It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Ok, so it ain’t Christmas. It’s convention season! Maybe there really isn’t a particular season per se, as these conventions happen pretty much year round, but it always seems like March begins a marathon of conventions that lasts for a few months. Here on the east coast, we have Monster-Mania and NJ Horror Con in March, Chiller in April, Pop Rock ‘n’ Horror Con in May, Living Dead Weekend in June, Scares that Care, another Monster-Mania, and Creature Feature Weekend in August. Needless to say, if the budget allows, the east coast horror fan has a TON of opportunity to interact with fellow fans, meet their favorite horror celebrities, and of course spend a lot of dough on memorabilia.
In the spirit of the season, I thought it may be a good idea to write a survival guide of sorts pertinent to the first time convention goer and the seasoned veteran. My only real qualification is that I’ve been regularly going to horror conventions since 2004 when I attended Monster-Mania 2 at the young age of 14. I’ve been to a bunch of different shows, like Monster-Mania, NJ Horror Con, Chiller Theatre, Horrorfind Weekend, and Bizarre AC (the latter two are now defunct). I’m going to give 12 tips for a top notch con experience. Some may disagree with my points of view, and I certainly know there could be many more tips given. This isn’t meant to be the definitive, exhaustive list, just the things I think are worth emphasizing. So here we go!
1. Cash is King
While you can certainly still have a lot of fun at a show without spending a lot of money after buying your ticket, most of you will spend quite a bit. Although there are becoming more and more vendors who take credit and debit cards, cash is still king for me. With cash you don’t have to worry about things like a choppy WiFi signal interfering with your transactions. It is also easier to stick to a budget with physical cash than it is with plastic. A word on budgeting: after you decide how much you want to spend for the weekend, bring a little more. I usually bring about $50 more than I am planning to spend. You can still stick to your original budget, but you’ll be covered in case some unthought of expense pops up. There’s no shame in coming home with some cash still in your pocket.
2. Practice Proper Hygiene
Surely this is just common sense, no? Unfortunately not. It shouldn’t need to be said, but it does. Whether your waiting in line to meet victim #4 from an obscure 80’s slasher or traversing the vendor rooms, you will no doubt experience tremendous crowds. You will forever be bumping into other people. It’s a fact of the convention, and we all expect it. That is why it is of the utmost importance to practice proper hygiene. This means being showered and wearing deodorant. You will sweat, and it is just respectful and courteous to not subject your fellow convention goers to your funk all day.
3. Bring Snacks and Stay Hydrated
Not an essential, but I think this can be a very helpful tip. Most of the time the food and drinks in these places (mostly hotels) are pretty expensive. You’d rather spend that $10 on a bootlegged DVD copy of that rare German splatter flick than on a hot dog and can of soda. Bringing your own snacks along is just a great way to save money. It’s also of paramount importance to stay hydrated. As I said before, it will be hot and you will sweat. You have to make sure your pumping that H20 into your body so you don’t pass out and have your experience ruined.
4. Know How to Interact With Celebrities
One of the amazing benefits of attending a show like this is that you have the opportunity to interact with some of the people you have been watching in films all of your life. That being said, it’s important to know how to interact with them. The hard part about this is that so many celebrities have so many different personalities. Its important to respect their personal space. Not every guest wants a big hug or a kiss on the cheek. If you’re not sure, pay attention to how the guests interact with the fans in the line ahead of you. If you want a photo op with some sort of physical pose, its best to ask before assuming. Most celebrities are super appreciative of their fans and are fairly laid back, but it is imperative to treat them with respect.
5. Be Courteous With Autographs
This sort of piggybacks #4 above. We all LOVE having our favorite celebrities sign our various collectibles. That being said, it’s probably not a good idea to bring a giant storage tub filled with DVD’s, action figures, posters, etc. Most of the time these celebrities are signing for 8 hours, and if every fan required 20 signatures, that’d be torture. Not only that, if every interaction took a half hour, people would be waiting in line FOREVER. This can be frustrating, especially when you’re pretty sure most of stuff is going right on eBay the next day anyway (don’t be that guy).
6. Be Respectful to Vendors
This is another no brainer. Being respectful to vendors doesn’t just mean being nice, although that’s certainly included. Don’t get crazy handling all kinds of items, and make sure you respect their personal space. If something doesn’t float your boat, no trash talking or put downs. There’s no sense in complaining about high prices either. There is a degree of haggling that can be done, and if there’s something that’s really outrageous, you may be able to find it at another vendor cheaper. Vendors want you to buy that item as much as you do. They leave with more cash and less crap to pack up.
7. Be Respectful to the Venue
If you’re staying at the hotel, don’t be the guy that trashes the room. Don’t make life a living hell for other non-convention hotel guests, either. Be respectful to the employees of the hotel. I always like to say thank you to the staff when they are cleaning bathrooms, taking out trash, etc. During these weekends there’s a lot more going on, and they are working their asses off. It never hurts to let them know you appreciate it.
8. Know How to Q&A
Some people say there is no such thing as a stupid question. That’s incorrect. It may sound harsh, but its true. The time for a Q&A session is limited, and its important to keep your questions relevant. If you really want to know what Kane Hodder’s favorite Thai dish is, leave that out of the Q&A and ask him at his table. It is also extremely important to pay attention to other people’s questions. You do not want to be the guy that repeats a question. These Q&A’s don’t last forever, and when it comes to questions, aim for quality over quantity.
9. Never Buy on the First Trip
This is another personal preference of mine. I typically refrain from making any purchases on my first go round in the vendor rooms. I think it’s a good idea to get a sense of what all is available to you before you spend all your money at the first two tables. Lots of times multiple vendors will sell the same item, so this way you aren’t buying something right away that you can find $20 cheaper at another table. Obviously there are some exceptions to be made here, but overall its a good rule of thumb.
10. HAVE FUN!!
This may be the most important one. Make sure you enjoy the crap outta the con. Interact, purchase, and make them memories. Take lots of pictures, and make sure you tell all your friends. Book your room for the next show, and get ready to do it all again.