First time going to a comic convention? It’s prep time!

Soooo it’s February, which means that comic, horror, sci-fi and other pop-culture convention schedules are kicking off for the year.  Spring is con season in my neck of the woods–there’s a humble page dedicated to this on the menu above–and for many that means strapping on the ‘ol cosplay boots, packing some snacks and beverages into a mostly-empty bag (gotta have room for merchandise), and setting out for the wild costumed yonder.

For others, though, it’s a time of cautious wonder and nervous excitement.  I’m speaking, of course, about those wide-eyed wanderers who have never been to a comic/pop-culture convention before.  So what if it’s your first time on this merry-go-round?  Never fear, dear reader, for here’s a short but hopefully useful primer on catching all the good (five-man Ghostbuster units, including Louis Scully!) and avoiding the bad (germs; so. many. germs.).

First, some vocabulary…

I am not putting a boatload of terms and phrases here, but these are the bare essentials.  After all, if you’re new to the game, you should know what you’re looking at…which could be anything.  For a more comprehensive list, check out this discussion thread.

Anime – Japanese animation.  Also called “japanimation,” though I resent this term for no real reason.

Artists’ Alley – the area of booths (usually several rows) designated for well-known, up-and-coming, and amateur artists to sell their art and sign autographs.

Con-goers – attendees at a convention–pretty straight forward.

Con-plague – the sometimes inevitable cold, cough or other bug that floats around a room full of people.  Germs are everywhere, con or no con.  Just wash your hands and cough into your elbow!

Cosplay – the practice of dressing up as a character/figure from books, film, comics, games, etc.  Pretty much anything goes so you can’t go wrong here, I promise.

Cosplayer – one who participates in cosplaying

LARP – the acronym for “Live Action Role Play”.  Those guys in costume fighting in the park?  They’re LARPing, and having a blast doing it.

Panel – any event focused on a particular topic, subject, or person.  There can be one panel guest or ten, and there’s generally some Q&A.

Signing – an event/opportunity to get an autograph from a special guest at the con.  These usually cost money and have long lines.  You can generally get autographs for free in Artists’ Alley though!!

What should I expect?

The Good: This could be a mile-long list, but I won’t do that.  Namely, you are about to spend the day with like-minded, wonderfully-costumed people who love photo-ops with/for you and love giving you compliments on your duds (and receiving compliments for their own get-ups as well–hint).  In my experience, people seem to love cosplaying for the interactions and comradery it fosters.  You’ll be hard pressed to find a big ‘ol asshole who hates you for wanting to take his picture…though those do exist, in small numbers.

You’re also in a place with some of the coolest toys, props, costumes, books, movies, art and collectibles available in all of nerd-dom!  Take advantage of that, maybe even start a fund for it well in advance.

The Bad: Crowds.  Con-stench. Con-plague (or Con-tagion). Pardon the expression, but you are going to be asses-to-elbows with a lot of people. And ass/elbow crowds mean germs and unfortunate body odor.  While this is pretty much unavoidable, it’s really not so bad if you just accept the fact and take deep breaths (maybe not through your nose, though…Also, pro tip: wear a costume that requires something breathable over your face, like a balaclava or face-bandana). After all, everyone else is here for the same great experience.  Share in the sense of community with the people around you, see the panels and displays you want to see, and take the opportunity to meet your favorite writers and artists (and actors if you have the chance).  

The Ugly: This isn’t the “ugly” you’re probably thinking of.  This is an AWESOME UGLY.  Yes, you’ll see folks dressed in all manner of amazing costumes, including tons of mainstream comic superheroes, which is terrific.  BUT you’ll also see hoards of truly weird and/or creepy characters from fantasy, science fiction and horror genres, many of which you may not recognize.  You’ll be double-taking all day, which is a pretty good indicator of how memorable, unique and interesting the experience stands to be as a whole.  Soak it up and enjoy the ride!

How should I prepare?

That depends.  Are you the type of person to jump into a pool, or ease in toes first?  If you want the full-immersion route, pick a character from your favorite book, comic, TV show or movie and make a costume for the con!  Cosplay is not only a central part of the experience for many con-goers, but it’s great fun for spectators too.  Incidentally, and this is coincidence, but io9 just featured a “half-assed” (but wholly helpful) illustrated cosplay guide yesterday.

While I’ve never dressed up, I have always enjoyed the cosplayers more than any panel, screening, signing or bad-ass display, hands down (I always apply for media passes and find it easier to get around and squeeze in for interviews and note-taking in plain clothes).  Not comfortable dressing up?  Don’t fret!  No one important cares whether you’re attending as Swamp Thing or John Doe; everyone’s there to have a great time and nerd out, just like you.  

There’s another level of preparation though, which is simply to plan ahead and use common sense.  Remember, you’re going on a day-long (or weekend-long) hike in a crowded space.  Wear comfortable shoes, take a phone charger and take advantage of water fountains and drinking stations to fill up and stay hydrated (or bathrooms if you’re brave/desperate).

Cons are expensive, so if you’re on a budget check the schedule(s) for your favorite panel, guest or event and maybe consider a single day pass rather than going for the full weekend.  Merchandise and food add to the grand total pretty quickly too, so consider taking your own grub.  I always pack trail mix, apples, jerky and an empty nalgene (since you generally can’t take opened, unsealed containers inside).  As mentioned above, planning a convention fund well ahead of time can help reduce the financial impact these events can have on your wallet.  Just sayin’…

So that’s it!  For those of you in the Lower Midwest going to Indy PopCon (Indianapolis Pop Culture and Comic Convention) this year, do me a solid and use this link for tickets.  The promo code at the bottom (entered automatically) tracks my efforts in helping to promote the event and I’d love to score some points with these guys.  It’s going to be a great show, I hope to see you there!

Stay safe this year, have fun, and NERD OUT!

Convention logos taken from and linked to their respective websites.

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