Every year, nerds make a pilgrimage to California to participate in the world's biggest pop-culture event: San Diego Comic-Con.  This convention has grown to epic proportions, attracting the attention of the film industry, video game publishers, and of course the comics industry.  The pageantry of awesome runs July 17th through July 21st in 2013, and it is the place to be for any self-respecting student of pop-culture.

There's only one problem: Tickets sold out a week ago.  If you weren't exactly in the right place at the right time and didn't have the favor of the nerd gods looking down upon you, chances are you didn't score your ticket.  But don't despair!  There's a ray of hope for you to get a ticket.  Here are some suggestions on ways to score tickets.

Tips that can help you get a badge in 2013

Tip 1:  Make friends with the local comic shops

A common grumble about Comic-Con is that “it isn't about comics anymore”.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  (For example, we estimated that about 65% of the Exhibit Hall floorspace last year was devoted to comic books, comic artwork and closely-related materials.) Comic-Con knows that the entire industry is watching the show, and they're always pushing for new ways to promote comics.  One way they foster goodwill with the comics industry is by distributing complimentary passes to certain comic shops.

Now hopefully you're already best-of-friends with your local comic shop owner.  If not, now is the time to make friends.  Start an open conversation with your shop owner and tell them you've always wanted to go to San Diego Comic-Con.  Ask them if they ever get complimentary tickets to the show.

Don't expect them to give the tickets away for free, though.  Many shops will raffle the complimentary tickets off or find another way to make some cash off of them.  Your job is try to preempt that by telling the shop owner you'd be willing to pay face value, or perhaps drop some cash for some merchandise in exchange for a ticket.  Reach a gentleman's agreement before they even get complimentary passes and you might be the first person they call.

If you live in a city, repeat this process for every comic shop in your area.  Not every shop gets complimentary tickets, so put out as many feelers as you can for the best chance at getting a ticket.

Tip 2: Work your friends in the industry

Industry professionals have the opportunity to register for badges before general registration opens up.  These people work in creating comics, film, games and the other things that are showcased at Comic-Con.  If they can score a complimentary Professional Badge, there's a chance that they are able to bring a friend or two along.  These “professional guest” passes cost the same as a general admission badge, but they can be used to get people into the show who missed out on general registration.

If you've got a friend who works in the industry you might have a shot at claiming one of their guest badges.  In years past, professionals were granted up to 4 guests, plus a complimentary child pass or two.  That doesn't seem to be the case this year, though.  Professionals I know have been given only 1 guest pass in 2013, so this could signal a trend that Comic-Con is cracking down on how many friends pros can bring along.

If you manage to get an industry professional to hook you up with a pass, you need to realize that Comic-Con is work for them.  They'll be required to pick up all of the badges for each member of their group, so you need to coordinate a hand-off to get your badge from them.

If you don't have a friend in the industry, you might be harder-pressed to find a lesser-known industry professional with a spare pass.  It can be done, but try to offer them something in exchange for the badge to sweeten the deal.  Don't ask the superstars of the comics world to hook you up with a badge; Robert Kirkman probably knows people cooler than you that he wants to bring along.

Tip 3: Follow Comic-Con on Twitter for Badge Resale Notices

Plans change, so people who managed to score a badge for the show often have to give them up.  Comic-Con holds badge resell events in the spring and early summer, and the best way to find out about these impromptu sales is to follow Comic-Con on Twitter.  Make sure you've registered for a member ID in advance, because you're going to need to act quickly to get one of these resale badges.

Twitter addicts all have a favorite method to make sure they see the important tweets, but you might want to create a safety net.  I suggest that you set up an RSS feed for the Comic-Con Twitter account and check often for new tweets.

Tip 4: Find an Exhibitor and volunteer your services

There's a large army of people who are working at Comic-Con, many of them in the Exhibit Hall.  Exhibitors (people selling merchandise from booths in the Exhibit Hall) are known to recruit extra help for the show.  If you can find a company that needs help slinging comics or selling t-shirts volunteer your services.  You'll have to work, but as part of your agreement you might be able to get some time off to wander the Exhibit Hall floor or sneak in a few panels.  Exhibitors put in long, hard hours at Comic-Con and you'd better expect to work hard if you use this option.  Who knows?  Maybe you'll get paid to attend the coolest geek event of the year!

Tip 5: Enter Contests

Just as in Tip 1, several websites that focus on nerd culture get Complimentary Passes to distribute to their readers.  Follow these sites on Facebook and Twitter to find out who is giving out tickets and how you can get one.  It is also a good idea to follow the hashtag #sdcc on Twitter to find these benefactors of Complimentary Passes.  We're not sure yet if www.EatYourComics.com will get a Complimentary Pass or two to give out, but keep an eye on us to find out.

Tips to help you avoid badge problems next year

Look, there's only so much you can do to get into the show in 2013.  If you're ready to cut your losses and just start planning for 2014, here are a few more tips that will help you if you get an early start.

Tip 6: Register as a professional (if you actually are one)

Are you working on a comic, indie game or a special nerdy project?  You should consider attempting to register as a professional for 2014.  But be warned – you'll need to submit samples of your work to prove your credit.   Comic-Con divides professionals into 2 categories: Creative Professionals and Trade Professionals.  If you are involved in creating comic books, video games, film, toys or any object of nerd obsession, you're almost certainly a Creative Professional.  Trade Professionals include agents, marketing and sales folks.  Creative Professionals get complimentary (free) badges; Trade Professionals pay for badges.

If you think you'll qualify as a professional, you need to get busy now to get into the show in 2014.  Submit your work early and follow the guidelines carefully.  Learn more about professional registration here.

Tip 7: Volunteer

Comic-Con is a big show – one that takes a lot of help to put on.  Aside from the hired security and event staff, Comic-Con provides a limited number of Volunteer passes (estimates place it at around 2,500) available to those fast enough to register.  The idea is simple: you volunteer 3 hours and then get the rest of the day of Comic-Con awesomeness as your reward.  Registration for Volunteers is open briefly at the beginning of each year; this year it opened for a short time at the beginning of February.

Volunteers often get to see behind the scenes, so to speak, and there are stories of volunteers rubbing elbows with their heroes.  But not every assignment is perfect.  If you think you might be interested in applying for a Volunteer pass in 2014, I recommend you read up on the process so you know what's in store.

Tip 8: If possible, apply for your 2014 badge at the show

Let's just say that you manage to get into Comic-Con this year using one of our earlier tips.  Good for you!  There could be something you can do at this year's show to ensure you get a shot at attending in 2014.  I've been going to Comic-Con for 5 years now, and they've previously pre-sold badges each morning of the show.  In 2012 pre-sales for 2013 badges were done digitally for those who attended the 2012 show (in October 2012).  There's a lot of speculation around the possibility that Comic-Con will permanently discontinue the badge pre-sale process at the convention – perhaps in 2013.  We're going to assume that they don't so we can explain how you might manage to score a badge for the following year.

Comic-Con is usually pretty hush-hush about where pre-registration for the following year will occur up until the show starts.  In your programming guide (the thick book included in your swag bag, which is picked up just after you get your badge) you'll find the location of badge pre-registration.  This means that you'll need to pick up your badge on Wednesday so you know where pre-registration will occur.  (You don't want to find yourself in a line to pick up your badge on the day you try to pre-register for the show.  If you do that, you've already missed your chance.)

Once you know the location, you need to get in line early.  In 2011 I got in line at 5:00 AM Thursday morning and I managed to score a badge for 2012.  If I were you, I'd get in line as early as you possibly can – 4:00 AM could be too late.  There will certainly be people camping overnight in the line, so you need to balance your sleep with your desire to secure a place at the show the following year.

After waiting in line, the process to get a pass is relatively simple.  You'll be directed into a hotel ballroom (with more lines) and will eventually find yourself standing in front of a computer.  After entering your member ID, you can select the pass you want.  A limited number of passes are allocated for each day.  The first passes to sell out are 4-day badges with Preview Night (no surprise there), followed by 4-day badges and then the individual day badges.  In 2011 Comic-Con allocated a number of each badge type to each day, so that people who were attending that show only on that day still had a fair shot at getting a 4-day badge with Preview Night.

There was something of an uproar in 2011.  Even though I managed to get a badge, many others didn't plan ahead and demand far outpaced the supply.  This controversy has led to some speculation that Comic-Con will do away with the practice entirely, but until you know that for sure you should strongly consider pre-registering for 2014.

If you do manage to attend the show in 2013, and badge pre-sales don't happen during the Convention, it is a good bet that Comic-Con will continue using digital pre-sales starting around October 2013.  Be sure to follow the Comic-Con blog to keep up-to-date on badge pre-sale announcements.

Other Words of Advice

There are less reputable ways to get a badge to Comic-Con.  These methods all come with some risk, so I want to cover them for your benefit.  One option that is frowned-upon by Comic-Con is ticket scalping.  You won't often find ticket scalpers on the premises of the Convention Center.  More often ticket scalping is done via Craigslist (if you're local) or eBay.  Ticket prices often far exceed the standard values established by Comic-Con.  On eBay tickets often range between $600 and $900 in the weeks leading up to the show.

The problem with scalped tickets is that you're powerless to know that you're getting what you pay for.  Often scalpers will set up tickets in other people's names, so if you actually score a pass you'll end up wearing someone else's name around your neck.  Comic-Con security occasionally spot-checks badges and if the names don't match you're going to have some explaining to do.  And that's the best case scenario.

What's the worst-case scenario?  I've heard horror stories about people spending thousands of dollars on scalped tickets and hotel rooms in San Diego, with the plan to meet up with the scalper to retrieve their tickets on the day of the show, only to be left out in the cold when the scalper doesn't show up with their tickets.

Occasionally you'll find Complimentary passes on eBay (see Tip 1).  Each Complimentary pass has a code on the back that can be used when registering on the official Comic-Con site.  Buying these Complimentary Pass tickets are still a bit of a risk, since you won't know if the code on the back of the pass has already been redeemed.  If you decide to risk it (and we suggest strongly that you don't) be sure that you've negotiated with the seller to get scans of the tickets emailed to you as soon as your payment clears.  Use PayPal linked to a credit card so that you'll have multiple layers of grievance if the seller doesn't deliver.  You might be able to get your money back from eBay, PayPal or your credit card company.  Comic-Con, on the other hand, will not show you any mercy if you attempt to buy a scalped ticket and you get burned, so don't even try.

Anyone who has attended the show will probably recall the folks (usually kids) who stand outside of the Convention Center and ask if you're done with your badge.  If you hand it over, they get to enjoy a few hours of the show using your name.  It's a bad practice to hand over badges, since there are several incidents of these ticket-hoppers stealing merchandise.  You're responsible for your badge and any crime committed using it could lead to you being banned from the show.  Most of the time these are just local kids who want to get a bit of time in the Exhibit Hall to buy the cool stuff you love.  A parting word of caution:  If you use this tactic to get into the show on someone else's badge, and you get caught, you're going to get banned from the show and you could find yourself getting charged with petty theft.  (I don't know of anyone this has happened to personally, but I have heard rumors of it and think that caution is the better part of valor when it comes to trying to sneak into the show.)


We wish you the best of luck in getting to attend Comic-Con in 2013 and beyond.  Let us know your tips to get into the show below, and tell us about your success stories in the Comments section below!