Beforehand: Make a plan, the conventions website usually has a lot of great information, Comic-Con even has a tip blog.
Sign up early for the convention: ones like Comic-Con book your motel and car a month or more beforehand. Almost a year if you want a hotel downtown!
Bring good shoes: There’s a lot of walking!
Create Cards, sketchbooks and swag: Even if you don’t do a booth you can still give stuff out, I’ve seen people print their contact info on bouncy balls and other swag, there’s no rule that you can only do that if you’re behind a booth.
Bring a backpack or shoulder bag: Store toys and books you buy, swag and business cards and bigger cards, things that you’re going to give out, notebook if you like to take notes during panels or critiques, your tablet, lunch/snacks, etc. Poster tubes are good for preserving free or purchased prints and posters.
Pack a lunch and snacks: I’ve found that convention food is bland and overpriced and good restaurants are sometimes a good hike. I used to just starve, but that’s stupid, so now I pack a lunch and snacks for lunch and then go somewhere after the day is done and eat a big dinner. I learned this from going to Disneyland with my Disney obsessed In-Laws who know nearly every secret there is to know about hitting every ride you could want in a day. Some Conventions have started allowing food trucks right outside the convention center which are really great.
Schedule: I usually like to look at the posted schedule and out of that I create a personal schedule of desired panels and portfolio reviews in an Excel document and then transfer it to my tablet. Some conventions now have apps that you can download to your phone.
Research speakers and Artist Alley individuals: A lot of time you walk up and down the isles at a convention and it’s hard to tell if it’s an Animation artist who happens to be doing Comicbook art or an actual Comicbook artist so sometimes I’ll look up people beforehand and make a beeline to save time. Sometimes you can contact a company beforehand and request an interview and or meeting.
Make a realistic goal on your outcome: A lot of times in the past I would go to a convention saying something like “I’m going to get a job at Disney!” and then when it didn’t happen I would go home disappointed. Instead I’ve started choosing smaller goals that stretch myself but is very doable like “I’m going to give out 20 or more business cards!” or “I’m going to do 7 Portfolio Reviews” That way I come away from the convention feeling good about myself. Conventions are tiring; don’t add guilt on top of that!
Focus on set goals
Give out business cards to as many people as possible: ask for theirs, half of them won’t have them, but nothing will happen if you don’t ask.
Be selective on Swag: Swag and handouts can take up a lot of bag space, don’t feel guilty about saying no to a handout.
A lot of big name booth artists will happily look at your portfolio: Saves you time from doing a super long review line and usually the studio reviewers are just regular studio artists that also have a booth and can give the same advice.
Talk to people in line: You never know who you’re waiting with!
Portfolio Reviews: Take notes during or after. Realize that the big studios aren’t there to recruit, only give feedback for what their studio is looking for. But do give them a card with your website or a printed sketchbook that they can take back with them. Smaller Companies a lot of the time are looking to recruit.
Take time for yourself: Sometimes I feel guilty about taking time to go search for toy collectables or to get an autograph of a favorite celebrity or going to a panel of a favorite TV show, but I find that doing so gives me an opportunity to not burn out during the convention marathon. Make sure you eat and rest when necessary.
Follow Up: I like to take every business card I get and make friend requests on Facebook and Instagram that evening. Send out Thank You notes via e-mail or Facebook Messenger for anyone that gave me a Portfolio Critique and sometimes later follow up.
Review Portfolio Critiques: I review critiques and thoughtfully decide what’s valid and then actively work on that. Many reviewers have opinions and sometimes they contradict so I weigh everything for the things that make the most sense and especially for ideas that are mentioned by more than one person.
Start Preparing for the next convention!
Conventions that I attend
Wonder-Con: March 29 - 31, 2019, Anaheim This is a mini Comic-Con, it reminds me of how San Diego used to be about 10 or 15 years ago. It has a handful of big studio panels mostly from Warner Bros, but you can still walk into one without needing to wait in a line and you don’t get trampled. They have food trucks just outside and there’s a fairly big sized exhibit hall with an artist alley, a few studio booths along with collectables booths. I remember talking with a Pixar animator who told me that when they got the assignment to animate the two nerd characters in Monsters Inc. they went to Wonder-Con to sketch people. https://www.comic-con.org/wca
San Diego Comic-Con: July 18 – 21, 2019 The mother of all Conventions! Comicbooks, Movies, TV, Animation, Illustration, etc! The floor takes me two good days to walk across if I’m also doing panels, since I’ve been attending for about 15 years now I know which areas to skip! This is the convention that I make an Excel document for and usually have to plan 3 or 4 different desired panels at the same time slot and then make decisions on importance, then if a panel sucks you can jump to your second choice. Lines are super long; I never go to Hall H, that’s an overnight camping experience. Hall 20 I will do once a day if there’s something that I really want to see, it’s a 1 or 3 hour wait. Some of the main hall rooms are 30minutes to an hour. Sometimes it’s fun going to the smaller ones, just for a breather. https://www.comic-con.org/cci https://sdccblog.com/
D23 (Disney Convention): August 23 – 25, 2019, every other year, Disney usually skips a Comic-Con presentation when there’s a D23, Anaheim This is Disney’s fan convention which takes place every other year, so Disney will usually have big panel presentations to show off the next couple of years’ worth of animated movies (Disney and Pixar), Live Action Movies (Star Wars, Marvel and others), New theme park attractions. Lots of opportunities to buy Disney stuff, they usually have one or two demos with actual Disney artists talking about making the movies. https://d23.com/d23-expo-2019/
Lightbox: September 6 – 8, 2019, Burbank This is actually a creation of those Animation artists who are angry with CTNX, 2019 will be its first year https://www.lightboxexpo.com/
Los Angeles Comic-Con AKA Stan Lee’s Comikazie: October 26 - 28, 2019, Los Angeles This one is almost as big as Wonder-Con, their main panel hall is odd though since it’s a part of the exhibit floor and mostly only standing areas and usually the panels are fluff interviews. But the floor itself is a good chance to talk to a number of good artists or to buy a collectable. Since it’s on Halloween weekend a lot of the booth artists will have bowls to give out candy. http://www.stanleeslacomiccon.com/
CTNX (Animation Festival): November 21 – 24, 2019, Burbank Can be very pricey, $30 for just the artist booth floor. $40 for the Floor and artist demos (love this one) $95 for some panels, around $150 for all panels and other things, $210 for a 3 day pass, There’s also an ultra-expensive VIP pass which gives you opportunity to cut in line and lotto’s for studio tours. If you’re into Animation or even illustration there’s a lot for you, but you have to be willing to pay a lot depending on what you want to see and do. It is a great opportunity to have regular run ins with Animation masters though, have your portfolio reviewed, buy a lot of art books and listen to the creators talk about actually making the movie and not just some star talking about themselves. One note there is a growing group of artists who are angry with CTNX for their claims of being treated badly when they were guests and students complaining about the cost to enter. https://ctnanimationexpo.com/
Star Wars Celebration, Power-Con, TFCon, Anime Expo: Various locations and dates Normally you wouldn’t think that much would come out of these fan service conventions, but I find that a lot of times creators will be there either in a fan art booth or as part of a panel. So it’s worth a try.
Long Beach Comic-Con, Nerdbot and other small conventions: These Conventions are super small and you can usually breeze through them in a couple of hours. Not really recommended unless you have nothing else to do. The artist alley is filled with beginner artists.
There are a lot of benefits of going to a Comic book convention even if you’re not into comics. Feel free to share your own tips and expreiences in the comments!