How to Prepare for San Diego Comic Con

Preparing For San Diego Comic Con
Chet art profile

By Chet Phillips

Freelancer Illustrator


Attendance swells to 125K and Saturdays are always wall to wall people, capped off typically with the arrival on the floor of celebrities touting their latest movie project. The range of visual information in the hall is over the top mind blowing, so it’s a true challenge to garner attention with all the top shelf competition.

If you’re going to San Diego to exhibit for the first time, here’s some info and a few tips to consider.

Prepare well in advance

Once you’ve secured a table or booth for SDCC you’ll work through the official exhibitor’s section of their site to arrange for hotel accommodations, badge procurement, temporary sales tax paperwork, pr forms, etc. There is a system to apply for a hotel room before lodging is open to attendees. You choose from a list and it’s a first come first served queue with your result provided a couple of months after applying. All of these stages are done over time well in advance of the actual event.

The venue is huge, so prepare for a lot of walking and standing by taking comfortable shoes. Make plans to have lots of water and hydrate. The hours typically run from 8:30 AM till 7PM with a 3 hour preview night and slightly shorter Sunday hours. There are concession stands in the hall providing sandwiches and snacks but leave those to the attendees. We shop at the local Ralph’s grocery store ahead of time, stocking up on more healthy alternatives and bottled water.

Get your product to the floor

Freeman services allows to have all your table product shipped to the convention center. You then make arrangements for it to be delivered to your table once you’re there. We always bring everything with us in our suitcases and roll it in through the front door. Sometimes this is tricky as the staff will frown on rolling through on the carpeting lobby, so some heavy lifting can be required unless they’ve already set up a protected path with cardboard. Small Press tables are 6 feet long, so use that space to make your products pop along with good signage and clear and legible pricing. I also recommend a backdrop of some kind to both display prints and also cut out visual clutter from the booth and aisle behind you. In small press the pipe and drape behind your area is about 3 feet high. There is none between booth spaces.

Respect your neighbor’s space and keep your set up chaos to a low orbit to avoid blocking aisles. There are some massive displays being constructed during set up hours with huge machinery and forklifts in continual motion. Be careful where you walk and pay attention to industrial horns and beeps.

Set up to accept payments

We use Square readers with our smartphones to accept credit cards. Using WiFi can work some of the time, but I always use my phone’s network plan connection for more reliable service. On Saturdays even that can be a challenge, with a packed hall of shoppers and syrupy phone service. In order to receive your badge you will need to fill out paperwork with the state of California to receive a temporary sales permit. If accepting credit cards, remember to change your app to the California sales tax rate. You’ll need to keep track of sales tax and pay that to the state within a month after the show.

Manning your booth

There’s a certain psychology to manning (or womanning) a booth I’ve learned over time. If you choose to sit at your booth, you should be engaging in an activity such as sketching.  Don’t sit there with your head down looking at your phone. I prefer to stay standing to make myself more accessible to customers. We bring gel floor mats to stand on to protect against the hard concrete floor. Maintain a pleasant demeanor and greet customers without pushing a hard sales pitch. Offer to help if they require assistance or have questions, but don’t overdo it. Customers generally fit two categories: they either want to shop without any interference or social interaction or are interested in learning more about you and what you do. It can be difficult knowing which side they fit in, but giving them space and time will give you clues.

Traffic can ebb and flow (sometimes due to huge panels letting out or beginning) and generally the early part of each day can be slow because customers are visiting hundreds of booths to take it all in before making a purchase decision. Customers with multi-day passes sometimes will wait until Sunday afternoon to buy.

One of the small pleasures I enjoy is getting to the hall early before it opens and taking in the show without the crowds. It’s also a good time for visiting with fellow artists because once the floor opens there’s little time for visiting. Each year there’s always a handful of over the top creative displays to enjoy. I use this quiet time to document some booths and products to share on social media.

In closing, if you have the opportunity to be a part of this show you’ll find it to be one of the most fulfilling and challenging forms of fan engagement and selling.

If you’re attending or exhibiting, please stop by and say hello! The ChetArt booth for 2017 will be in the Small Press area, table O-1 located at the end of the aisle across from the Oni Press booth.

My history with San Diego Comic Con

I attended my first San Diego Comic Con in 2009 with two friends. As we wandered the aisles on preview night I happened upon a fellow artist and friend promoting his books in the Small Press section. After learning about the cost and process of jurying for a table in the section I decided to give it a try for the following year and was accepted.  2017 marks the eighth consecutive year for exhibiting in Small Press and it is always an exciting and rewarding adventure.

A panel of judges review submissions that require a new book from the artists each year. So I’ve found this requirement the perfect motivation to create and produce on a deadline in order to make the grade. My wife Julie is a bookbinder and always takes my art and writing up to a new level with her expertise. Over the years we’ve produced a range of bindings that includes books contained in Japanese enclosures, back to back books (dos-à-dos binding,) and leather bound hard backs.  Small Press makes up a tiny fraction of the massive exhibit hall, but contains some of the most creative and exciting products in the room. The event lasts four days plus a preview night to kick things off. Attendance swells to 150K and Saturdays are always wall to wall people, capped off typically with the arrival on the floor of celebrities touting their latest movie project. Cosplay is truly an art form at this show, providing many jaw-dropping examples each year.

With a 6 foot table in our area, it’s a design challenge to both stock it with as much product yet make it appealing and customer friendly as possible. The range of visual information in the hall is over the top mind blowing, so it’s a true challenge to garner attention with all the top shelf competition.

Themes I’ve pursued have included “The Society of Sinister Simians,” a collection of biographies of an alternative universe of evil monkeys and apes, “Land of Kaiju,” a Kaiju alphabet book, “Childhood,” a collection of pop culture characters engaged in childhood activities and “The Union of Superlative Heroes and Order of Nefarious Villains,” a Victorian take on comic heroes and villains.  This year we will be showcasing “Monster Zen,” a collection of 16 monsters and creatures in serene Japanese styled environments with accompanying haiku poems that I’ve written.

Along with our book products, I also offer a variety of other products with my artwork such as stickers, greeting cards, postcard sets and playing cards. As with the previous five years we will be set up and ready to greet you in the Small Press section, table O-1 on the aisle across from Oni Press.