So, the countdown approaches… One week to the Big Show! What to do? What to expect? The weekend before the show, do your laundry. Set aside the clothes you plan to take, possibly in the luggage you’ll use. You’ll pack later. Go online. Visit the con site online. Make a “wish list” of everything you’d like to see. Print out the exhibit hall (dealers room) map, and highlight the booths you’re interested in. You don’t need to write the names… you’ll probably recognize the booth immediately. [Myself, I make it a habit to walk every aisle of the dealers room, because I’m always looking for something cool, new, and unusual. ] Make a list of all the panels and events that interest you. Sure, there will be some overlap, but don’t worry about that now. Use the map on the last day of the show, to double-check you didn’t overlook anything. Also print out :
- a copy of your hotel reservation (call and confirm a few days in advance)
- a copy of your travel reservation
- a copy of your convention registration
- a Google Map of the area around your hotel, with notations for dining, public transit, grocery/convenience stores…
- a Google map of the area around the convention center
- a copy of the convention center map itself, noting food, restrooms, ATMs, quiet corners, and exits which make your escape from the maddening crowds easier
The maps you can fold into quarters and keep in your back pocket for easy access. The paper copies are easier to access than Google Maps on your cell phone, and you may not get a signal, or may not have any battery power. The night before your trip, pack your luggage. Make your bed. Don’t worry about bouncing a quarter off the sheets, you just want a flat surface on which to pile stuff. Stack your clothes into a pile off to the side. Take your time and think about what you’ll need to take with you. If you’re checking your baggage, do you need to worry about theft? Perhaps your laptop should go in your carry-on bag? Pick your collectibles. Is there anything you really truly deeply need signed by a creator? That dog-eared paperback copy of “The Great Comic Book Heroes” by Jules Feiffer? A copy of “The Two Sides of Leonard Nimoy“? An MIB Donny Osmond action figure
Set your luggage by the door so it’s ready to go. Before you go to bed, do the calculus… when should I leave to arrive at the airport/bus station/trans-port on time? Give yourself plenty of time in the morning to avoid any stress, have a nice leisurely breakfast, and to keep your mind calm as you finalize your departure. (Someone watching the house? Iron unplugged? Cat fed/let outside to fend for itself? Doors and windows locked?) Most importantly: do you have a loved one who would love a surprise gift from the Con? Need to thank someone for watching the house/feeding the cat/not having a wild party? Do you know their shirt size? The stuff they geek over? Keep that in mind at the Con, and when you’re wandering around the city! This is also a good time to do your christmahanakwanza/birthday shopping! Perhaps a sketch of your loved one as a superhero? Something hand-crafted? Autographed photos or books? ONE LAST THING! Do you know how to get from the airport/bus station/trans-port at your destination to your hotel and the convention center? Figure that out ahead of time… you might need to rent a taxi, take a bus, or use a slidewalk.
So you’ve arrived at your destination…
You’ve arrived on time, with little stress and no knowing looks from the TSA agents as they scanned your luggage. You drop your luggage in your hotel room, check the view, adjust the thermostat. The Big Show starts soon. You’ve got time. There’s a city to explore! So what do you do first? That’s right! You head to the convention center! (Stop at the hotel service desk for a free map of the city, opinions on your travel route, what’s the cool stuff in the city that weekend, and places to avoid.) Try out the public transportation so you won’t be surprised when you take it for real. If the show is open, get your membership badge, so you can avoid the noids when the show opens. If no one’s there, make a note of when they open in the morning, and get there super early. Also take the opportunity to reconnoiter inside and outside the center, before it fills up with crowds. Scope out any electrical outlets, especially those off the beaten path. Note vending machines, restrooms, and quiet corners where you can catch some Zzzzz’s/read/update your updates/make out with that cute cosplayer. THEN you go sight-see. What to see?
- If you want the “Best Of” sites, board a tourbus. They usually go in circles, and allow you to get on and off as you like, hitting all the high points. This way, you won’t be embarrassed when someone asks, “Did you see…?”.
- A local comics shop. Sure, they’ll probably be selling at the show, but there are a few reasons to do this:
- You discover new shops and some cool stuff that might not make it to the show.
- You’ll wander through neighborhoods off the beaten paths, getting an authentic feel for the city, the people, and the cuisines. (And discover a great place to take your new friends, making you look like a hoopy frood.)
- A local museum or art gallery. Perhaps there’s a comics exhibition, or the local science or natural history museum has something cool.
You go to bed early, even though you’ll probably be too excited to get any sleep.
THE FIRST DAY
Wake up early. Take your time. Shower. (Yes, this is the number one criticism of comic cons. The soap and shampoo are complimentary with the room. You won’t be charged for using them, unlike the minibar.) Turn on the television in your room to CNN or The Weather Channel. Check the forecast and dress accordingly. Listen to the news, just in case there’s something you should know. Have a big breakfast. Not so big that you want to go back upstairs and take a nap, but something filling. The strategy is that you last until 2 or 3 PM without starving, so you’ll avoid the long lines in the convention center. On the way to the convention center, stop at a convenience store or grocery, and pick up something to snack on during the day. I prefer breakfast bars. Maybe you like Pop Tarts. Or maybe Triple Double Oreos. Whatever it is, make sure the food itself is not messy, and that the packaging is sturdy. (You don’t want sticky crumbs in your bag, and you don’t want messy fingers.) Get a plastic bottle of something, making sure that the bottle can be resealed (you want to sip from it periodically throughout the day). Once it is empty, refill it at a water fountain. If you plan and eat correctly, you won’t need to buy anything at the convention center, saving you time and money. When the dealers room closes, you should be ready to go eat dinner (or attend BarCon). On the way to the convention center, take your annotated schedule and review. If the event still interests you, then set your calendar on your cell phone (I’m assuming you have one… otherwise, go old school and use your digital watch). I generally set the alarm to go off fifteen minutes before the event, so I have enough time to hoof it to the room. Or I’ll hit snooze and continue with what I’m doing, which is usually a conversation with someone. The bigger conventions will have mobile apps and such, but I prefer to use my phone clock instead. Of course, take your charger with you. If you can, charge a second battery as a backup. You’ll probably save energy by switching to plane mode (unless you need to look up something), and by turning your display brightness to the lowest level (since you’re inside, away from sun glare). Clear space on your phone’s memory before you leave… backup those pictures off the phone, clear out those videos (which might get you in trouble at customs), and delete those apps you haven’t used since you first downloaded on a whim. If you wish to take pictures at the convention, ask first, and try not to block traffic. STRONG ADVICE: If you arrive before the convention officially opens…avoid the dealers room first thing in the morning. It’s not worth waiting in line for. Either go find a panel to attend, or plot your routes on a map, or take a few photos of cosplayers before things get crazy. The line will usually dissolve in about fifteen minutes. (If you’re really savvy, arrive “fashionably late”…after the con opens, but before your first panel. If an event is HUGE (as in square footage reserved for the panel), get a ticket. If there are no tickets, then calculate the coolness of the panel against the time spent in line. Chances are, the panel will be widely reported, the trailers will be posted instantaneously, and you can watch the stream a few weeks later. (That is, if you’re still interested in what was said.) The smaller the panel, the better the experience, as you’ll be able to ask questions, get a good seat, and actually talk with the panelists after the event. You might even learn something cool which no one else knows, making you knowledgeable and cutting-edge, and thus more attractive to the opposite sex.
Try and pay your hotel bill as soon as you check in. You might not be able to, in which case you need to set aside that money someplace safe. Traveler’s cheques work well… they make it more difficult to spend the money on a whim. Set a specific amount of spending money for each day. Any money not spent that day is added to the budget for your last day, when dealers are more likely to bargain with you. That money can also be used for any emergencies or unexpected expenses at checkout (like that Axel Braun movie you ordered).
Be polite. There will be crowds, and sometimes you’ll have to be a bit pushy. The worst traffic jams will be in the Dealers Room, because that’s where all the cool stuff is. If you need to travel great distances quickly, move to one of the aisles located along the walls. Since the traffic is in the center of the room, that’s where vendors wish to be, and the organizers can charge more. The outer booths will be less populated (but just as interesting), so movement will be easier. If there’s a jam outside the dealers room, plot a different route. It might be faster to go up or down a level. Or outside the building (but first check that the door doesn’t lock behind you!)
In the back of most Dealers Rooms is the Artists Alley, where creators can rent a table and sell directly to fans. While many will also participate in signings and events at publishers’ booths and panels, for most of the con, they’ll be at their table, working on artwork, signing books, chatting with fans, and selling all sorts of merchandise. Some will have long lines. That’s a given when the artist is popular. Others will be less hectic. Many artists will do quick sketches, usually for a small fee. Check to see if there is a sign, or ask politely. Some artists will do fully rendered commissions, charging much more, and usually requiring a few hours to render. Many will have production art to sell, sometimes at a very affordable price. Realize that the artists (and writers) behind the tables have paid for that table from their own pocket, and need to make money to cover their costs, which will explain the prices being charged. I try to survey Artists Alley twice during a show, as the first time I’m scanning tables quickly. The second time is more leisurely, and that’s when it’s best to actually chat with someone, even if you’ve never seen her or his work before. Always be polite, don’t linger too long if there are other fans waiting, and try to buy something, either from a dealer (like a back issue) or from the artist (like a poster or sketchbook). Don’t follow them into the restroom (especially if it’s of the opposite sex), don’t linger if they’re involved in a conversation (unless they acknowledge you), and don’t be disappointed if they have to cut and run to make an appointment. Come back later, and move on to the next table. And if you see them later at a bar, ask if you can buy them a drink.
Congratulations! You’ve survived to tell the tales! (In my day, Comic-Con only went up to Hall F! We didn’t have “Hall H”… we had to use the ballroom upstairs! And there was no Wi-Fi, because nobody knew what it was! And comics were printed on PAPER! Dead trees, not that crappy e-plastic stuff you kids use nowadays!) You’ve learned to crowd surf, you can navigate the convention center better than the janitors, and you’ve been accepted by your fellow geeks! Well done! But before you trudge off to the convention center for one last day of pleasure: Check out of the hotel. (Take your time, check all drawers, nooks, crannies, the wall safe…) Pack your valuables securely, using your clothing as protection. Ship anything too bulky or fragile to travel. Check your luggage, either at the hotel, or at the convention center, whichever works best for your itinerary. The last day of a convention is usually laid back… Guests have spent the previous night having fun, and everyone is shuffling in. There’s not much programming going on, so this is the perfect time to canvas the Dealers Room one last time. You’ll be able to haggle some with dealers, as they will want to move as much product as possible. Take it easy, figure out when you have to leave to catch your ride home, and don’t cry as you leave the convention center! There will be another one next year, and more next week, next month… Keep it up, and soon you’ll be writing “how-to” articles just like this one! ___________________________________________________________________________
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!