Saturday, August 2, 2014



An automaton recently jaunted
To a con, where he hoped to be vaunted.
Though his “Cosplay” was spiffy
The reception was iffy.
He just wasn’t the droid that they wanted.

I post this by request, as I’ve had a few folks ask me to write about my recent experience at Comic-Con. Here goes. I’m not kidding when I say I may regret doing this.…

I signed up for the Kessel run,
but pulled a muscle so I never did it.

This summer’s Comic-Con was the fourth I’ve attended. And it was the first one I went to that didn’t totally burn me out. It was, in fact, great. I think my wife and I are finally figuring out how to do it.

Yes, we always enjoyed catching up on the latest pop culture stuff, and yes we always dearly loved hanging out with our fellow passionate nerds, and yes we always had a blast sharing our enthusiasm for all sorts of random science-fictiony, fantasy-y, horrory, novel-writerly, and comic-booky stuff with other equally (or even more) fanatical peeps.


During each of the previous three Comic-Cons we attended, we were overwhelmed by the crowds and the mere sight of all the long, snaking lines of folks waiting to attend panels. Those years we ended up mostly amusing ourselves by hanging out in the far corners of the exhibition hall perusing the small stalls (turns out you just can’t have too many tribble slippers, wookie pez dispensers, or sonic-screwdriver screwdrivers) and rarely tried to attend any of the other events in the sprawling complex. In fact one year we stayed in town the entire five days but only spent a single, short afternoon at the actual convention before getting so shell-shocked we were over it. We ended up spending our days lazily cycling around the beautiful San Diego shoreline and doing impulsive things like taking the ferry over to the Hotel del Coronado for lunch. (Side question: do people down there realize when they proudly refer to their hotel as “The Del,” they’re calling it “The Of?” Just asking.)

Anyway, this year we finally had an unconditionally wonderful time at Comic-Con. We found out the trick: waiting in line isn’t actually necessary.

It changed everything.

I’m honestly a bit reluctant to tell y’all how we solved this issue because if everyone starts doing it… it’ll mess it all up. But truth is my humble little blog here doesn’t have that big a reach to change much. Hopefully.

And no, our trick has nothing to do with the fact we had our spiffy “Professional” gold badges on. We sported them the other years and, while they certainly don’t hurt (thank you “Pro Lounge” for the welcome respite and free, life-giving lemonade), it’s not what I’m talking about here.

Here’s the deal. There are basically three types of panels at Comic-Con. There’s the massive, freakishly popular stuff that takes place in the 6,500-seat Hall H (impressive panels with titles like “George Clooney, Jesus Christ, Angelina Jolie, and Barack Obama join together to offer spoilers about the new Batman/Hobbit mash-up film”), then there’s the not-all-that-popular stuff that takes place in the smallish rooms (with titles like “Peter R. R. Emshwiller and Three Other Unknown Novelists discuss the use of gluten in science fiction books”), and then, finally, there’s everything else, which falls somewhere between these two extremes.


First Extreme: Hall H. Forget it. I’m serious. Watch it later on YouTube in the comfort of your way-overpriced hotel room. Unless your idea of fun is spending all night on line spooning with people who have only a passing acquaintance with personal hygiene, skip it. Sorry, this one I don’t have a magic fix for (short of marrying Benedict Cumberbatch, which would totally work). And, frankly, you’ll probably have a better view on your computer than you’d get from the back of the hall.

Second Extreme: the Not-All-That-Popular Stuff. Go for it. Folks start casually lining up a few minutes before these panels begin and there’s rarely any big wait. (You can easily figure out which ones these are as you begin to sort out which rooms on the schedule are the smallest.) Even if you show up at the last minute and join the very end of the line just as everyone starts to enter, you’ll get in. And these panels are often the best. (The “Pop Culture Happy Hour” NPR one was truly fantastic, as was the “101 Ways To Kill a Man” thriller writer panel.) Attending an event in these rooms is like being transported back in time to an old fashioned, wonderfully intimate, smart & witty science fiction convention panel back in the day. Sigh.

Finally: the Rest of ‘Em. Here’s the big trick. Brace yourself.

See all those weary looking people lining up for hours and hours waiting for the big, star-studded panels? Panels like this year’s Hannibal one? Or the True Blood one? Or Penny Dreadful? Or Sleepy Hollow? Or Assassin’s Creed? Or George R. R. Martin’s “Rulers of the Realm” writer’s panel? Well, my wife and I went to all those without waiting in line for a single one of ‘em.

Here’s the thing: hundreds of people stand for ages in those long, sweltering, hallway queues patiently waiting to be ushered into the room. (You gotta figure that more than half the hours of their precious Comic-Conny day is sucked up with this kind of endless corridor waiting.) Finally the time comes around when the doors creak open and they are allowed to shuffle forward. They shamble in and the hall slowly fills. They pick seats and at last get to plop their chainmail-and-taffeta-clad butts down on the cold plastic. Sweet relief. The lights dim. The panel starts. The moderator enters and cracks a few hi-larious opening jokes before introducing each esteemed panelist. The crowd cheers and claps. And…

This is when you show up.

If you don’t mind not sitting right up front and you don’t mind missing the first few minutes, it’s the way to go. Most of these halls are so big they don’t actually fill up. Yup. (Even on Saturday!) You heard me. There’s plenty of room after the incredibly patient “herd” (sorry, SDCCees) is slowly loaded on in. You can just calmly check your watch from your perch on a stool at a local watering hole and then, when the times comes, casually stroll over to said hall and quietly slip in five minutes late and find a nice comfy seat between a suave storm trooper and a couple of hot zombies. Long as you’ve got a decent view of the massive overhead screens, you’re cool.

An old one I painted many years ago. 
No, it doesn’t have anything to do with the post
 aside from being kinda science fiction-y.  Shut up.
And if, in those very rare cases, the hall does completely fill up… so what? You didn’t invest any time waiting. (Imagine how horrible those at the end of the line must’ve felt!) Just move to the next hall. You’ll probably find something equally cool. Maybe even cooler! (Example: My wife and I aren’t gamers at all but, when we accidentally stumbled into the Assassin’s Creed panel hosted by the lovely & hilarious Aisha Tyler, we enjoyed every single second of it. And, just BTW, the trailers and teasers for this game – which is set during the French revolution – are insanely cool, and the delightfully gory animated “history lesson” about the era was amazing!)  

All-in-all we had a great weekend using this new technique, and went to more panels and parties and meetings and kiss-ass schmooze-fests than we did in all our other Comic-Cons combined. Of course, my enjoyment was probably not hurt by the fact that this year I was also running a big promotional free giveaway of my new ebook (doling out postcards, business cards, and free kisses to anyone interested). This effort turned out super successful, if I do say so myself (except maybe for the “free kisses” part).

All weekend I kept checking my rising Amazon numbers on my iPhone like some nervous investor watching his pork belly futures on a ticker tape machine. It was insane. More copies of my novel were downloaded in those two little days than were actually sold during the entire original print run of the old Bantam/Spectra paperback! Yowza! And in that one weekend my Amazon ranking skyrocketed up a whopping 158,610 points. I’m not smart enough to figure what percentage increase that is, but I’m pretty sure it ain’t chopped liver.

(Dedicated self-promoting ├╝ber-salesman that I am, the law requires that I must now take a moment to note that you can go to the book’s Amazon page and check out the reviews and so forth by clicking HERE. And yes, you can, coincidentally, actually purchase a very reasonably priced copy of this fine digital product while you happen to be hanging out there, if you so desire. It will set you back less than one of those hotdogs they were selling outside of Ballroom 20, and is much less likely to give you indigestion. Okay, slightly less likely.)

The bottom line is we had a blast and we’ll definitely be back to Comic-Con next year. We’re starting to finally figure out how to “work it” now. How to “con the con.”

Hell, I may even dress up in costume next time! Truth is, all I have to do is take off my shirt if I wanna go as Jabba the Hutt.