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Comic-Con 2013: Advice from four experts

Having been born and raised in San Diego County has its advantages. During Comic-Con, I stayed with my mother and rode the trolley in every day. I met people who were volunteering for Comic-Con and re-connected with old friends.

One of my friends, Javier Velasco, remembers when you could just on a whim attend SDCC. There were no lines and the celebrities were there, but being a geek or nerd wasn't something that American culture embraced. He began volunteering and currently is the staff member who coordinates the volunteers in the How-to room. From his perspective, the best way to get into Comic-Con is volunteer.

Another staff member, Karen Rice, 60, works with problem tickets. I met her on the trolley Wednesday afternoon as I was heading to the Psych event line. She began volunteering when one of the two biggest toy makers asked for assistance in their area. As someone who started reading when she was four, she developed a love for certain writers and when she heard that the late Ray Bradbury was always at SDCC, she said yes. "Then," she writes in an email, "I discovered the love and quirky side of writers and those who followed what they put to print of film."

Having been with Comic-Con so long, she commented, "The biggest change was families wanting to stick together or coming together while at Comic-Con. Cousins and siblings from all over the world scrape together all their money."

SDCC is meant to be family-friendly. Rice revealed for each panel behind each person's name card is a reminder for panelists "to watch what they are saying because there are fans under 18 participating in the audience."

Yet in the crush, Comic-Con badges can be stolen or lost. Rice recommends some safety precautions below.

Also on the trolley later in the week was Santiago Picazo, a 21-year-old currently residing in Tijuana. He started volunteering six years ago and became a regular staff member. He's been working Hall H for three years. If getting into Hall H is a challenge, working there is as well.

There are rules for lining up.

My old friend Sheldon Wilson told me he was in line only 1 hour and 20 minutes on Thursday. He stated via email he got in line was 20 minutes early for the "Enders Game" panel which started at 4 p.m., but missed it and got into Hall H in time to see the panel for "The Zero Theorem" which started at 5pm.

Wilson wrote, "The longest I have to wait in line for Hall H was 2 1/2 hours (but my partner in crime had gotten in line an hour earlier)." His worst experience was sitting with his view of the stage obstructed by a column so he actually couldn't see the people on stage. His best moment in Hall H was when he saw a 20-minute preview of "Avatar."

"To get into Hall H on a Friday or Saturday now seems to require about a six-hour wait (I heard reports of a person who had waited nine hours to try to get into a panel he wanted to see and didn't make it in time)," Wilson commented. On Sunday, he was able to walk in on the last part of the "Sons of Anarchy" panel and "snag a T-shirt and keychain."

The Hall H experience is hard on the staff members as well. Picazo commented, "most days we get there at around 8, sometimes later, sometimes earlier depending on when the room is opening up for a load in…We usually leave after the room has closed to some days we go on to 8pm or 9pm or 5pm on Sunday, so the shifts are pretty long any day." Things are so busy, Picazo told me that SDCC brings in food for their Hall H staff members.

Last year, things got really crazy and Picazo recalled "The room was so full we had issues helping people find seats and the hallways got busy and at the same time I had to deal with problems with people who tried to line up for questions too early or that got mad that they didn't get to ask their question. We had a change in the arrangement of disabled seating and that caused an issue all on its own. And one attendee was very rude when he got told more than once he had to find a seat and couldn't just stand around. It was all of that and more combined that led to me being so stressed I just had to find a place to sit down and have some peace and quiet before i could work again."

Yet what Picazo loves is the moments when you can feel the excitment in the atmosphere of the room. Every year has its highlights. This year it was the announcements for movies like Batman and Superman together or "Avengers 2", or Tom Hiddleston showing up in full Loki costume and in character to present the "Thor" trailer.

The staff wants to help you so Picazo advises, "Keep in mind how busy your panel is going to be, if it's one of the big ones, odds are most people inside the hall or in line in front of you want to get there too and there is not much else but making sure you get in line early that you can do to guarantee a spot in it. But if it's the case your panel follows a big panel, it's also likely a lot of people will leave after having seen the panel they wanted and odds are better for you to get in."

According to Rice, "If you don't have a badges for all four days or a four-day pass but come early to pick up your badge and cover, you do not have to show up at 8:30 a.m. to get your lanyard and bag on the day of your purchased badge. If you want to stand in line to see your favorite panel that morning, show your badge (receipt) and then later come by to pick them up."

Rice also advises to take time-outs. If you have children, there's a Children's Museum. There are other things in and around San Diego's Gaslamp District. Rice also noted that local businesses are also getting involved and although it is advertising, it also adds to the goodwill. I have to give a shout-out to Fox, CinemaNow and Snapdragon (Qualcomm) for their Power Up! Cafe for reporters where we could get refreshment and recharge our devices while using free wifi.

Wilson pointed out the Samsung Galaxy Experience on Sixth Street. You didn't have to be a Comic-Con badge holder. You waited in one line to get in for an activity where you'd use a Samsung product, then you get your ticket stamped. From there, you went into a line where you waited to make a free T-shirt with a design of your choosing. While waiting for the T-shirt to print up (Mine of Dogoda and his of Godzilla), we went ahead and did other activities like having buttons made from photographs or having photographs taken of us as superheroes flying in front of a screen with clouds and a fan blowing our borrowed capes. There was also a bar (for those over the legal age) and cupcakes.

Oddly, no Samsung Galaxy cell phones were being sold or I would have bought one. I was seduced on Samsung on a Sunday afternoon. More seriously, this fantastic foursome had recommendations for the complete SDCC experience.

Suggestions for Comic-Con:

  1. Get there very, very early. If the panel is one of the big ones, odds are many people inside the hall or in line in front of you want to get there too.
  2. If you plan to wait for Hall H or Ballroom 20, bring sunscreen.
  3. Bring water and snacks
  4. Use deodorant and breath mints.
  5. Bring hand sanitizer so you don't catch Con-flu.
  6. Wear comfortable shoes.
  7. Use the exhibit hall map and if you're going somewhere specific, get out of the exhibit hall, move along the outside and re-enter when you get to the door closest to the booth you want to visit.
  8. Bring a hard case poster holder so your freebies and paid-for posters don't get crushed.
  9. Put your cell phone on loud and vibrate.
  10. Bring your cell phone charger.
  11. When you receive your badge, on the clear plastic badge holders there are two slots punched out. The bottom one is small and round. Slip the metal hook of your lanyard through that and then the U-shaped of the back of your metal pin inside the plastic. This will keep your badge from being pulled off. Do not just pin it on.
  12. For children's badges, when you get the paper badge, the second half has a contact phone number. Tear the two apart so that you can turn the contact information to the inside facing the back of the child's badge so that strangers standing in line cannot see the information.
  13. For children under 12, bring an extra lanyard (because they won't be provided) until you can get a freebie or purchase one.
  14. Hold hands with your child when crossing the street in front of the Convention Center.
  15. Give yourself time-outs. Try an event outside of the convention center. Walking around the area, you can also pick up invitations to parties or free screenings.

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