As many of you know, I love cosplaying and attending local geek conventions. There’s really something quite magical about walking around a huge building full of other fandom geeks for an entire day. This summer, I’m sharing that magic with my friends, who I’m taking to their very first Comic Con. In honor of this momentous occasion, I’ve partnered with EventBrite to share some of my experiences and advice for other convention first-timers on a budget.
Picking a Convention
In my experience, it helps to start small. At least for me, I felt an event the size of San Diego Comic Con would be a little too overwhelming (and way out of my budget)!
For my first con, I chose a medium-sized, family-oriented convention with events throughout the day so I wouldn’t be bored. With smaller conventions, chances are you aren’t going to see a particularly star-studded guest list, but there’ll likely be plenty of lookalikes in the crowd who will be happy to take a photo with you for free! (Always ask first – cosplaying does NOT signify consent to do anything, whether it’s touching them anywhere or snapping their picture.)
EventBrite allows you to search for a wide variety of events, including conventions in your area. Simply visit their homepage, specify the country, state, or region, and search for the kind of event you’re looking to attend.
(Psst, convention organizers, if you’re reading this, a) you guys are some the coolest people in the galaxy, and b) to manage and organize an event of your own, EventBrite has some handy resources for that too!)
Cosplay Convention Center Database
Another one of my favorite resources for finding local conventions is a website called Cosplay Convention Center, aimed specifically at finding Comic Con events in your area. You can also search by certain countries, states or regions. Despite what the title suggests, this database isn’t limited to cosplay-oriented conventions. You can search for specific convention themes, from music to gaming!
Be on the lookout for discounted ticket sales in the months before a convention. Groupon, for example, offers buy one, get one free admission packs for several Comic Con-type events in my area. Also, it’s sometimes cheaper to register for tickets online, and some conventions will sell early bird discounted tickets months in advance.
If you’re a blogger or vlogger with a large following, you can also look into getting press credentials for local conventions. Some convention organizers, especially for smaller or newer conventions, are happy to grant free passes in return for the exposure, but you should only pursue this option if you plan on honoring your end of the deal.
To Cosplay or Not to Cosplay?
There’s no requirement to “cosplay” (wear a costume inspired by an existing or original character) at Comic Con, but for me, part of the thrill of attending a convention is dressing up as someone else for a day. I love making my own costumes and costume accessories. Of course, you can stock up on Halloween costumes, but it’s also pretty fun to try your hand at making a costume yourself. Most of my costumes come from upcycled thrift store items, and I also make my own prop weaponry and accessories.
The conventions I prefer to attend are family-friendly, so risque or overly revealing costumes are generally no-nos at these events. Some conventions consider Suicide Squad Harley Quinns and golden bikini Princess Leias to be “family friendly,” while others do not. Towards the end of the day, I’ve found staff are a bit more lenient about their costume policy, as long as the rules aren’t being bent too outrageously.
If you aren’t sure about your chosen convention’s standards, make sure to check for a Cosplay / Prop Weapons Policy (typically found on the event’s FAQ page, if not in its own dedicated section) on their website. And don’t be afraid to clarify with convention staff in advance by calling or sending them an email.
As a given, any prop weaponry you bring with you should be clearly recognizable as harmless props (e.g. fake guns should have orange tips), and made from safe materials like foam, rubber, and blunt plastic.
When you arrive at a convention, look for Weapons Check booth on the way in. There, convention staff will inspect your prop and mark it with a brightly colored ziptie or piece of tape to show that it’s been approved. If it is not approved, they’ll likely confiscate your prop, but don’t worry, you can get it back when it’s time to leave.
Lastly, if you’re attending a family-oriented event, comic book superheroes, Disney princesses, and popular anime characters are all huge hits, especially with younger attendees. Be prepared for little kids to want to take pictures with you and even hug you. To them, it’s like their favorite character just came to life right before their eyes, and amidst their excitement, they’re bound to feel a awestruck and a little shy too. It’s a good idea to squat or kneel down to make eye contact with them so they feel a bit less intimidated. Also, don’t be afraid to get in character – quote some of their most famous lines or sing with them!
What to Bring with You
So you’ve picked a convention. You’ve got your ticket and your costume, but your packing list shouldn’t end there. Here are a bunch of things you really need to bring to make sure your convention goes smoothly:
A bag or backpack
The reason why I love cosplaying characters from RWBY so much is that all the costumes are designed with bags or pockets. It’s like the creators knew fans would be cosplaying these well-loved characters.
If, by some strange anomaly, you want to cosplay one of those poor, unfortunate souls from different fandoms where pockets and utility belts are sadly underappreciated, you still need something to carry your things. I like to look for something that matches the theme of your costume, in order to be less conspicuous.
In addition to celebrity panels, cosplaying, and group activities, Comic Cons are known for having expansive (and sometimes expensive) artist / vendor alleys. Local artists, writers, and crafters set up shops with wide arrays of geeky merchandise. Some artists will do commissions too. Additionally, celebrities cell photo ops and merchandise to autograph (although you can bring your own memorabilia to autograph as well). If you’re having a good time, it’s so tempting to bring back souvenirs.
For the budget-conscious shopper, what I suggest doing is look at everything for sale, make a mental note of the items that interest you, and winnow your favorites down to one or two items. And for the best deals on merch and memorabilia, I highly recommend checking out the vendor booths towards the end of the day. By that point, vendors are trying to get rid of the remainder of their inventory, and some will even give you free stuff because they want it all gone!
Food and Water
Most conventions I’ve been to start at 9 AM and end at 5 or 6 PM. To get the full con experience, you’re probably going to be there a while. Some convention venues (whether it’s hotels or community centers) serve fast food and soft drinks, or at the very least, access to vending machines. All the same, I highly recommend bringing bottled water so you don’t get dehydrated after a long day of walking around and talking to people in costumes.
Cell phone / communications devices
Especially if you’re going with other people, make sure you all have a way of contacting each other in case you get separated. I tell you, even the smallest conventions can get pretty crowded. Plus, you can use your phone to take pictures – the most affordable souvenirs!
Duct tape and/or glue
Especially if you’re bringing props with you, be prepared for them to fall apart on the go. Fortunately, my prop (a huge foam scythe with various little pieces glued on) didn’t fall apart until the ride home, when I placed it a little too roughly in the trunk. But it’s always good to have a small roll of strong tape or glue (hot glue or a small tube of wood glue should do the trick) on hand for quick repairs.
A Map and Schedule
The first convention I attended was at a hotel, and though I was quite familiar with activities the first floor, I had no idea that the upper floor was also open to guests and had additional activities. (A Doctor Who cosplayer told me that the TARDIS was “upstairs” and I thought he was trying to be creepy until someone proved to me that there was, indeed, a fake police public call box upstairs!) There might be a kiosk where you can get your hands on a map, but if you can find it on the convention website, it doesn’t hurt to print it out at home before you leave.
Additionally, a schedule of events throughout the day is usually also available on a convention’s website. You shouldn’t plan on attending every panel – try to pick a few and also plan for periods where you can just walk around or rest, so you don’t get overwhelmed. Different events are held in different rooms, so it helps to mark on your map where and when you want to be.
Getting There & Staying There
Conventions tend to span entire weekends, from Friday through Sunday. Many Comic Con conventions are held in hotels or in proximity to them. If you plan on attending a convention for the entire weekend and you’d rather not schlep out there every morning, that’s an additional expense to keep in mind.
In any case, if you’re going to Comic Con with a bunch of other people, especially for a single day, I highly recommend trying to arrange carpooling, or traveling in a group via public transportation. You might be surprised who else you run into on the bus or train that morning!
If this will be your first time attending a Comic Con, I hope this information will help you have a fun and safe time!