Con survival guide: What to expect at your first pop culture convention

Posted by
Convention tips: What to expect at your first con as seen on @offbeathome

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….

Some bitch chatting up BB-8 at C2E2 (oh wait, that’s me)

Dress comfortably

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.

Convention tips: What to expect at your first con as seen on @offbeathome

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.

Convention tips: What to expect at your first con as seen on @offbeathome

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.

Steve bought some killer original artwork from Chicago artist Blake Brady at C2E2 2015

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.

Here’s me meeting Nicholas Brendon (Xander from Buffy) at Wizard World Madison.

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.

Convention tips: What to expect at your first con as seen on @offbeathome

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.

Convention tips: What to expect at your first con as seen on @offbeathome
David Tennant – Wizard World Raleigh (c) DT Forum

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.

Convention tips: What to expect at your first con as seen on @offbeathome

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!

Comments on Con survival guide: What to expect at your first pop culture convention

  1. Even having been to my first con some of this didn’t occur to me. Like checking whether backpacks are allowed. Although this was MCM Comic Con in London, and not allowing backpacks in London would be like not allowing shoes. Some places might tell you not to wear in on your back (to avoid pickpockets and whacking people when you turn around) but I can’t imagine not being let in.

    Asking permission to photograph cosplayers is the hard one for me. I LOVED all the cosplay, spotting characters was almost more fun than the rest of the con, but I’m really shy around strangers so approaching someone and asking for a photo is slightly terrifying. But they were all really cool when people did.

    My favourite moment of the whole weekend was when a little girl (about 6 or 7) came across a woman in a perfect Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) costume. This woman was just minding her own business, shopping at a stall, but she saw this stunned kid and *Bam* instantly in character, chatting away, taking photos. By the look on her face it was the best thing that happened to that kid all year.

    Now booked in for and very much looking forward to my second con!

  2. Con crud! If you’re going to a big con with lots of people travelling from out of town (possibly including yourself) expect to get con crud a few days later. It’s basically a low-grade cold brought on by being exposed to all the concentration of germs. It doesn’t help that you may be feeling a little down after having been to a super awesome con because now it’s over and it’s 360-some days before you can do it again (for that particular con anyway).

    Carrying stuff – years ago I bought a large belt pouch and it was adequate for holding all my stuff, but it was annoying as heck to constantly fiddle with getting it open/closed. It’s so pretty I don’t want to swap it out for something boring with a zipper, but I do wish it was a bit more convenient so I’d actually store my phone in it instead of in my pocket (for quick access in case of a call or photo op).

  3. The physical badges for cons can be really expensive and they are NOT always made well. If it seems like your badge might be ripping or something, get you some tape and patch that shit up. At Dragon*Con in Atlanta, you can’t even get into the convention hotels without a badge or a hotel key, nonetheless programming areas. And they won’t replace a badge if you lose yours. So don’t lose it.

  4. If you’re going with very young children (which you totally can do!), check the con’s stroller requirements. Umbrella strollers are usually okay, but bigger strollers generally aren’t. Be aware that as intimidating/overwhelming as the show floor is for you, it is a lot more to take in for the very small. It’s important to find a place within the con that you can retreat from the madness. Lastly, when thinking about kid cosplay, comfort is key! A baby BB-8 can be super cute, but a cranky and overheated baby BB-8… is less so.

    Also, there are often a lot of ancillary convention activities worth checking out. Many cons have table top games (board and RPG) running. It’s a great way to get off your feet and try out a new game or play an old favorite.

  5. Emerald City Comicon was earlier this month, and one thing I recommend for any large con like that one is to see if there is an available Quiet Room. ECCC is the biggest con I’ve been to, so I don’t know what some of the others are like (like San Diego!), but the Quiet Room totally saved my sanity that weekend. After hours of slogging at a crawling pace through loud, giant crowds, escaping to a library-quiet room where I could sit and read my newly bought books for an hour or so was marvelous.

  6. Don’t forget the 3-2-1 Rule! When going to a convention, make sure you get at least 3 hours of sleep, 2 meals a day, and for the sake of everyone else, 1 shower a day. There are so many things that are exciting and cool, but you also still have to take care of yourself.

    Also, be prepared for Con-Drop, where after all the energy and excitement of a convention, sometimes people “drop” afterwards, and feel depressed and lonely and anxious and kind of empty. Drop sucks.

    No matter how careful you are, you will probably get con crud. I swear, no matter what I do, I always get sick afterwards.

  7. General tips for Cosplay photography:
    If the cosplayer’s already posing and has people snapping pics, you can generally join the crowd and grab one of your own without express permission. If you want, lifting the camera/phone and getting a quick nod is good if you’re unsure.

    If cosplayer is walking / browsing, whatever, go ahead and ask! It sucks when I see people taking random candids out of the corner of my eye – I have poses, I’m ready to use them, you just got a super unflattering angle, bro, why not just ask.

    On the other hand, if you do ask, and they say no, please respect it. If my butt’s on the floor and I’m chowing down on a burrito, sorry, I’m not going to stop in the middle of lunch to put my accessories back on, stand up, and take a pic. You’ll see me again.

    If you take tons of photos and plan to upload them somewhere, it’s always nice to let cosplayers know where they can find their pictures 🙂

  8. Excellent tips! A few more…
    If you’re cosplaying, make sure your props meet the event’s safety standards. Every con has a list of prop requirements, look them up in advance and follow them. If you show up with a 10 foot sword to an event that doesn’t allow them, they’ll either confiscate it or make you go back to your car/hotel. Some venues also impose their own dress codes, so always double check to make sure shirtless or bikini type costumes are allowed. This goes for the guys too, I know of several venues where shirtless men are also a no go.
    If you’re going to paint yourself, seal your makeup. Shower before you go in the hotel pool or hot tub. Bring your own towel to ruin with makeup removal. Don’t leave a trail of makeup wherever you go.
    In costume or not, always follow the convention’s rules, and comply with any reasonable requests from event and venue staff. This goes double for fire alarms, medical emergencies, etc.
    If you want to go to a panel, but are told the room is at capacity, don’t get mad at staff for turning you away. Room capacities are set by the fire marshal for everyone’s safety, and the fire marshal is probably on site to make sure they’re enforced.
    And of course… have fun and make new friends!

  9. I work across the street from a popular con location, so my advice would be: be kind to people who AREN’T con-goers as well. Not just hotel staff (seriously, they are saints if they’re working a con) but also people who live and work in the area. We know to expect more noise and traffic, but some of us will join the festivities when we get off work and we WILL remember that you’re the guy whose wolf tail bumped in front of us in line at the coffee shop we go to every day.

    Speaking of lines, keep in mind the time you will spend standing in line. A popular panel or actor/actress event will net about 2+ hours in line, so look at the lineup of things you want to see/do and plan accordingly. You might have to miss an event you want to go see to stand in line for an event you REALLY want to go see.

    Also also, if you didn’t make your own cosplay costume, tell people who did, and definitely don’t enter any cosplay contests if you bought your costume even if it’s banging, it’s very poor form.

  10. I like to scope out parking before the event if I can. Some conventions don’t have enough parking and/or charge for parking. I scope out if there are parking spaces nearby that are free public parking, that way I know how far I may have to walk and plan accordingly.

    If you’re cosplaying, check out the weather/bring comfy clothes also. I don’t know how many cosplayers I’ve seen risking heat stroke because part of their costume is a heavy bulky item, it’s July and 100+ outside and they didn’t bring anything to wear to deal with the heat, or cosplayers shivering and shaking because they wore an awesome costume that doesn’t have much to it and parts of the convention center/hotel are freezing cold. I’m a huge fan of a pair of flats that you can roll up and put in a bag to change into if your feet are killing you, you’re walking 10 blocks to the con, etc.

    I also scope out nearby food joints because I’d rather leave the con, have lunch somewhere and come back than pay a ton of money for whatever limited options they have at the con. (I have a restrictive diet, so I try to keep an eye out for a grocery store actually.)

    When you enter the convention check out the exits and the safety plans that are usually posted on the walls. If there is an emergency it’s good to know where these things are and what the plan is.

    And, finally, when you are checking out artists (I sell fiber art at conventions) please, please, please don’t say “I could make this/ this is too expensive” in front of them. They put a lot of effort into whatever they are selling (at least I do) and there is nothing more disappointing than to hear that sort of sentiment. If you can make it, great! But I’m not selling to you really, unless you CAN make it but don’t have the time to or something. I love getting into conversations about fiber art with people, I love inspiring people to try knitting, crocheting, fabric painting, but I don’t love hearing how you could make this and so much better for cheaper. And I’m pretty sure this goes for other artists too.

Join the Conversation