We’re smack dab in the middle of Comic Con International in San Diego, and as I sit here wishing I was there again, I began comparing all the conventions I’ve attended, contrasting my experiences last year in San Diego with my local con, ConnectiCon. There were some obvious differences, but the experiences were more similar than I expected.
For instance, the parking and traffic issues in Hartford for ConnectiCon were nearly as bad as attempting to park in San Diego, but San Diego is all over that problem with the trams. No such luck with Hartford, unless you’re already staying at a Hartford hotel and can use that shuttle.
Collectively, GeekMoms and GeekDads have attended and written about numerous cons, including but not limited to: San Diego, Supernova, Southern Fried Gameroom Expo (SFGE), ConnectiCon, Boston Comic Con, New York Comic Con, Dragon Con, GenCon, the PAX cons, Emerald City Comic Con, GeekGirlCon, Denver Comic Con, and Awesome Con.
How do we choose which ones to go to? How should you choose? Here are five questions you to ask yourself before deciding whether a con is right for you.
What Are Your Particular Geeky Interests?
Conventions specialize. Even when they don’t do it consciously, that bias will come through in their guest list, choice of panels, and the spaces provided. Plus, attending alone is different than attending with a family.
For instance, if you like anime, manga, and video games, and want to attend panels with voice actors, but also hang out with your friends with similar interests, ConnectiCon is going to be a better choice than Comic Con in San Diego. Of course, Comic Con does the celebrity thing with the biggest names in comics and geeky entertainment all attending. All you need is time and patience to wait in the correct lines. Those lines and the difficulty of getting into panels is a consideration for not taking the family, at least until the kids are old enough to venture out on their own in a big convention center and find the panels themselves.
And here’s where I might also advise you that C2E2 in Chicago has a similar list of big names but can be far less crowded and cheaper. Panel lines are shorter. Getting to the big names in Artist Alley is easier.
GenCon is the tabletop gaming con. The PAX cons are all about gaming, with a heavy emphasis on video games, though there is also a robust tabletop playing as well. There’s GeekGirlCon with a multi-fandom focus on women. My older two children flew out to Denver last year for a tiny con that featured Jim Butcher as the guest-of-honor because they wanted to meet him. They had a blast with the single focus.
Figure out what kind of geek experience you want, either for your or the whole family. Chances are, there’s a con for that.
Location, Location, Location
Location or venue, as they say, is not just where a con is being held but the logistics of getting to and from that con, including driving, parking, and the price of staying locally. It’s also about the experience around the con.
I’ve yet to go to a city that puts on a better party con than San Diego. The entire approximately eight square block area that leads to the San Diego convention center basically turns into a multi-day street fair, with open-air restaurants, waiters dressed in costume, custom drinks, and all the booths/displays/experiences provided by the companies that come to show off their stuff for the Con, usually open to those not even attending the Con. Add that to the beautiful weather in San Diego and it’s just a perfect place to be that week, so long as you don’t mind crowds. There is even a local grocery store with prepared foods, should you not want to spend the money on a restaurant.
But it’ll cost you. A lot. Even if you can find a hotel room via the lottery the Con holds, hotel rooms can routinely run $300 per night. And parking? Hahahah. Forget about driving to the area. Every time I took an Uber to get to the convention center, it was faster to have them drop me about 4 blocks away. And why did I take an Uber? The only way I could afford Comic Con was to book an Airbnb up near the San Diego Zoo, about 15 minutes driving distance away. It was a fine place and cost only $99 per night (split between 4 of us), so it was doable, especially with Uber and Lyft.
ConnectiCon? I was local, so we stayed at home and drove in. Hartford traffic was a pain, so one day the husband dropped us off without parking. But parking itself was a mess and frustrating and irritating. But still cheap. Plus, ConnectiCon solved the issue of food for attendees by holding the Con on the same weekend as the local food truck festival, which is just a block away.
Contrast that to New York Comic Con, which is held in the brick monstrosity that is the Javits Center. It’s an ugly building, has no atmosphere, and it’s a hike to leave the Con and find restaurants. No block party, no fun atmosphere. On the other hand, GeekGirlCon is in downtown Seattle and that was cool, especially with the mass transit system available. And it was quite walkable.
Moral: know where you’re doing–not just to the hotel–but for transportation. Your kids may have patience issues with waiting during travel. You may have patience issues. Some of these cons are going to test that patience more than others because of venue.
What’s the Attitude Toward Cosplay?
Going back to “what’s your geeky interest,” but it’s also about whether you or your kids consider all those awesome costumes an essential part of the con experience. DragonCon, of course, is overflowing with costumes. It seems to me that about 40 percent of the ConnectiCon attendees cosplay, which made it an amazing experience when my kids were younger. This is the Con that has the awesome Cosplay Death Match, which is really an action version of a costume contest, complete with rock music.
You’ll see cosplay at NYCC and San Diego, but it’s not the focus of the Con, as it can be with other cons. And some cons seem to tolerate cosplay rather than encourage it and that can be a bummer. Google news articles about the con, check out their Facebook pages, and see if they value it or not. Because if you’re going with kids, they’re going to want to see cosplay.
Is the Con Trying to Present Something to You OR Provide Fun for You?
Why is San Diego so big? Because the entertainment companies are trying to get you to consume their cool new thing. Nothing wrong with that, but it definitely comes with a seller’s attitude. Come check out the Timeless booth! Look, see the Suicide Squad cast! Wonder Woman movie costumes! San Diego is so relentlessly promotional that sometimes you feel like you’re missing all the cool stuff at the Con even when you’re at the Con.
Meantime, ConnectiCon is busy selling tickets to Nerd Prom so people can dance, providing old-style arcade video games to play, and setting up tabletop games that anyone can play. (Other cons do this as well.) SFGE wants you to play and enjoy pinball and arcade games. PAX has those tabletop games, but it often seems their gaming exhibitors want to sell you, rather than provide games to just hang and play. GeekGirlCon has a board game area for simple playing and chilling.
NYCC offers very little in the way of interactivity, but it also had a robust Artist’s Alley. I found the artists more available for commissions at NYCC than San Diego, with fewer lines and less crowding than San Diego. With the lack of that interactivity, NYCC also one of the most difficult ones for kids, unless you happen to have a hotel room less than a block away to decompress the kids. (Which I did one year.)
How Much Money Do You Have to Spend?
You would think I’d put this as a first consideration but, remember, the best convention experience isn’t always the most experience. I found the panels at GeekGirlCon more thoughtful, better-researched, and more entertaining than your average panel at NYCC, and the cost of GeekGirlCon itself was $65. Add in sharing a local hotel room, and I paid about $80 per night. True, I had to fly to Seattle, but I could take the mass transit to a block from the hotel and then could walk everywhere, so those costs stayed down. It also had a great hands-on science area for kids.
Those with a family might be better going to GeekGirlCon, especially as a first con, than San Diego or GenCon Or NYCC. San Diego isn’t going to make serious anime/manga fans that happy. More of interest to them was on the dealer’s floor at ConnectiCon than San Diego. And I did I mention I could find only two booths in San Diego that sold jewelry? TWO? DC and Marvel and IDW and others were embracing the female fan, but the booths dedicated to stuff women would like (Loot Crate Fangirl box, Her Universe) were few and far between. On the other hand, GeekGirlCon and ConnectiCon had great craft vendors.
That all said, what would I do if money were no object?
I’d rent an Airbnb pad in the Gaslamp District of San Diego for the month of July, have a blast vacationing in San Diego, and be in the heart of Comic Con once that week rolled around. Because San Diego is awesome, and it’s the biggest geek party there is.
Only you know what’ll work for you and your family, however.