Whether you’re a Hall H Viking or a newbie, San Diego Comic-Con is a marathon of panels, signings, meetings, and sightings—advance planning is essential to survival. New graphic novel and manga imprints at major trade houses and indies have proliferated in response to more and more booksellers and librarians adding comics to their shelves. That means first-time badgeholders, often new to publishing—or fresh to the oddities of comics publishing, at least—can easily find themselves lost in the fray at SDCC. If you’re lucky enough to have snagged a ticket—or your company is sending you for the first time—here are a few tips from the vets.

Wear comfortable shoes and drink lots of water. Okay, you knew this, but never forget. As with any sizable convention, it’s not the place to debut new Manolo Blahniks. The convention center itself is more than half a mile long, and there are events spread throughout downtown San Diego—you’ll be walking four-to-eight miles a day, with trekking to schmooze at parties in the Gaslamp Quarter and beyond. Keep an eye out for details on the annual Comic Book Legal Defense Fund fete and fundraiser, known to gather on a hotel rooftop, for some great networking and free speech advocacy with a view.

Pack the snacks. Convention center food is overpriced and limited, and the lines are long. SDCC vets love stocking up on the basics at the nearby Ralphs when they arrive. Between racing to see a once-in-a-lifetime panel (speaking of comics stars, Daniel Clowes and Dan Santat are both on the 2024 special guest list) and dashing back to your booth for a meeting, you won’t find much time for a hearty lunch.

Get the lay of the land. Check out the exhibitors list ahead of time to map out where you want go. And CCI executive director Fae Desmond advises that groups set a meeting place: “You should have a plan, because you’re going to get separated.”

You can never plan too early. Industry people’s schedules fill up quickly. If you need to set up a business meeting at the con, consider reaching out in June before everyone’s agenda is locked, suggests Jeff Mariotte, a novelist who has worked at many an SDCC booth.

FOMO is real. With so much to do, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but be realistic. “Don’t fall into the FOMO trap,” says comics industry veteran Ted Adams, cofounder of IDW and Clover Press. He advises a Zen of Comic-Con maintenance approach: “Don’t spend your time chasing after exclusives. Try to just enjoy the experience.”

Less is more. SDCC definitely offers ample spectacle, but focus on a few must-dos, like seeing a reclusive creator in a rare appearance or attending the Eisner Awards ceremony for the first time. “I always encourage people to find one or two things they’re really excited about and carve out that time,” Adams says.

Be flexible. There will be moments of triumph and tragedy. “Be open for something unexpected but exciting to happen, but also be prepared for something to go terribly wrong,” says Jenni Marchisotto, co-owner of the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore. “Look out for things unexpected, amazing, and cool.”

Be prepared to wait. If you’re in it for freebies or to buy con-exclusive merchandise, be prepared to stand in line a long time—or even camp out. Keep up-to-date on the line-up schedules on the con website or the San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog.

Pizza is your friend. Comic-Con is known for late nights, and if you need a snack before crashing, “Pizza on Fifth is one of the places you can get food after all the bars close,” says Mathias Lewis, owner of local comics shop Knowhere. “If you’re waiting all night in line, that’s going to be your savior.”

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