By Erik Grove
I had a lot of fun at the Emerald City Comicon. You can read my updates from the con here and here and also here and here. I've been to a lot of these but this year, this con, was the most fun I've had start to finish. There were some smart things ECCC did in organizing the event. There were amazing guests, my different point of view as a contributor for this site but above and beyond any of that, a lot of it also came down to some guidelines and tips I employed that I'm calling Essential 8 Tips to Having the Most Fun You've Ever Had at a Comicon!
The first and most important tip I have for having a great convention experience is also the most fundamental: take care of yourself. Nothing will ruin a great day at a comic con like dehydration. Plan for and ensure you have food and water and that you take breaks when you need them. One of my secret weapons was a stash of tylenol. After every convention there are stories about the "con crud"; a vicious cold that follows you home. It's not super comic book exciting but I make an extra effort to wash my hands. You have to remember that you could come into contact with dozens of thousands of people over the course of up to three days from all over the country and the likelihood that one or several hundred of them might have a lingering bug is really high. No matter how great a time you have at the con, getting sick afterward can take some of the sheen off of it.
My second tip is to be mindful of everybody else. Cons are crowded places. Just turning around too quickly you can accidentally smack into someone you didn't know was so close. I'm especially conscious of this because I'm tall and a little bit clumsy on my feet. I watch for little kids bobbing and weaving through the crowd. No matter how aware you are, you're still probably going to step on a foot or bump into someone on accident. When it happens, a simple "oh, I'm sorry" goes a long way. More than this, if you see someone that needs help and you can help, it benefits the whole con if you take a moment and help. If someone falls down or just needs the bathroom, being friendly and giving a hand or offering directions will make your con experience better as well as theirs.
More than being mindful though, don't be a creep and don't tolerate creeps. ECCC and most major cons aren't fooling around with sexual harassment anymore and they shouldn't. In addition to posters about the zero tolerance policy at the con, I also remember one tweet going out through the ECCC account during the con alerting con goers to be on the look out for a creepy guy taking creepy photos. In past years, I would expect something like that to be talked about quietly so as not to spook everyone but the community is starting to talk about this more openly and that's a really good thing. I can't have fun at a con if my sense of safety or anyone else's sense of safety is impaired. If you're a creep, get out of our community.
If you see a creep, call the creep out. If you are creeped out by a creep, tell staff and anyone else that can help immediately. This isn't just about sexual harassment either. Unfortunately, there are creeps of all kinds of creepery creeping around in the world. There are creeps that will steal from creators, vendors or fans. There are hate speech creeps and bully creeps and creeps of creepy kinds that I can't even think of because I try not to let the creepiness into my head. These people ruin it for the rest of us non-creeps and we need to make sure they know they're not welcome.
Another good tip you might not immediately think of is to talk to strangers. I don't mean you should talk to them in dark alleys but on the con floor talking to someone you don't know could be one of the most rewarding things you do during your visit. The stranger could be a creator you're not familiar with. It could be someone in a cool cosplay or someone standing in line next to you. I went to a great afterparty on Saturday hosted by the Rat Queens creators Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch and I didn't know a soul. I talked to anyone that wasn't talking to someone else. I just said hi and struck up a conversation. I met some awesome folks and had a great time. Most people smile when you talk to them and they talk back, especially when you're at an event where you know you share a lot of common interests.
I also suggest you keep an open mind. If you think you know what comic books are all about, you're probably wrong. Comics are far more than most of us will ever experience. There are mainstream superhero books from the Big Two, there are "artsy" independent comics, web comics, licensed books (Lion Forge had Dennis "Mr. Belding" Haskins from Saved by the Bell doing autographs for their new comic adaptation at ECCC), cartoons, TV shows, movies and merchandise beyond anything you've ever seen and the community is constantly growing. This year at ECCC, I saw more women, more kids and more diversity in the crowd than I've ever seen before. I made it a point to sample new things for Bleeding Cool but I also think it's a great thing to do as a fan. Just about everyone at a comicon is full of enthusiasm and wants to introduce you to or share with you this great thing that they love. If you have an open mind about things, you might find that you could love it too.
I've always been a bit of a people watcher but something that became especially helpful for me at ECCC is this next tip: keep your eyes open for surprises. Several years back I went to the New York Comicon and looked over to see that Greg Pak sat down next to me. If I hadn't been paying attention, I wouldn't have noticed. (Pak is a super nice guy by the way). I also had the pleasure of going to a punk rock concert several years back and standing right next to Jello Biafra in the crowd. If you know your punk rock, you know how cool that is. I got to shake his hand and tell him how much his work meant to me.
This year at ECCC, though, I ran into two surprise people that were cooler than punk rocking with Biafra. At the Rat Queens party while I was talking to strangers I looked up and saw one of my old friends from college (500 miles away from Seattle), a guy I haven't seen or talked to in over 15 years. We were both involved in a lot of the same campus groups and had connected because of our appreciation of comics during a summer chemistry course. He was standing five feet from me. We had some time to catch up and exchange contact details but I could have missed it if I hadn't been keeping my eyes open. The next day, I was walking by a well-known creator's booth and saw a favorite professor of mine from the University of Oregon (the second college I attended after transferring) sitting next to her. Again, I had a great opportunity to talk to someone I haven't seen in a long time and I'm incredibly happy I happened to be in the right place at the right time, paying attention. You never know who you're going to run into at a con.
One of the promises of a comic convention is the opportunity to mingle with someone that makes something you really care about. You can get a comic signed by a creator or listen to a creator talk on a panel. You might also end up talking to a creator you don't recognize at a Rat Queens after party when you're mingling. Here's what you do: tell creators you appreciate their work but don't be weird about it. Creative people are people too. They like to hear you enjoy what they do as long as you're doing it politely and not interrupting them or intruding awkwardly. Remember that cons are very busy and important experiences for creators. They network with publishers and other creators, see old friends and some make a significant amount of money from the business of selling prints, books or merch. For fans, the con is all about fun. For people in the industry, there's more work involved. As long as you're respectful of that and aren't a creep (see above), you should absolutely say hello.
My final suggestion for having a great con is to get away from the con. This is a paradoxical suggestion I realize but I think it's important to remember that the fun of a good comicon goes beyond the convention floor. There are after parties, official events at other locations or impromptu social gatherings that could be cooler and more memorable than anything you saw with your badge. At ECCC, in addition to the Rat Queens party (open to the public and within walking distance from the convention center on Saturday night – most fun I had all weekend) there was an event for the Carol Corps and several special film screenings. A lot of these things are going to be listed in the con programs or on the websites but some might be publicized in other places. Going to a comicon in a city away from home is also an excellent opportunity to check out different comic stores, different restaurants or areas of interest. In 2013 when I went to ECCC, a group of us ducked out early on Sunday to go see the EMP (Experience Music Project) and see a great traveling Smithsonian video game exhibit and some awesome shows on sci fi icons and horror movies.
With WonderCon, SDCC and more just around the corner, I hope you're able to leverage some of these tips and suggestions to have a fantastic con experience.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Let's talk comics!
Erik Grove lives, writes and talks about comics in Portland, OR. You can go to his website www.erikgrove.com for blogs on writing, short stories, novel excerpts and links to all of his Bleeding Cool works. You can also follow him on Twitter @erikgrove.