It takes stamina, multiple bottles of water and the fervent determination of a comic book nerd sitting cross-legged before a disorganized box stuffed with potential treasures to successfully navigate a major convention like Tampa Bay Comic Con.
For first-timers, the experience can be overwhelming, and rightfully so. It’s not easy to suddenly be surrounded by tens of thousands of like-minded men and women, many of them dressed up as their favorite superhero or pop culture icon. And it’s even less easy to make it up and down each of the elbow-to-elbow aisles, while shopping, and talking, and looking at all the cool stuff.
Here’s a primer for what to expect when TBCC 2017 kicks off Friday at noon in downtown Tampa.
1. You'll be star-struck.
When you are suddenly standing less than a foot from Kate Beckinsale and you reach out to shake her hand, and all you can imagine is how she looked as Selene in skintight PVC from the Underworld franchise, you’re not going to be able to form a coherent sentence.
It’s going to happen. Trust us.
And that’s OK as long as you remember these simple tips:
Don’t get creepy.
Don’t overstay your welcome (Yes, the 300 people behind you also want to meet Kate).
And don’t try to get an autograph or a photo for free.
Always ask first, and expect to have to pay.
2. Ridiculously cool cosplay costumes.
Comic Con — whether in Tampa or San Diego — is a place where people feel liberated and free to dress up however they choose. And many of those costumes are going to blow your mind.
Just ask Carlos Blanchard, 54, a master marine carpenter from West Palm Beach. Since 2012, he has donned his 65-pound, custom-made, black leather, head-to-toe medieval Batman armor and received rave reviews. In May, Blanchard was mobbed by fans wanting to take a picture with him at MegaCon in Orlando.
Odds are, you may want to have a photo taken with your favorite cosplayer. It’s expected, and appreciated by the craftsmen and women who spends days, weeks and even years perfecting their outfits, but always remember to ask permission first.
For extra cool points, exchange email addresses or Facebook profile names so you can share the picture later with the person when you show all your friends how cool he or she looked.
3. Vendors. Lots and lots of vendors.
Yes, there will be comics — tons and tons of comics — to peruse and buy at TBCC. But, there also will be lots of other vendors with lots of other cool swag for you to buy, including many handcrafted and original, one-of-a-kind pieces of art.
The vendors at any comic convention offer a wonderful opportunity to discover artists, individuals and companies you otherwise might never encounter.
At MegaCon in May, for example, convention-goers had the chance to pose for Geek Goddess, a Winter Park, FL-based online membership website that specializes in professional and amateur models who like dressing up as their favorite female superheroes and pop culture icons. Founded by Tracy Reinhard and Jessica Carroll, the website now boasts more than 40 “goddesses,” including women across the U.S., Canada, Malaysia and South America, participating in pinup-style pictorials as She-Hulk, Morticia Addams, Harley Quinn and more.
4. Celebrity panels.
Part of the fun of a comic convention is getting to watch your favorite film, TV and comic stars talk about their latest and upcoming projects.
While there won't be anything nearly as cool as seeing the entire Avengers lineup appearing together to talk about their Marvel mega-hit, TBCC is hosting a variety of celebrity guest panels from Friday to Sunday, including Michael Biehn, star of The Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss; Khary Payton, who plays King Ezekiel on The Walking Dead; Renee O’Connor, who played Gabrielle on Xena: Warrior Princess; and Wallace Shawn of The Princess Bride, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and more.
5. You'll get educated.
Even better than hearing a celebrity talk is actually getting to interact with a group of experts about geeky pop culture things that interest you.
Seriously, this is the kind of thing that normal muggles pay to attend, and geeks get it included for free.
This year’s Tampa Bay Comic Con has a slew of such panels, including instructional and how-to seminars such as Graphic Design for Comic Page Layout (a primer for aspiring comic artists), Live Cosplay Model Drawing, Action and Fantasy Writing: How Do You Get Started and Podcasting on a Budget: How to Start a Podcast with Little Start-Up.
Even if you're not interested in honing a particular craft, there's always the Freestyle D&D panel. That’s Dungeons & Dragons, for the non-nerds, and who wouldn't be interested in learning how to better equip your shaman to bind spirits by creating talismans?
For a complete list of seminars and panels, consult your handy-dandy TBCC schedule.
6. You'll see — and judge — some cool indie films.
Most conventions today include a film festival, and that’s a really cool thing. For one, you get to check out short and feature-length films that have yet to be released to the masses. My favorite film festival screening was in 2015 at Spooky Empire for the Florida premiere of Deathgasm, an awesome low-budget horror movie from New Zealand.
And at TBCC, you also get to help pick the top submissions by voting for your favorite horror, fantasy, comedy and other films in multiple categories. TBCC will announce the winners on Sunday.
7. You'll experience your first Shadowcast.
There’s nothing quite like a Shadowcast, which, for the uninitiated, is the live-action re-enactment and sing-along of whatever film or TV show is being projected on-screen. Shadowcast performers take their craft very seriously, going to great lengths to have the best costumes, props and makeup effects possible.
One of the most popular Shadowcast properties, of course, is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which (Ballroom D, Sat., 9:30 p.m.)
8. If you wear a costume, odds are you'll have a costume snafu.
If you plan on dressing up for TBCC, then you need to plan on bringing a repair kit. No matter how much time and attention you spend on your creation, you never can fully prepare for walking in costume past tens of thousands of people, many of them also in big, bulky get-ups. Something is going to break, rip, tear or fall to pieces. Guaranteed.
However, cosplayers are pretty good about helping their own, so don’t be afraid to ask for assistance should your homemade photon torpedo blaster need a quick dollop of Super Glue.
9. You could find love.
Let’s face it: Geeks are geeks because we’re introverted, awkward and painfully shy, at times, and that’s not always a recipe for finding true love.
However, if you’re ever going to meet a like-minded soulmate, there’s really no better place than a comic con. And thankfully, the folks at TBCC want you to find love, which is why there will be three opportunities for attendees to register for Nerdy Speed Dating. Check your schedule to find out where to register and when.
10. You'll stand. A lot.
Remember what we said about water and stamina? Trust us, Padawan, if you’ve never braved a convention floor before, you must be prepared. Some celebrities draw massive crowds, who may stand in line for an hour or more just to get an autograph or say hello. Some panels for certain film and TV properties will have people lined up hours in advance just to get a good seat.
Even if you’re simply going for the experience of walking the entire convention floor, you still need to be prepared to get tired and dehydrated and hungry. This is as close to work as you’re going to come without getting paid, and you need to hydrate, nourish and listen to your aching feet when they tell you it’s time to sit down for a minute.
Trust us, even sitting, there’s no shortage of sights to be seen watching the crowd pass by.