I hang out and work quite a bit at The Drawing Room, a lounge/hotel lobby of the Chicago Athletic Association (now, a hotel). As I’ve heard it, the person who bought and renovated the building wanted to do something… unique with the trophy cases in the room.

That means there are trophies for Most Resourceful Sport – Skateboarding, and One-on-One Sumoball, and Animal Revenge: 1st Place – Bear, 2nd Place: Man, and more.

The room is so large and has so much character, it was easy to gloss over these for the first couple months I started coming here, since I usually sit down and get right to work.

If you get the chance, definitely check this place out. It’s amazing.

In the past few years, I’ve developed a real appreciation for ComicCons. My elevator pitch is that they’re conferences for people who enjoy any kind of entertainment, including comics, movies, TV shows, art, and increasingly board games, video games, books, and more.

ComicCons are quite welcoming to everyone, even if you’ve never read a comic or seen the latest super hero movies. However, there’s a great chance you might discover a book, film, or fandom that gets you hooked. You don’t need to cosplay. It gets a lot of fanfare, but the majority of attendees don’t do it. From the large ones I’ve attended, they’ve developed a strong code of conduct (example) to help ensure everyone feels welcomed.

But what is a ComicCon? What do you actually do at one? I’ll break them down into three major parts from my experience over the last few years of attending a couple big ones: C2E2 and Wizard World in Chicago.

Show Floor

The largest part of most cons is usually the ‘show floor,’ which is basically like a giant retail store for products related to entertainment. It’s a huge room, usually the size of a large warehouse. This is where a lot of companies and indies set up shop to sell their products, art, books, games, apparel, figurines, toys, and much more.

You can walk the floor, buy stuff, talk to these companies and makers (or not), learn about the stuff they make or get your nerd on. In general they are all usually quite welcoming and happy to talk to everyone.

For anyone with social/public anxiety, this might be a triggering area. If the con is popular at all, the floor can get pretty busy off and on throughout the day. Cons usually run Friday-Sunday, sometimes a Thursday too. In my experience, Saturdays are the busiest day, and Thu/Fri are the least busy.

Panels

Probably the first or second largest draw for most cons are the panels. These are usually in smaller conference rooms attached to the main show floor area, sized for groups of people from around 50 to maybe 100-300 for the big ones.

In general, panels are presentations or discussions involving people who work in entertainment industries. Topics can range from the educational, like “how to start drawing/writing/working in comics,” to live interviews with big-name celebrities from current and past media.

Art

Art is a huge component of ComicCons, and in a wide variety of forms. Artists and vendors from virtually every corner of entertainment industries sell all kinds of art on the show floor—fan art of existing media, officially licensed merch, original art, and more. There are usually art workshops for various medium and skill levels, and many artists take commissions if you want something specific.

Conclusion and honorable mentions

I think those three are the big tentpoles of most ComicCons, so I hope that helps. If you’d like to get a look for yourself without buying a ticket, ComicCons are usually in large conference facilities where you can get into the lobby for free to look around, get a feel for the overall event, and people watch.

If you’re into nearly any kind of entertainment series, franchise, book, film, or whatever, I definitely recommend checking out a ComicCon. I think they’re a lot of fun, and every friend I’ve introduced to them found something that captured their attention.

To wrap this up, I’ll leave you with a few honorable mentions.

Autograph area

Part of the show floor often has an autograph area where celebrities will sign autographs and merchandise. It’s usually a short window, maybe 1-2 hours, once or twice during the con. The bigger the star, the longer the line. Sometimes you have to pay, but I’m not an autograph person so that’s about all I’ve picked up about it.

Shop local

I don’t know about ComicCons outside of Chicago, but the two that come here usually dedicate a section of the show floor to local artists and vendors. I think it’s a nice gesture. It’s also a good way to start a relationship with a local shop if you want to become a patron or maybe source some specific products.

Artist Alley

One of my favorite parts of the show floor, Arist Alley is an area dedicated to small and indie artists. If you like fan art, interpretations of franchises, and original art, this is a great place. The artists themselves usually run their tables and usually accept commissions. I also just really like being able to meet the people who create the fan art I like.

Photo via C2E2