So we’re getting down to the wire, in a little more than a month, the insanity that is San Diego Comic Con will begin. The Gaslamp in San Diego will be overflowing with nerds and for those five days, your schedule will be packed from dawn until dusk.
There will be lines with hundreds of people patiently (and impatiently) waiting to see someone or something that they love. And as anyone who has been to SDCC a few times will tell you, the con is as much about standing in lines as it is about diving head first into nerd land.
Now, for someone who has been going to the con for years, it is easy for me to tell which days I will set out as my “panel” days, and which days I come ready to be disappointed during the lottery for autograph signings.
For newcomers, who either don’t know how the signings work or how the panels are set up, this can easily turn into a spoiled five day vacation of disappointment. If you stand in the wrong line or get there at the wrong time, everything can take a turn for the worst.
So let’s break it down, first between panels and signings and then into the more specifics.
They are normally set in a conference hall with a large audience base and at the front there is a stage with a long table and a podium at the end. Any con goer, of any con, can tell you that panels are a large part of the con. For many conventions, it’s the main attraction outside of the con floor.
Even for a convention as popular and populated as SDCC, panels are still a vital part of the con. For many people, they are the highlight of the day and lines will stretch down to the marina for a chance to have a seat within the ballrooms.
Starting from the top, the largest hall is Hall H. Holding a capacity size of over 6500, it is the largest room in the convention center, and if you are close enough in the halls adjacent you can hear the thunderous applause or cheering from inside. Hall H holds the big name movies and tv shows, past panels include Game of Thrones, True Blood, the 10th anniversary of Firefly, and also movies like The Avengers, Twilight, and The Hobbit, to name a few.
Let’s just say this now, and get it out of the way, Hall H is an all day affair. If it’s a popular panel, if it’s in Hall H or Ballroom 20, you’re going to have to be in it for the long haul. If you plan on seeing a panel at 3pm that day, be prepared to get there at 10am (or even earlier depending on the schedule), and sit through the day. Ballroom 20 is also known to have dwellers who stay the whole day to see panels all throughout the day.
The thing with panels is you might have to prepare for a whole day trip. Panel rooms are never emptied between panels, so you could potentially plan to get into the panel you want to see two sessions before and sit through those two panels, all the while moving forward in between sessions to get a front row seat. Of course, everyone else in the room is probably thinking of doing the same thing, so the rooms tend to remain filled.
As far as smaller cons go, panels are fun for me, but SDCC is another beast all together. I normally like to see the biggest panels, but the idea of spending a full con day seated in a panel no longer appeals to me as much as it did before.
For me, panels are delightful and insightful, but not to die for. If it’s a larger panel, they tend to be recorded and put online eventually. However, unlike the old days, exclusive content like trailers and teasers are not recorded and only the people within the panel get to watch those sneak peeks.
These are finicky. There are two different types of signings. The kind you have to pay for, and the complementary kind you win through the lottery system. The ones you pay for are done independently, normally by the talent you are getting an autograph from. They charge for the signature and additionally for a photo with them. These are the traditional type of autograph meets, and are great if you want to avoid the hours of wait and want to just see one or two specific people.
As a renown cheapskate, I’ve always been a fan of the lottery system of autograph signings that SDCC offers. I am willing to test fate and see if I win some tickets to a signing. These signings are typically run by the company, and typically include a cast of people including producers and creators. They are held at the company booth and include something like a wristband or a ticket to enter the booth at the designated time.
There are multiple ways of getting autograph tickets. Some, are given out on the floor, either found at their booths for a raffle, or given away at a certain time. These are normally easier to get, it’s a little less trafficked and they don’t broadcast it to people. You kind of have to remember to check the booths and ask them about show signings when you first get down there.
WB holds their own line and drawing for the shows that have panels on the same day. The best way to find info about a signing is to go to the official autograph booth after you get your badge the first day and ask them where the Warner Brothers raffle for signings are. Fox has done the same thing in the past, so have some other broadcasting companies. These lines are not on the floor, they are up top along with things like the Hasbro line.
The downside to a lottery signing is that you can obviously stand in line for hours and end up drawing a blank ticket, it’s not a guarantee at all. Another downside is that a lot of the big shows get looped in with WB and the line is so long that if you decide to get back in line for a second drawing it is all but useless, because by the time you made it to the front again, all winning tickets would be gone.
I’ve seen the bad and the good side to this drawing system. I watched from the second row of lines as someone pulled the last ticket to Game of Thrones, but got a ticket to a Man of Steel signing the same day. The WB line is notorious for getting long fast, so get in line as early as you can to get onto the floor. This means waking up or camping out in the Ballroom 20/Floor line (which is what it will be known as to the people policing the line) and booking it upstairs to get in that line.
There have been cases of people failing to get a signing but making it into a panel room. If the panel is later in the day, even if it’s in Hall H, it could be worth jumping in line and waiting for a seat. This depends on the popularity of the panel and what is before and after the panel you want to go to. But rarely have I heard of people successfully seeing panel and attending a signing.
Typically signings are timed right after a panel, and while the talent have people to rush them through the crowds and back entrances, you have got to brave the crowds and try and make it to a crowd-packed booth in time.
When attending the con, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of attending either a panel or a signing. The best way to do that is being informed and knowing what you’re sacrificing. Time dedicated to waiting in line for a panel will almost surely get you inside, if only to watch the panel from a distance and see exclusive content. Time dedicated to waiting for a signing will be a win or lose scenario, there is no guarantee, but you might get to meet and speak to the talent up close.