Disclaimer: These are the only three Cons that I’ve been to. I don’t know how things are done at any other Con.
The difference in how panels are run at each Con is fairly significant.
-At SDCC, most of the panels have people from the TV show, comic book, film, novel, etc. as the main guests, then a moderator and towards the end, a few people get to ask questions.
-At D*C, many of the panels are more like fan discussions. Some of them feature a star from the original content but there are also a lot of strictly fan panels where a bunch of fans debate back and forth the whole time. I actually really enjoy BOTH ways of running panels and I managed to get a great mix of both at each Con. In fact, I haven’t really been to a bad panel, yet!
-At NYCC, the panels were similar to SDCC except that since we screened entire episodes of television shows, we only had about 15 minutes for discussion and questions. This wasn’t much time considering the moderator would ask a few and then the audience had about 5 minutes. The ones without screenings were run much like SDCC.
Autographs & Photos
I’m not exactly an expert at the autograph and photo scene (my friend Matt is and he talks about this a lot in his blog). But I can tell you what I experienced.
-At SDCC, I didn’t pay for any photos or autographs…and I got tons. Most of the studios that have booths run their own autograph sessions. They’re free but more difficult to get. For example, I waited in line for 3 hours just to draw a raffle ticket for the Doctor Who signing this year. Luckily, I got it but it could’ve been a waste of time. My sister got raffle tickets for several signings and didn’t win. But others were easier, like the Merlin signing at the BBC Booth, which if you had a ticket, you got in. Also, a lot of these people didn’t do photographs. The only sanctioned photos I got were Chris Hardwick at the G4 Booth and Anthony Stewart Head at the BBC Booth. None of the others did photos.
-At D*C, photos and autographs are almost exclusively done in the Walk of Fame. Basically, everyone has tables set up in a room and you walk around to who you want to see. (SDCC has a room like this too.) The catch is that you have to pay $$ for most (if not all) of these people. Some offer pictures at the booth, some only do autographs. You can also pay for a professional photo session with some of the people. The prices vary A LOT. For example, Wil Wheaton charged $20 for a photo and autograph while Eliza Dushku charged $40 for just an autograph. The upside is that this area isn’t super crowded and the longest line I waited in for someone (Wil Wheaton) was about 45 minutes. On Monday, the last day of the Con, the room is a lot less crowded!
-At NYCC, there is an autograph area similar to Dragon*Con. Booths around a kind of out of the way portion of the convention center. They did have an area to buy tickets for some of the guests, preventing the awkward “I’m paying cash to see you” moment that you have at Dragon*Con. The area wasn’t too crowded and the lines weren’t long at all. There were some guests signing on the floor at individual booths (Like Grizz from 30 Rock!) but most of the signing was in the autograph area.
There’s really no contest when it comes to costumes. (Except for a costume contest.)
Dragon*Con has WAY better costumes than I saw at SDCC and NYCC. Living in Atlanta, I’ve always loved the costumes of D*C and was expecting a huge amount at SDCC. But when we arrived, I was underwhelmed. Everyone kept saying: “Just wait until Saturday.” Saturday came and went. I was still unimpressed. There were a few but 75% of people dress up at D*C compared to like 35% at SDCC and NYCC. I think that it’s pretty common knowledge that D*C is the best place for cosplayer-viewing. There are professional costume designers that have ridiculously awesome costumes. It’s amazing. Just google it and I swear you’ll be impressed.
Assuming you’re not too exhausted every night to actually go to parties, here’s what I gathered from the nightlife at each Con.
-The great thing about D*C is that it actually takes place in 5 hotels that are very close to each other. In fact, 3 of them are connected by SkyBridges. And these are actually the hotels that people are all staying at. This creates a dorm-type atmosphere where it’s easy to go from hotel to hotel throughout the night to check out what’s going on. Also, the tracks throw their own parties on different nights. There was also an all-night rave in the Marriott this year. Dancing from 2am-7am. Can’t beat it.
-At SDCC, everyone is spread out all over the town at different hotels and the actual convention center pretty much shuts down after the later panels are over. The area around the convention center stays pretty busy throughout the night but the likelihood of you stumbling upon a party are less. But the Nerd Machine party is becoming a staple of the Con. Drinking and eating goes on into the night at the clubs and restaurants but it’s harder to find an all-night dance party.
-NYCC takes place in New York City. SInce it’s huge, I didn’t feel much cohesion within the convention. There were locals and people going to and from all over the city. Since I was only there two days, I didn’t really get the chance to party. I was staying with a friend so I spent time with him when I wasn’t at the convention. Not sure if that’s why it felt segmented.
The Exhibit Floor is where all of the booths are set up. There’s tons of t-shirts, weaponry, collectables, etc. Honestly, there’s everything you could ever want.
-At SDCC, the exhibit floor is huge. It’s very difficult (and overwhelming) to make it through all of the booths. But it’s also VERY crowded. Like, very difficult to move around. It seemed to be best on Sunday.
-There’s really no comparison at D*C. Since there isn’t one space big enough, at D*C the exhibit hall is in three different rooms of the Marriott. They are small and put together, equal about ¼ of the booths at SDCC. It’s still crowded but not nearly as much. They both have the same types of stuff though. Except that there’s a MUCH bigger corporate presence at SDCC. Also, D*C has a separate large floor for artists to display their work. At SDCC it was in the same room as the booths.
-The floor at NYCC was similar to SDCC but still not as large. Much larger than at Dragon*Con but still not the magnitude of SDCC. But there were major setups. Some free comics and handouts for sure, just not to the same scale as at SDCC.
The three Cons are organized VERY differently.
-D*C is set up in “tracks” of programming. There are over 40, and it’s possible to never attend anything by another track. There’s a “Trek Track”, a “British Media Track”, a “MMO Track”, etc. This helps you easily find the things you’d like to do. Each track comes up with their own programming, guests, etc. And it’s all done by volunteers. From the Track Directors to the Ushers, everyone is a volunteer.
-At SDCC there aren’t “tracks”. A lot of similar panels will use the same rooms but sometimes it’s random. i.e. I went to a panel by an author, followed by a panel with the creator of Domo, followed by a TV Panel with a bunch of stars…all in the same room. Which brings me to another thing: it’s common knowledge at SDCC is that they don’t clear rooms between panels. Which means that if you want to be in a 4pm panel, you can get into the room at 1pm, sit through two panels you don’t care about and get a great seat for the 4pm. This isn’t usually the case at D*C. There were a few panels I heard of where they didn’t clear the room, but overall they clear the room. It doesn’t really mean that the lines are much shorter, but it does keep people from sitting through panels they don’t care about while someone outside is desperate for the seat.
-At NYCC, there were tracks but they were pretty general. Many of the television panels were in the same room, and like SDCC they didn’t clear out the room between panels. So there were people “camping” in one room all day. But it was pointless as the large room I was in was NEVER 100% full. At any point on Saturday, I could stroll into the IGN Theater and sit in a row all by myself. It was kind of nice to have that freedom. At SDCC I kind of felt imprisoned by having to stay in a room all day.
Dragon*Con is 4 days, SDCC is 4 days with a Preview Night & NYCC is 3 days with a Preview Night. They all have the option of purchasing a single day passes for each day.
-Getting badges to SDCC is much more difficult and sell out every year. For 2012, they cost $150 for Thursday-Sunday and $175 if you also get Preview Night (Wednesday). The price is the same no matter when you buy them. The best option is purchasing at the year before’s Con but if you don’t have that option, you better be online the moment they go on sale.
-D*C four day badges are available up until Friday of the Con. After that, you can still buy single day badges each day. If you buy your badge for the next year at this year’s Con, it’s $60. But if you wait until the day before, it’s $120. The more difficult task at D*C is finding a hotel room. Notoriously, Atlanta has about three other events going on in town during the Con. This makes it very difficult to find a hotel room.
-Three day badges for NYCC sold out but not until a few days before the convention. Some single days were still available when the convention started but only certain days. The prices are fairly reasonable. Onsite, each day is $45. The whole weekend is about $60 in advance. That’s a steal compared to both Dragon*Con and SDCC. Also, they have a VIP option, which gets you premium seats in panels.
Overall, I enjoyed all three Cons a lot. All are worth your time but depending on what you’re looking for, one may fit your needs better. There are bigger panels and “stars” at SDCC; better time management opportunities (less lines) at NYCC and Dragon*Con has a wider variety of panels on all kinds of topics.
If you have a specific question, leave it in the comments and I’d be happy to answer.
Thanks for reading!