Convention Etiquette 101

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Convention Etiquette 101

(or What to Expect When You’re Expecting A Pop Culture Convention)

In the last two weeks I’ve had the pleasure of being at two brand new conventions, Stealth Con and Empower Comic Con.  Both conventions are serving communities that are relatively new to the pop culture convention scene, and I had a lot of visitors to my booth that talked about it being their first convention.  It was when I saw someone approach a cosplayer and ask, “I know this is weird, but could I take your picture?” that it occurred to me that a lot people—especially first timers–might not know what’s okay, what’s “weird,” and what’s downright inappropriate behavior at a con.  Hence, this guide: Convention Etiquette 101 (or What to Expect When You’re Expecting A Pop Culture Convention).

The Basics

I would hope this goes without saying, but . . . . Be polite.  Saying “Excuse me” and “Thank you” will get you a long way, especially in a crowded convention. When all else fails, just be polite, respectful, and courteous.

Celebrities

A lot of cons have celebrity guests. Here are some basic ground rules and tips that will help you have the best experience geeking out with the celebs.
At most cons, celebrities are scheduled for panels, Q&A’s, for Meet & Greets, Autographs, and Photos.  Take a look at the convention program or schedule to see when the celebrities you want to meet are going to be available.  Be ready to stand in line and follow directions.

Photos and Autographs

It's IBOT! The Iron Brothers of Topeka!

Usually, it’s free to just say hello to a celebrity at a con.  But, if you want an autograph or photograph, even a selfie, there’s almost always going to be a fee. The cost is going to depend on the celebrity. For really big celebrities, you may need to purchase a ticket or pass before the con.  For example, for the chance to meet Stan Lee at Planet Comic Con in May 2015, you’ll need to buy a VIP pass for as much as $350 on top of your admission cost.
  • Do  your research and make sure you’ve got room in your budget for photos and autographs.
  • Check to see how much it’s going to cost, and also check to see if you need to have cash on hand (or even exact change).
  • If you want to bring something special to get autographed, make sure that’s all right. It usually is, but it doesn’t hurt to check. Most of time you can also purchase a headshot or photograph from the celebrity.
  • Plan to wait in line. You’re not the only who wants to meet that celebrity!
  • Practice what you want to say. You might even write down something. You’d be surprised how quickly your brain can turn to mush when faced with one of your favorite celebs.

Panels

StephenAmell
Do your research, because those guests will often run Q&A panels you can attend.
  • If it’s a really popular celebrity, you might consider going to an earlier panel happening in the same room as the Q&A you want to attend, so you can keep your seat.  This might be a little evil, but it’s smart.  And, you may be surprised by the extra panel you’re sitting in on, too.
  • If it’s a REALLY popular celebrity, you might need passes to attend the panel.
  • Regardless, always plan to be early to a panel.  If the room fills up, people will get turned away.  It’s a fire code safety thing having to do with room capacity.
  • Be especially early if you’re hoping to ask a question in the Q&A.  Have your question prepared ahead of time. You might even write it down.

Cancellations and Schedule Changes

Some celebrities end up cancelling appearances because of contractual obligations that come up.  Conventions will book celebrities well in advance, so some schedule changes are to be expected.  Some celebrities might be booked originally for the entire convention, but then have to change the schedule of their appearance.  If either cases happen, it’s important to pay attention to convention announcements and news so you can change your plans accordingly.
For example, Stephen Amell was scheduled to appear all three days at Planet Comic Con in 2015, but Amell ended up having contractual obligations that conflicted with the convention.  Instead of being able to attend all three days of the con, he was only able to attend the last day (which was pretty awesome of him since he had to catch a red eye just to make it to KC and then fly back out again immediately following the end of the con).  Due to the changes in schedule,the only folks that got to meet one-on-one with Amell were the people who were purchasing autographs and photos (so if you just wanted to chat, you were out of luck).  The moral of the story, stay informed about the convention you’re attending so you know about any changes.  If there isn’t a newsletter you can subscribe to, there should at least be a Facebook page you can check out.

Vendors, Dealers, Artists, and Authors

That's me at my FIRST con!

That’s me at my FIRST con!

Most cons have a variety of vendors, dealers, artists, and authors all selling their awesome goods.
  • You can find out who’s going to be at convention usually by checking the con’s website.
  • Depending on the con, the “market place’ is often called the Dealer’s Hall, and it will include everyone from handmade makers like myself, to big chain retailers like Hastings or Tee Turtle, to vintage toy dealers, and used and new comics.
  • If they’re not included in the Dealer’s Hall, Artists’ Alley is where you’ll find  illustrators, painters, and other artists selling and demonstrating their work.  Some will take commissions too.  Depending on the artist, for a fee you can often get a custom drawing of a character you’ve created. In recent years I’ve noticed some handmade makers in Artists’ Alley as well.
  • There will also be authors selling (and often signing) their books, too.  It can be a really great opportunity to chat with new writers as well as  established authors.
  • You can expect to find comics writers and illustrators too, from a variety of publishers. Again, it’s a great chance to meet and talk with these folks.
  • Budget for some shopping! You’ll find things a convention you won’t find anywhere else. Most vendors take plastic, but it’s never a bad idea to have some cash on hand too.

Cosplayers

Captain America never looked so good.

More and more conventions are including professional cosplayers, as well as cosplaying attendees.  People who cosplay dress and often act like a favorite pop culture character. Some cosplayers will interpret a character through a particular theme, time period, or genre (for example, a steampunk version of Wonder Woman).  Some cosplayers create a gender bent version of a character (for example, a male version of Harley Quinn). Some cosplayers build their own costumes, some spend hundreds (if not thousands) on custom creations, and some people dig through their closet and put together something from what they’ve already got on hand.
Here are some ground rules when it comes to interacting with cosplayers:
  • Regardless of what you think of a cosplayer’s costume, character, or even body type, be respectful. My grandma used to tell me if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. Even if you hate a person’s cosplay, keep it to yourself.
  • If you love a person’s cosplay, then go ahead and tell them! There isn’t a cosplayer out there that wouldn’t love to hear that their efforts are appreciated.
  • Most cosplayers (I’ve yet to meet one that said, “No”,) are excited to get their pictures taken.  Just ask first. It’s always okay to ask to take someone’s picture, or to get your picture taken with them. Just always ask first. If you want to post that picture online (or use it publicly), then get the cosplayer’s permission. It’s as easy as asking, “Hey, is it all right if I post this on my Facebook page?”  Again, I’ve never had a cosplayer say no.  However, if the cosplayer even seems uncomfortable with that, then respect that choice.  If a cosplayer doesn’t want to be photographed, then don’t photograph them.  
  • If you are a cosplayer, check the convention’s policies on cosplaying. Certain costume pieces may be banned, like some weapons for example.  Most cons will ask attendees in costume to go through some kind of special checkpoint. You’ll also want to educate yourself on any dress code rules the convention has, as well as the policies on harassment.  Sadly, some people will just suck. It doesn’t mean you have to put up with their suckage.
  • NEVER touch a cosplayer without their permission.  Being in costume is not an invitation to being touched.  Even being in a revealing or “risqué” costume is not an invitation to being touched.  Regardless of how much skin a person is showing, no one has the right to touch that person without their permission.
  • Always ask before touching a cosplayer or a part of their costume.  Be respectful.
  • If you’re a costumer like myself, and you want a closer look at how someone made their costume, just ask.  Most cosplayers are excited about sharing their process and would love to talk to you about it.
  • More and more conventions are posting policies about harassment pertaining to cosplayers in particular. Be aware of these guidelines and follow them.  
  • And as a convention fan and a geek, there’s nothing more disappointing and infuriating than reading about a cosplayer who was somehow molested, harassed, or even assaulted at a con.  Abusive behavior is never okay and it shouldn’t be tolerated.  If you see someone being harassed in any way, then speak up for that person and report the incident.  If you are a cosplayer and you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, then speak up for yourself and report the incident.  If you feel unsafe, get security or call the police.  Everyone has the right to be treated with respect and courtesy, whatever they happen to be wearing.

What You Really Need To Know

The 501st Legion made an appearance.

For the most part, cons can be great fun. I’m happy to say that I’ve had really wonderful con experiences. And pop culture conventions are my favorite events to sell at because the people there are always the best.  There’s something absolutely magical about being at a con with hundreds (if not thousands) of people who share your love of your favorite fandoms and all things geek.
If you remember nothing else, just remember to be polite and respectful towards your fellow con attendees. And if you want to make sure you really have the best possible con experience, then check out my Ultimate Convention and Cosplay Checklist so you’re super prepared!
I know this is a great list for con etiquette, but you can help me make it better! What have I missed? Have you got some more etiquette pointers you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments or on my FB page.  Thanks!

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