Comic Book Convention Survival Guide
By Michael David Sims
31 May 2005 — With Wizard World Philadelphia opening its doors this weekend, the 2005 comic book convention season is finally upon us. Truthfully, I haven't been following comics all that much lately, though I do know that several huge movies and events are planned for the very near future — Batman Begins, Fantastic Four, Marvel's "House of M" and DC's "Infinite Crisis" — and they just so happen to coincide with the upcoming conventions. And while "House of M" and "Infinite Crisis" will only serve to attract the hardcore fanboys, the two movies will surely whet the appetites of many non-comic book readers — especially Batman Begins, which looks to reinvigorate the franchise by returning it to its dark roots.
Should the movie do well (and I highly doubt it will have trouble drawing ass into theaters), you can rest assured that the average moviegoer (especially those with children) will seek out other Batman-related material — especially comic books. While the local comic book shop is the best place, experience has proven that some of these viewers will find themselves at one of the many conventions littering America this year.
What this means is that the already crowded conventions will continue to swell, causing much aggravation amongst the populace. To combat this, I've decided to write a comic book convention survival guide. If followed as directed, you'll find that your one-day or weekend experience will be a memorable one... for the right reasons.
01. Wear comfortable / new shoes
— This might seem like a no-brainer, but I can't stress how important it is. You will be doing a lot of walking. After that, you will walk some more. Rumor has it that there's even more walking after that.
02. Wear comfortable / light clothing
— All that walking will cause you to overheat, so don't wear sweatshirts and other forms of heavy clothing. However, do consider bringing a light jacket, 'cause it could be raining by the time you're walking back to your car, bus stop, hotel or whatever. (And certain areas of the convention center can be considerably cooler than others.)
03. Bring lots of cash
— The average one-day ticket sells for $25 (with three-day passes going for $45), then add in food and drinks as well as whatever items you plan on purchasing (comics, action figures, posters, bootlegged videos, etc.), and you'll quickly learn just how thin a convention can make your wallet. (Should you drive, parking will cost you a pretty penny too.) And the last thing you want is to run out of cash, so bring extra. Even if you don't plan on spending it, bring it anyway.
04. Bring a backpack
— If you plan on purchasing anything, a backpack or satchel is the way to go. Toss your swag in there, latch it shut and you'll find yourself worry free.
05. Bring plenty of bottled water and pack a lunch and/or snacks
— You'll be shocked to learn just how expensive food and drinks sell for at these events, and water fountains are few and far between. So while packing bottles of water into your backpack might weigh it down, you'll appreciate them after a few hours.
06. Shower and wear deodorant
— The larger conventions (Comic-Con International, Wizard World Chicago) can draw upwards of 85,000 people over the course of the entire weekend. With that many people in close proximity, the hot summer weather and the possibility of poor ventilation, things can get... sweaty. Do not make the situation worse by skipping a shower that morning. Even if it means you'll arrive a few minutes late, take the time to wash-up and swipe some deodorant under your arms. It also wouldn't hurt to bring said deodorant with you. Simply toss it into your backpack and apply it throughout the day / when needed.
07. Have a plan [schedule]
— Most conventions list their guests, schedules and maps online a few days or weeks before the actual event. Take the time to download the PDF files, print 'em out and create an agenda for yourself. If this is a last minute trip, grab a guide after checking-in / receiving your badge, find an out-of-the-way corner and schedule your time.
08. Have a plan [collectables]
— Have an idea of what you want to buy and get it early. While it's fun to aimlessly roam around and spy all of the booths, buying whatever catches your fancy, it's imperative that you purchase the hot exclusives right away. Otherwise, you and your wallet are screwed. Shady dealers notoriously find ways to nab many of the exclusives early on, only to sell them at inflated prices. Last year, an extremely rare Batman figure that went for $20 at the Mattel both was selling for right around $300 on the convention floor. While that is an extreme, it's not uncommon.
09. Have a plan [back issues]
— Before setting foot inside the convention center, make a comprehensive list of all of the comic books that you want / need to buy to fill out your collection. This way you're not left scratching your head wondering if it's Uncanny X-Men #207 or #208 that you're missing.
10. Haggle and scout
— Let's say you missed out and really want that Batman figure, but don't want to pay $300. Bargain. State what you're willing to pay, and don't be afraid to walk away. Chances are there's another booth around the corner selling the same figure for less, or the dealer will be more willing to compromise. Prices are rarely firm and vary from booth to booth, so keep an eye out and shop around before dropping your cash. The last thing you want to see is another booth selling the same item you just bought but for a lot less.
— While some people prefer to shop the floor and skip the panels, others spend the bulk of their time listening to their favorite creators and editors speaking about upcoming plans as they preview cover and interior art. Most of these panels are one hour long and offer some sort of Q&A interaction with the fans. If you plan on asking a question, make it brief, speak loudly (so everyone can hear) and make sure it isn't stupid. As for the last part, think to yourself, Would I be embarrassed to hear myself ask this? If the answer is yes, then the question is stupid. So don't ask it. If the answer is no, ask yourself again. If you're still sure that your question has some merit, ask away.
12. Patience is a virtue [arrive early]
— With comic books slowly creeping into mainstream culture, many celebrities are finding themselves on Q&A panels. Then there are the autograph signings. Said panels and signings, however, often have extremely long lines that begin forming hours before the celebrity arrives. If you're a diehard Kevin Smith or Joss Whedon fan (or whoever's the hot creator of the year), be prepared to miss most of that day's events if you hope to cram into the room where they're going to speak, because attempting to walk in at the last minute will net you a "Room's full" from a cross-armed security guard.
13. Patience is a virtue [stay late]
— Most dealers do not want to ship all of their stock back to their stores, so they're more than willing to sell comics in inexpensive lots (i.e. four for a buck) — especially late Sunday afternoon when the showroom is beginning to thin out. Some dealers will even sell you an entire long box for $25, allowing you to fill it with as many comics as your heart desires. (Generally speaking, a long box can hold roughly 250 comics, meaning each book costs you a dime!)
14. Consider other fans / creators when asking for autographs
— One year — and this is the absolute truth — I got stuck behind a guy asking writer Garth Ennis to sign every issue of Preacher. For the uninformed, that's nearly 75 books when the one-shots and minis are added in. While I'm sure Garth appreciated the fans enthusiasm (and willingness to haul his complete collection to the convention), I'm also sure his hand was rather cramped afterwards. Remember, you are not the only one waiting in line for an autograph and consider how you would feel if trapped behind an overzealous fan.
15. Respect [creators]
— Creators are fans too and you'll often see them milling around the floor or eating in one of the cafeterias. Leave them alone. The more popular creators and editors often find themselves on numerous panels and don't have much time to spy the floor or grab a bite, so be respectful of their privacy and treat them just like any other person who's trolling the booths. If you want an autograph, catch them directly after a panel or wait in line at their publisher's booth. Also, do not interrupt their conversations. Your autograph can wait a few seconds more. If you see them talking to someone else, quietly stand there until they choose to acknowledge you. When / If they do, smile, tell them what a huge fan you are and ask them to sign your book. Then leave so they can either make it to their next panel on time or sign someone else's comic.
16. Respect [each other]
— Don't push. It's that simple. And if you have to squeeze through / past someone, say, "Excuse me." Simple, I know. But not enough people actually take the time to utter the two words. Additionally, if you see someone looking at something, do not place yourself in front of them so you can have a better look. Either wiggle in next to them (remember to say, "Excuse me") or stand behind them on your toes to see what they're looking at.
17. Respect [booth babes]
— As you walk around you'll notice very hot women dressed in costumes hanging around certain booths. In 2003 the Mattel booth was blessed with picture perfect Evil-Lyn and Teela clones, and in 2004 they had She-Ra. Throughout the two weekends all three women posed with hundreds (possibly thousands) of starry-eyed fans (including myself). And while some were simply giddy with excitement (whoever thought they'd grow up still loving He-Man as much as they did when they were children, and then pose with excellent facsimiles of the female characters they once had crushes on?), others were forward (i.e. asking for phone numbers, e-mail addresses and dates), more still were downright rude (i.e. telling the ladies what great asses and tits they had). And while they are there to be ogled, they're not there to listen to your stupid remarks about their backsides. If you want to compliment their looks, tell them they were born for that role. Or simply call them pretty. They'll appreciate it more than, "Nice ass." Simply put, don't be a jerk.
18. Bring a friend (or two)
— Even if your friends don't like comic books, the conventions are always filled with actors, wrestlers, old action figures, trading cards, bootlegged videos / DVDs (new, old and foreign), anime / manga and some even have video game contests. So chances are your buddies will be able to find something there that will pique their interest. Not only will bringing them introduce your friends to the comic book scene, but it will give you someone to talk to.
19. Make a friend (or two)
— Everyone is there to have a good time and you all obviously share a common interest, so start a conversation with someone. Worse case scenario, you find out the person is a jerk and wants nothing to do with you. Best case scenario, you meet your future spouse and / or best friend.
20. Have fun
— Really, enjoy yourself. These conventions are held so fans can be fans, so we can have fun. So do yourself a favor and have fun. Even if other conventioneers don't follow these rules (and are smelly and rude), enjoy yourself.
As someone who has attended nearly every Chicago Comic Con / Wizard World Chicago over the last 15 years and every Comic-Con International for the last four, trust me when I say that these 20 tips will greatly improve your convention-going experience. And as long as you're having fun, that's what counts.