T-minus about a week until the Pittsburgh Comicon. It’ll be a long drive from New Jersey out there, but I’m psyched. Pittsburgh is one of the very cool Comicons where you get a lot of indie representation plus big stars without the glitter and packaging to bog it down, attract riff-raff, plus it keeps costs reasonable.
There are a lot of “guides” to surviving a Comicon, many written as good advice for first timers or outsiders who want to see how the other side lives when they’re outside in daylight (we’re people dammit, not C.H.U.D.s), but I think there’s something to be said about the evolution of myself over the years at conventions. I’ve been to a few horror conventions from the Chiller Theatre to Fangoria (Chiller gets a hotlink, Fangoria doesn’t need the help) and also SouthbySouthwest (again, SXSW doesn’t need the website hits, so not hotlink. Hmm I’m using the “fourth wall” a lot today in these parenthetical notes. I’ll try to rein that in.) Each convention is a learning experience, and there’s always something to improve upon. Here’s my lessons learned and prep list specifically for Pittsburgh.
Only Hobbits and R2 units don’t understand what “comfortable shoes” are. Walking around all day can be painful in flip-flops or even Chuck Taylors. Don’t be stupid.
Shirts are a fun way to show your fandom, but be prepared to discuss your clothing with some miscreant fans who want to engage in open debate about who would win in a fight, Gambit or Nightwing. Doctor Who fans should prepare an opening statement and closing argument on their favorite Doctor. In my experiences, Superman and Batman logo shirts are so “dull” that most people will ignore you as a poser or noob. Consider them a form of urban camouflage for the Con.
After I empty out my giant jar of change at the bank, I’ll have a nice chunk of money towards buying some more X-Men back issues. CASH IS KING. I stumbled in a negotiation for an old issue of Exciting Comics when I could only pay by credit card. To further add insult to injury, a page was missing from the comic giving me a whopping 0.5 CGC rating. But I digress. CASH is a negotiating tool. Many sellers are paying transaction fees for small-scale business even if they have a card reader or some kind of app. You save them money when you pay cash, and some of the dealers who are more shady know that they have a shot at hiding their income with cash sales. That’s not your responsibility, it’s just something to be aware of when it comes to buying from a dude at a table.
Do NOT count on the ATM at the Con. Besides obscene fees and possible shortages, almost every convention I’ve been to features an ATM using the modem from War Games, so every transaction takes 10-20 minutes. You can spend that time doing more useful things, like waiting 10-20 minutes for a bathroom stall, or waiting 10-20 minutes for a $10 hot dog, or waiting 10-20 minutes to meet the WWF’s Virgil, who currently ends all his sentences with “That’ll be $10”.
BRING CHANGE. SINGLES, FIVES AND TENS ARE GREATLY APPRECIATED BY THE VENDORS, AND NOTHING KILLS A NEGOTIATION LIKE PULLING OUT A TWENTY AFTER YOU WHITTLED THEM DOWN TO $8 AND ASKING FOR CHANGE. It’s bad form, bad karma, and you better come to terms with the fact that you’ve been blackballed from price negotiations by that dude for the rest of the con. Good luck on Sunday, bro.
Cigarettes are worth the price of a pack, as is a lighter. You meet and chat with people easily in the smoking areas. I’m not available for dating myself, but this is a huge “in” towards picking up the few girls at the Con if you are single, AND you sometimes catch a break if you’re “the dude” who lent a smoke to some artist on his break. I met Ken Hauser of The Living Corpse when I was grabbing a smoke outside my hotel last year, and we had a great talk about tattoos. Obviously, having a lighter is also part of this. Even if you don’t smoke, always be able to say “yes” when someone asks for a light.
If you’re going to bring a backpack, have a solid liner or backing in it so books and items aren’t damaged by warping/bending or SWEAT. I ruined a vinyl LP at one fest due to the warping on my back and long heat of the day. Even better, bring a caddy cart or pull along. It may feel dorky, but you’re at a COMIC BOOK CONVENTION. You also have a makeshift seat with that American Tourister you’re keeping in tow. As I also found out last year, a travel bag with a handle is probably going to be more waterproof than a backpack. Luckily, I had my comics double and triple bagged (which implies to bring a plastic bag of some sort to line your bag of choice; it will also double your cargo capacity in an emergency if you pull it out).
Comics are both a currency to trade with some vendors (most are not looking to acquire your crappy books during the con) but also you have valuable autograph material. Check the guest list and bring your items. If you are not getting a comic graded and certified, but want to just get a cool keepsake, bring a reader copy or maybe a trade paperback. TPBs are great for getting an interior sketch. Remember that posters, toys, bas reliefs, frescos, and large wooden horses will be your burden to tote around all day unless you have quick access to your car or hotel.
The CGC will be taking grading submissions at Pittsburgh again this year. I have already triaged a group of old X-Men to bring, and am printing out the forms online at home before I go. Get to the table early so you don’t have to wait in line, or lug your books around all day. If you can’t print out a form, make it easy and type up a page listing the comic, company, issue number, issue date, and approximate value.
A paper pad or note pad and a pen will help you when it comes to jotting down a list of items, handing out/receiving email and web addresses, and getting autographs and sketches.
Lastly, a convention is FUN. Strike up conversations with people who are promoting their books. SUPPORT INDEPENDENT ARTISTS. If you want to go in costume, go ahead, but be warned you may end up on a blog like this. I’ll see you in Pittsburgh next week, and I just might be wearing a Jackowick limited edition Iron-On T-shirt.
Or my Doctor Who scarf.
Or my Black Lantern Shirt.
Or my Watchmen/Autobot log shirt.
Or my “MAGNETO WAS RIGHT” shirt. Wait and see.
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