This year, I had the pleasure of being a part of the biggest gathering of nerds on the East Coast: New York Comic Con (NYCC). After hours spent waiting in a virtual queue last spring for tickets, months of extensive trip research (aka asking people where the best place to get cheesecake is—for the record it’s Junior’s in Times Square), and a very early flight from Buffalo to NYC, my equally nerdy best friend Mary and I finally made it through the doors of the Javits Center and into fangirl paradise.
I’d never been to a real convention before NYCC. Star Wars Weekends in Walt Disney World is similar in some ways but very different in others, so this was an entirely new experience for me. And it’s one I hope to have again as soon as possible. The early mornings, long lines, sore feet, and big credit card bills were all worth it when I look back on the experience I had. To be a part of an environment that isn’t just friendly toward nerds but created specifically for people like us was incredible, and it’s something I think every fangirl and fanboy should experience at least once in their lives.
I expected to have a lot of fun at NYCC, but I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did—not just about the con-going experience but about my own relationship with fandom and my place in it as a writer (forgive me for getting a tad bit introspective/sentimental). So here—in no particular order—are 10 things I learned during my time at NYCC that I wanted to pass on to my fellow nerdy girls (and nerdy guys).
1. It pays to be patient.
The theme of much of my NYCC experience was “Hurry Up and Wait.” Thankfully, years of Disney World trips have taught me how to handle waiting in crazy lines, but there were still more than a few moments at NYCC that tested my patience. Lines to get into panels felt like they went on forever, and the line to get into the convention on Friday morning wound around entire city blocks. For rooms that weren’t cleared between panels (anything besides the Main Stage), you needed to get there at least one if not two panels before the one you really wanted to see to ensure a seat. But I learned you can use that time to have fun chatting with people around you, to catch up on the eating/drinking you will inevitably forget to do during the day, and to enjoy some quality people-watching. And at least from my experience, once the lines start moving, they move very quickly; while it may feel like you’ve spent so much time at the convention standing in line, it was actually a small fraction of your day. So if you ever find yourself faced with a crazy con line, just remember that the experience waiting at the end of that line will be worth it. Patience is a virtue, fellow nerds.
2. All those “con tips” you read about? They exist for a reason; heed their advice.
If you’ve ever read anything about going to a fan convention, you know the drill: Stay hydrated. Wear comfortable shoes. Make sure your phone is charged. Take your vitamins. I am here to tell you that those are well-known tips for a reason. I went through so much water during my two days at NYCC; bringing a bottle to fill up at water fountains was a tip I greatly benefited from. Also, try to eat real food and not just snacks. I know it’s expensive, but on a day when I was feeling tired and grumpy, eating a made-to-order chicken pita for lunch was a lifesaver. Protein helps! And if you can, eat at off times to avoid crowds. Mary and I ate lunch before noon on Friday, and it was downright peaceful compared to the atmosphere on Thursday at a more traditional lunchtime. It’s easy to get caught up in the fun and to forget to take care of your body, so rest whenever you can, drink some orange juice, and when the “con crud” hits (and it will), drink plenty of tea and take lots of naps when you get home.
3. Things don’t always go according to plan…
Planning is important for something as huge as NYCC, but even the best-laid plans don’t always work out the way we want them to. For example, Mary and I got up early on Friday morning with every intention of getting to Nathan Fillion’s first autograph signing. After that, we had plans to see a Star Wars panel before lunch. However, after waiting almost an hour after his scheduled autograph time without any sign of him, we decided to give up our spot in line. While we’d already missed the Star Wars panel, we didn’t want to miss anything else we had planned for the rest of the day. Although it was somewhat disappointing to have what we thought would be a highlight of the day fall through, it ultimately proved to be only a minor setback on an otherwise perfect day. Going to a con means sometimes being at the mercy of other people (organizers, celebrities, etc.), so you have to be prepared for some plans not panning out. However, if meeting Fillion had been our top priority, we would have stuck it out. The con experience is about prioritizing, so if you have something you simply can’t miss, make sure you do everything in your power to work your plans around that event. (That’s what we did with the Once Upon a Time panel.)
4. …And sometimes it’s fun to have no plan at all.
Mary and I decided to make Thursday a “free day” with no real itinerary, and it led to a fun, no-stress first day at NYCC. It allowed us to check out all the panel and autograph locations so we could figure out how to get from one place to another on Friday. It gave us a whole day to explore the Show Floor, which allowed us to take breaks from its hectic atmosphere as needed instead of feeling forced to see it all at once. And it made it possible for us to really take our time going through Artist Alley, which deserves as much time as you can allow. I loved having time to actually think about the merchandise I bought and to talk to the people who made it because I didn’t have to get to a panel or signing.
And speaking of signings, having time to take in the sights gave me the chance to see who did or didn’t have crazy autograph lines, which led to a meeting with Carl Lumbly! Those of you who know my deep love for Alias will hopefully appreciate the fact that I actually got to meet Dixon, and it was all because I happened to walk past his table when he had no line!
5. Representation matters.
There were so many nerdy girls at NYCC! It made me happy to see so many women at this convention because it reminded me that fangirls are starting to become a stronger, more confident, and more vocal presence in all fandoms. The “more vocal” part was especially important during Thursday’s Nerdist Writers Panel, which featured writers from a variety of television shows talking about their craft. During the audience Q&A, a woman (who I want to be friends with) asked why there were no female writers on the panel, which was my favorite question of the entire convention. Women are important consumers of media, and we want to see ourselves and our stories reflected not just in the media we consume but also in the people creating that media. That’s why Felicia Day’s panel felt like such a breath of fresh air. She spoke candidly about being not only a fangirl but also a female content creator and a businesswoman. NYCC reinforced my belief that representation matters, and I’m proud of my fellow fangirls for voicing that belief in such a public way.
6. There’s no “right” way to be nerd.
During Day’s panel, she also talked about how there shouldn’t be one set of requirements for being a nerd. We all have things we’re nerdy about, and there are things traditionally considered “nerdy” that we all actually know nothing about. Throughout the two days I spent at NYCC, I spent time around various groups of fans: cosplayers, gamers, Justice League fans, Supernatural fans, Oncers, Browncoats, and countless others. And what I was struck by was the fact that no one really seemed to look down on anyone else because of what they were a fan of. If you were waiting in line for the Nerdist panel, that was cool, but it was also cool if you were actually waiting for the Impractical Jokers panel. We’re all nerds about something, and NYCC was a celebration of that fact.
7. Enthusiasm is contagious.
There’s something about being a room full of people who care very strongly about something that makes it easy to get swept up in the magic of fandom. I’ve never seen an episode of Impractical Jokers, but the sheer joy and excitement in the room during their panel made it impossible to resist cheering and laughing along with everyone else. And one of my favorite experiences of the entire con was sitting in on the Justice League 10th Anniversary panel even though I’ve never watched that show, either. The amount of love Justice League fans displayed during that panel was astounding. I actually got choked up seeing those fans give the panelists a standing ovation, knowing what it means to love something that much. It was special to sit back and simply watch fans show their love for the people who gave them a piece of media they hold so close to their hearts. That’s what fandom is—it’s love. And to be a witness to such sincere expressions of that love was an experience I treasured.
8. The things that divide fandoms matter so much less in person than they do online.
I already had a really nice reminder of this during my trip to Disney World this summer, but my NYCC experience reinforced the idea that the shared joys we find through fandom ultimately matter so much more than the little things we argue about on the Internet. I’m sure that there were representatives of every group of “shippers,” people with every favorite character imaginable, and people who disliked every character and “ship” imaginable at NYCC, but those things never caused the ruckus there that they can sometimes cause on Twitter or Tumblr. Instead, what united us as fans was far more important than what could divide us. Before the Once Upon a Time panel, we had what amounted to a 90-minute dance party, and seeing people dressed up as different characters dancing and laughing together reminded me that, at the end of the day, fandom is about fun. It’s about enjoying something with a group of people who enjoy that same thing. It’s about spreading joy and excitement, and making new friends along the way.
9. Sometimes you really do get to live the dream.
I’ve written about this before: I’m (sadly) a “waiting for the other shoe to drop” kind of person. In happy moments, I often find myself bracing for what’s going to go wrong afterward instead of accepting that things can just be good. Once Upon a Time and the character of Emma Swan specifically have helped me start to let go of that mindset. So it seems fitting that I got to experience an amazing few hours of things simply being good thanks to that show and the actress who brings Emma to life.
The Once Upon a Time panel was a dream-come-true kind of moment for me. And it wasn’t just because I got to be in the same room as the show’s creators (Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis) and its star (Jennifer Morrison)—although that was obviously incredible. It was because I got to help my fellow Oncers who weren’t at the panel get excited about that week’s episode and storylines to come. For one day, I got to experience what it was like to be at the epicenter of enthusiasm and to pass that on to other fans. I was able to feel like I was making some small, positive contribution to a fandom that’s close to my heart, and that’s all I ever want to do.
And then, of course, came the opportunity of a lifetime after the panel: meeting Jennifer Morrison. I spent a long time thinking I wasn’t going to get a chance to meet her, but I didn’t give up hope that maybe my luck would change. And my hope paid off that day. While a very quick photo op isn’t the most ideal place to talk to someone you admire, I did manage to speak with her for a few seconds, and her expression of sincere enthusiasm about my writing is something I will never forget. Morrison seems as warm, kind, and lovely as any of her fans could ever hope for her to be, and meeting her was truly one of the most special moments of my life. And if my dream experience on Friday taught me anything, it’s this: Positivity is rewarded in the most unexpectedly amazing ways, and when that happens, enjoy the moment. Let yourself be happy. Then, carry that happiness with you and do whatever you can to pay it forward and help others feel happy, too.
10. Fandom is powerful and personal, and I want to do everything I can to honor that.
I love being a nerd. I love being around other nerds. And that’s what conventions like NYCC are all about—reminding nerds that we’re not alone; there are so many other people out there who understand what it’s like to care about things the way we care, to feel as passionately as we feel.
Fandom is both deeply personal and communal, and that intersection between the individual emotional connection we form with media and the way we display it in public is fascinating to me. And that’s why I’m so happy events like NYCC exist—gatherings of people who support each other’s passions and share each other’s enthusiasm. That energy is exactly what I hope NGN reflects to everyone who visits this site, and it’s exactly what I want to be at the center of my book. I believe so strongly in the power of fandom to make us feel like we’re not alone. That’s what conventions are all about, and that’s what I want my writing to be about, too.
So thank you, NYCC, for giving me a renewed sense of purpose and more happy memories than I can count. I’m a better fangirl because I went to NYCC, and that’s all anyone can ask for from a con experience.