Comic-Con is almost here, and while the thought of everything that will happen during the four-day event can make even the most hardened journalist break down in tears, there's a good reason why it's one of the biggest pop-culture events of the year: it can actually be a lot of fun.
In the run-up to the big event, we're always treated to a wide range of stories listing the coolest panels for every type of attendee, as well as prep lists outlining what you should bring and how you should plan your weekend. But what about the stuff that makes Comic-Con really memorable?
As someone who's made the trek to San Diego an annual excursion over the last decade, I've come to realize that there are a few experiences almost every Comic-Con veteran shares. So, in the interest of transforming you from Comic-Con newbie to seasoned pro in just four days, here are ten things you can do to make the best of the communal experience that is San Diego Comic-Con.
1. Have a Fish Taco at Tin Fish
Located just outside the convention center on the outskirts of the Gaslamp District, Tin Fish is one of the go-to places for Comic-Con attendees looking for a bite to eat. It's a local landmark for the Comic-Con crowd, and along with its famous fish tacos, it also offers a good chance of spotting some of the show's guests of honor getting their grub on before heading into the fray. It's like an oasis of awesome in the madness that is Comic-Con.
2. Attend a Panel in Hall H
This is probably on everyone's list, but make sure you plan ahead in order to make it happen. People start lining up early in the day to get into this Hall, which always hosts the most prominent movie-related panels. Last year, this was where Marvel Studios brought out the entire cast of The Avengers for the first time, so it's one of the most important places to be if you want to say you were there for what everyone's talking about tomorrow. Here's our list of the 10 most anticipated Comic-Con film panels this year.
3. Get Something Signed
Not everyone is an autograph hound, but let's face it: we all have one or two people we'd like to get a personalized note from. (Confession: Mine was former Doctor Who star David Tennant.) If nothing else, getting an autograph gives you something to haul out every time you want to impress friends who don't understand why you made the trip to San Diego.
4. Hang out at a Hotel Bar
After the convention center locks its doors, the Comic-Con party usually moves to the nearby hotels. If you spend enough time around the bars there, you're likely to see various comic creators, actors, and filmmakers make an appearance as they wander -- and occasionally stagger -- from one party to the next. Want a chance to buy your favorite actor or artist a drink? This is where it can happen.
5. Get a picture taken with someone in costume
Sure, Comic-Con is packed with cool movie and comics stuff, but it's also the event for the costume-savvy masses to show off what they can do. You can go the easy route and snag a photo with a Stormtrooper or a Slave Leia just about any day, but if you really want to make things memorable, track down something a little more obscure. You won't have to look very far.
6. Check out the Masquerade
While this isn't an annual necessity, it's worth it to check out Saturday's Masquerade event at least once, because it gathers the best of the weekend's costumes all in one place. Once you get past the requisite fat Spider-Man and cardboard Transformers, you'll see some outfits that rival major studios' best costumes and creature effects.
7. Buy something new in Artist Alley
It's no secret that Comic-Con has become less and less about comics as the years go by, but you can still find lots of hidden treasures from the comics world if you know where to look. At some point during the show, take a stroll through Artist Alley and pick up a book that catches your eye. It's a good way to discover up-and-coming creators and their stories before they become the next blockbuster movie. After all, there's nothing quite like being able to say, "Oh, you just started reading that? I picked up a copy of it at Comic-Con a few years ago."
8. Connect a face with a name
Not only does Comic-Con attract all of the big names in Hollywood and the comics industry, but it also serves as a melting pot for all of the journalists, podcasters, bloggers, and everyone else with an interest in geekery. Over the years, I've met a lot of readers and fellow journalists in person for the very first time during Comic-Con, and the show has provided an annual reunion of sorts. If you get the chance, introduce yourself to the people whose work you follow. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
9. Attend an industry party
On any given night during Comic-Con, countless parties are happening around the city, sponsored by companies of all sizes and bank accounts. Some of them are invite-only and some are open to the public, but no matter where you end up, there's usually a good time to be had among like-minded people. If you can wrangle an invite to some of the higher-profile parties, you might find yourself sipping drinks next to an Oscar winner -- which always makes for a fun story.
10. Have a meal at the Top Gun bar
Last but not least, after you've had a bite to eat at Tin Fish, try to drop by one of the other local dining landmarks before you leave town. Kansas City BBQ is located just down the street from the convention center, and makes no secret of the fact that it's the place where Tom Cruise and the other Top Gun flyboys crooned to Kelly McGillis in that famous scene. It's hard to miss, and like Tin Fish, it's another great people-watching spot.
So, there you have it: ten things everyone who attends Comic-Con should do at some point during the show. When it comes to Comic-Con, everyone has their own traditions, so if yours isn't listed here, leave a comment with your must-have experiences for the complete Comic-Con. I'd love to know about them!