Dear Past-Me, here’s what you need to know
I was wrong…
What shapes culture? Wait, too broad. Let me back up.
What topics do you pick to talk about with your friends? What occupies your imagination? The last time you thought of a spaceship, was it the Orion or Dawn – actual spaceships – or was it the Millennium Falcon or the Enterprise? Maybe it was a Firefly class transport. Name any actual captain. Name a fictional one. Name a dead senator. Name a dead actor. Name a living scientist. Name a living artist. Name an athlete. Name someone from another country that isn’t Putin.
I take for granted that you are familiar with the usual fare of topics one discusses as a Matter of Interest—as such, you shouldn’t be surprised that you’re about to read about a comic convention.
But – if you would indulge me for a moment – I was surprised to find myself at one. I’ve been a closet nerd forever. Only at my quarter-life have I begun to let my freak flag fly. So, please step into my shoes for a moment when I say I never really expected to find myself at a comic expo.
I hope to address the closet nerd in you. Or those who – like me – had a superficial view of something like a comic expo: “quaint and niche, but not for me.”
Athletes have games to go to. That’s culturally acceptable. Foodies meet at restaurants and political folk go to dinners (or so I am told). I’ve heard tell that some readers will try to make friends at book stores (but who has time to read?). Geeks, artists and nerds meet at comic conventions. It sounds like a convenient box to put them in, right? It’s easy to avoid “weirdos” and introverts if you just steer clear of the convention floor.
My expectations have long been that comic conventions are superfluous environments catered to those who prefer escapism to relevancy. I admit I was judgmental in this. Hear me when I say this was a projection of myself onto a community I have largely dismissed because I didn’t want to feel ineffective or uninfluential…ironic.
If you were like me at all, you were not interested in whatever a comic convention had to offer—for what could a largely unspoken group of the meek and pale have to say about important matters… Or, maybe on a smaller scale, just doesn’t have any impact on your life, right? Wrong.
I was so so wrong.
Our thoughts live in the world of imagination. Our excitement and entertainment are the most readily accessible parts of our brains and comic conventions are the seed, the meeting place, the inception, the gimmick and the hook for average artist and the average storyteller.
My experience at the comic convention is a lasting sense, not of the individual moments or booths or panels – although I saw many worth mentioning and noting – but of a part of my culture I somehow dismissed as frivolous.
I said earlier I am only recently breaking out of my shell and accepting the things in my life that excite me. The nerdy part of me, the intellectual or the decidedly ignorant parts of me, the struggle with what to believe or who to value. Slowly I’ve begun to seek out my kind. It was thusly that I found myself drawn to the recent Long Beach Comic Expo. It was serendipitous that a friend of mine provided me with an opportunity to go in an official capacity; my job simply, to take pictures and do some sort of write-up on his behalf. So here’s what I’m going to do. Allow me now to address an earlier version of myself—a more sheltered and naïve version of myself who doesn’t know he has wasted so many years not going to comic conventions.…
I want you to do me a favor and start making friends who go to comic conventions—and, if you can manage, become a guy others seek out to take them to conventions. I know you’re concerned about a few things, so let me help guide you on the bits that are awkward or frustrating. And, I know, I’ll start from the beginning.
First, you gotta know when it is. If you don’t plan ahead to go, you’ll either pay more or lose resolve. If you look for deals ahead of time, you can save at least 50% of your money. The rule here is don’t go the day of the event without tickets – you’ll pay a price for it. But, if that’s what it takes, you won’t regret it. They need your money, too, so it’s okay if they get it.
Second, is parking. Carpool if you can, but, if you can’t, walking a bit won’t hurt you. But, even better, if you can get use to public transportation, you’re going to have a lot of fun cosplaying and getting on a bus. You’ll make friends and the odds are you’ll find other people headed where you are going that will want to hang out with you. This is the goal, so embrace it.
When you get to the convention center, it’s probably going to be a smaller event and won’t take up the entire center. As such, don’t freak out of be dissuaded, everyone is just as confused as you are. Smile at those wandering around and ask if they’re headed to the same place and if they can show you the way; people like to feel like they’re the guide and you’ll make more friends if you do this.
You’re going to be overwhelmed by the whole process of getting to the show floor. That’s to be expected. If you can, plan ahead and find a task you want to accomplish. Find a booth that seems interesting, find a panel you want to watch, have a thing you want to buy…. Whatever it is, try to pick a goal for yourself so you’re not twiddling your thumbs and spinning in circles. You’re going to get to the show floor and realize that it’s mostly a commercial space for people to buy and sell. Don’t dismiss the idea of buying anything simply for the sake of being a non-commercialist. Buy something. In a different life, you were the one sitting behind a table peddling your wares. If nothing else, get a bunch of postcards. Spend like $10 on postcards. Either you’ll send them, and that’s awesome, or you’ll have original art from local artist, and that’s awesome, too. So be okay with buying some stuff. You’ll never remember spending that $10, but you’ll always remember the art you owned for a time.
Huh? Oh, yeah, you should know, about a third of the show floor is dedicated to artists to sell their work. I don’t know if you know this yet, but it’s really awesome to see a place for geeky artists (like yourself, please embrace it) to set up shop and start conversations. By the way, if you end up being smarter than me and can find yourself at a show floor as a vendor someday, give away some post cards for free because it’s going to make the best impression. Even if they don’t send them, the moment you can have a real connection with some of the attendees is the moment you’ve done it right. The powers that be have made a really big statement by giving so much space to the local artists. They are actively saying, “This space is for the personal artist and the small business, it’s not for the conglomeration or chain.” So buy some postcards.
Another thing you should try to do is go to some panel discussions. In fact, focus your effort on going to panels that interest you as your main MO. The show floor is cool, but the unique part of the experience is picking good panels to check out. The thing that sets a convention apart from Etsy.com are the panels and the conversations. Always have a couple questions ready to rock and roll, too. Good questions. A couple good questions makes the panel feel good, will make you feel good, will make you stand out.… It’s not every day you get to interact personally with the culture-shapers.
If you end up at the Long Beach Comic Expo in 2016, let me give you some pointers.
First and foremost, go check out the Wand Makers. I won’t tell you where to find them because that will help you have a sense of discovery and a way to interact and get to know the convention, but when you find them, tell them a future version of yourself is a huge admirer. The wand company has a unique product, an organic product, unlike any other on the floor. They are also local to Long Beach. Oh, by the way, you’re going to fall in love with Long Beach. Let it happen. They have stimulated the imagination and keyed into a part of our pop culture that is really edifying. They’re looking for special wood from Scotland, so pay attention if you come across any friends in Scotland.
Next on your scavenger hunt is the video education company. This guy’s pretty rad and he will be a great help to you someday in his desire to educate your peers about video production. The people here all love media and they all have cool things to say – make sure not to dismiss them – and, if you’re not making their videos for them, this guy is going to help them make the videos for themselves. It’s a valuable service and you’ll recognize him by the super duper inventive greenscreen he’s set up. You’ll be blown away at his clever solution to how to create a keying screen for video.
You’ll find a booth peddling a comic book about the history of beer. I didn’t buy a copy, so try to save like $15 between now and then so you can grab it. It’s interesting and you’ll end up talking about it more than you realize. If you buy a copy and read it on your own time, you’ll end up quoting it more often than a lot of the other things you might think you’ll engage with. It’s not too late to thank this guy for his art and his creative approach to a topic you’ll someday care a lot about. Oh yeah, you end up loving beer. Embrace it.
A big part of the show floor also went to some real space exploration. It’s super cool and you should start some conversation there. Not every one of their panels are great, but you won’t dislike any of the ones you go to. I ended up learning about Dawn and its mission. You’ll be stoked and excited to meet the woman who is operating that mission. She’s one of the smartest people you’ll interact with this far in your life. Bring some of your friends with you to make her feel appreciated. Only like six people watched her lecture, but – get this – it was better than the headliner. The headliner was that guy from Firefly. It was cool that he was there, but – trust me – you’ll be a more awesome person for watching the woman from the Jet Propulsion Lab.
You might not know that there are a lot of really sweet ways for you and this community to give back. If you can, go to the panel on the officially-sanctioned Star Wars fan costumes. They have a whole bunch of forums and groups that sanction storm trooper outfits and other Star Wars-themed costumes to then go to orphanages or childrens’ hospitals or events.… It’s a way for the super-fan to get involved in an official capacity to provide a really fun way for kids or others to get excited about charity or community events.
In fact, if you pay attention, the whole convention is rife with intentional opportunities for those who are involved to reach out to one another. I didn’t realize this, but you should.… Conventions are built around the idea of community. It’s the gathering of people who are into this thing or that thing, but they all have this niche of the culture in common. And, at the end of the day, this is the part of culture that has one of the most influential impacts on the way the whole of society thinks. I know that’s a big statement to make, but look at super hero movies. Look at pop culture.… Those kids, they come here.
There’s a lot and I’ve already started to notice your eyes glaze over, so check I’ll wrap up by showing you some pictures. It’s not too late. Give it a chance. I promise, you’ll walk away excited and open-minded. May the Force be with you, live long and prosper, never give up and never surrender.