Which Convention Do I Choose?
People often ask Abby and I “Which con should I go to?” Hopefully this little article will help with that question.
I have been going to conventions since about 1992 and Abby since 2007. During that time we have gone to some of the smallest and the largest Comic Conventions around, so when people ask us what cons we would suggest, we try to do our best to answer.
This article will really only cover cons dealing with Comics, Pop Culture and Sci Fi, it won’t cover Gaming, Horror, Anime or very genre specific cons (Firefly Con for example). It will also only cover US conventions. Sorry if I missed any.
You hear the term Pop Culture and Entertainment Media but what is it? What does it mean? You can read the official definition here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popular_culture
I can best describe it as all things relevant in Comics, Television, Movies, Art, Games and Books that is going on today. It covers Sci-Fi, Anime, Horror, Martial Arts, Action\Adventure to name just a few themes. So it’s sort of a “one stop shop” for geeks.
There are some basic questions that we ask a person who is trying to pick a convention(s). Your answers to the following questions will help you determine which cons would be best for you.
- What is your goal for going to a con? Are you in the industry, into cosplay\costuming, artist, into celebrities and panels, comics, collectibles, seeing what’s the greatest and latest, social?
- Are you able\willing to travel?
- What is your budget like and can you afford time off of work?
Depending on your goals, whether you can or are willing to travel, will be a better determination on which conventions to attend.
Abby and I like to attend San Diego Comic Con and Dragon*Con.
I look at it this way, one as being the largest comic convention in the world and the other as the most fun convention. We also usually try to hit a couple of local cons too, which are ones that we can drive to, like Wonder Con.
Which convention should you attend?
If you are industry or trying to get your name out there, I would focus on the larger conventions and network. There is no better networking convention than San Diego Comic Con. That being said, the place is always super busy, so much of the networking is done after hours around dinner and drinks. If you are being paid to attend any convention, I say, go. If it cost you nothing, the benefits are yours to be had. However, if you can do more business elsewhere by not going one of the smaller conventions, then the answer is clear. This is how many of the celebrities and artists handle their con choices; by which one will be of most benefit to them and their business.
A convention like Dragon*Con could be good for some informal networking, but remember it IS a fan run convention and will have less of an industry feel to it.
If you are a fan\attendee, then answer the questions above. If a convention is in your back yard, I encourage trying to attend it no matter how small it is. Support the local economy. Otherwise it’s going to break down to which guest are at which con, your friends, budget, desire to cosplay and time off. Also, for us at least, the social aspect is a huge factor for us. Therefor, the con that many of our friends are going to is one that we also want to go to.
You can see the list below which gives a brief description on some conventions as well as to their size.
What makes a successful convention? Conventions basically break down into five parts;
In order to have a successful convention you need attendees. Without attendees, there is no one to see the guests or buy from the exhibitors. The con is basically dead in the water if no one attends. Conventions make part of their money from exhibitors who buy booths\tables and the other part comes from attendees. Guests and the panels are what usually drive the attendance. Good guests will bring in the attendance. Good panels will keep the attendees busy and coming back for multiple days. A variety of vendors leads to them spending money, thus making the vendors happy. A good location can make or break a convention. What’s the old saying when it comes to business? “Location, Location, Location!” and it’s so very true. Having hotels and dining\drink options in and around the convention center is crucial to the success of a good convention. When the con ends, there needs to be someplace to go, someplace to hang out. So they all work hand in hand.
Unless the convention is one of the larger ones, most guests are paid to come to a convention. This often includes a table, travel expenses and a room, but may often include some money up front which is offset depending on the number of autographs and photos sold. If the guests don’t sell that much, the convention is stuck paying for the guests. Larger conventions such as San Diego Comic Con have the benefit of having guests appear for panels. They have two large halls for the big panels, one that seats 5,000 and the other 7,500. Television and movie studios are eager to do panels so that they can market directly to their target audience. It’s a win win for the Studios and SDCC, because they both benefit from this arrangement.
From a fans perspective, they want interesting guests, an assortment of cool things to buy, a chance to buy exclusives and a fun atmosphere. The want to enjoy their experience, so ideally fewer lines would be nice, but unfortunately it just isn’t a reality. The bigger the guest\panel is, longer the line. In the end though, if they get to socialize with their friends, see a few celebrities, take some great photos, get some cool swag and not break the bank, they are usually happy.
Here are some basics about conventions to give you an idea of scale in order of attendance:
50,000 Plus in Attendance
Dragon*Con is one of the truly fan run conventions and last year had 52,000 in attendance. Because it is a fan run convention, it has a unique feel to it. Some could describe this as the Mecca of costume conventions, and definitely the best of the “party\social” cons. Due to that, it draws both fans and celebrities alike who would like a fun weekend. It takes place over four main hotels, three of which are connected by walkways. What is lacks in “industry” involvement, it more than covers with the feeling of spending time with an old friend.
New York Comic-Con has grown quickly over the last several years boasting about 115,000 in attendance. Its big city location draws in most of the big names. It too is on the verge of maxing out its attendance and thus will end up in the same situation as SDCC, not enough room for the number of people that want to go. Another complaint is the lack of hotels close to the convention center, which requires people to cab it to the con. This can be frustrating for the average con-goer.
San Diego Comic-Con International is the largest and one of the longest running Pop Culture Media Convention in the Nation. It boasts about 130,000 in attendance. It has gotten so large the annual number of tickets has been capped and the convention sells out every year. There are no at the door ticket sales of any kind. This convention may be crowded but it has the best in celebrities, new movie info, panels, booths and exclusives. If you have ANYTHING to do in the industry, from selling pencils for art to being an author of anything that fits into the Pop Culture Media tag, you really need to be there. SDCC is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is something to be experienced at least once in your con going lifetime. SDCC while it can be expensive, it is placed in one of the best areas for a convention. It has several hotels and restaurants within walking distance to the convention center as well as a trolley that stops right out front of the con and plenty of shuttle buses for the hotels that are farther away.
Below 50,000 in Attendance
Alternative Press Expo (APE) APE presents the very best in alternative, small press, and self-published comics, with an Exhibit Hall packed with cutting-edge creators. It boast an attendance of around 5,500. This is the place to go to see independent comics, art and writing. It’s intimate and fun and you will often discover something new that you don’t see at the bigger cons.
Big Wow is one of the smaller conventions that mostly deals with comic artist and less about industry. You could call it a comic artist convention. There you will find artist like Adam Hughes and Jim Lee. They have recently started promoting Cosplay events to add to their focus. There annual attendance is usually under 15,000.
Boston Comic-Con is one of the smaller of the Pop Media conventions. They are a two day con that features the usual assortment of celebrities and guest. They don’t public their head count but based on what I have been told, they are considered one of the smaller of the conventions.
Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) is a relatively new convention with only a few years under their belt, but the convention is well run, so they have pretty quickly made a name for themselves. One of the few smaller conventions that both Marvel and DC have booths at, they boast numbers of about 42,000 in attendance. The area around the convention center lacks a lot of hotels that are close to the convention center, but until their numbers increase it shouldn’t be a factor. The Convention center isn’t super close to the downtown area which is known for it’s great food, but a short cab right should solve that issue.
Comicpalooza was first held July 19, 2008. The event took place in the lobby of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema located in Houston, and corresponded with the release of the film The Dark Knight. The event included a handful of tables with local comic book artists. Since that then it has expanded from a one day convention to a two day and now in 2013 to a three day. With 10,000 in attendance last year, in just 4 years this convention has had pretty substantial growth. From all accounts, this may be one to watch.
Comikaze Expo claims to be Los Angeles’ largest pop-culture convention, owned by comic legend Stan Lee and Horror icon, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. It boast an attendance of about 35,000 and is held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It’s another 2 day convention which can be nice for those not wanting to take time off of work. The LA Convention Center’s weakest point is the fact that most hotels are not walking distance and that you don’t want to be walking around that area at night.
Dallas All-Con is a smaller convention held in Dallas. Started in 2007, it now boast about 2,000 in attendance. People who have attended say that what it lacks in size it makes up for in fun.
Emerald City Comic Con is the largest comic book and pop culture convention in the pacific northwest! With an attendance of about 53,000, this popular convention usually is said to be a “good time”.
Florida Supercon is South Florida’s Comic Book, Anime, Animation, Video Game, Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Pop Culture Convention. It takes place at the Miami Airport Convention Center which makes it reasonably easy to get to. They boast about 15,000 in attendance and compared to their bigger brother, MegaCon they are considered a small con on par with Big Wow and Boston Comic Con.
Heroes Convention was founded in 1982 by Shelton Drum. The convention has become famous for its comics-first and family-friendly atmosphere, where fans can mingle directly with professionals and exhibitors. While they don’t list their attendance numbers iFanBoy describes the con like this: “Even though Heroes-con is a decently sized convention, the sense of tight knit community is unlike anything I have ever experienced at any other convention. All of the guests are catered to on intense levels, even with special dinner parties and the like, which allows industry professionals to get to know one another even though they are still “working”. As for the attendees, the convention is small enough that they are able to get up close and personal to their favorite artists/writers/celebrities without waiting in outrageous lines, and the convention is so well run that it offers really fantastic guests to the fans.”
Long Beach Comic Con is another two day pop media convention. While it doesn’t list it’s attendance, it is described as small but fun by many of those in attendance.
MegaCon is one of the longer running conventions, started in 1993. It boast an attendance of around 43,000. It’s location in Orlando means that hotels and dining are sure to be affordable and close by. Plus, you have Disney World and Universal Studios close by the book end your convention experience.
Phoenix Comic Con Started in June 2002, PCC has held comic related panels, programming events, art contests, and autograph signings for all ages. It boast an attendance of about 32,000 and is described to be an exceptionally good con.
Wizard World Comic Con is owned and operated by Wizard World, who used to run Wizard magazine from 1991-2011. They are now considered to be an online company who also runs conventions. Their North American Comic Tour has included Toronto, Anaheim, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, Austin and Boston. Their attendance numbers have varied in the neighborhood of 15,000 up to about 40,000 depending on location and year.
Wondercon started in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1987. In 2002 it was purchased by Comic Con International who also owns San Diego Comic Con and APE. With over 50,000 in attendance, Wonder Con finds itself in a unique situation. They have the backing of San Diego Comic Con and as a result often gets better guest and higher profile exhibitors.