The Dum-Dum’s Guide to Comic Book Conventions

Good times.

Con season is upon us!

Well, my con season is, anyway.

Truth be told, most of us really don’t have a “con season.” Globetrotting jet-setters like the iFounders find themselves at ten of these things a year dragging 80 pounds of camera equipment (don’t say they never did anything for you) but the rest of us get to maybe one or two, if we’re lucky. This year, my lone con is going to be C2E2 in beautiful downtownish Chicago this weekend. As I try to prepare for something more than a day in advance for perhaps the first time since my wedding, I find myself thinking about the mistakes I seem to make every time I go to one of these things. Here now are those mistakes, so that you may learn from them and I may avoid them. Some of these may seem like common sense, but bear in mind, I am terribly stupid.

There’s more to life than panels. To the extent that you hear anything online about a convention, what you hear is usually “news” from one of the many panels being held that weekend. And yes, it is sort of cool to see that preview art projected in a hotel ballroom a full hour before everyone else sees it online. Watching the righteously indignant guy try to get up during the Q & A and sarcastically confront the writer he thinks “raped his childhood” is even more morbidly fascinating than reading about it later would have been. Getting to see the blogosphere gossip columnists on the floor huddled around the outlets joylessly transcribing the panel is sort of amusing, in a how-the-sausage-gets-made kind of way. By and large, though? The panels are about 70% skippable and nowhere near as much fun as you’ll have out on the floor. Worry more about meeting up with those people you only know from the internet. Worry more about getting to walk up to Ryan Stegman in Artists’ Alley and tell him to his face how great you think Scarlet Spider is. Years later, you and your friends will be talking way more about the cosplay you saw or the celebrity you bought a drink in the hotel bar than you’ll ever talk about the Fear Itself panel. I went to San Diego with the iFounders a few years ago, and none of us ever set foot in a single panel. We heard the news about Marvel acquiring Marvelman from someone passing by. (How’d that work out, by the way?) That night at dinner, the cast of Firefly came in and sat right next to us. That’s the stuff the memories are made of. Sure, there are cool panels to be had– the one Ali and I went to about Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand at the last C2E2 was amazing–but don’t put all your eggs in that basket.

Don’t be That Guy. You know how people talk about the crowds at cons? You know the stereotype of the pushy, sweaty slob in the undersized Flash t-shirt who creeps out the creators and helps make the room smell bad? The part about that guy that makes me saddest is that he is completely oblivious to the fact that he’s that guy. Be aware of whether or not you might be that guy, and try to avoid being that guy. Bring your deodorant; we are not animals. You know how everyone comes home with “con flu,” because everyone is pawing everything and everyone all day? Wash your hands. My personal Achilles heel is clothing; I always think, “I will be efficient and travel light,” and pack a handful of t-shirts into a backpack, then I get there and I’m completely rumpled and disheveled, going to dinner with people who remembered to pack shirts with collars. I spent most of last C2E2 looking like a homeless man Josh had taken pity on and agreed to feed. This year, I swear I may wear a tie the whole time to balance it out.

bat'leth!

"It's for recreational use only, officer."

Consider the romance of riding the rails. If you’re like me, very few conventions are in your backyard, and that trek can seem a little daunting sometimes. As Steve Martin and John Candy taught us, though, there is more than one way to get through the Midwest. I like a road trip as much as the next man, assuming the next man would rather spend the whole time reading and sleeping instead of listening to his buddy’s questionable “travel mix” for six hours. When I headed to C2E2 last year, the revelation that I could just take a train transformed the whole trip. I sat in business class, got to charge my phone the whole way there, and didn’t have to worry about rush hour traffic. (Plus: no security screenings. Feel free to impulse-buy that replica bat’leth and stuff it right in your duffle bag.) Just another option to keep in mind; your mileage literally may vary.

Things cost money. The few times I have found myself at a convention, I’ve always made the same mistake. The day before I head out, I go to the ATM and withdraw what I earnestly believe to be a decent, reasonable amount of cash for shopping on the con floor. I think, “There. Now all I have to do is wait until Sunday, when the dealers are desperate not to have to pack up all their wares and lug them all the way back to Edwardsville or wherever, and I can whip out this hefty roll o’ bills and make a killing on the sweet, sweet savings.” On Sunday morning, I open my wallet and a cartoon moth flies out of it, because I have spent three days chipping away at my cash wad with cab rides, breakfasts, tips, and convention center hot dogs that cost $43. I never remember to bring my own food. I’m never patient enough to wait for the shuttle when a taxi is parked right there on the corner. I never remember that people outside the con will only provide goods and/or services in exchange for currency. Then I’m left with $7 and a gum wrapper, and I still have to buy souvenirs for my family.

Maybe don’t buy souvenirs for your family. Yes, it is sweet and thoughtful that your significant other let you off the chain for the weekend and didn’t even roll her eyes until you were out of the room. He or she may even be, say, spending all weekend singlehandedly wrangling your two children, who will also miss you a great deal the whole time. However, you are probably the only person in the house who likes comics, and no matter which action figure or shirt or novelty Norse hammer you bring them, they won’t care all that much. Hypothetically, your wife still hasn’t looked at what you brought her last year, and your children gleefully tore up the Power Pack collection you bought with your last five bucks right before your eyes because they can’t read yet, you nimrod. Hypothetically. Take them all to Six Flags when you get home and call it a day.

That thing about waiting until Sunday to shop is no joke. Ever try to carry a box full of Omniboo across town? Try doing it on Wednesday, spending twelve hours on your feet for the next three days, and then loading it all up again for the trip home. Many dealers are all too eager to ditch that entire crate of Essential Man-Things on the first shlub who comes along Sunday with three dollars or a reasonably shiny button.

Check the weather forecast, dum-dum. “It’s 70° here today; I assume it will be exactly like this hundreds of miles away, days from now. Say, what’s this ‘Lake Effect’?” -me, always

With any luck, these tips from a professional amateur will serve you well. If nothing else, I can pin them to my shirt this weekend to keep me from making too big a fool of myself.


Jim Mroczkowski will see you on the floor, Sexy Lady Moon Knight.

Comments

  1. I am not sure if pinning a list to your shirt is a preventative measure that will prohibit you from making a fool of yourself. Seems like two steps forward and one back to me. Maybe a smart phone with a notepad feature/app. But hey, different strokes and different folks. 😉

  2. I will also add…
    – wear comfy shoes. You will be walking a lot.
    – If you see someone like say something. This stands for both comic book professionals and online friends. I swore I saw Sonia at NYCC last year and didn’t say anything. If you see me, come and say hello. I am a nice guy and love new friends. I can’t speak for every one of the iFanbase but I am sure several feel the same way.
    – the convention is in Chicago, don’t forget to see Chicago. The convention is fun but don’t forget to take advantage of whatever city you are visiting. There will come a time, this happens to me a lot, when in the middle of the day (usually Saturday) I am feeling a little..bored. That’s the perfect time to get out and get some fresh air. There is a lot to do and see in that town.
    – Drink lots of water during the day. Don’t get too drunk during the after hours. I still need to follow these two pieces of advice.
    – Bring hand sanitizer. It’s cheap and it’s a great way to make friends. Once someone sees you using it, they are reminded of how much stuff they have touched throughout the day “Excuse me, you mind if I get a drop of that?” The stuffs cheap, the more it get’s passed around the better.

  3. Either that shield is huge or that girl is really petite.

  4. One look and I was sold on “Tiny girl, Big Shield”.

  5. I’d have to disagree some with the “there’s more to life than panles” part. I think you have just been going to the wrong panels. While everything in the Publsiher spotlight panels, news panels and the big name creator panels may get covered online, There are so many that do not. AT new york i attended a panel with joe sinnot and dick ayers. Hearing stories about the past was amazing. Scouring the websites for info about the con wouldnt tell you how joe sinnot remembered opening packages with kirby pencils and being greeted with the smell of the cigars that had enfused every page. at c2e2 i saw a panel about the grant morrison documentary and the film makers. they showed clips from the doc as they were working ont it. My favorited scenes that they showed never made it to the dvd and id never have seen them if i skipped the panel. This year at c2e2 they are screening a 1979 documentary about comics you may not get to see anywhere else. If you are interested in learning new things about comics panles are the way to go, just pick the right ones. look over the program guide in detail, see what looks interesting, i usually have my panel choices made befeore the show as most cons post their schedules online. i could go to san diego and spend the whole day at panels. because there are so many great ones there. if i want to see people i have met online, i can do that after the show itself, at the hotel bar or any number of post show events.

    • tripleneck tripleneck (@tripleneck) says:

      Nice Kirby anecdote. Thanks for passing it along!

    • Maybe the better statement is to go to the panels with personal meaning. There are few enough comics creators at D*C that I always hit their panels, if possible. Because they aren’t publisher or event type panels, they’re always a blast.

  6. How about “don’t be an autograph hound”? Bring a couple of books for your favorite writers/artists to sign, but don’t drop a stack of comics in front of someone and have him or her sign it all.

    • I’m pretty sure it’s legal in most states to murder those people that bring a cart loaded with crap and park it in front of a creator.

  7. Best $43 I ever spent.

  8. I’m going to my first con in Philly. I received a Stan Lee meet and greet as a gift. I think I just want to soak in the experience but I don’t want to miss out on anything cool.
    What about sketches? Are they all pre-ordered?
    Typically, how much are autographs that aren’t pre-ordered?
    What must I not miss at a con?

    • The guys have done a few articles on this sort of thing. Short version, for sketches it depends on the artist, where they’re signing, and the quality of the sketch. As for autographs, media guests will generally charge (sometimes the con forces them to charge at least a certain amount), but creators it’s a little more iffy. I typically will buy something from a creator and get them to personalize it. Not only do they then get paid for their signature, but they know it isn’t going on eBay.

  9. There are some artists/writers there that I do want to get some stuff signed. When it comes to books, what’s better recommended, if I ever have to part with them? On the cover, with a silver Sharpie? Or black? Inside?

    If my last comic con experience was any indication, make sure you know what artist is going to charge what for original sketches. It definitely varies.

    Also, avoid the celebrity handlers, and you’ll save $30-40 if you find them wandering the floor. Simply ask them for a photo, and if they say “no,” at least you asked nicely. If you then want to get in line to pay that much for an autograph/photo, that’s on you.

    • Silver on the cover, for me, because it stands out over any color that is on the cover. Plus it’s easier to show off to your friends. : D

  10. As a veteran of numerous Mid-West Cons, this column was full of practical, helpful info…and it made me laugh out loud a couple of times. Headed to my first SDCC this year and will take all of this advice to heart, especially the part about bringing collared shirts/ties.

  11. Is the juxtaposition between Jim and Ali in that picture more a product of Jim’s hugeness or Ali’s tininess? Either way, great picture. Ali needs to play the Wasp in the next Avengers movie.

    Nice article, Jimmy. Couldn’t agree more about the part about panels. 80% of the panels I’ve ever attended usually weren’t that great. Nor worth the amount of time I spent in line. There is the rare panel worth that’s worth it. But especially at giant cons like San Diego where waiting in line can cost you half of your day or more. No thanks! If it’s a smaller con, where the line investment time isn’t as immense, sometimes a fun panel can be a great way to rest your feet. But do your research and figure out exactly what you’re spending time to wait to see.

  12. The only panels I really want to attend are the Spider-Man and Ultimate Marvel ones, anyway. The rest of the time will be mostly spent on the floor.

  13. 1) Get to artists early if you want a sketch. They’re pretty much booked by the end of the first day if not sooner.
    2) One on one with creators is awesome. Neil Gaiman did a reading at C2E2 a few years back and my girlfriend who is not a comic person loved it.
    3) Don’t pay the sticker price for books. It amazes me that people do this. Yes you can wait to Sunday. You can also go up to a dealer, pick out the books, ignore the sticker price, and say this is what I will pay. Then negotiate. If you don’t like the dealer’s lowest price walk away. Very often this will seal the deal in your favor. If not there are dozens of other dealers. Yes some people may think its dickish to nickel and dime but open markets like these are based on bargaining. And really what’s more dickish the guy who wants $40 for a complete set of Infinity War or the guy who calls him on it. Books are worth what people are willing to pay for them not what a price guide says they are worth. (Getting off the soapbox now).

  14. wait, you found a complete infinity war set for $40?!?! man, you’re losing money if you *don’t* buy it for that price.

  15. Great list! I’ll be driving halfway to Chicago, then riding the rails the rest of the way in. Not Amtrak, mind you — I’m just gonna hop onto a cargo train heading in the right direction.

  16. “Omniboo.” I completely loled at that.