Tips for covering Comic Conventions
As some of you know I go to comic book conventions and cover them, usually as a member of the press. My first convention was in the summer of 2002 which means I’m coming up on 15 years now. So I’ve been thinking about all of the stuff I’ve learned over the years covering conventions and decided I would share them for anybody who is either just starting to cover comic conventions or thinking about doing so.
If you are there to cover the con and have fun, remember that covering the con comes before having fun. This means if there are things you want to do as a fan conflict with things you should do as a member of the press, then do the press thing. Especially if you are working for another website and not for yourself. If the convention has given you a free ticket to get in, you should do the job that you’re there to do and not just have fun for “free.” There have been several conventions where pro-wrestlers I really liked were there and doing a panel, people whom I’ve always wanted to meet and ask questions. Sadly, doing so conflicted with covering comic related stuff so I wasn’t able to do it.
Just because the convention gave you a press pass doesn’t mean owe the convention a positive review. Some conventions are run badly or at least did not work out as well as they hoped. You can and should be the voice of the people who paid money to be at the con, both vendors and fans. When I was writing convention reports I’d talk to the exhibitors that were at the con. Sometimes exhibitors will tell you something completely different than they say to the convention organizers or what they say out loud when convention staff are nearby. They might do this in fear of petty retribution by the convention organization, be it getting kicked out other shows the organization is doing, getting a poor spot on the convention floor next show or something like that. Some people just don’t want to say negative things about somebody’s work to their face. Go with what they tell you, as they know you are press and they want the word to get out.
Some people very loudly complain about the convention and are not shy at all. It might be the same complaint every convention, every year. The market is evolving and they refuse to evolve with it and they get mad at the convention for it. For example, it was (and still is with some dealers) common practice to mix up the dollar bin books so that fans would need to look through all of them to find the books they want. In the old days die-hard fans would go through all the books and find some they want and maybe pick up something they didn’t originally plan on buying, which is why the dealers did it. It was also much less labour intensive to have them mixed up then putting them all in order. These days more and more fans just won’t spend the time to do that anymore. If the books aren’t sorted so they can quickly find if what they’re looking for is there, then they move on. Either another dealer will have them sorted (and they’ll pay $2 or $3 for the same book if it’s easy to find) or they’ll buy it on online. Vendors who don’t adapt see their sales falling and they blame it on the convention. It’s always best to get a variety of views and not let just one or two colour your view of the whole convention.
I get a number of people asking me the details about who I work for and the purpose of my coverage. Have business cards to give them. Some people will really appreciate them and it looks more professional. Sometimes you’ll get a business card back that will have a way to contact them that’s not public and can be useful down the line.
Look at how other professionals are dressed. Are they wearing Wolverine and Walking Dead t-shirts? With rare exceptions they’re not. Dress in normal clothes and not like a fan. Feel free to buy and wear those clothes when you’re at home, but while you’re at a convention, don’t pay money to be a walking billboard for a company’s product. It’s a subtle thing, but if you don’t want professionals to treat you like a fan, then don’t dress like a fan. The rare exceptions I’ve seen a professional dressed in fandom clothes are usually older creators wearing a t-shirt of a character they created. If you’re Len Wein and you co-created Wolverine and Swamp Thing you’re totally permitted to wear a t-shirt with them on it.
With many conventions you really need to pick and choose what you’re going to cover as conventions are multifaceted and have a mix of comics, gaming, celebrities and other stuff going on. When I first started covering conventions I tried to cover it all, but that quickly got frustrating. Especially when some parts of the conventions weren’t very receptive to the press. In my case it was covering the celebrities. They wanted everybody to pay for photos and often there were mechanisms to block anybody from taking a photo without paying for it, including the press. In one case a celebrity did a panel, but had the convention block access to anybody with a press pass from attending said panel. At that point I stopped covering celebrities and decided I was there for the comics so I would focus on the comic aspect of the convention.
Plan ahead and have backup plans. Have a schedule of what you’re going to do and when it’s happening. This means if there is panel you wish to cover, get there a head of time. If the convention doesn’t clear out the rooms, you might want to attend the panel prior to it while its ongoing so you’re in the room when the next panel starts. If you have to miss said panel (this always happens to me at least once per convention), think about what else is going on that you can cover and rearrange your schedule to compensate. Sometimes this is a bonus as you get something nobody else is covering, effectively giving you an exclusive and learn something new that’s really interesting or cool. Best part will be passing this along to your readers.
Not every creator is going to agree to what you want or even follow through on their promises. I’ve had creators skip out on doing scheduled interviews, then refuse to make alternative plans to do the interview at a different date (or even some other method after the convention). Some have agree to having their panel recorded at one convention, then refuse the same request at another. I have even helped a lost creator find their room they’re doing a panel in and then said creator refused to have the panel recorded. It’s best to not take this stuff personally. For starters you’re not entitled the the professional’s time. It also doesn’t do you any good to hold on to the anger. Let it go and just know that you can’t rely on that creator in the future. There are lots of people who want coverage and many that aren’t getting the coverage they ought to.
Assuming you use electronics, have spare charged batteries and/or chargers with you at all times. This is especially true for cameras and tablets/laptops. Sometimes things get left on or a battery that you thought was charged suddenly isn’t. It really sucks not having the tools you need to cover something. Also, bring a notepad and pen(s). It’s often just easier to pull it out of your back pocket and write stuff down. Especially if you are taking pictures of pro’s you’ve never seen before. I always make sure I write down their names in the order that I took the pictures, even if I know who the pro is. I also write down something about them to identify the picture. Something like green T-shirt and glasses, standing with book, etc.. This will really help when putting names to faces. The photos of people you know mixed in with these photo’s will help assure you that your putting the correct names to faces.
After the convention is over for the day, if you have any writing to do you should spend at least part of your evening writing. I know with most conventions there are parties at night and it’ll be tempting to go to said parties but again, if you’re there to do a job, then do that job. Otherwise, you’re going to need to make up the time somewhere else to meet your deadline which may involve missing sleep – which is never a good thing to do on purpose. Often I have a tablet (with keyboard) with me and when I’m getting dinner at a restaurant I’ll pull out the tablet and start writing while I’m waiting for food and my bill. Squeeze in your writing where you can. If you miss something you wanted to cover and there is nothing else between now and and the next thing you want to do, find the press room and use it to get some writing done. The less work there is to do after the convention is over the better it is for you.
If you ARE at a party with lots of professionals, know that your presence might be a downer at the party. Because you are press, people might be more guarded about what they talk about in fear of what they say getting spread online, even if you reassure them that’s not going to happen. Also if you are conversing with a pro at a party, don’t ask them the same fanboy questions they’ve probably been asked 2 dozen times that day.
Another thing you will notice is different press organizations get different levels of access. If it’s a TV show with a camera crew, they are probably going to be able to get the interviews with people you can’t just because of how large their audience is. Same goes for the more popular websites that cover comics. Don’t fret over what other people are doing as covering a convention isn’t a competition. If you have stuff you wanted to do, go and do that and be happy with it. Not everything at a convention gets coverage and often people/events that aren’t big names are very appreciative for the coverage you bring.
If you do this long enough, some creators who you’re used to seeing and chatting with are going to become very popular. Then you’re not going to be able to just walk up to their table and chat with them like you used to anymore. Chip Zdarsky and Agnes Garbowska are two examples for me right now. For years I would walk up to their tables, make small talk with them and ask them for a picture. Now their tables are usually surrounded with people and sometimes they just do signings at specific times. Be happy for their success. You may still see them at a panel or elsewhere outside the convention itself.
Beyond that, do try to enjoy your time at the convention. While you still need to work and focus your energies to that end, the work you are doing should still be enjoyable. Otherwise, why do it?