Conventions Big and Small

In the last couple years I’ve attended two major conventions, World Fantasy in San Diego (2009) and Dragon Con in Atlanta (2010). This year I decided to dial it back with a slate of smaller local and regional conventions.

My decision was made partly out of financial pragmatism. Big conventions, unless they are held in your hometown, can be expensive to attend. Including airline tickets and three or four nights at a host hotel, you can be talking more than a thousand dollars. Also, I wanted to see how some of the local cons compared.

First, I want to talk about the Big Ones.

World Fantasy is touted as an industry convention. It’s mainly attended by writers, agents, publishers, and publicists. That’s not to say that fans weren’t welcome, but it was definitely the most subdued of the cons. It’s a place to rub elbows, and the hotel bar is the most well-attended room in the building. World Fantasy happened before my first novel was released, so I attended as a starry-eyed fan. It was such a rush to wander in the presence of giants whom I’d only known previously as names on a book sleeve. World Fantasy has panel discussions, book readings, signings, art viewings, and a huge dealer hall. Plenty of things to do, but as I mentioned the bar is the place to be. That is where the stars of fantasy hold court, and for the price of a drink you can hear enough stories and anecdotes to choke a Jabberwock.

Dragon Con is the polar opposite of World Fantasy. Dragon Con is all about the fans. Comics fans, movie fans, book fans, anime fans, and a whole bunch of people who just want to have a good time. I couldn’t count all the people in costumes, some of them so good they looked like they had just walked off a movie set. These folks are serious. All the dealer rooms were packed. Hell, just trying to cross the lobbies of any of the host hotels could take ten minutes, and that was at 2 AM. I spent most of my non-sleeping time at the Pyr Books booth, signing and talking to people. My only regret is that I didn’t explore more. (I also should have sacrificed some sleep to check out the late-night parties up in the rooms.) Actually, that sums up Dragon Con perfectly: one huge comicbook/scifi/fantasy party.

After experiencing those large cons, I wanted to see how some smaller ones compared. The year kicked off with a nice surprise when, from out of the blue, I was invited to be a guest at the Steel City Con in Pittsburgh, PA. I had never heard of this con, so I didn’t really know what to expect. But Steel City is mainly a collectibles convention. There were toys, posters, signed photos—you name it—from movies, TV shows, comics, and so on. There were more celebrities there than I expected, from Peter Tork of the Monkees to the Seinfeld Soup Nazi, but the big draw was Adam West from the original Batman TV series. I had the honor of sitting right across the aisle from Mr. West, and although I didn’t spring for an autograph photo, I did benefit from my close proximity as the large crowd gathered to meet Bruce Wayne filed past my table. There were more people in costumes than I expected, and some of them were very well-done, approaching the level of what I saw at Dragon Con. But for an author, Steel City was a little disappointing. I felt like a fish out of water. Not too many of the attendees were keen on a checking out a new novel, fantasy or otherwise. Still, I was grateful for the invitation. Although Steel City Con was the smallest of the four cons, everything was very orderly. The staff does a great job of making sure things run smoothly.

Pittsburgh ComiCon was held a month later in same building as Steel City Con. True to its name, PCC is mainly a comics convention, but it also has a lot of artists and small publishers in attendance. The artwork you can find there is just astounding, everything from black and white sketches to full-blown paintings. Many of the artists were taking commissions on the spot, creating whatever the customers wanted. And if you are a comic book collector, there were rows and rows of vendors to satisfy your hunger.

After seeing two big cons and two smaller ones, the most honest thing I can say is that I need more data. With the big cons, I was mainly a spectator trying to take it all in, and so they had more of a “party” atmosphere. With the smaller cons, I was a guest and a seller, so I had a retail experience. My advice is to see at least one of the big annual conventions like Dragon Con or Comic Con. Treat it like a vacation. See the sights and meet the people. But also check out the local cons in your area because they might have a lot to offer.

So what SFF/H conventions have you been to? As a fan or as a guest? Would you recommend them? Tell us about your experience.

Jon Sprunk is the author of Shadow’s Son (Pyr Books) which was nominated for the David Gemmell Award for Best Fantasy and the Compton Crook Award for Best New Fantasy. You can learn more about him and his work at


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