Gonzo wrote a thing.
Well, it’s Spring and the convention season is rapidly approaching, which means that comics journalism sites, comic fan blogs and comics podcasts are about to be inundated with a glut of listicles elucidating a variety of “do’s and don’ts” for attendees, guests and exhibitors of these upcoming events. Most lists aren’t a crass or cloying attempt to capitalize on the seasonal fervor of convention interest (making the arbiter of such information seem relevant no matter how ancillary to these conventions they may be) nor an obvious “PR 101” push to position the purveyor of these lists as a “an expert in their field”, but rather an honest and earnest attempt at making the convention-going experience as pleasurable as possible. That being said, the sheer number of these lists means that some will inevitably be contradictory, unhelpful or outright crap. The following is a short list of items to consider when evaluating a “What To Do at a Comic Convention” listicle and whether you should actually head its advice or dismiss it as “click bait”.
1. Consider the source. It may be an obvious observation but all of these lists have an author (they are not disseminated by some national comic convention governing body) and every author is not without personal motivation. It is of paramount importance that you vet your sources and any sources they may cite. I’ll take just a moment to remind you that these lists will almost exclusively live online and that the internet is where fact-checking goes to die (if an author wields attendance numbers or percentages to make some point, these facts are easily checked on the very device that you are using to read said fact). Also, the most cursory investigation into an author’s history of online work can usually shed some light on the author’s journalistic integrity or lack there of.
2. Do no harm. You should consider if the information contained on the list is actionable and affordable to you personally. Some lists will assert that “you must bring ‘X’” or “never bring ‘Y’”, etc., but are these “necessities” something that you can honestly afford or want to attempt? Be willing to set aside the advice of “experts” to maintain your physical, mental and financial health. Additionally, don’t let the advice of these lists empower or justify you being impolite or inconsiderate of other attendees. Conventions are not inherently a “no pain, no gain” environment, you shouldn’t allow the opinions of others alter that for you.
3. It’s a shame. Much is written about the personal appearance, social aptitudes and general hygiene habits of convention attendees. Though some of this is written as a delicate attempt to change the human climate of a convention space, much of it is oblique or thinly-veiled body shaming. Understand that you are welcome at every convention – period. There should be no need to address how you look, dress or smell. Things like “bring comfy shoes” seem genuinely helpful, but if your flip-flops or high heals help stave off your social anxiety, then by all means, wear them. Additionally, don’t listen to any “how to interact with…” items on any of these lists. I am going to go ahead assume that everyone is doing the best they can and there is no need to delineate how short of social norms that anyone is falling by suggesting they interact with creators or celebrities in a particular manner. If any of these lists make you feel bad about who or how you are, stop reading that list.
4. This land is your land. Most of these lists are written with medium to large-sized conventions in mind. Though there are some similarities between a majority of comic conventions, there are no across-the-board, universal truths for all conventions. The conventions that you attend may be widely different from those addressed in a list you read. “Getting a hotel with parking included” may not be the best advice for a one day convention you plan to walk to. Similarly, it behooves you to separate the pertinent and resonant advice for the conventions you plan on attending from specific grievances aired by an author looking to influence the conventions they plan to attend.
5. Your mileage may vary. Conventions are unique and complicated ecosystems that are unique to where and when they happen. It is near impossible to make any list of do’s and don’ts that could address the complexity of these ephemeral worlds. Some lists are written from pros to pros and others from exhibitors to attendees or pros to cosplayers and every combination of every type of person who is at a convention – none of these will be for you specifically. It is best to consider the lists as the broadest of guidelines, if you choose to consider them at all.
I may not have a list of do’s and don’ts for you, but I will say this,: a lot of what you get out of a convention has to do with what attitude you bring with you and, if you bring a mental checklist of what you need to and needn’t do, you might just limit the joy that you extract from the experience.