No, not THAT kind of con. I mean a convention type. We’re deep into the season of these things, and I suppose given the year round run of them everywhere all the time we are never fully free of the con scene. Be it APE, NYCC, Wizard, Spectrum, Illux, or whatever your flavor they all are more or less similar in what they are as a species though all different as to what flavor species they may be.
Part of the terror/joy of these things comes from getting ready for them, and each one being so different and so much to get ready for, I thought it was a good idea to post a brief hello and how to manage it all list so you can Con successfully. Most of this is basic and already well known, but you never know. Some of us are new to this world and it helps to refresh. I’ve done a lot of these over the years and have dealt with them from both sides of the aisle. This time I shall focus on the ATTENDEE side of the world- a vastly different thing than an EXHIBITOR. Ready set go!
1. ASK before SNAPPING
We all have phones and we all take pictures with them, but if you’re looking to do so, generally speaking it’s always better to ask permission than to steal a shot and ask forgiveness. The regret I most feel is at times when I’ve taken a photo without asking. it feels wrong because it kinda is wrong. Now yes there’s an argument that people are in public and thus are bent to being treated publicly, but let me tell you privacy does not vanish just because you walk outside. Sometimes people are trying to eat, have a conversation, meet a kid, deal with a problem… and having someone start filming them or snap pictures… it’s not right. Don’t do it. Make a happy memory rather than a stolen moment. Most celebrities you meet would rather say hello. Now I’m not one myself but am often celebrity adjacent, and have been on the private side of many a rope line or private star studded cocktail thingy. These folk are different when they aren’t being forced to perform. They get to be people and relax. I have never taken a picture at these moments because it immediately pushes me into the camp as interloper and ruins my access to them as people not as personages. I get much more out of these environments by being a person int hem like them, not a spectator or a fan. Give yourself the gift of a life experience rather than a stolen moment. Candid shots are my favorite, but you can ask for those as well. Costumed folk will love to pose… if you ask. So just do so. be polite, be cordial… ask. You will be rewarded mightily by them for respecting their space and privacy.
2. READ THE ROOM
Look, these things are nuts and busy and filled with people. as an attendee your day no matter how busy is ten million times less busy than a busy exhibitor. Yes they are there for you and to answer questions you may have, but that is true for everyone and not just you. Sometimes they might not have time to sketch a thing or review a portfolio or answer long complex questions. Keep it brief and simple and if you feel like there’s time or a quiet moment, by all means take advantage. Read the room and if you’re not sure I refer you to article #1- ASK. Be watchful of your circumstances… if there’s a line behind you use your time but don’t hog theirs who are waiting. If they can give you a quickie sketch, be ready to leave your book with them to get later. They may be off to the loo, or lunch or a panel. You’ll endear them far more to you if you acknowledge these realities than if you try to steal a chunk of them to take home. If you’re costumed up, mind your parts. Your makeup, or swords or light thingies or whatever you are rocking can jab and dig into people. I had a dude dressed as a Promethian Engineer at NYCC one year- i.e. naked and covered in white body paint, roll all over me as I was racing to a panel discussion and it made me look like I was just out of a backseat tumble with a Schmoo when I got there. I still have scars on my head from sharp things sticking out of people. Mind yourself as a person in a sea of persons. Dance with the flow and not against it.
Don’t expect too much or more than you might expect from someone who’s simply super busy. But seriously try to read the situation. If their eyes are darting about or missing your chatting in bits, take that as a sign to shuffle on. If they are trying to eat, for god’s sake let them eat. Do you know how hard it is to eat a sandwich on a convention floor? Tightrope-walking-with-a-bag-of-cats-on-your-face hard. It once took me over two hours, in stolen mini-nibbles to make it through 1/2 of a BLT at SDCC a few years back. So be merciful… yes they are there for you the public but that doesn’t cease them being people who need to eat pee and sometimes just catch a moment of air. If they are in a line don’t ask them to review your portfolio. If they are in the bathroom leave them be. If they are already speaking to someone else, let them speak to them even if they are compatriots in the booth. They will be happier and give you more of themselves if they get these microbreaks and everyone will have a better time on the floor. Which means for you a better time at a convention. Better memories to harken back to and so on.
4. YOUR MORALITY IS NOT EVERYONE’S
Look we all see the world differently. some are more exhibitionist, feminist, prudish, religious… whatever. And whatever you are don’t import that as an assumption of what they are. Don’t talk to a woman like you may with your frat bros. Don’t for chrissakes whistle at women or men either. Don’t become offended by their a-religiosity anymore than they may be upset by your devotionals. Be flexible, open minded and accepting without trouncing on the freedom of other people’s thoughts wherever possible. The convention floor is not a place to have an open political or social debate. It just is not.
5. PARTY DOWN… later.
I cannot tell you how many times a drunk or stoned or tripping balls maniac has come to the booth. They gush or are angry or short fused, slobbery, and too flirty. These are like parties but they are not drinking parties. Please avoid getting your hat on at the these things. If you want to toke up and enjoy the human light show of Comicon in all it’s blue-butted spectracolor wonder, do it but keep your hands in the cart at all times… meaning avoid engaging. The trouble comes when the substance currently driving your mood encourages you to share your assuredly vivid genius with another who is not on your train. Skip that and save such debauch for after the show closes. Then have fun and go a stumbling. Within reason of course.
6. ELEVATORS ARE SACRED SPACES
Seriously, and especially in the morning. Those exhibiting or presenting themselves are having fun too, but the hotel they reside in is not a public space to engage them even if you see others doing this. The elevator is an unfair place to corner a person because it’s a closed and trapped space. Mornings in an elevator are divine and quiet places and for god’s sake let them try and cope before they head into the madness. A compliment is fine brief and all our in the lobby. Lobbies are transit hubs and if you’re going to approach that’s the only proper place to do so briefly. If they’re at dinner, let them be at dinner. Sometimes spotting a person you want to see is more than good enough for both of you. Ask yourself in general, is my approaching them about what I want, or what I think they need. A simple “love your work!” is lovely and always nice to hear in passing. Turning it into a dissection for their career highlights is another animal altogether.
7. BE A POSITIVE FORCE
There’s a lot of drama and conflict on the floors of conventions, many and most are unseen, some are vividly public. Others offline made public and can be explosive. Please do not pour fuel on any fires, speak kindly of others and if you see someone being wrong, sexually gross or threatening report them, document it maybe, but don’t rush in as a hero. If a kid looks lost ask them if they are and find a security person to help- you are a creepy stranger and should not be the one to do this. But it’s perfectly endearing to let them know they are safe and you are bringing them to someone that will reunite them with their companions.
Seriously drink a LOT of fluids. These are sometime sbriny and dry places and the thirst is real. I have often found myself on the downward edge of hallucinating at these shows. The talking, laughing and all the breaths… it raisins you right up. Bring provisions and snacks to eat on the go. Nuts, dried fruit, water are smart choices. I always have and suck upon the Luden’s honey mouth lozenge things because I lose my voice with all the yelling and chit chatting, Try not to eat the food on offering inside the con as it will not be very good and border on horrid and you’ll overpay by factors of three for the honor of that horror. Take care of your health, these things, however well circulated the air or clean the space are a Petri dish of all sorts of little bacterial parties. Keep yourself healthy and ready to do battle, and you’ll have a much better time of it.
9. FOOD and DRINK at TABLES
This is one of the most discussed behind the scenes gripes from exhibitors. If you are eating, please do so in the wings or on the move. DO NOT eat your slice of pizza in an exhibitor’s face. Do not eat a big hoagie or dangle chips or smack on your candy while you are talking to them. If you don’t do it in school or at work, don’t do it here. Do bring food and leave it on the table. and the cardinal sin is placing your drink on an exhibitor’s table- especially near their artwork. Seriously dangerous and rude to the extreme. When you are talking you should not be eating, and vice versa. I know you can be starving and thirsty… but provision yourself off map before going in and getting personal. Check your breath and try not to eat food that is garlicky or pickled or other wise bad breath making. Bring some mints to stave that off if you do. But really they don’t truly work. Remember you are one of THOUSANDS of people, and these exhibitors have hundreds and sometimes thousands of mouths in their faces. Be kind and think upon your choices and what you bring. The intermix of odors even in a vast space can be curious and upsetting. Don’t be part of that churn. Leave the Kimchi at HOME.
10. LIMIT THE GOODS
For every great idea you have to bring a little something to the con, others are having the exact same idea. I know it’s a place to show your work and to get a break but it also is not the place for that too. Confusing right? Ideally leave and have ready a business or postcard as a reminder. But not books or tools or handmade dolls and did I mention books? Most of these will be discarded into hotel room waste-bins if they even get that far. It’s not because they hate you or your work, it’s a matter of survival in the Darwinian world of checked luggage. You can always mail it later and should do so. Ask if it’s okay. Offer to help, not leave them with more things to carry home and they will reward you with more time and attention. For my part I always remember the earnest and good folk and am far more happy to attend to them later than those who feel they need to eat or be eaten. Being present doesn’t equal being forceful or aggressive. People refusing your wares is not about the work as much as the simple need not to have to ship a box full of freebies back. Most editors and ADs on the floor are happy to receive your gifts later in the mail. You can show them what you intend to send, and by telling them you’ll mail it later will ignite a spark of light and joy in their eyes. It means you get it, and that carries weight.
There’s TONS more to discuss and yes I haven’t even come close to the arcane secrets of surviving a Con as an exhibitor, but basically much of this stuff is just basic common courtesy. There will be terrible rude and obnoxious people out there but that doesn’t mean you need to be. Make the room a better place by being a force for good and you’ll have a better time of it there. You’ll help make the exhibitors have a better time too and they will be more likely to come back again. Why does Alan Moore not do conventions anymore? Because he was being cornered in stairways and assaulted in bathrooms. And now none of us get to see him at these things. I have had people chat me up at urinals and pass books for me to sign in the pooper. I’ve even had them knock on my hotel room door. The things I’ve seen Ethan Hawke manage make me never want to be that known by anyone. We make the world a better place for us all to respect everyone and their spaces, and let a gal or dude eat a sandwich. It’s as simple as that.
As for the Exhibitors, my only real and primary piece of advice is, try not to be hunkered over a sketchbook while on the floor. Stand and be ready to receive. Leave the work you need to catch up on for the hotel room later, and be present instead. I walk by a third of the tables without ever bothering to see what they have going on because the exhibitor is giving me the impression he/she is not available by way of being involved in some drawing, or even at time reading a book or I shit you not, watching a ball game on their iPhone. It’s a hard thing to to put yourself out there like this, but if you’re going to go this far by being there, just push through the last ten percent and be there. eye contact, smiles and a welcoming disposition can mean the difference bey=tween a successful show and a total loss. Truly.
Oh and #11? HAVE FUN.