My plans for Comic Con are slowly falling into place. This may be the first year I actually do the event ‘right,’ whatever that means.
I’ve always counted on my friends for help at the Con, and they have always come through — whether it was where to grab a decent meal to knowing what events are worth the crowds. I know some quality nerds.
My main crutch in all things Comic Con has been my good friend Randy Jennings of The Arnold Fans fame. This dude knows how to make the most of the pop culture behemoth that is Comic Con.To help out for this year’s event I once again turned to Rando for advice.
Here’s Randy Jennings with his Comic Con Survival Guide.
ETDC: Comic Con is only two months away. How far out do you start to make your arrangements?
RJ: For those of us who’ve been to SDCC, we know this is not something for people to make last minute arrangements. Our credentials for our badges and our hotel reservations are all planned out many, many months before the Con. If you think you can plan this a few days in advance and book a room at the last minute or get tickets on site, you’re hosed. Be prepared and be organized. Comic Con is coming and the better prepared you are, the more you’ll get the most out of your experience.
I’m guessing that getting your badge situation together is priority, right? What’s that process like for you as a professional?
Right. I did have a bit of a scare at first but everything worked out and I’m good to go. Usually I get a professional badge but since last year I switched to a press badge. The bad thing about the press badge is that we can’t get our friends and family on the guest list as we could with a professional badge.
The good thing about the press badge, however, is that we can interview the celebs in round table junkets (as long as the studios approve us) and we get to walk right up to the very front of the packed Hall H to stand in the press pit for a great view and photo opportunities. Getting the press pass is easy enough if you have an entertainment website and if you supply SDCC with the proper materials in time. But the cut-off for registration is around February. There’s no last minute onsite registration.
Your wife attends with you, but she doesn’t bother with the convention at all. How do manage to do what you’re in town for and also make sure your wife isn’t bored out of her skull?
I’m always amazed that she can manage to stay entertained by herself. Sometimes other wives will take a break from the con and do things with her but she loves San Diego and all that it has to offer: Sea World, tours, people-watching, Balboa Park… and there are even a lot of free off-site Comic Con events. The Con is not her thing.
Actually, she would be into a lot of those panels (Dexter, True Blood, Walking Dead) and activities but there’s way too many people for her. I would feel bad for her if she was having a horrible time but she manages to have a blast even if she’s on her own. After the Con shuts down at 7pm, we ALL get together for some great Gaslamp nightlife.
How many years have you been going down for the big event? What was the first year like? Have you got yourself a routine?
I’m starting to lose track. I want to say this might be my 7th but it could be my 8th. Times have sure changed from my first experience. When I first went, I had no idea what to expect and which celebs would be there and what exclusive toys were offered. I just followed my Comic Con program guide while hopping from one panel to the next with the greatest of ease.
Now, 7 or 8 years later, Con attendees are not as fortunate to catch all the panels they want. Sometimes people in the packed Ballroom 20 camp out the entire day there and when fans don’t leave, new people can’t come in to catch their most anticipated event. So if there’s something you have to see, you might seriously consider getting in line at 3 or 4am for a Ballroom 20 or Hall H panel.
These days I tend to stick more to the showroom floor. That’s where all the action is and unless it’s a Schwarzenegger panel, nothing is worth having me wake up at 3am for a panel that I can watch on Youtube a few days later.
What items can you not do without during your visit to Comic Con? What’s in The Arnold Fans’ Comic Con survival pack?
It depends on which celebrities are going to be there. For instance, if an actor from Conan the Barbarian, like James Earl Jones or Max Von Sydow was going to be signing, I’d bring my Conan sword to have it autographed. If a Linda Hamilton is showing, I might bring a Terminator prop or if Sinbad is there, you bet your sweet ass that a Turboman doll will make the trip with me.
Then of course you have to bring the essentials: your must-see panel and entertainment schedule, a list of when and where your favorite celebs will be making an appearance, a list of the toys you need for yourself and for your friends, a good camera, my audio recorder and a few cigars. Exactly.
You are a dedicated Con goer and you spend a lot of time at the panels. What do you like about the panels? Is it worth the hours and hours of waiting in line to see the cast of Twilight?
The bigger panels are no longer worth the current wait times. I suggest going to the panels for the pilots of a new TV show (fewer crowds and the cast shows up for what could be one of your favorite new series). You can also have bragging rights that you were at the FIRST panel for that series. But I did have to suffer through the lines of a Twilight crowd because shortly after Team Edward was Team Arnold and Sly.
The Expendables 2 panel last year was my highlight of the whole year because of the full Arnold experience. It was an extra bonus that I got to ask Arnold about King Conan while I was dressed as Conan before he received Comic Con’s InkPot award. That was my first and probably only time I wore a costume to this event. I wore it also there because I had arranged a group photo of costumed Arnold fans to be taken at the Con.
You can see us all together on the cover of my book Arnold’s Army: A Schwarzenegger Uprising.
What are the big movies and TV shows you’re looking forward to? Any panels, interviews, or appearances got you excited?
Sadly the official panel schedules and the autograph list will not get released until 2 or 3 weeks prior to the Con. As an Arnold fan, I can only hope there will be panels for Arnold and Sly’s Escape Plan, which comes out only 2 months after SDCC.
Maybe Arnold’s movie Ten, now retitled Sabotage, might get some love there too. Both films should have promos available there by the studio (hats, buttons, posters, shirts and so on). I usually pick up extras to give out as prizes to the Arnold community of TheArnoldFans.com.
With all of the panels and interviews you set up, how do you schedule your time down there? What’s your priority?
Priority one is anything that relates to Schwarzenegger. However I can help promote Arnold’s projects to his fans is my main mission. But I’m not just there for the Arnold thrills; i’m into a lot of other geeky things like Star Wars, Transformers, seeing the sexy cosplay girls, Adrianne Curry sightings, watching the Zombie Walk, collecting a few toys and finding some beer time with my friends.
I do somewhat follow my customized schedule but that can all change when you’re in the showroom and all new cast signings are suddenly announced at the last minute.
A few years ago when Tron: Legacy came out, Disney turned an empty storefront into Flynn’s Arcade and the only way to get in was with a ticket that you’d get from a random person on the street. It was amazing, but I’m sure tons of people had no idea it was even there. In fact, I wouldn’t have known about it if you hadn’t told me. Any tips for finding out about these sort of special events?
Social media. Twitter, facebook and up-to-the-minute announcements from your Comic Con App will come in very handy. Most of the booths inside the showroom will have daily updates on schedules, promos, activities and signings too. Believe it or not, this will be my first year there with a smart phone so my iPhone is going to really help out this time. I’m getting better at this every year.
The culture at Comic Con is about collectables and fandom, which I know are right up your alley. Any toys or other collectibles you just have to get on this trip?
So far, for the ones that have been announced, the best one appears to be an Adam West Batman figure with retro dance packaging and a NECA Jason figure based on a 1980s video game. The NECA booth will also have an exclusive Predator figure and we’re hoping some new Dutch and Terminator figures will be revealed there too.
You are one of the more ballsy people I know when it comes to approaching celebrities. It’s awesome actually. I’ve seen you stop mid-conversation to cross the street to ask some random actor in a cancelled show for a photo. Do you have any personal rules for when you see celebrities strolling through town? Any tips for the inevitable celebrity sighting?
It’s hard to take our eyes off of the hard-core costumed fans and concentrate on celebrities. The random people-watching can be distracting from you if your mission is to meet some stars. But if you concentrate and keep your eyes open, you’ll actually be amazed as to how many faces you’ll recognize walking around the Gaslamp District. When the show is over, the celebs want to come out and party too. The A-listers will stick to their private invite-only parties but there are plenty of B and C-listers standing on the street corners, buying beers and sitting at outdoor restaurant tables. And yes, Adrianne Curry is spotted everywhere in her sexy/geeky outfits. Fantastic.
My first few times at Comic Con I aimlessly wandered around the convention center and nearby bars, not really knowing what to do. It was overwhelming. I think I’m getting it down now, years later. What sort of tips do you have for first time attendees?
Just be prepared to be disappointed by lines and crowds. If that bothers you, don’t come. Expect not to get into 50% of the panels you’re looking forward to. The exclusive toys normally don’t sell out until Saturday or Sunday and sometimes they don’t sellout at all and will just be available later online. Therefor it’s not worth spending several hours in line there for a toy. Sunday is rather slow at the Con so you can wait until then to get your exclusives or haggle with toy and comic dealers. Be warned that the Hallmark exclusive ornaments tend to sell out within the first couple of days.
The convention is epic at five days long, with the first day being a preview day for special passes. Have you attended a preview day at Comic Con before?
I’ve never missed it. It’s only open on the first night for roughly five hours and originally it was a slow-paced evening with hardly any crowds. Unfortunately, Preview Night now is the second busiest day (next to Saturday). People have to wait a full year for SDCC and they want in those doors the second it’s open on preview night. There are no exclusives for this night, it’s just a bonus evening to extend the Con.
I’ve gone for three out of the five days and by Sunday I’m burnt. How do you keep your energy up for the full ride? By Sunday is there anything left that you haven’t seen or done?
I do so much on Wednesday through Saturday with interviews, off-site events, after-parties and so on that I have to miss out on a lot of the showroom floor. There’s normally weak panels on Sunday so this is the perfect day to walk down all the isles in the showroom that you missed before. It’s a good day to pick up a discounted toy, some last minute free promos, and take pictures at the booths (like when I posed with some Walking Dead zombies). But yes, I’m exhausted too by Sunday and I’m out of there usually by noon.
Now for the most important question – what’s your pick for best place to get a beer during Comic Con?
After-parties! Sometimes they are free to get into with an open bar! Look for girls on the street corners handing out After-party flyers! If you miss out on these, there are several places across the street at the Gaslamp District including Dick’s Restaurant, the bar above it, and some Irish Pubs down a little further. But I never know the name of these places because they often convert their establishment into a custom-themed hangout for an upcoming movie.
For example, The Hard Rock will become the Mos Eisley (Star Wars cantina), Togos will be “The Batcave” and let’s all hope that in 2013, Hooters will become “The Escape Plan Saloon”!
Big thanks to Randy for playing along. Be sure to check out his site The Arnold Fans to get in on the Schwarzenegger love fest that has been going for over a decade now.