Comic-Con Survival Guide

Listen up, nubes: This may sound like something of an oxymoron, but if you want to get the maximum amount of fun out of the Comic-Con, you're going to have to do some work. First and most important, you must get there early, if you expect to get in at all. Plan on parking in the convention center itself? Then plan on being there two and a half hours before doors open at 10 a.m. Plan on parking anywhere else within reasonable walking distance? Get there by 9 a.m. San Diego is not renowned for its parking space, although you should be able to find street parking on Sunday only.

If you didn't preregister online, expect to wait in line. For quite a while. Yes, even if you're press. If you did everything right in advance, don't miss out on preview night (Wednesday, July 25), which gives you first crack at all the dealer booths, though not all merchandise will be available yet: Some exclusive goodies are withheld till Thursday. If you're looking to shop for any toys besides exclusives, Wednesday is the best night to get the job done because dealers run out of the more popular items—but be sure to compare prices first for the best deal. Sunday is also a good day because dealers looking to unload their stock will sometimes mark it down.

If you didn't preregister and don't have a ticket, don't bother showing up at all on Saturday. You won't get in. Period.

Though it's tough to stereotype comic-book fans with any single label nowadays, it is safe to say that Comic-Con may be as close as many of these fans ever come to running a marathon—and should be treated as such. Let's re-emphasize: The convention floor is nearly half a mile long, and you're going to be walking back and forth across it multiple times, beginning at an hour at which you're probably not used to even being awake. Eat breakfast, even if you don't usually. It doesn't hurt to pack a few healthy snacks (fruit or vegetables, say) to supplement the abundant crap you will undoubtedly consume later on. Bring comfortable shoes (your humble scribe made the mistake one year of donning brand-new combat boots and came away thoroughly de-feet-ed). Don't expect to sleep much.

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Wear sunblock, too. Though the convention itself takes place completely indoors, the food offered for sale within the building is overpriced and disgusting. You'll want to venture to the nearby Gaslamp District or the food court at the Horton Plaza mall (both within walking distance) for lunch, and it'll usually be in the blazing sun. It only takes an hour to sizzle your skin in a nasty way. Also: Drink water.

A decent lunch isn't too hard to come by, but dinner is whole different story. Every affordable restaurant in San Diego fills up almost immediately after the exhibit hall closes at 7 p.m. Unless you make a reservation, you're gonna be stuck with either a pricier venue than the masses can afford, or the good ol' mall food court (best bet there: Boston & Maine Fish Co., which does a mean seafood lasagna).

You can't get alcohol at the Con, except on Saturday night, when the upstairs pavilion transforms into a dance club, with cash bar and free nachos. If you need a beer or a cocktail before then, there are two good bars in the Marriott directly next door—one an Irish pub, the other a spacious lobby lounge. It's always fun to mingle therein with confused civilians who have no idea why guys in Stormtrooper outfits are roaming the streets outside.

Read our Comic-Con preview here.

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