I recently went to Wizard World Comic Con St. Louis, and in short, it was amazing. I went on Sunday, the last day of the Con and thought that I had a plan. For the most part it worked and yes, I had a great time. But all the planning I thought I had didn't prepare me. So I'm here to offer you, roughly a year in advance, these bits of advice:
1: It's a LOT to take in.
Seriously, you can't walk five feet in the actual convention without finding something that catches your eye and pulls your total attention. Be it a booth with amazing art, awesome action figures (I almost openly wept at the selection), great cosplay, celebrities, or simply the amount of people and the size of the venue and displays. There is so much going on and it's actually pretty fast paced. Be prepared for this and take it slow. Take your time. Especially if you have more than one day to attend. I recommend bringing a notebook to take down any websites and the like in case you find something you want to check out later. Otherwise, you WILL forget it.
2: It's expensive.
While #Boom was gracious enough to supply our tickets in, the average attendee was still paying a nominal fee just to walk in the door. Parking costs money, so there's the first blood (We paid $10 and walked down eight levels). Once you're on the floor, it's a bombardment on your wallet. Food and drink isn't free, so set some cash aside for that. Then there will undoubtedly be various merchandise that you want to buy, so set aside a fund for that. Meeting the celebrities and getting autographs and pictures isn't free (though the scale seems to slide with each person) so that is more money.
Favorite artists will have prints and some even do original sketches on the fly, but those aren't cheap either. If you're planning on a costume before the next convention? You guessed it, more money. Your best bet is to start saving IMMEDIATELY after the convention is over for the next one. While you are there, keep those purse strings tight and monitor what you spend.
3: Know the floor.
As I stated before, I only went for the last day there. So as large as everything was, I was still lost. The people there are quite helpful (both the staff and the attendees) and can help direct you around. I'd recommend using the first hour or so just learning where everything is. Celebrities you came to see, booths of interest, and rooms for panels (along with restroom facilities and food options) are usually marked on some sort of map. I found no such map but after wandering a bit, found my way around pretty easily. If you're there with a group, set a key landmark to meet at in case of separation or emergencies.
4: Know the schedule!
They had quite an array of interesting panels ranging in many topics, and all sorts of contests. At least one, if not ALL of these will be worth the experience. Since I went on the last day with no clue of what was where, you guessed it. I missed ALL of them except for 5 minutes of one panel. Don't let this happen to you. Find out what panels happen at which time and in which room. That notebook I mentioned earlier? Here's another reason for it.
5: Know what you're there for.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed with everything going on. Try to give yourself an itinerary and stick to it as closely as possible. Even with all the cool stuff there, tell yourself "no" when it comes to shelling out the cash you may need. This will ensure that you don't overshoot your budget and that you don't miss anything. Consult your itinerary, budget list, and your watch often.
6: Don't forget to eat, drink, and rest!
With all of the excitement and walking you'll be doing, make sure you're properly fueled and hydrated! The convention floor can be more than a little bit warm, and you'll be surprised how quickly you'll tire yourself out. Make sure to grab a meal there or at least the occasional snack. Those panels I mentioned before are a great way to get off your feet for a while and recharge while still staying in convention mode. But get there early as seating limited.
Other than these steps, just regular common sense will get you pretty far. Keep your money close, if you have kids, keep an eye on them, etc.
All in all, the convention certainly got my blood pumping and chomping at the bit for the next one. I met Jason Mewes ("Jay" of Kevin Smith movie fame) , as well as a couple of my favorite artists. Ethan Van Sciver autographed my Green Lantern:Rebirth trade paperback as well as a gorgeous print that I bought from him. James O'Barr was awesome to see in person. I got my Crow graphic novel signed and a print from him as well. My fantastic fiancée got me a few amazing prints from Greg Horn, and to cap the day off, we all met Elvira and I got to watch both Mariah Candy and Gypsy Havoc geek out as hard as I was.
It was amazing. You can go your whole life feeling like you're an outsider and that you don't quite fit in. But one step into something of that scale, and suddenly you realize how big the fandom is, how amazing the people in it are, and how awesome it feels to be a part of that. That's really what it's all about. When you strip away everything about the convention, it's all about the fans and how grateful the industry is for having them. It was fantastic and I'm already chomping at the bit to go again next year! But this time, I'll be better prepared. Hopefully after reading this, you will too!
Thanks again, #Boom and Wizard World, for this amazing experience!