In light of recent comments by comic artist Pat Broderick about cosplay and conventions, I think it’s a good time to look at what proper etiquette is like in this new age of pop culture dominance. I won’t only be speaking as a con goer of 11 years, but also as an exhibitor at New York Comic-Con for six years for a major exhibitor. The following is not just con etiquette for con-goers, but for exhibitors as well, to acquaint those who want to purvey goods in this new age.
CONVENTION ETIQUETTE 101
FOR THE CON-GOERS
- BE RESPECTFUL: This is the basic fundamental rule that everyone should follow: respect other people. Be they exhibitor, fellow attendee, or cosplayer. Just because a woman is in a “scantily clad” costume, doesn’t mean you have to act like an unevolved caveman from 200,000 BC. If you’re there to make fun of people, leave. Don’t ever go to a con again. You’re not welcome. I have no tolerance for that kind of garbage, and neither should any attendee or show runner. It’s all about welcoming people in, not kicking people out.
- KNOW WHEN TO SNAP PICTURES: Cosplayers dress up to be seen, and people obviously want to take pictures of costumes they like or of cool looking booths. If you want to take pictures, be mindful of where you are: don’t stop in the middle of a busy aisle to take pictures, find an open area (if possible, some venues just can’t allow for that). If that fails, at least jump in on a gaggle of photographers taking pictures: they’re already taking up the space, why wait?
- SUPPORT THE CREATORS: This doesn’t necessarily mean you HAVE TO buy something (although keep in mind, those tables aren’t free). What I mean specifically is, go up to people and say hi at least. This may be a little different for younger fans, since the people they grew up with are still relatively young, but for guys from the Silver and Golden Age, how often are you going to see them? I got to meet the late Carmine Infantino at NYCC 2007, and I was grateful to have shaken his hand and said hello and talked about The Flash. I will never get to meet Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, or any of the other legends who have left us. Take the time to say hi. It means as much to them as it does to you.
- BRING CASH/FOOD: We live in the day of debit cards and ATMs and card readers that attach to smartphones and tablets, but some people don’t have card readers, and ATM fees can be expensive. Carry some cash with you, especially if you want something from an artist. Save the debit/credit card for food and major retailers. You should also stock up on small snacks and water for the day, as convention centers tend to charge through the nose for food. A backpack with markers (for signings), food, water and hand sanitizer is always a good idea.
- KNOW THE LAYOUT: Try to find a map of the show floor either before the show (online or an app) or early on in the show (using the program).
FOR THE EXHIBITORS
- BE PATIENT WITH PICTURE TAKERS, BUT DRAW A LINE: This kind goes back to #2 in the con-goer section. Especially at larger shows, people will stop in front of your booth to take pictures. Let them get a few shots in, but after a little while, it’s completely okay to tell them to move on. They understand you’re trying to run a business, or they should, but a half a minute of courtesy may lead to a sale.
- BE SURE TO KEEP UP ON TRENDS: Keep up with the latest goings on: Minecraft swords are huge? Order some extras. Do you know there are quite a few Bronies that go to this particular show? Order up some of the My Little Pony merchandise and trades. There’s always going to be a handful of items that you know will reliably sell at a con, but branch out to find the latest craze, and you could do well for yourself at the show.
- BE READY FOR THE NEWBIES: In this day and age of multimedia exposure, it can be very humbling to find out how few people read comics vs. go to the movies, watch TV, etc. I don’t like that fact, but I’m a comics-first guy though. In smaller conventions, you may still get mostly comic-first guys, but at the big shows, it’s a smaller percentage of the whole. Have a positive attitude, and attract people to your booth. You are your own best salesman in this case.
- DON’T BE A GATEKEEPER, BE AN INNKEEPER: This is where my thoughts on Pat Broderick come in: don’t be an elitist. Yes, if you’ve been in the industry for a long time, you are of course due respect, the problem is, there are new fans being created all the time. You can’t expect a fan of the Arrow show to know who Denny O’Neil or Neal Adams is. As a retailer, you should be willing to take a few minutes to explain things to people who are interested in what you’re selling. You don’t have to spend the entire day explaining the nuances of Iron Man’s different armors, but you can give them key facts about the character, major storylines, and recommend some of your favorites, or staff favorites. Refer them to your store to build a repeat customer. Be friendly, inviting, and people will want to come back.
- ALWAYS HAVE BUSINESS CARDS/POSTCARDS WITH YOUR INFO: This is business 101, but I’ll say it anyway: always have some sort of thing to hand out with your business information if you’re a retailer, and if you’re a creator you should have some sort of web presence (Twitter, DeviantArt, Tumblr, etc.). It’s incredibly important to constantly put yourself out there, even if you’re established. The store I worked for had volunteers handing out postcards good for a discount at the store throughout NYCC. As a floor staffer, I also had a stack to hand out. You can be the biggest store in the world, or you can be a rising star in comics, but if you don’t have a referral point, who’s going to know? This applies less to comic artists, as a portfolio at the table or copies of your comic could do the trick as well, but for artists who live off commissions, this is a must.
A lot of the stuff I’ve said in here are basic, and have been true even before the recent boom, but I think these things have to be said again, in light of this tension between exhibitors/creators and the new generation of con-goers. Be respectful of each other, and have fun.