"It's dangerous to go alone. Take this."
The Australian convention season has kicked off with the arrival of Oz Comic-Con in Perth and Adelaide this month. With my first convention of the year (Melbourne Supanova) approaching, I thought I'd dust off my handy notes and share with you some personal tips on how to successfully thrive and survive at these events.
Plan guest meetings and panels beforehand
If you’re like me and you plan to meet several guests, write down your plan of attack when the schedule becomes available. Not only that, but also pre-buy your autograph/photo tokens, as it’s just one queue you can avoid by planning ahead. It’s best to sub in the panels you’d like to see in your schedule first and work the autograph/photo sessions around that. If you’re meeting one or two guests and they don’t include the major stars, you can generally wing it, but you should always arrive at least 20-30 minutes before any session or panel so you don’t miss out whilst also avoiding a longer line.
If you wish to get your photo with the star signed, it’s best to do an early photo session on the first day and a late autograph session. After your photo is taken, they should let you know what time you’ll be able to pick up the photo and you can plan accordingly. Bring a plastic folder to store your photographs and autographs so they don't get damaged. If you're after shorter lines, the queues tend to diminish late on the final convention day. And one thing you will never regret doing – go to the bathroom before queuing.
Much like any major event that draws huge crowds, the prices are raised sky high for food and drinks at conventions. Be sure to bring a water bottle, as many venues will offer a refill station or have taps around for topping up. Food is my saviour during long con days (thank you apples!) and avoiding the queues/high prices for food makes for a happy soul. So also throw some food, especially snacks, in your bag to your keep up your energy levels.
While a majority of the stalls now accept card payments, many still do not and the ATM line can be a bit of a gamble – ranging from a few people to snaking around one side of the venue to the other – not to mention the insane ATM fee. Stop off at an ATM, preferably your own, and withdraw a sufficient amount of cash for the day/weekend on your way in. A phone charger or battery pack is also great idea – you’ll be surprised at how fast your phone battery diminishes. Other handy things to have are: chapstick, hand sanitiser and mints – no one wants stinky breath when talking to their pop-culture hero.
Bring comfortable shoes. This one cannot be stressed enough. Even if you don’t think you’ll be walking much, you’ll be surprised. I am often the fool who decides to wear less than comfy shoes and pay the price only two hours in. Prepare to be both hot and cold and incorporate it into your clothing choices. Depending on the venue, the main hall can get quite toasty, whilst the air conditioning may be blasting in some panel rooms (speaking from Melbourne venue and Sydney Olympic Park experiences). Bringing a medium sized backpack will do wonders. It can hold a decent amount, not weigh you down on just one side, and carry some of your purchases to keep your hands free. As for cosplay attire hints, I have only mildly cosplayed once before so I cannot speak with a lot of experience. However, one would assume that an emergency sewing kit, alternative shoes/clothes and taking it easy for your first rodeo may prove helpful.
Look and compare first
Going to the first convention of the year, I tend to have a bad habit of buying exciting fandom-related stuff the second I see it. Do yourself a favour and do a lap of the stalls before buying anything, unless you’re absolutely sure you want it or believe it will sell out quickly. Some booths will have the same items for a cheaper price, or something even better, that you'll be unable to buy because you spent your money on the first thing you saw (dammit, Savannah).
It's also handy to know that there are sometimes sales on the final day, as the exhibitors don’t want to take all the items back with them. But be warned that what you were waiting for may be gone by the Sunday, or even midday Saturday, depending on how much demand there is for the product. Shop smart.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed and excited at the astounding costumes and people, but to make it a fun weekend for not just you but everyone around you – please be respectful. Don’t forget that cosplay is not consent. If you love a costume, ask nicely for a photo, don't take one without their permission and absolutely DO NOT harass them. From experience, the cosplayers are generally more than happy to pose for a photo – and also with you – as long as you're polite about it. And last but not least, have patience. The long lines and huge crowds can take a toll, however becoming bitter and angry is no fun for anyone involved. A smile and positive attitude goes a long way on these long convention days. Good luck on your adventure, have a good night's sleep beforehand and happy con-ing!