What could possibly be better than getting stuff at Comic Con? Getting free stuff at Comic Con, of course. We braved the floor to bring you the ultimate guide to filling your swag bag for absolutely nothing.
io9ers Alasdair and Lauren spent two hours on the convention floor begging, bargaining, and playing games to snag as much free stuff as humanly possible from the booths. We came back with some pearls of wisdom for effective and shameless swag hunting, plus our picks for the best (and strangest) free goodies from the Comic Con floor.
Our final haul — and that's not even including the postcards, bookmarks, and most of the posters we brought home.
BEFORE AND AFTER
Alasdair and Lauren prepare for their swag hunt, armed with their gorgeous (and also free) swag bags.
Alasdair and Lauren at the end of the evening, rejoicing in their new material wealth.
OUR TIPS FOR SCORING FREE SWAG
Tip 1: Grab a bag. As sexy as those giant swag bags are, they won't survive the heavy duty swag gathering. Alasdair's bag was broken by the end of the hunt, and Lauren's bag was nearly as tall as she was, causing her to trip on her hard-earned junk. Fortunately, a handful of booths will provide you with smaller and more structurally sound bags, like these from Suvudu and Tools of the Trade.
Tip 2: Play their games. While their swag is technically free, some booths will ask you to play a game if you want their stuff. It could be as simple as spinning a wheel, or test driving a video game. We scored this Magic: The Gathering deck and USB bracelet for playing Magic: The Gathering — Duels of the Planeswalkers at Booth 1128.
Tip 3: Give out your information. Have a spam email account ready, because some booths will only fork over the free stuff if you put your email address on their mailing list. Some booth attendants are armed with barcode scanners, ready to swap their goodies for a look at your barcode — and all the contact information you shared when you registered for Comic Con. A handful will also ask you to sign up for FourSquare or Gowalla and prove that you checked in at their booth.
Tip 4: Hit the buttons. Aside from postcards, stickers and buttons were the most common things we saw for free. If the buttons are scattered all over the table or sitting in a jar, there's a greater chance that they're free. Just remember to ask if they're really free before you walk off with a handful.
Tip 5: Be enthusiastic. There's no guarantee, but every now and then, if you rave about an artist, writer, or project you love, someone will give you an extra-special goody absolutely gratis. Lauren gushed (earnestly) about a cartoonist and landed a copy of her upcoming book (if you're curious, you can actually snag a preview of this comic, Julia Wertz's autobiographical Drinking at the Movies at Random House/Del Rey Books, Booth 1514).
Tip 6: Just ask: It may sound tacky, but folks working the booths fully expect visitors to ask for free stuff. Book and comic publishers were most likely to turn up with free swag on demand, but if you stop and chat with some of the independent artists working their own tables, they might just reward you with a small token of their appreciation.
BEST FREE STUFF WE GOT
Best Tattoos: We saw lots of temporary tattoos, but these babies advertising The Expendables were by far the most elaborate. And the ladies working the booth will be happy to apply them to your body (Lionsgate Booth 3729).
Best Stickers: Celebrate a post-Comics Code Comic Con with these stickers from Elite Gudz (Booth 1221).
Most Homemade: He's not flashy, but this little stick figure definitely caught our eye. Too bad he started to lose his yarn hair in the bag (Bare Bones Studios Booth E7).
Most Obnoxious: Play Loopz, a fast-paced memory game, and grab a pair of these inflatable batons. They light up, they make loud noises when you beat them together, and they're really handy for hitting people. (Mattel Booth 2945, 3029)
Most Clever:They're "mouse spears." Get it? Advertising the comic Mouseknight (Booth I2).
Most Useful:A Sharpie on a cord, advertising The Big Bang Theory. Handy for those unexpected celebrity encounters when you absolutely need something signed (CBS Booth 4129).
Most Disturbing: This mask for horror comedy film The House That Drips Blood on Alex will haunt our dreams (Spike TV/Atom Booth 3445).
Most Random Swag from a Single Booth: If you're looking for quantity over quality, hit the Disney Book Group booth, and you'll be rewarded with a Tron preview comic, a flash drive containing songs from the Artemis Fowl soundtrack, a mousepad, a guide to the publisher's graphic novels, and to cap it off, a lanyard. (Booth 1316).
Best Swag, Second Runner-Up: DC is doing giveaways first thing in the morning and at the end of the evening, when they aren't doing signings. When they handed us this Red Hood mask, they asked that we not use it to hold up any convenience stores. And if we do hold up any convenience stores, we should say it's a Deadpool mask (DC Comics Booth 1915).
Best Swag, First Runner-Up: You'll need a smart phone to score this nifty shirt from the Zombie Defense Network. We had to signup for Gowalla, a location-based social networking service and check in at the booth. We like the shirt, but now Gowalla owns all of our contact information (X-Sanguin/Zombie Defense Network Booth 433).
Best Swag, Winner: When we saw people wearing these amazing Galactus hats, we knew we just had to have one. Unfortunately, Hasbro wasn't giving any more out when we hit their booth. No problem, we just searched out a con-goer who had obviously grown bored with his — which brings us to our final tip: If you see someone else carrying something you want, just ask them if you can have it. Chances are, they weren't planning on taking it home anyway.