It’s A Stampede!’s regular info-burst feature, The Great Stampede is back – and this time I’m talking conventions!

This latest edition of The Great Stampede once again falls into the ‘101’ category, which is effectively a series of back-to-basic guides for those new to a subject. In this case, the subject of today’s 101 guide focuses on comic cons and conventions.

Below are a series of questions and answers regarding conventions and convention-going (including a few handy tips). If you’re new to conventions, or you’ve yet to attend your first con, the information below might prove very useful.

Oh, and yes, that is me (a younger me) and the late Yvonne Craig in the picture above. This was taken at a convention during the early ‘00s.

Alex

Comics 101: A guide to comic cons

What is a comic con?

Comic cons (or comic book conventions) are events which collect together a group of likeminded people – usually those who have an interest in comics, science fiction, movies or games/gaming. No two Comic Cons are exactly the same, but the average convention will include a number of guests (often actors from a show or movie), various retailers and a collection of cosplayers (more about this below).

When do conventions take place?

Comic Cons/conventions take place throughout the calendar year, with dates varying dependent on location availability. Almost all comic book conventions take place on a Saturday and a Sunday, with the exceptions being during Bank holiday weekends when events may also take place on a Friday and/or a Monday.

Are conventions more of an American thing?

No, not at all. Conventions take place in various countries throughout the world. In the UK, we have a thriving convention circuit, composed of large comic cons run by the likes of MCM and Showmasters, as well as smaller events run by independent companies.

Where do comic cons take place?

Comic cons take place up and down the UK, covering England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Due to the large volume of people that attend conventions, events mostly take place in halls, stadiums and exhibition centres.

What is the biggest convention in the UK?

The biggest convention in the UK is the London Film and Comic Con (LFCC) which takes place during the summer. Due to the event taking place in London, LFCC attracts a great deal of attention and many high-profile guests.

Do you need tickets to go to a comic book convention?

Almost all comic book conventions require a ticket purchase to enter. Smaller conventions may offer free entry, but it is always best to check with the organiser.

How much are tickets for comic book conventions?

Tickets for comic book conventions vary in price from con-to-con, with prices determined by the organiser. A standard fee usually applies for all adults, with slightly cheaper tickets available for children.

What does a ticket to a comic book convention give me?

A ticket to a comic book convention is largely an entry fee and therefore it provides you with access to an event attended by a number of guests. Often the ticket price will also give you access to a number of ‘free’ talks, demos, displays and retailers.

Do I have to pay for autographs at a comic book convention?

Yes. While the ticket price covers the entry to the event (and therefore access to guests), guest autographs are a separate fee, usually paid once you are in the event (unless you’ve pre-paid). Fees vary from guest-to-guest, with the more high-profile guests commanding a higher price tag.

Do I have to pay for guest photos at a comic book convention?

Yes. Please see full explanation above regarding fees for autographs – the same rules apply for photographs.

Top tip: If your sole aim is to get a photograph with a specific guest, try to pre-book before you attend – preferably as soon as you can. Photo sessions sell out very quickly and those that don’t sell out have very limited availability on the day. If you leave booking a photo session until the very last minute, you will probably miss out.

Can I have a selfie with a guest at a comic book convention?

It’s possible, but each convention and each guest have different rules.

Taking photos with guests has risen in popularity over the years, which is why almost all convention organisers offer professional guest photo sessions at their conventions. Selfies are often discouraged at events.

Top tip: Some guests will offer selfies for a small charge, while others will do them for free. Keep in mind that selfies take time and if everybody wants one, in addition to an autograph, queues can quickly grind to a halt. Often selfies are discouraged simply due to time constraints, but they should not be ruled out – judge the situation accordingly based on the size of the queue/popularity of the guest.

What talks are held at comic book conventions?

Talks vary depending on guests. If a convention has a number of high-profile guests (a big film star etc) then organisers will set up a talk, whereby convention goers can sit in a room or a sectioned-off area of the main hall, to listen to the guest being asked questions by an interviewer. As well as the prearranged questions, the interviewer will ask members of the audience if they have a question they would like to ask.

Most talks are free, but there is usually a charge for the most popular guests.

Top tip: Before you attend the convention, check with the event website to see what talks are being held. Most guests will only attend one talk across the course of the weekend (either the Saturday or the Sunday), so don’t miss out. Talks that carry a charge will be clearly announced by the organiser.

What type of retailers attend Comic Cons?

Retailers vary from independent sellers through to high street stores (Forbidden Planet, CEX etc). Different events attract different retailers, but usually those in attendance will be selling products and memorabilia applicable to their target audience (i.e. the average convention goer).

Products can range from movie props and models, to toys, games, clothing and comics. Long before the internet took over, conventions were a great source of rare or bespoke products which were simply not available on the high street.

Can I buy food at a comic book convention?

Yes. Almost all conventions (certainly the big ones) have an area dedicated to food vendors. The choices are usually limited, but often they offer a mix of hot and cold meals and snacks.

Top tip: Try to take some food and drink with you. Once inside a convention hall, the cost of food & drink can soon add up. A handy bottle of water in your bag is always a good idea.

Should I take money into a convention?

It is your choice, but taking cash with you is advisable. Some retailers and vendors only take cash and sometimes those who have credit card facilities can struggle to process payments if there are problems with signal/Wi-Fi etc. Having cash speeds things up and stops you having to go on a hunt for a cash machine.

Top tip: Many convention halls have limited or no on-site cash machines. Before you enter the convention hall, be on the look-out for a nearby cash machine, so you know where to go should you need to withdraw cash.

Does everything at a convention cost money?

Once you have purchased your entry ticket, you are free to wander around a convention hall without having to make any additional purchases. However, as noted above, food, photos, autographs and some talks will include an additional charge. Retailers will also try to tempt you with great products, so be prepared to spend some money when you are at a convention.

Many organisers do include ‘added value’ extras to their conventions, such as gaming zones, free talks, prop displays and cosplay competitions to give attendees a little more to see and do.

Top tip: If you want to get the most out of the day, do some research into the conventions added extras (i.e. its ‘attractions’). Often there will be gaming zones where you can play video games, pinball machines or even board games at no additional cost. If you have kids, this could help when boredom and tiredness set in.

What is cosplay?

Cosplay is an abbreviation of the words ‘costume’ and ‘play’. In layman’s terms it is an art form whereby people dress up as their favourite characters (gaming, comic, film etc). Cosplay costumes can be simple, homemade costumes or more elaborate affairs.

At conventions, cosplayers are usually split into two categories: those who cosplay every once in a while and those who cosplay on a regular basis. You will often see cosplayers wandering around convention halls, engaging with other cosplayers and non-cosplayers.

Cosplayers are a very friendly bunch of people who love what they do and love sharing the art form with others. Most will happily pose for a photo following a polite request.

Top tip: If you’re thinking of turning up to an event in cosplay, be mindful of one very important thing – your accessories! If you are cosplaying a character, who carries a specific weapon (Lion-O’s sword, Gimli’s axe etc), always check with the organiser first on what their weapon’s policy is. Due to safety issues, some replica weapons are not allowed in convention halls.

Is there anything else I need to know about conventions and comic cons?

Conventions are great places to get together with likeminded people, while meeting up with various celebrities and non-celebrities that you would never usually come into contact with. Many people attend numerous conventions each year and build up lasting friendships along the way.

Of course, conventions are not for everybody and some may find them too hectic or too crowded. If you can handle people en masse and you don’t mind a bit of queuing you will have fun.

Top tip: Queuing is inevitable at conventions – there’s simply no escaping it. To help reduce queuing times and therefore maximise the potential of the con, plan your day in advance! Use the event website to familiarise yourself with the hall layout, work out when and where you need to be for autographs/photo sessions, pre-book all tickets where possible and take food and drink with you.