Have you ever wanted to go to, for instance, Otakon or Comic-Con? Have you wanted to know more about how to get into them? Do you think that if you've been to one, you've been to them all? Well, Amanda Jay returns to SpeedontheBeat.com with some tips and tricks to survive conventions (cons)--and a definitive answer to that last question.
This past weekend, I celebrated my geekdom at Katsucon 2016. Katsu is actually my favorite con; it's held in National Harbor, a beautiful and insulated setting; it's in the middle of the winter, when I need a break from reality most; it's less expensive than Otakon, held in my hometown and drawing upward of 30k people annually. Mostly what I love about Katsu, though, is the laid-back setting. For people in the DMV, Katsu is usually a dry run for new cosplays, a chance to attend panels and learn something, a chance to stock up on merch from the dealers room.
Larger cons, like DragonCon or Otakon, tend to be a see-and-be-seen kind of affair. For a moderately-sized con (2015 drew about 15,500 attendees), the guests and merchant's hall are top notch. The smaller number of attendees also means that panels, attractions, and other events are much easier to get into than at a con like Otakon, where the term "LineCon" is thrown around due to the inordinate amount of time an attendee will spend in line to stand a chance of getting into the programming of their choice.
Anyway, it's pretty clear that I love conventions. There is nothing quite as thrilling as the few weeks leading up to a convention, and nothing quite as devastating as con-drop (the experience of pure depression as Sunday afternoon rolls around and you realize you're going to have to leave your oasis of mutual understanding and collectivism--and you're going to have to remove your fox tail because you can't wear it to work). This year, I took an Otakon vet to Katsu with me. She is an adorable, 17-year-old Otaku who had never ventured from Otakon before, but was excited (and more than a little nervous). It was the nerves that surprised me; she had been to Otakon for six years! Her answer surprised me:
"Just because you've been to one con doesn't mean you've been to them all. You have to learn how to survive at every new con."
From the mouth of babes, amirite? So as I was talking to her about my past experiences, I thought... this sounds like a con panel...or a Weird & Black. So, without further ado, I present:
Con Survival 101
1. Do not be afraid.
Seriously. I cannot tell you how many nerds see my con and cosplay pictures and tell me, "Oh, I would love to go but I'm afraid." Invariably, when I ask what they are afraid of, it's some variation of "I'm not nerdy/geeky/Otaku enough". What does that even mean? If you can afford the badge and you have the transportation and you want to go, that makes you nerdy/geeky/Otaku enough. The best part of con is the ability to learn. Though many people who attend cons go to see cosplays, attend concerts, meet Dante Basco or Jason David Frank, or generally meet other nerds for myriad reasons, the primary point of most conventions of any kind are to inform the community. If you feel like you're not enough of a fan or enough of a community member, learn and become one! One of my favorite kinds of panels to attend are industry panels at Otaku conventions. I have no desire to become an animator or to work for Crunchyroll, but it is information that I probably wouldn't have access to otherwise and I find it fascinating.
2. Download the schedule or Guidebook and plan early.
The last few days before I attend a con are punctuated with glee as I draw out my personalized programming schedule. The possibilities! Doing this allows me (and whatever group I am attending with) to decide on our travel/carpool/sleep schedule. This is a crucial thing that seems anal and trivial but it changes the entire mood of the experience when you start on the right foot, with the right amount of sleep. After all, there is really no need to wake up at 4 am if you don't have a panel to attend until 3pm.
3. Take care of yourself.
I CANNOT STRESS THIS POINT ENOUGH!!!! Pre-con, peri-con, and post-con care is PARAMOUNT. Con can be the best of times or the worst of times. I personally have experienced both, and I can tell you with certainty that taking care of myself vastly increases how much I enjoy myself during the con and how fondly I am able to look back on my con experience.
Pre-con, it is imperative that you monitor your sleep patterns and get the appropriate amount of sleep. Being sleep deprived when you get to a con, where you will likely be attending programs well into the wee hours of the morning makes post-con care that much more difficult, and can lead to mood problems for yourself and for your group during the convention. It is also MANDATORY that pre-con, you consider how to keep yourself hydrated and nourished. Eating at a convention can be incredibly expensive and unsatisfying, and you'll be much happier if you can take care of snacks or an eating plan ahead of time (you can always deviate from this if you choose).
If you are going to cosplay something that requires body paint, you should consider what you will need to take care of your skin before and after the application of the body paint. As Harley Quinn, I paint my entire face white. So, I have an elite squadron of facial products that I use before and after to minimize discomfort and to make my hard work look bomb (please see my upcoming "Cosplaying While Black" checklist).
Peri-con, HYDRATE. I never hydrate enough and I feel crappy. Do not make my mistakes. HYDRATE. Especially after a con-rave. Also, learn to feel comfortable saying "no" if you don't want to attend a particular event. Whether you're tired, hungry, or just don't want to go, you should only be conning with a group of people that will accept no for an answer. Sleep is also a top priority at con, as well as hygiene. I cannot explain how smelly conventions can get. Please, whatever you sacrifice, do not sacrifice your basic hygiene needs.
Post-con, upload and print out your pictures. Unpack your bag. Store your cosplay. Lovingly hang or display your purchases. Do whatever you can to surround yourself with the amazing memories you just made. This definitely helps with con-drop. Con-drop can be quite debilitating; months spent excited for con, or building a cosplay are now gone. It's back to the mundane. You have to do what you can to keep con-drop from setting in or it can actually affect your real life. I KNOW. IT HAS HAPPENED TO ME.
If you follow these three basic rules, con is a completely transformative experience that every fan should partake in at least once. Happy Con!