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What you need to make the most of FanExpo

Fans will head to America's Center this weekend for the pop culture convention
Credit: FanExpo

ST. LOUIS — FanExpo St. Louis is taking over the America’s Center Convention Complex May 13-15. This is the first larger-scale comic convention in the area since before the pandemic. 

The lockdowns gave many of us time to explore new genres in pop culture, with major spikes in interest in manga and anime. That is drawing new fans to events like FanExpo, where you can meet the creators and celebrities behind your favorite shows, movies and books.

Attending your first pop culture convention can be overwhelming, but there are a few ways you can prepare to maximize your experience.

  • Book tickets and accommodations: Buying tickets to the convention early can often save you a few bucks. Multi-day passes are often the first ones to sell out, so don’t miss out. Tickets for FanExpo can be purchased here. If you’re attending a convention from out of town, book your flights and hotels early. Most conventions partner with nearby hotels for discounts, so check the website to see where you can save a few bucks. Research parking and public transportation near the venue, or use a rideshare service to get to the event.
  • Decide on your costume: Cosplay is a fun way to get involved in the action, but it is definitely not required. Whether it’s homemade, store-bought, or something straight out of your imagination, wear something you feel comfortable in. You might have other fans ask to take a picture with you, and it is absolutely okay to say no if you aren’t comfortable with it. If you don’t want to dress up, the best thing to wear is a t-shirt representing your favorite fandom. You’ll fit right in.
  • Review the schedule: Conventions often release their schedule around weeks ahead of the event. That includes panels, photo and autograph sessions with celebrity guests, cosplay meetups, screenings, vendor maps and more. Many conventions also offer an app so you can mark what interests you and turn on notifications.
  • Pick your priorities: Pop culture conventions pack a whole lot of action into just a couple of days. It can be difficult to squeeze it all in. Avoid stress by focusing on one or two things that you really want to see or experience. Build your schedule around those things, giving yourself plenty of time to move between locations.
  • Schedule time to browse the vendors: There are so many fun things to check out and buy. Even if you aren’t planning to spend any money, it’s cool to see how fandom has inspired creators and what you could add to your collection down the line.
  • Review your plan with your Con Squad: Conventions are more fun with friends, but everyone won’t want to do all of the same things all of the time. Go over your hopes and expectations so you’re all on the same page. That way, you can avoid misunderstandings and potential arguments.
  • Set a budget: Money flies fast at conventions. Know how much you want to spend before you see all the shiny things. Pre-pandemic, many vendors only accepted cash. Now, it’s an even mix of cash or card.
  • Pack your convention bag: You’ll want things like a phone battery charger, reusable water bottle, snacks, and any materials you want to get signed.
  • Wear comfy shoes: Enough said.
  • Have an exit plan: If you’re with a group and you’re splitting up, plan a time and place to meet up again. Trying to contact people by phone can be difficult in big crowds, so be safe and prepare ahead of time.

Once you have the tickets, transportation and plan sorted out, then you have to pack for the event.

  • Use a roomy bag: You don’t need to fill it up, but you’ll want space for any treasures you find among the vendor booths.
  • Reusable water bottle: There are concession stands and vending machines around, but getting the cost of fresh drinks can add up. A reusable bottle will save you money and keep you hydrated all weekend long.
  • Snacks: Like with drinks, conventions often have food vendors on-site, but you probably won’t want to give up your great seat in a panel room or your spot in line to grab a bite, and you definitely don’t want to be hangry. Packing healthy snacks will help you keep rolling through the fun without ruining the vibe.
  • Battery pack: You don’t want your phone to die while you’re in a crowd. Portable battery chargers are your friend, as long as you charge them before you leave.
  • Collectibles to get signed: Many celebrities, artists, authors, and creators will be signing throughout the weekend. You can bring items from home for them to sign, and some offer photos that you can buy on site.
  • Permanent marker: It never hurts to be prepared in case of an impromptu signing. They are rare, but they aren’t unheard of.
  • Cash: Pre-pandemic, a lot of vendors only accepted cash. Now it’s a mix. It’s best to be prepared either way. Most conventions will have an ATM on-site to help you out if you need it.
  • Deodorant: Your fellow fans will thank you. You can easily work up a sweat rushing from one panel room to the next.
  • Hand sanitizer: Even before the pandemic, it was a smart thing to carry with you. People can be gross and you don’t want to come down with con crud a couple of days after your great weekend.
  • An art tube: If you plan to buy posters.
  • Your schedule: The schedule is available online or on the convention’s app two weeks before the event. I like to print out my plan for the weekend so I don’t have to look at my phone so much and drain the battery.
  • Cosplay supplies: You don’t want to get there and realize you left your lightsaber at home.
  • Tickets: If your ticket includes a barcode, download it and screenshot it before you arrive. Phone signal can be sketchy in a crowd.
  • Camera: There are photo ops galore, so do it for the ‘gram.
  • Comfy shoes: Achy feet make conventions a lot less fun, and chances are, you’ll spend a lot of time walking around.