Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Comic Con Survival Guide, Part 2: In the Trenches

So let's assume you're going to your first comic con, maybe even the Comic-Con (i.e., San Diego Comic-Con International, which kicks off with its Preview Night festivities tonight and continues through Sunday).  You've done all of your pre-show prep as outlined in last week's post, and you're anticipating the wonders that await you inside.  But your training isn't over yet padawan...there are some additional tips you should know to help you get around the convention relatively hassle-free.  Here's my best advice for making the most out of a comic con experience.  (I'm going to focus on the "big" con experience, generally those with 10,000 attendees or more a day, but really these are good tips to follow for any convention you might attend.)

1) The Zen of Waiting in Line:  A level head and a calm demeanor are the most important things that you'll want to bring with you to a comic book convention.  Nearly every activity that you want to participate in will have a line attached.  Lines for popular panels usually start to queue up outside the conference room door about 30 minutes to an hour before the panel starts, while the room's prior panel is still ongoing.  Free swag is sometimes just handed out to passers-by, but the bigger booths (DC Comics is a champ at this) usually form organized (and strictly maintained) lines for their freebies, which are often worth the wait and include free comics.  Many artists and writers can be approached at signings with a minimal wait of a couple of minutes, but fans looking to chat with some creators who are super-popular or who rarely make public appearances can expect to wait in line for one to two hours.  The worst thing that you can do in any of these lines is to blow your top.

An anecdote: I was waiting in line for Chris Claremont to sign some stuff at the New York Comic Con, and he was taking the time to talk about certain books as he signed them, real inside baseball stuff.  There was this older guy about three people behind me in line that got lippy and started telling everyone around him how Chris needed to speed it up.  It wasn't obvious if Chris heard him or not, and he continued to be gracious to the fans and tell his stories.  The best featured fascinating trivia about an issue of Marvel Team-Up that he wrote in which Spider-Man met the Not Ready For Prime Time Players from Saturday Night Live.  He talked about how the story got pitched and who among the SNL cast were Marvel fans.  It was an awesome story, but I guarantee that the toolbox behind me didn't hear any of it because he was so worked up.  I continued to hang around after I got my books signed (and got into a pretty deep discussion about the X-Men character Phoenix) and watched what happened as the malcontent got to the head of the line.  He handed his books to Chris, who signed them in utter silence, only to pick up conversation again once the jerk was out of his hair.  So I guess he had heard the guy's rantings after all.  

Yes, this actually exists!  Chris Claremont went on a five-minute tangent about Marvel Team-Up #78 (Oct 1978, cover art by Dave Cockrum) for a fan who asked him to sign her copy at New York Comic Con, and most of us in line got to hear the story too.  Except for the loudmouth that was blowing his top behind me.

The moral of the story?  Remember, you're at a convention to have fun.  Chill out.  Take a deep breath or three, and take advantage of the down time in line to read a new book that you picked up, chat with people in line, or just take in the sights (the best time for people-watching is while waiting in line on the convention floor) and sounds around you.  I guarantee that you'll be happier, the people around you will be happier, and you'll probably experience something memorable.

A final note on lines: try to ask booth or convention staffers if they have an estimate of how long a line will be or when it's OK to start lining up.  This way you don't waste time or show up after the line is capped to capacity.  You might also try to ask fans hanging around the booth who might've been through the process before.  For popular creators like Jim Lee, some booths will only officially form lines one hour before a scheduled signing.  However, fans will actually start lurking in the booth up to three hours prior and will agree upon an order to form up in once showtime actually happens.  Depending on the convention, lines for popular TV and movie panels can actually start the night before.  That's because most cons don't clear the rooms between panels, and so someone who wants to guarantee that they get into the Marvel Studios panel at 6PM on Saturday may try to get in the room first thing the night before and then stay camped out there into the next day.  Not my idea of fun, but to each their own.  Just try to be prepared accordingly, and it doesn't hurt to have a back-up plan if your line gets capped or the room you've been waiting for fills up.

2) Get Your Bearings:  Comic book conventions are actually pretty consistent from year to year, and once you figure out where stuff is located your first year, you can usually find it pretty quickly in subsequent years.  But how do you get that knowledge in the first place?  My recommendation is to get in as early as possible on day one and hit the show floor first thing if your schedule allows.  The first hour of each day is relatively calm, and you can take a quick stroll up and down the aisles to figure out the major points of interest.  You can keep an eye out for one or two must-buy items and pull the trigger if you see them at a reasonable price, but try to hold off on shopping until that initial sweep is done.  If you do see stuff you're interested in, note the vendor, booth number and price in your handy pocket notebook and swing back around after you've made the rounds.  You won't believe how much more smoothly this can make your con experience go.  When you're pressed for time and only have 30 minutes between panels to get some shopping in, or you quickly want to get from signing A to signing B, you'll have a leg up on the confused masses milling about.

3) Heads Up:  Getting around at large cons can be very chaotic.  I've driven around LA during rush hour, and I'd take that headache any day of the week over trying to get around the show floor at San Diego Comic-Con on a Saturday afternoon.  As I mentioned above, getting to know your surroundings helps, but there's no way you can account for what other people will do.  While fairly well-established lanes of foot traffic do form in the aisles, people cut across traffic all the time, and other people will cause the lane to bunch up behind them because they decide to stop and take photos mid-stream rather than moving off to the side.  Looking well ahead down the aisle can help you anticipate some of these problems so that you keep moving to your destination as smoothly as possible.

While this trick works 95% of the time, it is possible to spend too much time looking ahead so that your immediate situational awareness is diminished.  Case in point: at large cons, there are typically camera crews everywhere conducting on-the-spot interviews.  You'd think it would be difficult to miss bright lights and a large video camera, but it can happen when you're in a hurry to get somewhere.  Submitted now for your approval (and my eternal embarrassment), watch me walk unawares right into writer Joshua Dysart's interview for the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics (he now writes Harbinger for Valiant Comics) as I tried to hustle to a Saturday afternoon panel at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con.  (Fast forward to the 6:20 mark to see me make an idiot out of myself!)

Along these same lines, don't get so caught up in where you're going that you forget to look around occasionally.  As long as you continue to go with the flow, you'll be in for some treats.  While walking the floor in San Diego, I've not only seen a lot of impressive cosplay and snagged some good freebies (everything from Pop Chips to Green Lantern power rings!), but have gotten glimpses of Stan Lee, Seth Green, Felicia Day, Mark Hamill, Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins to boot.

This is the kind of thing you'll miss if you don't look around every once in a while as you walk around a comic convention.
4) Getting Funky:  Yes, comic book conventions are jam-packed with activities for days, but that's no excuse to neglect the basics.  Yet many attendees, particularly adolescent and young adult males, tend to do just that, and the result can be some pretty ripe-smelling individuals.  As an attendee, I've run into this a few times, and unfortunately it's completely out of your control if you encounter it; the only thing you can do is get away from it as quickly as possible.  However, you can make sure that you're not part of the problem.  Shower every day.  If you're a cosplayer, don't wear the same costume on multiple days without washing it.  You'd think these tips would be obvious, but it happens year after year, and I've noticed that more conventions are placing reminders in their program books.  Yeesh.

Frank Cho addressed the problem of smelly comic book fans in his Liberty Meadows comic book.  You've been warned.  (Strip appears in Liberty Meadows Volume 3: Summer of Love by Image Comics.)

5) Fuel the Engine:  Along these same lines, other basic functions like getting enough sleep and eating at least one or two good meals is important.  I like to take advantage of breakfast as a chance to get some good nutrition and sample some local restaurants while buttoning up last minute details for my day.  I'll usually eat a light lunch that I pack into the show with me, and then grab more local fare for dinner after the show as a chance to unwind.  You'll get a good feel for some local culture this way, and may get to discover some awesome food that is unique to the city where the con is being held.  And while events can run past midnight at larger cons, know your limits and your schedule and make sure you get enough rest so that you can maintain that even temper that I alluded to above as essential.

6) See the Sights:  Unless you're a native to the city where the convention is being held, take some time to get out and see some of the city.  Most major programming winds down by 7:00 P.M., which will give you plenty of time to grab a bite and walk around the city a bit.  I really can't recommend this enough, especially in cities like New York, San Diego, and Chicago.  If you can afford it, it's an even better idea to get there a day or two early to make the most out of your trip.

7) Paper or Plastic:  Cash is definitely the standard for most dealer and merchandise booths at a convention, but technology like Square readers for smartphones are enabling more and more retailers to accept plastic.  ATMs are always available onsite, but the transaction fees are steep, and they may actually run out of cash late in the day.  Your best bet is to figure a daily budget and then bring enough cash to exceed it by 25-50% in case you find a deal that is too good to pass up.  You can then readjust your budget accordingly for the following days.  That way, you're not carrying around too much cash and you won't miss out on that must-have collectible that you've been looking for.  A credit or debit card is a handy back-up, but keep track of your's really easy to spend a couple hundred dollars before you know it.

8) Hit the Alley:  There are many exclusive items that you can find for purchase on the convention floor.  Your first stop for these should be Artists' Alley.  This is where the majority of the comics artists and writers will set up base for the weekend.  Each creator typically has a six-foot table to themselves for running signing opportunities and selling sketchbooks, prints, and comics that they've worked on.  The advantage to this is that 100% of the money is guaranteed to go to the creator, so you're supporting their work directly without a middleman like a publisher getting a cut.  Most creators will sign for free at their tables, and some will sketch for free, but the latter is by no means the rule.  Some may even have freebies that promote a new project.  Don't be afraid to ask questions or spend some time chatting.  A big part of the comic con experience is getting to give feedback directly to the people who make the entertainment, and it's really what sets the comics community apart from other fields like film and video games.

So there you go.  Follow these tips, along with those presented in the last post, and you'll be ready to maximize your comic con fun.  While I won't be attending Comic-Con International this year, I do plan on attending the inaugural Cincinnati Comic Con (not to be confused with the Cincinnati Comic Expo) in September.  Stay tuned to the blog for news on that show.

Next week, it's all about the Canadian with the claws, Wolverine.  Catch you on the flip-flop.

1 comment:

  1. I really wanted to see the video of you making an idiot out of yourself but it didn't seem to be there. I'll most likely never go to a show bigger than TCAF (which is nowhere near the size of Comic Con) but I do appreciate the great tips as some definitely apply to the smaller shows as well.