The beginning of the summer generally means the start of comic book convention season for a lot of us. For me it will be my annual attendance to Houston TX’s comic book convention Comicpalooza.
The First Things To Do
The first thing you’ll want to do after you figure out where and when your comic convention takes place is buy tickets. Comicpalooza has never sold out as far as I am aware of but I still buy tickets in advance (You can buy them here). Even if your convention doesn’t sell out buying ahead of time can mean getting tickets cheaper using promotional codes and also cut down your time spent waiting to get in. As far as how early to buy, really decides on the likelihood of the convention selling out. If you are trying to get into San Diego Comic-Con it is near impossible. You have to sign up well in advance just to get in the lottery for the chance to buy tickets. If you are not signing up and online the second each of these steps appear online you will not get tickets. The good news is this isn’t the majority of cases, outside of San Diego and New York Comic-Con you can generally get your tickets a couple of weeks to days ahead of time without any issues.
The next step, which seems like a no brainer, is put it in your calendar to go to the convention. Most of these conventions last anywhere from 2 to 4 days and although you can come and go as you please you should probably just block off the whole weekend.
Getting to the Convention
A little planning ahead of time can really save some time and heartache. Most of the time going to the convention website can give you all the information you’ll need. You can find out the hours, hotel information, parking, what items are prohibited, and rules / regulations. You can also get information like schedules, maps, and other information.
If your convention is out of town and you’ll be staying at a hotel your best plan is to book early. If you want to stay at a hotel that is in walking distance to the convention you will probably be shelling out a lot of money. You may be ok with paying more to have the close proximity but if you don’t book months in advance the hotel will be booked solid. In a city like Houston there are enough hotels where if you are ok with driving to the convention each day you can get at a fair price and not have to book that far in advance.
You should do what you can to find out what else is happening that weekend in the town you are staying in. Last year I went to Austin City Limits Music Festival which happened to take place the same weekend as Austin Comic Con and a University of Texas Football game. You may not care about Austin City Limits or Football but if you were planning on going to Austin Comic Con that weekend you should have been hard pressed to find a Hotel anywhere in the city that wasn’t fully booked.
If you are driving to the convention scope out the parking situation ahead of time. Most convention websites will have maps and parking information. It is likely you will have to pay for parking and it could be anywhere from 5 to 20 dollars so bring cash with you.
First thing you’ll need to do is to pick up your badge before you can get in. Since you were smart and ordered it ahead of time you just have to wait in the will call line to pick it up. Once you have your badge you can come and go as you please and you won’t have to repeat the process on the other days of the convention.
I Have Arrived Now What?
This seems like a question you don’t need to ask but comic book conventions can be huge. Comicpalooza is at the Houston George R. Brown Convention Center which takes up an entire city block in length and has three floors. There is a ton of things to do and it can be pretty overwhelming.
There are five main activities that you can do while you are at the convention.
1) Look at the Vender Booths and Buy Stuff
The vendor floor is huge and has anything and everything comic books, tv shows, movies, and all things nerdy for you to go through. Typically just walking through and not stopping to buy anything it takes me about an hour to two hours to go through the entire floor. So give yourself a plenty of time in your schedule to just spend going through the booths.
The dealer area is also where the artists will be and where you can buy and commission art. If there is an artist you are particularly interested in for a commission (and that you know is doing commissions) go to them first so you can get on their list.
Sometimes the dealers will have discounts on the last day but I wouldn’t count on that if you are trying to get the best price. Someone else might pick up that special item you are waiting to get marked down and you’ll be out of luck. I’ve seen stuff go on sale but it’s usually like 15-20% off on a limited number of items and usually not a huge difference in price
2) Meet Celebrities and get Autographs / Pictures
A big pull at Comicpalooza (and all conventions) is the celebrity appearances. Now you might think by the way they advertise them that with your four day pass you can just walk to up any celebrity there with their autograph and picture. You would be wrong. Celebrity autographs generally run you between 40 and 60 dollars and Celebrity photo ops can cost from 60 to 150 dollars. It is expensive and if you want to get a few of these it’s probably going to eat up your entire budget (here is the pricing for Comicpalooza).
All hope is not lost! The good thing about these conventions is that each of these celebrities will also have panels that they speak at which are included in the cost of your ticket. At these panels the celebrity (or sometimes they will be in a group) will talk and generally answer questions from the audience. Be sure to check the convention schedule ahead of time so you know when and where the panels are for the celebrities you want to see.
3) Play Games
Comicpalooza has almost an entire floor dedicated just to gaming. They have a ton of space for table top board and card games along with areas set up for video game tournaments. Whether you bring your own games or you come looking for new people to play with if you so choose you can spend your whole weekend playing nothing but games!
4) Check out all the People in Cosplay
Comic book conventions have become famous for all the awesome costumes that attendees wear and you’ll be able to see them throughout the entire convention. I’ve had nothing but good experiences and if you ask the people they will generally let you take their picture or even take a picture with you. You’ll want to take some common courtesy and not bother people if they are say eating or busy buying something. But in general, if they are just walking around they don’t mind taking pictures as long as you ask.
There is also a costume contest at some point during the convention which you can find the time and location on the schedule on the convention website. This is a great opportunity to take pictures of a lot of the costumes at once as well as seem some of the best costumes at the convention.
5) Go to Panels!
We already talked about celebrity panels but there are also all sorts of other free (well included in your admission cost) panels to go to as well. These can be discussions on comic books or tv shows, how to demonstrations for cosplay, nerdy trivia, etc. There really is all sorts of panels to go to so be sure to look through the schedule before you leave so you know where and when you panel of choice is.
What to Bring?
You may have seen in pictures at other conventions these giant bags that they give out for people to carry stuff in. Comicpalooza does not have these so you will need to bring your own backpack. You should also leave a good amount of empty space in your bag so you can fill it with things you buy (I use a Timbuk2 Medium Messenger).
First I bring a small amount of snacks and a bottle of water. I stick with things like Peanut Butter Crackers or Granola bars that are filling but don’t take up a lot of space. There will be food at the convention but its nice to have a little something if you are waiting in line or at a panel and don’t want to go all the way back down to the floor to get something to eat. There are big water coolers of purified water scattered throughout the George R. Brown Convention center so you can refill your bottle of water as you drink it through the day.
I print out the complete schedule and keep it in my bag with me. This is helpful but can also be accomplished by downloading the Comicpalooza app on your phone which has the complete schedule. It is easier to use the app which doesn’t required internet service so you can use it even if the mobile network is overloaded. I like to keep a paper copy just in case for some reason my phone dies.
A camera! I know for most people their phone is their camera so you are likely good to go already. But if you have a nicer camera then this is the place to bring it. There will be lots of opportunities to take pictures of and with the cosplayers along with celebrities. I use a Sony NEX 3 it is a hybrid between a full DSLR and a point a shoot that uses interchangeable lenses. I like that it has the functionality of a DSLR but is a lot smaller and easier to carry around
External USB Battery for your phone. There will be thousands of people at the convention and the mobile networks will be overloaded. You can still use your phone but the strain on the network will cause your battery to drain faster than usual. There may be plugs around the convention to use but with an external battery you can charge on the go. These external batteries come in a lot of different sizes but I suggest going with one that has over 10,000 mAh (this is what I use). It will be bigger but will have enough juice to fully charge your phone about 4-7 times.
Pen and notebook. Panels may change rooms or autograph / pictures may change times so it’s good to have pen and paper on hand to make notes of changes that occur.
If you have a Nintendo 3DS bring it. You’ll get more street passes then you even have in your entire life.
Lastly I keep a printed off copy of the comic books I own with me. I do a lot of searching through bins so it’s good to know what back issues you already own. I also keep a copy on my phone which I will use first but it is always good to have a backup.
Make room in your schedule and go offsite for lunch. There are a lot of restaurants around the George R Brown Convention center and they are surprisingly not swarmed with people from the convention (I suggest Phoenicia they have great pre-made food so you can buy your food quickly and it’s only a block away). The food at the convention isn’t the worst food ever but its typical stadium food and pricy. But more so the food areas are packed you might not be able to sit down. After all the walking you’ll be doing, lunch is a good time to take a break and sit for a few minutes. Don’t rush through lunch, sit down, take a little time, your body will appreciate it.
When you are making your schedule it is good to put on your list everything you might be interested in seeing even if some of the events are occurring at the same time. However, make note of 3-5 events that you are the most interested and make those your priority. There is a lot to do at these things and you can go from panel to panel non-stop from when the doors open to when they close. It is ok if you miss some things, allow your schedule to be flexible enough that after you go to your must see panels you can still go to the vendors floor, or wait in line for pictures / autographs.
If you want a photo / autograph of a certain celebrity find out when they are before you leave. Some of the celebrities will be there all week but some will only be there on a single day and have very limited windows for autographs/photos. Some of the photo ops can be purchased online weeks before the convention occurs, so do that. But make sure you check the schedule before you get to the convention so you know when to be at their booth.