10 Free Comic-Con Events You Don’t Need a Badge to Attend

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If you’re reluctant to pay money for three-and-a-half days’ worth of claustrophobia inside the San Diego Convention Center, it’s completely understandable. But you really don’t need a badge to officially attend Comic-Con anyway, because there are a number of offsite Comic-Con events that are ancillary to what’s happening inside the halls, which therefore renders them official — at least in our opinion. Not only are these events open to the public, they’re free, and when there is money involved, it’s because you’re at a pop-up shop or merch booth. Some panels cost a few bucks, but that’s just one more reason to stick to events happening outside the confines of the Comic-Con badge zone. Here, it looks like most of your money goes to a good cause and not just a stranger’s wallet.

Nerd Machine HQ

NoHo-based Nerd Machine hosts a series of free tech demos, videos, and live-DJ sets, along with gaming and dancing, too. Each Conversations for a Cause panel is $22, with money benefiting Operation Smile. Panel highlights include the cast of Orphan Black on Friday, July 19 at 3pm and Joss Whedon on Saturday, July 20 at 10am. (July 18–21; Petco Park, 100 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101.)

Adult Swim Fun House

The Adult Swim Fun House is actually a makeshift castle in the Petco parking lot, where grown men and women over 18 crawl and sing their way through a maze of “Bubbles, Cephalopods, Spasm Chasm [and] Public Births,” all in an effort to score a limited-edition screen-printed T-shirt. It’s free, but tickets are required, and are available on site beginning at 4pm daily. (July 18-20, 5-10 pm; Petco Park parking lot at Park Blvd. and Tony Gwynn Dr. at the bottom of pedestrian bridge over Harbor Dr.)

Hello Kitty Fashion Music Wonderland

Hello Kitty is pushing 40 and she’s finally making her official Comic-Con debut at this “interactive experience and pop-up shop.” For those who’ve dreamed of meeting the make-believe creature in real life, “Japanimation” awaits, where maid-inspired Lolitas introduce fans to the childhood (and adulthood) icon herself. It’s like an exhibit, playground, marketplace, and big top, all in one — just another testament to Japanese toy company Sanrio’s longstanding legacy as the connoisseur of kawaii. (July 18–20, 9:30am–5pm; Jul 21, 9:30am–5pm; Petco Park, 100 Park Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92101.)

Petco Star Wars Day Yappy Hour

Evidently, Star Wars Day is during Comic-Con and not on May the 4th like we thought. Nevertheless, with so many events happening at Petco Park, it’s only fair that our furry friends should benefit, too. Star Wars favorites such as Darth Vader and Chewbacca are on hand to help adoptable shelter animals from the San Diego Humane Society find loving new homes. Members of the public are also invited to attend (with or without their pets) for the Star Wars Photo Experience, custom movie caricatures, and giveaways, including stuff from Petco’s Star Wars Pet Fans collection. (Friday, July 19, 4-7 pm; Hotel Indigo, 509 9th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101.)

Chuck Jones Gallery

As the man behind some of our favorite cartoon characters — Bugs Bunny, the Roadrunner, and other Loony Toons stars — the late animator Chuck Jones helped define an era of American TV culture. Fans can still check out his work in three eponymous galleries across California, including San Diego. In other words, this attraction is available all year round. Right now, Chuck Jones Extravaganza is on exhibit, with a different featured guest at the gallery each night during Comic-Con. Visitors may even catch the tail end of the Course of the Force Lightsaber charity relay, which began at Skywalker Ranch near San Francisco on July 9 and benefits the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (July 19-20, 10am-9pm and July 21, 12-8pm; 232 Fifth Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101.)

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Jackdaw Ship

This ersatz pirate ship features three huge levels where the public can demo the Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag video game. Gamers and non-gamers alike can also check out pirate-weapon historian Mike Loades’ live swashbuckling demo and take home swag like inflatable cutlass swords and Titan art booklets. Cartoonist Todd McFarlane signs exclusive Assassin’s Creed posters on Friday, July 19 from 4-7pm and Saturday, July 20 from 10:30am-1:30pm. (July 19–20, 10am-7pm; 5th Avenue Landing, 600 Convention Way, San Diego, CA, 92101.)

We Love Fine Pop-Up Shop

We Love Fine pop-culture purveyors pops up with a shop selling everything from T-shirts and bags to other adorable, eye-catching accessories. Fans can stick around for special appearances by artists and actors and take the opportunity to buy the exclusive officially licensed Star Trek Comic-KHAAAN! 2013 T-shirt. (July 18-20, 9am-8pm and July 21, 9am-3pm; Hilton San Diego Gaslamp, 401 K Street, San Diego CA 92101.)

Machinima at Fluxx Nightclub

Machinima holds down the fort at Fluxx Nightclub with a weekend-long series of parties, fan meet-ups, panels, professional zombie face-painting, and hands-on gaming opportunities with tournaments to boot. (Friday, July 19, 10am-6pm; Saturday, July 20, 10am-5pm. FLUXX, 500 4th Ave., San Diego, CA 92101.)

All Hail Vikings: An Interactive Experience

In conjunction with the History channel’s first scripted series, Vikings, visitors race miniature ships and/or engage in photo ops at the waterway across the street from the Convention Center. The band Silent Comedy performs live at 6pm on Saturday, July 20. Look for the Danish Viking shield-maidens. (July 18-20, 11am-8pm; 450 Second Ave, San Diego, CA, 92101.)

Legendary Pictures Godzilla Encounter

Yes, it’s one big advertisement for another Godzilla remake that doesn’t hit theaters until next summer, but the creature is still an icon of midcentury Japanese giant-monster cinema, and it’s worth getting to know him again. Catch up with Godzilla and discover why he’s so legendary in a walkthrough exhibit that’s really a sneak peek into the making of the new film. (July 17-21, 5-9pm; 704 J. Street, San Diego CA 92101.)