Thursday, June 1, 2017

Tips on Attending Your First Convention!

Happy June! We're officially in that good ol’ summer con weather!

I just returned from Fanime this past weekend and definitely, the weather's been really nice lately! Here's hoping that it won't be too overbearing as we get into the heart of the summer cons!

While I will have a separate post for my positive Fanime experience up soon, I wanted to actually dedicate this particular post in honor of a much-anticipated convention coming later this month:  The Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con! It will be held this year at the Las Vegas Convention Center from the 23rd of June to the 25th. They have already announced a slew of amazing guests, from Adam West and Burt Ward of the original Batman fame, Veronica Taylor (my childhood hero), the voice of Ash from the English dubbed Pokemon series, to Rob Liefield of the Deadpool franchise, and Stan Lee himself!

I'm really excited that Las Vegas has a comic convention on top of being such an exciting place to visit! Conventions like these are also some of the best for first-timers to attend for several reasons, primarily because they show the potential of what the world of cons have to offer - great guests, a guaranteed great dealers hall, exciting media and panels, and like-minded guests and fellow cosplayers who are surely going to welcome your first cosplay or even just your first excursion to a con!

Thinking back to my first convention experiences, these were some of the aspects that also made me feel welcomed into the world of conventions and cosplay, and a significant reason why I continue to attend as many conventions as I can throughout the year. I've also had the experience of inviting several friends to their first conventions as well, since there's nothing more magical than attending for the first time and truly discovering a place that makes you feel excited, welcomed, and energized to share your fandoms with.

Therefore, I wanted to share a few tips in hopes of answering some common questions about your first time attending a convention!

First, let's lay out the convention basics!

Conventions are an amazing space to really discover yourself and engage with a world around you that's likely much more different than your everyday experiences. After all, most comics, anime, and media delve into some sort of fantasy, so most conventions do their best in creating a place that captures the essence of multiple fandoms, intricate universes, and a variety of unique types of attendees. There’s no pressure to know what type of attendee you are: Are you a cosplayer? Are you the first in line for guest autographs and panels? Are you there to take lots of photos? Or, are you looking to hit the stalls for some of the latest comics and toys?

There’s no one right way to experience conventions.

There’s multiple ways, many of which overlap one another. It’s in your power to enjoy whether you want to cosplay for one day or all weekend, or choose which panels you want to see, and make your own schedule! Much like a visit to a theme park, the choice is really yours!
I know however that it can get overwhelming at times, so some of the things to consider when trying to plan that special convention weekend!

Depending on which convention you’ve selected, my first suggestion is to always do a little research beforehand and check out the con’s official site for some of the most important pieces of information: the convention dates: to get your weekend plans organized, the location: which you’ll need to figure out transportation and lodging for, and registration options based on how many days you want to attend, your age, how many friends are going, and what other extra offers are available. This is your first stop in determining whether you are able to attend the con, register for your badge, which guarantees you access to the event and all of its perks, and serve as your starting point for getting to know about the convention and what it has to offer. Conventions like Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con or Anime Expo feature their guest lineups, vendors, and other highlights on their webpage to share with their attendees what to be excited for.

I’m probably a minority here, but I really love the planning process for conventions! Ultimately, it’s up to you how far in advance you want to consider planning for the convention, but my recommendation is usually within the 3 to 6 months to get organized about what you need to attend and enjoy your con. There’s a lot of potential factors however where you happen to find out that you can attend at the last minute, so by no means should you be discouraged from making a quick getaway if you have the chance to!

Definitely begin by determining whether you have the time off for a convention. While a typical con lasts from 3 to 4 days, you’re at your own choice on whether how many days you would like to attend. In the past, I’ve regularly attended conventions for the full weekend, or sometimes will do a partial weekend if it’s at a city where I’d like to spend a few days doing other tourism. Anime Expo years ago used to be located in Anaheim right next to Disneyland, so it wasn’t uncommon for people to attend the con for 2 or 3 days and hit Disneyland on the last day. Likewise, Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con is another great example of attending the convention for the weekend and considering to extend it into a real vacation by adding a few days on the Strip to really get the most out of the city.

If you know you can attend, the next step goes into figuring out another big question: Where are you going to stay for the weekend? Nearly a decade ago, conventions were more commonly held in hotels, so the natural choice was to stay at the hotel where it was taking place for the weekend. However, with so many new fans out there, conventions have expanded and require a larger space that better supports their activities. Large conventions typically have options on their website for either signing up for their hotel block, which offers custom room rates at local hotels they are partnered with. Alternatively, conventions may also offer a list of hotels which are within walking distance to the convention (a huge advantage for cosplayers), or are located near convenient destinations that allow you to enjoy your convention experience without much hassle.

For those looking into visiting Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con, one great resource to check out is Las Vegas Travel Deals! They provide some great package options which may not only providing lodging for your weekend stay during the convention, but also some other exciting perks to enjoy Las Vegas as well!

This definitely varies depending on what your objective is at a convention, but to cover the basics, the most important essentials for any convention attendee include:
-          Water and some snacks to keep you tied throughout the day. Water is your friend at a convention, and it’s easy to not notice through all of the excitement when you’re hungry of thirsty, but you don’t also want to get sick! I usually keep a water bottle around me at all times and protein bars, since they are light to pack and can usually keep me sated until my next meal.
-          Try to wear comfortable shoes for as long as you can. I know cosplay doesn’t always guarantee the chance to wear a decent shoe, but try to make the most out of those moments. You’re going to be doing some walking, roughly about as much as you do at a theme park, so you’re bound to feel a little sore and tired.
-          Keep an organized budget for what you’d like to spend on souvenirs and other goods. It’s definitely up to you on how much you’d like to spend, but make sure you have a good sense of how much you need for the rest of your necessities!
-          Consider bringing a small day backpack to hold your items for the day. You can pack your water, wallet, your convention guide, and any cool items you might pick up along the way. I have a small bag where I also bring some cosplay emergency basics as well, like my wig brush and repair kit just in case.
-          Bring your charger and or have an external charger with you. Some conventions have the benefit of providing charging stations, but I recommend having some sort of external charger with you to recharge your phone without disrupting your convention schedule. It also helps especially if you’re taking lots of photos and video on your phone. With so many cosplays and guests out there, you definitely don’t want to lose a chance of a good shot!
-          Sunscreen is your friend. If the convention takes place in the summer, you definitely want to plan on making sure you bring sunscreen to keep from the heat. Most conventions are indoors, but some provide some great outdoor activities or cosplay events that will have you outside taking photos.
-         Convention guide or Convention App! I strongly recommend to keep an eye out on the con website or their in-con guide for their day schedules, especially if you are planning to attend panels. Some conventions provide an option to download a guide app that helps you organize and notify you of events throughout the weekend. I also rely on the guidebook for references and details on some of the main rules and features of the convention.
-          Keep a handy Cosplay Emergency Repair Kit! Obviously, this applies to cosplayers, but it’s always resourceful to have some sort of emergency kit consisting of a hand sewing needle, thread, tape, safety pins, hairpins, and whatever else you think you’ll need just in case a cosplay malfunction happens on the floor. If you have a hotel nearby, thankfully you have the option to head out and make your repairs, but just to be safe, you always want to consider having something to fix your cosplay temporarily until you reach a safe time and place to make your actual repairs.

When I attended my first convention (over 9000) years ago, I didn’t actually know much about what to expect, so I wore just jeans and an anime t-shirt and hoped that it’d be enough. The following year, I brought my first cosplay to the same con and hope that that would be enough too. Truthfully to this day, both were more than enough. 

It’s completely your choice whether you want to cosplay or not. Cosplay has always been a fun tradition at conventions, but it’s also heavily dependent on what you want to do and whether it’s part of how you want to enjoy the convention.

I usually recommend for people to try their very first day without a cosplay, since there’s lots of things to consider when having to wear a costume for more than five hours. For your first day, consider wearing some comfortable clothes, your fashion tastes all up to you. It’s genuinely encouraged to wear something that shares your love for a certain fandom, so Spiderman hoodies and Sailor Moon shirts are all definitely welcome and also a great way for a fellow attendee to recognize some of your general interests.

For your first cosplay, the best thing to know is that you don’t have to set an unattainable standard for yourself and for what kind of impression you want to make. The best impression at a convention is the most genuine one, and the one that shows that you’re proudly wearing your costume because you love the character, you worked super hard on it, and it’s the beginning of your journey into a very fun and creative world.

Definitely consider picking a costume that you will be able to wear throughout the day for the first time without too much hassle, or a costume that doesn’t require any strange headgear, footgear, or large appendages if you don’t have much experience walking around a crowded hall in them. I typically recommend for beginner cosplayers to also try to wear some of their costume pieces out at home or at a smaller, local event if available in order to get to know how it feels to wear some of these materials and figure out how long you’ll likely be able to last in your costume.

Once again, don’t set insane expectations for yourself. If you need to change out of a costume after a few hours, that’s totally okay! Always do what you need to do to make sure you also have a comfortable experience!

If you’re unsure what to cosplay, here are some questions to ask: What fandoms do I like? Which characters do I like and why? What will bring a smile to my face? Remember, cosplay is a great icebreaker to make new friends and share interests with others. People notice your energy in a costume and are most definitely drawn to positivity and the care and attention you place to capture your favorite character’s look!

To get started, there’s lots of great resources to look at on Youtube for cosplay makeup, wig styling, sewing tutorials, and prop work. First time sewers have lots of great options as well through McCall’s and Simplicity Patterns for sewing guides on how to make some of the most popular character cosplays, and the instructions are very friendly for beginners and provide a wide range of sizing and customization options. Talking to other cosplayers on convention forums or social media groups may also help provide some insight on where to look for your materials or what steps you might need to create your cosplay. Also, there’s lots of amazing shops online that provide well-made costumes from numerous titles. I’ve also seen some great cosplays also done with modified clothing, so I recommend it for first timers on a budget too!

There’s lots of different options that conventions have to offer, including some of my favorite parts:
-          A colorful and creative cosplay scene – Look forward to seeing lots of amazing cosplays around every inch of the convention! My favorite activity is to walk around and take photos and even ask fellow cosplayers how they made various parts of their cosplays. Many are proud to share their innovation and creativity, and most will allow you to take their photos if you are polite and respectful. I advise you to also keep in mind that if they’re eating, resting, or preoccupied, to consider waiting until they are available to take photos. I also recommend to always ask before touching a part of a costume and never handle a prop without their permission.
-         Amazing guests! – Depending on what type of convention you’re attending, guests will likely pertain to some of the media that’s being showcased. Several Comic Cons will bring comic and pop culture guests, while anime conventions tend to bring guests from overseas or Japanese musical guests. Whomever they may be, expect to enjoy some great Q&A discussions with them as they answer questions about the industry, their creative endeavors, and their latest projects. As always, be respectful and also bear in mind that they are happy to see your support for them, but don’t monopolize their time or forego any photography or autograph rules set by the guests and convention.
-         The Magical Dealer’s Hall and Artist Alley – The Dealer’s Hall and Artist Alley are two of the main highlights of any convention, and most likely the reasons why your wallet might be crying by the end of the trip while you’re all smiles. The Dealer’s Hall offers lots of local and international vendors, online shops, and shops of all kinds selling all sorts of goods, from comics to collector toys, books, films, games, figurines, clothing, accessories, etc. If you’re at a Comic Con, expect to see lots of amazing artwork at the Artist Alley, which is comprised of official artists and fan artists alike selling quality prints and artwork.
-         Programming for Everyone – One of the things I like about conventions more recently are the variety of panels and activities available for all types of people. More fans are attending as families, so panels tend to be family friendly while still providing that punch of excitement. Panels can range from discussions about the industry, a specific fandom, or even address the cosplay and convention community as well. There’s also lots of options for nightlife events, dances, parties, and other fun activities for adults. For those looking to really share their crafting skills, the costume contests are always a highlight to look forward to and provide cash prizes for the best costumes by divisions from beginners to experienced cosplayers.

-         Cosplay is not consent. You’ll hear this whispered around cons, because it’s true. Cosplayers and even general attendees should always be respected regardless of what they are wearing. Most conventions have a no tolerant harassment policy, and most importantly work hard to provide a place for people to enjoy themselves without feeling uncomfortable. A person cosplaying doesn’t mean that they welcome any sort of intimate touching, words, or gestures without their permission.
-         Unless you’re a paid cosplay model for a booth, cosplayers aren’t entitled to any special perks at a convention and should still abide convention rules at all times. They aren’t entitled to any front of the line perks or special guarantees, and should do their best to support their fandoms as they can.
-          Be courteous to guests and fellow attendees. As always, be respectful and much like any place, there’s lots of different types of people with a wide variety of interests. Not everyone agrees with an opinion about a fandom, but that’s okay as long as you are respectful to one another. Also, refrain from heckling during costume contests or starting an argument during a panel for the sake of arguing.
-          Expect some waiting times like a theme park, but make the most of them by catching the sights and sounds of the con life. Guest panels sometimes have a bit of a wait or a line, but even so, just be courteous, don’t cut in line, and keep positive, since you’re almost there!
-          Don’t “ghost” a con. Ghosting a con is when you attend the convention without paying for a badge, and when caught, may result in being removed or banned from future attendance. While some people might question why it’s harmful when there’s lots of other attendees out there, it’s also genuinely a disrespect considering the convention has paid for a proper space to allow people to freely cosplay and make their own experiences. Having guests, vendors, a working staff, and activities costs money, and it’s just the same as purchasing a ticket to a theme park.
-          If you can, go with a group or friends or family! I usually have a fun time traveling and going to conventions with my friends since we all share similar interests. It’s our time to cosplay and spend some quality time together. Usually going with at least one other person reduces the first-time jitters as well, so you also have someone there who can help you sort out through your experience and plan a duo cosplay together! Over time, there’s a chance that you might make new friends at your next convention too!

I hope that these tips have been helpful in answering some common first-time questions about conventions! As always, I’m always open to answering questions and sharing information, and providing some fun stories about my own convention experiences to help you plan for your own.

I also encourage you to check out some amazing conventions coming out this summer season, which is the perfect time to get a vacation plan going and travel to a cool new convention, share some amazing cosplays, and make some amazing memories! 

Check out the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con site for more information on their upcoming event, guest lineup, and exclusives!

Until next time, happy sewing!