Get Schooled: Proper Comic Book Convention Etiquette

Recently I was cleaning my apartment, and I came across my box of convention badges. As I sat down, avoiding work and sorting through these various lanyards, I came to a very sobering realization: in the last year and a half, I have been to nearly twenty conventions. That very information floored me a bit. It seems like I live at conventions anyway, but I had never really tacked a number to it. With my various endeavors in life – writing, photography, etc – I have somehow ended up going to this many conventions. I feel that I am old hat, a convention "professional" so to speak. And as such, there have been things that have come to my attention over the span of these sleepless weekends. Things on etiquette, proper behavior, and general social interaction that should be considered when attending a comic book convention.

 

Conventions, albeit a place for geeks to gather, are still a social exercise. The most important thing that needs to be considered here is that just because you are with "your people", it does not give you the license to throw normal social graces and general politeness out the window. Remember the things your mother told you, even if you don't adhere to them now. Don't emerge from your basement, blinking at the sunlight for the first time in weeks and fail to make yourself presentable. Do you understand what sort of bush I am beating around here?

What I am saying is… PLEASE BATHE. Drenching yourself in AXE is not a good alternative to this: soap and water are pretty essential parts of smelling good and pleasant in a convention environment. DO NOT be one of the contributors to the "con funk" that permeates the gaming rooms and the artist's alley on Sunday. Take pride in the fact that your skin is scrubbed free of all deadness, that your BO is not rising into the air and taking its own form. When you are planning your itinerary – panels, signings, artist's alley – please make a time slot for a very important thing: BATHING. It is not that hard to scamper back to your hotel room (or your friend's hotel room, or your apartment, or your mother's house) at some point during the weekend and take half an hour to wash yourself and change your t-shirt (even if it's one that you purchased on the convention floor). If you are a cosplayer and you're wearing the same cosplay all weekend, for the love of god at least febreeze your costume and the inside of your wig. 

(I am a bit amazed that I have to mention hygiene habits so extensively, but if you have ever been to ANY sort of convention you know the "con funk" that I am speaking of.)
 

If you are at a convention, chances are you are going to see some cosplayers. Whether it's a hot chick dressed like Dark Phoenix or a chubby teenage boy dressed like Thor, many people put a lot of hard work (or not) and heart into creating costumes of their favourite characters and parading around for the weekend. If someone is cosplaying, they generally expect that people are going to want to take their photograph. That is just FINE. However, snapping pictures of them when they are not paying attention is rather rude. Just because they are dressed like a fictional character doesn't make them wildlife at a zoo. Approach them, ask them politely for their photograph, and wait until they situate themselves to snap it. As a professional cosplay photographer, I see a lot of really terrible photographs of otherwise talented cosplayers. Do not take a picture of them talking to their friends, or eating, or scratching their butt, even if you think it's funny. And if you do end up succesfully photographing them, do not post the picture on the internet if they look awful in it. That is rude. 

Another observation I have made about photographing cosplayers is this: don't stop in the middle of the aisle in a busy vendor's area to ask for their picture. You will get a background of annoyed people who are trying to get past to the next panel or to make it to a signing and you're just holding them up. And as soon as a cosplayer is stopped, photographers generally converge, creating a giant traffic blockage. If you see a cosplayer walking down an aisle, talk to them and ask them if they will pose off to the SIDE for a photograph. There have been times at conventions when the people are so tight packed from this phenomenon that I could literally not squeeze through. Be part of the solution!

 


One of the great things about conventions is the opportunity to get close to some of your favourite comic book writers and artists. These people are usually prepared for your questions and are more then happy to sign things for you. After all, this is their job, and they are not going to jeoparodize that by being rude to the people who make that possible for them (you, the fans). However, you also need to have some general rules on how to treat THEM.

First of all, comic book professionals are still people, no matter how amazing you find their work. That is what you need to keep in mind more than anything when you are approaching their booth. If you have things to sign, keep it to one or two trades or single issues (Unless you know the creator is one of those that insists on signing almost any amount you can bring). Don't drop a full catalog of their work on the table in front of you and expect them to be happy about it when there is a line of fifty anxious people behind you. Chances are, they will eventually be in another convention or a comic shop in your area, so you can slowly build up your collection of signed work if you're that set on it.

Speaking of that line, even if you are enthusiastic about the things that your artist/writer of choice do, don't ramble to them for an hour and keep everyone behind you shifting awkwardly from foot to foot. Pulling out a notebook full of questions and professions for them and chattering their head's off is ill advised. If you don't feel a quick chat is enough to tame the raging beast inside of you, return every once in awhile throughout the convention (or the day) to scratch your itch.

 

Asking artists for a free sketch is a little rude, unless they are advertising it. Some artists will draw you something quickly, but if you have something super specific (Sailor Moon battling Kitty Pryde on a rock held up by the Hulk), you should probably be paying them for their time – they are there to work and they paid to be there, after all. Most artists are totally happy to do something absurd for you as it keeps their job interesting, but I always tip, even if they give me a drawing for free. They need to eat, too.

On the topic of free sketches: A horrible trend that I have heard my artist friends talk about more often than I'd care to is the unethical practice of people getting free sketches and then immediately turning around and selling them on eBay. These artists do not draw you these things for your monetary gain, and it is incredibly awful that people can be this heartless. And in the long run, this is only going to hurt real fans who may not get free sketches anymore.

 

I am going to admit it here first: Most of the reason I go to conventions anymore these days is for the after parties. I love the convention environment in the daytime (but hate that I feel the need to buy more toys then I can fit in my suitcase), but with the handy social lubricant that is alcohol and the dear friends I have made within the industry, I usually feel like for the first time I am going to a party where I am the cool kid. A lot of con goers also go to these after parties, as they are usually thrown by awesome websites (like iFanboy, for example!) or publishers and tend to feature live art and music.

Upon attending these parties, you are more than likely going to see professionals within the industry milling about. It is just fine to approach your favourite artist and make small talk (or offer to buy them a drink), but do not dominate all of their time. The comic book industry especially is very grassroots, so if people go to enough conventions (people like myself, for example) we begin to see the same faces over and over. The community is very tight knit, but conventions are one of the only times a lot of professionals have to catch up with one another. So, go and say hello, chat, but don't monopolize any one person's time. There are lots of interesting people all around you at these events: go say hello and bask in your shared geekery.

Above all, the one thing you need to remember the most is that people are at conventions to have fun. Yes, you included! They are not meant to be stressful situations or perpetuate drama, although sleeplessness and bad eating habits/too much booze does sometimes contribute to some crankier con goers. Just always attempt to be courteous, polite, and keep in mind that everyone else is probably there for the same reason you are: because you love your fandom!
 

 


With San Diego Comic Con approaching and convention season in full swing, I am doing a series of convention related articles leading up to this mecca of geekiness. If you have any particular things you would like me to talk about, or any interesting/weird/cool stories and/or photographs of your convention experiences, please email them to me at molly@ifanboy.com

 


Molly McIsaac points her camera at everything and enjoys fictional characters with green hair. You can stalk her to your heart's content on Twitter.

 

All photographs in this article are taken by Molly McIsaac.

Comments

  1. Love all the Con tips articles – people really need to know this stuff.

    The only real problem I ever had was with a fan monopolizing a creator’s time, although it has given me a good con story to tell. The other stuff – cosplayers, people with too many books, etc. – hopefully, common sense prevails for the most part, although reminders like these never hurt.

  2. Great tips, although the con sketch tipping stood out to me. The very first sketch I got was by Art Baltazar. He charges one dollar per character, and I got two. I gave him a five and told him not to worry about the change. He thanked me, and I moved on. Every other artist I got a sketch from at that convention vehemently refused my efforts to tip. Since then, I’ve had no problem not tipping, because it seems most artists I’ve talked to don’t want anything to do with it. If you’re paying for a sketch, don’t feel bad if you don’t tip.

  3. Con funk… Man, the things they don’t prepare you for at Geek Academy…

  4. i understand your point about giving costumed people personal space and respect, but are you implying that documentary photographers are rude for trying to get honest candids? Not every photographer wants a posed shot. 

    I don’t really fully understand the culture of people who dress up as characters but if you go through all that time, money and effort to draw attention to yourself, you have to expect a bit of papparazzi-ism around you. 

  5. Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    There is nothing like a full-on Wookiee and seventeen digital cameras to clog an entire con aisle. Posing for pictures off to the side: FTW. 

  6. Molly McIsaac Molly McIsaac (@MollyMcIsaac) says:

    @wallythegreenmonster, No, I am not implying that. I take candid shots all the time: of characters eating lunch etc. However a lot of the time I make sure they are aware I am photographing them, and if they pose I ask them to act natural. Also I don’t snap an awful photograph and then put it online for the world to see.

  7. Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Candids of Stormtroopers have to be appropriate though, yeah? They’re masked, so it doesn’t feel like it’s all that rude. I think the fact that they’re so anonymous is part of the reason Stormtroopers are so funny. 

  8. At SDCC I am not going to bathe, wear the same shirt the whole time, cover myself in AXE boby spray and monoplize creator’s time. Just to piss off Molly. 😉

     

     

     

  9. Maybe I just don’t get cosplay. Is that bad? I mean I get the idea of dressing up like a character, cuz I was Peter Parker for Halloween (the ladies love Peter, let’s be hoenst) but I guess I don’t get the whole culture that surrounds cosplay. Molly, why do you do it and is there actually a market for a "cosplay photographer" as you’ve referred to yourself multiple times over the last couple of weeks. I’m not trying to bust anyone’s chops or troll, I’m honestly curious about these things. Not trying to say it’s bad, maybe that it’s just not for me. Either way, I don’t understand it.

     Thanks for putting out these great columns every week. Maybe you’ll still illuminate me even further. 

  10. oh ok. Well yeah…i’m sure there are weird people who’s goal it is to shoot pics of people bending over or adjusting themselves so they can slap a funny headline over it. Thats crappy and they should be beaten with Jar Jar Binks toys. 

  11. Stopping in the middle of the isle for pictures is the WORST!

     

    Anson17, if you get the idea of dressing up like a character you pretty much get cosplay. It’s just that people take a lot of pride putting those costumes together and sharing tips and techniques with others. Cosplay photographers are great because they understand the drama of said character usually and can help arrange shots in that way. 

  12. And shower…for God’s sake people, just shower. 

    Oh, and buy a case of water before you get to the hotel.  You’ll be glad you did.

  13. Ok, maybe it’s just that I expect there to be more to the culture and I’m overanalyzing it. Thanks for taking the time to school me a bit.

  14. Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Did you believe them to have their own form of currency or…?

    😉 

  15. As a cosplayer (and the Dark Phoenix in that pic!), I definitely agree with Molly. One of the things I hunt for immediately after a con weekend, are GOOD cosplay shots. A cosplayer doesn’t want to look like horrendous shit in a costume they’re trying to show off. It’s like selling a car or promoting it: you want it to be detailed and in best shape, not poor lighting with dents in it.

    I consider it portfolio work. I hate shitty cosplay pics.

  16. From my one Anime Con experience I can say that the Hygiene one needs to be emphasized even more.  In my Comic Experiences people don’t tend to stay up for three days straight without showing where they did at the Anime Convention I went to.  I mention this because Comic Conventions seem to be headed in this direction with later and later programming.  Also some of them are combining with Anime Conventions, which means they do have stuff going on 24/7.

    Whenever an artists gives me a sketch in a book, I almost always try to buy something from them.  I look at it as a way of tipping. 

  17. I’m going to my first two cons this year (SDCC, LBCC) and am very excited. I am fully aware of the "Con funk" that can occur and have no desire to add to it. Also if I go to the parties afterwards I’d rather be a different kind of funky (and that’s at the partying you know what I’m sayin’). I’ve already prepared to see who’s going to be at the cons and to bring A book to be signed, single, only one. 

    I’d also throw it that if you meet an old-school creator, it’s nice to bring up there more recent work on top of the classic stuff you love. (This isn’t always true, but I tend to find some artistic people mentally roll their eyes to "I loved this work you did 20 years ago!") But that’s just me. 

    Another fun read Molly, looking forward to the rest of the Con articles.  

  18. My Tony Daniel Huntress sketch is priceless, especially since he forgot the way her mask looks and i had to tell him how to draw. I would never sell my sketches, I don’t get why someone would there is not much money to gain when they are done in like 3 minutes. I pick my favorite issues to get signed and would never sell those either because well they are my favorites. B.O. doesnt bother me so much, i used to go to a lot of anarchist conferences in my crusty punk days and B.O. was something train-hoppers and travelers wore proudly, got used to it i guess.

    I would add pack as lightly as possible if your traveling since you will want to buy stuff that might not fit into your suitcase. 

  19. The HYGIENE thing really really needs to be emphasize. I took my girlfriend to her very first comic con( the recent Wonder Con) she loved it accept for the BO of some of the atendees that was kickin like Jackie Chan.

  20. What if your B.O. smells like a wonderful hydroponic plant from California a.k.a Blueberry Funk?
     
    @molly Love the fact that you go to so many conventions since you take good pictures. I am also looking forward to see more articles from you. Girls Rule, boys drool 😛

  21. I find that not taking things to sign works two ways: I have more space to carry stuff home with me, and I can take the opportunity to buy something directly from the artist, meaning I am supporting them and discovering their other work at the same time.

  22. I hate the people who bring a small box of stuff to sign. Especially some of the big name creators. Great suggestion. I do find some irony that you suggest not taking candid shots on a site who regularly opens their con coverage video shows with these exact images. I’m not sure if they get permission, I’m sure though right?

  23. As a cosplayer, I’d like to thank you for your suggestions.

     Not only do I hate taking up an aisle, but the worst is finding pics of me online  of me on my cellphone, or mid-laugh (which is hideous for even the most attractive people).

    Please, wait until I’m ready and can look pretty for you. We all win that way, lol…

  24. Is it ok to take pictures of cosplayers out of costume at a hotel bar from across the city using a telephoto lens? Just wondering.

    If you really want to be a douche, take a small can of spray air freshner with you – when that con funk wearer sidles up next to you at the .50 cent boxes, pause, reach into your backpack/pocket/interdimensional portal, pull out the can, and just spray it on him (careful to avoid the face – we aren’t hurting anyone here). When he looks at you, all angry and pissed off, just say, "Con funk, my friend. Con. Funk." He’ll look at you and nod as if to say, "Oh, you merry trickster," like in those Mentos commercial. 

  25. Excellent advice.

    Question: Was the following an actual request? Just curious:

    "Sailor Moon battling Kitty Pryde on a rock held up by the Hulk"

  26. Molly McIsaac Molly McIsaac (@MollyMcIsaac) says:

    @mangaman, It was a request I gave my friend, except it was Zero Suit Seamus instead of Kitty Pryde… and the background was Cloud City from Mario.

  27. I feel bad now. I took a picture of a guy dressed as Thor doing some paperwork. I’m sure he would have been cool to pose that way if I’d asked him. I could even have upped the comedy value. Lesson learned.

  28. I believe Marv Wolfman now has a deal that if you bring more than 5 books to get signed he charges a dollar for them and donates the money to charity.  Which I’m alright with, but it’s sad he has to do that to keep someone from bringing every Teen Titans book he’s ever written to be signed.

  29. I’ve been back into comics seriously now for about three years and have not been to a comicon yet.  When I first got interested again, I honestly thought to myself I would never have any desire to go to one. Now of course, I am eating my words.  Do to time/monatary constraints I still don’t know if and when I’ll go to one; maybe a very small, local one if the oppurtunity presents itself…

    …but if and when I go, thanks for the tips!  (especially the bathing part, because in my nervous excitement I would probably neglect that and get very confunky)

  30. this is a serious question out of general curiousity:

    Is it common for people to be intoxicated at cons and get somewhat out of hand? 

    As I type that, I imagine that its completely unacceptable and those few problem people or groups get thrown out or get asked to leave fairly quickly?

  31. @jwaesch I’ve never seen anyone so drunk (or whatever) that they were a problem.  Any over-boozing tends to happen after-hours.

  32. Gosh, Molly and other people – I hope you don’t forget to have fun.

  33. @deadspace: bathing IS fun.

  34. Molly, what a great piece! Combine this with the piece I did on Artist’s Alley a few weeks ago and we are almost at a full-fledged iFanboy Con FAQ. And don’t forget, after the party it’s the hotel lobby.

     

     

  35. Snapping photos of cosplayers dressed as the avengers scratching their asses, pasting hulk in the background and posting on the internet sounds like fun though.

  36. I’ve been the last 2 NYCC. The first time I spend more time on cosplay pictures. The second time I spend more time on getting autographs. Base on the article, I haven’t broken the rules yet. I think I even get better pictures on my 2nd time becuase I spend almost all 3 days waiting in lines for signings. While waiting in line, there were so many cosplayers just pass by and I just asked them to stop and pose. I was able to get many autographs and cosplay pics at the same time. I’m too scared to ask for sketches because I don’t recall they offer free sketches at NYCC. I can’t make it to SDCC, but hopefully I can some sketches at NYCC.

    @jmstump Even though NYCC is not 24/7, but I work at night. So I was basically up for 3.5 days straight. I even went to the iFanboy after party. I’ll not do that again. Driving and working while drunk and sleepy was scary.

  37. @Matrix – Did you catch me scratching mine!?! 🙂

    @tenime – Love you Chris!