What conventions have taught me

NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!

So, Ayacon was beyond mental. Anime conventions tend to be like that, and I loved it. You can check out my photos over on the Facebook page, and feel free to tag yourself! Anyway, I thought I’d write a semi-informative blog post about the ‘important lessons’ I have learned at these conventions I have been going to on-off over the last few years.

I imagine a number of you have no idea what Ayacon is (in short, a three day convention filled with parties, cosplay and Japanese pop culture geekery) but, on the off chance you’re interested, I thought I’d share some ‘wisdom’, if you can call it that. For those of you who were at Ayacon, or have been to similar conventions yourself, I hope you appreciate some of these observations!

Next week, we’ll get back to the more serious stuff, I promise!

Make a packing list

Almost all conventions are held in either a hotel or on university campuses. So, depending on which one your convention is at, you’d better make sure you’ve got everything you need. I personally always forget the little things like towels and clothes hangers, which will be provided for you if you’re in a hotel. If you’re in student halls though, remember that they will be completely bare! There’s nothing more annoying than unloading your suitcase and realising you have no towel, toothpaste and so on for the weekend. Of course, you can go out and buy these things, but who has time for shopping when you’re at a convention?

This brings me nicely on to my next two points. You WILL want to buy or at least bring with you the next two things…

Eating is pretty important!

You’re running around like a hyperactive maniac, high on adrenaline, and there’s a good chance you’ll either forget to eat, or just have a bag or crisps for lunch and nothing else. I did this at my first convention and ate my body weight in home-cooked food when I got back, and subsequently got ill. Please, pack a bag of oranges or Nutri Grain bars or something!

Drinking all the alcohol on the first night isn’t the best idea

Do you really want to be hungover Saturday and Sunday? No, sir, leave that until Monday! Most conventions have amazing parties, complete with geeky music and glow sticks. You will inevitably get drunk, and it’s an overall very safe environment to be drunk in because you’re surrounded by loving geeks and friends, but your stomach may not handle all that booze on night #1 and punish you for the rest of the weekend. I was at one convention a few years back, drank a load on the Friday night (having not drunk for months) and fell asleep at 10pm. You do not want to be that person.

Don’t cosplay for the winter in the middle of summer

I know a lot of hardcore cosplayers reading this will laugh at my non-hardcore-ness here, and will probably disagree with me. If you’re cosplaying at a convention, you might not want to wear a heavy leather jacket and black wig in the middle of August… Then again, if you’re part of a group, and you spent so long on that jacket that nothing could tear you apart from it, fair enough. At least carry a bottle of water with you!

There is not enough anime karaoke in the world

Where else can you sing the themes from Pokemon, Attack on Titan or that strange forgotten tune from the 90s? At anime conventions, obviously. This is a staple event and is always fun, so make sure you drag your friends to this and get your requests in early… the queue is always long!

Cosplay chess should be a national sport

I can’t explain how weird and wonderful cosplay chess. Imagine wizard’s chess in Harry Potter, then replace the chess pieces with cosplayers who act the part of their characters. I went along to Ayacon’s cosplay chess event and it was one of the highlights of the whole weekend for me. If done right, cosplay chess can be a laugh out loud event. I’m glad I was sat on the floor for this because I was doubled over a lot of the time. Where else are you going to see Korra (Avatar) chuck a bucket of water at someone all dressed in military uniform, or Ganondorf (Legend of Zelda) finally getting to be king? At cosplay chess, obviously.

Bring a spare memory card and battery for your camera

This only applies to would-be photographers like myself. The pros have all their fancy equipment, whereas I suffered with camera envy with my tiny digital camera. If wearing a costume at a convention is not your thing, you can play photographer for the weekend instead. Just make sure your camera can handle it and don’t forget your charger!

The best bargains are found at the bring and buy

There’s always a dealers’ room at a convention, where you can stock up on collectables and snacks, or commission some amazing artwork from independent artists. If this all sounds too expensive, you can make some money by dropping all that unwanted anime and video game stuff off at the bring and buy table. The bring and buy is basically a very geeky car boot sale, without the cars, and geeks from all over the country bring their weird and wonderful stuff for the next geek to take off their hands. You can get some good deals on manga and DVD collections, figurines and art books, so put aside some cash for this one!

Fun fact: I made £50 at the bring and buy!

Panels are great

Go to a panel or, better yet, run one! Ayacon was the first convention where I held a panel, ‘Blogging about Anime and Japan’ and I’m glad to report it went off more or less without a hitch. There was a slight technical error on my part which involved the readjustment of a kimono but let’s ignore that. Thanks to everyone who turned up and supported me on the day, no less at 10am, and apparently someone was taking notes which amazes me. I also got a free mug out of it and a special events and press badges, which I was flashing around all day. I also went along to the Japanese Literature 101 panel run by the fantastic Storme. I’ve got plenty of new authors to check out now, so expect some more book reviews!

Panels are a great way of learning about a niche part of Japanese culture or win prizes, if there’s a quiz involved. You’ll be in need of some ‘down time’ with all that running around and excitement, so I highly recommend checking your con schedule and circling the things you want to go to.

Talk to everyone!

Yes, even the people who aren’t wearing convention badges- they could be closet geeks to who just happen to live there and are confused and curious. This is your community, so make some new friends! You’ve got to be in the same building with them for three days, after all. Social norms don’t apply here, although that doesn’t mean you can get away with acting creepy. That said, there’s nothing wrong with randomly approaching someone you’ve never met before and striking up a conversation with them. That person could be your future new best friend, flatmate, or even girlfriend/boyfriend.

Oh yes, expect your friend requests to surge a bit post-con.

Be nice to the staff

Whether it’s pizza parties, drinking games, or costume pieces, that stuff’s going to have to get cleaned up post-con by the cleaning staff. You’re having a constant three day party and these guys are going to be so confused and hopefully amused, so give them a smile or a ‘thank you’ when you can. I felt bad about the state of my room, which was comparably clean compared to others’, but I still left a thank you note, half a bottle of vodka and my remaining satsumas for the cleaners when I left. I hope they appreciated it!

The amount of pain you feel post-con is directly proportionate to how much fun you had

Self-explanatory. If you’ve got a raging hangover or unexplained bruises, you had fun. In my case, I slipped in a puddle of water in the kitchen and fell on my backside, then had trouble walking for the next three days. Make sure you bring some comfy flat shoes and pain killers in case of an accident!

Until next time…

I have no idea if I’ll be going to another anime convention – both because I’ve been to so many now and am saving up for an eventual Japan holiday, but I’ve have a lot of good memories and made great friends through them over the years. If you’ve not been to a convention but are now sorely tempted, here are a few that you can go to in 2014!

Kitacon (28-30 March, Hilton Birmingham Metropole)

Auchinawa (Glasgow – date and venue TBC)

Amecon (date and venue TBC)

Sadly, there will not be another Ayacon as that was the final one! Eight conventions in 15 years, done entirely on a voluntary basis is quite a feat. A massive thank you to all the staff, volunteers and attendees who made it a memorable weekend!

Finally, here is a really awesome video from TheElectroSpectrum, which captures the cosplay essence of Ayacon.

2 thoughts on “What conventions have taught me

  1. It was a bit poignant that this was the final Aya…I wasn’t there from the beginning but I’ve been to several, and the sense of community was quite something. You’re absolutely right that it’s important to remember that these are *social* events – for the rest of the year we all sit at home and communicate online, so it would be a real shame to miss the opportunity to interact with other fans. I hope that sense of community is one thing that won’t change.

    And yes…for heaven’s sake, be sensible with food and drink! I recall one occasion a few years back when I overdid it, and had a painful morning and a late checking-out to show for it. This year I took it easy and was glad I did – I made a point of having a square meal before a few glasses of cider in the company of good friends, and I had some great memories to take home with me without my liver and wallet hating me for it.

    The special events are always worth checking out too – yours was one of several really interesting and entertaining panels this year, and it was great to hear fellow fans sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm. And cake. Thanks for the cake, by the way. 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed the weekend too! It’s always great mingling with fellow geeks and you’re so right about the sense of community. Oh, and the sparing your wallet and liver.

      Thanks so much for coming along to my panel! I had visions of speaking to an empty room, so really appreciate you coming along.

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