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Must-See Panels and Booths at San Diego Comic-Con [Featured]

A giant convention is happening in Southern California next week. You might have heard of it. If you’re like everyone I know, you’re running around like the proverbial headless chicken stressing over schedules and costumes. Yes, it’s almost time for San Diego Comic-Con.

Sure it’s brimming over with geek hordes and full of rampant commercialism, but it’s the best kind of circus. I adore cozy conventions, but I refuse to miss the insanity that is Comic-Con. Attendees have a ridiculous amount of options. They can choose from the hundreds of panels, visit the rows of booths in the vendor hall, or pick from a long list of off-site functions. If I have that many choices in front me, I have to devise a plan or at least a list. Without any guidance, I’d just flounder for four days. I bet I’m not alone. I’ve scoured the schedule and convention floor map and found a handful of highlights that shouldn’t be missed.


Panels
You could easily pick a room and spend all day in it at Comic-Con. Some people walk miles at the show, but you could sit for hours on end. If I had to pick one panel that I think would appeal to the masses each day, it’s these:

Thursday, 6:00-7:00pm – Her Universe: What Women Want in Their Female Sci-Fi Heroes
Moderator Ashley Eckstein (voice of Ahsoka Tano on Star Wars: The Clone Wars) will discuss the art of creating strong female characters in sci-fi with some talented writers and editors. Panelists include Dave Filoni (supervising director of The Clone Wars) and Gail Simone (writer for DC’s Birds of Prey and more) among many others. It sounds like it will be a great conversation about writing and creating.

Friday, 4:00-5:00pm – Costume Designers
If you construct costumes or just like admiring the work of others this panel of costume designers, including Shawna Trpcic (Dr. Horrible, Firefly), will interest you. They’ll discuss creation of costumes, production, and why the clothes are important to the story.

Saturday, 1:00-2:00pm – Robert Kirkman
Robert Kirkman is a prolific comic book writer; you probably recognize his name because of The Walking Dead. He’ll discuss about the comics he’s written and probably zombies. He’s also a funny guy. I think the panel will have fun stories and insights that all comic book fans will enjoy.

Sunday, 3:00-4:00pm – Comic-Con How-To: Drawing with Jim Lee
It’s Jim Lee. He’s sort of an icon. Watch him draw for an hour on a big screen. He’ll probably offer tips and helpful advice.

Your favorite television shows are probably at the convention. Search the schedule for the show name. To get a seat, you should plan to get to the room early and sit through at least the panel immediately before the one you want to see. The Comic-Con staff does not clear out the room between panels.

Want to keep your schedule handy? Yep, there’s an app for that.

Booths
Don’t underestimate the exhibit hall. You can’t see it all in the few hours you left open on Sunday afternoon. If you like to shop for toys, artist prints, and collect swag, plan to spend at least a day devoted entirely to browsing the vendor booths. Thursday and Sunday are the least crowded days to do this. Note: least crowded at Comic-Con still means insane. Since individual preferences vary too much to make specific booth recommendations, I’m going to stick to areas of the floor you should check out.

Artists’ Alley
Meet the creators who draw your favorite comics. Several artists make the trek to Comic-Con, and it is worth your time to wander the aisles of Artists’ Alley. Buy a sketchbook, peruse original art, maybe get a comic signed (the policy varies depending on the artist) and if you get there early enough you might be able to commission a piece of art that you can pick up at the end of the show. Do not be a table troll and dominate the artist. Nobody likes table trolls.

Small Press
You know that cozy street in the city that has art galleries and kitschy art? It’s full of treasure and whimsy and seriously awesome things. That’s what Small Press is like. These are the independent creators and designers. They have neat stuff to offer, and they are super friendly. Take your time and visit this area. You won’t regret it. The table troll rule also applies here.

Big Booth Central
You’ll find the studios and players like Lucasfilm in the big booth area. That’s not an official title, but if you’ve been there, you know what I mean. These booths will be interactive, they’ll have swag and celebrity signings, and they’ll be big. Being bigger doesn’t necessarily mean the booths are better, but I can’t deny the amount of fun stuff to see. I especially recommend wandering around the Sideshow Collectibles, Lucasfilm, and Gentle Giant booths. If HBO is attending with the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, you should take advantage of the opportunity. The resulting picture is worth the line (if you’re a fan of the show).

Off-Site Happenings & Parties
More events are happening off-site every year. By off-site, I mean that you do not need a pass to San Diego Comic-Con to get into these events. You just have to show up in San Diego. These should not be confused with panels that are still part of San Diego Comic-Con but hosted outside the convention center. It’s not as confusing as it sounds. Signs are plentiful.

Nerd HQ
The Nerd Machine has snagged a restaurant and bar in the Gaslamp District for the entirety of Comic-Con. Anyone can go to Jolt’n Joe’s to play games or attend more intimate panels with 250 or less fans. Most of the activities are free, the panels are not. The ticket price is being donated to charity. They are also hosting a Tweet-up on Saturday night. Click the above link for the details.

w00tstock
Adam Savage, Wil Wheaton, and Paul & Storm host a geektastic show that’s a lot like This American Life. They have a long line-up of special guests, and surprises happen at Comic-Con. It’s a ticketed event and well worth checking out if you’ve never been to w00tstock.

Time Machine Steampunk Party
Cosplayers plus a steampunk party? If you’re into the genre, it sounds like it will be one heck of a shindig. Abney Park will be headlining the concert and “multimedia show.” I like the music, but really, I’d go just look at the costumes.

Read an exhaustive list of off-site happenings here.

There’s a chance that none of these options sound appealing to you. That’s the beauty of an enormous convention. You can choose activities to suit you. I just recommend looking at the schedule first.

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