As you may have heard, this week kicks off Comic-Con International in San Diego, the biggest comic book convention in the world. For a lot of fans of comics and pop culture, this is one of the most important and most entertaining events of the year. And for others, setting foot on the San Diego Convention Center floor is just about equivalent to walking abandoning all hope (for at least four days) and walking through the gates of Hell itself.

Okay, that might be a little melodramatic, but let's face it: Even when it's a good experience, Comic-Con can be completely overwhelming. With a little preparation, however, there are a few simple guidelines that can not only help you have the best experience, but help things for everyone around you too. So if you're one of the 150,000 fans heading to San Diego this week, ComicsAlliance has put together a list of some very important Dos and Don'ts For Comic-Con International!

Even beyond getting to see your favorite creators, and even a few genuine movie stars trying to rustle up some of that sweet geek money -- one of the best things about Comic-Con is that there's so much there to buy. From convention exclusive action figures to back issues to sketches from your favorite artists, there are plenty of things to spend your money on. And with all due respect to credit card companies, the best way to do it is with crisp American dollar bills.

There are definitely a lot of dealers who will take credit cards if they have to -- and thanks to the attachment that turns an iPhone into a credit card scanner, there are more now than ever before -- but this might be the one time when using cash is actually easier than swiping a card, especially since the cell phone reception those scanners need to function is notoriously spotty in the convention center. It might be tempting to travel light and just get cash as you need at the show, but in our experience, it's not a great idea to count on the ATMs staying stocked all through the weekend.

Plus, getting your money set aside beforehand will help you stick to a budget so that your purchases don't get completely out of control -- something that's all too likely to happen at Comic-Con. Which brings us to...

Look. We all know RoboCop is awesome. This is not up for debate. And maybe the best way to honor the sacrifices that Alex Murphy made to keep the citizens of Detroit safe from Clarence Bodicker is to purchase a life-sized bust of the future of law enforcement for the asking price of $849.99.

Believe me, I'm not saying this isn't something you should be doing. But consider that if you spend all your money on the first awesome thing you see, you won't have any money for the next cool thing, and you end up leaving your purchases to the mercy of understocked ATMs. So before you commit to a huge purchase, give yourself some time to take in the whole show and see what everyone has to offer. Then, somewhere about Saturday afternoon, you can buy RoboCop with a clear conscience.

But probably not for a dollar.

Conventions provide fans with the opportunity to meet the artists who draw their favorite comics, and the sheer size of San Diego means that there are more opportunities there than at any other convention in the country. If you don't have a sketchbook, there are always a few booths selling them at the show, and while you may have to look around to actually find the artists -- last year, the real estate given to movies and video games pushed Artist's Alley into a regrettably small corner -- the opportunities once you do for getting a piece of art are amazing.

Even if they don't have prices for sketches and commissions posted at their tables, most artists are totally fine with being approached and asked if they're sketching and how much it costs. Just keep in mind that there's only so much they can draw in four days, which means that the incredibly popular superstar artists will probably have their schedules booked up pretty early in the show.

Make sure to find out how much they're charging beforehand -- when one party thinks it's a free sketch and the other party thinks it's a $100 commission, it rarely ends with both sides happy -- and even if it's out of your price range, there's often cool stuff to check out like prints, collections of previous sketches, and even original art pages.

Despite the pride I take in my Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose sketch by Colleen Coover (seen above), the look of "you want me to draw what" (also seen above) probably shouldn't be the goal of any artist/fan interaction. Overly complex drawings or those of a somewhat... sensitive nature might best be handled through a private commission.

If, however, someone has a sign that actually lists a price for makeout drawings with voyeuristic ocelots, however -- a distinct possibility at Comic-Con -- definitely go for it.

The lines might be long, but if you're a fan of a particular property, checking out a panel about it is a great way to learn more. For one thing, whether it's Twilight, Glee, or even something that's even remotely linked to actual comic books, you're in a room full of people who are also totally into that very thing. It's a neat feeling.

For another, it gives you a unique opportunity to hear the creators explain things in a way they don't always get to do in other forums, going behind the scenes to talk about why they made particular choices, and even reveal what they're going to be doing in the future. In the case of movie and TV-related panels, you may even get exclusive footage, or entire episodes that won't be seen anywhere else for months. With the right panelists -- and the right questions -- panels can be a lot of fun.

There are also -- and this is very important -- chairs.

  • "Where do you get your ideas?"
  • "Why don't you, the comic book writer and artist, make a movie of [Character]?"
  • "What's your favorite color Lantern?"
  • "Why aren't these comic book stories catering to my sexual fetishes?"
  • Anything about One More Day, because dudes, it is seriously the year 2011 now.
  • Anything that begins with "this isn't a question, but..." and moves into a 10 minute extended club mix of "you suck and I hate your comics" or "you are the best thing in the history of things" when there are people waiting in line.

There are some amazing things at Comic-Con that you're definitely going to want to take pictures of, especially the cosplayers. But if you do, keep in mind one simple fact that shouldn't be all that difficult to remember: Even though they are wearing costumes, they are still your fellow human beings.

Generally speaking, your fellow human beings prefer to be asked before you take their picture, and if they'd rather not have their picture taken, then take it in stride and keep your eyes open for the next thing.

And even if the person in question is totally fine with having a picture taken -- which is usually the case -- keep in mind that you're in a room with 149,998 other people. If you're in a high-traffic area, move to the side so that you don't block me other people from getting where they need to be. In other words, in the immortal words of Dalton...

There were a lot of "Don'ts" I could've gone with for this one, like "Don't try to snap an upskirt of Slave Leia with your phone while she's posing for someone else's picture," or "don't move so that you're standing extremely close to someone in a costume, staring at them in unblinking silence for way longer than we all know is socially acceptable before grunting out 'I like your costume' and asking for a picture," but I think the above pretty much covers it.

Just remember the words Patrick Swayze spoke in his immortal role as Dalton in the 1989 classic, Road House.

"Be Nice."

Along the same lines, if you're into wearing a costume, then by all means, San Diego is the place to bust it out. It adds to the atmosphere of the show, and even the non-costume inclined (like me) get a kick out of seeing others have that much fun.

Plus, as of this year, Comic-Con International no longer forces people who dress as the same character to battle to the death in the gladiatorial arenas behind the convention center in order to determine who is the One True Attendee worthy of being that character. It's kind of a shame, though, I was really looking forward to this year's Brawl of 1,000 Jokers.

Seriously? This one requires explanation?

Look. I honestly do not care if you're hanging out with Indiana Jones or even if you're just there to get slugged in the mouth by Captain America. I just think we can probably come together and have four days where nobody wears a Swastika. That's not too much to ask, is it?

Even with only one year under my belt, I cannot stress enough how packed Comic-Con is. Tens of thousands of people in one room, all trying to move in different directions to get to where they're going, often while trying to shop, take pictures, and pose for pictures, all at the same time.

With that many people, some crowding is unavoidable, but there are a few ways to make it easier on everyone. Just don't stand in the middle of the aisle. That's pretty much it; if you're moving slow, move to the sideand clear the middle so that people can move freely. And if you're in the middle of the aisle, get to steppin'. We got places to be.

One more time, this actually happened. At last year's comic-Con, I saw a guy just straight up set his ten year-old kid down on the ground, leaving him sprawled on the floor while he went to go look through quarter bins. I can onlly assume that he realized he could move faster without him, and while I respect his commitment to moving through the crowd, THIS IS A TERRIBLE IDEA.

I mean, for one thing, it's generally frowned upon to just leave your kid sitting unattended in the middle of a gigantic crowd, right? I mean, I have no kids, but I used to be one, and that sounds a little off to me. And for another, he was right in the middle of the aisle! C'mon, man, you're blocking traffic!

While we're on the subject of costumes, it's definitely true that the accessories make the costume, but when you're lugging around a ten-foot sword or a majestic set of wings, the crowded aisles of Comic-Con mean that you really have to keep an eye on what's going on around you.

Even the smaller accessories may require a bit more care than you expect. Sure, the hat with the two-foot long feather might be the centerpiece of your Steampunk, Super Fly, or -- God forbid -- Steampunk Super Fly costume, but when you're in a crush of people that's ambling from one side of the hall to the other and you're looking around, every time you turn your head means a comics journalist stuck in the crowd behind you is getting feather-slapped right in the face. True, some of us would pay good money for that, but for others, it's adding insult to an extremely minor, very fluffy injury.

If you do catch yourself smacking into someone, though, do the right thing and offer up an apology.

Yes, space is at a premium at the con, but before you defend your seat with an act of stenographic violence, take a deep breath, count to ten, and ask yourself if you really want to get arrested at Comic-Con. If you're still mad, remind yourself that assault is a felony, and that "I was trying to see the Avengers trailer" is a response to "what're you in for" that probably won't win you a lot of palsl in the big house.

This would fall under the heading of another tip I'm surprised I had to give, but, well, this definitely happened last year. Its pretty horrible, but at least it gave us the best line in the history of news outlets covering Comic-Con: "Aside from the stabbing, the convention has proceeded without incident so far."

With these tips, we here at ComicsAlliance hope we see you in California, and we wish you all a happy, Nazi-less, stabbing-free San Diego weekend!

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