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Guest Post: Jim McClain on How to Go to a Comic Con

Jim McClain
Last weekend I went to C2E2 and was on a panel called Walking the Floor: A Comic Con Primer for Teachers. Jim McClain was on the panel as well, and I was so impressed with his part of the presentation that I asked him to write it up for GC4K readers. There’s plenty of good advice here for experienced con-goers as well as first-timers. Jim is a math teacher and also a comics pro himself: He is the creator of the math-themed superhero comic Solution Squad, and if you do go to a con, you may see him behind a table in Artists Alley. Take it away, Jim!

I attended my first comic book convention in 1984. So yes, I’m old. Now that I’m behind the tables instead of in front of them, I have some tips for making the most out of the convention experience, especially if you’re new to it. The first thing anyone will tell you is to wear comfortable shoes. Don’t buy new shoes for a con. Break them in first. Gel insoles are a plus. Layered clothing is also a good idea that is just plain common sense. But here are the “pro-tips”:

Solution Squad HCBring your own bottles of water. I freeze a bottle of water overnight before my trip so that it stays cold as it thaws throughout the day. When it’s empty, refill it outside the panel rooms. Many conventions have coolers or pitchers of cold water available right outside. Staying hydrated is always important but doubly so when you’re walking all day. If you’re staying in a hotel with a refrigerator, you can put them in the little freezer overnight for the next day.

I prefer eating a big breakfast before a show, especially focusing on protein to get me through a day. Convention food is notoriously overpriced, so if you don’t want to pay $12 for a $4 turkey sandwich, bring along beef jerky or protein bars. They don’t require refrigeration and will keep your energy levels up. The money you save can be used for a nicer dinner after the show floor closes. There are almost always great restaurants in the surrounding area.

Get there early! Quite often the parking situation is dicey. The later you get to the show, the farther away you’ll have to park. I get to my table two hours before the show starts each day, and there are already people outside the entrance, just relaxing and having a good time. They know they’re not going to have to walk a mile back to their cars!

How do you carry stuff around a convention? Lots of people use simple backpacks, but I find that prolonged carrying cuts into my shoulder, and those string backpacks that they give away are even worse. It’s also difficult to keep your purchases, comics and art especially, in good condition with a standard backpack. My brother-in-law works for a large software company and travels the world. He introduced me to the BBP Hamptons Hybrid Messenger/Laptop bag. It works as both a briefcase with a hand handle as well as a backpack. The best thing about it is that it has kidney pads to prevent that constant banging into a sensitive place while you walk the floor. It also qualifies as a carry-on for flying. I personally use a small four-wheel hard shell case to get back and forth to panels and the like. I often have to transport a laptop computer for presentations, and even the messenger bag is no fun for a 17” machine. It comes in handy when I’m just shopping, too. Pay attention to convention rules, though. Sometimes anything on wheels is prohibited; even strollers!

Candy Crimes page 05 LettersIf you’re a fan of purchasing the myriad prints available, or better yet, original art from Artist Alley (hint, hint), it’s a good idea to protect your purchases. Hard sleeves called top loaders, as well as tubes for soft posters are a good way to do that. And even though they’re often available for purchase on-site, it’s sometimes just safer to bring your own in case they’re not. They will also fit more easily in a flatter bag as mentioned above.

Now, this may be just my personal opinion, but when I attended conventions as a fan years ago, I spent all my time in Artist Alley. Do you want to make friends with the artists? Bring an extra Sharpie or two along with you. I just had an exchange with one of my buddies this past weekend where he was signing one of my Solution Squad books and his Sharpie pen was giving out. He didn’t have a spare but guess who did! Just have one to give away and you’ll save the day. Grateful artists will often reward such generosity!

Getting tired walking around the convention floor? Go enjoy a panel! There are often soft chairs to sit in for a while, and sometimes even tables where you can take notes, update your social media, or just listen to music for a bit. The panelists won’t mind; I promise! I make it a rule to take a 20-minute break at least once a day to get away from all the white noise of the con floor. It can wear on your nerves and listening to music that you like goes a long way to calm them.

I hope you make the most out of your convention experience. After 35 years I still look forward to each and every one that I attend, both as a fan and as a pro. Following my tips will help you to reach that longevity and not get burned out. See you on the con floor!

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Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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