So…you're about to attend your first comic book convention, are you? Well, before you plunge into all that wonderment, here are ten useful tips that may make your convention-going more enjoyable…or, at least, prevent you from being the biggest geek in the room. (And, to those of you who might want to be the biggest geek in the room, remember: There'll be lots of competition on the premises, maybe even from me.)
1. Bring Money. And more than you think you'll need. A comic convention is like Las Vegas. A neophyte Vegas tourist says to himself, before the trip, "I'm going to be prepared to lose up to X dollars and not a penny more, no matter what." Then he gets there and loses X dollars in the slot machines in the airport baggage claim area, waiting for his American Tourister to come down the chute. With days to go on his trip, he has to head for the ATM. This can easily happen at a comic book convention. There's so much to do, so much to buy…and things like meals (see below) can wind up costing more than you expect. Sometimes, no ATM is handy or, if one is, there's a huge line of others who made this mistake. So take extra cash with you. You can always take it home if you don't spend it…but you'll spend it.
2. Bring a List. You may think you know precisely which items and issues you're seeking for your collection but once you get there, you could face Sensory Overload. All those comics and neat toys and such can start to look alike and if you're jostling to get near a certain dealer's display, you may not be able to rely on your memory. Few things can make you feel dumber than getting home and discovering you bought an unneeded, duplicate copy of Archie Pops A Zit #14. So bring a list of what you seek.
3. Bring Other Stuff. Here are some other items that some folks are happy to have with them and regret when they don't: An autograph book or sketchbook. A good pen for getting autographs. A knapsack. A folder or other container to carry purchased artwork. Books you want signed by professionals who'll be in attendance. A cell phone. Your personal phone book. Business cards. Snacks and/or a bottle of water. A note pad. Your camera. Film and/or extra batteries for your camera. A watch or something that tells time.
4. Wear Comfy Shoes. Most conventions are held in these places that resemble an Air Force hangar, complete with hard, concrete flooring. Even the ones in ritzy hotels seem to have reinforced titanium under their carpeting. At any con but especially the big ones, you may find yourself walking for days, and often standing. We've seen people have to stagger out of a convention they were enjoying, before they'd intended to depart, because their tootsies were throbbing.
5. Shower. And we're talking every day and with soap 'n' water. A convention hall can be a crowded, confining place and you'd be surprised at the number of folks — some of them, otherwise nice people — who think, "I can get by without bathing for another day." Or who come to a con without sufficient change of clothing — underwear, especially. Just because there are people walking around dressed as Klingons doesn't mean that normal rules of courteous hygiene are suspended.
6. Eat Food. And under this number, we're including other necessities of life, like getting a decent hotel/motel room if you're staying over and — here's one many skip and regret — getting your car serviced before making a long road trip to a con. Yeah, we know money is tight and you don't have a lot to toss around. But it does cost a certain amount of the green stuff to attend a convention and if you don't have it, maybe you oughta skip this one and save for the next. Living like Freddie the Freeloader can make for an unhappy time, if not for you then for those around you. Take the time to seek out decent meals during the con and if you're not going to have a car there, this can involve a bit of advance planning. It's sometimes easier to take to the Internet before your trip to research where the affordable restaurants are and if you need to make reservations. (You don't, usually, at Burger King.) So plan your meals and also, book your hotel room well in advance so you don't wind up staying someplace where the cockroaches outweigh
the desk clerk. Yeah, it's a comic convention but it's also your vacation.
7. Meet People. Your average comic book convention is awash with interesting folks, many of whom wrote and/or drew your favorite funnybooks. Some are there to sell merchandise but most enjoy talking to their readers, answering questions and such. The trick is not to approach them when they're mobbed or seem to be tending to more pressing matters, such as engaging in business discussions or dining. Asking for an autograph can be an easy way to approach them but most are perfectly content if you just walk up, extend your hand and say something like, "I've always wanted to meet you." Don't be afraid of professionals. Only a few of them bite and if you take a moment and watch how
they treat others, you can probably figure out which ones those are. (And also keep in mind that there are plenty of interesting folks around who don't write or draw comics. Meet some of them, too.)
8. Consult Your Program Guide. Almost every convention puts together a program of speeches, panels, films and other demonstrations. When you get to the con, you'll be able to get a schedule and one of the first things you should do is to sit down somewhere, study it and mark off the events you think you'd like to attend. (With some cons, the schedule is available in advance on a website, in which case you should mark down intriguing program items before you go, then consult the schedule when you get there to see what, if anything, has changed.) It is almost a given that, if you don't do a little early planning, you will wind up missing some program item that you would dearly love to have attended. Remember: Most of what transpires in the programming rooms comes under the heading of "never to be repeated."
9. Get A Locker or Use the Mail. Here are two tips for those of you who expect to be doing a lot of buying at a convention. It can be awkward to carry your purchases around or to keep hauling them out to your car or room. Some cons have a Check Room up front where you can leave items but you can probably manage without one. Perhaps you have a friend who's a dealer at the convention…or perhaps you make a friend of one by buying a lot of stuff from him. Most dealers will not mind keeping a box for you behind their table, providing (a) you come and get it before they leave and (b) they're not responsible for anything in it. We know a guy who brings to every con, one of those foldable file boxes you can get at any stationery shop. Upon his arrival, he finds an exhibitor who won't mind letting him stash it for the duration. Thereafter, as he accrues comics and goodies, he drops them off in his box and, when he goes, he has only the one carton to carry. Yes, there's a slight risk of theft but he thinks it's an acceptable risk, given how much easier the convention becomes for him to not be lugging things around. And if you travel some distance to a con, it may be easier to ship your acquisitions home than to try and cram them into your suitcase. This is not always easy if you're leaving on Sunday when neither FedEx nor the post office is open…but some hotels are good about handling this kind of thing for their guests, especially if they have a Business Center.
10. Pace Yourself. There's so much to do and so much to see, and it's not uncommon for someone attending their first convention to just run themselves ragged. A lot of folks come away from cons with colds or worse, since some of those halls have the kind of air conditioning that merely recirculates what others exhale. You may have a much more pleasant convention if you don't try to do too much; if you get enough rest and nourishment and if you stop now and then to rest and to go outside the hall for a little non-conditioned air. The main thing is to focus on what you most want to see and do and to recognize that you may not be able to do everything.
Other tips may be posted here as they occur to us, or as you suggest them to me. For now, just remember that a comic book convention is like any other social event you may attend…except that there will lots of old comics you want, as well as some bimbo dressed as Vampirella. Enjoy.