Convention season has not quite gotten to an ongoing, year-round status, but there is no shortage of conventions going on these days. The Toronto Comic Arts Festival was this past weekend, AniMinneapolis starts next week, and Indy PopCon, Alabama Phoenix Festival and Fanboy Expo are all the week after that. And that’s, of course, just North America. Whether the focus is on comics, anime, gaming or just popular culture in general, from late spring throughout the summer, there are seemingly no end of conventions that you could attend.
Ostensibly, people go to a convention for reasons that generally center around celebrating their favorite hobby. That might mean dressing up in a Ghostbuster uniform for pictures in the Ecto-1, or looking to purchase a sonic screwdriver, or getting an autograph with Taimak. Conventions act as a capitalist focal point for many people looking to come across rare or hard-to-find items. Businesses bring wares that might not be worth their time to individually put on their online shop, and opportunities to see unique sights like actors or famous vehicles are rare enough to rate a premium. It’s little wonder that so many convention-goers can be seen carrying around huge bags of items they accumulate throughout a day’s traversing of a convention floor.
For some, professional networking is also a motivator to attend shows. People in the business, or those attempting to break into the business, know that others in their field will be in attendance as well, so they make a point of talking to those other folks to try to advance some business relations. In-person meetings, particularly for new projects, are often far smoother and more productive than trying to accomplish the same things through email or phone calls.
All of that is a cynical way of looking at conventions, however. There’s no doubt that all happens at conventions, and certainly there are some people who attend for precisely those reasons.
But you know what really makes a convention feel successful for me? What goes on outside the convention.
Since conventions are many things to many people, they act as a gathering place for all of these transactions to take place. But when those transactions finish, when you leave the convention floor and head to a resatuarant or bar, that’s where people can gather just to enjoy each other’s company. Because they’ve already convened in the same city, and have no business to transact until the show opens again the next morning, they can sit back and relax with other like-minded people.
For some, it can be a point of reunion. Old friends who moved apart years ago, newer friends who have shared experiences at previous conventions… often, they can be people who’ve known each other for years only via an online presence and are meeting in person for the first time. Others might be totally new acquaintances as people bring along other friends or relatives.
I have a friend who brought her father along to a convention recently. While her brother combed the back issue bins for old comics, she just had a fun time going around and interacting with all the creative people. Meanwhile, her father found himself a comfortable seat and apparently had a good time just watching all the cosplayers walking around. But once we all got together,we had that much more fun. Talking and laughing and, well, just being friends.
Conventions afford the opportunity to pick up unique artifacts and experiences that you simply can’t find anywhere else. But the beauty of the con scene is being able to share that fun and excitement with others. The interactions, the laughter, the companionship all are stronger and, at least in my experience, make for a much richer convention experience. Whether you bring friends with you, or meet them at the show for the first time, it’s that much more fun when you can share your great bargains and rare finds with them.