Last year, before the 2013 San Diego Comic Con, FilmBuffOnline Comic Book Movie Editor William Gatevackes publish a guide for attending comic conventions. In honor of the 2014 New York Comic Con opening this week, we repost that article with timely updates from Mr. Gatevackes.
With San Diego Comic-Con (from here on out called SDCC) almost upon us, it’s time to do something that I have always wanted to do–give you my guide to having the best comic book convention experience. Over the last decade, I have attended over 20 comic book conventions. I have traveled to such exotic ports of call as Boston, Baltimore, Chicago and Philadelphia. While I have only been to SDCC once, I have been every New York Comic Con (from here on out called NYCC) since its inception. I don’t know everything there is to know about comic book conventions, but I learned enough over the years to make the experience a fun one for you and all those around you.
And while SDCC is coming up, this will be info you can use at every convention. Here we go:
Figure out which convention you want to attend:
While every comic book convention has similarities with one another, all of them are different. SDCC and NYCC are the “Super Bowl’ of comic cons., but each of them has a lot of floor space taken up by movies (SDCC), book publishers (NYCC) and video games (both). The Wizard World shows were once big enough to give SDCC a run for its money, but have recently turned primarily into a celebrity swap meet, a place where you can get an autograph or your picture taken with a genre celebrity.
Regional cons such as Baltimore Comic-Con and Heroes Con in North Carolina might not attract the big name comic companies or the hottest media celebrities, but more often than not the place where comic fans will something that resembles an old school comic con experience. Cons like SPX ans APE cater to the independent comic book fan. Dragon*Con serves the world of science fiction fan looking to get their freak on (But was recently the subject of a pointed boycott movement, so take that into consideration). And every weekend there are “hotel cons” around the country where regional comic shops gather to sell their wares.
In other words, there is a comic con out there for everyone. Find out which one will be best for you, and have at it.
Once you settle on a convention, move fast:
Tickets for SDCC this year sold out in 93 minutes. NYCC VIP tickets sold out in a half hour, 4-day passes in little over a month, and 3-day passes in two weeks. Even the smaller, regional cons have witnessed increased attendance, pushing their smaller venues to capacity and beyond. The days of walking up to a convention and buying tickets at the door is coming to an end.
What does this all mean? Once you settle on a convention, order your tickets as soon as possible. For the biggest conventions, this means the MOMENT THEY GO ON SALE! The longer you wait, the less ticket options you have available to you. You should buy you tickets ahead of time even for the smaller conventions, the ones that typically do not sell out, just in case this is the year they do sell out.
UPDATE: Actually, I think the 2014 NYCC tickets sold out within minutes of coming live. But tickets, at least for the major cons, have become something you need to take the day off work for, have a fast connection speed and be only a half an hour before they go on sale. Even then, you’ll be lucky to get tickets.
If you’re going to travel, make those arrangements right after you get tickets:
You really don’t want to miss going to the a convention because you can’t get to a convention. Travel arrangements should be made probably just as soon as you get convention tickets, if not earlier. This includes deciding if you are going to fly, take a train or drive to convention and buy tickets where appropriate.
And as for hotels, most conventions offer special deal with area hotels. However, this is not always as good a deal as it seems. For San Diego, hotel reservations opened up in February and, like the tickets themselves, to good rooms (ie in downtown San Diego, close to the convention) were snatched up soon after the reservations opened. For NYCC, their cheapest rate as I am writing this is $259 per night. This really is not that bad for New York City, but you can find cheaper on Travelocity or other sites. And if you started looking earlier, you could have found even cheaper rates in the city.
My advice when it comes to hotels is not to wait for the block of rooms reserved for the convention to open. Book a room as early as possible. The earlier you book a room, the cheaper it will be, quite possibly even cheaper than the special price the conventions get. And the earlier you look for a hotel, the more research you can do on hotels in the area so the more likely you will find one suits you needs. Would you like complementary breakfast in the morning? A pool? A concierge who can order a cab for you? It’s easier to find a hotel that has all that you want if you don’t have a clock ticking behind you.
To VIP or not to VIP:
Most VIP packages will cost you upwards of twice what a normal pass will cost. However, typically they allow fans early entry to to convention floor. This comes in handy if you’re they type of con goer who likes picking up convention exclusives. They also usually come with a convention exclusive comic book, which usually helps pay for your ticket in if you decide to eBay it. The Walking Dead #1 variants given away to VIP guests at the Wizard World New York Experience MORE than paid for the price of the pass.
It is something to think about, especially with the bigger conventions.
Once the tickets are bought and reservations made, that’s when the planning begins:
If you are a first time visitor to SDCC or NYCC, and you think that you can just pick up a program, pick what you want to do at the con, and simply do it, you will be sorely mistaken.
Luckily, you don’t have to wait until you get to the con to plan your con. Most conventions have websites that tell you everything you need to know about the con weeks in advance. Guests and exhibitors usually are rolled out starting months before the convention. Exclusives and events are in the weeks leading up to the convention, and panel and signing schedules are presented about a week before the con starts. Doing a little prep work before a convention begins will make for a happier con when you get there.
What you need to bring to the convention:
A clean body:
It seems like every comic convention guide has something in it about taking a shower before you get to the convention. I used to take umbrage at these points, thinking it reenforced negative stereotypes about comic fans. Then I had the misfortune of standing in line behind the person this tip was written for, a person who was giving off an aroma that resembled a slaughterhouse at high noon.
Listen, I’m not going to judge if you want to take a day off from showering when you’re a home, especially if your normal day consists of sitting behind a desk in an air-conditioned office then sitting on a couch in your air-conditioned home. But comic cons are typically held in poorly-ventilated, aircraft-hanger-like buildings where you will be trapped with thousands of other people and their body heat. You will probably be rushing from one end of it to another at some point during the show, and you will be carrying pounds and pounds of swag. Don’t be mistaken–you will sweat. And if you skip the bath or shower, you will smell. So, please shower.
Your confirmation e-mail/pass/badges:
Every convention has a different way to let you into the show. Some send an e-mail with your confirmation that you need bring with you to convention to get your badge (SDCC, Baltimore Comic Con, Wizard World). NYCC sends out badges if you order online before a certain date. If you order later, they’ll go the e-mail route as well. Obviously, it’s important to print these e-mails out immediately, put it somewhere safe, and bring them with you to the con. It’s even more vital if you get a badge to bring it. An e-mail you can print out at your hotel’s business center. If you forget your badge, you’re probably out of luck.
Your want list/ checklist.
For everything from the comics you want to buy, panels you want to see, or people you want to meet.
You will be walking–a lot. Walking from your hotel to public transportation/shuttle bus/taxi stand, walking from wherever you are left off to the con, walking all around the con itself. Like I said, a lot. And when you aren’t walking, you’ll be standing in line. Wearing the right pair of shoes is essential if you wish to be able to walk after the con day is over.
The realization that you probably do will not be able to do everything you want to:
If this is your first SDCC, you might have your Saturday planned.You’ll probably meet your friends for a leisurely breakfast around 9:30, head over to the convention center at about 10:30 to hit the 10:45 Warner Brothers panel in Hall H, then amble out of that panel when it ends at 1:15 and go over to the Family Guy panel at 1:45 in Ballroom 20. And since you have a half hour, you might check out the dealer room to see if any comics catch your fancy.
Here’s what’s going to happen. You’ll probably not even get into breakfast until quarter of ten because one of your party is running late. This means that you won’t get over to the convention center until 10:50, well after the Warner’s panel started. The anger you feel at your tardy friends is mitigated slightly when you talk to the person standing in front of the quite long line to get into Hall H and find out he’s been waiting since 8am and he still didn’t get in, so you wouldn’t have made it anyway. Well, if you couldn’t get into the Warner’s panel, you are going to definitely get into the Family Guy panel. So you forgo the dealer’s room and head over to Ballroom 20, expecting to be the first in line. But you aren’t the first in line. You aren’t even the 501st in line. The line stretches farther than the eye can see, and a lot of the people in line are wearing True Blood T-Shirts, a panel that isn’t scheduled until 3:30. You find the end of the line,which you suspect is someplace in La Jolla, and wait. When 1:45 comes around, you have moved far enough along in the line that you can see the entrance to Ballroom 20, but the realization sinks in that you will not be getting in and you just spent hours standing in line for nothing.
It is almost impossible to do everything you want to in a bigger comic con. Yes, I know people who did manage to hit Hall H and Ballroom 20, SDCC’s two largest panel rooms, in the same day, but they were “play-the -lottery, bet -it-all-in-Vegas” lucky,especially considering that neither venue is cleared between panels, a practice employed by many of the rest of the conventions too. My advice would be to prioritize.Make the comic con you are going to be the comic con you want it to be. Want to get into that Warner’s panel? Get up early and get in line. Want to exclusively hit the Artist Alley and comic book dealers? There is no shame in that. But don’t plan on hitting a panel in a big venue. Prepare to go after the one thing you really want to do at the convention, and take a relaxed attitude with everything else. You’ll have more fun that way.
UPDATE: NYCC is clearing it’s panel rooms after each panel. This either will allow everyone to see the panel they want, be a giant traffic jam, or a little of both. If it works out well, we might see this policy employed in more cons accross the country.
The understanding that you will be standing in lines. Also, an understanding of what type of line you will be standing in.
If there is one defining characteristic of all the comic cons I have attended in my decade-plus experience attending them, its the lines. You’ll line up to get in (even if you have one of those fancy VIP passes, only your line will be shorter than everyone else’s), you’ll line up for panels, you’ll line up for autographs. And just like every comic-con is different, every line is different.
SDCC attracts such a big audience that it is such an unusual beast. As we mentioned above, you are going to need to stand in line for hours to get into some of the popular panels there. As I mentioned above, they don’t clear panel rooms in between presentations. This means, essentially, that they do not make attendees of a panel leave the room after it is over. Some people stay in the room all day, watching panel presentations that they really don’t want to see just so they have seat for the one they do. People do leave and others are let in on a one-for-one swap, but the only way you are guaranteed a spot in any of a room’s panels for the day is be in the room when the day starts. In the days that Twilight was a going concern, that might have meant camping out. Now, it might just mean that you have to get in line at 6AM to get a spot. So be forewarned.
But what about other events at SDCC? Or events at other conventions? Well, a good rule of thumb is that if whatever you want to get is really popular (ie: an autograph from Jim Lee or Frank Miller, a panel run by Kevin Smith, a Q&A with Neil Gaiman), try to get there at least an hour before hand to get in line. For everything else, show up about a half hour before.
Something to carry your stuff.
Whether you are bringing things in (DVD you want you favorite stars to sign) or taking things out (books you bought at the show), you going to need a sturdy and comfortable vessel to carry the it all in.
Backpacks are a popular choice. They fit a lot of stuff and are very portable. If you go this route, take care regarding two things. First, make sure the straps on the backpack are set to a comfortable length for your frame. the pack will be on your back for a long time and you will save a lot of aches and pains if you carry it correctly. Second, be aware that the more things you put in there, the bigger it gets, and just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t in other people’s way. I’ve been at cons where people wearing backpacks almost knock displays and even people over when they turn suddenly and hit the person or display with their overstuffed backpack. Be aware of your wake.
I’ve also seen people at conventions use rolling luggage, short comic book boxes on hand carts, and those collapsible box cart things. This is an easy way to carry your stuff through a convention, but you need to be sure they are secure (meaning both that people can’t easily get into them and they don’t break or fall apart in the middle of the con floor) and be careful while rolling them around. Those kinds of containers can become the scourge of the ankles if you don’t pay attention while rolling them.
Personally, I prefer messenger bags. They are compact yet carry a lot of stuff, they allow you easy access to the items you are carrying, and are easier to manage when walking through the halls.
Also, if you are buying a bunch of prints, artwork or posters, consider bringing a document tube with you to keep those items safe.
Food and Drink.
There are three absolutes when it comes to convention life: you need to eat, you need to stay hydrated and convention food and beverages are hideously overpriced and typically not especially yummy.
This is why why many convention pundits advise you to bring your own food and drink in. But I’ve seen reports of come conventions checking your bags for food when they check for weapons as you enter the convention, and confiscating food stuffs. This makes sense because convention centers make most of their profit from their food concessions so of course they’d want their trapped audience be forced to sample their wares instead of something they bring in from home.
I say still bring food in, but be simple about it. I try to have a healthy breakfast the morning of the con (which is where staying at a hotel with free breakfasts comes in handy) and then take an energy bar or granola bar in with me to eat during the day. They are compact, can be eaten while on the move, and are filling enough that I won’t be hungry.
As for drink, I bring a water bottle with me, buy a bottle of water on the way to the convention or even buy a bottle of water at the convention, and the fill it up periodically throughout the day at the water fountains. This way you can stay hydrated the whole day and not have to not have pay $20 to do so.
And if you can bear to tear yourself away from the con floor for an hour or two, you can eat outside the convention. SDCC has the Gaslamp Quarter just two blocks away from its front door, and it has a number of excellent places to eat. Of course, it will probably cost you more than getting a hot dog at the convention center, but it will probably taste better and you’ll get more for your money. And there are a number of restaurants near the Javits Center, where NYCC is held each year, and your options range from McDonalds to a steakhouse attached to a strip club, if, you know, that’s your thing. Wizard World Philly has the excellent Reading Terminal Market right across the street from it, but beware, not every convention has such excellent food options outside, or even inside, their doors. The recent Wizard World New York Experience had no food vendors inside, and only had a bunch of food trucks outside. Chinatown and Little Italy were a long walk away, so it really didn’t lend itself to getting a quick lunch at a sit down place. Be sure to research any restaurants in the area during your pre-con preparations if you want to go this route.
Pens, sketch pads, etc.
In case you want autographs and/or sketches.
Credit Cards, Cash, but no Checks.
If you escape a comic book convention without buying something, then you’re a better person that I am. Comic-cons are full of exotic and unique items that would look great on your wall, in your longbox or on your back. The question is, how to pay for it.
First off, unless you have unlimited resources, determining a budget is key. My idea is to figure out what the most you’d be willing to spend at the convention, reduce that figure by about 20% and make the lower number the budget you work with. This way if you go over that budget, you still haven’t gone over the max amount you’d be willing to spend, and you’ll leave the convention that much happier.
As to what to pay with, cash always works. As long as the bills are not counterfeit (and, really, don’t willingly pay with counterfeit cash. Not cool), every vendor on the floor will be more than happy to take the money from you in this form.
If you don’t like to carry all that money around with you, and who can blame you, credit and/or debit cards are a good idea. Once upon a time, not too long ago, only the biggest vendors were able to accept credit cards. Now, technology such as the Square, a tiny device that turns any smart phone into a point of sale system, has opened up the ability to accept credit to all sorts of vendors. I’d say about 80-90%, if not more, of all sellers can take credit cards nowadays. To be safe, ask first before you make your purchases.
The payment option you shouldn’t bring with you, at least if you don’t want a hard time, is your checkbook. Unless you have developed a relationship with a vendor (i.e. bought off him before,visited his brick and mortar store often, etc), many of the sellers will be reluctant to accept checks. I was able to eavesdrop on one exchange between a vendor of .50 cent books and a young man who tried to pay by check. It wasn’t pretty. It was obvious that for the kid, getting a checking account was a sign of adulthood, and my gut told me his checks were good, but there is too great a risk for dealers in checks bouncing. And since some of these vendors come from states away, and the person paying with a check might be from another state as well, tracking down deadbeats is not be easy. But even if the checks are good, the vendor doesn’t have as quick access to the funds as he would with cash or credit. So, leave the check book at home.
An understanding of the public transit system in the city the con is in.
Unless you are lucky to get a hotel attached to the convention center or within walking distance, you are probably going to have to rely on public transportation to travel from and to the con. Obviously, every city has public transportation, but I’m going to focus on San Diego and New York here, since they are the biggest cons with the highest chance of you being at a hotel far away from the action.
- To start, if you are coming to NYCC, I’d recommend buying a Not For Tourist guide first: This is a little black book that not only tells you the best bars and restaurants in the city, but also where the nearest subway stations and other transportation hubs are. There have been some complaints about the 2013 version, but I have got a number from the years prior, including the 2012 version, and they hold up just fine.
- Buses: Both San Diego and New York have bus service. I have not used either of them. so I can’t really speak to the quality of them. Sorry.
- Trains/Subway: San Diego has a rail system, but as I recall, it was fairly sparse with some serious gaps in coverage. In addition, from where I was staying, you needed to transfer over to several lines to get to the convention. And each lines had different hours of operations, and they all stopped operating at different times each day,b ut none any later than 1:45. However, the Green Line does let out right in front of the convention center. New York’s subway system is legendary and iconic. It is also stuffy and at times a bit gross, but hey. It runs 24-hours so if you are a party after the con kind of person, no need to keep track of time. Unfortunately, as I write this, the closest subway station to the Javits Center is three rather long blocks away at Penn Station. However, they are constructing a brand new station right across the street from the Javits and adding a stop there. It should be operational 2014. Personally, I can’t wait.
- Cabs: I’m going to say it. I think the cabs in San Diego have something in for congoers. Not that you can blame them, congoers have the reputation of being notoriously bad tippers (please do everything you can to reverse this reputation). But still, there were a number of times when I was trying to hail a cab, and I had my SDCC badge on, and available cabs flew right past me. I took off the pass, tried again and almost immediately I was picked up. So,maybe keep your con paraphernalia hidden until you get into the cab, or maybe ask to get dropped off at the Hyatt, which is attached to the convention center. The cabs in New York are far more prevalent, but don’t think that they are automatically available when you need them. There is quite a feeding frenzy for them after the con is over. If you don’t feel like waiting, try walking a few blocks away and try your luck there. Also, do your best to try not to act the tourist. Most cabbies are on the up an up, but some when they think they have a tourist in the cab will take a circuitous route through heavy traffic areas in order to bump up the fare. And as a rule try to avoid the town car services who often try to pick you up as you are trying to hail a cab. They aren’t as heavily regulated, and most likely will end up costing you more.
- Shuttle Buses: SDCC has a really good shuttle bus program. There are eight routes that take you to or darn near all of the major hotels. And this year, from Thursday at 5am to Sunday at 7pm, they will be running around the clock. NYCC also has a shuttle bus, but last year it only ran two routes. These two routes do hit most of the biggest stops, so it would probably be worth checking out.
The location of the nearest post office/Fed Ex/UPS Store.
Odds are you will be picking up a lot of stuff at the convention. You should put some thought into how you will get it all back home. If you are driving, that’s not that big of a deal, assuming you have trunk space or an empty back seat. If you are flying, my advice would be to ship your stuff back.
Airlines are big on luggage charges, charging you for extra bags, for heavy bags, and for big bags. Taking this into consideration, taking your con purchases back with you on the plane could cost you anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on your airline. Mailing them back could be much cheaper. I sent to huge boxes back from San Diego via FedEx (a mailing center is located downtown near the House of Blues) and spent around $80. Granted, this was a few years ago, and it’s still a pretty big expense, but it’s way cheaper than the fees the airlines charge.
A respect for your fellow congoer.
You might get frustrated that you have to wait in an aisle while some nitwit dressed as Nightwing gets his picture taken. Or you might be that guy dressed as Nightwing, getting upset because some yahoo is yelling at you to hurry the process up. You might be the the girl who goes into a rage because you have to maneuver around a family pushing a stroller. Realize that the family is probably irked at you for almost knocking their infant out of said stroller as you bumped into it as you went past. You might hate the crowds of people keeping you from getting where you want to be, but I’m sure that person you tripped as you are trying to snake your way through the slow moving crowd isn’t incredibly fond of you either.
I’ll admit, I have been one or more of those examples above. But as I get older, I came to realize that all types of people come to these conventions for their own reasons. I realized also that convention organizers welcome these people. I mean, if they didn’t want cosplayers, they wouldn’t hold masquerade balls and if they didn’t want parents to bring their kids, they wouldn’t hold kid’s days.
Conventions will be much more pleasurable if the attendees would be more considerate to one another. Say excuse me if you accidentally bump into someone or if you want to walk in front of them. Try to take your cosplay pictures away from high areas of traffic or at least leave enough room for people to get around you. Don’t cut in line. Small things like this would make the con experience better for everyone.
What you can get, see and do at a comic con:
You can buy all sorts of stuff at a comic convention. You can get art work ranging from prints to original art pages to deluxe, frame worthy paintings. You can get weapons both real (katanas and other edged weapons seem to be at a lot of these cons) and imagined (you want a replica of Thor’s hammer? You’ll probably be able to find it). You can get toys from the golden years of your childhood right up to the toys on department store shelves today. And you can buy clothing ranging from T-shirts with sarcastic sayings on them to full Steampunk garb.
Oh, and there usually are some comic book vendors at a comic con. Not as much as there use to be, and the number seem shrinking in SDCC year to year, but they are there. Typically, you’ll find vendors selling high ticket books from the Golden, Silver and Bronze Age or you’ll find vendors selling cheap books from the 90s for a $1 or less. Anything in between, you have to get lucky.
Pictures with the stars of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
This typically is what many call “photo ops.” Yes, you get the chance to get your picture taken with one of your favorite stars–for a price. Picture prices usually range anywhere from $20 to $100, depending on the popularity of the guest. There are also package photo ops where you can get your picture taken with one or more guest, usually co-stars in the same movie or TV show, for about $100 to $500, depending on the number of celebrities and the popularity of the show. For example, you can get a combined photo with X-Files stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny at this year’s SDCC for $200.
Not all photo ops are provided by the comic con themselves. Wizard World is the only one that seems to take a hands on aspect with this part of con life. That X-Files photo op I mentioned above? It’s being handled by an outside company, Froggy’s Photos at the Lightspeed Fine Arts booth. So, outside of Wizard World, you’re going to have to buy a ticket for entry and pay for the photo op (and autograph, which we’ll speak on soon). Wizard World often has VIP Packages where you can buy an entry into the con and get a photo op and autograph from a particular celebrity all at once.
But be forewarned, if you spend the $80 to get you picture taken with Stan Lee, you are not going to be able to go into a 30-minute discussion over why he changed Paste-Pot Pete’s name to the Trapster. The photo ops I’ve been a party to go like this: you wait in line. When your turn comes up, you step in, put down your bags, hand in your photo op ticket that you pre-purchased and stand next to the celebrity. They take the picture. You are then rushed out of the room so they can get the next customer in and you get to pick up your pictures an hour or two later. The only experience you are paying for is to appear on an 8X10 next to your chosen celebrity. This comes as a shock to some who by these packages, thinking they’ll get more than a couple of seconds with their idols, so be wary about that.
Also, if you see these celebrities out and about, either on the convention floor or on the town, don’t be surprised if they refuse to take a picture with you. Why would they give away something they’re at the con to make you pay for?
Autographs with the stars of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Just like photo ops, you’ll typically have to pay money to get things signed by your favorite celebrity. Prices generally range from $20 to $80 per item, depending on the popularity of the celebrity. Again, like the photo ops, for the more popular celebrities, you might only have a few seconds to speak to them, so think of what you’d want to say before hand.
At cons with a big media presence, you might be able to get celebrity signatures for free. Typically if a studio is showcasing a new film of TV series and they have a booth on the con floor, they will have the cast of whatever they are shilling sit down and sign autographs for the fans. Like I said, these are usually free, but they do hand out tickets to limit the number of autograph seekers. Tickets are typically given out at the booth either at the beginning of the day or hours before the signing. Check in to be sure.
Autographs with the comic book stars of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
You can also get your comic books signed by the writers and artists that created them. Many creators have booths over in artists alley and would be happy to sign whatever you want, more often than not for free. I have only had to pay for four comic creator autographs: Gene Colan, Neal Adams, Al Plastino and Rich Buckler.
You also might have to pay for signings at certain charity booths like The Hero Initiative and The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, but that is to be expected. As a matter of fact, I encourage you to visit those sites to get your autographs, because you will be helping a good cause while getting the memory you’ll treasure.
The comic book companies usually have signings at their booths, sometimes with creators that appear nowhere else. Typically, signing schedules appear online days before the convention, although DC only posts theirs the day of the signing at the con.
Also, for the bigger name creators (Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Frank Miller, etc) any signings for them might be ticketed. Something to be aware of.
Another thing to be aware of, which I first noticed at Wizard World New York Experience, is that some creators will sign one thing for free, yet charge you for each additional signature. I don’t know if this practice will carry over to other conventions or not, or that all creators will pick up on this, but keep this in mind if you want an artist to sign all 100 issues of a particular title they worked on.
Sketches from the comic book stars of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
One of the awesome things about comic cons is that you can get your favorite artists to draw your favorite characters for you. Of course, they won’t do it for free. It will cost you anywhere from $20 to $200, depending on how in demand the artist is, how intricate the sketch you want is, and what type of figure you want (their drawing of a character’s face will be much cheaper than a full body shot). Also, do some research. Some artists accept commissions in the weeks/months leading up to the convention, with the actual sketch delivered at the con. This might be something to look into, because if you don’t get on the wait list early enough at the convention, you might not get your sketch at the convention.
If you want to get a sketch with out paying for it, and the artist works for a major publisher, wait until they are at that publisher’s booth, signing. Typically, you can get a simple sketch from them there for free.
You might have to pay for autographs, you might have to pay for photographs, and you might have to pay for sketches, but there is a ton of free stuff waiting for you at comic book conventions. And it’s not just bookmarks and advertising postcards.
One of the most popular forms of swag at SDCC are the Warner Brother bags. They are both collectable and functional. And this year, they come with capes! Typically, they give the bags out certain times of day and it is always like feeding time at the piranha tank when they do, so come grin and loaded for bear.
If you are looking for a bag you’d actually be willing to use as a bag without having to throw elbows to get one, I’d suggest hitting the Random House booths (1514 & 1515). I don’t know if they’re doing it for SDCC, but they usually had black bags advertising their Suvudu initiative at NYCC each year. The bags aren’t as deep as the Warner’s bags, and aren’t as sturdy, but they are wider and sturdy enough. The Suvudu bags are good enough to lug your comic con purchases but also handy to have around the house. I use my Suvudu bags for laundry.
UPDATE: Random House’s booth at NYCC is 2204 & 2205
Most comic book companies have plenty of giveaways, but make a point of visiting the DC booth at whatever con they set up at. Their free swag, if you catch them at the right time, is really great. You have your typical posters and buttons, but where most other booths giveaway the same free comics that they give comic stores to give out to their customers, DC gives out full copies of comics like Flash #1 and Aquaman #1 from their new 52 initiative, copies of comics from their kid’s line, and months and months of Mad magazine. It’s worth checking out several times over the course of the con.
Cosplaying is not my thing. I don’t have the talent and skill to make a good costume, and I don’t have the body type to pull it off. But thousands of people do each year, and those of us who do not partake can enjoy looking at their creativity and ingenuity. It’s gotten to such a point that a cult of personality has sprung up around certain cosplayers, turning them into celebrities.
The first rule of cosplay is don’t be afraid to cosplay. Yes, you’ve seen media articles accusing women of not being geeky enough to wear the costumes they wear and outsiders coming to the con to ridicule the weight of cosplayers in an attempt at humor. If you feel passionately enough about a character or costume to dress up, be brave enough to do so. On the whole, your fellow congoers are kinder and gentler than the examples listed above. Nobody is going to stop you and ask you when the character you’re dressing up as first appeared. And if you’re a little big around the midsection for a Stormtrooper, people aren’t going to single you out of your battallion, point, and laugh. If you are at all self-conscious, you shouldn’t be dressing up anyway. But if you do, be brave and have fun.
Of course, there is some rules you have to follow, especially when it comes to weapons. You might think that a fully-functioning M-16 will complete your Punisher outfit, but the con organizers will think other wise. Same goes for a non-fully-functioning M-16, a toy that looks exactly like a M-16, a metal sword or a real bow and arrow. It has been a long standing requirement that any weapons you bring in to the con not only have to be fake, but also look it. Expect no less in the post-Sandy Hook, post-Aurora world. SDCC goes so far as to have a weapons check where they will determine whether your fake weapon is fake enough for their purposes, and they also prohibit and swords be drawn on the premises. Keep this in mind when choosing your costume.
Another thing to keep in mind is this: I witnessed a woman whose dressed up as Poison Ivy at NYCC. Her costume consisted of a flesh colored G-string, leaf appliances over her most naughty bits, and the minimum amount of body paint needed to symbolize branches. She was essentially naked. The con made her put clothes on. Then there was the man who was dressed as Venom at last year’s Wizard World Chicago whose costume consisted of a splash or two of liquid latex and a Speedo that left nothing to the imagination. He didn’t run into any trouble at the convention, but the hotel he was staying at made him cover up. This moral is that when making your costume, keep in mind the rules of common decency. If you look at your costume in the mirror and ask yourself, “Can I get away with this?,” you can’t.
Other than that, just use common courtesy. If you have a ultra-realistic Starscream costume, complete with fiberglass rings jutting out of your shoulders, make sure you aren’t smacking people in the face as you walk down the aisles. If any part of your costume involves stilts, make sure you can walk on them before you break them out in a crowd. Try to be respectful of both your fellow cosplayers and the non-cosplayers as well.
Being respectful also applied to those who are
taking in cosplayers too, especially when it comes to sexual harassment. 99% of female comic book characters are drawn in skin tight costumes with tons of cleavage showing. Just because a cosplayer is wearing an accurate Black Cat or Slave Leia costume doesn’t mean she wants you to act out whatever fantasies you have about the character on her, or the cosplayer stops being a real live human being underneath the spandex and make-up. I’ll bastardize a line from Who Framed Roger Rabbit here, the cosplayer is not a sexual object, the comic character she is dressing up as is just drawn that way. Be cool, be nice and be gentlemanly. If you don’t feel the need to act politely around women, stay home.
UPDATE: Conventions have started drafting official harassment policies, listing what they consider harassment and what they are willing to do to stop it. NYCC’s policy can be found here. As you can see, you can be booted out of the convention for harassing. So don’t do it.
As mentioned above, some panels will be nigh impossible to get into. However, many others should be easy to get into. These panels will be the ones where you will be able to hear about the history of comic books from the people who made them, delve into the process of how comics are made, find out what it takes to make a movie and numerous other topics. Panels are a good way to take a load off your feet at a busy convention and learn something in the process.
Other things in the city you’re in other than comic con.
There is a world outside of comic conventions. If you are going to travel to San Diego, New York City, or any other big city holding a con and you don’t do something that city, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Add a day to your SDCC trip and go to the San Diego Zoo. Add a day to your NYCC trip and see a Broadway play. Add a day to your Baltimore Comic Con trip and visit Inner Harbor.
If you want to take a break from SDCC to…go to another comic con, may I recommend Tr!ckst3r. This is pretty much all comics, and primarily independent comics at that.
And if day time activities are not your thing, there is a wide array of nighttime activities for you to do after SDCC. If I may make a recommendation? Amy Schumer. One of the funniest women on the planet.
There are typically events like these after hours at just about every con you go to. Keep an eye out on the Internet a week or two before the con you are going to starts and you’ll probably find them out.
And if you are of legal drinking age and want to hang out with comic book professionals at a bar after SDCC, the Hyatt bar, which is in the hotel attached to the convention center, is legendary in its status as a San Diego’s post con hang out for pros.
That’s all I have right now. I’m sure I’ll forget something right after this goes live on the site. But if you have an questions or any tips, leave them in the comments. Thanks!
UPDATE: There’s two things I noticed at last year’s NYCC that wasn’t on this list that I think I should tell you about. Both are a mix of common sense and common decency.
Cell Phone Usage.
Last year, I got trapped in a slow moving aisle. It shouldn’t have been, there were no major vendors there, no impromtu signing lines either. Eventually, I made it through the aisle far enough that I could see what was causing the hold up–a girl walking slowly, texting someone on her phone. The logjam was cause by people trying to get around her.
Now, smart phones are a valuable part of conventions. Many cons have apps that allow you to facilitate your con experience. And they are vital for arranging meetings with friends, finding a place to eat nearby or entering contest and giveaways by vendors.
But you should be considerate. Don’t answer it in a panel. Pull over to the side if you need to text someone. Use your common sense.
Conventions are a good place to meet people. Whether its an old friend or someone you just met that day, it’s natural that you’d want to strike up a conversation. However, there are certain places you should hold one at a comic book convention. Like in a panel room. Or in a crowded aisle. Or while blocking a vendor’s booth. Or, and this is the reason why I felt the need to include this, at the bottom of an escalator.
Yes, last year, two people decided to hold a conversation a foot away from where one of the down escalators let out. This led to a somewhat dicey situation as people on the escalator, who really had no way to avoid them, tried to get out of the way so they didn’t hit the talkers or cause a bunch of broken bones for the people behind them. The conversationalist responded to this with a look of annoyance, like the people on the escalator, of which I was one, was being rude to them. Don’t be like those people.