I have now been to three pop culture/comic book conventions: Timmy Eddy, Dallas FanExpo and Planet Comicon in Kansas City, Missouri. Not to go all Goldilocks on you, but Timmy Eddy (a local Doctor Who convention enterting its 3rd year) is still too small, Dallas FanExpo is getting too big for its own good and Planet Comicon is just right, hitting a nice balance between marketable celebrities, creative vendors and walkable convention floors filled with plenty of quality cosplayers. The celebrities at this year’s Planet Comicon included Billie Piper, John Barrowman, Catherine Tate, Stephen Amell, Summer Glau, Jason Isaacs, Felicity Day, Jim Beaver, Wil Wheaton, Ron Perlman, four actresses from Lost Girl (Anna Silk, Rachel Skarsten, Zoie Palmer, Emmanualle Vaugier) and…well, the list keeps going, expanding out to add some wrestlers (Ric Flair), comic book writers (Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner, Chris Claremont), voice actors (John DiMaggio), etc.
It was a great experience, with plenty of fun panels moderated by Clare Kramer (who has gone from being Glory on Buffy to now being kind of the female Chris Hardwick), geeky activities to do or decent food to eat. It wasn’t without its hiccups. The con was celebrating its 19-year anniversary, but it was plagued by long lines at will call, bizarre layout decisions and one actually collapsing stage. However, the adversity only served to make the experience more memorable, and you truly only get out of a convention what you’re willing to put in. You first have to accept the fact that you’ll never be able to do everything. Then you have to formulate plan. And then learn to roll with the punches.
The following is thus a list of 10 things I learned from some of the panels I was able to attend as well as 15 bits of advice to any future convention goers. The more of these you go to the more you realize what not to do. This is me passing along some of those hard-earned lessons:
10 Things I Learned from the Panels
- Claire Kramer, who played Glory on Buffy, is kind of the female Chris Hardwick now. She has her own website/podcast network at Geeknation.com, and regularly works as a moderator at conventions. She moderated just about every major celebrity panel at Planet Comicon, and is clearly good at it, always able to translate audience questions the celebrity might not have understood or even fully heard. Plus, she had clearly done her research on all of them, and could intelligently discuss the careers of everyone she interviewed.
- Felicia Day got the job on the new MST3K in the most casual, yet geeky way possible. She introduced herself to Joel Hodgson at San Diego Comic Con, and told him how MST3K was the only thing she and her brother could agree when they were kids. In fact, she partially introduced herself to Joel just so she could later brag to her brother than she’d met Joel and he hadn’t. She wasn’t actually asking for a job, but that’s just what she got when Joel called her out of the blue several months later to offer her the gig to not only play Kinga Forrester but also write for several of the episodes.
- John Barrowman broke the news that he will not be returning to the DC Universe next season. So, his upcoming appearance on Arrow will finally be his last in the Flarroverse.
- Ron Perlman was going to be in The Hobbit when Guillermo del Toro was going to direct, but when del Toro dropped out so did Perlman.
- The only reason Bobby had a beard on Supernatural is because Jim Beaver was still filming Deadwood at the time he was cast and couldn’t shave it. Once Deadwood ended Beaver could have shaved the beard then, but by that point no one wanted him too.
- Eric Kripke asked Jim Beaver who he’d want to play on Timeless, and ended up not using any of the suggestions. Beaver, a self-described history nut, suggested he’d love to play any number of historical figures from the Civil War or the Wild West gunslinger periods of US history. Kripke then cast him to play a modern-day FBI agent.
- Summer Glau’s first non-regional theater acting job was a guest spot in Angel’s Joss Whedon-directed episode “Waiting in the Wings.” That directly led to Whedon casting her on Firefly, but it almost didn’t happen because Glau never actually made it into the first round of auditions for the part in “Waiting in the Wings.” Her agent somehow managed to sneak her into the callbacks. Glau’s not even sure how exactly her agent pulled that off, but it obviously worked because Whedon was immediately taken with her.
- Summer Glau almost skipped her Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles audition. She’d never seen the Terminator movies, and didn’t really want to play a robot. It was her mother who talked her into going, yet Glau hadn’t prepared anything and delivered what she believed to be her all-time worst audition. Maybe she judges herself too harshly because the producers liked it enough to cast her.
- Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner have a super chill attitude about Suicide Squad ripping off panels from their Harley Quinn books. They think it’s cool to see their work reaching more people, and will only take part in any of the Harley Quinn movies or cartoons if asked. Otherwise, they just focus on getting their pages done on time.
- John Barrowman is joy and energy personified. Seeing him on stage talking about his career is like watching a gay Robin Williams, manically pingponging from one lightning fast joke to another. However, when he has to get serious – like, say, if a stage collapses – he can easily calm a volatile situation.
15 Pieces of Convention-Going Advice
- You can use your cell phone or kindle to kill time while you wait in line for things, but it’s usually more fun to talk to those around you, get to know your fellow geeks.
- The earlier you can take a break for lunch the better, but don’t think you’re the first to think of that. The lines to the various eateries will start forming as early as 11 AM.
- Like 25% of being at a con is just finding someplace to sit and eat or simply rest. The later the day the more people you will see just randomly sitting off to the side of the room and talking to their friends.
- If you pass a particularly impressive cosplayer don’t hesitate to compliment them or ask to take a picture. It might seem rude or pushy, but that’s what they want you to do. Just, y’know, don’t be a dick about it.
- Similarly, while walking the floor you might, if you’re lucky, bump into a celebrity. If you do, don’t ask for a picture (they charge for that kind of thing at a con), but don’t hesitate to at least say hi and express your appreciation for their work. I did just that when I happened to walk by Wil Wheaton, and he was all smiles and “thank you”s.
- Don’t be a stereotypical dude who thinks he can get by without looking at maps. Simply stopping to look at the various helpful “You are here” maps will save you so much time.
- The vendors and various artists want you to buy stuff. That’s kind of the whole point. However, a lot of them are perfectly happy to simply talk to you, share a business card, talk shop. So, if you see a cool picture you know you can’t afford to buy don’t let that prevent you from stopping to at least compliment the artist.
- If you can afford a Fast Pass you should get one. The guaranteed front row seating at panels and being able to cut in line for autographs is a huge time saver.
- There are plenty of informative panels in addition to all the celebrity worship ones. You don’t just have to spend your time listening to actors who never know their own careers as well as the audience. You can also learn how to go about self-publishing a comic, or how to become a podcaster, Youtuber, voice-over actor, etc.
- If the convention you’re attending has its own app download it immediately and ignore the official program. Things change. Shit happens. And the app live updates throughout the weekend. You can use it to create your own schedule as well as a running to-do list.
- Relatedly, if you have a Samsung Android phone your battery is going to disappoint you at some point over the weekend because Samsung’s phone batteries suck. Become very familiar with the emergency mode function (assuming you have a new enough model for that), and if you have one bring along a portable usb charger.
- It is okay to wear a backpack. Nay, it is encouraged. However, it is not okay to wear that backpack when you show up late to a panel and have to move past several people to get to an open seat/a seat being saved for you by friends. You will come far closer to hitting people in the head with your backpack than you realize.
- If you tire of people asking the same ole “Did you have any idea your show/film would ever be this popular?” questions then stand up to the mic and think of a better one.
- Don’t expect to go the whole weekend without hearing at least one thing about politics, and don’t assume that just because you and thousands of others are at a convention center together to celebrate nerdom that you all share the same political views.
- Not all actors have crystal clear memories of every facet of their career, and often times they don’t even watch the episodes of the show’s they been in. Try not to hold it against them (unless they truly have absolutely nothing to offer about their time on the show, as was the case with Emma Caulfield’s panel about Buffy). Plus, stop asking them if they ever want to come back to that one show they haven’t been on for a while. They have no control over that stuff. If you want them to return to something start a letter-writing campaign. Email the producers. That kind of thing.