This is something that people ask me for all the time. And with Con Season starting up again, I thought it was time to sit down and get to it!
Whenever someone is thinking about going to a convention for the first time, they contact me and ask for some advice, so I thought I would write it all down. This is not the same advice as what is known as the Con Rules from the Spat Gone Wild DVDs.
I did post this first on the Aliens Legacy Boards, and some people chimed in with some tweaks and additional advice.
And of course, this is more biased towards DragonCon, but fits in with most big sci-fi or comic conventions.
So, here it is…
Spat’s Convention Advice for Newbies
1 – Bring a camera. Either Video, or Still, or better yet, both! There are things you are going to see at these conventions that cannot be seen anywhere else. So always have your camera ready to shoot so you don’t miss anything.
2 – Bring extra batteries, film, memory sticks, tapes, whatever for the cameras. You will go through them quickly. Some people prefer cameras that take regular AA or AAA batteries because you can buy them anywhere if they run out, while others prefer the manufacturer’s rechargeable types because they last longer, and will save you money. Either way, keep a spare set on you at all times. And I’ve taken over 500 pics in one weekend, and unless you have a laptop to upload them to, you’ll need spare memory. It’s no fun when you have to go through the pics you’ve taken and decide which ones to delete so that you can take more later.
3 – If wearing a costume, bring a costume repair kit. Seems simple, but no matter how well made your costume is, there’s a good chance of breaking, tearing or doing some other damage to your costume. So bring a sewing kit, some safety pins, glue, rivets, hot glue, etc. You don’t have to carry it all with you, but should have it in your hotel room.
4 – Bring vitamins. You may not believe it, but about half the people who leave a big convention, leave with some kind of “funk”. This is usually from all the partying, lack of sleep, strange new environment, etc. Some regular multi-vitamins can save you a lot of trouble later, as can water. Dehydration is a big cause of illness (and hangovers), so carry some water with you, and drink it!
5 – Bring extra underwear!! Plan to shower often. PLEASE! Don’t be the stinky guy. There are enough of them already. And Febreeze your costume if you can’t get it washed before wearing it again!
6 – Expect to spend some money at the bar. While you can bring your own drinks and other liquors and drink them at some bars (the Hyatt bar at DragonCon for example), you do need to buy a drink or two a night to keep the waitresses from trying to throw you out. Other bars in the other hotels may not let you bring your own drinks in, so be sure to check first before you whip out your bottle of home brew.
7 – Don’t be shy! Those girls that are half naked, are dressed like that for a reason. They want you to take pictures of them! Trust me! Just don’t touch without permission.
8 – Take it slow. Remember, in the US our bartenders pour 1 ounce of liquor into your drinks, which is more than the 35ml the Brits and other Europeans are used to. Also, they pour by eye, so you usually get a little more in your drink than just the one ounce. And if the bartender likes you, you may get up to 2 ounces in your cup. If you’re not used to it, it’ll put you on the floor pretty quickly. Oh, and all mixed drinks come filled with ice… because we in America have perfected refrigeration. When England finally gets electricity, they’ll understand.
9 – You don’t really need to pay for admission to the con. Ultimately, the only thing you need a badge for is to go into the Dealer’s Room, or the Autograph Room. All the other areas are pretty much open to the public, so if you are on a budget, ditch the badge. Of course, you usually need a badge to get into the panel rooms, and since I’m a panelist at many cons, and want you to see my show, buy a badge! And buy it early! Buy the pass the day of the con and you’ll be waiting in line. Always buy it in advance, it’s cheaper and it saves you time.
10 – Thursday is the most fun night at most conventions. I don’t care what anyone else says, but the Hyatt bar at DragonCon on Thursday is the place to meet and greet all the regulars and have a blast. Most other cons that take place in a specific hotel, will have an active bar life the night before the con starts. Many people fly in early (as well as many of the celebrities), so check out the bar! Con goers are easy to find, they are the only ones in Sci-Fi themed hats and t-shirts.
11 – Bring a notepad and a pen. I can’t tell you how many times someone gives me a room number or phone number, or time and place for a party, or whatever, and I write it down on a napkin and ultimately lose it, or try to remember it and then I forget it. Another great trick is to make up your own business cards. Any Office Supply Store will have some nice ones that you can print out yourself for cheap. This way you can give those out to people to contact you later.
12 – Room Parties, Room Parties, Room Parties. They are usually free to get into, or have a modest cover charge, but ultimately have free drinks all night! Just be sure to tip the bartender, or you’ll be the first one out the door.
13 – Be careful what you drink. There are lots of people walking around the con with flasks of unknown liquor in their pockets, or bottles of home made liquors that are all basically Everclear Grain Alcohol and Kool Aid. Drink a lot of these, and your night will be over pretty quickly. I usually try to avoid the “Mystery Liquors” until I’ve had a few drinks and then no longer care what I drink. But I’m stupid. Don’t be like me. But if you have Mystery Liquor, come find me at the bar.
14 – There are celebrities everywhere. Act cool, and don’t ask them dorky questions, and you’ll be fine. Be sure to compliment them. Celebs are very insecure.
15 – Wear your obscure t-shirts. This is one of the only places on Earth where people will know where your Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems t-shirt is from. Let your freak flag fly!
16 – You will see a lot of girls making out with each other all over the bar scene at conventions these days. Feel free to take pics and video (and send them to me), but don’t expect to be allowed to jump in. That’s my job! And if you do jump in, make sure they are both female first!
17 – The dealer’s room has a lot of awesome stuff for sale. If you see something you want, but it’s a bit too expensive, you can haggle. Also, on the last day of the con, when the dealer’s are getting ready to pack up and go home, you can practically name your price. One more thing they sell is one less thing they have to take home!
18 – Be careful with your costumes. If this is your first time wearing a particular costume at a convention, be sure to break it in, and make sure it’s comfortable, make sure you can see out of it, and breathe while wearing it. Seems a little odd to say, but make sure you can use the toilet with the costume on. There’s nothing scarier than seeing someone in a really elaborate and cool costume begging people to tear it off them so they can go pee. Also, make sure there’s nothing on the costume that can break off, fall off, or be snatched off. You’ll be wandering through hallways that were meant for 20 people, but are packed with 200 people trying to squeeze past you. If there’s a part of your costume that CAN fall or be ripped off, it WILL fall or be ripped off. Also, if there’s a part of your costume that sticks out, it WILL poke someone in the eye!
19 – If you are claustrophobic, stay home. Conventions are no place for you. Sorry.
20 – Everyone is single at Conventions. No matter how many rings they have on their finger, or if they are standing next to their husband or wife. Don’t ask me why there is so much “swapping”, just go along with it.
21 – The hotel you stay at makes a big difference. At DragonCon, the Hilton is great if you plan to spend a lot of time in the Dealer’s Room, or attending panels. The Marriott is home to the Autograph Area and the Fan Tables. The Hyatt is where the concerts and movies are shown. Even though the hotels are really close together, it does take a while to move through the crowds and get from hotel to hotel. Also, the Hyatt is home to the Hyatt bar, and the Hyatt lobby. These are typically the main places to hang out and see and be seen. There are many who have begun moving to the other hotels because there is more room there, but the Hyatt will always be ground zero for the meet and greet. And if you stay at some other hotel, you’re screwed. Walking back and forth in Hotlanta takes a lot out of you. At other cons, just try to stay as close to the main events at the con as possible, within reason. I-Con uses a hotel for their parties and events that is actually about 25 minutes away from the convention itself! So be sure to check with the conventions website to see where ground zero will be.
22 – Food. Food is tough. Going “off campus” to eat is fun and all, but the area around the average convention center is expensive, and walking the streets, especially in costume, is annoying. The normals just don’t get it. There’s usually a nice cheap place nearby, but finding it can sometimes be difficult. And fast food is the surest way to be sure you won’t be fitting into your costume again soon. Also, energy bars are a great thing to carry around with you while at the con. It’s a fast snack, and can mean the difference between life and death when you’re trying to make your way around the con.
23 – Elevators. I don’t care what anyone says, once the convention is in full swing, ALL the elevators suck. There’s nothing you can do about it. There are just too many people trying to use too few elevators. Plan your trip back to your room carefully, it may take a while.
24 – Bring weird stuff. I know it sounds silly, but every year, there’s someone giving out fez’s, or stickers, or tattoos, or other odd stuff. I love those guys! But even if you’re not giving stuff away, bringing a puppet or a silly hat is a great way to make an impact and be remembered, and meet new people.
25 – Breath mints. Nuff said.
26 – Drama. There are no two ways about it, at conventions; everyone is secretly sleeping with everyone else. Everyone is someone else’s ex. Everyone is trying to get into everyone else’s pants. It’s scary, but it’s true.
27 – Convention Virgins buy Spat one drink each day. I’m pretty sure it’s a law. Sorry!
28 – I will forget your name. In fact, I’ve forgotten it already. Deal with it.
29 – Be careful where you fall asleep. Pass out at the bar, or anywhere in public, and you will be sorry!
30 – All the celebs will charge you for a signed pic of them (usually between $20 - $40). Most will charge to sign an item that you bring them ($5 - $20), and some will charge you to take a pic with them. Be sure to ask about the prices BEFORE you commit to anything!
31 – If you are at a party, or at the bar, and you catch a celeb being naughty, or getting a little too drunk, be discreet. Taking pics or egging them on is in poor taste, and it ensures that they will not be coming out to party in public again in the future. Call me over, so I can take pics and egg them on. I’m better at it than you.
32 – If it’s your first time at a con, it can be a bit overwhelming. A great way to get involved with the con, AND meet a lot of people is to volunteer to work at the convention. You’ll usually get a free or discounted pass, and get to have some power to boss around the con goers! I suggest working for the Registration area, or Security. That’s where Tony, Drew, Calvin and I started out, and it was a lot of fun!
33 – While accurate and detailed costumes are cool, I find that the most memorable costumes from the con are the variations on the theme ones. Like the guy in the Darth Vader helmet wearing a cowboy hat and carrying a guitar… Garth Vader. Or Darth Brooks. Your choice. But you get the point. The funny costumes get a lot of attention, and no one can claim it’s not accurate!
34 – At night, at the bar in the hotels, you can wear pretty much anything you want. Feel more comfortable in pajamas? Wear them! Why the hell not?
35 – Talk to everyone. People are here to meet people. Go for it!
36 – Hotel rooms can be expensive, especially if you don’t plan the trip out in advance, and end up booking late. Of course, I know a lot of people who have made it through a convention by just crashing on different people’s floors each night. It’s cheap, and it’s not really that tough to do.
37 – A great, untapped resource of Conventions is the ConSuite. I’m sure a lot of the regulars don’t even know what that is. It’s a room in the Convention that the convention sets up as a 24 hour relief station for the con goers. They have FREE food, sodas, and coffee all day, every day. It’s not the best food, but it is free. And it’s a great place to meet trashy drunk chicks who are hungry and in need of a hotel room at 5:30 am. Not all cons have them, so be sure to ask the staff when you get there.
38 – Drugs. Yes, there are drugs at conventions. But remember, it is illegal, and there are cops walking around the hotel in and out of uniform all day. So be careful. And save me some.
39 – One of the first things you’ll notice about Atlanta when you walk out of the hotel for the first time (besides the heat) is the homeless population. They are EVERYWHERE. Most of them will be better dressed than you. They will ask to help you get somewhere, in exchange for some money. Avoid them. A lot of times they will actually ask you for specific amount of money, and then will follow you down the street until you pay them to go away. Avoid at all costs! Most other major cities will also have homeless folk. If you are at a con, and there are no homeless people, call Atlanta and have them send some over. They have plenty to spare!
40 – Smoking. There are smoking sections all over the place, but it’s not allowed everywhere. The current law in Atlanta is that smoking is banned from public places. BUT, bars are excluded if they are enclosed and do not serve minors. Be sure to check with the local laws where the con is before you light up.
41 – Sleep. Sleep is good. You’ll honestly be only getting 5 or 6 hour of sleep most nights. If even that much. More than that and you’re missing the convention and may as well have stayed home! Unless of course, you’re not sleeping alone! For each person you’re sharing the bed with (in the biblical sense), add 1 hour to the amount of time you can spend in bed each day.
42 – Safety. Remember that you are still in a public place. There are people out there who want to steal your stuff! Keep an eye on your gear! Also, be careful where you go, especially at night, and with whom. And when drunk, be even more careful.
43 – The accuracy of your costume will be put under the microscope. It does not matter if you are wearing the original costume that was used in the actual film, AND you are the original actor, someone will find fault with it. You can sit and argue with these people until you are blue in the face, or just ignore them. That’s what I do.
44 – Tipping is customary in the US. The first time you order a drink and don’t leave the waitress a tip is the last time you will ever see that waitress. Better hope you don’t get thirsty again!
45 – The convention supplies you with a schedule book listing all the events at the con. Be sure to look through it and check out some of the panels that go on. Many of them are run by fans, and are very informative, and the celebrity Q & A’s can be hilarious!
46 – Many times, the hotels that we stay at are also hosting other conventions the same weekend that we are there wrecking the place. These other convention folk will be mingling in with the freaks of the Convention, and many will be very scared and look very lost. Be nice to them. Some notable Con Combos from the past are: The Salvation Army (we had a lot of fun asking them what movie their costumes were from); Baptists Ministers (they had issues with all our debauchery for some reason); and Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. You’ll also see a lot of Flight Attendants, and sometimes they do look like they are in costumes. Asking them where they got their costume, or what movie they are from is in bad taste.
47 – Don’t do ANYTHING that you don’t want to have wind up on the internet (or the next Spat Gone Wild DVD!).
48 – Get involved. While aimlessly wandering around the convention can be fun, being involved with the convention or a fan group can make it even more fun. Be sure to contact the groups in advance to see where to meet up, and what’s going on.
49 – That girl that is all over you, and wants you to come with her to another bar is a stripper. She just wants your money.
50 – And finally, remember that the city where your convention is taking place is where the Toothbrush was invented. Because if it was invented anywhere else, it would be called a Teethbrush!
So, I hope you enjoyed the list, and I hope to see you at an upcoming show, running around like an old pro!
If you have any questions, E-Mail me. Spat@spat-nospam-cave.com