Name one comic book fan who has not heard, or been to a comic book convention! Comic book cons have been around for as long as comic books have been in circulation. Like any other show, these probably started off as small fan gatherings where comic book enthusiast would come together to share in their love for comic books, and to procure rare comics that might otherwise not be available elsewhere. These were more like swap meets and were also frequently attended by writers and artist from the different comic book companies. These days though, conventions have grown in complexity and size to encompass all popular media. There are no clear cut boundaries anymore as comic books get more and more assimilated into popular culture. In fact the term comic con might be a little bit of a misnomer for some. A more accurate term would be Pop Culture Convention, and some cons adopt this term. Googling the word "comic convention" would probably bring up hundreds of hits from all around the world. Therefore it would be impractical for me to review every single con. Instead I have the next best thing. Below I will highlight and review some of the cons I have been to (all of them twice in fact!). Hope this helps you get a feel for what's out there and if the con you have in your sights is the one to attend. Enjoy!
San Diego Comic Con (San Diego, California, USA)
Held yearly in the month of July, San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) is the grand daddy of all comic book conventions. This con is the most well known and the one that fans of all walks of life flock to. If there was pnly one you could do in your entire lifetime, this would be the main one to go to! Originally organized by a couple of comic book creators and artist, this con has grown by leaps and bounds. Although comics is still the main theme of the con, SDCC has become a media hub for major TV stations (i.e. FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC, AMC, etc.) and movie companies (Marvel, DC, to name a few). They use this as a platform to promote their latest TV series and movies. As such, SDCC has huge star drawing power, and it is only at this con that you can rub shoulders (well figuratively speaking since most of them will be on stage with security around them, unless they do group signings!) with the bigwigs of Hollywood. This is also the main reason why it is so hard to get tickets to SDCC. People come from all over the world to see their favorite celebrities in the flesh. In recent years, with the surging popularity of comic book movies, SDCC has attracted the likes of Robert Downey Jr (Ironman), Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Sir Patrick Steward (Professor Charles Xavier, X Men), Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf, LOTRs/Hobbit; Magneto, X Men) and Halle Berry (Storm, X Men).
Another big draw-card for SDCC is in its diversity. Due to the sheer size of the convention center, SDCC runs concurrent panels that feature everything from TV personalities and producers, comics book artist and writers, music score composers, voice actors, etc. You will not find another con featuring such a rich collection of panelist! Recent attendees include the likes of Transformers Movie Composer Steve Jablonsky, Voice Actor Peter Cullen (the voice of Optimus Prime!), as well as comic book legends such as Stan Lee, Jim Lee, Len Wein, Scott Lobdell, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri. The list just goes on and on.
Planning is essential when attending a con of this size and magnitude. As mentioned before this con is huge and tickets are extremely hard to get. You don't just go out and buy a ticket online close to date. In fact there is a procedure in place to help even the playing field so you get a shot at getting tickets. Firstly you will need to register with Comic Con International to obtain a username and password to get access to their ticketing site. E mails are sent closer to date as to when the tickets will become available. Using your login, try to enter the virtual waiting room the minute its doors open. You will then be assigned a number in a virtual queue. Then it is fingers crossing time and hopefully, with a little luck tickets will still be available when your turn comes. A good thing about their system is once you have been to the con once, you get priority shot at next years tickets. Also tickets are non transferable and are registered to a name. That way there is no scalping of tickets!
Accommodation is also a major hassle closer to date. Plan to book your trip to San Diego way in advance, and be prepared to pay premium during the duration of the con if you intend to stay within walking distance of the convention center. Hotels charge exorbitant amounts during the con! The show usually runs Wednesday (Preview Night Wednesday so not a whole day affair) to Sunday. Best days to attend this four day con is Friday and Saturday. Two major ballrooms you will have to become familiar with are Hall H and Ballroom 20. Hall H is the hardest one of them all to get into as it plays host to the biggest TV series (i.e. AMC's The Walking Dead, CBS's Big Bang Theory, HBO's Game of Thrones) and movie panels (Marvel and DC have their big panels in Hall H). Be prepare to stay in queue overnight (some fans camp out for days!) if you want to get in. Ballroom 20 is slightly easier to get into, with a wait time of 2 to 3 hours.
If you want to get autographs and photos with the stars, SDCC runs lucky draws. Again fans line up for hours, even overnight to get a chance to try their hands in getting THAT ticket. There are no guarantees in SDCC.
Then there is the merchandize. The arena for this is huge. It would take about a day or two just to get through all the wonderful things on sale. Again if you are into rare comics, trade paperbacks, collectible bust and figurines, you are in luck. Major comic book companies have booths here (DC, Marvel, Michael Turner's Aspen, Image Comics) and so too do deluxe collectible figurines makers such as Sideshow, Hot Toys and Kotobukiya. If you are into art, artist alley is a must. This features seasoned and up coming artist. Finally some celebrities have booths where you can get that autograph and the photo you want. Just a quick tip, keep your eyes pealed for those cosplayers. Some celebrities have been known to dress up so they can walk the floors freely and mingle with the fans!
Wondercon (Anaheim, Orange County, California, USA)
The baby brother of SDCC, Wondercon used to be held in San Francisco until the venue had to be renovated. It found a new home at the Anaheim Convention Center, close to Disneyland and has been there for the past three years. Held mid to end April every year, many liken this con to what SDCC used to be, smaller in scale, but still attracting big names. The focus is more on comics and its fans, with a couple of small movie companies and TV stations thrown in. Tickets are much easier to get. No virtual waiting rooms here and no preregistration. Also it is much easier to get into panels (and they do feature some amazing panels, such as one for the TV shows Once Upon A Time (ABC) and Revolution (NBC)). Like SDCC , they also run group autograph sessions for celebrities that don't have their own booths, and these too are not nearly as hard to get as the ones at SDCC, where you have to get in line for hours. On the vendors floor, some celebrities have their own tables where you can get autographs and pictures for a price. If you ask nicely, most of them are gracious enough to pose for a free photo. Most, if not all of them are also very approachable so don't be afraid to chat them up. As at SDCC another major attraction is the artist alley where you get to meet famous and upcoming artist, and buy their works. Neat! One awesome thing about Wondercon is that the chances of you getting a ticket to get a cast autograph signing is a whole lot higher. They still run the lucky draw, but the upside is that you can get back in line for it and try until you get something. This is not possible at SDCC due to the sheer volume of people coming for the show from around the world!
If you are into CosPlay, Wondercon is yet another wonderful venue for this as it attracts the top CosPlayers from all around the country. This is an excellent place to meet YaYa Han, star of the hit reality TV show "Heroes of CosPlay". She is the ambassador and has been called the queen of CosPlay as she is one of the few who continues to push the envelope. YaYa has her own line of CosPlay products as well so its well worth your time checking it out if you are an avid CosPlayer. Wondercon also runs CosPlay competitions and YaYa is sometimes invited as the guest judge.
Wizard World Comic Con (All Over Continental USA)
Another very well known con in continental USA, Wizard World's Comic Con (WWCC) is held at various places around the country, all year round! Tickets are easy to get, a big plus. The size of the con is similar to Wondercon and it does attract some big name TV personalities and the occasional big movie star (two standouts in recent times include stars of Marvel's Thor: Chris "Thor" Hemsworth and Tom "Loki" Hiddleston). TV personalities usually get a booth, where you can meet them and get the usual autographs, photo ops, etc. Note that some of them charge you for photos with them as well, but it does not hurt to ask! Most sought after TV personalities include Norman "Daryl Dixon" Reedus and Michael "Merle Dixon" Rooker of The Walking Dead fame. The con also features some very cool panels, in the same vein as SDCC and Wondercon. Among those I have attended include a Ray "Darth Maul" Park panel where he talked about the business of stunt work and coordination in TV and on the big screen. Again running theme with the cons is the big presence of CosPlayers. WWCC also runs CosPlay competitions. As such they attract high level CosPlayers. Finally what is a comic convention without shopping? Big name comic book companies usually have stalls. Some of these include Marvel, DC, Image Comics, Michael Turner's Aspen Studios and Zenescope. This con also features con exclusives that are released just for the con.
Comikaze (Los Angeles, California, USA)
A rather new con from Mr Marvel himself Stan Lee, and Mistress of Darkness Elvira, this con is also comparable in size to Wondercon and WWCC. Held at the heart of downtown LA (LA Convention Center), usually end of October/early November, it is very easy to get to for those living and visiting LA. No long drives for this one! Food is also easy as they have food trucks outside the convention center during the duration of the con. It does not attract as many big name celebrities as say SDCC (but then again SDCC is an oddity!), which is a surprising seeing that it is held in LA, the capital of entertainment. You do get the occasional star though. Format is pretty much the standard fare. There is the artist alley showcasing well known and up coming comic book artist and writers. Celebrities from TV shows usually have their own booths where fans can get autographs and pictures for a price, as well as chat with them if they are not too busy. Regulars at Comikaze include AMC's Comic Book Men (really cool dudes if I say so myself!), James Kyson Lee (Ando of Heroes fame) and some well know CosPlayers such as YaYa Han, Lee Anne Vamp and Winds of the Stars. The panels are generally comic book related (like how to break into comics), but they do have some promos and Q and A sessions for popular TV series with the directors and producers (i.e Gotham, Sleepy Hollow). Like SDCC and Wondercon, there is a huge emphasis on CosPlaying and they generally have a CosPlay contest on Saturday nights. A must do at Comikaze though is Stan Lee's Museum (or collection). This is nothing short of amazing to see the unfinished sketches from past artist that have worked for the man himself, as well as his own personal collection of Marvel Movie related props and figures. This alone is worth the price of admission!
Supanova (Brisbane, Queensland, Australia)
A much smaller scale con in comparison to the ones in the USA, part of the reasons for this is the venue. Supanova is usually held at the RNA Showgrounds, just a short drive from the Brisbane CBD area. The rooms for the panels are not particularly big, and even the floor space for the vendors are not overly large. Still it is a rather nice con to visit. There is just a feeling of warm cosiness, probably due to its size. It does attract some big name TV personalities though, and some big movie stars. Past attendees include Hayden Panetierre of Heroes fame (Claire Bennet), Amber Benson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural) and Star Wars legends David Prowse (Darth Vader from the original trilogy) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca). Due to its smallish nature, you get more one on one interaction with the stars!
Comic book lovers are in for a treat as well as this con attracts the best of the best in the business. I got to meet Todd McFarlane of Spiderman and Spawn fame. Todd was a fantastic panelist, giving us an inside into his company and how to break into comics. He is also an awesome human being as he patiently autographed comics and toys from his company, as well as posed for photographs for FREE. He even missed lunch so he could spend more time with his fans. That is what you call giving back. Toy and book companies also push new products here so you might get to pick up something before the general public. Tickets are easily available and the lines for the panels are nothing compared to the cons in the US!
Note the latest news from oz, Supernova is now being held in the Brisbane Convention Center. This is a much larger venue so expect even more thrills from Supanova!!!!!