Tips to surviving your first convention

By Jen Weddle

This weekend I came to the horrifying realization that I was going to be considered a noob for the first time in a long time.

A noob is a person who is new to something like an online game or, as in my case, going to a comic book convention. I wasn’t sure of what to expect 10 a.m. Saturday at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, but it certainly wasn’t the time of my life.

As I entered the building, people were immediately drawn to each other. There was an invisible magnetism between members of the crowd. They wore comic book shirts with pride and smiled, waved and argued about their favorite hero and villains. It was a magical place and I finally understood the hype my friends had made all along about conventions. It gave me the idea to make a guide to conventions for newbies so no one else would have to fear going, because they really are a lot of fun.

Anyone Can Go

When I say you can find anyone at a convention, it’s not a joke.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you bumped into your physical education teacher and home economics instructor having a debate about the inclusion of the Black Widow and Hawkeye as main characters in “The Avengers.” Sure, you expect to see the usual crowd of geeks–cosplayers and fans of DC, Marvel and Dark Horse comics–at a comic book convention, but even NFL football players can be found geeking it up. Israel Idonije, a former Bears defensive lineman, was one of the guests at Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2), and he has been creating his own comic book called “The Protectors.” The next time you see a muscular football player, stop and point out your Joker T-shirt. If he smiles then you know he’s a secret geek.

Cosplay is Cool

I kind of imagined cosplayers as this completely separate breed from geeks, the kind of people who are comfortable enough in their own skin to wear furry tails and tight leather outfits.

The cosplayers were literally the hit of the convention, and if you like to be the center of attention then you will love cosplay. I actually had a chance to meet with some of the best cosplayers and take some photos. They were the friendliest people, and they really love what they do.

“It took me three weeks to make this scarf and another two months for the rest of the outfit,” said Joe Chavarria, 30, of Orland Hills.

Chavarria came to the convention dressed as Colin Baker, the sixth doctor of “Doctor Who.” His friend Lauri Eggert, 30, of Orland Park, was dressed as a Weeping Angel from “Doctor Who.”

“My mask took about a week to make,” Eggert said as she held up a very detailed Weeping Angel mask.

The first thing I noticed at C2E2 was a girl holding up a giant mallet and familiar green hair. It was cosplayers portraying Harley Quinn and the Joker.

“I actually like heroes from the Marvel Universe better,” said Alex Armstrong, 20, of South Bend, Ind. “Although, DC Comics has way better villians.”

Her partner in crime, Nick Lewis, had a similar theory.

“I’m impartial to the Hulk,” said Nick Lewis, 22, of South Bend, Ind. “But the Joker is the best villian there is.”

Cosplayers get to prepare months in advance so they could look like any character they want for a day of fun and photo ops with fans.

Check Your Phone

I’m not kidding, I would have been in so much trouble without my phone.

I wasn’t checking it for the usual missed texts or phone calls, but I was making sure I got to see all the scheduled panels that I had programed into C2E2’s mobile app. C2E2 created an app specifically for its convention. It included details and the time of each panel, opportunities for autographs and photo ops, and events that would be available for fans to attend. It was an easy way to keep track of all the things I wanted to do and see. The app even offered an alarm which you could program to go off a few minutes before each scheduled event.

Don’t Be Afraid

I think the scariest thing about going to a comic book convention is knowing what to expect, but the great thing is that the fans are so nice and helpful.

If you have questions don’t be afraid to ask them, and if you want design a costume or try cosplay don’t let fear stop you. No one is there to judge you because everyone is there to enjoy the fun atmosphere a convention offers.

Check out a list of upcoming conventions, and if you find something that interests you then go for it. Who knows, maybe you’ll get to hug one of your favorite geek celebs and have a laugh with Felicia Day like I did. Maybe you’ll get a one-of-a-kind Edward Scissorhands art print signed by Matt Busch. You never know until you try. so don’t be afraid of being considered a noob.