organization -  but for a handful of individuals - has reached an international level of success seldom seen.It proves, once and for all, that competition and financial reward are far from the only things that motivate people.

The Press Come From All Over the World

International Press Attend
International Press Attend

San Diego is currently sold out 10 months in advance.

Getting tickets is not easy!
Getting tickets is not easy!

Famous Comic-Con Icons

Each year, famous icons like Sci Fi writer, Ray Bradbury (sadly passed in 2012), come to talk at one of the many panels. Bradbury is held in high esteem and it is no accident that some 6000 people converge on the large hall where he is speaking. Stargate actors like Christopher Judge, Amanda Tapping, and Ben Browder have strutted their stuff on the podium while fans gazed in rapt admiration, and previewed the next season well ahead of the pack. Previews happen often at comic-con. The list of celebrities that have had panels, given previews of their shows, etc. is extensive. They include Marvel Comic’s Stan Lee, Best selling sci fi author, Robert Heinlein, film star Larry Niven, Douglas Adams, famous for Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Neil Gaiman, author/producer of Stardust, Jean-Claude van Damme, Joss Wheden (head writer for Buffy, the Vampire Slayer), Ben Affleck, Will Eisner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paris Hilton, Hugh Jackman, Elijah Wood, Jude Law, Nicholas Cage, Mark Wahlberg - in short, far too many to mention. During the filming of the Indiana Jones movie, Steven Spielberg spoke to convention goers via satellite.

Geekdom at San Diego Comic-Con International

Geeks are different. Their passion is not popularity and success so much but excellence, creativity, and inspiration. They generally have a high level of integrity and will give of their best to anything that demands that kind of commitment. If they draw or write comics, then their soul goes into it. If they’re writing a screenplay, then that has the power to absorb them. If they’re into World of Warcraft or dressing in Harry Potter robes, it doesn’t really matter. The common element that draws all geekdom together is powerful passion and a bit of eccentricity. And volunteer comic-con staff can mostly be said to be comprised of geeks celebrating geekdom!

Driven by Passion and Enjoyment
I think it’s fair to say that when people do something that they love, they will do it regardless of whether they are paid or not. Well, give geeks a chance to express who they are, and they will do their best. I go to comic-con because I started reading Sci Fi in South Africa in 1963. I was probably the only 11 year old female in the country who was reading Analog sci fi and the works of Larry Niven, Isaac Asimov, and others. Sci Fi was an unknown in South Africa, and at the time, few women enjoyed it, never mind young girls. So, I guess, I was always different. When I came to comic-con, I found other people who loved the same things I did and I fitted right in. I was willing to help because others enjoyed the same things that I did.

Pirates and Star War Troopers live side by side


Fans dress in Star War Costumes

Star Wars Costume
Star Wars Costume

Lining Up For Popular Events

Lines begin to form early for some of the more popular speakers. It’s not unusual to see lines begin to form at mid-day for a panel some four or five hours later. Entry is on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s also not unusual when one has been attending comic-con for some years to walk past world famous icons and not bat a lash. Still, there are the autograph hunters, so, suitably, there are stalls where TV stars sell photographs of themselves for $10.00 each and then validate it with a signature. For some years now, Star Trek actors have had their own stall but no photos are permitted by fans passing by.

How-to Panels Are Well Attended
There are many different ‘how-to’ seminars. To mention just a few that have taken place over the last few years, there’s how to make a podcast, how to write a comic, how to make a movie, or how to design a prize winning costume for the Masquerade. These seminars are held in smaller rooms, not quite as well attended as panels given by the famous stars of TV shows and movies, but, nevertheless, well attended by those intending to get themselves into the particular industry. While the organizers of the convention do not have any figures, each year brings comic job seekers. Portfolios are shown to future employers and advice is sought on how to break into the industry.

The Comic-Con Committee - No Office Politics

Anybody can join the comic-con committee. You only have to attend three meetings and have someone second you. And anyone will second you if you know someone at the meeting. It’s not a big deal. Committee members have voting rights. However, there are other levels of membership. I am currently an associate member because I wasn’t able to attend meetings as I relocated to Houston. Then are there non-voting members who come to the monthly meetings but have not asked to be part of the committee. Committee membership does require mandatory attendance of the monthly meetings.

Star Wars Fantasy and Humor

Star Wars Helmets...
Star Wars Helmets...

Highlights: The Masquerade and the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award

There are two annual highlights at the convention. One is the Will Eisner Comic Industry Award ceremony on a Friday night, and the other is the Masquerade on Saturday night. Some 6000 fans attend the Masquerade. Lines begin to form around mid-day for entry at about 7.30 that evening. On stage, entrants show off their costumes, copies of Marvel and DC comic heroes, Hollywood block busters, and gaming creations.Some have been months in the making and cost far more than any prize money could compensate for.

Costume is ALWAYS big at San Diego Comic-Con International


Cooperation, not Competition

In our world, competition is much lauded. Yet comic-con has reached great heights through cooperation, not through competition. I work willingly with those around me. I will run errands, take a back seat, do whatever it takes because I love comic-con. So do all the other volunteers. We’re working from love. Another thing I noticed is that comic-con meeting information does not ‘leak.’ It does not leak because we have a vested interest in protecting ‘the con.’ I don’t think geeks have agendas. I think that, as a whole, they’re more interested in their games, imagination, and other stuff than in scoring points, making money, or attaining social position. Those values keep comic-con strong. We’re working with each other and competition is not necessary to make it a strong organization. Yesterday, at the meeting, there must have been 500 or 600 of us. I will not breathe a word about what was discussed, and I doubt anyone else would. That’s not my interest. My interest is in making ‘the con’ the best experience that I can for those who come and celebrate geekdom with us.

Gaming is big and gamers play each other for big wins

World of Warcraft Gaming
World of Warcraft Gaming

Annual Star Wars Pavilion

Lucas Arts has had a Star Wars pavilion since 1976. Close to four decades after the movie, Jedi and storm troopers still descend in full costume and play at being heroes in the space provided at the pavilion. It shows no promise of abating. Everybody loves Star Wars. It still remains one of the most popular venues of the show.

The Rich and Famous are there to talk to and listen to

Christopher Judge from StarGate
Christopher Judge from StarGate

Costume, Freebies, and Preview Night

The Ambience of Costume
Costume is a big thing. Somewhere around ten or fifteen percent of comic-con attendees arrive in costume. Photo opportunities abound. Spiderman will be walking next to the Joker. Superman will be chatting to two Jedi. Alien monsters and manga princesses will animately compliment each other on their respective costumes.

Freebies are the big thing at comic-con. This writer has more t-shirts than can be counted, including an Indiana Jones Marshall College t-shirt. Free books, junky gizmos, badges, posters, and the real biggie of comic-con: enormous carry bags truly designed to fit the kitchen sink - and all the other freebies available. Gamers find card clues for their games, new software for their computers, and space to challenge each other for the glory of winning.

Preview Night
Preview night is one of the busiest nights of the convention with fans beginning to line up at mid-day to collect their ‘badges’ Each badge has the name of the convention goer and is color coded according to days attended. Four day passes might be yellow, whereas a Thursday pass might be green and a Saturday pass might be pink. There is an enormous rush not only to grab the first freebies but to get the free program that comes with the entrance fee. Saturday is another biggie, and more than once, comic-con has had to close its doors for a period of time so that no new attendees could enter.

San Diego Comic-Con Staffers are Different!

Comic-Con Volunteer Staffers
Comic-Con Volunteer Staffers

Waiting for a Committee Meeting to begin

Volunteer staffer
Volunteer staffer

Volunteer Staff Attend meetings on a monthly basis

San Diego Comic Con Volunteer Staff
San Diego Comic Con Volunteer Staff

Famous Guest Speakers

You Never Know Who You'll Meet. Guest Speakers
2009 guest speakers included Brian Herbert, co-author of the Dune series, and son of the late Frank Herbert, as well as Charles Vess, the illustrator for Neil Gaiman’s Stardust and past artist for DC Comics. In addition, the 2009 convention celebrated 75 years of the great adventure comic strips. Mandrake the Magician was published in 1934, as was Flash Gordon. Green Lantern celebrated its half century and Teenage Mutant Turtles notched up its first 25 years. Comic-con, itself, celebrated its 40th convention. In 2010, I was busy talking to someone and suddenly discovered I was talking to Brian Herbert, Dune author Frank Herbert's son. Hang on, it might have been Dirk Cussler, Clive Cussler's son. Actually, that might have been Wonder-con. Actually, I can't remember. After a while, one isn't so star struck anymore.

Early Reservation Essential

Comic-con goers book early. It’s not guaranteed that tickets will still be available at the door. In 2008, four day tickets were sold out two weeks before the start date. In 2009, four day tickets were sold out by March 2010. The 2010 convention four day tickets were sold out in October 2009, and all tickets were sold out by March 2010. Four day tickets with preview were sold out for 2011 at the 2010 con in July 2010.  There were were 26,000 volunteers signed up for 2009. In 2010,when San Diego Comic-Con International sold out by March 2010, there was a run for volunteer positions. For the past few years, convention tickets are sold out within hours or weeks depending on what they are - day tickets or four day tickets.  As from 2012, only those who have previously volunteered for Comic-Con are accepted as volunteers. In addition, when reservations open for 2013 , only previous con goers are accepted for the first two weeks.  After that, the tickets can be purchased by those who have never attended. It is likely that if you are not signed up to receive notifications of when reservations open, you will miss the opportunity to attend one of the world's most fabulous entertainment conventions.

Hotels need to be reserved at least six months in advance. You can get to San Diego by air, train, car, or ship cruises. However, be advised that in this case because there is no parking and because free buses are laid on to all the hotels twenty four hours around the clock, it's probably best to leave your car at home.

San Diego Comic-con International 2013

2013 Comic-con

The con has changed. Each year, it becomes more and more difficult to get your pass. So it's now essential to subscribe and, as Mary Sturhann can send emails in the middle of the night (yes, she works 24/7) saying when tickets will be ready for sale, make sure that you put all comic-con emails on priority. While they've improved the server capacity these last few years, it can still be incredibly difficult as twenty thousand people all try to buy passes at once. 

There are also new rules. Tickets are now offered to those who have attended previous years first and then after that to first timers. If you can't afford the tickets, sign up as a volunteer immediately after the last con and see if you get accepted. Because there are now so many volunteers, this is also becoming difficult to get into. However, if you get there early enough in the morning, you can line up outside, work three hours inside, and then can see the rest of the con free.


Updated: 07/02/2013, TessaSchlesinger
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TessaSchlesinger on 06/02/2013

Thank you Fitzcharming

fitzcharming on 06/02/2013

I have been very interested in going to SDCC for the past couple of years. My interests have taken a turn for the bizarre and this just fits. Great insider info.

katiem2 on 10/04/2012

Fascinating and riveting that sounds like some trip. Great details and that image, wonderful. Thanks for taking us on our own little mental getaway. As you wrote it felt like I was there. :)K

Tolovaj on 10/01/2012

Wow, this looks like my kind of fun! Thanks for a great vacation idea and all the tips:)

Mira on 09/24/2012

I knew comic con was a big deal. Now I know why! :-)

Sheri_Oz on 09/24/2012

I love San Diego. Went once for a conference and fell in love with the city. But this conference sounds like more fun than mine (professional stuff).

TessaSchlesinger on 09/21/2012

Yes, Really. Suggest you get hold of me about June next year. :)

Ember on 09/21/2012

Whoa! Really? That's amazing, thank you!!

TessaSchlesinger on 09/21/2012

I get freebie tickets. Get hold of me closer to the time and I'll let you have one. You will need to organize your own accommodation, though. San Diego hosts a free bus service to and from the convention center for con goers.

Ember on 09/21/2012

I live in California! So it isn't too hard to get down to San Diego :D

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