I’ve come to the conclusion that people are attending cons wrong. At least I think that must be the problem, since they find them so very draining. People I know prepare for comic conventions as if they are prepping for the Iditarod, rather than a relaxing weekend with like-minded people.
Growing up in Europe, we’d make fun of the Americans and the way they’d go on vacation. “We saw 4 countries in 2 days!” they would proudly exclaim, as if running at top speed through an entire country was something to be applauded. The aim of a vacation in Europe is to soak up the foreign culture, which can only be done by spending leisurely hours wandering cities and villages, eating in local cafés, shopping in weird markets, and generally doing nothing much for as long as possible. Rather than zipping from one country to another, we try to spend as long as possible in one place, winding down and generally getting the speedy pace of modern life out of our systems.
This is how I grew up thinking of vacations, and this is still how I approach all of them, including the ones at comic book conventions. It’s only this year that I realize how different my attitude is to my friends and colleagues, who push themselves to the very limit. I see now that the trepidation and anxiety with which they anticipate this season is entirely down to their own approach to it. There are many intimidating articles with “useful tips” about how to “survive” comic cons, and it is well-intentioned advice like this which can spread this kind of feverish approach to comic book convention attendance.
This last weekend at the Emerald City ComicCon in Seattle I took a relaxing couple of day off from work spending time with friends around the comic books we all love. Since my flight arrived late on Friday (bit of rain in San Francisco held us up for 3 hours, which really makes you wonder how any planes get off the ground in the UK, but I digress…) I didn’t get in till 2am, so I slept in till 11am on Saturday and wandered to the convention center. Now in theory I’d have loved to have been out bright and early to enjoy as much of the convention as possible, but let’s be realistic for a second, this is a week in which I moved house and switched jobs. Having a nice hotel room meant sleeping in and taking a leisurely shower, it was necessary to my mental and physical health. Would a couple of hours spent on-line to get in have made my experience any better? And those couple of hours gained inside the con; would they impact my life dramatically enough to be worth losing sleep over? Not in my opinion.
Once inside, I met up with my brother Sam (who had been dragging his sleep-deprived arse around for hours), and we went to say hello to some people. We managed to visit Josh Ellingson, Darick Roberston, and Ben Templesmith for little chats before we decided that what we really needed was a slap-up lunch. Sam and I left the convention center and went down the street to a nifty sushi place I’d passed earlier. We knew that any food obtained in the center wouldn’t be as good, and we needed some fresh air (plus a break from the swarming masses of people wasn’t too bad either). After that I went back for a couple of hours, which gave me time to say catch up with my old friends from iFanboy, as well as saying hello to Mike and Laura Allred. Towards the end of the day I met Nathan Fox and had to force myself not to buy artwork (moving house has made me realize that I own too much stuff), but I still managed to get a fab little drawing of Zodiac out of him.
The next day I slept in again. I knew I only had one hour at the convention until I had to catch my flight back to San Francisco, but I knew that this would be plenty of time. In that one hour I had the best little talk with Kieron Gillen, (who understands about haircuts, as evinced by the marvelous dos in Phonogram), and a fascinating talk with Jim Rugg about his book Afrodisiac, (and his theories about the internet, access to information, and the implications upon the class structure.) Almost in passing I met Steven Seagle and found out that he wrote House of Secrets – which I was crazy about when it was coming out, but because I’m terrible with names, had entirely missed that – so I was delighted to talk to him. After that I had time for a quick glance at comic books and trades on sale. Unless it’s something rare or strange I don’t want to drag heavy books home, so I didn’t buy anything. At the end of the day it’s more fun to buy books from my favorite comic shop and support local business.
Now all told, I probably spent 5, maybe 6 hours at the convention. It was relaxing, lots of fun, and I feel like I got exactly as much culture and commentary as I could deal with in a day and a half. Imagine how it could have gone, if I’d approached it as the “pros” do: My two solid 8 hour days of intense exploration would have precluded all of those chance encounters, or made them intensely rushed. In addition, I would have been too tired to socialize in the evenings (which is half the fun) and I would have returned to San Francisco to a half-moved-in house feeling very unprepared.
For me, the classic approach to cons was summed up by a con-virgin I saw leaving on Saturday. When I asked what she thought of her first comic book convention, she looked at me with haunted, frantic eyes and paused before saying; “… this morning was very intense, there were so many people and so much stuff that I almost had a panic attack… I left for a little break and then came back… So I managed the whole day, but I don’t think I want to come to another one of these.” What a shame! The poor woman was shattered and quite reasonably so. She was in that stuffy convention center for hours and I can’t understand why she’d make her first convention experience so horrible. Perhaps it’s that all of the advice she got came from people who go to these things with the intention of maximizing their experience of comic conventions, i.e. quantity over quality of experience.
I think perhaps It’s time for a new approach to conventions. We’re adults and we need someone to write the “Zen and the Art of Comic Con” or something like that. You know the kind of thing, where you get to eat breakfast in bed, meander about and take lots of breaks. I’d take a pass at it, but in all honesty it might be the kind of thing that we’ll spoil by laying down rules for it. Half the fun of my comic book convention vacations is doing what I want on my own schedule, and I can’t figure out how to write a list of how-to’s for that, unless it’s Aleister Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”