Wait, What IS Comic-Con? All Your Questions About the Pop Culture Convention Answered!

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Jul. 17 2013, Published 7:56 p.m. ET

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Comic-Con is here!

For those of you not already in line outside Hall H, I am here to explain exactly what is happening this weekend. While the tweets will be tweeted and you’ll be unable to escape the words Comic-Con or the hashtag #SDCC for the next 5 days (or more, but we’ll get to that), here’s what’s exactly going down.

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Comic-Con is an annual convention in San Diego, California that has taken place for over 40 years and somehow continues to grow each and every year. It is when all the nerds descend upon the bright, sunny city to express their fandom for all things geek. From movies to TV shows to comic books to collectible action figures, it’s all here. And there’s a lot of it.

It should be noted at this point that words like "nerd" or "geek" are not only terms of endearment but words I very much identify myself as and will be using frequently in this article. Now that we've gotten that out of the way...

San Diego Convention Center
Source: San Diego Convention Center

The majority of the action happens in the San Diego Convention Center but it has now overflowed to other hotels and locations in downtown San Diego since over 150,000 people are there to revel in all things pop culture.

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But let’s back it up, because months of planning and preparation have gone towards this one glorious weekend.

Passes for the event went on sale in February and sold out in 90 minutes, and not without the website causing some frustration. Same thing a month later in March when the hotel rooms went on sale. It's as organized as a massive event like this can be, but is also not without it's flaws.

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As far as passes go, you can purchase a 4-day pass which gets you in the Convention Center from tonight (Wednesday night aka Preview Night) where you get a first look at all the goodies exhibitors have to offer, all the way through Sunday. You can also buy daily passes for each day if you know you just want to go for the day on Saturday, for example. The passes get you in the door of the convention center, maybe some freebies that are being handed out and sometimes a discount at local businesses.

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Comic-Con Exhibit Floor
Source: Comic-Con Exhibit Floor

The final schedule of Comic-Con panels and events is released on their website about 2 weeks before it all goes down and that’s when everyone starts to put together their plan of attack. Planning out your SDCC experience is nothing short of a true science, and we'll get to that.

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So what do attendees need to bring with them? Well their trusty badge of course. Sneakers are highly recommended. I mean, your feet will still be aching after days of standing and strolling around no matter what at least help 'em out and wear sneakers. And while food and drinks are available in the convention center as well as at nearby restaurants, I recommend having some snacks handy. Granola bars, things that are quick and easy to access and eat. Not the place for that meatball sandwich, buddy. Also: hand sanitizer. Like, the big size. Trust me. And a camera! There are photo-worthy moments popping up around you every second!

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Comic-Con costumes
Source: Comic-Con costumes

Now Thursday is when it really all kicks off. If you're following along with the fun from home, you'll start to see the news and pictures start to roll in—rapidly—all the way through the weekend. The panels start bright and early (and people start lining up even earlier than that!). For example when Twilight was still a thing, their panel would be first thing on Thursday morning but the passionate fans would spend several nights camping out leading up to that event in order to guarantee seats inside.

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Oh yeah, about that!

The San Diego Convention Center is used to holding A LOT of people in side it. There are rooms that hold a handful of people, a hundred people, and all the way up to 6,500 people in Hall H. That’s where are the biggest TV shows and movies hold their panels to fit in as many fans as possible. And don't worry there are several screens around the room so even if you aren't within arm's length of your favorite superheroes or zombies, you'll still get a good view.

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Sadly it’s not as simple as strolling into Hall H or Ballroom 20 (the second biggest room) or even some of the smaller rooms. Depending on popularity, people will line up for hours and hours. And the real kicker? It’s first come first served and the room doesn’t empty after panels. So you could plop down in a room first thing in the morning and sit there all day! And as long as your buttcheeks are on that chair, no other buttcheecks are allowed in the room. Yes, there are bathroom passes available that hold your space for you while you run to the loo. I actually highly recommend visiting the bathroom in the convention center at least once to see people adjusting their makeup, hair, and/or variation of a costume: spandex, chaps, capes, swords, it's all there.

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Comic-Con costumes
Source: Comic-Con costumes

Again, this is where the meticulous planning comes in. You not only have to figure out what panels you MUST see, but you have to factor in waiting in line time. For some of the bigger names and events, it's hours of weaving in and out of the ropes in hope of making it inside the room for a glimpse. I will say, there is nothing as exciting as seeing a hunky hero or a sexy vampire in person! But just know you will be missing some panels you want to see because you're stuck waiting in line for one you want to see even more.

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Speaking of heroes and vamps, one of the most fun parts of the whole experience is walking around the hallways or the exhibition hall to see what people have dressed up (or down) as. Some characters you’ll recognize. Some you won’t. Some aren’t really a character. Some people aren’t really wearing a costume! But it’s all interesting. Plus, while celebs and panelists aren't usually freely roaming around, your favorite stars have been known to wear a disguise in order to make it around the floor without getting mobbed. One year Justin Timberlake and a reporter dressed up as Bert and Ernie, so be careful who you're bumping into!

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Lea Palmieri and Danielle Fishel at Comic-Con
Source: Oh hey, it's me and Danielle Fishel at Comic-Con in 2011!

Also: no pressure on the costume front. It's a safe and fun place for many people to be their favorite character for the day and celebrate Halloween more than once a year, but you'll fit right in with your jeans and a T-shirt if that's more your style.

So let’s say you’ve made it into the panel for your favorite TV show or hot new Marvel movie, what will you get? You’ll get to see probably most of the cast and creators on stage discussing what you'll be seeing soon on the new season or the big screen, answering questions from the audience and other SDCC exclusives. The actors have been known to dress up in costumes, put together a dance or silly sketch for the crowd and show never-before-seen clips, trailer or even bloopers.

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But not all the fun is happening inside the Convention Center. Sites such as Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist and Zac Levi’s Nerd Machine have set up locations in downtown San Diego to conduct their own nerd-themed programming featuring panels, comedy shows, concerts and more.

Downtown San Diego
Source: Downtown San Diego

And just because the sun sets doesn’t mean the day is over. Every movie studio, TV channel, magazine, website and brand throws a party at some of the poshest places in the city. While a lot of these are invite-only (and swarming with celebs!), Con attendees are no strangers to the downtown scene for food, drinks and nerd gatherings.

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Bottom line? Everyone leaves Comic-Con with these 4 things: amazing memories, new friends, toys (or comic books or t-shirts or even just some random freebies) and the flu. I believe the medical term is “nerd flu” and it is when the combination of exhaustion plus evil germs battle your immune system. Use your sick time in bed to catch up on those new comic books you bought! Congratulations, you have completed your very first Comic-Con!

Are you going to Comic-Con? What are you excited about seeing? Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter @OKMagazine.


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