Saturday, 26 November 2011

UnConventional: Confessions of a Twenty-Something Con Virgin

Recently I attended the MCM Expo in London for the first time.  The day was fun, but I couldn’t help but feel as I left that there were a few things I wish I’d known before going to my first fan convention.

With that, I decided recap my day and put together a little list of things that I should have done (and the occasional few things I got right) when attending a fan convention for the first time.  

A little forward planning, a bigger weekend!

Con dates and locations are published months in advance (though, at the time of writing, the details of the May MCM Expo have not yet been announced) and this gives you time to plan how long you’re going for and to book less expensive train fares and hotel rooms.

I chose to go on just the Sunday, thereby trying to cram into five hours what many had spent a whole weekend browsing at their leisure.  Trying to get around everything was damned near impossible, as stallholders and guests will leave early on the final day and friends you meet up with will already have seen a lot of stuff and won’t want to trudge around the hall so you can see everything.  I’m not suggesting that you need to go for the whole three day weekend, but you’ve been working really hard lately!  You’ve earned a nice three day weekend and it means you can pace yourself out for longer.

While your planning your con weekend, take some time to plan what you’ll be doing while at the event; essential to this is buying the con guide book.  Generally available for about a fiver, this bible for the weekend advertises stalls, teases shows, showcases interviews and articles, but also, crucially, gives you a timetable of events and a map.  I didn’t manage to see a guide until after the event had ended, but I found that I had missed Gail Simone not only signing autographs (which would have crossed off at least one Christmas present!) but also giving her first talk in the UK.  I only caught a talk given by voice acting legend Vic Mignogna by dint of being at a nearby booth at the time!

There is also yaoi... lots of yaoi

Go with friends

Having travelled a bit on my own during my university days, I appreciate the freedom that comes in following just your own itinerary, but you want people with whom to share the moments, keep you company during the lulls and remember the experience with you later and the same is true at conventions.

Fortunately, I knew a few folks who were attending and wandered with them, enjoying their company and grabbing food with them later.  Had I not met them, I’m sure I wouldn’t have had as much fun.  Not every conversation is going to go down in history, but was nice chatting about the merchandise on offer, comparing swag and watching the cosplayers pass us by.

Have some time to yourself

As I already said, cons are great to go to with friends, but not everyone is going to want to wait while you try out the new Batman game or stand for your portrait.  Take an hour or two to yourself or with just a couple of friends to indulge yourselves and linger at the stalls your friends might want to breeze past, you can meet up with your buddies for food later to compare your goodies and swap stories about the fan-meet you attended.

Don't be afraid to talk to new people

Just because you’re going with friends, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t meet other people and there are a number of ways to do that.  One of these is talking to cosplayers (see below), but occasionally fandoms will meet up at conventions.  

At Expo, I went along to the 40 strong Brony Meet and while I spoke to a few, I found myself nervous at talking to people or joining existing conversations and I left not really having met anyone.

From my perspective, very few people attend such meets on their own or without having spoken to people on-line (something at which I am notoriously bad).  This may be somewhat contradictory to my previous section, but I’d recommend attending a fan meet with another friend, at the very least, you then have a conversational partner to fall back, but you’re able to invite people into YOUR conversation, rather than finding an opportunity to insert yourself into one already in full swing.

What is wrong with you Egbert?!


At first glance, cosplaying can be an intimidating hobby when you consider the time and money that needs to go into matching the outfit of your favourite characters.  But when you actually start planning cosplays, especially with the wealth of tips you can find online, you start to realise that it’s a fun project to work on and has a wealth of benefits come con time.

The most significant advantages that I could see as an outside observer was that it’s a fantastic ice-breaker.  Cosplaying, particularly as a character from a less mainstream source (Dave Strider from Homestuck, as opposed to, say, Batman) let’s people know that you like that material as well and gives you a spring board onto more meaningful conversation.  It also gives you an excuse to compare costume notes with people.

Not that it’s going to make you instant friends with everyone who compliments your costume - they may not even recognise you if you decide to wander around in civvies later - but it’s a good starting point.  And if that doesn’t work, then plenty of people will want to have their picture taken with you, which is always good for the ego!


OK, so you decided not to cosplay, not everyone does and you can still have a great time, but that doesn’t mean you need to consider your outfit any less.  Fan conventions take place in huge halls where the little space not occupied by vendor’s stalls is occupied by people.  With that in mind, dress light.  Even if it’s coming onto winter, don’t do what I did and wander round the convention hall in a great coat.  

It is also important to stay chilled at all times
Similarly, take a bag for any swag you pick up, it will make everything a lot easier, but travel light, start off with a small bottle of water and your camera in there because you will pick stuff up, even if you don’t intend to - it’s part of the fun of the con!  Certainly don’t walk around with a hardback of The Count of Monte Cristo in your satchel.  Dumas’ classic of vengeance and mercy may be an excellent read, but at over 1,000 pages, it’s something I shouldn't have been carrying around with me.

Being over-stocked is hot, it’s uncomfortable and there will almost certainly be a cloakroom (where both my coat and bag ended up very quickly) or a friend with a nearby hotel where you can dump your stuff for a couple of hours.

Take a camera that isn't in your phone. 

I love my smartphone, I tweet, I search for information, I even wrote the initial notes for this blog on it!  However, one thing I almost never use my phone for is taking pictures and this was much to my regret on Sunday.  It would be a quicker to list the unimpressive cosplayers and I really should have gotten some photographs.

Unfortunately I needed to get in contact with friends over the course of the day and call a taxi when I got home that evening, meaning I had to be conservative with my phone’s battery and because the camera is such a heavy drain on the battery, pictures were a no-no.

Well isn't he just adowable?
Maybe this is down to the type of phone I have, but there’s plenty of other reasons to grab a decent compact or SLR, particularly being able to set your camera for better shots and taking a better quality pictures.  For the next event I go to, I will certainly be investing in a camera that will last a day of use, without suddenly having to take a call.

What to do with your money

I’m not going to bother telling you to budget your funds or spend within your means. Expos have on sale some of the widest variety of memorabilia, media and miscellanea you should ever wish to come across and part of the reason they exist is to sell you stuff.  You seem perfectly sensible and I’m sure you’ll spend within your means, no you probably shouldn’t buy the £240 Gundam model, but go ahead and buy yourself something fun and self-indulgent like a self portrait from artist’s alley!

You will also see a lot of independent artists trying to sell their wares and see manga and anime that you may never have come across.  I’d thoroughly recommend taking the opportunity to try something new.  Single issue comics come in between £1.50 and £4 and tankōbon (collected manga volumes) start from around £5.  For my part, I picked up Moon, a comic about the spirit of the moon being incarnated as a secret agent to deal with drunken druid, gun wielding infants and traffic wardens from Detroit as well as Fetishman, a series of gag comics about a gimp-masked superhero which will doubtless make an appearance on my own blog.

Overall, if you have any interest in comics, anime, films, games, or just seeing people dressed up in some truly stunning outfits, get yourself along to a convention and I hope this little guide helped.  Certainly when I head to the May MCM Expo, I intend to take my own advice and expect a follow-up article, if Lillith lets me back! 

Loki Jones is a 23-year-old Northern-raised, London-based nerd.  When not writing about geeky pursuits on PD, he regularly writes about kink and movies that could be mistaken for porn on his own blog (as soon as he’s finished building the thing!)

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