The first San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) was held in 1970 with 300 attendees. In 2015, attendance was upwards of 130,000 people after reaching the convention center capacity. SDCC is the largest convention worldwide and is so popular tickets sell out within hours.
In addition to SDCC, many other comic conventions occur throughout the year. Some of the most notable in the United States are the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) in downtown Chicago, and Wizard World, which is held in multiple cities across the United States. Conventions have moved beyond comics and embrace pop culture as a whole, including movies, television, gaming, and more, drawing in wider audiences.
If you’re one of the new attendees, you may not be familiar with the best practices for how to save money and get the most out of the convention. Having attended cons for the past seven years, here are my best tips for how to have your best experience:
- Transportation: If you do not live in the convention city, you will need to travel. Driving allows for more lodging options because you won’t need to rely on walking or mass transportation to get to the convention center. Plus, if you carpool you can split gas money. If flying is your only option, check shipping fees; it may be cheaper to mail your purchases home instead of paying extra baggage fees.
- Lodging: If you want to stay right next to the convention center, you will need to book your hotel months in advance. I prefer saving money over this convenience, so we’ve been creative in our lodging. This year, five of us stayed in an AirBnb apartment 15 minutes from the convention center. It was not as accommodating as we would have liked, but since we were in the convention hall most of the weekend, it didn’t matter much. Another time, we stayed at a hotel with a pay-in-advance discount. Shop around for the best option for you and your group.
- Tickets: A lot of local newspapers and comic shops hold contests for free admission passes. This year for St. Louis Wizard World, Gold’s Gym held an event where they gave out free passes via Facebook and at their superhero themed workout night along with a discount code for non-winners. Keep your eyes open in the months leading up to the convention for any opportunities like these. Some conventions, like SDCC and C2E2, do not have many giveaways due to high demand. Instead, you need to buy those tickets in advance to avoid missing out.
- Plan Your Schedule: Conventions post their event times the week of the show, so you can plan your schedule in advance for when you need to get to a panel, autograph, or tournament. Keep in mind these times are subject to change, so you need to check in when you get to the show.
Bring What You Need
- Essentials: Every adult who attends a convention needs at minimum their ticket or pass, ID, cash, comfortable shoes, and a sturdy backpack. Cash is important because very few booths will take credit card, but there are usually ATMs on the floor so you can get money out if you really need to. Keep in mind these will charge you hefty transaction fees, though.
- Food: Purchasing food at a convention center is the same as at a sports stadium; it’s overpriced, and most of the time, the quality isn’t great. Pack snacks like granola bars and jerky in your backpack. If you park close enough, you can keep food in a cooler in the car and go there to eat lunch. If it’s not practical to walk to your car, pack something that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, like peanut butter and jelly. Most importantly, pack a refillable water bottle. Using a drinking fountain to fill up your bottle is better than waiting in line to pay five dollars for a bottle.
- Make a List: Conventions are the best places to find the rare comic issues you need. It was only from going to conventions that I was able to finish my entire run of Bone (which I still believe everyone should read). Make a list so you know what you have and what you’re looking for. We’ve upgraded ours from paper to an app called StoreIt which makes it much easier to find and update information on the fly.
At The Con
- Shop Around: It’s easy to buy the first thing you find, however that’s rarely the best choice. Booths don’t offer returns, so it’s better to see your options before purchasing so you don’t miss out on a better deal.
- Cosplay is Not Consent: Lots of people enjoy dressing up at conventions, but no one likes feeling victimized by having inappropriate pictures taken of them when they’re just trying to represent the things they love. I’ve yet to see a cosplayer turn down a picture, so just be sure to ask to take one and be respectful. This movement started a few years ago, and I’m happy to see conventions embracing and supporting cosplayers.
- Have Fun! Conventions can be overwhelming, but it’s a beautiful thing to see so many people gathered in such a welcoming and judge-free zone. There is something for everyone there, so relax and explore.
Do you have any other tips or suggestions for attending cons? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!