Emily S. Whitten: ComicCon Prep 101
Convention season is upon us, y’all! Well actually, convention season is sort of year round these days. As Jim Zub observed recently, “There are now so many conventions that you can’t even attend the ‘best’ ones. Too many great shows.” Too true. And technically for me, convention season started with Awesome Con DC, for which I was on the ConCom. But convention reporting season for me really starts with San Diego Comic Con and wraps up with New York Comic Con (because yes, I love HeroesCon, and I know I totally have to try one year, and C2E2 would undoubtedly be great, and OMG ECCC always has so many good voice actor guests so why haven’t I gone yet – but I just can’t do it all, you know? Much as I’d like to).
So for me, it’s now time to Get Serious about prepping for conventions because SDCC is about a month away (eep!). And when I prep for cons, I ain’t kidding around – I arm myself for cons like a general going into battle, because no matter how much you plan for a con, when you get there things are not going to go as planned (kind of like how “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy,” y’know?). And since I’m not the only one who might feel overwhelmed by the wonderful chaos of a con if unprepared, I thought I’d share some of my methods (and madness? and complete OCD?) with you. So here’s how I do things. It may not be how you decide to do things, but at least it might give you a jumping off point.
Step 1: The Spreadsheet
Okay, so depending on how many cons you attend (and how OCD you are) you may not need a spreadsheet. But if you go to several cons a year, like me, a spreadsheet can help you keep track of all of the important stuff for each con. Like, for instance, the dates of the con, when badges go on sale, what you still need to do well beforehand (like booking your travel and hotel), and particular events or plans you want to ensure you don’t miss (like dinner with friends, or, for reporters, interviews you’ve set). Also which friends might be going to the same con (because if I don’t note this somewhere I will forget who’s at which cons), or what costumes you want to wear (and if they still need work before they’re con-ready), your expenses or budget, and anything important that you really don’t want to forget to pack.
So if you want an easy way to keep track of all this stuff, be a spreadsheet nerrrrrd like me. Trust me, it really can help. And you can use other tabs to keep track of other handy stuff you need to prep for.
Step 2: The Schedule
So once you get your badge and travel and hotel figured out (try to get those nailed down first and as soon as you can to ensure you get a badge and hotel, since some sell out quickly; and to get better travel prices), you’re going to want to start thinking about allllll of the amazing things you can see and do at a con. The con’s website should have everything you need to start planning all that out, with guests you might want to meet (and get photos with, or autographs from, or commissions from, or even just tell them how awesome you think they are); and panels you might want to see; and all that jazz. Explore the whole website because hey, it’s fun to look forward to stuff by learning about it, and also you might discover some things you didn’t realize they had (like how Dragon Con lists each fan track they have, what each entails, and what they have featured on each track in the past).
Once you decide what’s going on your con Wish List of Excitement, you might want to keep track of some of it on your spreadsheet. Also for scheduling, you might want to download and use the con’s scheduling app if they have one and once it’s available (many of them use apps now, including at least Awesome Con, San Diego, Dragon Con, and NYCC). It will take some time, but it’s worth going through the whole app and adding things to your schedule or favoriting guests you want to see; and you can generally even set reminders to go off prior to panels. Note that inevitably if you’re going to a good con, you’ll end up with like, five conflicting things in the same slots on your schedule much of the time. That’s okay! You can decide later which (if any) you actually want to attend. Just throw ‘em all on there and see what sticks.
And now that you’ve got your potential schedule figured out, you can also think about:
Step 3: Costumes
(Note that this step can run concurrent with the first two, because it can take a while to get a good costume together.) If you are a costumer like me (sometimes), you may want up to three or more costumes for one con. These may require gathering of pieces, sewing, crafting, and more. I’ve talked before about how I make a convention costume so check that piece out if you want some tips on the finer points of how I do it (which is not to say there aren’t folks out there who do it with a lot more complexity and expertise than me). But generally, you may want to decide on a few costume goals, get your photo references or inspirations together, decide on your wardrobe pieces, and then (if you’re me and you just love making lists) list out all of the moving parts so you don’t forget to pack or wear any of them for the con. Again: add it to the spreadsheet! It’s good for so many things.
Step 4: Packing
Along with your costumes, there are some other things you don’t want to forget to pack for cons. Obviously this is going to depend in part on your own needs, but here are some things I recommend you wear or carry with you at the con:
• A decent-sized shoulder bag or small backpack with many pockets. The pockets are great for keeping your stuff in separate, easy to find places for if you need quick access to something.
• One of those lightweight cloth shopping bags that folds up into another tiny bag, which can later be used to carry whatever you end up buying (because if you are me, you will totally end up buying things.) I found one in the checkout line at an Office Max. You can probably also get one at The Container Store or similar.
• Comfortable socks and shooooes!!!!! And clothes, generally. But especially socks and shoes. You will be walking and standing around a lot.
• A hoodie or light sweater if you tend to get cold. If you are a gal like me, and you want something lightweight that rolls up fairly small and doesn’t wrinkle, I recommend the SeV Ladies Cardigan from ThinkGeek. I love that thing.
• Deodorant? No, seriously. Some of y’all may smell like springtime roses all day and all night long, but if you are at a con for 8+ hours, bustling through warm crowds, rushing to panels, and generally hanging out with a million other people, you might consider taking along a little travel stick of deodorant to use, because you might in fact find yourself being a gradual contributor to the dreaded con funk. And nobody wants to be that person.
• Snax! Ranging from bottled water to granola bars, trail mix, or whatever else your little snacky heart desires. It’s very important to stay hydrated and keep that blood sugar up during the go-go-go of a con. I tend to like chewy granola bars and those little applesauce pouches that look kind of like Capri Suns (which are also handy, by the way) because they aren’t crinkly or messy and are super-easy to eat while trying to be quiet in a panel or while in a hurry and barreling through a crowd on the way to your next fun event. I recommend keeping gum or mints on hand as well. Also, of course, it’s good to have some cash on hand for food and shopping.
• Your badge or badge confirmation, and ID. Seriously, don’t go all the way to the con and then realize you don’t have these. Also any medications you might need.
• Your camera, smartphone, charger, extra battery or on-the-go charging device, or any other tech you may need to communicate and memorialize your fun. Also consider an iPod if you are going to be waiting in line by yourself a lot and don’t always feel like talking to strangers.
• A small notepad, a couple of pens, and a Sharpie or two. They just come in handy, you know? Also anything you might want to get signed.
• Business cards, if you intend to make connections with folks for any reason.
• Aaaaand… anything else you can’t live without. Having all of these things, and having done the other steps prior to the con, will prepare you for the ultimate end game of…
Step 5: Having A Great Time, Even If Nothing Turns Out As Planned
Like I said, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and no con plan actually works out the way you expect. You will miss panels you want to see or people you want to meet, you may discover that your costume is way less easy to navigate through a crowd than you would have hoped (oops!), and other things will turn topsy-turvy. But being prepared will minimize any panic, stress, or issues that you might have with all of that.
And after all, things not going as planned may turn out to be the best thing that could happen. Because cons are magical and wonderful things full of fun and excitement, and missing that first panel may mean you run into your favorite actor in an elevator, or step into a less-full panel that turns out to be epically awesome, or decide to roam Artists Alley or the con floor and discover a new favorite artist or an exciting piece of con merch. So if you want to have a good time, it’s great to be prepared; but also, to be flexible – be both and I guarantee you’ll have a great time.
Got some other prep tips that help you out at a con? Feel free to share them in the comments!
And until next time, Servo Lectio!