I've been going to quite a few science fiction and comic conventions since I attended my first one back in 2009. I also joined the board of one convention for awhile, and learned rather quickly that much like in Star Wars, there's a light side and a dark side to the convention world. Here's a list of the good, the bad, and the ugly of science fiction conventions.
You'll never feel more at home than you will at a convention if you're a nerd or geek. Almost everyone who attends these things has, at one time or another, been an outcast, picked on, bullied, or laughed at for their love of things like comic books, Doctor Who, science, or anime. At a convention, these things that you were picked on about will now make you the center of attention. When you enter the doors of a convention, you'll automatically see things that make you feel like you have arrived at the one place that "gets" you. You'll see other nerds dressed up like their favorite superheroes, smell old comic books, and get a glimpse at kids playing card games or posing for photos with booth babes and celebrities. Two large displays featuring Batman and Superman welcomed visitors to the Wizard World New Orleans Comic Con. When I saw these guys looming over the entrance, it made me feel like a kid again.
Depending on the size of the convention and the amount of money put into it, you'll have a decent chance at meeting some of your heroes. I've been to conventions that had less than 200 attendees and others that had thousands of people pass through their doors. At all of these conventions, I was given the opportunity to meet some really cool celebrities (major and minor) and got to talk to them one on one. I've met people like Ray Park, Doug Jones, and Peter Mayhew (Darth Maul, Abe Sapien, and Chewbacca, respectively), who play some of the most recognizable faces in all of science fiction. I've also met a few folks like Vaughan Armstrong (a brilliant character actor who appeared in all of the Star Trek series except for TOS) and Dino Andrade (a voice actor who has portrayed numerous characters) who can easily walk around on the street and never get recognized. Many of these actors allow you to take photos with them (it usually depends on the discretion of the convention), and all of them have autographed photos and other things for purchase.
Costumes, costumes, costumes. Many of the people who attend conventions go all out with their costumes. Some of them work extremely hard to get their look just perfect. These people will usually pose for photos if asked and almost all of them have no problem with fielding questions about their costumes and the work they put into it. Over the years, I've gathered quite a few good friends who are costumers or cosplayers as they are usually referred to as.
Vendors at conventions have just about anything under the sun for sale. If you're looking for an old comic book, odds are pretty high that you'll find it or someone who can get it for you at a convention. If you're more into collecting toys or items, you can find those for sale too. Plus, at many of these types of conventions, comic artists will be on hand and you can actually comission them to draw up something for you on the spot!
At larger conventions, film production companies and publishing companies will often have tables set up promoting upcoming films, books, comics, video games, etc. They'll also usually have some freebies to hand out as well. I've snagged quite a few movie posters, t-shirts, books, beanies, and other goodies for free from these companies. Also, many of these companies offer exclusive items you can only get at the convention itself!
For such a large group of socially awkward individuals, attendees at comic and sci fi conventions are quick to become loyal friends. I've made quite a few over the years, and I only get to see many of them at conventions.
All of the conventions offer panels and workshops that introduce, challenge, or entertain con goers to numerous things. I've been part of panels on the subject of Doctor Who, as well as come up with almost all of the questions for a game of Sci Fi Jeopardy. There are also costuming panels, writing panels, and panels on publishing and film production, among other things.
Crowd size can be a terrible experience for many con goers. Many of the larger conventions can easily see 5000 or more crammed onto the convention floor at one time. This can lead to flared tempers, high temperatures (which lead to smelly con goers), and long wait times in lines that can literally wrap around the building. If you don't like large crowds, you might want to stick to smaller conventions that bring in less than 500 people or so.
Costumes, costumes, costumes. Sure, I said that costumes were a good thing, but they can be a bad thing as well. Many of these costumes cover the costumer's entire body, which can lead to sweating, which leads to stinking. On the other end of the spectrum is the fact that many of the cosplayers wear costumes that barely cover any of their bodies, which can lead to wardrobe malfunctions (both male and female), or the risk of seeing a person dressed as Slave Leia who might not necessarily be able to pull it off. Look, I have no problem with people wearing skimpy costumes, but the hard truth of the matter is that some of us (myself included) are a bit thicker than the average joe and if we show up in a skimpy costume, we might draw unwelcome or nasty remarks.
While cosplayers dressed up like Chewbacca do have a decent excuse for smelling like a wet dog, a lot of other con goers don't. Yes, a lot of people who attend conventions are used to staying up all night playing video games and NOT taking a shower until late into the next day. That's fine with me if you're at home, but when you attend a convention, use a little common sense when it comes to personal hygiene! I was warned about "con funk" before attending my first convention, and laughed it off for a bit, but when I arrived at my first convention, I was bombarded by the sweaty stench of a young lad who had only been at the convention a few minutes before I got there. He was the first of a large amount of smelly folks in the room. It amazes me how many con goers pride themselves on being highly intelligent and many of them are top scientists, doctors, writers, etc. in whatever field they choose. However, it completely amazes me at how little these people seem to know when it comes to something as simple as soap, water, deodorant, and toothbrushes.
Outside of the smelly people, there is also a group of fanboys and diehards who believe that their favorite superhero, TV series, film series, author, etc., is the best and you can tell them no different. These guys are extremely snobbish about whatever it is they are into. They are nerd bullies, and heaven forbid you happen to say that something they love just isn't that interesting and they overhear you. I hate to say it, but the most snobbish fans in the lot are almost always Star Trek fans. You'd swear Gene Roddenberry is Jesus Christ the way some of them talk about him. Personally, I like to get them riled up. I like Star Trek just as much as the next guy, but I love Star Wars and Doctor Who. When I hear one of the snobs blabbering about the Borg and how "awesome" they are, I always like to remind them that the Borg are actually a ripoff of the old Cybermen from Doctor Who. They get furious. They start pontificating on how the Borg actually improved upon the idea behind the Cybermen (I'm not making this up. It actually happened to me TWICE at one convention) and how Doctor Who uses "junk science" to resolve each episode (It is science FICTION, right?). What really gets them going, though, is when I say that Han Solo or Luke Skywalker could whip Jim Kirk's tail or that Vader is a much more interesting villain than Khan! For some reason, Star Wars really gets under snobbish Trekkies' skin, and I love to push their buttons. I guess I'm a lot like them in my own way, except that I always attack them and not the poor kid who loves Jar Jar Binks. We were all bullied and picked at when we were younger. Can't we just all get along at the convention?
While most of the "bad" things I listed above were put there for humor's sake, there is a dark side to conventions. It begins with price gouging. Everything is overpriced at conventions, from autographs to limited edition Space Ghost action figures. Memberships to these conventions can be a bit pricey too. Depending on which membership level you want to purchase, prices can range from $20 to $40 and shoot up well over the $250 mark. This doesn't include hotel, food, and travel expenses, so plan ahead!
There's always the chance that you'll meet a beloved hero on a bad day. While 99.9% of all of the actors, authors, and artists who attend these events are wonderful to talk to, some of them can be very grumpy as well. Without naming names, I'll say that I witnessed quite a few people get disappointed by an actor who portrayed a beloved superhero at a recent convention. Luckily for the convention, this one bad apple didn't spoil the whole show, as there were other celebs there who went above and beyond to make sure that fans had a good experience.
Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who put on conventions that hate people who put on other conventions. I've both witnessed this hatred and been on the receiving end of it as well. The reasons for such hate between fellow nerds ranges from people trying to actually steal the rights to a convention from someone to former members of one convention breaking away from another and putting on their own show. It's very much like a soap opera, and can be quite sad at times. As a result of this, I've stepped away from the convention I was formerly the vice president of, as I got very tired of the high levels of immaturity I was witnessing.
Smaller conventions will often host convention parties or room parties at hotels that can get very adult in nature. I've personally witnessed relationships fall apart due to the actions of people at these parties. I've also heard nightmares about people waking up in places and not knowing how they got there. Just keep a level head on your shoulders and stay out of situations where you might end up regretting your actions.
In all honesty, the good greatly outweighs the bad at science fiction conventions. The "ugly" I listed is very extreme and doesn't happen that often, but it DOES happen. I personally love going to conventions and see no reason to stop attending them. If you've never been to a convention before and love things like sci fi, comics, and horror, I highly recommend you check one out. They can be really fun, so long as you avoid as much of the "bad" and "ugly" that I've listed above.
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About the reviewer
Kendall Fontenot (kfontenot)
Despite looking extremely cool, I have to admit that I'm a dork. I grew up on the outskirts of the small town of Oberlin, LA. I have since relocated to the Lake Charles, LA area.I love my home state … more