Convention season is in full swing and every con brings new excitement and new adventures. I prepared to head to my third convention of the season in Chicago this past weekend. Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) has become one of my favorites, as it was the convention that brought me back to my passion of comics and other geek interests during its inaugural year. This year, I added to the experience by attending with both my children and a group of special friends. Three people who had never been to a comic convention in the past, had decided to come this year to share the excitement of C2E2 and show what it’s like to experience a convention for the first time. After all the conventions I had attended, it really helped me to remember some important tricks and tips to make the convention experience all that it can be.
- Know before you go. Nothing is more frustrating than looking back at the end of a convention and realizing that your favorite artist was signing at 3 pm but you were busy standing in line to buy a Deadpool t-shirt. Most conventions publish their schedules at least a week before the event. It is worth the time to go over that schedule and highlight what events you would consider “can’t miss”. This can range from an autograph session or a Q&A panel regarding the next season of Game of Thrones. Also, take a look at the floor map and take note of the shops and dealers that you want to visit. Once visitors hit the floor, it can be overwhelming when the crowd fills in and limits the field of vision. You can easily wander past something you just had to have.
- Bring Cash. Although a lot of the vendors can now take credit cards, the majority of the time, it is a very slow and tedious process. Convention centers are notorious for having poor wi-fi and cellular reception and it costs vendors big money usually to have dedicated Ethernet cables and even electricity for cash registers is expensive. Trust me, cash on hand will speed you through your purchase and onto your next priceless treasure in Artist Alley. More importantly, make sure you set a budget and try to stick to it. Once you hit the floor, that handmade Captain America shield can be tempting, but is it really worth $300?
- Pay to play. This ties in with bringing along cash. Most new convention attendees are surprised to find out that you just can’t walk up to your favorite celebrity and get a picture and an autograph. The debate about paying for photo ops and autographs can bring out some pretty strong opinions among convention goers. At some smaller conventions, you might still be able to get that free autograph or personal photograph. Most celebrity guests are excited to interact with fans and it is often possible to chat with them for a few minutes for free. However, the reality in 2014 is that most celebrities charge for both autographs and personal pictures. The prices are usually posted before the convention begins, so just plan that as part of your budget. Also, read the fine print about what the individual costs are. It might cost extra to have your hand carved bust of Stan Lee autographed (refer to recommendation #1). The exception to this is usually with comic book writers and authors. Generally, they will gladly sign their books for free and love to hear how much you appreciate their work.
- Cosplayers are artists. One of the most enjoyable experiences of first-time convention attendees is seeing all the original and entertaining cosplayers. After talking to some newbies at this year’s convention, I think it’s important to just highlight a few of the finer points of interaction with cosplayers in attendance. Most have paid to get into the convention and have put tremendous time and effort into a costume that reflects their biggest passion in the geek-o-sphere. I cannot stress enough how important it is to treat them with respect and show your appreciation for their hard work. Most love to have their picture taken, but always ask first and then thank them for the opportunity. Also, it should go without saying but is worth stressing again that inappropriate physical contact or comments is never acceptable and most conventions have very strict policies regarding behavior of that nature.
- Divide and conquer. Nothing is more fun than attending a convention with all your other geek friends. That fun can quickly turn to frustration as you try to stick together on the exhibition floor. Usually the exhibition and vendor floor is a grid of tables and stalls with patrons of all shapes and sizes exploring and trying to find the perfect souvenir. There is usually such a diverse array of vendors that sticking together in a group bigger than 2-3 people is challenging. Everyone will probably have a better time if they have the opportunity to seek out their favorite purchases and experiences in small clusters of like-minded geeks. Let the gamers wander without the anime aficionados and just set a few times and locations during the day to hook up and share the great merchandise you have all discovered.
- Proper Provisions can make (or break) your day. Batman never hits the streets without a well-stocked utility belt so you also want to make sure you are prepared. Here is a list of things that are part of my essential convention gear so I can get the most out of the experience. I don’t leave home without them.
Backpack or bag – you gotta have somewhere to put your lootWater bottle and snacks – all good con attendees need to be fed and watered properly to avoid crossing over to The Dark Side
Camera or phone – there are too many awesome memories so make sure you capture them to help rub it in to everyone who missed out
Comfortable shoes – nothing ruins an adventure quicker than blisters or tired feet
Comic books to have signed – don’t miss out if your favorite writer or artist is there
Potions of healing – medications for headache, heartburn, allergies or asthma plus a few Band-Aids can save you a trip to the nearest convenient store.
The convention experience is hard to explain to folks outside of the geek-o-sphere at times. Once you experience it, it is hard to not start searching the calendar for the next opportunity to attend. Convention attendees and participants are some of the most fervent and entertaining people you may ever have the privilege of meeting. For many, it is their limited opportunity to truly immerse themselves in their biggest passion and share it with like-minded people. Some of my favorite convention experiences have been those moments with someone discovers a new comic book, game or artist that opens them up to whole new world of experiences and fun. Remember, everyone is a newbie at one time, but these simple tips can help you find your way to great adventure.