Monday, April 6, 2009

An Introduction to Conventions

Not sure if you've noticed, but this year's New York Comic Con has already come and gone along with a bevy of other big shows across the country, and the San Diego Comic Con is looming.

Looming, Lovecraftian-ly, in the distance.

That's right, folks. We are officially in the middle of Convention Season. Hard to believe, since I've always thought of the summer as being Con Season. But, since the economy is so great these days, I guess it only makes sense that there are more shows, earlier, all across the country.

Be that as it may, we figure now would probably be a good time to do an Official Friendly Neighborhood Exfanding Guide to Conventions.

Well, okay, so it's probably a safe bet that the majority of our readers have *ahem* braved a convention or two in their time, but there's likely a few folks out there who haven't. So, hopefully, this post will be a good way for said folks to wade into the (nerdy) waters of Convention-ing. Convention-eering. Convention-going.

Convention-going. That works. I'll use that one.

And, to those who have been to Cons before, maybe this can serve as a handy little reminder guide as you get ready for your next show--whatever that might be. Now, in order to do this, I'd like to list a few rules of thumb, and then add some snarky (and hilarious) commentary to each one. These rules will pretty much be universal guidelines, suitable for any convention type, from comics to anime to Star Trek and beyond. Sound good?

Sure it does, Bucky. Sure it does. Right to it, then.

Rule One: Arm Thyself
Just like every epic poem has a "dressing of the warrior" scene, so too does each and every convention. And, while some Con-goers may, in fact, go all Beowulf and pack a broadsword, we suggest that you focus more on the...uh...let's say...practical...stuff.

Like comfortable sneakers and a bag.

Conventions mean lots and lots of walking around--Frodo-style--carrying all the wonderful and useless stuff you're likely to buy there. So open-toed sandals are probably not the wisest choice of footwear.

As for the bag you bring, choose wisely, because you'll be stuck with this thing for the entire convention. A bag too small and you won't have the room to pack all of your recently purchased wares. A bag too large, and you'll be dragging it along the floor after the first couple hours, knocking small children and hobbits to the ground.

Now, first thing's first. Check the show's Web site beforehand (and even the Web site of the convention center itself) to make sure they allow bags. Some places don't, and boy, let me tell you, that makes for a long and confusing day of buying stuff. If the con doesn't allow for bags to be brought in, I'd suggest finding a dealer--any dealer in the room--that's using large bags to pack purchases in. Buy something from him/her, and use the bag for the rest of the day.

Second, be sure to bring a bag that's going to be comfortable, either over your shoulder or on your back. It's a personal preference, sure, but I think the over-the-shoulder bag is best, because it allows easy access and you can always keep an eye on it without fear of someone reaching in and stealing something.

Third, try to plan things out a bit. What I mean is, typically Cons have guests signing autographs. If you're an autograph seeker, figure out what books (or replica Spock ears) you'd like to have signed. When I go to comic shows, I always check out the show's Web site, take a look at the guest list, and start making my own list of people I'd like to meet.

And, if I decide I'd like an autograph from someone, I then pick out one or two books to be signed. Now, if there are even a handful of writers and artists that I'd like to have sign something, then my bag is filling up pretty quickly--and I haven't even gotten to the show yet! Keep this in mind when packing your own bag o' stuff. Remember, you're going to buy things at the show--and you'll need to have room for all of it in your bag.

And, if you do decide that you simply must bring your authentic Lord of the Rings replica sword along with you, then do make sure it'll fit in your chosen bag. Oh, and if you're traveling a great distance (again, Frodo-style) to attend the Con, remember that you can't bring broadswords on planes.


And now, it's time to effortlessly segue into my next rule.

Rule Two: Don't Be That Guy
This one's probably going to be a bit rant-y on my part, so be forewarned. Did you happen to notice how I said I pack ONE OR TWO books to have signed per writer/artist? And did you also notice how ONE OR TWO is not, say, an entire long box of comics?

Well, good, then we're on the same page.

When I went to the (fantastic!) Baltimore Comic Con last Fall, I got to meet Brian Michael Bendis, and I was able to tell him how much his writing means to me. That was awesome. Just a great experience, and I made sure to have him sign a copy of the comic book that got me into the hobby, just over five years ago.

Like I said, awesome.

But, you know what wasn't awesome? After an hour of waiting on line (happily, I might add) I made my way to the near-front. I was, like, three people back from Bendis. Another minute or two, and I'd have the chance to shake his hand, say thanks, and get a book signed.


Well, sure, if the guy two spots ahead of me didn't ask Bendis to sign FIFTY COMICS! I swear, at least fifty books. This pile was obscene, and yet Bendis courteously, and professionally, signed each and every one. And I, like everyone else in line, had to wait while this jerk (crazy fanboy, not Bendis) took up nearly ten minutes of our collected time. Once in a while, Bendis would peer over the stack and make eye contact with people in line, as if to say "sorry."

And that's a pretty lousy position to put a creator in.

I mean, what's he supposed to do--tell a fan to leave? No, instead Bendis signed them all, and joked about it to a couple of us when our turns came.

The point I want to make is, don't be that guy. Just don't be that guy with fifty books and a Sharpie. No one likes that guy--not the people patiently waiting to get a copy of Ultimate Spider-Man signed, and not the creator who has to take ten minutes of his or her signing time to devout himself or herself to building your Personal Autograph Mountain.

I have to add, I still kinda regret not saying something to that guy in Baltimore, because it was so rude, and he had absolutely no regard for anyone else. Makes me wish I packed that broadsword...

Ah, well. On to the next rule, huh?

Rule Three: You will not be able to see everything there is to see
Especially at the bigger shows (like San Diego or NYCC), there's just not enough time in the day to do and see everything, so be sure to plan ahead. When you check in, you'll receive a Convention program--it is your friend, and you should use it.

Find a few things you really want to do, and make plans to be able to do them. If you want to attend panels (basically, rooms full of people listening to creators, or directors, or editors, or whomever talk about their work), then figure to be on line, outside the assigned room with some time before the panel starts.

Same goes with the dealer's room and artist's alley. Check the Convention guide to see which dealers are attending the show, and which creators either have booths or are going to be signing, and when.

Personally, I make a point to visit retailer booths like Metropolis Comics, Superworld, and Anthony Snyder's Comic Art.

And this leads me to...

Rule Four: Deal with the Dealers
I have a very basic Rule of Existence, a general belief about things if you will, and it certainly applies to conventions. It goes something like this...

"Don't be a Jerk."

I try to apply this rule to everything I do, and, while I fail on occasion, I'd like to think that most people who know me will agree that I am not a jerk. Usually. Certainly not right this moment.

And I think this rule applies quite nicely when negotiating prices at a convention. While it's true that you are more likely to be able to negotiate at a show than at your local store, do remember that the dealers still need to turn a profit at the end of the day.

So, don't count on buying that Action Comics #1 for anywhere near "a couple hundred cash."

But, you might be able to find a nice, long run of books for well under current Price Guide values. Certainly don't be afraid or embarrassed to haggle...just don't go too far. And, as always, be courteous.

Rule Five: The Art of Buying Art...from Artists.
One of the coolest (yes, I know, that's a relative term when talking about these silly things we love) parts of any con is meeting professionals. Particularly with comic cons, the superstars of these shows are always the artists.

Located on Artist's Alley (or somewhere similar), there's typically a long row of pencillers, inkers, and colorists, ranging from obscure indie talent to the guy what drew all them fancy Supermans.

And, typically, each charges some kind of fee to draw characters of your choice. Now, while this fee varies widely, each artist will most likely charge you for a drawing. (Remember, that's how they make their living--by drawing.) Some artists will draw a quick head sketch for very little or no charge, but anything more complicated than that will cost ya.

With the most popular artists, they usually take a commissions list and fans start lining up (somehow!) before the show officially opens to the public. So if you want that Wolverine sketch by Dave Finch, you better be there bright and early!

And, finally...

Rule Six: You Will Exceed Your Budget
Unfortunately, things cost money. I know, it's just not fair. And, while you may have exactly the right amount of cash on hand to buy that Darth Vader Toaster and a full run of Little Lulu comics, you'll still need to park. And eat.

So, try your best to gauge your spending limit, and add just a bit more for things like food and gas. Oh, and it always helps if you have a friend with you willing to do whatever it takes to be sure you don't max out a credit card or three on a Near Mint copy of Daredevil #1.

(My friend's name is Gary.)

And there you have it, a few rules to remember when attending any kind of convention. There's plenty more I could write about, but since this is already book-length, I'll stop myself. Anyone out there with more tips and tricks, please do leave comments. Also, if anyone has a particularly funny or poignant (yes, poignant) moment from a past convention, please share with the rest of the class!

So, that's about it. Whichever con you attend this season, remember--have fun!

(By the way, all photos in this post are from a pretty awesome Time Magazine online slideshow, which can be found right here.)


Flashman85 said...

There's a lot to say about costumes and props at conventions, too, but I think we'll cover that in a future post someday. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

A few more pointers:

If you wear a costume (or carry a 6' broad sword) expect to have your picture taken often. If it is a well done or humorous costume, this may cause delays in getting around the convention, as you may get stopped every few feet by adoring fans. Be polite to these fans, as they are complimenting you by asking for a photo. Also, do not pose for pictures in the middle of a walkway, as that can cause serious traffic jams.

If you are going in costume, bring a lackey to carry all your mundane stuff. It is very hard to pose for photos when burdened down with bags. Another option is to go as a character who has built-in storage space. For instance, I went as Lucca from "Chrono Trigger" last year, and her character carries a messenger bag as part of her costume.

Bring your own food. Even if you cannot bring outside food into the convention itself, pack snacks or sandwiches for the car ride or your hotel room. Otherwise you will be spending $6 for a pretzel, which really eats away at your budget.

Make you you leave enough buffer room in between things you want to see at the convention. In your head you may think you only need 15 minutes to get from Room A to the Dealers' Room. However, add in photos, conversations, gawking, glomping, and generally wading through thousands of people who seem to have nothing better to do than just stand in your way and it can easily double the travel time - causing you to miss whatever you were hoping to see.

Finally, be courteous to your fellow con-goers and practice good hygiene skills. Thousands of people in a small space, some in ridiculously heavy or thick costumes, plus warm weather, tends to amplify what is referred to as "Con Funk." Do not be "that person" who uses odor as a reach weapon or a ranged touch-attack.

- Shannon

Flashman85 said...

Thanks for the extra pointers! Now I don't need to write that costume post. ;)

dreadpiraterose said...

Great post! I'm actually going to link to it on my blog.

Convention Fans Blog

Anonymous said...

Shannon said it best at the end of her post...BATHE! Come on people, don't you have some basic hygiene skills!?!

I think Foamy says it best -


AJG said...

I'm glad people seem to like this post! And, thanks go to Shannon for her extra pointers! I'd also encourage everyone to check out Kelly's Convention Fans site ( for all Con-related info.

Chris Tempesta KiddieCorp said...

Another tip: If you do have children and want to bring them, check out KiddieCorp child care right at the convention center. You can use it for a few hours or all day, because there will be places to go and things to see that are best visited without the kids in tow! Registration should be available on the website.