In the last ten or so years, Comic Cons have become much more popular, with new ones cropping up all over the country. Larger conventions have become places where huge announcements are made, trailers are released, and people get to see the stars of favorite movies past and future.
The only experiences I’ve had with comic-cons have been at smaller conventions like the Motor City Comic Con in Novi, Michigan, and the Grand Rapids Comic Con in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I don’t have any experience with the larger, multi-venue conventions like San Diego, which also runs for four days.
Let’s start with the size of the conventions.
San Diego Comic Con is the largest convention in the United States, with attendance of 167,000 in 2015, but the following two years seemed to drop to around 130-135,000.
By comparison, Motor City Comic Con had about 50,000 attend that same year, growing adding another 5,000 guests in the following two years.
Grand Rapids Comic Con had about 30,000 in attendance in 2016. This was an increase over the previous year of around 8,000 visitors. I am sure that 2017 was even larger, and 2018 could be larger still.
What happens at a Comic Con?
The Vendor Hall
We’ll start with the vendor hall. That’s where you may spend most of your time. The vendor hall has people selling all manner of pop-culture related things, from items that are home-made crafts to officially licensed products, toys both new and old, and comic books from every era. You’ll also find artists that are both independent and professional. You can get custom art commissions, as well as learn about projects that they work on when they’re not working with a major publisher. Some of them may have worked on a comic book series that you have read, which is always exciting to find out about. I’ve gotten a few comics signed by the artists that drew them.
You may also see replica cars from movies and tv shows, like the Ecto-1 and the Batmobile. There will also be booths featuring the 501st and the Rebel Legion and Mandalorian Mercs Star Wars fan groups, as well as Ghostbusters and other new and growing fan groups that do charity work, children’s hospital visits, parades, and more. You can inquire about what it takes to join, if you’re interested. I’ve found the people in these groups to be some of the nicest people I’ve met at conventions.
There is also the media guest area, where you can meet celebrities from the A-list to the C-list. Don’t be surprised if they’re charging for an autograph, photo or both. There are some that won’t talk unless you’re buying something, which is a bit frustrating. I get it, but it’s awful when you just want to say hello, and not spend $20-30 for the privilege. There are also some that will only sign something if you’re getting it personalized, so be prepared for that. In a few conventions, I’ve only gotten a few free signatures, but that’s not the norm. I’ve also had some really great experiences getting signatures, and some that I’ll never forget how bad they were. Also, be sure to keep an eye on the guest page on the website, to look for cancellations, scheduling, prices, etc. Make your own list to keep track of who you want to meet, costs associated, panels you want to attend and when and where they are.
With all of the guests that they convention brings in, they’ll also have a schedule of panels you can go to. Sometimes they’ll have multiple guests from the same film or show, so the panel will often be about that topic. You’ll hear great behind the scenes stories, and often get an opportunity to ask a question or two. These are often the best part of a convention. At the cons that I go to, I’ve never had any trouble getting a seat. I’ve heard that certain halls at San Diego comic con have people lining up many hours in advance, due to the limited number of seats. Don’t expect to see trailer premieres at smaller conventions. Instead, you can expect a more personal experience.
Gaming, Anime, etc.
I’ve not taken part in any of the other rooms that I’ve seen at conventions like this, but I can understand when people do.. being on your feet all day can be tiring and you might want a bit of a break. There are some cons that have a schedule of anime that is playing, but mileage may vary with these, as they may not be family friendly. There are also often table-top gaming rooms and card game rooms. You might be able to learn a new game or two.
Depending on the size of the convention, the prizes will be different, and the categories for judgement as well. Some have monetary prizes, others give you free tickets to the next year’s convention. What is it, though? If you simply drive past the line to a convention, you’ll see it. People like to dress up for conventions. Often, they’ll make their own costume to dress like their favorite characters from their favorite movies. Sometimes they are original characters that they created. Just about anything goes, but if you’re going to do this, be sure to look up the convention’s rules for what you can and cannot do with your costume. If you’re planning to compete, look for the rules, registration, if there is pre-judging, etc. Competition usually happens toward the end of the day on Saturday. There is sometimes a kid competition on Sunday as well. Apart from the competitions, though, many more people will just take the opportunity to dress up each day of the convention.
Taking Pictures of Cosplayers
If you see someone dressed as a character you like, and you want to take a picture of them or with them, there’s one simple thing that you must do. Ask.
Ask to take their picture. Ask to take a picture with them. This is the etiquette that is expected of you, and will be greatly appreciated.
How do I prepare for Comic Con?
Read the rules
Every con has rules. Familiarize yourself with those and you’ll have a good time.
Make a List and a Budget
It’s easy to over-spend at a convention. Start by looking at the guest lists and figure out who you might want to meet. Make note of the costs of an autograph, photo, etc. If there is a photo-op opportunity, you can schedule that as well.
If there is anything in particular you’re looking for, such as an old collectible, comic books, etc., bring along some cash for that as well. Sunday, toward the end of the show, is often the best time to buy a lot of comic books and other things as you are more likely to get a better deal.
Bring some extra cash for discoveries. You might find something great that you didn’t expect.
Wear Comfortable Shoes
You’ll be on your feet a lot. Wear shoes that won’t destroy your feet.
Bring a Bag
I tend to keep a small cardboard box in a messenger bag. The box is large enough to fit the 8×10 pictures that people tend to sign. It can also fit a bunch of comics, and other things that I might want to pick up. If you buy something larger, it’s probably a good idea to take those items to your car or hotel room if you’re staying close by.
If you’re planning to wear a costume, you might find it easier to get to the convention before you put it all on. I’m not an expert in this, but I have some friends that are.
Be sure, once again, to look at the rules for your costumes.