So you’re thinking about hitting up your first comic convention? Maybe been to a few and you feel like you’re not getting your money’s worth? Well gird up your loins young warrior! I’m here to help you on your path to glory and conquest among the crates of clandestine treasures.
I started going to cons in 1993 as a junior in high school. As soon as I could drive, we would make the trip to San Diego yearly. The mecca for all things comics since 1970. Easily the biggest con in the world is the Comic-Con International: San Diego. I would argue it is easily one of the best, but again that comes at the cost of losing a lot of focus on comics. But if that’s not your focus and your tastes are more fringe like Game of Thrones, maybe you might be able to find something there you like. Maybe… So, hopefully with 20 years of going to cons, I’ll be able to pass along a little something to make your first or your next one a little easier.
Schedule: I’m not an organized person generally, so this part was hard for me to manage. I still just love to set aside a day and have absolutely no plans whatsoever. Just take it all in. But with all that’s going on there, it’s a huge tradeoff to miss something that is often really cool. Year after year, I’d find I’d missed something amazing because I just didn’t take the time to look at the schedule to see what was going on.
So, be really flexible with your schedule. Bear in mind that things like transit to the con will be crowded. The space of these convention centers are massive. San Diego has even spilled into the hotels next door and the streets, so even just walking around may take more time than you previously imagined.
Early risers win every time: There are dudes out there who’ve been doing this a long time and know what they want to see. These jerks are out there earlier and earlier every year just to make sure they get into that panel or get that con exclusive action figure. Get up earlier man. When was the last time you saw a sunrise? Seriously, set an alarm. Have the hotel give you a wake up call. It’s a sure bet that as early as you think you are, there are already 10 people waiting there before you.
Bloody Lines: This sucks. It’s unavoidable. No way around this one. You’re gonna stand in line. …Probably even to pee here. My biggest recommendation here is to take a friend. Most people won’t mind if you get into line together and one of you takes off for a little bit to check out something else while the other holds your place. Put yourself out there and start up a conversation. It’s easy tell that chick you like her costume, especially if she’s not wearing one. They eat that stuff up with a spoon. It’s been my experience to make some really great friends while standing in lines. Make the best use of your time. The majority of your time is gonna be in one of these damn lines, so have fun!
Butting in: Sometimes lines are so long, that it might be in your best interest to head to the front of the line. See the quantities and qualities of the stuff you’re waiting for. There’s nothing like waiting an hour for that exclusive print that has only three copies left and 300 people are waiting for it. I’m not advocating cutting in line here by any means but… I like the asshole approach and use it pretty frequently at cons.
Outside the Con: Be aware there is usually a lot to do. Most of the time, you are traveling to another place to get to go to one of these cons. So, there’s almost always a ton of other stuff going on that the city is doing, to try to get you to spend them touristy type dolla dolla bills y’all. A lot of times people do things in connection with the con, like the Godzilla Experience this year at San Diego (see episode 199.1 for more info). So, be sure to see what else is going on around town. It’s an awesome opportunity to take a day off from the con if nothing is really going to blow your mind there that day and check out the city. Plus, you don’t have to wear a damn badge everywhere so that’s kinda nice.
Carrying your crap: Now I’ve seen Sean “the Hulk” Leslie carry a 50lb backpack and two 80lb bags filled with hardcovers all weekend long to get signatures by his favorite creators. Hell, by any creator. He gets signatures from colorists for the love of god. Even I’ve had a custom bag made for carrying comics. It keeps them padded and flat, so that nothing gets too jacked up in the transport. Be aware that there is a lot of odd sized stuff. Like posters. You may want to keep them rolled-up or flat. Depending on what you’re after, it might be worth it to bring your own tubes. Or invest in one at the con, for the oddly shaped package (that didn’t sound weird did it?). Backpacks work great! I’m a messenger man myself. Do what works. The padded slipcases for laptops work awesome for holding up to about 25 comics or so. If you are looking to pack more than that I’d recommend getting something bigger.
Brown Baggin it: Food at the con’s is almost always horrendously overpriced and ridiculously crappy. I just went to the Salt Lake con yesterday and they have BEER so I got to do my first con drunk. An experience I’d really like to recommend to each of you that are of age drinkers. Before the con my boy pete even made Hulk Juice (Equal parts limeade and Vodka and a liberal dash of green food coloring and for added texture a smattering of dry ice) and we pre-partied at his place. Bring your own food and water or energy drinks. It’s almost always a good idea to avoid one more line for the craptacular food the con has to offer and spend your hard earned cash on a Ryan Ottley commission of kid Omni-Man blowing moroni’s horn or something much more offensive.
Mapquest the hell outta that place: As much amazing stuff is at the con, there are an equal number of vendors there who are just taking up space and wasting your time. So, know the routes. If you’ve gotta book it from one end of the con to the other, don’t go down the busiest aisle. You’re gonna have a bad time. mmmkay? Be quick like ninja, flow like water, avoid the narutards at all costs. You know what I’m getting at here.
Ask nicely and use your manners: Two words: Slave Leia. How often are you going to get the opportunity to have a portal gun and a sonic screwdriver blasting at your genitals? You never will, unless you ask nicely and use common courtesy.
Cosplayer’s are there to see and check out the con as much as you are. Just ask first. They won’t bite. They’ve worked hard on their costumes and preparing for the con too, so show them the respect they deserve and be liberal with compliments. Free hugs and glomping are a common feature at cons as well. My favorite trick is to ask a cosplayer to take a picture of us first and then ask if we can take one of them. Jim Lee actually taught me how to use my camera once to get a better picture of being punched in the face. When will that guy stop being talented. Did you know he went to Princeton to be a doctor? Dude’s insanely awesome.
Bring Cash: Cash is king. How are you going to buy a Fight for Comics tee shirt without it? Most vendors are now taking cards, but its almost always easier to have cash on hand. Plus it’s cool to not have the vendors lose out on credit card fees. Do your favorite creator a huge favor and give him a tax free gift, he can treasure forever. There are nearly always ATM’s at the event but they are charging strip club fees in there man! So stop off at an ATM outside the event.
Bring your damn street smarts: If you’re a girl don’t wear a purse. One year I saw a dude just snatch a ladies wallet and he was gone in the crowd within a millisecond. I told her what happened, but the damage was done. Keep your wallet in your front pocket. At anime conventions they rock fanny packs. Its actually really smart, because all of their stuff is right in their line of sight and right where they can get to it. I’m a slave to fashion and can’t do it, but its the right line of thinking. Keep your eyes open and your valuables close, there are people that are there to rip other people off. There are even a few who aren’t behind the tables selling stuff, it might just be that kid in the blue lantern shirt.
Spectacle, Testicles, Wallet, Watch and Badge: Its hard to add one more thing to your daily carry, but treat your badge like your wallet. It’s your passport to the world of scantily clad street fighters and oddly enough a ton of people dressed up as freddy mercury this year. Keep track of this bad boy at all times. It’s your lifeline. if you lose it, you’re up crap creek son. Don’t get to the con, like I have on multiple occasions, just to have to turn around and go back home to get your badge.
So there’s still a ton more, but hopefully this guide to comic conventions can help you out in some small way and maybe get something more out of your con than you came with. Whether you’re there to dig in the crates for that hidden gem of bloodwolf #3 with the variant cover, or trying to shake hands with James Tiberius Kirk, I wish you the best and hope you have a great time in your fight for comics!
Special thanks to Pete Harrison and Henry Fei for the photographs and stupid faces.