There are not a lot of events in life that I can say I’ve been doing with any sort of routine for thirteen years. I just started seeing a dentist on any sort of schedule. I’ve only been going to Disneyland with any regularity for about five years, but for Ryan Vera — he’s been flying down to San Diego for Comic Con since 1996.
I met Ryan years ago when we were both working in the art department of a educational software company. We would all do a monthly run to the local comic shop where Ryan introduced me to comic books like Powers and the awesomeness that is Brian Michael Bendis‘ run of Daredevil with Alex Maleev.
When the company we worked for was sold and we all scattered around, I went into audio production and Ryan went into doing coloring for comic books, most notably for Noble Causes, a comic put out by Image Comics, the home of Spawn and The Walking Dead.
His choice was probably a lot cooler than mine.
Seeing as how Ryan is a veteran attendee in the world of Comic Con, I thought I’d squeeze out as much of his thirteen years of Comic Con knowledge as I could.
ETDC: Comic Con is only two months away. How far out do you start you make your arrangements?
RV: The plans begin just about the last day of the previous Comic-Con, a year in advance. Then it is all about registering as soon as you can for a badge and hotel. As far as flights go, I usually wait to book a few months out when I can finalize my travel plans.
I’m guessing that getting your badge situation together is priority, right? What’s that process like for you? Do you go as a professional?
Yes, I go as a professional. I used to work at an educational software company, two in fact, that I could use to qualify for a badge, then later I started doing freelance comic work as a colorist.
What’s nice about going as a professional is once you are set up they contact you about the convention and you can re-register pretty easily. So the process is easy for me now. Occasionally I have to verify my status as a pro which just means sending in a copy of a recent credit on a book I have worked on.
How many years have you been going down for the big event? Have you got yourself a routine?
At this point it is easier to count the times I haven’t gone more than the times I have. Since 1996 I have gone every year but 2, so something like 13-14 times. I have been able to develop some routines down to what to pack and how to get around easily.
What items can you not do without during your visit to Comic Con?
Comfortable shoes are a must. The amount of walking around through the convention center and around downtown to and from the convention center to the hotel and standing in lines. In fact, I usually pack at least 2 pairs of shoes so I can switch off and try to save my feet some wear and tear. Also if you plan on buying something bring an extra empty suitcase or bag to pack with loot for the trip home.
You are a dedicated Con attendee. I think you’ve been going longer than anyone I know. Do you bother with any of the panels? I used to do one or two, but I totally phased it out of my Comic Con experience. Do you bother waiting hours to see the cast of Thor or The Hobbit? Is it worth the effort?
Back when I first started going you could get into any panel pretty easily with little to no wait. Now it might be an all day experience. I still go to panels but I pick and choose the ones to go to that won’t ruin a whole day by standing in line.
For me it is not worth it to have to camp out outside in line over night or get up at dawn and wait 5 hours for a one hour panel. I usually make a list of things I would like to see and then I check out the line beforehand to see if it is a possibility. If the line is around the block it’s onto plan B, if it looks like something I can get into in a reasonable amount of time, I will wait.
Last year I saw quite a few movie and TV panels: Expendables 2, Elysium, Total Recall, Doctor Who, etc. and didn’t have to wait too long to get into any of them.
A common strategy is to get into line to get into one of the big rooms Hall H or Ballroom 20, a couple hours in advance of when a panel you want to see will be and just sit in the room until you see the panel you want.
Wow. I didn’t even bother with the panels last year, but would have loved to see the Doctor Who panel. I was scared off by the size of the wait time for Twilight panels.
Each year, the studios trot out their big films, TV shows, and video games. Anything got you excited? Panels or appearances on your ‘Must See’ list? Do you even bother doing any research to find out what’s going on each year?
I usually don’t make a must see list until the final programming schedule comes out, about a week before the con begins. I do a little research but not too much. If there is going to be a big movie coming out anytime after or during the convention it is a pretty good bet they will be represented.
I know you’ve worked on a few comic books. Is Comic Con business or pleasure for you? Do you use the Con to network or meet potential work?
Since I have a full time job that doesn’t involve comics, I don’t go down to San Diego looking for work anymore. I have got the chance to meet a few of the people that I have worked with while I have gone, which has been fun.
Nowadays a lot of comic stuff is done over the internet, so when you work with people you don’t see or talk with them, just trade emails or messages. I have been able to meet a couple of the people I have done work for and with and put a face to the name.
Yeah, that seems to be one of the benefits of Comic Con — you actually get to meet and talk with the artists.
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. Any tips for finding out about these sort of special events?
Yeah, that was amazing especially since I have fond memories of the set from the original movie. Biggest tips for finding about events is to keep a look out and your eyes open for any information you can from the dealer room and newsletters.
Also if you can keep a network of fellow convention goers in contact through text messages and email that may help . I have gone to everything from free movie showings to catered parties because someone I know found out about it and let me know.
I know you’re into keeping up with the new comics that come out. Anything that you’re looking forward to buy while you’re down there? Is there any advantage to buying toys or comics at Comic Con as opposed to a local shop or online?
My main thing when I am buying is looking for deals on trade paperbacks or any other new comics I may not have got around to buying yet. You can buy most things for cover price these days online without leaving the house.
So I look for deals where I can buy for less than cover prices. Most dealers offer anywhere from 10-25+ percent off comics and trades, plus the more you look around in the dealer room the better the deal you may be able to discover.
A good idea would be to make a note of what price one dealer is selling for and write down there booth number so you can go back to it later. One year I saved 5 bucks on a comic book I wanted to buy because I walked one row over and found a better deal.
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 have been to preview night a few times in the past, but lately I have been forgoing preview night and just coming in to town early on the first day of the convention, Thursday.
A couple reasons for this; to save on a hotel room night, and also I like to leave town on Monday instead of Sunday. If you fly out Sunday afternoon or night you wind up paying more than a Monday flight and you get to attend the convention on the last day without having to rush back. If you are someone who goes for exclusive merchandise then preview night is a good idea.
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?
Sunday is the best day for deals in the dealer room because many of the dealers don’t want to pack up all their stuff to take back. Of course the most popular items won’t still be there by Sunday but if you can hold off on buying till that day you can find some good deals.
As far keeping the energy up — pace yourself, the convention is a marathon not a sprint. If you spend all your energy and money on the first few days you won’t have anything left by the weekend.
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?
Main thing is decide what is important for you to see or do while you are there and plan to do that. For example, if you have to see the Game of Thrones panel do everything to prepare for that event, camp out hours early, bring snacks, refreshments whatever it will take to go to that panel.
Afterwards you can always do other things but you will have accomplished your main goal and everything after that can be extra. Basically stay focused, don’t try to do too much and be everywhere at once. What happens when you do that is you wind up missing out on most of the things you really wanted to see or do.
Now for the most important question – what’s your pick for best place to get a beer during Comic Con?
I like to go to Karl Strauss Brewery. It’s a micro brewery and restaurant they have downtown in San Diego. It’s not in the Gas Lamp District but it is still close enough to the convention center it can be a nice quick walk. Otherwise grab a beer at the Tin Fish in the gas lamp right across from the convention center.
Check out the other Comic Con Survival Guides in this series —