Convention season can be a scary time of the year for the first-time comic exposition attendee. But, if you're willing to face the massive crowds, long lines and terrifying costumes, letting your inner geek out for a weekend can be a great and fun experience. Of course, having a beginner's guide can't hurt. To get my own first-hand convention experience and to lend a hand to future expo newbies, I attended the 2011 Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo from June 17 to 19.
To start, there were thousands of people, and if I had been alone without my loyal companions the crowds would have been overwhelming. Lucas Such, who has attended the Expo for the past three years, recommended arriving early to gain a prime spot in line. According to him, there's no way to avoid the lines altogether.
"It can pile up quite a bit and get backed up," Such said. "If you're looking to get a photo op or an autograph, do that first and get it out of the way because the lineups get bigger than the lineup to get in -- everyone funnels there," he suggests.
Conventions are a place where people can geek out, dress up and let loose without being ostracized by society. In fact, at conventions, even the shabbiest costumers get recognition. So when I attended the Expo, I decided to dress up as part of the experience. While my Wonder Woman costume was obviously store-bought, I felt as much a part of the community as the attendees that wore amazing homemade costumes. It was as much fun as Halloween and gave me the opportunity to be a superhero for a day. The second day I attended, I wore "civilian clothes," and I realized that I had more fun being in costume.
I met up with Lucas Such on Sunday at the Expo, and he was dressed as Green Lantern. He agreed with me regarding the community costume atmosphere at the Expo. "No one really judges you or anything."
"You can put on anything you want and people will still want to take pictures of it," Such added.
The Calgary Expo, like other conventions such as Otafest in May, host costume contests. There are prizes ranging from Best Dressed and Most Creative to Most Effort. "If you're confident in your abilities to make a costume, you can enter [the contest]. Some of the costumes are pretty awesome," Such remarked. However, he and others prefer to wear costumes just for the fun of it.
To help draw in attendees, Expo organizers invite high-profile guests from television, movies and the comic industry. One of the main draws for this year's Expo was guest of honour William Shatner. Other guests of honour included on-screen personality Elvira, voice actor Vic Mignogna and Firefly's Summer Glau. Another main draw was the copious amounts of webcomic guests that attended. Some notable webcomic guests were Hark! A Vagrant's Kate Beaton and PvPonline's Scott Kurtz. Something to keep in mind when meeting famous guests is to talk with them quickly and efficiently. They realize you may have just waited in a line for two hours to meet them, but it's not polite to the other attendees to stand there and talk to the guest for a half-hour about the "Trouble with Tribbles" Star Trek episode.
Danielle Corsetto, writer and artist for the webcomic Girls With Slingshots, acknowledged her fans' enthusiasm, as well as their extreme anxiety.
"I have people come up [to me] and they're shaking out of nervousness. But [they should] just have a good time! Remember that we [exhibitors] are all a bunch of freaking dorks, and you don't have to be nervous around us. We're just as nerdy as you are!" Corsetto said. "I'm a gigantic dork too, it's fine!"
Whether it's webcomics or voice actors, some attendees find it very difficult to remain calm at the sight of notable people. Even tougher is holding onto your cash. It's very easy to spend all your money in support of your favorite artists' work. Custom sketches can go for as high as $150, depending on what you order. Third-time attendee Becca Cobitofski admits having a budget (or at least a limit) is necessary. "It's easy to blow $300 here in one day," she said. "You're going to want to buy everything. But make sure you bring money for food too."
Stephanie Hilt echoed the budget idea. "Don't underestimate the cost of autographs and pictures. Bring a fair amount of cash so you don't have to wait in the long ATM lineups," Hilt recommended.
Hilt, Cobitofski and Such all recommended that attendees bring snacks, something I wish I had known before arriving. When you've been stuck in a line for 30 minutes, the last thing you want to do is abandon your post in search of sustenance. That's one reason why it's great to bring friends along to hold your spot in line.
The main things I learned and would recommend is that food, shoes, money and friends are the most important things to keep in mind. It's great to buy awesome merchandise, but make sure you have enough money to buy food or bring some from home. If you miss lunch, you will probably make a very nasty and lasting impression on the guests and exhibitors you meet. The Expo is no fun if you are hobbling around on painful shoes. I recommend bringing a spare pair. My feet were very thankful once I took off my Wonder Woman shoes. Lastly, if you don't bring money, you probably won't be able to partake in all the Expo has to offer. You can usually look at artists' websites to gauge how much certain merchandise is. Most of the clothing at the Expo can be bought for a cheaper price online, so try to keep your spending in check.
Ultimately, friends are an essential part to having a great convention experience. Whether they help take your picture with the mayor, keep you calm as you meet notable people in the comic industry, or give you a Band-Aid because your shoes have given you blisters, at the Expo you can't get by without a little help from your friends.