Survival Tips From A New York Comic Con Veteran

So you've got tickets to New York Comic Con?

They're really hard to get, so the first thing to do is pat yourself on the back. Then it's time to get prepped (and I don't mean making an Iron Man suit, though do what you will!).

There will be around 150,000 people attending NYCC over four days, and it takes serious foresight to do all the things you really want.

(Source: Marnie Joyce via flickr)

(Source: Marnie Joyce via flickr)

I've been going for the past four years, and have amassed some knowledge I'm happy to share with you.

I'll break this down into a few parts. This first is for n00bs. If you've never been to New York City or NYCC or any other Con, you need this part.

The second part is advanced. I always strive for the VIP or Ultimate VIP passes, and if you're lucky to get one, you've got access to some sweet perks; I'll give you tips for navigating those, too.

The mob at New York Comic Con 2014

The masses at New York Comic Con 2014

There are a few things you need to be ready for. Enormous crowds. Limited options for water and food. One very crowded Starbucks on site. Spotty WiFi. Few bathrooms, especially for the ladies. And of course, the lines. Long, long, long lines.

If you've never been to NYCC, you cannot underestimate how long the lines are. Especially if you just have a General Admission pass. I am going to tell you that if you have a GA pass, don't try to game the lines or fight it. Bear down, get ready, and get there early. You will persevere.

One note before we really begin with insider tips. DO NOT LOSE YOUR PASS. The fine print itself says organizers won't be able to help you if you do. So get yourself a nice lanyard!

1) DOWNLOAD THE APP. The first thing you should do is download the app. The app has pretty much everything you need to navigate the Con. Guests, panel descriptions, special events, "Artist Alley" maps (see below for explanation), show floor maps, general FAQs. Download the app. Read the app. Study it. Know what's coming, who's there and where everything is.

2) MAKE A LIST OF YOUR GOALS What is it you want to do or see? Do you want to meet a creator or entertainment star in particular? Hear a certain speaker? Get an autograph? You need to make a list now, and rank your priorities. You'll inevitably miss a lot, especially with a General Admission pass, because there's only one line you can stand in at a time.

3) FOLLOW THE RIGHT SOCIAL FEEDS News will break quickly, and Twitter is where it'll happen. Follow @NY_Comic_Con now. Follow every person or fan group or company that lines up with your interests.

#NYCC is your Twitter lifeline. Any news that breaks about events or giveaways will be here first with that hashtag. (Follow me @TheGaf as I'll be tweeting unique, insider stuff as it happens.)

Oh, and set Twitter alerts for any can't miss people you follow!

(Source: Scott Beale via flickr)

(Source: Scott Beale via flickr)

4) DON'T GO ALONE IF POSSIBLE A lot of NYCC revolves around waiting in lines. You will have to pee at some point and you'll need line coverage so you don't lose your spot. If you are there alone, you are at the mercy of the people around you. They may help, they may not. Don't risk it. You might want to attend one panel and have a friend line up for another, so you can see both. So find that buddy and plan the Con with them.

They don't even need to be a long-time friend – try the #NYCC hashtag or the Official Facebook group to find like-minded people. If you're an introvert, don't worry. Almost everyone at NYCC is. Just try to remember all of us NYCC-ers have many similar interests, regardless of who they are or where they're from. Be nice, introduce yourself in one of the lines or online and make some friends!

5) NEW YORK SUPER WEEK You have to give New York Comic Con and Reed Exhibitions credit: they know a lot of people won't be able to get tickets for NYCC. That's why they created New York Super Week. For $10, you get a special NYSW card that gives you the chance to buy tickets and attend other fun, premium events for the entire week before NYCC. It's a la carte pricing, and the $10 card does not get your access to a lot of the events (only some are free).

So if you're going to NYCC, there's fun stuff to do all week, and if you can't get in, you can at least get access to these events, as long as you're quick. Check out Super Week's site for more info.

Batman and Bane set their differences aside for a moment at New York Comic Con 2013.

Batman and Bane set their differences aside for a moment at New York Comic Con 2013.

6) THE BASICS: EATING, DRINKING AND HYGIENE Time to level with you. Food, water, bathrooms and personal space are hard to come by at NYCC. It's like entering a Mad Max movie. You need "guzzoline" and "Aqua Cola" always.

The Javits center is far from land; it's in the middle of nowhere on the industrial west side of Manhattan. Leaving to go to a real sit-down restaurant means missing a few precious hours.

Bring a backpack. Bring portable snacks like protein bars, and get coffee on the way to the Javits Center at one of the other Starbucks in NYC. Get a big refillable bottle of water, as water fountains are plentiful.

There is a food court there, and it's actually pretty good by con standards. A little pricey, as you might expect, but not bad: Burgers, salads, sandwiches and the like. If you're going to try the food court, you should try to eat early, like 11:00 a.m. At noon, the lines become atrocious and impossible to navigate.

There are other food options as well, including delicious and unique NYC food trucks outside the venue. The place where they park in front of the con is a great area to eat, get some fresh air and sun, and also get some photos with the many cosplayers in attendance. There are also hot dog vendors nearby. Two dogs and a coke can be had for less than $10, unless the vendors are trying to gouge you.

(Source: Steven Leung via flickr)

(Source: Steven Leung via flickr)

ALSO! This is NYC! Amazing food is everywhere in the city. If you have a little time, walk two avenues east and try any of the diners or restaurants in the area. You'll lose some time walking back and forth, but the lines are smaller and you'll have more choices.

Lastly – I can't stress this one enough – SHOWER THAT MORNING AND EVERY MORNING. After a few hours in the Con, you will smell. It's impossible not to. You'll be joining a mass of human flesh. The only hope any of us have of comfort, is if YOU PERSONALLY showered in the morning. Not the night before. Day of. Please, do your part.

7) PREP FOR DISASTER It isn't fair, I know, but the Wi-Fi will be both spotty and expensive. As per the NYCC site: "Wi-Fi access is available throughout the Javits Center for $8.00 per Show day, $23.00 for 3 days and $29.00 for all 4 days". Unfortunately, it's also your only resort. You won't get a signal in the Javits without Wi-Fi. Period. The Javits Center is a nuclear bunker and nothing shall penetrate it.

In the past, some vendors have set up free Wi-Fi zones and you can try your luck there, but you'll be confined to those spaces. So paying for Wi-Fi is really par for the course at NYCC.

As for power outlets; they're scattered left and right, but they aren't abundant. The best places to charge up is in the panel rooms. You can charge up while you listen to the panel. But again, there are few outlets to be found.

So bring a battery backup or two. If/when you have the chance to charge up at an outlet, take advantage of that. But don't go into this thinking you'll have that opportunity.

Batdad and Robin at New York Comic Con 2014.

Batdad and Robin at New York Comic Con 2014.

8) GETTING THERE Good news, y'all. The 7 train now goes to Hudson Yards, which is a stone's throw from the Javits. Take the subway (use the HopStop app or Google Maps if you need).

The Con starts at 10am. To get inside early, you need to get there really early. People have been known to line up outside at midnight the night before. That's overkill, but if you're not there by 6 or 7 each morning, you're going to have a long day before you even get in.

Bring your friends, camp out, meet people, have a good time. If you know there will be lines and can deal with that, you'll have a fun time. Be social! Bring your Kickstarter set of Exploding Kittens or D&D or the game of your choice. Live Tweet or Instagram the line experience. And be patient.

9) ONLY BRING THE ESSENTIALS There is a coat check. Do not go to the coat check. Bring as little as possible, otherwise, you just found yourself on a very long coat check line, wasting precious time. Unless you came from the airport with luggage, you don't need to be in this line. Travel light, with a small backpack, mailing tube or portfolio case. That's all you need.

Also, bring cash. There are ATMs on site, but they charge extra fees.

10) PERMISSION AND CONSENT This is probably two things, but I'm including them together. This is perhaps the most important thing to do at the Con. Be polite and keep your hands to yourself.

There will be signs everywhere telling you "Cosplay is Not Consent." That means that just because someone is dressed up that DOES NOT MEAN you are allowed to physically or verbally harass them. You'll get thrown out of the Con, and you'll deserve it.

If you want to take a picture of a cosplayer: ASK. You'll get a yes. Why do you think they are there? Just ask nicely, and don't be scummy and lecherous. Don't lurk, stalk or creep. Just ask.

Speaking of permission. There are SECRET MAGIC WORDS at this Con. Saying "please" and "thank you". You will be shocked shocked at how few people do this. There is a lot of pushing, grabbing and pulling at this and every Con. But I have scored lots of freebies by being calm, making eye contact and saying "please" to over-tired people working the event. It works. And no one does it.

Basically, just be a good human being for four days.

11) PEOPLE WITH SPECIAL MEDICAL CIRCUMSTANCES If you are in a wheelchair, crutches, suffer from anxiety, or have other specific special needs, DO NOT BE AFRAID to come to NYCC! The venue has great accommodation, and this is a safe and all-inclusive event.

BUT. You have to let them know ahead of time. If you try to get specialized attention during the Con that they haven't planned for, it's going to be hard for the staff to accommodate you. You're just one of thousands of people who will need this specialized help. I've seen people miss out because they didn't make arrangements first. Talk to the team now, before you get there.

Here is an amazing list of all the ways they're willing to help.

12) DAY ONE: THURSDAY This is your best shot to do plenty of stuff. Thursday is the first day, and in the past, it's been a setup day. That means fewer frills, but also fewer people. It's a day mostly for industry professionals to set up or attend industry specific panels and events.

It's not for the casual fan so much. But it's a good day to walk around the show floor, go to Artist Alley and just get a feel for the place, without the major events or TV/movie stars.

(Source: Scott Beale via flickr)

(Source: Scott Beale via flickr)

In the last few years, I've noticed this day is becoming more and more hectic. So this year could be the year where Thursday is as crowded as any other day. So as usual, get there early.

13) THE SHOW FLOOR The main draw of the show is the Show Floor. Vendors of all shapes and sizes will be here. Comic Book stores, entertainment companies, comics companies, tech companies, collectables, apparel, etc. Everything even tangentially related to Comics will be represented. There's not much I can tell you here. Study the map, and walk all the aisles.

You are entering a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Embrace it. Towards the end of the con, there will be a fire sale for vendors to clear out merchandise, but if you see something you like, don't wait. Five minutes can make the difference.

There will be lots of lines on the show floor, but not every line is the right line. The biggest mistake you can make is asking someone at the back of the line what line they're in. That might not get you the right info.

Get in line and have your friend walk to the front to make sure you're in the right place. Nothing is worse than thinking you waited two hours to get an autograph, and then getting to the front to find out you're there to try out a VR game.

14) ARTIST ALLEY If you're at NYCC for the comics, this is heaven. All of the best comics creators in the world are here, ready to create commission sketches, sign autographs, or just chat. If there is an artist you want to meet and get a sketch from, make sure you head here first thing in the morning. Artists have a set number of commissions they can take, and it's first come, first served. Pick your target and get on their list.

Be nice. Be polite. These creators, while famous, are not millionaires. This is their day job. They need these events to generate extra income.

Speaking of which: bring cash. Though a few will have a Square account set-up, credit cards are not generally accepted.

15) THE PANELS Panel lines are generally marked well, so just check before standing in one. Once inside, find your spot and enjoy. Typically, the rooms do not empty between panels (except on the Main Stage which empties after every panel). So if there's a must see panel, consider sitting through the panel before to make sure you have a seat for the following panel you want. I've sat through two or three panels I was marginally interested in to ensure a good seat at a subsequent one in the same room. I've gotten front row seats 10 feet from both Mark Hammill and William Shatner with this trick.

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

A new wrinkle this year is that some panels will be off-site at the Hammerstein Ballroom. It's a few avenues from the Javits center. There should be some great panels there focused on TV, but you will have to decide if it's worth the 20 minute walk to do it.

16) THE MAIN STAGE AND EMPIRE THEATER WARNING: This can break you. These are the lines for the biggest events at the show. All of the TV, movies and entertainment panels will be here, and the lines will start early. If you want to see a 6:00 p.m. panel, be ready to be there starting at 10:00. There will be no cutting and no mercy. The staff is fantastic at spotting and ejecting line cutters (which is a good thing).

The Empire theater does not empty after each panel, so it will always be crowded. Just get the seat you can and move around in between panels.

17) NIGHTLIFE Unfortunately, I have few tips to offer you here. There will be parties advertised for each night. If you want to go to one, buy tickets in advance and go early. There are a bunch of official NYCC after-parties available.

These are not the EXCLUSIVE events though. Marvel will have a party. Hasbro will have a party. AMC will have a party. If you don't know someone going, you won't be going either. It's impossible to find out where they are, and you can't get in without your name on the list. I've sadly never gone to one of these, so I can't help you. Anyone got an invite? 🙂

But this being NYC, every night is a good night to go out. Bars, clubs, restaurants are open almost all night, or at least until 2:00 a.m. You'll have to find that information elsewhere, though. Try Time Out New York to start.

18) SATURDAY IS HELL DAY This is the big day. Everyone is here. The best panels, the most stars, the mass of cosplayers, and 150,000 attendees. If you've prepared appropriately, you can survive. Lean into the melée, and be in good spirits. It's the only way to go.

19) SUNDAY IS KIDS' DAY (or "Hell Day 2" for non-parents) Sunday is the day where all of the kids' programming happens. There will be thousands of small children dressed in really cute costumes. They will be in your way and underfoot. They will be crying, throwing tantrums, and creating smells.

Of course, there will still be a number of places where you will find no kids at all. The panels tend to have few children as they require attention for a full hour.

If you are a parent, like me, planning is again crucial. Know what your kids want to see, and where those are. Get there early. There will be separate rooms for sponsored play areas. Try them out. They won't be so crowded. Make sure your kids are hydrated, and fed. Be aware of your child's limits. 3-4 hours might be enough for them. Make arrangements for someone to pick them up so you can enjoy the afternoon without them. And be sure to pick a meeting place in case you are separated. It's chaos, and your kid can disappear in a sea of humanity in one second.

Keeping a watchful eye on the denizens of New York Comic Con 2014.

Keeping a watchful eye on the denizens of New York Comic Con 2014, from the VIP overlook.

The biggest tip I can give parents: bring your kids in costume. It's like a giant early Halloween party, and if your kids aren't dressed up, they'll miss the fun. There are costume contests for kids. People will want to take their photos. Don't be afraid to say no, if you think the person is creepy. But generally, everyone appreciates a good costume, and will think your kids are cute.

20) SAYING GOODBYE NYCC ends slowly. People will be disappearing starting Sunday morning, and by 5:00 p.m., the Con will be mostly empty. This is your chance to get lots of fun stuff for cheap on the show floor, if you're patient and open for happenstance. You can meet your favorite creators with fewer crowds, although they will be exhausted. (Maybe bring them a coffee?)

Reward yourself afterwards with a nice dinner and drinks somewhere in the city. IMHO, the best pizza in New York City is Joe's Pizza at Carmine and Bleecker Street (it's also a film location where Peter Parker worked as a delivery boy in Spider-Man). The best burger in New York City is Burger Joint at the Le Parker Meridien Hotel on West 57th. Go to Chinatown or Little Italy and pretty much eat anywhere (check Google/Yelp for reviews). And don't bother with Times Square! You have the Olive Garden at home.

Alright, this next section is all about Ultimate or VIP or All-Access pass. If you don't have either of these, this section will only make you sad.

So only read on if you've got the special passes or a masochistic streak...

Tips for Ultimate and VIP Pass Holders

If you have the Ultimate or VIP pass, you're in for a treat. There are only a few real perks to having these passes, but they really matter. First, I'll start with the VIP pass, and talk the real dirt to the NYCC 1%: the Ultimate pass people.

(Oh, and if you have the Staff or All-Access pass, you can do whatever you want and go wherever you want. I cannot help you. That is above my clearance level. Enjoy it!)

If you have the base level VIP pass, read and master all of the tips from the first section above. Here's what's different for you.

1) SLEEP IN A BIT The best thing about the VIP pass is that you don't have to wait on the main line to get in. If you show up around 8:30 or 9:00, you will get in easy and fast and get right into the Con at 10:00, any day of the Con. There is a separate VIP entrance and line.

But you should LINE UP EARLY ANYWAY (8:30am). There are a lot of VIPs. This line will get into the show floor first before the General Admission line. You will have about 30 minutes before the floor becomes super crowded. Know where you want to go and get there fast.

2) THERE IS A VIP LOUNGE This is an oasis for you, a great place to find elbow room, recharge, plan, and talk to staff. There's a coat check (ignore my other note about coats checks – this one is fast, easy, and fine to use), separate bathrooms and food areas, and power outlets.

The Wi-Fi situation is still, sadly, the same, but there will also be special guests popping in here and there for autographs. Check the schedule for more.

They will also broadcast the panels live from the Main and Empire stages. So if you can't get in or feel like relaxing, you can watch them from here.

(Source: Edward Liu via flickr)

(Source: Edward Liu via flickr)

Tips for Ultimate Pass holders

1) IT IS WORTH IT You are breathing rarified air here, my friends. There are only a few hundred of these passes, so at worst, you'll be behind about 200 people. Not bad at an event of 150,000 people.

2) THE SHOW FLOOR LINE There is a separate line specifically for Ultimate pass holders. Find it about an hour before open, and you are in with the first 200 or so people. It's magic. Every day.

3) MAIN AND EMPIRE STAGE LINES There are separate lines for you. If you show up 20 minutes before each event, you will get in and get seats, GUARANTEED. They clear the Main Stage after every panel, but you can keep going around from the exit to the entrance all day, every day and you will get in before the General Admission lines – the people who have waited all day for one panel.

The Empire Theater won't clear, but again, there's a separate line for you. People on the main line will hate you, glare at you and curse at you. Be strong. This line-skipping perk is worth the pass price alone. You will see every panel, every celebrity, and get every piece of free swag at these main premiere events.

4) FASTER AUTOGRAPH LINES The celebrity autograph areas will also have separate lines for Ultimate pass holders. Be sure to ask where they are and avoid waiting in a long line. And again, there are special autograph sessions in the VIP lounge (Todd McFarlane and Brian K. Vaughn are confirmed for now).

5) HOWEVER, YOU CANNOT AVOID PANEL, ARTIST ALLEY, OR FOOD LINES Unfortunately, you can't skip the other lines. Everything else will require you to wait with everyone else. Plan ahead, and get to your lines early. As I mentioned earlier, there is food for sale in the VIP lounge, but that's it.

6) OTHER AWESOME THINGS Did you get the invite to The Walking Dead Madison Square Garden event? If you're an Ultimate pass-holder, you should have. This will be the big event of the Con, a Friday night showing of the season opener and cast panel. Seats should be assigned before the event, so you shouldn't have to wait to get in. And I would assume that Ultimate pass-holders will get the best seats.

There will be more of this. Watch your email and talk to the concierge. They can help you make the most out of your pass, with things that happen in real-time. Be alert and be ready to move quickly.

That's it! This is a long read, but I wanted to give you everything I know about NYCC. I will have missed some things, I'm sure. So feel free to follow me @theGaf on Twitter, or @the_gaf on Instagram. If you need information or advice, tweet at me. I'll do my best to respond.

I'll also be broadcasting any news or tips as they happen. (I also like to use #UltimateVIPlife as a hashtag for tips for you Ultimate folks.)

See you at NYCC 2015!

Comics, SciFi, Pop Culture, Baseball and my family are my passions. Friends call me Gaf.