Monday, March 24, 2014

11 Lessons Learned from Planet Comicon

Chef Vader with the best guest
appearance EVER by Jar-Jar Binks.
EDIT: Just found out he has a
Facebook page! LIKE HIM!
Hubby and I went with a few friends to our first "big con" (Planet Comicon in Kansas City) last weekend, and we had a BLAST.

My first experience with a con was actually on the other side of the event, helping a group run a little con in Wichita, so this is not only the first time I'd ever been to a "big" con, but it's also the first time I'd been at a con solely as a paying guest. It was interesting to experience it from this vantage point after starting my con experience on the other side of the aisle.

So, if you're thinking about going to your first con in the future, below are a few things you should know. Some of this is common sense, but as my dad says, "Common sense isn't always that common." Plus, it's a nice platform to talk about the highlights of the day. Double win.

1. Meeting Certain People may be More Moving Than You Anticipated

We met Sylvester McCoy (Doctor #7 from Doctor Who), who was the primary reason for our attending the con in the first place. #7 is a great Doctor, but he's not our absolute favorite, so I thought meeting him would be pretty awesome, but not something that would inspire any great emotional response.

But he took us by surprise. Mr. McCoy is the sweetest man in all the world. Cliche, I know, but it may very well be true where he is concerned. I know the job of signing things and meeting a new person (or people) every minute or so can be psychically exhausting, but he looked into our eyes, smiled, asked about our day and where we were from, and started signing. When he finished, he stood up out of his chair and took each one of us by the hand and thanked us kindly for our support and our time before we left.

Walking away, we realized that we were both a little choked up by the experience. We had thought (hoped) he'd be a nice guy, but the genuine kindness of him was surprisingly moving. Not only had we met a man who is massively significant to the history of pop culture (which is cool in its own way), but we'd met a man who radiates peace and kindness, and that is always a treat.

2. Meeting Certain People may Turn You into a Blithering Idiot

Duh, right? Yeah, well. I think we all also think that we're too cool for that.


I met one of my early childhood heroes, LeVar Burton, at the con this year. I always loved reading, but I was also a bit ostracized for it and Burton's show, Reading Rainbow, taught me that there were lots of people out there who thought reading was as awesome as I did. He was also a major character in one of my favorite shows of all time, and probably THE SHOW that got me into science fiction, Star Trek: The Next Generation. If I had managed to get my bearings before being interrupted, I know I would have had a great and memorable little conversation with the guy.

3. Geeks Can be Jerks Sometimes

Unfortunately, my meeting with one of my childhood idols was squelched somewhat by the girl behind me asking if Burton would pose for a photo with a little cardboard standup from a show I'd never heard of (that wasn't of him...? I don't get it...). He talked to her and not to me, responding to her request, and I was out of there before I knew what happened. If she'd had a modicum of consideration and waited to make the request until her time, I would have enjoyed that encounter much more. And, ya know, been able to ask him the question I've always wanted to know: "What's your favorite book?"

We ran into this great group of cosplayers while we were resting our feet late in the day and they graciously granted a picture. 

4. Geeks Can be Amazing

On the flip side, the prior event was our only "bad" experience of the day. Gathering at a con is like finding friends that you didn't know you had. Most of the people were not just decent, but flat-out wonderful. The cosplayers were friendly and accommodating and always more than happy to chat about the characters or the their costumes and pose for lots and lots of pictures. Every sideways comment to someone standing next to you in a dealer's stall could turn into a half-hour conversation about Jayne's moral turpitude in Firefly. Oh, and Batman and Wonder Woman were an absolutely adorable couple...FINALLY!

5. You Don't have to Hit the Panels to Learn a Lot

We kinda...forgot entirely about the panels while we were there. I heard later on that the panels cost extra. I'm not sure if that was true or if that only applied to the TNG panel, but regardless, we had a good time walking around and meeting and talking to some really neat new people. Even just flipping through the back issues in a long box could lead to an unimaginable discovery. Which leads into...

6. Find the Artists and Writers of Your Favorite Comics

This was my favorite part of the day.

Artists and writers are so ridiculously underrated. You know all those characters that you love on TV and in movies (and in COMICS!)? Guess who give them breath and power? While everyone has a part, if the writing is bad, then the entire endeavor is screwed. Unless you're writing Transformers. I think my four-year-old nephew could write a watchable version of Transformers.

But anyway, I'm digressing.

I may be slightly biased due to the fact that I'm a writer myself, but I really, really enjoy talking to the creative folks in artists' alley. In many cases, these are people who inspire my creativity on a regular basis. It may sound odd, but Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman is one of the characters who inspired me to start writing about the Bride of Frankenstein (and I MISSED him! AUUUUUGH! I shall never forgive myself...). These people are bright, they're funny, they'll appreciate your support. Your stories about how they inspired you will be edifying and meaningful for them. They will share cookie recipes. Seriously. This is where we spent most of the day.

And, FYI: Greg Horn is AWESOME (Hubby had a nice exchange with him about Green Arrow, which made him exceptionally happy). Horn's also a heck of a salesman. Jill Thompson is also exactly as fantastic as I expected her to be. We talked about baking cookies and her Kickstarter. Her handler (/daughter?) was also absolutely fantastic. Talked to her at least as much as I talked to Jill. Kinda wish I'd have gotten her info...we had a lot in common.

7. A Con is WAY MORE than a Great Big Geek Store with Celebrities

This is a criticism I hear from people from time to time, and while I can understand how it may feel this way sometimes, there's so much more value to a con than just the "stuff." I think my article speaks to that a bit, so saying much more here might be a bit redundant. But of course, a con, like any other experience, is exactly what you put into it. If you just troll the con as a mall, with lots of people dressed funny, then that's what you get.

8. If You can Meet Wil Wheaton, DO IT!

This is probably my biggest regret of the con. We decided to skip Wil, partially because we were wearing out and partially because we heard the line for him was about two hours long. Well, friend, do you know why it took Wil two hours to get through the line? Because he and his wife, Anne (who is also epic, by the way), were taking the time to have a REAL CONVERSATION with everyone who came through. Support this awesome, sweet man, people. Buy his books. Watch Table Top. He's one of the good ones. We will definitely take time to meet him next time.

9. Pre-Planning is VITAL

I was twiddling around on Twitter on the drive home and learned that one of my absolute favorite comic writers was at the con (Greg Rucka, who wrote some of my all-time FAVORITE Wonder Woman comics), and WE MISSED HIM. Yes, I said it before, but I kick myself a little every time I think about it. I'm not sure how this happened, as I'm pretty sure we walked artists' alley about thirteen thousand times, but I was devastated. I would have planned explicitly to see him if I would have known he was there.

A lot of cons turn off pre-purchase tickets early (one of my pet peeves about this one was HOW early Planet Comicon turned off advance ticketing--we went to the site a week before the con and they were already deactivated). This is due to the fact that organizing tickets and entries is a MASSIVE HASSLE for the staff of the con. So, the further you plan ahead, the more likely you are to be able to get in and get your tickets with a minimum of hassle. However, that leads into the next item...


This is a lesson learned not only from this con, but from Peter Pixie, the MC at our "little con." The you  adrenaline and excitement of the con can make you forget to do basic things like drink water, and while you might be able to go a surprisingly long time without eating (though, note--not as long as you may think!), you will not make it through the day without a steady supply of water. Keep some with you, keep drinking throughout the day. You don't want your day shortened by a trip to the ER because you collapsed. I've seen it. It's not a pretty thing. Be sure to take some time out of all the excitement to meet your basic needs!

11. A Well-Run Con is a Beautiful Thing

There were a couple minor annoyances at the con (not enough signage at entrances, which is always a problem, and I felt like pre-purchase tickets did cut off a little soon), but overall, everything went very smoothly. When you attend a con and it goes well, tell them so. Take a few minutes to write the con organizers and tell them explicitly what you liked about the con and why you would come back. I don't just say this as a massively partial bystander (as someone who worked a con before), but also because it is so hard to know, on the other side of the con, what people appreciated. It's easy to know when something goes wrong--we almost always hear about that--but the good stuff sometimes goes unnoticed and may not always get repeated if it's not highlighted. TELL them when the lines move quickly and when you were given courteous treatment. The con will only get better from there.

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