The Official Pullbox Guide to Conning, Episode 1
The other night, as Eric and I broke eggrolls in advance of our weekly gaming session, we discussed Paul’s recent Pullbox writeup on Wizard World-Chicago. This segued to talk of the enjoyment Eric got out of listening to our curmudgeonly compatriot’s ongoing commentary on con planning and etiquette, which in turn led to discussion of the big guy’s idea for a video blog of Paul and me, walking around some as-yet-unsuspecting con, sniping on about idjits wearing sandals, phone-obsessed vendors, 12-foot cosplay props in 8-foot aisles and other such fascinating tidbits. This germinated the seed for our present idea: a (hopefully) helpful guide to successfully navigating the con experience, from as many angles as we can think of.
Conning, with the help of fandoms across the globe, performers such as Zachary Levi and Adam Savage, and shows such as Big Bang Theory and the entertainment industry as a whole, has in the past 10 years become a societal phenomenon unto its own, complete with its own culture and etiquette. Folks attend cons for cosplay, to meet celebrities, to shop for their collections, to gather with like-minded fans of this, that or the other property, to interact with their heroes in the comic and/or gaming industry, or just for some top-notch people watching. Or, most likely, some combination of all of the above.
Eric, Paul, Greg and I—with our 40 odd years of con experience among us—have developed some tried and true techniques for maximizing our experience, and thought we might share them with you, gentle reader, that you might get all that you can out of C2E2, Wizard World, Anime Midwest, Heroes & Villains, Mighty Con, or whatever your gathering experience might be.
In future weeks, we’ll examine such exciting topics as planning a daily or weekend-long con experience, negotiating with vendors, getting your treasures signed and sifting through panel listings for that diamond in the rough. This week, however, we’ll take a look at probably the first thing any serious conner should consider (other than getting a badge): your gear.
Likely the least-pondered piece of gear most folks think about, but probably the single most important (especially for day- and weekend-long events) are shoes. I don’t know about you, but after several miles of trudging and several hours of standing in line, my 47-y/o feet and knees get freakin’ tired.
Here, you really want to consider what type of event you are attending, the population who will be attending it with you, how long you anticipate being there, and what you intend to do while you are there. My personal annual Mecca, C2E2, typically witnesses in excess of 70,000 con-goers over its three days, spread throughout the enormous South Hall of McCormick Place in Chicago. Saturday alone last year drew 40,000+ fans and featured programming from 10am to 11pm or so. Add to that the 20-minute walk to the hotel we always stay at (the South Loop, a truly undiscovered gem of Chicago), and you’re talking a long day. The one year we actually tracked it, my pal Tom and I topped out 36,000 steps on Saturday alone. That’s more than 7 miles—with a backpack full of stuff.
For me, I like a nicely broken in (but not old), well-structured running shoe. Something with bounce and cushion—but which will also protect my size-way-too-big-for-normal-humans feet from the 40,000 other attendees stepping on them. Do not, under any circumstances, wear sandals. Unless you like pain, and ridicule. Pain, because they provide no support or protection to your tiddies, and ridicule, because Paul and I will hunt you down, and we will ridicule you. And you don’t need that kind of headache. You don’t necessarily need steel-toed Doc M’s, but you do need something that’s going to get you through the day/weekend.
A second vastly under-regarded but very important piece of gear, the importance of having the right backpack (or other storage/carrying device) cannot be over-estimated.
Here again, you want to ponder what kind of con experience you intend to have. The great likelihood is that, whatever your desired con experience, you will be doing some shopping—for comics, for props, for glassware, for art. Once you’ve acquired your treasure, that one single thing (or, you know, pile of things) that justify and complete your existence, where do you put it? That’s right, chum—unless you want to carry that 14-pound Sandman omnibus, that complete set of Burger King Superfriends © glasses, or that original commission by George Perez around with you for the rest of the con, you need somewhere to store it.
And what if you get hungry? My typical C2E2 or Wizard World day is at least 10 hours, and as long as 14. If you’re not keen on standing in line for 45 minutes, waiting on a $12 hot dog and a $6 Diet Pepsi, you’re going to want to have some snacks on you, and a water bottle. And you’ll draw such delights from…you got it—your backpack!
The show floor at conventions can get to be kinda warm; where better to stow that long-sleeve overshirt you so wisely layered yourself in (more on that later) than in…your backpack!
My con shopping tends to run the gamut: I primarily collect comics, both in raw form and, occasionally, CGC-slabbed books, though I also enjoy picking up original art when I can afford it, as well as prints and pieces from Artist Alley, an occasional statue or figure, and even a prop here or there. As such, I need a large backpack, structured with enough pockets to differentiate my treasures (and for raw comics, I would strongly advise one of the black plastic carriers to protect the books within the pack), my snacks, my clothes and my equipment (which always includes a selection of different-colored Sharpie pens for signings, a pocket notebook to jot down notes, a con program with a show floor map and panel schedule, a spreadsheet of my existing collection and desired targets, a bottle of Advil/Tylenol and a tube of Asper-creme). Specifically, I want an interior space large enough to fit an 11×17 toploader, the standard size for most prints/comic pages. I also carry a poster tube for larger prints/posters, which straps to the side of my pack.
The typical-sized backpack is nowhere near that large, or honestly that durable. Also, padding and support can be a real issue—the one year I didn’t use my current pack, I had purple-striped bruises up and around both shoulder blades, and an aching lower and middle back.
I’ve had the most success shopping among the hiking backpacks on Amazon; the one I’ve used the last several years (which I use specifically and only for cons), I picked up for around $50, and features multiple pockets and access points within the larger pockets, well-padded and ventilated back and shoulder straps, and side attachment straps for something like, say, a water bottle and a poster tube. You want to pay close attention to dimensions (I had to search a bit to find mine, which does barely fit that hard plastic 11×17 toploader I mentioned), and you’ll likely have to part with a few coins to get a good one—but like shoes, you generally get what you pay for, and it’s totally worth the expenditure.
You might also want to think about getting something in a bright and/or unusual color. In the event you inadvertently put it down, get distracted and forget it, you want to find it in a crowd, and quickly amongst the sea of black and navy blue packs surrounding it. My bright green beast has saved my bacon (jerky, as well as a pile of comics) more than once.
Even if you’re planning on providing one of the con food vendors your custom or meeting up at a nearby restaurant for lunch/dinner, it’s always a good idea to have some extra grub with you. All that standing, and walking, and standing tends to make Dick or Jane a bit hangry.
I always pack some fruit, some beef or bacon jerky, some nuts, a bottle of Mio or Crystal Light to mix into a water bottle that I refill at bubblers (not water fountains!), and a protein bar or two; you want to avoid too many high-sugar snacks/candy, as your blood sugars will just end up messing with you. Trust me—focus on the protein.
Oh—and a quick tip on water bottles: Don’t go large. People will tend to carry as large a one as they can find; not actually a good idea. You want a container that you can refill—which means fitting it into a sink, or at the bubbler. The big trail-certified space-age metal ones don’t tend to work out so well. A nice, plastic Aquafina does the trick just fine, in my experience.
Planning your clothing for a con can be a bit of an adventure. Even among those of us who don’t cosplay, we all still have a particular tee or hoodie we want to show off. And, living as we Pullboxers do in the Midwest, weather can be a bit…dicey. Depending on time of year, temp’s outside can be as low as the single digits (looking at you, C2E2—really? February 29?!? What the what?!?), while temps on the show floor can soar, especially with the volume the larger cons can draw. What to do?
Well, first off-take advantage of the coat check. C2E2 provides such a service for a very nominal fee, and it’s totally worth it if you have to truck in your parka. But even beyond that—learn from motorcycle culture: layering is everything. Avoid thick, heavy pieces of clothing where possible, and aim for easily-removable/addable/shiftable layers. I’ll typically wear a looser-fitting pair of cargo pants (I like having a bunch of pockets to store stuff, and they accentuate my finely sculpted Dad bod quite well), a slimmer long-sleeve undershirt, my fave tee of the day, and a hoodie (weather dependent, of course).
I also typically carry a travel-size deodorant stick, but that’s me.
It’s an unfortunate reality that, while most con-goers are pleasant and helpful or at the very least neutral and self-absorbed folk, there are bad apples on every tree (well, every apple tree, anyway—you don’t find them as much on pine trees, for some reason). Also, you don’t want to be that guy/gal, you know, the one who holds up the checkout line for 15 minutes while they dig through their purse or wallet, searching for the $20 bill they KNOW is there somewhere, despite the fact that they spent it on that stupid hot dog and Diet Pepsi an hour ago (told you to pack snacks, fool!). Keep a con-specific wallet that has only the absolute essentials: whatever cash you want to have on you, one or two credit cards if you need to, your hotel key, and your ID—and then keep said billfold in your front hip pocket, where it is far less likely to be lost or stolen. Trust me on this, folks—you saved up for this event and you’ve looked forward to it for months; don’t let your weekend get wrecked because you left your 250-pound purse at the lunch table for 2 minutes and the wrong person saw it there.
Frankly, this is the easiest one: don’t bring any. Really. Look—I adore kids: I have two of my own (my son, Morgan, has been attending C2E2 with me annually for six years now, and congoing is a highlight of our year), and I’ve been a professional counselor of children for more than 20 years—but the reality is that young children simply do not belong at cons. And I say this as a father, as a collector/con-goer, and as a counselor. Children prior to age 5 or 6 are not going to remember the experience long-term anyway (their encoding of memory changes between the ages of 4 and 6), will likely be overwhelmed by the crowds and unending stimuli (and if they aren’t, something’s wrong), are at extremely high risk for becoming distracted, wandering off and getting lost or even trampled and—provided they survive all of that—will be exhausted and cranky within an hour or two of arrival. Strollers are bulky, awkward and potentially dangerous—to the child themselves, to the other congoers attempting to navigate crowded aisles and vendor booths/tables, and to the merchandise being marketed. Frankly, parents who insist on bringing their 2- or 3-y/o (or even younger) children are being fundamentally selfish: the child is not benefitting from the experience; the parent is. Fork over the cash for a good babysitter for the day (or call up Grandma and Grandpa), and leave the tykes at home. You’ll have a much better time, and so will we.
Whew. Man, did I babble there. I hope my meanderings offer at least a little bit of value to you; I swear they have to me over the years. With a little planning and a smidge of common sense, attending the con can be a great experience for everybody.
Original Content by Andy Patch, thePullbox.com