Oh hey, I don’t just spend my time at ren faires, I also spend it geeking out at pop culture conventions. Because of course I do. If you’ve never been to a pop culture convention and are of the geekier persuasion, you might be missing out on some major fun. There are hundreds of pop culture conventions around the world that span from traditional comic book conventions to book conventions, anime conventions, horror conventions, and specialty conventions of all flavors.
If you’re heading to your own local convention for the first time, I’ve got some basic rules and convention tips to make it more enjoyable. These guidelines apply to most conventions, unless you’re heading to San Diego Comic-Con (lucky!), which is its own beast requiring its own rules.
Let’s talk about pop culture convention tips for surviving your first con….
You’ll be walking A LOT and probably standing in some long lines, so good footwear is key. Convention arenas almost never have enough seating, so be prepared to lean on a wall or cop a squat on the floor to eat lunch, too. Unless you’re planning to cosplay (and we’ll get into that later!), dress for comfort above all. Hell, it’s the perfect time to wear your comfy and nerdy t-shirts and leggings.
Keep your phone charged
I use my phone a lot at cons: taking photos of artist contact information, taking photos of awesome cosplayers, and texting friends to find them when we get separated. Carry a portable phone charger to make sure you’ve got juice to get you through the day.
Brave the crowds
Conventions are going to be crowded — it’s not for those who fear people en masse. But there are times where it’s a little less crowded. For a weekend con, hit up Thursday and Friday during the day or later on Sunday. Saturdays will definitely be the most crowded (and also when the best programming is going on!).
Prepare for contact
There’s usually a consensus among con-goers that if you bump into them, smoosh their feet, or generally get in someone’s way, it’ll all be cool. So keep your spirits high when you inevitable bash into a crowd of gawkers. People-to-people contact will happen, so try to roll with it and don’t get riled up. As Wheaton’s Law states, don’t be a dick.
Additionally, keep your hands washed and some hand sanitizer on hand just to avoid catching any diseases among all of those crowds.
Check your local convention guidelines
Each convention is different, so be sure to Google your specific convention’s guidelines for bringing food, bags, cosplay, etc. Backpacks are the best way to carry all your phat lewt, so see if they are allowed in.
Hunt for exclusive loot (and bring $$$)
Conventions have lots of booths with collectibles, toys, comic books, artwork, and activities. Some brands will offer con exclusives in limited supply. Make sure to head in there as early as you can if you want to score some of the more rare items.
On that note, prepare for everything to be fairly expensive, especially food. Bring some cash with you to avoid wild ATM fees that seem to be a Thing. If you are allowed to bring your own water and protein bars, do it. It’ll save your wallet and your heartburn.
Buy from the geniuses at Artist’s Alley
One place on which I absolutely recommend spending that money is at Artist’s Alley. This is the section of the convention where independent artists show off and sell their creations. It’s my favorite part and where I end up shelling out the most cash. You’ll see manufactured artwork all over, but Artist’s Alley is where the awesome indie folks are. Fill your house with original art and prints.
Spy your favorite fandom celebs
Pop culture conventions are where you’ll get to meet your fandom heroes, if that’s your thing. Places like San Diego Comic-Con certainly have a huge breadth of celebrity cred, but almost all local conventions also attract great guests. Check out the lineup at your local event (trust me, it’ll be the main information on their website), and see if you can afford a photo opportunity or autograph. If not, definitely try to hit up their respective panels, if they’re offering one. Don’t be nervous, they’re almost always super cool about meeting fans — but know that it’s a long day for them, too.
Enjoy the cosplay responsibly
The con mantra is always “cosplay is not consent.” This goes for a no-touchy policy, of course, but also just for common courtesy of photo-taking, too. There are SO MANY awesome folks who are willing to take a photo with you, just be cool and ask nicely first. And enjoy the spectacle and artistry. That shit takes time, talent, skill, and money — feel free to tell them they rock. If you’re interested, try to attend the cosplay contests that usually take place in the evening. They’re a lot of fun to watch.
Oh, and spend some time outside and near the convention entrances. That’s where a lot of the cosplayers are getting photographed.
Scout out good programming
Conventions have great programming surrounding celebrities, artists, fandoms, and all kinds of creative endeavors. Check out the convention schedule and try to nab a seat at a panel that sounds fun to you. If it’s a panel involving a celebrity, be prepared to get there early to get a seat. They fill up fast.
Become a con regular in no time
Either you’ll be the first in line, the first to don your very own Mr. T cosplay, or even selling your own art, being a convention regular is always a fun time. No matter what, you’ll have lost your con virginity and be able to mentor your own con noobs in no time. Have fun and make good choices!