Whether an avid comic book fan or otherwise, comic conventions invoke images of everything from artists, comics, vendors, and cosplayers. From ComicCon to DragonCon and E3 to PAX, I’ve always regarded them from the perspective of an observer. Strange, perhaps, since both comic books and video games have been integral parts of my life since I was a kid. It was not until I made it to this years’ Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) that I got a real taste of what the comic convention experience entailed.
Entering the convention, one thing is clear: you will be standing in lines. No problem. I’ve been to Disneyland. I’ve experienced Black Friday sales (as both employee and customer). I’ve sat in LA rush hour. If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s queue. Also: I know how to spell “queue”. So, two things I know.
As this was my first convention, the crowds and lines gave me a sense of scale and the kind of impact that the comic book industry has. Sure you get a taste of this through photos, videos, and online forums, but I’m sure that (like me) there is a large portion of the comic book reading audience whose entire social experience surrounding comic books has been limited to their room, their local comic shop, and a group of friends that share the interest. So you can imagine that for me, a socially introverted comic convention newbie, the experience was a little overwhelming at first.
After receiving useful tips and a basic run-down from our editor, Mike, who’s been to C2E2 a number of times, I walked through the stalls to see the sights, on no mission in particular. And boy are the stalls plentiful. Whether in Artist Alley or the ever teeming merchandise section devoted to venders, there is almost every comic book related thing you could think of. Comic book vendors collect in one portion of the showroom floor, each specializing in different comics, displaying different collections, and boasting different deals. Vendors ranged from Dark Horse to local shops, each with a different selection and pricing.
The amount of vendors will probably overwhelm and confound most. But then you begin to get that “kind in a candy-shop” look on your face and may silently mutter (as I did), “I’m going to be so poor after this”. And it was then that I experienced firsthand that conventions are the best time to buy comic books whether old or new; picking up trades and single issues alike at fifty to seventy-five percent off. Wait until the conventions last day and you may manage to grab new comics at 25¢ an issue from vendors wanting to get rid of their stock.
But being able to shop until your bag is too heavy to carry isn’t the only thing conventions allow you to do. Conventions also offer activities and panels… lots of panels. These panels as well as Artist Alley allow you to listen to and interact with writers, artists, and editors in the industry. Depending on who’s attending the convention, you may meet anyone from the artist of your favorite web-comic or the writer of your favorite mainstream comic book.
The panels also let you get a sense of the people behind your favorite books, ask them questions, and/or buy sketches or commission from them. It was extremely interesting to meet and attend the panels of comic greats like Kieron Gillen, J. Michael Straczynski, and Brian Wood. Getting to meet and listen to these guys after having read their comics was enormously intriguing as I not only got news of future issues, but it also allowed me to see a bit of who these people are. And learning more about my favorite authors and artists was just as (if not more) interesting than news about their comics.
Whether browsing the comic vendors or attending the panels, you’ll have more than ample chance to admire the many MANY cosplayers. Costumes vary in quality, but in the end, each costume represents someone’s interest and investment in comics and the culture surrounding them. I personally did not cosplay this time around, but man did it look fun; I’ve gotta do it at the next con I attend. Whole articles can and have been written on the culture of cosplay, and I won’t attempt to tackle that topic out of hand. Suffice it to say that cosplay is an integral part of the convention and getting to meet and talk with cosplayers in person (and in costume) is a lot of fun.
I won’t end this piece by stating that “you have to attend comic book conventions to be a true comic book fan”, even though that would be really controversial (and wrong) and potentially get us a lot of traffic. Personally, C2E2 helped me build a stronger connection to this media that I love and meet and build relationships with people that love it just as much as I do. Whether you’re taking the opportunity to meet the creators of your favorite comic, purchase back issues, cosplay, or all the above, conventions like C2E2 give fans like us the chance to interact with the industry and have a good time doing it. If you’re on the fence about attending a comic convention, I hope to… push you over the fence?… by giving you my highest suggestion to attend, even for a day. Get some friends to go with you, or make friends when you get there. Go. You won’t regret it.