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Comic-Con 2013 Preview: Starship Smackdowns, Masquerade Balls, & Neil Gaiman

Bill Plympton. Kevin Smith. Game of Thrones. Calvin & Hobbes. They're all there at the annual nerd prom.

Each person’s experience of Comic-Con International is like the blind man’s experience of the proverbial elephant—except that Comic-Con is a massive, seven-block-long, mutant pachyderm from another dimension. But it would be described differently by each of its 130,000 attendees.

Comic-Con isn't just panels. The Anime Film Festival runs all day, every day of the convention. The Exhibit Hall has a huge dealer room where sellers push everything from multi-sided die, replica swords, original art, steampunk shoulder bags, T-shirts of all kinds, and even comic books. Seek out Artists’ Alley for original art, some of which is done to order. The best place to find a hidden gem is the Small Press Pavilion, where the creators of independent comics are often at the tables selling their work. But it's definitely the panels that get the most attention. To help you (i.e. people who have secured tickets that sold out months ago) navigate the San Diego Convention Center, here are our daily picks for the best events.

THURSDAY, JULY 18
Bill Plympton’s Cheatin’ and Kickstarter Fundraising for Animaton
Animation auteur Bill Plympton will preview and discuss his new feature Cheatin’ as well as the Kickstarter campaign that raised completion funds for the film. Room 23ABC, noon-1 p.m.

Masquerade 101
If you're a costume maker, cosplayer, or casual fan, this panel will cover convention costume competitions, research, design, fabrication, and presentation. As Tim Gunn would say, "Make it work!" Room 23ABC, 6-7 p.m.

Indie Comics Marketing and PR 101
Though all the hype at Comic-Con is about celebrity appearances and reveals of big studio films, much of the programming focuses on the business of publishing and filmmaking. This roundtable will how to market and promote books that don’t star caped heroes and aren't published by DC or Marvel. Room 8, 6:30-7:30 p.m.

FRIDAY, JULY 19
Comics on Trial, Part 2: Counter Attacks: How Prosecution of Retailers Changed the History of Comics
Charles Brownstein, the executive director of the Comic Books Legal Defense Fund, will discuss the period during the 1970s when bookstore clerks were arrested and convicted for selling obscene material like Zap comics, which featured underground artists like R. Crumb. Hear how their struggle brought the underground genre into the light. Room 30CDE, 1-2 p.m.

The Venture Bros.
Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, the creators of the best TV show you’re probably not watching, will discuss and take questions about The Venture Bros., their cult favorite Cartoon Network show. Patrick Warburton, voice of series regular Brock Samson, joins them for this always popular panel. Indigo Ballroom, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, 12:15-1 p.m.

Game of Thrones
Even though Hall H, which hosts all the most popular panels, holds over 6,100 people, this is one of those “get there early or you won’t get in” events. Showrunners and writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will be joined by cast members Emila Clarke, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, and Rose Leslie, among others. Hall H, 2:50-3:45 p.m.

SATURDAY, JULY 20
Hall H
If you love movies, head to Hall H early and stay there all day. Panels from Warner Bros. (Godzilla, 300: Rise of an Empire, The LEGO Movie), Lionsgate (The Hunger Game: Catching Fire), 20th Century Fox (Amazing Spider-Man 2), and Marvel Studios (Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) will run from morning to night. Stay until the end and enjoy film director and comic book writer Kevin Smith’s annual address to the nerd congress.

Futurama
Celebrating the final season of Matt Groening’s other animated show, the panel will include voice cast members Billy West, John DiMaggio, Katey Sagal, executive producer David X. Cohen, and Groening himself. Ballroom 20, 12-12:45 p.m.

Nerdist Industries

Chris Hardwick will discuss what’s to come for the YouTube, TV, and podcast network created for the fanboys and fangirls. Indigo Ballroom, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, 3-4 p.m.

Stripped: the Comics Documentary
This panel will feature discussion with the creative team behind the film, which features Jim Davis (Garfield), Cathy Guisewite (Cathy), and the rarely interviewed Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes). Room 28DE, 7-8 p.m.

Comic-Con International Masquerade
The Masquerade is the runway fashion show of the weekend-long nerd prom.  Recreations of familiar characters as well as original creations by show attendees are on display at this weekend highlight. If you can’t get in to the main room, there are plenty of overflow rooms with a simulcast of the evening’s proceedings. Ballroom 20, 8:30-11:30 p.m.

SUNDAY
Jack Kirby Tribute
If you’re one of those Comic-Con attendees who decries the commercialization and Hollywood-ifcation of the Con, then this panel is for you. The annual panel celebrates “King Kirby,” the artist who co-created some of comic’s most iconic characters: Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, and The Hulk.  The panel will include writer Neil Gaiman. Room 5AB, 10-11:15 a.m.

Starship Smackdown Redux 3D: Ultimate Platinum Collector’s Edition
If you’re still on your feet this late in the day on Sunday, get yourself to this panel. It was the highlight of last year’s Comic-Con and featured a guest appearance by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. A panel of “starship experts,” assembled by GEEK magazine, will use tournament brackets to break down the greatest starships of film and television. Room 6A, 3:30-5 p.m.

Hall H
Sunday is another day you could spend the balance of your time in Hall H.  Though not strictly comic book-related, featured panels will include Breaking Bad, Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary, NBC’s Community, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Sons of Anarchy. Hall H, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.