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Comic Convention 101 – A Con Survival Guide


Comic conventions are can be incredible experiences.  They are huge events, with so many different things happening all at once.  If you have not been fortunate enough to attend many conventions, it can be a bit overwhelming at first (but in a good way).  In this article, Comic Booked will explore tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your time at the convention.

Like with many things in life, a little planning ahead can go a long way.  If you know about a convention in your area that you would like to attend, find them online and subscribe to their email newsletter or social networking site feed.  This way, not only will you be on top of guest announcements, but most conventions offer early ticket sales months in advance and at deep discounts.  Many cons sell out quickly, so it helps to be in the know about the opening of ticket sales.

comic convention show floor

Before heading out to the convention, go to their website and check out the signing sessions and panel discussion schedules.  There will be guides once you get to the event, and many conventions now offer free smart-phone apps with schedule and map information. It really helps to go in with a rough, flexible outline of what you want to do.  Certain guests may not be in attendance every day of a convention.  Signings and panels usually operate on a first come, first served basis.  Show up too late and you may not get into that panel discussion; or get to meet your favorite artists to get your books autographed.  You may (read: likely) have to wait in line for popular artists and events.  Be patient and make new friends with other fans while you wait.

A cheap, cardboard poster tube can save you many tearsThink about how you will protect your comics during transportation to and from the convention to keep them in pristine condition.  You do not want beloved and often expensive books getting beat up in a bag you lug around all day.  Some people transport books in briefcases.  Many messenger-bags and backpacks have padded laptop compartments that work well.  There are many things like Mill Cases and similar products on the market to protect your comics, but they can sometimes do more harm than good.  Check online and your local comic shop for available solutions.  If you plan on getting any prints, posters, or original art, do yourself a HUGE favor and go to an art supply store to purchase a poster tube.  They can be fancy with shoulder straps or simple, heavy, unadorned cardboard.  Art on large sheets of paper is a particularly vulnerable medium.  The edges can be easily damaged.  A stray raindrop, gust of wind, or clumsy pedestrian can do considerable damage in the blink of an eye.  Seriously, get the poster tube.

deluxe poster art tubes

Upon arrival to any convention, one of the first things you will notice are cosplayers in an amazing variety of characters and costumes.  These people work hard on their ensembles, and are usually more than happy to pose for a quick picture.  Be polite and ask permission before you get your shutterbug on.  This is a common courtesy and proper convention etiquette.  Do not be the creepy twit that suggests that Supergirl and Poison Ivy making out would be great for the next shot.  These are real people, not comic panel fantasies come to life to amuse you.  I know this should all go without saying, but you’d be surprised.

Supergirl and Poison Ivy kiss

If you are going to dress up in costume, be sure to break in those new boots and try out the clothing before the big day.  Nothing will ruin your convention quite like a blister on your foot, over-heating or freezing in vinyl, or finding out too late that you are allergic to latex.  If possible, keep some emergency back-up shoes and clothing in the parked car or your hotel room.  Be mindful if you have accessorized your outfit with a bulky, replica weapon, that you are not knocking things over or whacking innocent by-standers every time you turn around. If you have a replica weapon, check with your convention before you enter to see if your prop accessory needs to be “peace bonded.”  Peace bonding is a process where a convention volunteer will quickly inspect your weapon to make sure that it isn’t a real gun or sword, and a potential danger to other convention goers.  After verifying that it is indeed a prop, they will usually give you a ribbon or sticker of some sort to place on the item in question, that shows it is convention approved.  In some cases, failure to adhere to the peace bonding process can get you into trouble with convention staff, and no one wants that.

Catwoman and Joker cosplay

Comicons give us access to an embarrassment of comic book riches– more books than you will see likely until the next convention.  Having a list of books that you need will help you to fill in runs and flesh out your collection.  The list can also help you to avoid buying issues you already own.  Digging through discount long-boxes can be time consuming, but with a sharp eye and a little effort, can lead to some excellent scores.  Some vendors restock these boxes throughout the convention, but checking them out early, before thousands of other collectors, usually produces the best results.   Be sure to check out the copyright and print run information on the inside cover to be sure you know what you are getting.  Buying a fifteenth printing is great if you just want the a reader book for the story.  If you are buying an expensive piece for your collection, be sure you know exactly what you are about to get in exchange for your hard earned dollars.

Not all, but many vendors are willing to negotiate on prices and engage in the lost art of haggling; even more so, if you are going to buy multiple or expensive items.   Don’t be a jerk and offer them $10 for a $100 book.  A little diplomacy can yield mutually beneficial results.

comic convention dealers

Comic book fans are blessed to have more access to our star creators than fans of just about any other media.  As a general rule, comic creators are really cool and happy to meet their fan base.  When the big moment arrives, and you finally get to meet these people face to face, just be polite.  This is not the place to go on a ten minute diatribe about how they really botched up your favorite title and yadda yadda yadda… ad nauseam, while the poor artist sits there with a neutral expression and imagines chewing off their own arm to escape the bear-trap that is you and this unpleasant moment.  There is a time and place for bile fueled rants, and that place is the internet.  Be polite.  Have a nice little chat.  Get an autograph.  Maybe ask if you can get a quick picture.  Maybe consider not asking the artist to throw gang signs while you make little finger bunny ears behind their heads during the picture.  While that mental image is admittedly amusing, you can do it later in Photoshop.

If you do choose to get a book signed, wait a couple of minutes for the ink to completely dry before returning it to a bag and backing-board or setting something on top of it.  Wet ink can and will smear, ruining your autograph and book in the process.  Signatures on the inside of books can bleed onto the previous page if the book is closed too soon.  The same rule applies to rolling up freshly signed prints and art.  Exercise patience and caution, and you will come away with memorabilia that you will treasure for a lifetime.

comic convention attendees

The last hours of a convention always result in sales, discounts, and more flexible pricing.  If you do choose to wait until the eleventh hour to make a move on that book you have been eying all weekend, you may get a killer deal.  Don’t be shocked, however, if someone beat you to it.  Your convention pass will likely be good for other events and discounts around town.  Talk to vendors and check out the convention website to find out what cool extras may be included.  Many local shops have sales around conventions.  Many artists and publishers hold after hours events.  Talk to people to find out where the action is.

Above all, enjoy convention season and then get ready to do it all again next time. What cons are you guys hitting this season? Let us know!  I’ll see you on the show floors and at the discussion panels!


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Comments (9)

Haha this is too true! A VERY accurate article! I luckily started going to cons when I was young (like 14) and people still humored my ignorance haha

This should be ReTweeted/FB/emailed/printed and out before every Con!

It was part of my Emerald City Comicon Preview that got too big and took on a life of its own. Now we can link it with convention articles.

Great guide. Thank you so much!!!

This rocks! Thanks Robb, we want more!!!

dorothy blakesley

I think this is the best, and pretty much only, thing i could find about how to "do it right" at a comiccon. after reading yours, i tried looking up anything with similar info, just 'cause i didn't think i'd read anything like it, and i was right, not much out there. so thanks! very educational, plus it made me laugh without the aide of, uuhhh, well, you know. stuff that makes things funnier! teeheehee!

dorothy blakesley

someone should tell certain artists the thing 'bout the signatures, 'cause one artist, well, he smeared his own signature. but, he was nice enough to turn the smear into a drawing and re-sign it.

Thank you guys and gals so much for the positive feedback!

I just wanted to say, from an artists perspective, THANK YOU!!! for this awesome article! SO many people at the cons think that it's the perfect time to tell their "fav" artist how they should draw or the next move they should make in their career, how their new stuff just isn't "as awesome" or whatever. Some people just don't understand that Art isn't just a production for their benefit, it's also a lot of hard work and long hours.. From one grateful artist to you Sir Robb a million times THANK YOU!!!

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